Understanding ‘Rasa’ and’Bhaavas’in Indian Natyasastra

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  • Navneel Maji –The aesthetic experience of ‘rasa’ is central to the understanding of art. Bharatmuni’s work on Natyasastra encapsulates this experience and its working. Due to the cryptic nature of Bharat’s sutra on rasa, it created controversies on the interpretation of the terms. We will look at one such controversy surrounding the interpretation of the central factor responsible for the experience of rasa: Bhavas.

Bhavas has been loosely been translated into English as emotion. Though, the exact meaning of ‘bhava’ would make sense when we see bhavas into a larger class, which has two major sub-categories. ‘Bhavayanti’ literally means ‘to bring into being’ and ‘bhavas’ is that which brings into being. What part of our mind corresponds to the functioning of bhavas is no need for the understanding of the sutra because Bharat is specifically concerning with the ‘functional part’ of the bhavas — that which contributes to the experience of rasa. Hence defining ‘bhavas’ as something which brings into being the factors (we’ll come later which factors)that contribute to the overall rasa experience. So the categories would be one, the psychological states rendered in the natya: Sthayi bhaav, Vyabhichari Bhaav, Sattvik bhaav and second, the physical factors responsible to make the psychological factors known, into another category of: the vibhavas, the anubhavas.

However, some philosophers interpreted the sutra of Bharatmuni by often contracting the meaning of bhavas by speaking of it only in terms of psychological factors: eight sthayins, thirty-three vyabhicarins and eight sattvik bhavas. However, we also have to note that the problem faced by Bharat was to give practical instruction to artists in the production of drama and less of making a general seeker enlighten about the art and aesthetics. So, a satisfactory explanation of the sutra would require thus.

Now, a drama is seen composting of two categories of constituents contributing to the overall aesthetic experience of the art. The styaahi-bhavas are the central tenet which determines which type of rasa the art contributes to. They can be translated as permanent emotion, and other factors surrounding decide to bring it out best. It is of independent nature, and a person is born with it through

samskara or vasana. Secondly, vyabhicari-bhaav are of the accompanying role. They don’t have an independent status like former, but rise with the stahi-bhavas and subside with them.

The physical factors: the vibhavas are called determinants because they determine the emotion and mood to be aroused in the spectator in a special way, and the anubhavas are the affects found on the characters consequent to the emotion desired in a particular scene. The physical factors in a drama are the directly available to the spectators which convey us the emotion in a scene. Depending upon the experiences one has and as per their sensibilities, they deduce and relish the aesthetic experience.

Hence, a drama can be seen as the series of stimuli conjoined together for a particular reaction from the spectator. The engagement of anubhavas with the vibhavas make the rasa experience possible for the spectators. So, we can deconstruct a scene into different vibhavas in the scene contributing to the emotion, and what/how the anubhavas are shown through the vibhavas. When the mood has been set for us spectators, we can categorize them into sthayi and vyabhicari bhavas — permanent and impermanent emotions, and how latter is signifying about the former through the story. The exact detail of the rasa realization — how the interplay between the factors takes place has been taken up by philosophers like Bhatt Lolatt, Bhatt Nayaka, Sankuka and others, which I am not discussing here.

This was at least the valuable understanding of culture’s pride and this understanding needs to be share further from generations to generations so that our proud culture is preserved.

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