Dancing with Nine Colours: The Nine Emotional States of Indian Rasa Theory


This is a brief review of the Rasa theory of Indian aesthetics and the works I have done on the same. A major source of the Indian system of classification of emotional states comes from the ‘Natyasastra’, the ancient Indian treatise on the performing arts, which dates back to the 2nd Century AD (or much earlier, pg. LXXXVI: Natyasastra, Ghosh, 1951). The ‘Natyasastra’ speaks about ‘sentiments’ or ‘Rasas’ (pg.102: Natyasastra, Ghosh, 1951) which are produced when certain ‘dominant states’ (sthayi Bhava), ‘transitory states’ (vyabhicari Bhava) and ‘temperamental states’ (sattvika Bhava) of emotions come together (pgs.102, 105: Natyasastra, Ghosh, 1951). This Rasa theory, which is still widely followed in classical Indian performing arts, classifies eight Rasas or sentiments which are: Sringara (erotic), Hasya (comic), Karuna (pathetic), Raudra (furious), Vira (heroic), Bhayanaka (terrible), Bibhatsa (odious) and Adbhuta (marvellous). There was a later addition of the ninth sentiment or Rasa called Santa (peace) in later Sanskrit poetics (pg.102: Natyasastra, Ghosh, 1951). According to ancient Indian aesthetics (especially in the context of Bharatas’ ‘Natyasastra’, Anandavardhana’s ‘Dhvanyaloka’ and Abhinavagupta’s ‘Abhinavabharati’), ‘Rasa’ is the relishable state of elemental human emotions called ‘Bhavas’. Bharata’s ‘Natyasastra’ originally spoke of eight Rasas. The concept of the 9th Rasa was a later interpolation by the Kashmiri Shaivist Abhinavagupta (10th Century AD) and also his predecessor Anandavardhana (9th Century AD). Abhinavagupta extends the eight Rasas by adding the concept of the Santa Rasa which he regards as the essence of all Rasas. It is this 9th Rasa which according to Abhinavagupta lets the Rasika attain the aesthetic detachment and savour the essences of all other Rasas and therefore the true aesthetic delight. The introduction of 9th Rasa integrates the concepts of Bharata’s Rasasutra and Patanjali’s Yoga theory – the detachment necessary to introspect inwards into the inherent state of freedom and bliss (aesthetic consciousness).

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Dyutiman Mukhopadhyay
Srishti Manipal Institute of Art Design & Technology India


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