8 Schools of Indian Poetics

8 Schools of Indian Poetics

8 Schools of Indian Poetics

In Indian poetics, different theoreticians and schools differed as to what the soul or essence of poetry is. They have used the word ‘atman’ which stands for essence or life-spirit as opposed to physical body. In this context, let us discuss various schools in Sanskrit poetics and their views regarding the essence of poetry.

  1. The Alamkara School (Poetic Figure)

The alamkara school is the earliest school that studies the literary language. It assumes that literariness lies in the figures of speech. The alamkaras are the modes of figurative expression Bhamaha is the first of alamkara poeticians. In his book Kavyalamkara he describes 35 figures of speech. The other aestheticians in this school are Dandin, Udbhata, Rudrata and Vamana. In Anandvardhana, alamkara integrates with Dhwani and Rasa. Dhwani is a form of suggestion that can be evoked by figures of speech. Thus it produces aesthetic experience which can be called ‘rasa.’

Anandavardhana speaks about alamkara but he makes it subservient to rasa. Thus he breaks a new ground in Sanskrit poetics. He shifted the emphasis from alamkara to ‘rasa.’ Earlier, most of the poeticians made ‘alamkara’ the supreme end of poetry.

The literal meaning of alamkara is embellishment. It can thus be equated with western concept of metaphor. Alamkara are like ornaments that enhance the beauty of a literary piece. They also help in differentiating poetry and prose. Alamkaras have been proved to complement ‘rasa’ and ‘dhwani.’ Bhamaha who lived at the time closer to that of Bharata enthroned alamkara in place of rasa. The aestheticians who followed Bhamaha contributed remarkably to alamkara school. Bharata who had listed four alamkaras grew to thirty in Bhamaha. Later it multiplied to one hundred and thirty five making it complex labyrinth.

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It is often asked wheather alamkara can be treated as integral part of poetry. It is related with imaginative perceptions but can we treat it as perception itself? Ruyyaka believed that it is not mere embellishment but the dharma of poetry. Alamkaras are classified into different kinds of systems. Rudrata divides alamkaras into (1) Sabdalamkaras (based on phonetic form) and (2) Arthalamkara (based on meaning). He further subdivides each into five and four subtypes:


Bhoja did not make a new classification but added the third category called ubhayalamkara Ruyyaka classified alamkaras into seven classes on the basis of their meaning as follows:

  1. Sadrasya (similarity)
  2. Virodha (opposition)
  3. Srankhalabaddha (chain bound)
  4. Tarkanyaya (logical)
  5. Lokanyaya (popular logic)
  6. Kavyanyaya (poetic logic)
  7. Gudhartha pratiti (inference of meaning)

Mammata in his Kavya Prakash enumerates 61 alamkaras and groups them into seven types:-

  1. Upama (simile)
  2. Rupaka (metaphor)
  3. Aprastuta Prasamsa (indirect description)
  4. Dipaka (stringed figures) 5. Vyatireka (dissimilitude)
  5. Virodha (contradiction)
  6. Samuchaya (concatenation)
  7. The Riti School (Style)

Vamana is the innovator of this school. Riti is a theory of language of literature. Actually Bharata in his Natyasastra described it as vritti.’ It is Vamana who developed it into a complete theory. According to Vamana, ‘riti’, consists in special arrangement or formation, of words. He says, “Visisthapadarachana riti.” Riti and guna are accepted as if they have identical meaning.

There are two types of gunas .

(1) Those connected with sabda (word/sound) and artha (sense). They are as follows:

(1) Ojas (2) Prasada (3) Slesa (4) Samata (5) Samadhi (6) Saukumarya (7) Madhurya (8) Udarata (9) Arthavyakti (10) Kanti.

These gunas are found both in sabda and artha.

The riti according Vamana is the soul of poetry. He speaks of three ritis-Vaidarbhi, Gaudiya and Panchali. Vaidarbhi consists of all the ten gunas, Gaudiya consists of two gunas- ojas and kanti. Panchali is characterised by madhurya and saukumarya. Vaidarbhi is full of pleasant and easy flow of consonants. Gaudiya is a bolder form while ‘panchali’ stands between the two. According to Vamana, Vaidarbhi is the best as it consists of all the gunas.

Different theorists identified different categories of ‘riti’ as follows:

Sl. No. Theorists Riti
1 Dandin Vaidarbhi, Gaudiya
2 Vamana Vaidarbhi, Gaudiya and Panchali
3 Kuntaka Sukumara, Vicitra, Madhyama
4 Mammata Upanagarika, Prasada, Komala
5 Anandavardhana Samasa, Madhyamasamas, Dirghasamasa


The riti theory is important for its emphasis on style.

  1. Dhwani School (Suggestion)

The Dhwani theory was founded by Anandavardhana. He announced that dhwani is the soul of poetry. He said that the element of Dhwani whether prominent, subordinate or indistinct is necessary in every type of poetic beauty. There is no poetry unless it has ‘dhwani.’ Anandavardhana incorporated and revised the theories of alamkaras, guna riti and rasa in the light of dhwani theory. He gives us extensive examples of practical criticism and literary analysis. He says that when there is suggestion (vyanjana) in a literary composition, it is dhwani: The greatness of creative art lies in dhwani. Meanings echo after statements have been made.

Dhwani means suggested sense which is expressed in when the sound and the sense of the text fade into insignificance. According to Anandavardhana, ‘dhwani’ is dominating while alamkara, guna and vritti are its various parts. He refuted the alamkara school by saying that it is the means of embellishment of the body of poetry. He rejected ‘riti’ by saying that it is nothing but a form of composition.

Anandavardhana proposes three levels of meaning abhidha, laksana and vyanjana. He integrates rasa theory with dhwani theory. Dhwani is the means of evoking ‘rasa.’ In fact, dhwani theory has both elucidated and strengthened the rasa theory.

  1. Vakrokti School (Obliquity)

Vakrokti is another remarkable school of poetics in Sanskrit. It is a theory of language of literature. It means oblique utterance or markedness of language. Kuntaka is the pioneer of this school who made Vakrokti a full-fledged theory of literariness. He defined Vakrokti as “both words and meanings marked by artistic turn of speech in his book, Vakrokti-Jivitam. Vakrokti means Vakra (oblique), Ukti (statement or utterance). But in fact it is a deviant or marked expression. It can also mean special denotation.

Kuntaka classifies Vakrokti into six heads:

  1. In syllabus or their arrangements. (Varna)
  2. In the base substantives (Pada purvardha)
  3. In inflicted forms of substantives (Pada parardha)
  4. In sentences and figures of speech (Vakya)
  5. In topics or section (Prakarana)
  6. In the entire composition. (Prabandha)

According to Kuntaka, ‘Vakrokti’ is a striking mode of speech born out of poetic proficiency. This means that it is poetic element which poduces superworldy charm. Kuntaka said that the six kinds of “Vakroktis’ described above together individually create poetic brilliance.

Vakrokti theory is a useful framework for stylistic analysis of literature. Kuntaka in fact incorporates ‘rasa’, ‘alamkara’, ‘riti and ‘guna’ theories into this theory of Vakrokti. What is called Dhwani by Anandvardhan is termed ‘Vakrokti’ by Kuntaka. He declares that Vakrokti’ is the soul (jivita) of poetry.

  1. Guna/Dosa school (Attribute)

We cannot use the word Guna/Dosa as the full-fledged school of poetics but for our convenience, we shall deal with the theory of Guna/Dosa. This theory examines poetic excellences (guna) and defects (dosas) both in form and meaning. Actually, right from Bharata’ every theorist was more or less concerned with this aspect of composition. But Dandin and Udbhata tried to make guna/dosa the locus of literariness Bhamaha was a logician who in his Kavyalamkara enumerates general defects of expression and form. Vamana in his Kavyalamkarasutra discusses the ideal qualities of literary composition along with their shortcomings. Vamana restricted these defects to the figures of speech.

Dandin took a wider view and incorporated the concepts of ‘rasa’ and ‘riti’ in his conception of guna and dosa. According to him, ‘guna’ and ‘dosa’ are the primary attributes of any literary composition. In the third chapter of Kavyadarsa he described logical failures, linguistic failures, failures regarding facts and accuracy, and failure in communicating the described meanings. After Dandin, Udbhata tried to relate guna/dosa both in ‘alamkara’ and ‘riti.’ Though guna/dosa remained an important component of literary theory, it never acquired the status of a full-fledged, independent school.

  1. Aucitya (Propriety)

Aucitya theory is the theory of propriety or appropriateness in all literary compositions. According to this theory, there is a possibility of the host appropriate subject, ideas, words, language and so on. Aucitya theory has certain affinities with Longinus’ theory of the sublime. Anandvardhana relates this principle specifically to rasa. It has been used for depicting appropriate bhavas according to characters. The language, the choice of words should be according to the speaker, content and type of literary composition.

Ksemendra made ‘aucitya’ the focal element of literary excellence. He defines ‘aucitya’ as the propriety of expression. Ksemendra in his Aucityavicaracarca enumerates the area of literary compositions where the concept of aucitya can be appropriately applied. According to him, these areas are as follows:

(1) Pada (phrase). (2) Vakya (sentence). (3) Prabandhartha (meaning in the entire compostion). (4) Guna (excellences). (5) Alamkara (figures of speech). (6) Rasa (state of being). (7) Karaka (case-ending). (8) Kriya (verb). (9) Linga (gender). (10) Vacana (number). (11) Visesana (adjectives). (12) Upasarga (prefix). (13) Nipata (redundancies). (14) Kala (time, tense). (15) Desa (place). (16) Kula (family). (17) Vrata (custom). (18) Tattva (truth). (19) Sattva (inherent element). (20) Abhipraya (motive). (21) Svabhava (nature). (22) Sara Sangraha (essential properties). (23) Pratibha (innate abilities). (24) Avastha (condition). (25) Vicara (Vichara) (thought). (26) Name (nama). (27) Asirvada (blessings).

Like Guna/Dosa, aucitya also did not enjoy the status of independent school or theory of poetics. It did remain an important principle with almost all noteworthy theorists. Ksemendra’s contribution to ‘aucitya’ is remarkable as he discussed it from both the angles viz. that of the literary artist and that of the reader (bhavaka).

  1. Rasa School/Rasa theory (Aesthetic pleasure)

Rasa theory originated with Bharata in his Natyasastra. The meaning of the word ‘rasa’ is literary experience based on various emotions. Bharata is the first theorist to propound this theory. Rasa can be called the cardinal principle of Indian aesthetics.. Literally, it means taste, sap, flavour, relish, sentiment or aesthetic emotion. Rasa signifies the aesthetic pleasure that the audience or readers of literary pieces experience while watching, listening or reading drama, poetry and other literary compositions. Rasa is in a way aesthetic emotion, the response to art.

The prominent ‘rasas’ are nine in number. They originate from their respective ‘sthayibhavas’ which mean permanent emotions. They are universal human content that all human being possess in more or less degrees. They have the potential for realisation of ‘rasa.’ Rasa is the realization of ‘brahmananda sahodaranandam’- the joy that is equivalent to divine rapture. It has a cosmic dimension. It is a bliss which is beyond all worldly pleasures. These ‘rasas’ can be experienced by sahridaya-the person with high, inborn or trained sensibility and sensitivity. According to Bharata, the nine sthayibhavas in every sahridaya are translated into corresponding rasa at the perception of a dramatic performance.

Adikavi Valmiki made extensive use of karuna rasa in the Ramayana. This makes him the earliest exponent of the rasa theory. The theory of rasa emerged in an advanced, systematic form in Bharata’s Natyasastra. Rasa theory has been accepted as the core literary theory in Indian poetics. All major theorists have dealt with it both before and after Abhinavagupta. Viswanatha and Pandit Jagannatha have contributed remarkably towards a more subtle understanding of the theory.

As we are going to deal with ‘rasa’ theory in ensuing chapter, we conclude our discussion on different schools or theories or Indian poetics here.

  1. Anumana School (Inference)

Anumana School of Poetry is associated with the name of Mahima Bhatta. He wrote ‘Vyaktiviveka’. His object was to comprehend all ideas of dhvani in the process of anumana (syllogistic reasoning). He discussed two senses of sabda, namely, the actually expressed (vachya) and the inferable (anuroeya). Anumeya includes both the laksya and vyangya senses. The process of inference is very wide in its scope much wider than dhvani. Mahima Bhatta criticizes the Dhvani definition, propounded by its advocates, conforms to his definition of what he calls kavyanumiti as the process through which another sense is revealed by the expressed sense or by a sense inferred from it connectedly.

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