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Rasa - the aesthetic flavor of Natya!


Rasa is one of the most discussed terms in Indian aesthetics. It is the underpinning of all Indian Art forms. In this blog, I wish to introduce the concept of Rasa and the parameters related to the same. 


The term Rasa can be roughly translated as the aesthetic flavour of art.  Rasa is that aesthetic flavour which can be relished. Like how one can relish the taste of a delicacy, one should be able to enjoy the aesthetic elements in art. Who enjoys the aesthetic beauty of art? In the context of Indian classical dance, it is the spectators who enjoy it. Hence the term Rasa can be roughly translated as the aesthetic pleasure created in the spectator. The aesthetic experience created in the audience is called 'Rasanubhava'.


How a dancer invokes the 'Rasanubhava' - the aesthetic experience in the audience? To achieve this goal, Natya Shastra enunciated a sutra- a formula, the famous Rasa-Sutra of Natya Shastra!


"Vibhava Anubhava Vyabhichari Samyogat Rasa Nishpattih" - Chapter 6 (Rasavikalpa)

It says that the combination of 'Vibhava' and 'Anubhava' together with' Vyabhichari Bhavas' produces Rasa. Let us try to understand the meaning of Rasa-sutra in detail.


For an actor to emote any sentiment, there requires a cause. And the reason behind every action is called 'Vibhava'.  Hence, Vibhava is the term used to represent 'Hetu or Karana', and it is of two types -'Alambana' and 'Uddipana'. 'Alambana' is the direct cause. 'Uddipana' is the situational factor that helps enhance the impact of the former. Let us take an example of a plot depicting the plight of an old woman. Here, the direct sight of the character - the frail old woman on stage is the 'Alambana Vibhava'. And when she is represented on stage sitting inside a thatched hut with unkept surrounding reminiscent of neglect and poverty, that is 'Uddipana Vibhava'.  


'Anubhava' is the following action of 'Vibhava'. In other words, it is the physical manifestation of 'Vibhava'. Referring to the previous example, when the old lady lying in a thatched hut is represented in stage though sighs and lamentations, the emotion gets clearly communicated to the audience.  Hence, the physical reactions which follow 'Vibhava' –are referred to as 'Anubhava'. 


'Vyabhichari' bhavas are the transitory emotions which come and go throughout the act. As these temporary emotions keep playing, it helps build the permanent emotion - the 'Sthayi Bhava' in the act. Referring to the previous plot as an example, we can bring flashback scenes depicting various emotions. The scenes can be as follows. The joyful scenes of upbringing her single child showing various stages of his growth. The sorrowful scenes depicting the plight of a mother when she loses her son. As the story is revealed, many emotions get played according to various situations. And finally, these transitory emotions help build the Shoka bhava (Sthayi bhava) in the act. 


When the spectators watch this performance, they get unified with the character and therefore the Sthayi bhava. As the audience enjoy the Sthayi Bhava, it gets translated as a blissful experience of Rasa in them. This process is known as Rasa Nishpattih as given in the Rasa-sutra. As we refer to the previous example, the 'Shoka bhava' gets translated as 'Karuna Rasa' in the audience.

As we are analyzing, it is interesting to note that the Rasa-Sutra of Natya Shastra does not specify the role of Sthayi Bhava in the process of Rasa realization. The importance of Sthayi Bhava is brought out through the interpretations of scholars such as Bhatta Lollata, Sri Shankuka, Bhatta Nayaka, and Abhinava Gupta in the later centuries. 

In a nutshell, Rasa is that experience when at a given moment, no other reality exists but that of the art, the spectator and the artiste will become one in spirit. 



Natya Shastra by Board of Scholars

Natya Shastra by N.P Unni

Courtesy: Reva University & all my Gurus who inculcated art me. 

Picture Courtesy: Images from the Internet. 


Author: Anju Peter, Nrityankanam, Hyderabad, India 

A Blog for Mohiniyattam, Mohiniattam, and Indian Classical Dance 

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