Rasa Theory of Indian Aesthetics

Rasa Theory of Indian Aesthetics

Rasa Theory of Indian Aesthetics


The poet is different from ordinary person as he is able to arrange words and senses in an elegant manner. Everyone wants to express what he or she has experienced or felt deeply. When we observe something beautiful around us, we are so much moved that we want to share our experience with others. When we see the rising sun or setting sun or moon with all her milky white light or feel the first showers of the monsoon, we want to partake of this experience with someone we love. The experiences whether joyful or sad touch the deep chords of our hearts and we wish to narrate them to others. This is an innate or inborn desire of mankind to share pleasurable or painful experiences in literary works also. Thus emotions are the foundation of literary works. Of course, mere or direct narration of such emotions does not become literature. Suggestivity is the key to creative expression.

When an experience is narrated, the person uses appropriate language and diction. Language and diction of expression depends on the content. It is imaginative and fanciful. It may be in some form such as poetry, prose, play etc. This presentation in imaginative manner is called literature. Every one who narrates is not a poet but one who narrates is beautiful and imaginative manner affects the readers or bhavaks. We have often seen rainbows in the sky and we are also thrilled by its beauty, William Wordsworth exclaims in a very beautiful manner in his poem.

“My heart leaps up when I behold

A rainbow in the sky.”

Milton in his sonnet “On His Blindness” tells about his blindness in a highly poetic manner.

“When I consider how my light is spent,

Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,”

William Wordsworth in his poem on Lucy describes an innocent girl in unparallelled manner:

“She dwelt among the untrodden ways

Beside the springs of Dove:

A maid whom there were none to praise,

And very few to love;”

The full poem is as the difference between an ordinary person and the poet who is highly sensitive, imaginative and is able to express his feelings in intensely effective manner. This does not mean that merely by using highly bombastic adjectives, poetry is created. The great Sanskrit rhetorician Bhamaha says that merely by using words like extremely good or exceedingly beautiful, great poetry is not born.

In Meghdootam, Kalidasa‘s Yaksha sends a message to his beloved through a cloud. He says to cloud:

“O cloud! you will see river Narmada,

Spread out at the foot of the Vindhaya Mountain,

Rough and full or rocky hills,

looking like the decorations on an elephant’s body,

Made by scattered marks of painted streaks.”

The above-quoted sloka gives us the idea how poetry is made effective with the help of apt diction and imaginative language. When we read any good piece of literature, we get pleasure as a reader or when watch a play on the stage, we derive certain kind of pleasure from the scenes enacted on the stage. This kind of pleasure according to Indian poetics is called ‘rasa. The word ‘rasa’ actually means ‘essence’ or ‘sap’ but here it can be taken as aesthetic pleasure, poetic delight or poetic relish.

What is ‘Rasa’?

Rasa at one time meant ‘water’, ‘juice’ or ‘wine’. At another time it implied ‘essence’. In another context it meant ‘relish’ or ‘savouring’. There was a time when it indicated the primary constituents of medicine. It also meant ‘aesthetic pleasure’ or ‘enjoyment’ – a meaning or association of meanings with which we are essentially concerned.

Rasa Theory Context

Rasa Theory finds its root in the late Vedic period in Atharvaveda (200 BC- 100 BC). But Bharata Muni is regarded the father of Indian Rasa Theory as he gave major statement in his book Natyashastra (1st century AD Approx) which is a Indian Treatise on performing arts, encompassing theatre, dance and music.

Bharata, the great rhetorician has tried to explain how this aesthetic pleasure takes place. He has tried to give the theory of ‘rasa’ in one sutra (aphorism). He says:

vibhava anubhava-vyabhichari-samyogad rasr-nisapattihi (N.S.6th ch).

विभावानु भाव व्यभिचारी संयोगाद रस निष्पतिः।

This means that rasa develops from the blending of vibhava, anubhava and vyabhichari. It manifests itself when the sthayibhava, the emotion of the reader is correlated with the following three aspects presented in a piece of creative literature (i) excitant (ii) ensuing response and (iii) transitory feelings.

These three should be combined into one. Many theoreticians have tried to explain the above mentioned aphorism in different way. Bhattlollata, Srisankuka, Bhattanayka and Abhinavagupta are the major commentators who have tried to explain the theory of rasa from their different and individual points of view.

Types of Rasa

Before we understand the structure of ‘rasa’ in detail. We must understand the following four terms in some detail. These are as follows:

  1. Sthayibhava : permanent emotions or feelings.
  2. Vyabhicharibhava: transitory (fleeting) emotions.
  3. Vibhava : excitant or stimulating determinants.
  4. Anubhava : Consequent or ensuing response.


Sthayibhava means permanent emotions inherent in all human beings. They are dormant, inborn and innate emotions that are acquired by training or education. They are permanent feelings deeply embedded in human psyche. They are eight in number but some rhetoricians have added three more.

Let us have a look at the main eight or nine sthayibhavas.


  1. Rati (Love)
  2. Hasa (Laughter)
  3. Soka (Grief)
  4. Krodha (anger)
  5. Utsaha (Enthusiasm)
  6. Bhaya (fear).
  7. Jugupsa (Disgust)
  8. Vismaya (astonishment)
  9. Nirveda (Indifference/renunciation).
  10. Vatsalya (Affection for children).
  11. Sneha or Sahacarya (Desire for the companionship particular friend).


(Numbers: 9,10,11 have been added by later commentators and theorists. These emotions generate corresponding sentiments.)

These sthayibhavas are manifested into the following rasas:

Sl. No. Sthayibhava Rasa
1. Rati Sringara (Erotic)
2. Hasa Hasya (Comic)
3. Soka Karuna (Compassionate)
4. Krodha Raudra (Wrathful)
5. Utsaha Vir (Heroic)
6. Bhaya Bhayanaka (Terrifying)
7. Jugupsa Bibhatsa (Odious)
8. Vismaya Adbhuta (Marvellous)
9. Nirveda Santa (Tranquil)

types of navarasa


Sthayibhavas are comparatively stable and last longer. They are frequent and more powerful. Generally, all human beings experience them now and then. Sancharibhavas contain ancilliary emotions. The sancharibhavas or vyabhicharibhavas are said to be 33 in number.

They are as follows:

Sancharibhavas or Vyabhicharibhavas

  1. Nirveda (Despondency or indifference)
  2. Glani (Weakness languishing)
  3. Sanka (Apprehension)
  4. Asura (Envy or jealousy)
  5. Mada (Intoxication)
  6. Srama (Fatigue)
  7. Alasya (Indolence)
  8. Dainya (Depression)
  9. Cinta (Anxiety)
  10. Moha (Delusion)
  11. Smrti (Recollection memory)
  12. Dhrti (Contentment)
  13. Vrida (Shame)
  14. Capalata (Inconstancy)
  15. Harsa (Joy)
  16. Avega (Agitation)
  17. Gaiva (Arrogance)
  18. Jadata (Stupor)
  19. Visada (Despair)
  20. Antsukya (Longing)
  21. Nidra (Sleep)
  22. Apasmara (Epilepsy)
  23. Supta (Dreaming)
  24. Vibodha (Awakening)
  25. Amarsa (Indignation)
  26. Avahitta (Dissimulation)
  27. Ugrata (Ferocity)
  28. Mati (Resolve)
  29. Vyadhi (Sickness)
  30. Unmada (Insanity)
  31. Marana (Death)
  32. Trasa (Terror)
  33. Vitarka (Trepidation)

There are sattvikabhavas or involuntary states or inbuilt body responses besides other bhavas. They are eight in number.

  1. Stambha (paralysis)
  2. Pralaya (fainting)
  3. Romanca (horripilation)
  4. Sveda (Perspiration)
  5. Asru (Tears)
  6. Vairarnya (Change of colour)
  7. Vipathu (Trembling)
  8. Vaisvarya or svarahbhanga (Change in voice/ breaking of the voice).


The vibhavas or determinants help in development of a feeling in sentiment. These vibhavas are of two kinds: alambana (supporting) and uddipana (excitant).


Anubhavas are the consequents or reactions to these deternminants. Thus according to Bharata, through the union of vibhava, anubhava and sancharibhava rasa is manifested.

Let us take an example of karuna rasa. The view play, for example, experiences the feeling of grief (se manifest in the performer. A number of vibhavas are such cases such as death of some loved one, misfortunes, sufferings etc. They depend on visaya, asraya, and uddipana. vibhava of soka takes different visible forms depending on the nature of the experienced. Abhinaya indicates the sthayibhavas. Bharata uses the word ‘nispatti’ (rendering) of rasa through bhavas in sahrdaya. In the sentiment of soka (grief), there may be anubhavas like mourning (vilapa), weeping (rudana), shedding of tears etc. Sattvikbhavas would be indicated through tears, change of voice etc. In abhinaya, we find actions like weeping, paleness of face, change of voice, deep breathing, fainting, immobility, loss of memory etc.

According to Bharata, each rasa has three subtypes based on three gunassattva, rajas and tamasa. The quality of vibhava, the source of sthayibhava determines the types of correlated rasa. Even karuna rasa may be sattvika, rajasika or tamasika depending on the cause of grief. For example, grief caused by destruction of righteousness is sattvika, grief caused by loss of worldly reputation or wealth is rajasika and grief caused by the personal loss of one’s own is tamasika. Thus, the theory of rasa is related with yoga as well as the Vedantic philosophy of India. In the succeeding chapters, we shall deal with individual ‘rasas’ in some details.

Also Read:

Characteristics or Rasa

But before we conclude, let us enumerate the salient characteristics or rasa :

  1. It is akhanda, complete and indivisible. It is a blending of all the three elements. One element alone cannot produce it.
  2. It is sva-prakash, self-manifested. It needs no other agency. It is manifested on its own when the above mentioned three elements are finely blended.
  3. It is free from the touch of any other perception. This means that to enjoy it, we must be wholly focused and concentrated.
  4. It is a sheer joy. It is a pure state of consciousness. It is higher than the sensual pleasures that we derive from food, sleep, or intoxicants etc.
  5. It is known as the joy that elevates one to brahmananda, the joy supreme. It can be compared with the sublime joy or ecstasy that Longinus refers to in his views on ‘The sublime.’
  6. It is beyond ordinary, physical and material, worldly joy. It is a sense of wonder or of surprise. It broadens one’s vision and understanding of life.
  7. The poet through the manifestation of ‘rasa’ makes us partake the various experiences and emotions that we may not have experienced in our individual lives.
  8. It is the spiritual experience that makes man identify with the spirit divine which is one and unfragmented whole. He experiences the feeling of oneness (advaita) through the experience of ‘rasa.’

15 thoughts on “Rasa Theory of Indian Aesthetics”

  1. Really this article became so much helpful to me for teaching the topics of indian aesthetics to my students.Keep it up

  2. Super, fantastic writing..
    If you provide this note in pdf form then we would be get more easy to reading and print out it row material..so plz if you would be think , this note be providing also pdf form. We would be really happy

  3. First of all thanx for this article, I’m preparing for UGC NET in performing arts. Can you suggest a more important element in Avinaya portion, bhab, bibhaba, Gati prachar etc.


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