Chapter 10: Abhinavagupta's Conception of Humor

Wit and Linguistic Ambiguity: the vīthyaṅgas

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Sunthar Visuvaliṅgam

[there was no numbered summary for this chapter in the original thesis | endnotes at bottom of page (not yet linked) ]

"The aim was to compose on a given theme, or perhaps according to a given plan, not introducing direct accounts of the lives of the gods so much as veiled allusions, occult correspondences between the sacred and the profane, such as still form the foundation of Indian speculative thought. A large part of Sanskrit literature is esoteric. These correspondences, and the magic power they emanate, are called bráhman: this is the oldest sense of the term. They are not intellectual conceptions but experiences which have been lived through at the culmination of a state of mystic exaltation conceived as revelation. The soma is the catalyst of these latent forces. The designation kavi is given to the poet who can seize and express these correspondences, and to the god who sends him inspiration. The term vipra, literally ‘the quivering one,’  is also used. This suggests the mystical quivering described by the Kashmiri Spanda school. Traces of this mystical quivering can often be found in cult practice.1 The kavi of the classical period, the learned poet, transposes the old Vedic ambiguities to the aesthetic plane by means of double meanings and multiple senses; the classical vakrokti, 'tortuous speech' calls to mind the epithet vaṅkuḥ kaviḥ used of Rudra.2 This is the reason for the intricacies of Vedic style and vocabulary. A contributory factor, too, was the Indo-Iranian tradition of verbal esotericism, evidenced by the gāthās.3"4

Renou’s prime contribution is perhaps to have established the continuity between the tendency to enigma, ambiguity, and ambivalence of the Rigvedic verbal style and its prolongation in the ‘crooked speech’ (vakrokti, including śleṣa, dhvani and the various rhetorical devices)  of the classical poetry. The above recapitulation, though only one of numerous characteristic passages (some of which have been cited in this thesis), is especially significant because it links this verbal esotericism intimately to the esoteric dimension that plays so determining a role in all branches of Hindu civilization and culture and suggests that it is here that the hidden unity of these apparently disparate domains must be sought. Moreover, though the bráhman as the totality of the sacrificial and cosmological correspondences is especially monopolized by the brahmán-priest—who in the form of the purohita beside the king stands at the very center of the Hindu socio-religious universe—Renou nevertheless discovers its true source in a shamanistic type of spiritual realization that one associates with socially peripheral currents like the Pāśupatas (for Vrātyas, see Heesterman, “Vrātya and Sacrifice”). Caland’s remarks “on the ‘shamanic’ aspect of the primitive brahmán, secondarily aggregated to the śrauta cult, are not incompatible with the ‘bearer of the enigma’ that we seek to define here” (Renou, “Notes on Bráhman,” p.94, note). It would appear that the whole complex is best preserved in its integrity in the vidūṣaka who, being primarily a symbolic figure, is able to freely display the bewildering imbrication of traits that, in real life, belong to functions and personages who seem to have little in common.

The reason why much space was devoted to reviewing Freud’s comparison of the joke-work in ‘harmless wit’ to the various techniques (like condensation, displacement, representation by the opposite, sound-affinity, etc.) of the dream-work (chapter III, supra) was to prepare the ground for a theory of the cosmological ritual enigma as exploiting the same kind of mechanisms in a deliberate and systematic manner (mechanisms which are recognizable even when these correspondences are translated into the apparently linear sequence of the mythic narration). They are likewise transposable on the aesthetic and literary plane into the various forms of rhetorical figures, like the ‘elements of the riddle-play’ (vīthyaṅgas), to be analyzed below. It is as if the poet, especially the ancient kavi-initiate, were self-consciously imitating the irrational processes of the unconscious in its workings but in so precise, measured and controlled a manner and moreover weaving them inextricably into his conscious representations of the various aspects and domains of waking everyday experience and life in society (compare Kuiper’s theory on the anamnesis of the Vedic ṛṣis, “Cosmogony and Conception,” Ancient Indian Cosmogony, especially pp.111-12, 116, 130-32, 135-36), that both the terms unconscious and conscious seem inadequate to describe this phenomenon. Again, we gave special attention to Freud’s observations on the role of repression and inhibition in the mechanisms of ‘tendency wit’ as permitting the controlled release of subconscious contents and the strong affective (sexual, aggressive, etc.) charges with which they are laden, because such normally repressed contents (especially the incest motif) seem to play a fundamental role in the cosmogonic riddles into whose structures they are integrated. But here again, such symbolism is so self-consciously translated into myth and actual ritual (e.g., the churning of fire) that the subconscious origin of these contents should in no way be taken as proof of the unconscious nature of the motivations and processes that weave them into the complex but precise mechanisms of the enigma.

We have therefore proposed—without being able to develop it here—a theory of the superconscious as brought about by the deliberate conscious exploitation of the normally repressed contents of the subconscious (see end of chapter IX above) and with the ultimate intention of applying it to the vidūṣaka, who as the incarnation of Agni-Consciousness (sarva-bhakṣaka) can in no way be reduced to a mere safety-valve for the release of repressed instincts, before seeking to extend its application to ritual clowning as a universal phenomenon. Just as the classical poet drew upon his inspiration (pratibhā), the Vedic sage (ṛṣi) had to rely, for his immediate synthetic vision of the totality of the bráhman-enigma, on his ready wit and intuition, which was conferred upon him chiefly by Agni “the god of inspiration par excellence…born in the nether world as a child of the Cosmic Waters” (Kuiper, Ancient Indian Cosmogony, p.182; cf. pp.182-84, 188-89, 83-85).

Bráhman is none other than this form of thought-enigma consisting of posing a correlation, an explicative identification: the same that the Brāhmaṇas will designate by the terms nidāna or bandhu, and finally upaniṣad. The ‘bearer of the bráhman,’ when he is not the brahmán (masculine) himself (…) is the kavi, the poet of profound intuition who immensely surpasses the level of the usual laudators and narrators” (Renou, “Notes on Brahman,” p.88).

But this profound intuition (pratibhā), which involves and carries in its movement the entire personality of the seer, unlike the modern conception of ‘wit’ as a function primarily of the intellectual center, has in itself little to do with humor or hāsya. So too, the ‘poetic humor’ (kāvya-hāsya) of this [clown of a] brahma-bandhu (‘would-be brahmin’ or ‘key to the enigma’) of the classical plays strikes contemporary (even Indian) taste as lacking lamentably in the kind of scintillating wit that we have come to cherish so much in the humor of Western literature and drama.5 What is more, neither are we able to perceive any profound ritual or cosmological significance behind his nonsensical utterances to compensate for this ‘poverty of wit.’ We ourselves concluded chapter VIII with the observation that the rasa-aesthetics privileges above all the emotional center in its treatment of humor. We now propose to qualify, without contradicting, this conclusion by suggesting that the vidūṣaka is indeed generously endowed with ‘ready wit’ (as prescribed by the Nāṭya Śāstra) but that this wit corresponds much more closely in its essence and structure to the pratibhā of the Rigvedic kavis than it does to the social satire and psychological subtleties which, under the influence of modern literature, we have come to consider as wholly exhausting the scope of the term ‘wit.’

The ‘poverty’ of the vidūṣaka’s humor (hāsya) would be due to its being exploited primarily to justify the correlation—through juxtaposition (condensation, displacement, etc.)—of esoteric traditional equivalences, which to the profane exoteric gaze, intent on enjoying a primarily aesthetic spectacle, can only appear highly incongruous if not simply nonsensical. That is why he is a ‘fool’ (cf., e.g., Māḍhavya in the play Abhijñâna-Sâkuntalam VI: mayāpi mṛt-piṇḍa-buddhinā tathaiva gṛhītam; Bhat, pp.228, 232; “it is easy to pass from physical deformity to mental defect, Kālidāsa’s Māḍhavya indicates an idiot,” Bhat, p.83) if not wholly a madman. It is not so much the vidūṣaka’s wit that is being exploited for the sake of humor (in which case he would be witty without being a fool), but rather humor that is being exploited to permit the disguised transposition of the mechanisms of the ritual and metaphysical enigma onto the profane literary medium of the drama. The devices, common to the unconscious—described by Freud as responsible for the comic effect of ‘jokes’—have been subsumed by Koestler (and ourselves) as “variants of the bisociative patterns according to the nature of the junction and fields involved” (Insight and Outlook, p.423). Since the basic procedure of the enigma consists in linking or weaving together the most incompatible ‘operative fields’ on the basis of certain implicit principles of coherence or ‘field operators’ (without which there would be no difference between enigma and nonsense), its presentation in a dramatic medium governed ostensibly by purely aesthetic, literary and at most social criteria of coherence will take on the appearance of a string of bisociative effects. The crucial correlations strategically posed by the brahma-bandhu must necessarily appear highly incongruous, and the only pretext by which this situation is rendered tolerable is by exaggerating, even aestheticizing, these incongruities so as to generate the hāsya (humor) function of the vidūṣaka. Of course, the poly-dimensional complexity of the bráhman is irreproducible in its integrality within the linear coherence of the dramatic plot and action; instead it is fragmented and dispersed through its various constituent elements, which have been transposed into rhetorical figures that are used only sporadically and individually whenever the occasion presents itself. This implies a thorough familiarity, on the part of the classical kavis, with these esoteric codes, their mutual substitutions and techniques of presentation so that these correlations are immediately grasped through mere hints and allusions. Only such a theory can account for the vidūṣaka being protected by Omkāra which, as the ‘imperishable’ (akṣara),6 is the very knot (‘noeud’) of the enigma (Renou, “Notes on Bráhman,” p.113).

It seems possible to reconstruct partly some of the concrete modes of the transposition of the mechanisms of the Vedic bráhman-enigma into the aestheticized ‘crooked speech’ (vakrokti) of the classical dramas through a careful analysis of the thirteen elements of the dramatic form called the vīthī and a brief overview of its general development. It is needless to recapitulate here the pioneering work of Prof. V. Raghavan on the probable historical development of the vīthī and its elements (vīthyaṅgas) and of the verbal style (bhāratī-vṛtti) of which the vīthyaṅgas and the hāsya element originally seem to have constituted the very core.7 Nor is it necessary to cover again here the purely aesthetic exploitation to which the vīthyaṅgas have lent themselves in all forms of drama, nor to deny the probability that the vīthī itself, despite all its riddle-mechanisms and setting of the verbal contest, had at a later stage been increasingly absorbed into plots of light-hearted love-intrigue, where they are infused with śṛṅgāra-rasa or even made subservient to the latter.8

What is important for our purpose here is the recognition that the prime sentiment, dominating all the rest, in the original vīthī is hāsya-rasa and the possibility of the vidūṣaka having played a role in it even before it became absorbed into the śṛṅgāra of the love-intrigues:

“The monologue or dialogue called Vīthī with an emphasis on wit, humor and satire is, as shown by me, the earliest form of popular dramatic entertainment. But early specimens of Vīthī have not come down to us and perhaps even before the tenth century the Vīthī had lost its original character and had become moulded in a different manner” (Raghavan, Srngâra-Prakasa, p.872).

It is precisely because of this pronounced comic element that it seems to have been classified together with the farce (prahasana) under the ‘verbal style (bhārati-vṛtti).9 Since the farce with its slapstick aspect could not have been restricted to the verbal style, nor to the maximum of two male characters, this joint classification seems to be due, on the one hand, to the originally non-comic elements of the vīthī having borrowed their comic element and action from the popular farce and, on the other hand, to the originally slapstick farce having borrowed, especially in its ‘mixed’ (saṅkīrṇa) form, the intricate verbal devices of the vīthī for its comic dialogues.10 A careful analysis (see below) of the thirteen vīthyaṅgas in an attempt to abstract their general features from the Nāṭya Śāstra definitions and deliberately minimizing the highly aestheticized character of the illustrations provided by later commentators and the dramaturges (examples drawn from all dramatic types except the practically extinct vīthī itself; cf. Raghavan, ibid., p.573), reveals that their essential definition consists in ‘crooked speech’ (vakrokti) especially in a form suited to a formal disputation through alternation of questions and answers. All these features are found integrally united only in the ritual brahmodyas which exploit polysemy, ambiguity and ambivalence to communicate an esoteric suggested content, whereas in the examples of the vīthyaṅgas drawn from the later (non-vīthī) plays, there is generally no organic essential link between dispute (vāda), interrogation, double meaning, and dramatic dialogue. It is for the latter reason that some theorists before Abhinava seem to have questioned the very need and justification for such a separate category called the vīthyaṅgas:

 “If they are defined by striking (crooked) turns of speech, how are they different from the lakshanas and alaṅkāras (figures of speech)? If accessory to the dramatic action of the plot, how do they differ from the elements of the plot-junctures (sandhyaṅgas)? And if accessory to the (development of) aesthetic sentiment (hāsya?), how about their inclusion among the elements of the dramatic styles (vṛtti)? Nor is there anything else (apart from these three functions) which could constitute their general definition. Here some hold that they are defined by (a combination of?) these particular functions, but those more discriminating claim that they are indeed a class apart. The vīthyaṅga is where a striking variety (vaicitrya, of expression) is produced through a combination of question and answer that serves an ulterior motive (or signification).”11

Abhinava goes on to stress the character of dialogue and varied exchange of questions and answers as the chief feature, in their dramatic exploitation, that distinguishes them from figures of speech. Elsewhere, while commenting on the optional use of the vīthyaṅgas in the prologue of the drama, he glosses the term by the generic definition of semantic ambiguity (śleṣa), ‘crooked speech’ (vakrokti) and repartee (pratyukti), which taken together represent the prolongation in the classical literature (kāvya) of the mechanisms of the Rigvedic enigma or riddle-contest (brahmodya). Though referring to the immediate activities of the actors involved, the vīthyaṅgas employed should allude to the meaning of the following play.12 By interpreting the non-vīthyaṅga modes of the prologue as explicit (= linear) direct methods of introducing the play (anyatheti spaṣṭoki-pratyuktibhiḥ), he makes it clear that the original Three Men’s Talk (trigata) of the ritual preliminaries (pūrva-raṅga), defined in terms of the ‘verbal style’ (bhāratī-vṛtti) and especially the vīthyaṅgas like the nālikā, must have been an intricate enigma-contest conducted in comic style.

From the definition of the vīthī (ekāṅkā dvi-pātra-hāryā tathai’ka-hāryā vā, Nāṭya Śāstra GOS XVIII.112b) combined with our above findings, it may be proposed (leaving it to the subsequent analysis of the vīthyaṅgas themselves to verify) that the original vīthī was either a comic exposition of enigmas by a single person or a comic wit-combat between two contestants making free use of enigmas and counter-enigmas.13 Prof. Kuiper, through his detailed analysis of the verbal contest of the trigata of the pūrvaraṅga and the problem of the two alternative definitions of the vīthyaṅga bearing the same name, has come to the conclusion that

  1. the Trigata is a prolongation of the Vedic cosmogonic verbal contest between Indra (represented by the pāripārśvika = stage assistant) and Varuṇa (as vidūṣaka) decided ritually in favor of the former by Brahmā (in the guise of sūtradhāra = stage-manager)
  2. the humor or hāsya elements are a late intrusion into the Trigata at a time when its real significance had been largely forgotten and
  3. (because of his peculiar conception of the vidūṣaka as a really foolish scapegoat), the verbal contest was primarily a bragging and oratorical contest of a ritual nature and not a brahmodya-like enigma contest (cf. Kuiper, Varuṇa and Vidūṣaka, pp.177–93).

Whereas we accept point (1) completely and leave open the possibility of point (2), an analysis of the vīthyaṅgas all of which could, as elements of the verbal style, be employed in the Trigata, and especially those vīthyaṅgas expressly mentioned as being exploited by the vidūṣaka (nālikā, gaṇḍa, asatpralāpa) and other terms like kathanikā and abrupt questions also used by him, converges on the conclusion that this verbal contest as we find it in the Nāṭya Śāstra was primarily a comic wit-combat making full use of enigmas.14 Even if hāsya were a late intrusion and the original non-comic Trigata had been redefined in terms of the traditional norms of doctrinal disputation (vāda) and the vīthyaṅgas, the problem would still remain of the source and derivation of the scheme of vīthyaṅgas and the features that qualified them for this role of substitution.

The evidence rather seems to point to the vīthyaṅgas themselves being concise formulas facilitating the deliberate transposition, through a process of fragmentation, of the intricate mechanisms of the enigma-contest (= brahmodya, not excluding elements from its larger context of the vivāc verbal contest as a total phenomenon) into an aestheticized dramatic mode, especially by exploiting the potentialities of these mechanisms for humor (hāsya). Prof. Kuiper rejects the hāsya character of the Trigata because he feels it must necessarily negate its profound ritual function (cf. Varuṇa and Vidūṣaka, p.179), just as he rejects the clownish aspect of the vidūṣaka (who moreover plays a crucial role in the Trigata) because he thinks it incompatible with his ritual function. But having seen the superposition, without contradiction, of hāsya and its mere semblance in the vidūṣaka, there is no reason why the Trigata could not have been governed from the very beginning by what may be called a ‘double functionalism,’ deliberately conserving certain ritual structures on the one hand and simultaneously exploiting them for hāsya effects before a profane audience on the other hand. In fact, it is the humor that would have permitted the exteriorization of the symbolic universe of the brahmodya, otherwise restricted to a strictly ritual milieu, before a profane audience whose prime concern is entertainment.

This is not to exclude the likelihood of the vīthyaṅgas having also been used for primarily entertainment purposes in other contexts. Indeed, the later development of the vīthī and the subsequent introduction of the vīthyaṅgas into all the forms of the drama and for conveying all the various rasas,15 though it reveals the actual process whereby the bráhman-enigma has been transposed in the fragmented and discontinuous mode of instances of ‘crooked speech’ (vakrokti) into all the forms of the drama to leave its indelible stamp on them, nevertheless also reveals the gradual degradation of its original ritual notations and its diversion to secure primarily if not exclusively aesthetic and literary effects. But even then, we have been able to discover such ritual notations and determinations lingering beneath the apparently purely aesthetic exploitation of these formulas and, despite the fact that he too has been caught up in this general movement to become to all appearance a comic accessory to the hero’s love-intrigues and the enjoyment of śṛṅgāra-rasa, it is in the vidūṣaka that the vīthyaṅgas seem to have especially permitted the retention and communication of the ancient values invested in the bráhman-enigma. And as Kuiper has stressed (Varuṇa and Vidūṣaka, p.192, cf. p.185), the vidūṣaka of the Trigata speaks Sanskrit (not Prakrit as in the play proper) and his speech here must have corresponded much more closely to the original form of the ‘verbal style’ (bhāratī-vṛtti) which, by excluding female roles, must have been devoid of the sentiment of love (śṛṅgāra-rasa). If it were not for the tripartition of roles (but, after all, the Brahmā-sūtradhāra appears to intervene only at the end without playing an active role in the actual contest; cf. Varuṇa and Vidūṣaka, pp.190, 193), the Trigata may even be as close as we can get to the original form of the vīthī and, if this enigmatic vivāc had an unbroken history going back to Vedic times (Varuṇa and Vidūṣaka, pp.191–92), there is a strong possibility that the vīthī itself may have been derived from the Trigata before the latter came to be redefined in terms of the vīthyaṅgas and finally included as one of them (cf. Varuṇa and Vidūṣaka, pp.182-85).

The vīthyaṅgas (elements of the dramatic form called vīthī )

The Nāṭya Śāstra (NS) enumerates thirteen elements of the Vīthī in the following order: udghātyaka, avalagita, avaspandita, nālikā, asatpralāpa, vākkeli, prapañca, mṛdava, adhibala, chala, trigata, vyāhāra, gaṇḍa.16 Below we shall examine the definitions of these elements, citing the Daśarūpaka (DR) especially wherever it diverges, and note the purely literary and aesthetic illustrations of these formulas, pregnant with comic possibilities. But at the same time we wish to explore how these formulas could have, without contradicting the above function, served to transpose, even if only through a process of fragmentation, the complex mechanisms of the ancient enigma (bráhman) so as to retain its vital esoteric incidence.17 Specific problems, especially the treatment of some of these elements in the ritually determined trigata of the pūrvaraṅga, will be discussed, wherever possible, in necessary detail. Since the processes here responsible for the comic effects have already been so thoroughly dealt with by Freud in comparing the joke-work to the dream-work, what interests us particularly now is the manner in which such a comic surface could have greatly facilitated the distorted, and hence disguised, revelation of an esoteric truth.

1) udghātyaka

“abrupt dialogue” (Haas), “blow” (coup, Lévi).

“Words, whose meaning is not grasped, to which are then added other words with due deliberation (ādarāt)”  (so as to clarify the meaning?). DR distinguishes 2 varieties:

 a) “a series of successive (related) words with a deep hidden meaning or b) of questions and answers, within the context of a dialogue.”

Sylvain Lévi, following DR, specifies two types: a) exchange of questions and answers with a person in order to explain to him something that he does not understand, or has forgotten, or to define for him in other terms (paryāya) a word whose meaning he does not grasp. Though hāsya is not explicitly mentioned in the definitions, the example from the vidūṣaka proves that the technique lent itself to comic exploitation with ease.

Vidūṣaka: “Oh friend! What is this love, this love that consumes you? Is it a man? a woman?”

King: “Born of the mind, without cause, and ever intent on pleasure, the delicate way of affection: this is what is called Love.”

Vidūṣaka: “Even then I do not understand.”

King: “Friend, he is the offspring of desire.”

Vidūṣaka: “Then what one desires, one loves?”

King: “Exactly!”

Vidūṣaka: ‘I’ve understood it. Just like me desiring to eat food in the kitchen!”

The vidūṣaka can understand sexual enjoyment (kāmopabhoga) only in terms of food; but there is indeed universally a correlation between sexual enjoyment and eating.22

b) a series of questions and answers that a person addresses to himself. Both Abhinava and DR give the example from the Pāṇḍavānanda relating to the disguised sojourn of the Pāṇḍavas in the city of Virāṭa.

Considering that, for Abhinava, the [generic] form of the vīthyaṅgas is the sequence of questions and answers serving a different (from the explicit) purpose, the udghātyaka may with ample justification be considered the exemplary form of it. He understands it as arising when the questioner wishes to test the other person and determine whether he is able to fathom the hidden significance behind his words. In formulating the questions, he takes into consideration the variety of responses evoked (by the preceding questions?).23 The term udghātyaka would refer more properly to the answers themselves when they are appropriate; the suffix –kan (-ka) signaling the vital hidden meaning behind the apparent conventional meaning of the words. The carefully chosen equivalences (paryāya), through which the answer rejoins the question, combine to constitute the udghātyaka.24 In this definition, not only the formal question-answer structure but even the string of deliberate equivalences, with their vital esoteric incidence, of the ancient enigma is retained. Wherever the equivalences established in this way, or the correspondence between the question and the answer, appear incongruous or are made to appear so, there is much scope for hāsya.

2) avalagitam

“continuance” (Haas), “coupling” (attache, Lévi)

“Where having presented one thing, another is accomplished in its stead—this is known as avalagita to the performers of the dramatic art.”25 Abhinava: “Where the answer, though given with some other intention, accomplishes a different purpose, then due to the attachment of another purpose it is called avalagita.” He gives as example the scene from Ratnāvalī ad. II.10, where the king’s poetic description of Sāgarikā’s portrait meant to communicate his delight at its sight to the vidūṣaka, accomplishes the more important function of firmly establishing the śṛṅgāra-rasa of the play by revealing the intimate bond of affection for her (and to her, for she is overhearing).26 DR distinguishes a second variety of it: whereas in the first variety, a single action simultaneously accomplishes another aim as well as the obvious intended aim, in the second variety, one affair begins only to be interrupted by another.27 In any case, there is either the imbrication of two purposes in a single action, or of two actions contributing to a total result.

In the archaic enigma, wholly different domains like agriculture, warfare, sex, carpentry, etc., are mutually imbricated with the ritual values and correspondences of the sacrifice.28 Even the most ingenious dramatist could not have succeeded in retaining this superposition of images within the severe limits imposed by the much more linear coherence of the secularized dramatic action. The formula provided by avalagita permits the dramatist to reintroduce, to some extent, the intersection of different planes of thought and action by legitimizing the interruption of one purpose or action by another. Such techniques, constantly exploited in the epic narrative of the Mahābhārata, should put us on guard against amputating entire sequences as ‘interpolations’ just because they do not seem at first sight to fit their epic context at all. A. Hiltebeitel “invokes the perfectly valid principle that there may be some relation between the many myths narrated in the course of the text (usually regarded as interpolations or interruptions) and the juncture in the narrative at which they are told” (Scheuer, p.335; cf. Biardeau, EMH V., p.137, note 1). An excellent example of both modalities of avalagita is found in the “burning of the Khāṇḍava-forest” (khāṇḍava-dāha) by Agni in the vidūṣaka-like form of a gluttonous brahmin. This episode interrupts Arjuna’s and Krishna’s joint dalliance with the innumerable seductive women of the harem and stands in no aesthetic or logical relationship to this libidinal context. Yet it can be easily shown that it is the exploitation of certain esoteric psycho-physical techniques (hatha-pāka in the Trika) during this unlimited sexual experience that has been translated into this pralaya-like consuming (‘eating’) of the khāṇḍava (= modaka). Here the narrative level of the khāṇḍavadāha, which interrupts the sexual dalliance (prastute’nyatra vā’nyat syāt), at the same time serves the different (hidden) purpose of explicitating the inner lived experience of the preceding activity (ekatra samāveshāt kāryam anyat prasādhyate) homologizing it with the mechanisms of the sacrifice (compare Biardeau, EMH V, p.138ff. especially note 1). Though there is no hāsya here because one sequence merely interrupts another, the same equivalences compressed into a single remark, made by the vidūṣaka between food and sex appear highly incongruous to us and are thus productive of hāsya (see note 22??? above).

3) avaspandita

“reinterpretation” (Haas), “evasion” (échappatoire, Lévi)

“When by the force of destiny, auspicious or inauspicious, a particular matter (a meaning or a prediction) is suggested unknowingly (by some utterance) and is immediately followed-up by a skillful reinterpretation (of the utterance in order to conceal the primary meaning), that would be avaspandita.”29 Abhinava explains that it is so-called on the analogy of the well-known prognosticative value of the throbbing of the eye-ball. He provides the striking illustration of the stage-director’s (sūtradhāra) punning speech, determining in advance the future course of the play, in Bhaṭṭa Nārāyaṇa’s Veṇīsamhāra I.6:

“Having possessed (as if) in pledge the quarters,
Powerfully-allied, their arrogant ventures urged by intoxication,
On the bare-backed earth the sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra fall
Thrown down by the decree of Fate!”


“Decking the quarters with their beautiful wings,
Scrambling wild with joy amidst a chorus of sweet warbling,
The swans swoop down (from lake Mānasa) upon the earth
Urged by the overpowering season.”

When the assistant cries out in apprehension: “Sir, may the evil be allayed! May the misfortune be averted!” the sūtradhāra hastens, with an affected smile: “Māriṣa, it was (only) with the intention of describing the splendor of the autumnal season that I called the swans ‘dhṛtarāṣṭras’.” The assistant’s reply characterizes this exchange as an instance of avaspandita: “Not indeed that I do not know! But the inauspiciousness (insinuated in the phrasing) has verily jolted my heart.”30

The DR reads avasyanditam, instead of avaspanditam, and offers a more ‘aestheticized’ definition of it: “repeat a statement that has escaped on account of passion in order to give it a different and false interpretation.”31 The difference is that in the DR definition the revelation is attributed to overwhelming emotion, whereas the NS merely insists on the correspondence with the course of events to come. Though both examples are of a purely literary exploitation of the formula, it permits the superposition, within a single utterance, of two wholly different matters by allowing the speaker to immediately negate the more vital meaning. The superposition is justified by the unconsciousness (or involuntariness, DR) of the speaker. Hāsya, missing in both examples, is of little consequence here for the two interpretations need not necessarily create a sense of contradiction.

4) nālikā

“enigma” (Haas, Lévi)

“The nālikā, it should be known, is an enigma (prahelikā) whose meaning is accompanied by hāsya.”32 Abhinava explains that the prahelikā is an answer that is intended to perplex others, and hence when this is done with a dose of humor it is called nālikā, praṇālikā or vyājā. The helikā is a sport, like narma, etc., and the prahelikā is where these features are fully (pra-) developed. As example, he offers the scene from Act II.14 of Ratnāvalī that he will again cite as an instance of that he will again cite as an instance of narmasphoṭa based on the element of hāsa (see chap. VIII, p. ???, note 57 above). Through Susaṅgatā’s double-entendre (bhaṅgi) on the picture-board, the (vital) matter is both hidden and brought to the heart. The DR defines it as “an enigmatical remark that is humorous and whose meaning is hidden” (Haas),33 and gives the example of Mudrārākṣasa ad I.19 (Kale ed., pp.27–28). Cāṇakya’s spy conveys to him the information that he knows of persons hostile to Candragupta’s reign by allowing Cāṇakya to overhear his enigmatic, and apparently irrelevant, remarks carried out in a joking manner with the latter’s disciple at the door, about lotuses being opposed to the moon (candra).34

Though the udghātyaka better retains the alternation of questions and answers that provided the external framework of the brahmodya, the prahelikā is the direct continuation, in a secularized milieu and for recreation, of the Atharvavedic pravalhikā, which is but another term for the bráhman as enigma.35 In it we see the proliferation of the linguistic mechanisms that constitute the internal structure of the enigma, so much so that Daṇḍin, in his Kāvyādarśa, is able to analyze it into sixteen different sub-varieties depending on the precise technique used.36 By introducing the hāsya element into the riddle, the nālikā permits the bridging or superimposition of the ritual motivation and the significance of the ancient enigma with the aesthetic requirements of the secularized drama.

Freud (JU pp.65, note 2; 105 note; 203, 205, 303–04) and, following him, Koestler (AC pp.85-86) have dwelt on the structural similarities between the mechanism of riddles and of jokes. On the other hand, Roger Caillois (HS p.205) has criticized J. Huizinga for having spoken abundantly of the enigma “but as a witticism and demonstration of ingenuity and knowledge, without occupying himself too much with the ritual function37…. among primitive peoples as in the more complex civilizations, the enigmas play their role in the rituals of initiation.” Our own interest in treating the bisociative mechanisms of the humorous riddle at seemingly undue length, for a thesis on hāsyarasa (chap. VI on Incongruity Theory above), and in the context of criticizing the incongruity-resolution theory of humor, was to lay down the foundations for a precise theory (which we only outline here) as to how the seriously profound ancient ritual enigma (bráhman) could have been deliberately transposed into comic riddles (nālikā) in the classical drama, especially through the vidūṣaka, without for all that entirely losing their esoteric ritual and metaphysical incidence (as a form of ‘joke-rite’). Incongruity-resolution has been proposed to distinguish jokes from nonsense (= ‘pure incongruity’) on the one hand and the congruity of non-humorous speech on the other. Freud too has repeatedly remarked (JU pp.42-44, 181-83, 94: “there is sense behind joking nonsense such as this, and it is this sense that makes the nonsense into a joke;” p.230, etc.) on the ‘sense in nonsense’ mechanism of jokes. But we objected that this is only the bisociation-formula in disguise because it consists in the nonsensical juxtaposition of two incompatible senses around a common (bisociated) link term, whose incongruity is not resolved. The ritual enigma, like the dream-work which is also not funny, serves to correlate the most diverse domains, having little in common with each other to the profane mind, and it does this by rhetorical devices that permit the vocabulary drawn from any one domain to communicate simultaneously corresponding meanings in the other domains. Polysemy is exploited to the maximum (cf. Renou, cited in notes 4, 17 above), and deliberately cultivated. If the bráhman is nevertheless far from funny, this is because the ritual specialists, most of all the brahmán-priest, are perfectly aware of the esoteric coherence which holds together these diverse planes and see nothing incongruous in the key terms that serve to link and weave together these disparate domains. The attention and concentration of even the novice, who is as yet unable to grasp the hidden connections, is nevertheless focused on assimilating and contemplating these correspondences and this attitude, we know, renders impossible the automatic bisociative mechanisms responsible for hāsya. But to the profane exoteric gaze, the transposition of the ritual enigma will either give the impression of sheer nonsense (see asatpralāpa, #5 below) or of a network of bisociations, wherein the incongruity of the bisociated terms will give the whole riddle the character of a joke. By exploiting and exaggerating to the maximum the hāsya aspect by underlining the incongruities, it is always possible to retain the mechanisms of the ritual enigma and its esoteric equivalences, even if only in a diluted, fragmentary and discontinuous manner, within the ‘profanized’ drama, where it would otherwise have no place because of the far more linear coherence of the plot and dialogue. But whereas the degenerate comic riddles (like the ones analyzed by Schultz and Rothbart) , with which we are familiar, are based in a real and irreducible incongruity and survive only by virtue of the humorous pleasure they afford, the apparent incongruities of the nālikā could often have served simultaneously to vehicle, for the enlightened esoteric gaze, perfectly congruous correspondences known to the closed circle of poets and initiates. As in the example of the vidūṣaka’s udghātyaka given by Dhanika above, the recognition of this equivalence undermines the sense of incongruity and transforms the hāsya into a mere semblance (hāsyābhāsa).

As the prime hāsya-character on the Sanskrit stage and given his license to indulge in apparently meaningless remarks, it is in the deformed vidūṣaka that we are led to expect the regular imbrication of the enigma and hāsya.38 In his Karpūramañjarī act I, Rājaśekhara treats us to such a comic riddle-competition where the vidūṣaka Kapiñjala and the queen’s maid Vicakṣaṇā hurl nālikās at each other until he is worsted by the latter. But even apart from such explicit instances, the mechanisms of the nālikā (= comic prahelikā) can be traced in the combined effect of the vidūṣaka’s interventions both verbal and by gesture, despite their being carefully hidden. The prahelikā is intended to bewilder and perplex others and the hiding of the meaning in Abhinava’s example is given by some commentators as the essential meaning of the root pra+valh: “Bhânuji, to hide (pravalhate ācchādayati)“ (Sternbach, Indian Riddles, p.34, note 66). “Prahelikās are useful in amusements of sportive assemblies for (secret) communication between those adept in their techniques in a place crowded with other (uninitiated) people who have to kept in a state of bewilderment (i.e., off-guard).”39 Since the vast majority of the audience would have been surely incapable of following—let alone digesting—these abstruse and concentrated formulaic symbolic correspondences, the only way to retain their attention and interest would have been to develop and exaggerate their hāsya-potentialities. Though Prof. Kuiper has convincingly demonstrated the profound ritual function and character of the pūrvaraṅga-trigata and the role of the vidūṣaka, the latter’s employment of nālikās (and other elements of the vīthī) on this occasion still does not fail to elicit a smile from the sūtradhāra. If hāsya is compatible with a primarily ritual function here, there is all the more reason to suppose, especially given the importance of mastering the prahelikās in the poets’ circles, that even much of the ‘purely’ comic utterances of the vidūṣaka during the play proper itself may be no more than the surface of a hidden nālikās, completely missed by ourselves (the unsuspecting audience), which make allusions to doctrines and practices falling within the esoteric dimension—strongly marked by a transgressive ideology—of brahmanical tradition, and whose system was thoroughly known to the poets. This would require a systematic and detailed comparison of the inventory of motifs made by those like Parikh and Bhat with the same occurring elsewhere in myth, ritual, psycho-physical techniques, iconography, etc., on a scale much greater than that attempted by Prof. Kuiper in his invaluable pioneering effort. And not with the intention of establishing a one-to-one identity (vidūṣaka = Varuṇa; or brahmacārin; or purohita, or court-jester, etc.)  but as an archaeology of the vidūṣaka’s ‘discourse’ (in a sense akin to that given by Michel Foucault, the greatest of contemporary historians of systems of thought) in relation to the total system of culture. Here it will suffice to point out one variety of prahelikā called nāmāntarita—abundantly employed in the Mahābhārata and regularly resorted to as an interpretative device by present-day structural approaches to the latter—where “in the (proper) name (is concealed) the meaning of the name” (yasyām nāmni nāmārtha-kalpa; Kāvyādarśa III102a; cf. Sternbach, IR, p.45), which has found abundant use in the vidūṣaka. His names like Kapiñjala refer back to the purohita in connection with the Soma-symbolism; names like Vasantaka connected with spring are suggestive of saturnalia like Holi, whose spirit he embodies; similarly the names of maids like Vicakṣaṇā or Mekhalā (dīkṣita’s girdle) whom he abuses. His striking out at Sā(ga)rikā with his kuṭilaka “as crooked as the heart of a wicked person” while abusing her as “daughter of a whore” is especially illustrative. The displacement of his gestures and remarks from the real ideas, etc., signified to the things secretly signifying them through their names, renders his interventions highly incongruous to the exoteric eye and provokes hāsya. Even the action is caught up in the hidden movement and mechanisms of the nālikā.

Finally, the fact that Abhinava mentions the prahelikā as a privileged form of “joking” (narmādi-krīḍā-rūpam), coupled with our knowledge that the vidūṣaka is the ‘joking-companion’ (narma-saciva) of the nāyaka [hero-protagonist], and further remembering the Vedic ritual antecedents of the term narma and their intimate relation to the eloquence of the verbal contests of the sabhā (cf. Kuiper, AAVC, AIC pp.209-12), should make it easier for us to conceive how this incorrigible ‘joker’ (hāsya-kṛt, vaihāsika) could at the same time be the transposition of the kavi himself as the bearer of the bráhman into the profane medium of the drama. In any case, the inclusion of the vidūṣaka’s nālikā within his narma makes it clear that he is not the ‘fool’ (mūrkha) he is generally taken to be.


“incoherent chatter” (Haas), “incoherent remarks” (Lévi)

The Nāṭya-Śāstra gives a diametrically opposite definition: “where salutary words spoken by the wise (or the knowing, vidvān) in the presence of (sannikarṣe) or to fools are not grasped (understood) by the latter.”40 The Daśarūpaka definition, on the contrary, implies that it is rather the fool who is speaking while intelligent people like ourselves are unable to recognize any coherence behind his words: “as it were (prāya: “rich or abounding in, frequently practicing or applying or using; near, like, resembling; mostly, well-nigh, almost” – Monier-Williams Dictionary) inconsequent discourse (kathā) or such replies.”41 Which Haas interprets as “the incoherent talk of persons that are just awaking, drunk, insane, or childish” (Lévi, p.116). But the Sāhitya Darpaṇa, even while giving the latter meaning, retains side-by-side the Nāṭya-Śāstra definition of “salutary advice given to a foolish person who does not accept it” (Haas p.88; Lévi, loc. cit.). The problem for us is to reconcile these two, at first sight wholly incompatible, meanings and to determine how both could have developed from a single dramatic formula. This is possible, and easily so, by restoring to the qualification “as it were” (prāya) its full force, something which no translator has done.

The vidūṣaka’s ‘refutation’ (vidūṣaṇa: rather ‘deformation’) of the Indra-pāripārśvika’s (coherent) propositions (samjalpa) which is defined, as part of the trigata, by the use of vīthyaṅgas, is also characterized as a discourse (kathanikām:  ‘conversation’,  Kuiper VV, p.177) that is asambaddha-kathā-prāyam, which is exactly the definition of the asatpralāpa given not by the NS but by the DR. Now, Kuiper has shown that the verses in question are interpolations that have nevertheless preserved through redefinition (VV pp.190, 191, 193) an old authentic tradition going back to the Vedic verbal contest (vivāc, VV pp. 192-93). In that case, we may conclude that the original asatpralāpa employed by the vidūṣaka must have rather corresponded to the NS definition of the name: extremely coherent and illuminating discourse and replies, which give the impression of nonsense to the foolish audience who are unable to grasp the hidden (esoteric) meanings being communicated. We have seen that such ‘crooked speech’ (vakrokti) is the very essence of the vīthyaṅgas. The only mode of the vivāc that can be supremely pregnant with esoteric meanings and requiring ready-wit (pratyutpanna-pratibhā which the NS attributes to the vidūṣaka), and yet paradoxically giving the impression of nonsense to the uninitiated is the enigma-contest (brahmodya). That such was the character of the trigata disputation has already been inferred from the vidūṣaka’s exploitation of the nālikā which is only the comic presentation of the prahelikā, itself the dilution of the ritual enigma (pravalhikā) into a game. A parallel can easily be adduced from the Irish branch of the Indo-European tradition of verbal esotericism, which not only explains why the hāsya-aspect is essential to the vidūṣaka’s enigmatic speech but also why so much of this hāsya seems to rely on puerile unsophisticated means like babbling nonsense, irrelevant abrupt remarks, and far-fetched analogies.

“The Irish candidate for a degree in poetry was put through a severe test, in which he had to show himself acquainted with the history, laws and antiquities of his country; able to recite by heart many poems and tales for purposes of social recreation; capable of composing an extemporary poem on any subject, and of completing correctly a verse, of which the first half had been uttered by some other poet—‘He is great in expounding, and he expounds and solves questions,’ we are told in Cormac’s Glossary. Some of these questions were probably in the form of riddles testing the candidate’s knowledge of ‘the secret language of the poets,’ a phrase which probably denotes an elaborately conventional poetic diction and goes back to a time when ‘mastery of metaphor’ was not an art but a science; not a happy gift of conveying nuances of meaning, but the mark of initiation into an esoteric code. This proficiency in poetic diction and antiquarian lore was probably the chief quality tested in the poetic wit-combats which are frequently mentioned in Irish literature, and sometimes had unfortunate results, as on the day when Fercheirtne and Nede competed for the Chair of Poetry in the presence of King Conchobar. Up to that time, we are told, the poets were also judges, but on this occasion the language of the two combatants was so obscure that neither Conchobar nor the chiefs could understand a word of what they were saying. This made them so irritated that they removed the privileges of judicature from the poets and threw it open to all who could qualify for it. Some readers of modern poetry and most students of the Skaldic literature of Iceland will tend to sympathize with Conchobar. The Irish poet is such a learned—even academic—personage that it seems absurd to associate him in any way with the court-fool, nevertheless there are a few facts which hint at a possible connection” (Welsford, Fool, pp.88-89).

If indeed the classical poets had sought to conserve the values and functions of the ancient kavi by projecting the mechanisms of the bráhman-enigma into the discourse of the vidūṣaka, the only way they could have avoided the fate of the Irish poets would have been by reintegrating this nonsensical impression it makes on the profane ear into the very economy of the drama. Though there is nothing comic in the intelligent speech of the asatpralāpa as defined by the NS, except perhaps for the inability of fools to grasp its significance, the NS nevertheless privileges it among the determinants (vibhāva) of hāsya, which would imply that upon this fundamental meaning is already superposed the nonsensical impression (and its no doubt comic exploitation) which, for the DR, has become the definition of the asatpralāpa (cf. chap. VI, note 5 above). The ‘poetic humor’ (kāvya-hāsya) of the vidūṣaka is produced in the course of the play proper when he “babbles incoherently, meaninglessly, and unnaturally, using obscene or vulgar words.”42 For such comic nonsense to be justifiably called ‘poetic’ (kāvya: no doubt, in the archaic sense), it must have simultaneously conformed to the NS definition of asatpralāpa, which in turn could have been a vibhāva of hāsya primarily by virtue of this nonsensical and incongruous appearance it assumes before the exoteric gaze. Thus wherever he speaks not real nonsense (which he also does) but gives cryptic expression to esoteric truths, which nevertheless strike the uninitiated ear as sheer nonsense, it is this hāsya aspect that would still permit the apparent nonsense to be integrated into the aesthetic and secular level of the drama, thus by-passing the critical faculties of the uncomprehending exoteric ear. Kuiper himself points out that this kāvya-hāsya of the play is “reminiscent of the asambaddha-kathā-prāyam…kathanikām (V.138) of the vidūṣaka in the Trigata” (VV p.215). Renou notes that “the term kathā is sometimes sufficient to evoke a brahmodya, as in JUB IV.6.2 or JB note 6; or even bráhman alone as in TS III.5.7.2….” (NB p.114, note 1).43 Similarly, the vidūṣaka’s nonsensical questions “who stands? who has won? etc.” (kas tiṣṭhati jitam kena) are easily explained by recalling that “the word pṛṣṭha in the sense of ‘question’ is a Rig Vedic synonym of brahmodya” (Renou, loc. cit. Cf. Sternbach: “The praśnottaras are closely connected with brahmodyas from where they seem to be derived. All riddles asking questions with or without replies contained in the verse, belong in principle to the praśnottara riddles.” IR p.85). If the play itself was penetrated by ritual structures and motifs homologous with those constituting the enigma, it is conceivable how these incoherent remarks could forecast the plot itself (kāvya-prarūpinī).

Abhinava interprets this formula as a technique whereby salutary advice is given to a fool in such an ambiguous manner as to give him immediate pleasure through its superficial outer meaning and yet ensure that at some future date, when he realizes his error and ignorance, the inner beneficial kernel of the words will be grasped. Because the words are pleasant, there is no hostile or angry reaction at the time of hearing; and because they are in fact true to the point, neither is there any anger when at some later time the fool realizes he has misunderstood the true import of the counsel. Abhinava gives the example of advice, which seems on the surface to glorify the pleasures of dicing, wine, and women, but in fact praises the opposite, given to a licentious prince in reply to his question as to what happiness is. He as usual offers an ‘etymological’ explanation of asatpralāpa  as the babbling (pralapanam praise?) of unworthy (asādhu) things.44 Abhinava’s description appears to be a widening of the literary and aesthetic scope of the original primarily ritually determined formula: the hāsya aspect of the ‘nonsense’  has become pleasantness of speech whereas the hidden esoteric correlations (bandhu) have been extended to cover didactic content. The term asatpralāpa  itself seems to point back to incoherent babbling (like that of the dīkṣita during his infantile regression) manifesting the ‘unstructured’ (anirukta) dimension of Prajāpati-sacrifice which is the linguistic translation of the pre-cosmogonic chaos embodying the metaphysical principle of ásat. “But perhaps a likening to the primordial ásat, or to the apraketam salilám…(X.129)…. It is just the same as with anṛta as ‘not ordered’: however, the evolution which has marked the way from anṛta to ṛta and the pushing back of the former towards hostile zones is quite alien to the anirukta exalted by the Brāhmaṇas, a non-temporal principle and co-existent with nirukta. One of the images which may have given form to the new notion is that which arose about the incest of the Father, that ‘pre-Prajāpatian’ theme of the Ṛgveda:…. It is the very ‘dramatization’ of the ánirukta” (Silburn, Anirukta, p.11). In fact, the vidūṣaka also speaks real nonsense and indulges in ‘contrary’ or ‘inverted’ speech and persists in making reprehensible remarks which, when compared to the contrary and evil speech of the Purānic Brahmā’s fifth incestuous head, reveal themselves to be symbolic of (ritual) transgression, the prototype of which is the pre-Prajāpatian incest of the Rig-Veda. The ‘incoherent discourse’ (asambaddha-kathā) is therefore not only the superficial shadow cast on the literary surface of the drama by the mechanisms of the bráhman-enigma, but has the independent ritual and metaphysical function of signifying, in the linguistic mode, the fundamental transgression around which the bráhman-enigma itself is woven.


“repartee” (Haas), “play on words” (jeu de paroles, Lévi)

Abhinava interprets it as “one answer serving as reply to two (i.e., many) questions” and as inclusive of all forms of question-answer sequences (praśnottara).45 The DR defines it as a series of two or three replies and provides an alternative definition as well; stopping short brusquely an unfinished sentence.46 Of the former version, the commentary cites Ratnāvalī as I.16, where the vidūṣaka has a comic exchange with the maids dancing:

Vidūṣaka: “My dear Madanikā, teach me also this (dance-) step, I beg you.”

Madanikā: “You poor fellow! This is not a step.”

Vidūṣaka: “What is it then?”

Madanikā: “It is a piece of dvipadī.”

Vidūṣaka: “Is it the same piece from which modakas are made?”

Madanikā: “This is not eaten, it is sung!”

Vidūṣaka: “Sung? Oh! If it is sung and not eaten, I want none of it.”

The second version is illustrated by Uttararāmacarita III.26 (stopping short). The Sāhitya Darpaṇa gives, in addition to this second definition, a third, viz. “single reply to several questions,” which is the same as Abhinava’s interpretation (Lévi, Le Théatre Indien, p.115).

This vīthyaṅga is hence very close to the first, i.e., udghātyaka, and differs from it, in the NS definition, only in that it introduces the element of a single answer resolving several questions (or several replies to answer a single question, in DR). Evidently, the aṅgas, are not mutually exclusive and a single instance may simultaneously illustrate more than one of them. If the vīthī was meant to facilitate the transposition of the total situation of the ritual brahmodya from the context of the verbal contest, through a process of fragmentation, into the aesthetic setting of the drama, the vīthyaṅga formulas could refer either to the original elements (as in the udghātyaka), their aestheticized final form (as in the DR avasyanditam), the impression the original form makes in the new aesthetic setting (as in gaṇḍa and asatpralāpa), or various combinations of these. Taken as purely aesthetic or purely ritual formulas the scheme of vīthyaṅgas seems very arbitrary, unsystematic, and mutually overlapping. But seen primarily as instruments of transposition, bringing into relief the various factors to be taken into consideration in the superimposition of the two operative fields with diverging principles of coherence, the scheme makes a lot of sense. Even the shift of emphasis in many definitions, though the formal structure is retained, in the passage from the NS to the DR, is quite intelligible in this light. In the vākkeli, it is the question-and-answer format that is especially retained. The comic aspect, underlined by Lévi, is exploited in the example above from the Ratnāvalī.


“compliment” (Haas), “appearance” (apparence, Lévi)

Prapañca is false speech, involving flattery, between two persons, for the benefit of one (of them) and which provokes hāsya.”47 Abhinava illustrates it with the scene in Ratnāvalī ad II.14 where the confidante of the heroine traps the king and the vidūṣaka with the picture-board, which is the proof of the mutual love of the king and Sāgarikā, and threatens to inform the queen of his infidelity.

King: “Susaṅgatā, how did you know I was here?”

Susaṅgatā (laughing): “Not only your highness, but the whole episode along with the picture-board is known to me. So I will go and report the matter to the highness.”

Vidūṣaka (aside, with fear): “Oh friend! Everything is possible, This born slave-girl is indeed a chatterbox. So placate her.”

King: “You are right. (Holding Susaṅgatā by the hand.) This was only for fun. You should not distress the queen for no reason. This is your reward. (Takes down his ear-ornament and offers it).

Susaṅgatā (to herself): “My Lord is in good humor.” (Aloud) “Away with your misgivings! By my Lord’s favor, it was only fun on my part also. So why this ear-ring? This itself would be the greatest favor to me, if my dear friend Sāgarikā who stands enraged, complaining why she was portrayed by me, is approached and appeased by yourself.”

In this interchange between the two pairs of friends, Abhinava indicates the falseness of the maid’s threat and the praise implied by her valorization of the king’s amorous favor over his gift of the ornament, and especially the comic effect produced by this lying and praise.48 The DR definition specifies that this praise must be mutual: “mutual praise that is untrue and gives rise to humor.”49 Lévi interprets it as a “comic dialogue between two persons, each of whom vaunts the vices and defects of the other;”50 but the example he reproduces, from Dhanika, of Bhairavānanda’s praise of the Kaula tantric practice ad Karpūramañjarī I.23 seems very inappropriate (cf. Haas passim). The Sāhitya Darpaṇa (SD) changes two words of the definition so that it becomes a “comic dupery brought about by means of a dialogue” (Lévi, TI p.113, note 3), and gives the example of the maid Nipunikā cleverly forcing the King’s love-secret out of the vidūṣaka’s mouth, in Vikramorvaśīyam act II. scene 1.

This formula seems to have little to do with the internal structure of the enigma or with their original setting in the agonistic sacrifice involving two opposing and complementary parties, where one would expect a series of challenges and counter-challenges instead of mutual praise. The problem before us is to account satisfactorily for this, at first sight, arbitrary combination of mutual praise, falsity and comic elements that serve the interest of one party. Abhinava’s example of the love-intrigue no doubt retains (very loosely speaking) all these elements but it is evident that they stand in no organic relationship to one another. The falsity of the maid’s threat stands in no necessary relation to her praise—which is moreover not mutual—of the king; nor is it essential to serving the king’s purpose of meeting the heroine; if at all, it serves to procure her the gift of the ornament not mentioned specifically in the definition. Moreover, the wording of the definition seems to clearly imply that it is the mutual praise itself that is false or affected and, though producing a comic effect, serves the (unspecified) interest of one party. If we take the gift itself to be the interest (artha) served and place it at the center of the formula, it immediately suggests a total context in which all these elements were once inseparably conjoined, viz. the system of gift-exchanges which governs the life of so many archaic societies including, it would seem, the Rig Vedic culture: “…prestations which are in theory voluntary, disinterested and spontaneous, but are in fact obligatory and interested. The form usually taken is that of the gift generously offered; but the accompanying behavior is formal pretence and social deception, while the transaction itself is based on obligation and economic self-interest.”51 The comic element need not have been introduced merely to facilitate the aesthetic transposition, for it is often already part, at least potentially, of the festive aspect of these occasions. Thus describing the gift-exchange between the Unalaklit versus the Malemiut: “One of the most characteristic traits is the series of comical prestations on the first day and the gifts concerned. One tribe tries to make the other laugh and can demand anything it wants…. This is a clear and rare example (I know of others in Australia and America) of representation in ritual of a theme which is frequent enough in mythology: the spirit of jealousy which, when it laughs, leaves hold of its objects” (ibid., p.89, note 45). It is in fact within this larger potlatch-like gift-exchanges, each party trying to outdo the other in generosity, that Kuiper himself places the Rig Vedic verbal contests, of which the riddle-competitions form only the sophisticated priestly element (AAVC, AIC, p.214; cf. also Heesterman, “Return of the Vedic Scholar,” p.447). Could the vīthī have originally been the dramatic transposition of the verbal contests of the sabhā, themselves the prolongations of a total potlatch phenomenon discoverable in (pre-) Rig Vedic culture (cf. Held, pp.241–47 on the function of the sabhā). Considering that both the vīthī and the prahasana are exploited abundantly in the dualistic contest, full of strife and deceit, of the samavakāra (devāsura-bījakṛtaḥ…. //63// …saprahasanaḥ savidravaḥ sakapaṭaḥ savīthikaḥ /…//65// NS. GOS XVIII; cf. Kuiper VV, pp.195-98), it is here that the maximum exploitation of the prapañca could have been expected (cf. Raghavan, SP, p.557). The suggestion that the prapañca may have originally served to transpose into an aesthetic setting this original context of flattering prestations, by exaggerating the comic aspect or possibilities, would in this way fit in with our overall interpretation of the vīthyaṅgas. As for the vidūṣaka, he is invariably depicted in the plays as hankering after and receiving gifts, especially from the king (and queen), and the NS itself prescribes how such generally comic presentations (of food, clothing, ornaments, etc.) should be clearly marked by sudden changes in his gait (gati); cf. Bhat p.125. Moreover, his function of narma-saciva clearly places him at the center of the verbal contests in the sabhā; cf. Nītisāra, 5.20, cited below under number 10 chala below.


“mildness” (Haas), “mitigation” (adoucissement, Lévi)

“Where with some (underlying) purpose, there is the treatment of virtues as vices or (on the contrary) the transformation of vices into virtues, due to (in the context of) a verbal disputation, that should be known as mṛdavam.”52 The DR merely omits the disputation from the definition. Both of Abhinava’s examples are drawn from the Veṇīsamhāra Act III, where Aśvatthāman is furiously lamenting the decapitation of his father Droṇa, weaponless due to grief at the false report of his son’s death, at the hands of Dhṛṣṭadyumna. At III.22, the dreaded contact of his father’s, a brahmin’s, head with such impure animals as a dog or a crow, on which same level is placed his killer (who has committed a brahmahatyā), is referred to by Aśvatthāman as if it were no abomination at all when compared to the supreme insult the act poses to himself. On the contrary, III.39, spoken by Karṇa, transforms Droṇa’s fulfillment of his vow, of not bearing arms on the death of his only son, into an act of womanly cowardice, in the heat of his bitter dispute with Aśvatthāman.53 The DR cites Śākuntalam II.5 where the vice of hunting is praised as a royal virtue, and an unidentified stanza where the merit of sovereignty is considered a fault.

This formula, with the explicit mention of verbal disputation vivāda (cf. Kuiper, AAVC AIC p.207, for how “vivāc, as a technical potlatch-term, had died with the institution it denoted” and comes to be replaced by the later vivāda having a restricted sense), seems to refer back to the characteristic bragging between two parties (whether individuals or groups) which are specialized, on the social or religious level, in very different functions (cf. AAVC, pp.192, and 186-88 for H. Scharer’s parallels from the Ngaju Dayaks). One of the modes taken by this bragging, when the parties involved pride themselves in differing functions, attributes or virtues, is for the opposing party to represent the virtues vaunted by the other as vices or defects and, when the same tactic is resorted to by the latter, to represent one’s own shortcomings as if they were proofs of real superiority (compare the humorous altercation of the Bemba joking partners about their clan-totems; M. Douglas, Jokes p.94, citing A.I. Richards). This principle underlies the whole vivāda between Aśvatthāman and Karṇa in Veṇīsamhāra III, the former abusing the latter for his low birth, etc., whereas the latter ridicules the pretentious carrying of arms by a brahmin. Whatever little humor there is in this episode is more of the form of deadly ridicule that almost ends in mortal combat But in its original setting, the mṛdava could have easily approached the form of the ‘joking-relation’ between disputing partners (compare M. Douglas, Jokes, p.92 on the Dogon “joking-partners”)  and its humorous aspect (cf. Bergson on the ‘comic of inversion’) would have best been exploited in the ritual trigata where the Varuṇa-vidūṣaka has a cosmogonic and metaphysical function diametrically opposed to the Indra-pāripārśvika whose propositions he distorts and refutes. As the personification of the end-of-the-year social chaos (as in saturnalia; cf. Kuiper VV, pp.22-24, 42), the vidūṣaka here would have vaunted those very attributes and functions that from the (Indra’s) point of view of socio-cosmic order would have been considered vices, defects and especially transgressions. Whereas the other formulas stress either the linguistic or emotional (aesthetic) aspect of the contest, the mṛdava highlights the confrontation and inversion of values involved.

A really hilarious example from the Rig Vedic ritualism of this formula, most relevant to the present context for it concerns the peculiar solidarity between an antithetical pair in whom some have seen the prototype of the king-vidūṣaka relationship, is the bragging contest (vivāc!) between Indra and Vṛṣākapi ad. RV X.86.16-17 where the “impotence” of the latter is opposed to the virility of the former in exactly symmetrical verses (each ending with the constant refrain reasserting Indra’s supremacy).54 This opposition is reflected in the contrast between the curious combination of ‘chastity’ (absence of desire: strīṣu viśuddhaḥ, BP) and ‘lewdness’ (undifferentiated desire: aślīla-bhāṣaṇa) in the vidūṣaka, on the one hand, and the organized structured sexuality of the nāyaka, on the other hand, that finds its puruṣārtha-orientated expression in the scheming love-intrigues in which he is selflessly assisted by the vidūṣaka. To some extent, and minus the comic elements, the formula also finds application in the ‘verbal contest’ (vivāc) between Indra and Varuṇa ad. RV IV.42, for both have specific functions which they seek to valorize in the verbal contest (cf. Kuiper, VV pp.22-30).

But it is possible to perceive a further, more generalized, application of this formula that is quite independent of the vivāda, the latter condition being, in any case, omitted in the DR definition. This is the inversion of values which has so much scope in the comic vidūṣaka, all the more so if we recognize in him the institutionalized violator of brahmanical socio-religious taboos, in whom negative terms like deformity, nonsense, impurity, excessive laughter, etc., find positive, even if disguised, valorization. By the same movement, the corresponding positive terms are by implication devalorized. Though explicit elements of contest are only occasional in the play proper, the partial (disguised) opposition and general contrast—epitomized in the virūpa | rūpa [beautiful | ugly] opposition—that characterizes his overall cooperation with the nāyaka serves just as well as the effective background for the exploitation of this formula. The supreme valorization of his transgressive function, a contemptible and ridiculous defect from the exoteric standpoint, reveals itself especially in the ambiguous and ambivalent manner in which his inalienable label of mahābrāhmaṇa (brahmin par excellence = cāņḍāla) is often applied to him.

 “The term mahābrāhmaṇa is equally (like brahmabandhu) derisive. The vidūṣaka is ridiculed as ‘the great Brāhmaṇa’…. But the vidūṣaka takes the description of himself as a compliment. Thus he falls a prey to this coaxing and apparently flattering word which persuades him to give up his own position and do so as others wish…. It is abundantly clear that though the term mahābrāhmaṇa is used derisively, it is taken by the vidūṣaka very seriously, a circumstance which greatly contributes to his humorous side and to the amusement of the audience” (Parikh pp.12-13; where he provides several examples).

In fact, as we saw in the case of the Viṭa prostrating before the mahābrāhmaṇa in the Mṛcchakaṭikā, though we do not take this tribute seriously the dramatist himself often portrays the others as behaving as if they meant it in all seriousness. He is so called especially when he commits a fault or transgresses a norm and the intervention of the comic is necessitated by the condition that the valorization of these ‘defects’ (doṣa = akārya-karaṇam, Abhinava) could never be explicit, and could be justified primarily by its hāsya potential. The very fact that the second of the only two sandhyaṅgas based on the exploitation of hāsya, namely narmadyuti is defined as “hāsya for the sake of concealing a doṣa55 suggests that it has been applied in close combination, in the vidūṣaka, with the vīthyaṅga mṛdava. Nāṭya Darpaṇa I.49, which follows Bharata’s definition of the narmadyuti, illustrates it with Vasantaka’s ‘confusion’ of a gāthā for a ṛk (cf. note 3 supra) upon which the king smilingly comments: “Indeed! Who else than the mahābrāhmaṇa that you are is adept in this variety of ṛks.”56 The vidūṣaka takes the compliment and continues to interpret the gāthās for the king whom he has warned against being too conceited of his learning. This ‘profanation’ of the ṛks, like that of his sacred thread (brahma-sūtra) to follow (cf. note 2 supra), as an instance of narmadyuti would imply an ambiguous conception of doṣa as being a ‘fault’ only from the public or exoteric point of view and not from the esoteric point of view. The function of the hāsya of the original narmadyuti would have been precisely to permit the juxtaposition of both points of view (mṛdava) in a single situation without denying either of these conflicting value-systems their rightful claims. As Parikh notes, the vidūṣaka takes all the doṣas of orthodox brahminhood as the gunas upon which is based his ‘supreme brahminhood’:

“Of his sham brāhmaṇa-hood the vidūṣaka pretends humorously to be very proud…. As a Brāhmaṇa he considers himself to be naturally respectable and worthy of reverence. He in fact expresses his wish that others should pay respect to him” (p.14).

The dialectic of values involved here seems very similar, perhaps closely related, to that of the transgressive fifth head of Brahmā which, though portrayed in a ridiculous light, is at the same time secretly valorized as the source and essence of his divinity (cf. the Rig Vedic valorizations of the Prajāpatian incest).

All those instances where the vidūṣaka, knowingly or unknowingly, betrays the nāyaka’s trust in him, as in the twice repeated betrayal of the jewels in the Mṛcchakaṭikā which Bhat seeks to explain away in terms of ‘plot-development’ (p.235) and ‘comic relief’ (p.160, 140–41), should likewise be treated as instances of narmadyuti where, even while serving these purely literary and aesthetic functions, the hāsya is being introduced to disguise the underlying ritual valorization of his partial opposition to the nāyaka (cf. Kuiper, VV, pp.206–09), perceived by us as an incurable psychological defect (mṛdava; otherwise, one is at a loss to explain the greater folly of the nāyaka’s unswerving attachment despite his confirmed unreliability).

What is the place of this axiological formula amidst others, which stress rather the verbal esotericism exploiting polysemy, and linguistic ambiguity derived from the enigma? It appears to the present author, that this formula has conserved the fundamental axiological paradox of the ancient bráhman, whose linguistic ambiguity and ambivalence serves primarily to reintegrate the diverse key-points of the cosmic order (sát) into their hidden source in the primordial chaos of ásat (Silburn, IC pp.63–64; Kuiper AIC p.131). To the exoteric vision wholly enmeshed in the order (rūpa) that sustains the positive puruṣārtha-values, the deformity (virūpatā) of the vidūṣaka or rather all that it symbolizes can be no more than a defect for which he is ridiculed as a scapegoat.


“outvying” (Haas), “outbidding” (surenchère, Lévi)

“The experts recognize adhibalam in a dialogue where there is a sequence of propositions and counter-propositions between two persons such that a special meaning is derived from the mutual (interaction of the opposing) speeches.”57 Though the NS definition does not particularly stress the element of mutual emulation (uttarottara), Abhinava indicates that each reply seeks to contribute something more to the total meaning (adhikādhikasya arthasya). The special meaning is generated by the cumulative effect, each interlocutor (or contestant) taking advantage of the specialized (prajñāna) knowledge of the other in order to surpass him in the progression of assertion and counter-assertion, and thereby channel the discourse towards the establishment of his own point of view. Abhinava illustrates it with the discussion between the vidūṣaka and the prince in the Nāgānanda where the former repeatedly tries to lead the mind of the latter towards the enjoyment of kingly and amorous pleasures whereas the latter remains adamant in his commitment to the ascetic ideal of living only to serve others.58  The DR, defining it as “a dialogue where through rivalry each seeks to outdo the other in his utterances,” stresses the element of contest59 at the expense of the progressive mutual intellectual (and spiritual?) illumination culminating in the victory of one party, which is underlined by the NS. This shift of emphasis also reveals itself in the illustration supplied by Dhanika from Veṇīsamhāra V.27-34, where Bhīma (with Arjuna) confronts Duryodhana bereft of all his brothers and generals and they exchange mutual abuse, threats and self-vindications that grow more and more violent, and which is in fact one long bragging contest.

The bragging rivalry of the original verbal contest (vivāc) is at the very center of this dramatic formula (cf. note ??? above). But the NS definition referring to a “special meaning,” taken together with Abhinava’s commentary, seems to imply particularly the brahmodya mode of the verbal contest which could become very violent and has the characteristic coloring of intellectual or spiritual bragging.60

“The discussions recorded in the brāhmaṇas and upaniṣads are often explicitly said to have taken place at a sacrifice (SB;; cf. BAU p.3.1.1; Ch Up 1.10.6-11.9). How violent these discussions could be is clearly indicated when the partner in the discussion is threatened with the loss of his head (cf. SB, 5.3.13; Ch Up 1.8.6)…. Obviously the verbal contest could have no standing in the classical system of ritual which excludes the rival partner and renders the contest harmless by ritual fixation. For our purpose the interesting point is that this agonistic situation is often described as the context in which esoteric doctrine is obtained. Thus ŚB 11.4.1 relates that Uddālaka Āruṇi challenged the Udîcyas, as an invited officiant (vṛta), to run (races). He is challenged by their champion Svaidāyana who puts questions to him. Uddālaka, however, outwits him and finally Svaidāyana seeks and obtains upanayana with Uddâlaka, thus becoming subservient to him as a pupil. Here we come across a different type of teacher-pupil relationship, established in the cosmological verbal contest between host and guest. This recalls the well-known system whereby the student puts questions to the teacher, instead of the teacher having the pupil repeat texts by rote” (Heesterman, Samāvartana, pp.444-45; he goes on, note 32, to provide several more examples from the Vedic literature; cf. also Renou, Enigme pp.16-17; NB pp.109-11).

The original situation reflected in the adhibala seems to involve two contestants each with a partial knowledge of the bráhman-enigma which they proclaim, with the intention of completing or perfecting it or of testing the other’s understanding and proving one’s own superiority. In such an archaic socio-religious context, it is easy to see how the bráhman could (like the mana-concept in which Gonda NB recognizes its original meaning) at the same time be the impersonal power inherent in the totality of cosmological correspondences and also the personal power that the brahmán derives by (partially or fully) incarnating this bráhman.61 In its literary transposition, this organic whole is inevitably fragmented and diverted into either a violent and bragging altercation or a friendly debate over a moral or practical issue. The participation of the vidūṣaka in Abhinava’s example shows that the formula can always be exploited for humorous effect as well in the play. It is in the comic verbal contest, with all its riddling, of the pūrvaraṅga-trigata that this formula could have still been exploited in its integral form.


"deception” (Haas); tromperie (Lévi)

Chala is a misleading statement, with a different (from the explicit) meaning, deliberately (abhisandhāna) provoking hāsya (in one) and anger (in another).”62 The DR definition, though different in that it makes no reference to either hāsya or anger or other emotional elements, does provide us with a better understanding as to how this formula could have been exploited for humorous effect in practice. “Chala is deceit by misleading (others) with statements of hostile intention couched in language that seems pleasant (or friendly).”63 If we take both the definitions together, it is not difficult to see how the hostile intent or censure can provoke anger in the persons concerned and gain the confidence of those taken in by the deceit, whereas the bisociative effect produced by the clash of the explicit and the opposed implicit meaning is liable to provoke the humor of the impartial observers who grasp the situation in its entirety. Though Abhinava seems to interpret the formula in terms of “censuring, chiding” (vacanam) rather than really hostile intentions, his example betrays the above mechanisms of humor. To a certain wanton lady just visibly wounded on the lower lip by the kiss of her paramour, her confidante says aloud, with the intent of (falsely) reassuring her approaching husband of his wife’s innocence:64

Who will not rise in rage
Seeing his beloved’s lip wounded?
You heeded not my warning
And kissed the lotus hiding a bee.
Now rightly pay the penalty!
(from Gāthāsaptaśatī, no. 968).

Overheard by the unsuspecting husband, it misleads (chala) him into accepting this plausible reason for the bite-mark. This is the hidden motive behind the remark, which on the explicit level seems to condemn her to suffer her husband’s jealous indignation. It also falsely allays in advance the suspicion of the neighbors that may be aroused by the husband’s imminent scolding. It implicitly chides and angers the co-wife about to exult in her rival’s misdemeanor and punishment, by reminding the former that it is because the latter is extremely “beloved” of her husband that she is to suffer his taunts. For the same reason, it instigates the friend to enjoy the punishment as the supreme compliment. It also warns the erring lover, whose victim has been saved today, against future indulgence in such promiscuous love-bites. By demonstrating her artfulness though this highly suggestive remark, the confidante provokes the humor of those perceptive by-standers (like ourselves) who are able to bisociate it with all these conflicting fields of reference.

Though this is a highly ingenious illustration, in the kaiśikī style infused with śṛṅgāra, of the chala with all its elements, it leaves unresolved the problem of this seemingly arbitrary combination of double-meaning, intentional deception, hāsya and anger, especially in the original exploitation of the formula in the vīthī restricted to two male characters. Even in Abhinava’s example, there is no organic link between the anger of the co-wife and the hāsya of the onlooker, which can do without each other. In the light of the general character of the vīthī, it may be suggested that the chala captures that moment of the wit-combat where one contestant confuses and angers his opponent with aggressive enigmatic remarks (like those of the vidūṣaka in the pūrvaraṅga) thereby provoking the laughter of the discriminating audience (just as it evokes the smile of the sūtradhāra). We may recall here Kāmandaka’s characterization of the ‘joking companion’ (narma-saciva): “Nothing unpleasant should be said to the narmasacivas, for they indeed strike out at (one’s) vital points (marma) amidst peals of laughter in the assembly.”65 The vidūṣaka is the narmasaciva of the king.


“triple explanation” (Haas); “tripartite speech” (S. Lévi)

“In it many meanings are artfully attached (to a word, sentence, etc.) owing to a resemblance of sound. This, which may or may not have a comic (hāsya) character, is to be distinguished by the name trigata.”66 The problem is that, though GOS ed. here cited has retained (with KM 18.179b-180a) this definition which alone is commented upon and illustrated by Abhinava, the definitions found in other manuscripts (GOS footnotes) correspond to the definition in XX.128 (Calcutta edition) and 18.179-80 KM (variant reading) which is wholly different. “When in a performance a talk of (non-?) exalted characters is divided over three (characters) and is infused with hāsya, it is to be distinguished as a trigata.”67 DR retains and juxtaposes both definitions, without mention of hāsya, and without attempting to reconcile them.68 After Kuiper’s elaborate text-critical analysis of these conflicting definitions and reconstructions of the historical development of the Trigata (VV pp.180-86), it suffices here to repeat his valid conclusion that the comic tripartite talk must be a projection of the pūrvaraṅga-trigata into the scheme of the vīthyaṅgas well after the latter had already been elaborated and systematized, for it contradicts the rule that the vīthī should have at most two characters (pp.182-85). But it may be noted (p.185) that the mention of hāsya strengthens our conclusion that the ritual Trigata of the theatrical preliminaries must have already been regularly enacted with farcical (prahasana) elements, at least before certain kinds of (especially ‘popular’) audiences.69 Nevertheless, the retention of the tripartite structure and the recommendation of its use in the play proper in the form of a vīthyaṅga makes sense only in terms of a conscious ritual motivation of transposing onto the profane aesthetic level the metaphysical dialectic of thesis (Indra), antithesis (Varuṇa) and synthesis (Brahmā).70

As an instance of sound-play trigata may be cited the vidūṣaka Vasantaka’s abortive striking at Sā(ga)rikā in Ratnāvalī Act II, as if he were felling a “a ripe wood-apple (kapittha),” which we have already mentioned above as an instance of the nāmāntarita variety of prahelikā (nālikā). For it is through the sound-affinity (loss of a syllable) that the name of the talking-bird comes to signify (nāmārtha-kalpanā) the heroine herself. Kapiñjala (ad. Karpūramañjarī I.18, pp. 85, 188) explicitly compares Vicakṣaṇā “the goddess Sarasvatī on earth”—whom he likewise abuses obscenely—to a “talking-bird (sārikā) chattering in a cage.” The classical poets must have been thoroughly familiar with the profound ritual symbolism that lies behind Bharata’s attribution of Sarasvatī as presiding divinity of the ‘heroine’ (nāyikā) and Omkāra as the same for the vidūṣaka, and his sexually colored gestures towards her can be understood only as a transposition, within the profane drama, of the relationship between the incestuous fifth head of Brahmā and Sarasvatī in myth. Since this supreme coherence of the vidūṣaka’s gestures, which requires the recognition of the meanings hidden behind the sound-affinities, is not perceived by the profane exoteric gaze exclusively bent on enjoying the love-intrigue of the king and the heroine, the incongruity of his remarks and gestures is justifiable only in terms of comic intent. In such cases, the optional hāsya of the trigata helps to cover up the irregularities in the dramatic action due to the intrusion of unperceived ritual significations and determinations. Where, however, the suggested meanings are used as a literary device to hint at other related moments or elements of the dramatic action itself—and are recognized as such by the audience—the hāsya could possibly be dispensed with. The greatest scope for the hāsya variety of the trigata is of course in the vidūṣaka, not only because he is a ‘joker’ (hāsyakṛt) but especially because it is here that, missing its clever exploitation, we are likely to see no more than a tangle of incongruities.

Abhinava interprets the ‘tri-’ (= ‘three’) of tri-gata as indicative of plurality (of meanings), the primary answer serving simultaneously to resolve several (implicit?) questions; for Abhinava seems to understand the “many” (meanings) as generated by the question-answer mechanism (characteristic of the riddle). The ‘artistry’  whereby the additional meanings are suggested is through intonation, etc. He illustrates it with Vikramorvaśīyam IV.27 where Purūravas’ question to the mountain if it had seen his lost beloved returns, minus the interrogative intonation, as an affirmative echo that momentarily deceives him with joyful expectation. The bisociative effect based on a single phonological sequence with contrary meanings and emotional content renders this trigata comic.71 The very conception of esotericism as a dimension of signification reserved for the circle of initiated poets and connoisseurs (not in the purely aesthetic sense), renders it impossible for us to expect the orthodox commentators to provide anything more than purely literary illustrations of these formulas.


“humorous speech” (Haas), “conversation” (Lévi)

The definition given by the NS and commented by Abhinava seems to stand in no conceivable relation to the interpretation given it by later dramaturges, on which basis the above meanings have been deduced by Haas and Lévi. “Where (by chance or fate) there is the (fore-) seeing, in an utterance tinged with humor (of matters which actually materialize in due course), it is called vyāhāra.”72 Abhinava says that the “perception” here is that of things to come and gives an ‘etymologizing’ analysis of vyāhāra as the presentation of a variety of meanings (bridging the present context and future course of events?). He illustrates it with Ratnāvalī II.4 where the king, in playful humor, determines to flush the queen’s face with anger by gazing fixedly, as if it were another passionate woman, upon his garden creeper in full bloom, which he proceeds to describe in terms that unwittingly exactly foretell the manner in which he will soon really arouse the queen’s jealousy through his attentions to the young heroine. Though humorously indulged in by the king himself in this case, there would be hāsya in vyāhāra wherever the audience is able to bisociate (even a serious utterance) with both its present context and the ironical turn of future events which it secretly suggests.

The DR defines it as “a remark for the sake of another which provokes humor and desire”73 and Dhanika illustrates it with the scene in Mālavikāgnimitra II where the vidūṣaka seeks to find faults after the heroine’s superb display of her dancing skill has won victory for her dance-master. She had committed a serious breach of etiquette in neglecting to pay homage to a brahmin (viz. himself as mahābrāhmaṇa) before commencing her performance. This small talk amuses and occupies the heroine, thus allowing the king to fulfill his desire of feasting his eyes longer upon her. There seems to be no organic connection between the humor and the “desire” (lobha rather means ‘greed’), and we wonder if this formula, like the prapañca, originally referred to the larger emotional context of the verbal contest, where speeches were made with ulterior motives (anyārtham?) impelled by greed or playing upon the opponent’s greed, the cooperative contest being productive of humor. In any case, this formula aesthetically exploits some of the possible emotional effects and motivations of the crooked speech and riddle-mechanisms characteristic of the vīthī.


“abrupt remark” (Haas); “sally” (Lévi)

“Impetuously abrupt and bewildering remarks exchanged during a verbal dispute with the intent of refuting (the opponent’s propositions) and provoked by (the intent of answering) the challenge posed by (the opponent’s) eloquent speech (? bahu-vacanākṣepa-kṛtam).”74 Abhinava adds that the remarks constituting the gaṇḍa should (appear to) be somewhat incomplete (in their sense, īṣad-asamāptam vacanam). He goes on to cite Kohala who defines it as “the vīthyaṅga where an element, coming at the end of a coherent syntactic whole, though unconnected appears as if connected (with what follows);” and comments that this implies that the preceding phrase is therefore somewhat incomplete. The example he gives is from the Veṇīsamhāra II.22-23 where Duryodhana’s amorous  invitation to Bhānumatī to seat herself on his thighs is interrupted by the chamberlain’s announcement that the banner of Duryodhana’s chariot has been shattered by a terrible (bhīma) wind. Though the term “pair of thighs” forms a completed syntactic whole with the preceding words, it invites connection, by force of context and literary convention (compare J. Culler, SP, pp.183–85), with the chamberlain’s interposed words and thereby suggests the imminent crushing of his thighs beneath the blows of Bhīma’s mace. Though Abhinava gives an aestheticized application of the formula, minus the context of mutual challenge and verbal dispute, it is perfectly evident that the NS definition is rather describing the gaṇḍa employed in the pūrvaraṅga-Trigata by the vidūṣaka (cf. note 14 above), where it is not only used to refute (vi-dūṣ) the coherent propositions of the (Indra-) pāripārśvika but is also productive of hāsya because of its abruptness and seeming irrelevance and incoherence. The difference is that in the literary application of the formula within the linear coherence of the play, the really unconnected remarks are connected by the audience for literary effects (like plot development, etc.), whereas in the trigata it is rather the really connected remarks of the vidūṣaka that appear unconnected to the audience unable to grasp the hidden allusions and coherence. Though the gaṇḍa, asatpralāpa, nālikā and abrupt questions exploited by the vidūṣaka in the pūrvaraṅga Trigata are independent formulas, especially when employed in the play, they should also be seen as partial aspects assumed by the single kaleidoscopic phenomenon of the comic riddle-contest. The nālikās pregnant with meaning can only take on the appearance of gaṇḍa to those like ourselves incapable of supplying the necessary ‘operators’ to restore the coherence; and we saw both these faces in the two contradictory definitions of the asatpralāpa.

In fact, minus the contest and refutation, the gaṇḍa (now hardly distinguishable from the DR asatpralāpa) becomes the most generalized definition we have of the vidūṣaka’s comic utterances within the plays for it is the external aspect under which almost any of the vīthyaṅgas could disguise themselves. “Brusquely uttered speech that seems to interrupt the matter at hand whereas in reality it is intimately attached to it” (cf. S. Lévi, TI p.115). Though this could also find the purely literary and aesthetic utilization (with which the commentators regularly illustrate them) of the poet or dramatist communicating, through and despite his characters, to his audience the inner structures and correspondences of the play, it could just as well—and especially in the vidūṣaka—be used to translate into the literary plane symbolic correspondences known to the initiated alone and striking the majority of the audience as incongruous. Whereas in the former case hāsya could be wholly dispensed with, the latter exploitation, which is apparently the original one, can be justified only in terms of its hāsya effects and has contributed greatly to the comic function of the vidūṣaka. His references to his kuṭilaka being “crooked like the heart of a wicked person” (Ratnāvalī II) or of the villain (Mṛcchakaṭikā IX) or like the (perverse) intentions of the queen’s maids (Viddhaśālabhañjikā IV)—cf. Parikh p.33—which have no aesthetic or literary relevance to their dramatic context, may be taken as such comic instances of gaṇḍa (fused with narmadyuti?). Otherwise, we leave it to our readers to explain why the dramatists could have had so little imagination as to wear out this stereotyped allusion.


The above survey reveals that, of the thirteen vīthyaṅgas, five viz. nālikā, prapañca, chala, trigata and vyāhāra are explicitly defined in terms of hāsya, and two more, viz. asatpralāpa and gaṇḍa have a characteristic hāsya-effect, for asatpralāpa is listed elsewhere (Nāṭya Śāstra chapter VI) among the vibhāvas of hāsya, and gaṇḍa is exploited (with nālikā and asatpralāpa) by the vidūṣaka  in the Three Men’s Talk (Trigata) of the ritual preliminaries in such a manner as to create the impression of a farce evoking a smile from the stage-manager (sūtradhāra, and no doubt the audience’s laughter). Moreover, the illustrations of four remaining vīthyaṅgas, viz. udghātyaka (Daśarūpaka), avalagita (Abhinavabhāratī), vākkeli (Daśarūpaka)  and adhibala (Abhinavabhāratī), include the comic participation of the vidūṣaka and at least the first and third of those rely on the vidūṣaka’s supposed inability to understand things correctly. He is also central to the Daśarūpaka illustration of vyāhāra. Of the remaining two, mṛdava by its very structure (inversion of values), readily lends its bisociative possibilities to comic exploitation, especially in the vidūṣaka. Though this bears out Raghavan’s conclusion that the original vīthī, despite the later exploitation of the vīthyaṅgas as vehicles of all the rasas, must have been defined primarily by wit, humor and farcical elements, it does not properly bear out his characterization of it as a “popular satire.”

Certainly these formulas could have been easily adapted for the presentation of a popular spectacle with a critical satirical tone by exaggerating the comic appeal already inherent in them (sa-vīthyaṅga-prahasana); nevertheless the majority of them rather betray—especially when taken together—the underlying intention of transposing the riddle mechanisms of the ancient enigma onto the aesthetic plane of the drama through their fragmentation into discrete instances of ‘twisted’ speech (vakrokti), dialogue (ukti-pratyukti) or polysemy (śleṣa) or as moments of a verbal contest (vivāda) tending towards the enigma (brahmodya). The contest is explicit in four of them, viz. prapañca, mṛdava, adhibala and gaṇḍa and moreover, asatpralāpa and nālikā are also clearly used (along with gaṇḍa) as elements of the verbal contest in the ritual preliminaries (pūrvaraṅga). Contest also appears to be implicit in udghātyaka, chala and possibly vākkeli as well. Thus six or seven of the vīthyaṅgas combine to retain, within the dramatic transposition, the original context of verbal contest within which the hidden cosmic connections of the bráhman-enigma were activated. Avalagita, avaspandita and vyāhāra (of the Nāṭya Śāstra) are clearly devices for transposing (by connecting events separated in time) the simultaneous multiplicity of levels of signification of the poly-dimensional enigma not only into the relatively linear coherence of the dramatic plot and action but also into mythic and epic narrative sequence (for riddle as a “concise résumé of mythological doctrine or tradition,” cf. Gonda, “Notes on Brahman,” p.61, citing Schrader-Nehring). The trigata, nālikā (prahelikā), and udghātyaka could serve to retain the multiplicity of levels even within the apparently linear coherence of narrative, and there is nothing to prevent even the others from occasionally being used in narrative (cf. note 13 above). It is this common riddle mechanism that makes it possible for the vidūṣaka’s enigmatic utterances in the verbal contest to assume the form of (an incoherent comic) narrative (kathanikā; cf. note 43 supra). The riddle element is most pronounced in udghātyaka, nālikā, vākkeli, adhibala, trigata, gaṇḍa and perhaps chala as well but, of these, hāsya is expressly mentioned only in trigata (only optionally) and in chala (where the riddle element anyārtha is feeble compared to the emotional effects), whereas the nālikā is only the humorous turn given to the non-humorous prahelikā.

This observation is not meant to contradict our earlier assertion that the vīthyaṅgas were originally exploited in drama especially for comic effects but only to suggest that, taken all together, the scheme formed by their definitions is inexplicable in terms of the single or primary intention of producing a comic spectacle. Nor does it support the hypothesis of a social satire exploiting the comic sentiment for its appeal, for only the prapañca, mṛdava, chala and perhaps asatpralāpa (Nāṭya Śāstra) could have lent themselves to such treatment, whereas the other formulas, intentionally esoteric, are rather calculated to obscure the message. For the same reason, the vīthī, though it exploits the farcical appeal of the prahasana, could not be of ‘popular’ origin. Rather, one could glimpse the symbiosis of a popular farce appealing to the lowest audiences and an elitist vīthī drawing inspiration from a traditional ritual milieu (connected with the verbal contests of the learned assembly, sabhā?). Is it not the same combination that we find in the foolish ridiculous incoherent ‘non-Vedic’ (avaidika) vidūṣaka, who nevertheless often bears names of the highest Vedic pedigree, draws his metaphors and imagery abundantly from the domain of Vedic ritualism and mythology, and occupies beside the king a privileged place that insistently recalls that of the learned purohita?

Faced with the dilemma posed by a set of dramatic prescriptions that no longer faithfully reflect the ancient riddle-contest (brahmodya, within its larger vivāc context) but yet retains enough of its formal structures, mechanisms and even contents to resist any attempt to reduce them to a purely comic (or even dramatic) intent, the only appropriate methodology was to study these prescriptions as transpositions of elements of the original ritual complex onto an aestheticized literally setting. They would then be governed by what may be called a ‘double-functionalism;’ each formula would on the one hand refer back to some aspect, moment, constituent or modality of the brahmodya and on the other hand, propose a particular exploitation of it in the drama in terms of aesthetic effect, plot development, characterization, literary ornamentation and variation of dramatic dialogue—all of them infused with a pronounced comic appeal. This transposition,  though never explicitly stated, would reveal itself in the juxtaposition of terms and elements that belong some more properly to the brahmodya (e.g., udghātyaka, adhibala, gaṇḍa of the Nāṭya Śāstra) and some to the drama proper (e.g., avalagita, avaspandita, vyāhāra); or it would reveal itself in formulas that refer to neither field in itself but to the effects produced on the aesthetic and literary surface of the drama by unspecified modes of transposition (e.g., asatpralāpa and gaṇḍa of the Daśarūpaka). That we have been able to explain successfully all these formulas, with most of their component elements, in terms of transposition, would justify the assumption that the original architects of this deliberate transposition were perfectly aware of what they were doing. The primarily comic character of the original vīthī would have been necessitated by the incongruous appearance that these esoteric correspondences inevitably assume before the exoteric gaze. It is through the exaggeration of these bisociative effects and the secondary elaboration of their hāsya aspect that they would have been tolerated and readily absorbed by the latter. These formulas were later often diverted to purely aesthetic effects, where the humor is independent of the riddle mechanisms, or where the latter are trivialized into amusing demonstrations of ingenuity or non-comic moral catechisms without any profound ritual notations. Or, as some of our examples testify, they were completely divorced from both hāsya and crooked speech (Abhinava’s example of mṛdava).

Yet, it is in the vidūṣaka, whose hāsya function depends greatly on incongruous speech (vikṛta-vāk), that we can expect to find the most faithful prolongation, conservation and even elaboration of the profound ritual and metaphysical motivation that subtends the whole scheme. Fragmented and dispersed into the elements of the vīthī, the diverse moments, modes and aesthetic possibilities of the ancient bráhman would have been recombined, in a discontinuous mode by the classical kavi, in the ‘jokes’ (narma) of the brahma-bandhu through a wholly different medium (the ‘profanized’ drama), before an audience of laics, and in a profoundly transformed cultural milieu where the ideology of the brahmanical sacrifice in its integral form was accessible only to the privileged few. To the exoteric vision the clown appears to bring together wholly unconnected elements and domains in his utterances (the enigma), he is unable to see the differences between things, and is led astray by false and ridiculous analogies. This is why he is necessarily a fool (mūrkha) speaking nonsense (asambaddha-pralāpa), and hence his assimilation to a madman (compare Foucault, 1970, p.49). But to the esoteric vision, which is not different from that of the vidūṣaka himself, that restores the hidden coherence to the jumble of meaningless signs, the vidūṣaka must necessarily appear as generously endowed with ‘ready wit’ or ‘mental quickness’ (tadātva-pratibhā, BP p.289, lines 4-5; also vedavin narmavedī; cf. Bhat, p.104). This explains how the Nāṭya Śāstra could prescribe the vidūṣaka, who is always addressed as a ‘fool’ in the plays proper, to be ready-witted, for in him the exoteric surface and the esoteric coherence of the enigma are superposed on each other. But this superposition is rendered possible only through his humor (hāsya-aspect), which at the same time serves the aesthetic function of the drama. The hāsya function disguises the ritual one, and the ritual function is exploited for the purposes of hāsya.

Of this exploitation of the vidūṣaka, we have offered only a few instances(among many others we have been able to discover till now) returning to them again and again to give some idea as to how several(among many others we have been able to discover till now) returning to them again and again to give some idea as to how several vīthyaṅgas (not to mention sandhyaṅgas, alaṅkāras, vṛttis, etc.) have subtly fused within an apparently innocent and deceptively simple episode. The approach and theory outlined here can carry conviction only when a systematic application of these principles of interpretation is successfully extended to most of the known vidūṣaka plays. The difficulties are many:

1.      to identify and sort out the various vīthyaṅgas (and other devices) that have been imbricated in a single intervention so that full coherence is restored;

2.      the probability that the poets have used these formulas as mere maxims for free improvisation without sticking to the letter of their definitions;

3.      the discontinuous exploitation of them that punctuates and even interferes with, but without impairing, the purely literary and aesthetic coherence of the play;

4.      the contents signified which, though familiar to the circle of poet-initiates, we must laboriously reconstitute on our own by identifying and excavating the varied domains.

These difficulties, insoluble in the abstract, can be surmounted only in the process of systematically applying these principles to concrete instances in the existing plays—to begin with, to stereotyped motifs inexplicable in terms of purely aesthetic and literary criteria, or to strikingly incongruous or meaningless interventions by the vidūṣaka. Once this is accomplished with a sufficient measure of success, one could, armed with the precise results obtained, attack from this angle even other episodes, elements or structures seemingly explicable in purely aesthetic or literary terms, to discover to what extent they are nevertheless determined by extra-dramatic motivations. Until such time, we can do no more than propose the above theory as a fruitful hypothesis for research in an area where other one-dimensional approaches have yielded only partial and far from satisfactory results.

Notes to Chapter 10: "Wit and Linguistic Ambiguity"

1 The alternative reading of the Nātya Śāstra (MK. XX.IV.106; KSS XXXV.57) prescribes the vidūṣaka, instead of dvi-janma (‘twice-born’, esp. brahmin), to be dvi-jihva ‘double-tongued’ (cf. Bhat, p.63), which can only refer to his ‘crooked speech’ (vakrokti), ambiguous talk full of symbolic allusions. For vipra, see GOS XII.142, which does not only mean ‘brahmin’ but has the specific connotation Renou attributes to it. The Omkāra, which the brahmin Pāśupata sought to identify himself with and which likewise presides over the vipra-vidūṣaka, is itself ‘supremely quivering,’ for the Pāśupata-Sūtra (= PS) V.26 defines it as: ṛṣir vipro mahān eṣaḥ. Omkāra as “anirukta par excellence, because it says everything even though not enunciating anything distinct at all” (Renou, VSCV, p.73, IF) is the very symbol of the nonsensical speech of both the Pāśupata and the vidūṣaka (not excluding the ritual stammering of the dīkṣita) for it is neither silence nor structured coherent speech though it participates in the virtues of both (cf. Coomaraswamy, SP II, p.208). For vip = “la parole tremblée,” cf. also Renou, PPHV, p.49. The spandana (feigned trembling of limbs PS III.13) obligatory for the Pāśupata ascetic is only the physical representation of intense but undifferentiated activity, i.e., neither activity nor fixed delimited activity that likewise defines the spanda of Kashmir Shaivism. The vidūṣaka Gautama seems to do display it in Act IV of Mālavikāgnimitra. When he is supposedly bitten by a serpent (simsimāyanti, of his limbs). The Pāśupata aimed to betaken for an epileptic; for shamanistic parallels, see Eliade, Chamanisme, pp.37-41.

2 Renou’s linking of the Rig-Vedic epithet of Rudra as ‘crooked poet’ (vaṅkuḥ kaviḥ) with on the one hand the brahmán-enigma conceived of as a shamanistic-type revelation and on the other hand the vakrokti of the classical Sanskrit poets has been taken up by T.Y. Elizarenkova and V.N. Toporov, Vedic Vaṅku, who rally around Sāyana’s interpretation of the word vaṅku: ‘Sāyana’s glosses are either vakra- ‘crooked, curved, bent, tortuous, twisted, wry, oblique’ (derived from the same root vañc- ‘to remove crookedly’) or kuṭila ‘bent, crooked, curved, etc.; dishonest, fraudulent’.” (p.100). They conclude with some observations that greatly contribute to our understanding of the intimate bond between the vidūṣaka and his ‘crooked staff’ (kuṭilaka): “Many typological parallels can be mentioned in connection with the idea ‘crooked’, ‘twisting’ as applied to the poet-priest (…). It would suffice here to remember one of the most striking examples. The name of the ancient Lithuanian poet-priests was either Krivis Krivaitis or Krivis-krivaitis from the adjective krivas ‘crooked’ (…). The attribute of such a priest was crooked club krivulis (it is worth mentioning that up to now in some places in Lithuania there remains still a custom that peasants are called to a meeting by a special herald with a stick krivulis)…. This motif, in turn, leads us to the problem of the ‘indirect’ modus of the archaic poetical speech of the ancient Indo-European poets, like the Old-Indian kavi or the Latin vates” (ibid., p.104). Not only does this explain the constant allusions, mostly by himself, to the vidūṣaka's being as crooked as his kuṭilaka which he holds in his left hand (Parikh, pp.31-33), but it also explains why the donor of the kuṭilaka had to be Brahmā (compare Kuiper, VV pp.145-46), for the latter is the mythical projection of the brahmán-priest, bearer of the bráhman-enigma. This “weapon of Brahmā wielded by the vidūṣaka” (Abhinavabhāratī I, p.27) is possessed of that magical power invested in the bráhman-enigma, and if its crookedness is also repeatedly equated to the ‘perversity’ of his own heart, this is because the ultimate key to the bráhman is hidden in the transgressive dimension (sato bandhum asati niravindan; hence the ‘great brahmin’ mahābrāhmaṇa), to which his ‘crooked’ speech often alludes. The sage Aṣṭāvakra’s mastery of the cosmological enigmas, which enables him to defeat Bandin in the riddle-contest (brahmodya), must likewise be attributed to his congenital crookedness (he was ‘bent in eight’ places, hence his name). Cursed to be crooked for speaking from his mother’s womb, it is to this ‘perverse’ capacity that his prowess must be attributed. The total appropriation of the bráhman presupposes an embryonic regression to the prenatal condition (jāta-vidyā; cf. Kuiper, “Cosmogony and Conception”) which, conversely, is facilitated by the assimilation of the cosm(ogon)ic correlations constituting the bráhman (cf. Mahābhārata, Sabhāparvan, 132–34, GP ed., vol. I). These notations of ‘perversity’ expressed symbolically through physical crookedness (the vidūṣaka is also prescribed to be hunch-backed kubja or “funny-backboned” hāsyānuka-vibhūṣita, and sometimes assumes such a posture in the classical plays; cf. NS KM XXIV.106; KSS XXXV.57; BP p.289; Bhat p.48, Parikh p.22) are also because the embryonic regression to the source of the bráhman is conceived as a mode of transgression; hence the inauspicious evil character of the dīkṣita in Varuṇa’s realm (cf. Kuiper, CC, Ancient Indian Cosmogony, p.116). One of the clearest proofs of the transgressive function of the ‘non-Vedic’ (avaidika) vidūṣaka is his constant profanations of his sacred thread either by putting it to ridiculous uses or by his irreverent references to it. In Ratnāvalī Act II, he swears by his sacred thread (satyam śape brahma-sūtreṇa…) the blatant lie that the king and himself had never seen Sāgarikā before. When the maid is inclined to believe him, the queen Vāsavadattā chides her: “O simpleton (ṛjuke: literally ‘straight’ as opposed to crooked)! This is indeed Vasantaka. You do not know the crooked turns of speech (vakra-bhaṇitāni) peculiar to him!” If this lie can attain the status of ‘twisted’ truth, it is only through allusion to himself as the institutionalized transgressor of the brahmanical status invested in his sacred thread. Brahmins who had thoroughly mastered the Veda and its inner meaning were legally not permitted—like madmen, criminals and the king himself—to stand witness. Cf. Viṣṇusmṛti VIII.2, discussed by Dumézil, Mitra-Varuṇa, p.217; Gonda NB p.75, note 27. Would it be too much to suggest that these 'brahmins par excellence' (mahābrāhmaṇa) are disqualified from giving evidence precisely because they are necessarily taboo-violators and adepts at crooked speech that is often difficult to distinguish from outright lying? The vidūṣaka has often a thoroughly brahmanical name of the highest Vedic pedigree (Bhat pp.81–83) and if he is nevertheless branded as ‘outside the pale of the Veda’ (avaidika), this is no doubt another way of saying that such a status of mahābrāhmaṇa is attained only through ritual transgression. For a strikingly similar “really sophisticated approach to the sociology of the truth” among the Dogon, cf. M. Douglas, IM pp.127-28; cf. also L. Makarius, CI pp.35-36. In this light, there is no incompatibility between the vidūṣaka ‘s double-tongue’ (dvi-jihva, see note 1 above) referring to both his ‘crooked speech’ (vakrokti) and to “the inconsistent speech and bluffing which are characteristic of the vidūṣaka” (Bhat, p.63). One of the central motifs of the Liṅgodbhava myth of the Purāṇas is Bhairava cutting of the fifth head of Brahmā for having lied that Brahmā had seen the summit of the fiery liṅga. In one version (BrP 135.1-21), Brahmā sprouted his fifth head in the form of a she-ass in order to speak the lie that his other four faces could not (Kramrisch, PS p.264). The vidūṣaka Vaikhānasa in the play Kaumudīmahotsava (Vijayabhaṭṭārikā) resembles “a monkey by his appearance and a donkey by his voice” (Bhat p.258, and p.51 note 19). The donkey represents the śūdra in Vedic symbolism (Hillebrandt, VM I, pp.324, 318) and when associated with Brahmā or a brahmin can only symbolize transgression as can be seen in the ritual prescription for the killer of a brahmin to wear the skin of an ass (or dog; cf. Keith RPVU p.266; Lorenzen KK. P.75). This essential link between lying, transgression and contrary speech in both the vidūṣaka and the fifth head is evident in another version (SP JS 49.65–80) where because of his incestuous wish, Sarasvatī curses the fifth head of her father to always speak contrarily and bray like a donkey (Kramrisch, PS p.264; O’Flaherty AE pp.125– 26).

3 For the original equality and later opposition of ṛk and gāthā, see Paul Horsch, Die vedische Gāthā- und Śloka-Literatur (Bern, 1966), passim. Though both belonged to a common Indo-Iranian tradition of verbal esotericism and many Vedic enigmas connected with ritual were in the less hieratic form of gāthās (e.g., yajña-gāthās; Horsch p.250), in the later period gāthās were thrown out of the formal limits of the sacred and stood in symbolic opposition to the Vedic ṛksin the relation of profane/sacred, and as such were scrupulously distinguished and kept apart. Inin the relation of profane/sacred, and as such were scrupulously distinguished and kept apart. In Ratnāvalī II, the vidūṣaka mistakes Sā(ga)rikā’s gāthā (expressing love for the king) for a Vedic rk (…dāsyā-duhitā catur-vedī brāhmaṇa iva ṛcaḥ paṭhitum pravṛttā); on which the king smilingly comments that only the vidūṣaka, being the ‘great brahmin’ (mahābrāhmaṇa), was conversant with this variety of rks. The suggestion seems to be that whereas the orthodox Vedic brahmin scrupulously maintains the distinction between the Vedic and the gāthā verses (because his knowledge of the former is primarily literal?), the mahābrāhmaṇa is able to recognize the same meanings in the latter as conveyed by the former. In that case, the king’s perfectly just comment on the vidūṣaka’s—who is a ‘non-Vedic’ (avaidika) Prākṛt (vernacular) speaker, despite his claim to know the Veda (veda-vit)—special proficiency could only have been presented in ridiculous (hāsya) aspect as an ironical comment on the latter’s stupidity (doṣa). We shall take up this example again as an illustration of the vīthyanga called mṛdavam and of the sandhyaṅga called narmadyuti. It would seem that whereas the brahmins charged with conserving the texts and formal traditions of the Vedas were obliged to seal them off from all foreign contamination, the classical poets drew their creative inspiration freely from their profound understanding of these same traditions and transposed them according to their genius into the profanized and even popular forms of art, reproducing the ancient motifs even in the vernacular. (Compare Dumézil’s opposition between the conserving function of the brahmins under Mitra and the creative license of the Gandharvas under Varuṇa).

4 Louis Renou, Religions of Ancient India (RAI), p. 10. Cf. also Renou, JM, pp.33, 34; Enigma pp.14-15. "This, then, is the origin of Vedic esotericism, which .... is linked with the esotericism of later India, as it appears in the Tantras, in learned poetry, in the theories of aesthetics on which this poetry is based, and even in legal tradition. The Indian mind is constantly seeking hidden correspondences between things which belong to entirely distinct conceptual systems" (RAI p. 18). With this lucid statement of Renou, imposed upon him by the very nature of the documents he is studying, there is little need for us to attempt here an elaborate justification of the exoteric/esoteric dichotomy which we have presupposed as the fundamental methodological principle in our approach to the vidūṣaka’s ‘semblance of humor’ (hāsyābhāsa). Only, we have stressed with Dumézil, the inversion of values that generally defines the transition from the exoteric (Mitraic) to violatory esoteric (Varunic) dimension of brahmanical tradition. The unity of this all-pervasive esoteric dimension of Indian culture has already been traced by Mircea Eliade to its source in a lived shamanistic type of experience. “But the important fact is that this ecstatic experience does not contradict the general theory of the brahmanical sacrifice, just as the trance of the shamans fits in admirably into the cosmo-theological system of the Siberian and Altaic religions” (p.322)… “It remains to be seen if Indian religious life, in its totality and with all the symbolisms it bears, is a creation—as it were ‘degraded’ in order to become more accessible to the profane world—of a series of ecstatic experiences of some privileged souls, or on the contrary, the ecstatic experience of these latter is only the result of an effort at ‘interiorization’ of certain cosmo-theologic schemas which precede it. A problem heavy with consequences…. (p.324, Chamanisme). It is this problem that Prof. Kuiper has approached from an embryo-cosmogonic angle in his seminal article on “Cosmogony and Conception.”

5 The vidūṣaka himself seems to be aware of the non-cerebral source of his inspiration; cf. Cārāyana’s boast of having, as a fool (mūrkha), access to knowledge hidden in the ‘root’ (mūla – also ‘radish’) whereas the more cerebral pandits, unable to reach the mūla, are deceived by fanciful considerations (Viddhaśālabhañjikā by Rājaśekhara, Bhat p.270). That other ‘lover of sweetmeats’ (modaka-priya), Ganesha, is also not only stationed at the ‘root-foundation’ (mūlādhāra), the ‘physiological’ center (cakra)  “where psychic components of a lower, say phylogenetic, stratum may be localized” (Kuiper, CC in AIC, p.125), but specially associated with the radish (mūla-kanda) in iconography, the latter being synonymous with mūlādhāra in Tantric parlance. Rājaśekhara's familiarity with Tantric, especially Kaula, doctrine is clearly attested in his Karpūramañjarī. For the continuity between Vedic cosmogony and Tantric mystic physiology, see likewise Kuiper, CC, pp.123-30.

6 The syllable OM “would appear then, like the bráhman (priest) himself, as the support of the sacrifice. OM is in fact, let us not forget, the akshara, the imperishable which is identified with the sacred principle (the bráhman)” (Silburn, IC p.92).

7 The syllable OM “would appear then, like the bráhman (priest) himself, as the support of the sacrifice. OM is in fact, let us not forget, the akshara, the imperishable which is identified with the sacred principle (the bráhman)” (Silburn, IC p.92).

8 Of the two Vīthīs from which Bhoja draws illustrations of the three vīthyaṅgas called udghātyaka, nālikā and trigata (see definitions in this chapter), Mālatikā is “a light love-comedy, a miniature Nātikā with features of a Prahasana grafted on to it” (Raghavan, SP p.874) and, like the former, Indulekhā also is “a light love-comedy featuring a king, his companion vidūṣaka and a lady who is the object of the king’s love” (loc. cit.). Though it is significant that the vidūṣaka features in both, the presence of a third female character and the Prakrit dialogue do not conform to the requirements of the original vīthī as part of the verbal style restricted to at most two male characters speaking Sanskrit and without women.

9 The four sub-divisions of the ‘verbal’ (bhāratī) style are the prarocanā, āmukha, vīthī and prahasana (Nātya Shāstra GOS XX.27). Abhinava’s comment seems to imply that, as modes of the verbal style, the vīthī and the prahasana do not refer to particular forms of drama (but to the instances of “crooked speech” and farcical elements introduced into any play) and, as forms of drama, they are especially characterized by the verbal style, though not exhausted by it. [Sanskrit text]?????

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13 Compare Raghavan, SP p.557. It is not clear to me on what basis, Raghavan insists that the monologue form the vīthī is definitively earlier than the dialogue form, especially when several of the vīthyangas refer explicitly or implicitly to a context of dispute (vivāda). “The original and earlier Vīthī, or the more common Vīthī, was Ekahāryā” (enacted by a single actor; loc. cit.). Though it could have taken on, like the Bhāna (monologue play), a narrative form, an analysis of the vīthyangas would indicate rather that its defining feature is the exploitation of polysemy, symbolic allusions and all the riddle mechanisms. It is because even ‘narrative’ (kathā) literature (and the epic, see below for an example of avalagita from the Mahābhārata) is teeming with such intricate devices, that the commentators have been able to draw examples of the vīthyangas from kathā. “It is but natural that the vīthyangas, like the sandhyangas and the rest, should form aspects of any course of events, be they in drama or narrative. Says, Abhinavagupta: vīthyangānām ca sarvatra sambhavah” (Raghavan, SP p.573).

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17 “A second trait of the kāvya, and which is developed thanks to the very facilities offered by the shlesha: often the sentences, the verses (in the versified works) propose to the reader an enigma, leaving him the trouble of divining it—unless (as it often happens) the key to it is provided by the immediate context…. Natural polysemy, tendency towards the enigma, have they been exploited in ancient India for purely literary effects? Should we see there nothing more than a gratuitous preciosity, like that which, in India just as elsewhere, has followed or preceded the flowering of the great classical art? Not at all. This same enigma with its polysemic base is refound in the most ancient literary monuments of India, in these founding texts of brahmanism called the Vedas… Every proposition is a palimpsest, to be read on two planes, one of direct expression the other of evocation” (Louis Renou, L’enigme, pp.12-13; IF pp.11-20).

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22 For this equivalence and that between an ‘omnivorous appetite’ (sarva-bhakshakatva, characterizing the vidūṣaka as Agni) and incest (or sexual transgression), see chap. ???, note ???: citations from Lévi-Strauss. The vidūṣaka is constantly making sexual innuendos in terms of food, especially his modakas. We give only some examples in passing. In Avimāraka, when the maid attempts to lure away the fool from the presence of the hero and heroine intent on love-making, he agrees to do so only if she promises him food. She then hands over all her ornaments and declares: “you have now become virtually a lover to me,” and drags him off the stage (Parikh, pp.36-37; Bhat, p.208). To Avimāraka wholly engrossed in his infatuation with the heroine, he says: “You appear to be brooding over the same thoughts, day and night, like a Brahmin duped by an invitation to dinner” and compares his own food-deception to that of a sex-starved harlot (….āmantrana-vipralabha iva brāhmanah…/ aham apialabdha-bhogā prākrta-ganikeva; cf. Bhat, p.207). When the lovelorn heroine weeps, he attributes it to her “hunger” and urges to “hurry up with the food” insisting that he will be the first to sit at the table (Bhat pp.207, 208: kim etena bubhukshitāyā rudantyā…gaccha shīghram bhojanam ānaya / aham agrāsanīyo bhavāmi). The maid chides this perverse brahmin’s obsession wit food (durbrāhmana! Etad api bhojanam cintayasi)  and Bhat rightly observes that “Nalinikā may think that the joke is inopportune; but it reveals the true Brāhmana, no doubt” (p.207). When Avimāraka proposes to lead him into the harem in Act IV (p.160), he thinks that his companion has suddenly become “hungry” (samprati bubhukshito’si) at which he is chided as a “fool” (vaidheya). When king Dushyanta turns to his vidūṣaka in Abhijñāna-Shākuntalam Act II, for consolation and advice in his consuming passion for the heroine, he replies: “What, in gobbling sweets (modaka)? Bless the moment!” (Bhat p.157: kim modaka-khādikāyām? / tena hy ayam sugrhītah kshanah). In the play Vikramorvashīyam itself he makes repeated equations of love with eating (cf. Bhat, p.223) and the examples could be easily multiplied.

That the humor (hāsya) with which such assimilations are accompanied in the plays is not the primary motivation can be inferred from the exploitation of the same motif not only in Ganesha but even in such mythic episodes as Agni appearing as a gluttonous brahmin (brāhmano bahu-bhoktāsmi) to consume the Khāndava forest (= modaka) in the Mahābhārata. The present example is funny only if the vidūṣaka’s (alimentary) term of comparison is felt to be incongruous but in that case the requirement of the definition would not be fulfilled, for there would be no equivalence and a hidden significance based on it. Moreover, the king could hardly be said to have “clarified” the meaning of “love” to the fool. That an esoteric assimilation of sexual appetite to eating is really intended is confirmed from other numerous instances, like those cited above, from the plays themselves. We have in our example a clear instance of an esoteric equivalence that, in the context of the drama, is presentable only under the semblance of hāsya (hāsyābhāsa). Cf. Shāradātanaya, Bhāvaprakāshana, p.230, lines 15-16 (cited by Raghavan, SP p.873):

Atha vikramorvashīye rājño vidūṣakasya samlāpe / kāma-padārtha-praśnād gūdhārtho lakshyate nitarām //

“…a hidden significance is eminently present.”

23 Thus, of Gārgī’s interrogation of Yājñavalkya ad Brhadāranyakopanishad III.8, Renou observes that “she poses then two questions of which the second is a function of the answer given to the first” (NB, p.113). Of the less rudimentary forms of the ‘enigma-contest’ (brahmodya) in the Brāhmana literature, Renou says: “One finds there an interrogator and the interrogated (in India, knowledge has always proceeded through the questionnaire); sometimes several actors enter the scene simultaneously or successively; it also comes about that the interrogator becomes the interrogated, that the answer changes into a trap and gives the impulsion, through a return-shock, to a questionnaire situated in a higher plane. It is no longer a game, it is a test, whose consequences are often redoubtable. The protagonist is not necessarily a priest, it could be a lay person, that is to say a prince, disposing of a rich domain. It is interesting to see laymen not only patronize these enigmas, but take part in them themselves, just as one will see very much later the kings and the patrons participate in the play with enigmas that take place among poets or scholars” (L’énigme, p.16). The generalization of the ritual enigma into the playful amusement of the prahelikās in a secularized atmosphere; the prahelikā is also one of the recognized elements of the vīthī (see below).

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28 In the Rig-Veda, “every proposition is a palimpsest, to be read on two planes, one of direct expression, one of evocation. When the poet gives his instructions: ‘Fashion a vessel, harness the plough, send out the horses for foraging, sew the cuirass!’ he indeed means, certainly, to handle these formulas with their concrete value, or at least he lets it also be understood, but what matters first of all to him, is to describe through these images the putting into action of the ceremonial, the preparations of the sacrifice, as if it had to do with a warlike expedition or an agricultural work. He does not say ‘prepare the sacrifice like one makes a vessel, like one harnesses a plough!’, he does not suggest moreover that ‘vessel’ or ‘plough’ are metaphors for ‘sacrifice’; the two actions progress in parallel, the enigma resides in the very shadow that the words trace on each other” (L’énigme, p.13).

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35 The verbal root valh- plays a typical role in the brahmodya: “Pravalhikā is the consecrated name of the ‘enigmatic’ verses of AV. XX 133, 1-6; likewise, the verbal expression pra-valh- signifies ‘vanquish through enigmas’: as Geldner says, we are in the very domain of the brahmodya” (Renou and Silburn, “Sur la notion de bráhman” = NB, p.94; IF pp.83-116). Renou and Silburn go so far as “to consider this root valh- to be the double—proper to a less hieratic state of language—of the root brah/barh- in the sense of ‘to speak through enigmas,’ which would account for bráhman and brahmán” (ibid., pp.94-95). They stress the prolongation of these sacred brahmodyas in the literary milieu of the later period in a diluted and fragmented form. “Important by its origins, the brahmodya is hardly less so by its consequences. We shall evoke here only secondarily the pravalhikās (prahelikā) and the prasnottaras in which the classical Poetics has taken delight—the weakening of a rite into a game…” (NB, p.112). Cf. L. Sternbach, IR, pp.34-35, 51, 82.

36 Dandin, Kāvyādarsha III 96b-124. They have been briefly described by Sternbach, Indian Riddles, pp.34-35, 38-50. M.C. Porcher has attempted an analysis of the various linguistic devices used in these sixteen varieties in her contribution “On Prahelikā” to the Ludwig Sternbach Commemoration Volume (Delhi 1979). It suffices here to merely note that many of these devices used can be simultaneously exploited for hāsya effects.

37 In this respect, cf. especially, the monograph of Jan de Vries, Die Märchen von klugen Rätsellöserrn, Folklore Fellows Communications no.73, Helsinki 1928. In his article, “Le jeu comme structure,” Deucalion no.2, 1947, pp.161-67, the French linguist E. Benveniste proposes that just as the rite divorced from myth is reduced to a mere game (ludus; the nātya-veda is also a plaything krīdanīyakam, NS I, 11), the myth without the rite ends up in a simple play one words (jocus ‘joke’) and the probatory enigma of initiation is no longer anything more than a pun. What we are particularly interested in however is how play (especially the drama) could serve to exteriorize ritual structures and jokes to exteriorize the mechanisms of the enigma through a medium saturated with seemingly profane contents. In either case, play and jokes, by breaking down the opposition between the sacred and the profane, serve as disguised vehicles of the sacred even at the heart of a profane milieu (this may be contrasted to Huizinga’s identification of the sacred with play on the basis of their formal and structural similarities, and Caillois’ criticism of the same emphasizing the doubly profane character of play on the basis of the difference in content and in the attitudes of the participants involved).

38 This privileged link between (ritual) clown and enigma is not specific to the vidūṣaka nor to India: “riddles and enigmas are (…) a genre that is almost entirely absent among the North-American Indians. If enigmas are found in the semantic entourage of an American myth, it could not thus be the effect of chance, but the proof of a necessity…among the Pueblo Indians of the southwest USA, there exists a family of ceremonial buffoons who pose enigmas to the spectators, and whom the myths describe as from an incestuous commerce” (Lévi-Strauss, AS II, p.32). That this monopoly of the use of enigmas is indeed a function of the transgressive (incestuous) dimension of the ritual clown is suggested by the fact that the only other recorded instance of such use of enigmas is by the owls who are also mythical projections of the taboo-violator (cf. also Makarius, JH p.224). It is this transgressive dimension that is likewise symbolized by the vidūṣaka’s deformity (compare the terrifying ugly masks worn my the Amerindian clowns like the Koyemshi) and the link seems to have been retained in the later farces, called preranā (Kāvyānushāsana 8.4), “which featured deformed characters who amused the public by humorous riddles (prahelikā-s) and agreeable music” (Sternbach, Indian Riddles, p.103), which later developed into the modern public samādas of the fairs and festivals. The deformity, of course, is later reduced to its purely hāsya aspect alone and its essential link to the solution of the enigma recedes wholly to the background. There is constant reference to the mystical uttering of verbal formals called brahman by Pāshupata ascetics (see note 1 above): atredam brahma japet (PS III.20, IV.21, V.41, etc.), though they were exclusive woṛṣippers of Rudra (cf. vankuh kavih, note 2 above). Given the unquestionably ritual function of their clowning and their (Atharva-) Vedic affiliations (cf. Scheuer, p.63, note 38), one may likewise search beneath the nonsensical utterances (asatpralāpa) of the vidūṣaka like those of the Pāshupata (PS III.17 api-tad-bhāshet) for formulaic ritual correspondences condensed into the bráhman-enigma. The difference is that in the vidūṣaka everything has been translated into terms of rhetoric in keeping with his dramatic and literary exploitation.

39 krīḍā-goshthī-vinodeshu taj-jñair ākīrna-mantrane / para-vyāmohane cāpi sopayogāh prahelikāh // Kāvyādarśa III.97. Cf. Sternbach, Indian Riddles, p.104; Yashodhara ad Kāmāsūtra 1.3.16. “Prahelikās were also used for testing poets as to their abilities and intelligence; according to some Prabandhas, and particularly the Prabandha-cintāmani, some poets were examined and had to prove their skill by solving riddles and/or completing verses left unfinished (samasya)” (Indian Riddles, p.104). Like Yashodhara, Bhoja too stresses the exploitation of prahelikās in poetic disputation (vāda: wit-contest) which may be compared to Welsford’s description of the Irish wit-combats between poets (see below, asat-pralāpa). “Prahelikā, Gūdhā and praśnottara. These are the well-known riddles and puzzles of various kinds which are for entertainment in social gatherings and for contest with rivals” (Raghavan, SP p.360). See especially Raghavan’s section on Pravalhikā, SP pp.600-02, “Of the grammatical authorities that have discussed this root (valh), the Purushakāra throws valuable light on the meaning of the word Pravalhikā. It quotes Bahvrca Brāhmana where this word occurs, and on the authority of its commentator Govindasvāmin interprets Pravalhikā as a false expression with which one deceives another: pravahlya anṛtam bhāshitvā” (SP p.602). If we restitute to the term anṛta (‘falsehood’) its original ritual connotations which link it to the primordial (cosmogonic) chaos asat, it would not only explain the term asat-pralāpa (see next vīthyanga, number 5) but also explain its ‘confusion’ with the nālikās in the speech of the vidūṣaka. The use of nālikās in the vāda-disputation of the ritual trigata reflecting the mythical opposition of Indra and Varuṇa reconciled by Brahmā (Kuiper, Varuṇa and Vidūṣaka, passim) points to an adaptation of the brahmodya as a total phenomenon into a dramatic ritual with a pronounced comic element.

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42 Bhat p.125. Kāvya-hāsyam tu vijñeyam asambaddha-prabhāshanaih // 140 // an-arthakair vikāraish ca tathā cāshlīla-bhāshanaih / Nātya Shāstra GOS XII. The reading vākya-hāsyam found in some manuscripts (Varuṇa and Vidūṣaka, p.214, note 388) though not wrong is a dilution of the original ‘poetic humor’ (kāvya-hāsya). Use of terms like cheka (Monier-Williams Dictionary: chekokti “indirect speech, hint, double entendre; Viddhashālabhañjikā II.5”), cheda “irony, wit, repartee” (vacana-bhagi = vakrokti “crooked or indirect speech”) and uccheda “interruption, interference, cutting short” (reflex of the gaṇḍa of the pūrvaranga-trigata) as variants describing the vidūṣaka’s utterances (cf. Kuiper, Varuṇa and Vidūṣaka, pp.215, 216) confirm his ready wit (pratibhā) and belie Prof. Kuiper’s contention that the vidūṣaka is no more than the fool (mūrkha) he is made out to be in the plays themselves (Varuṇa and Vidūṣaka, p.225).

43 Bhat p.125. Kāvya-hāsyam tu vijñeyam asambaddha-prabhāaai // 140 // an-arthakair vikāraish ca tathā cālīla-bhāaai / Nātya Shāstra GOS XII. The reading vākya-hāsyam found in some manuscripts (Varuṇa and Vidūṣaka, p.214, note 388) though not wrong is a dilution of the original ‘poetic humor’ (kāvya-hāsya). Use of terms like cheka (Monier-Williams Dictionary: chekokti “indirect speech, hint, double entendre; Viddhaśālabhañjikā II.5”), cheda “irony, wit, repartee” (vacana-bhaṅgi = vakrokti “crooked or indirect speech”) and uccheda “interruption, interference, cutting short” (reflex of the gaṇḍa of the pūrvaraṅga-trigata) as variants describing the vidūṣaka’s utterances (cf. Kuiper, Varuṇa and Vidūṣaka, pp.215, 216) confirm his ready wit (pratibhā) and belie Prof. Kuiper’s contention that the vidūṣaka is no more than the fool (mūrkha) he is made out to be in the plays themselves (Varuṇa and Vidūṣaka, p.225).

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For praśnottara-riddles, cf. L. Sternbach, Indian Riddles, pp.84-87, nos. 102-07. “The praśnottaras are closely connected with brahmodyas from where they seem to be derived. All riddles asking questions with or without replies contained in the verse, belong in principle to the praśnottara-riddles and, particularly, the antar-ālāpa and bahir-ālāpa riddles. Such poetical form i.e., questions and answers in stray verses, is very popular in Sanskrit literature, the best example being the praśnottararatnamālikā, a famous non-canonical didactic poem consisting of brief questions and brief answers” (ibid., p.85, note 104). However, in their later form, according to Sternbach, they serve to illustrate rhetorical and other forms of speech (note 105), p.86, note 107.2). As the generic form of the praśnottara, there is no reason why vākkeli could not have been exploited to reintroduce the mechanisms of the brahmodya into an aesthetic and dramatic setting.


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51 Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies (with an introduction by E.E. Evans-Pritchard; London 1970, RKP), p.1. Cf. also Mauss’ remarks on the manner of soliciting the ‘preliminary gift’ (vaga) in the Melanesia kula-system (op. cit., p.23). Kuiper relates the Rig-Vedic verbal contests to the gift distribution during the potlatch-like new Year festivals which his theory if Rig-Vedic religion places at the center of the hymnology: “the present-giving has probably been a weapon in the social contest, which then must have taken place also in the same period of crisis, about the beginning of the new year. This is the Indian potlatch festival, which Mauss and Held have recognized in the background of Indian civilization” (AAVC, AIC, p.172; cf. also p.156). More recently, in his article dedicated to Prof. Kuiper’s cosmogonic interpretation of the Rig-Vedic ‘verbal contest’ (vivāc) and relating it to the ritual system proper, Prof. Heesterman has also underlined the brahmodya mode of “the dualistic system of the contest for activating the hidden cosmic connections in order to win life and renew the universe at the nodal points of the time cycle, especially at the time of the New Year” (RVS, p.447). For the retention of these socio-ritual traditions, even under changed social conditions, in the secret functions of the sabhās, cf. Held, pp241-47. Cf. also Eliade, “Cosmogony, Ritual Competitions, and Oratorical Contests: India and Tibet,” in Quest, pp.163-66.

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54 Vishvasmād indra uttarah. Some have seen in this hymn a big, almost preposterous, joke whereas others emphasize the serious ritual motivation behind such hymns; cf. especially J. Gonda, The so-called secular, humorous and satirical hymns of the Ṛgveda, Orientalia Neerlandica, Leiden 1948 and, following him, I. Shekhar, SD pp.3-4.

55 doṣa-pracchādanārtham tu hāsyam narma-dyuti smrtam / Nātya Shāstra XIX.78. Though later theorists do not follow this definition, it is retained by the NātyaDarpaṇa: doshāvrtau tu tad-dyutih / I.49. Cf. Mainkar, SS, pp.61-63. Taken together with Abhinava’s gloss on doshāh ad Nātya Shāstra GOS I, p.312 by “transgression of norms” (among other meanings), the regular exploitation of this formula would suggest that the ridiculous and the hāsya aspect of certain model-situations of the public Sanskrit drama is in reality meant to camouflage symbolic transgressions of socio-religious brahmanical norms.

56 Aho bhavantam mahābrāhmaṇam muktvā ko’nya evam-vidhānām rcām abhijñah which the ND explains: atra maukhya-doṣam chādayitum yat vidūshakenocyate tad rājño hāsya-hetutvān narmadyuti /. Mainkar observes: “The ND follows Bharata but the illustration appears to convey an entirely different idea, the vidūṣaka says something to conceal his folly and that gives rise to laughter. In all probability Bharata’s idea seems to be that a character laughs away his or her weakness; it is intentional and the character is conscious of its weakness” (SS p.62). It seems to us rather that it is the dramatist who camouflages the secret valorization of a defect by exaggerating its comic aspect, which he may further underline by the laughter of others or/and by the laughter of the transgressor himself. It is in fact the revelation and not the concealment of his ‘folly’ (maurkhya) that provokes our laughter, and what is really concealed is rather the subtle valorization (gunī-karana) of what appears to be the product of mere ignorance. Apart from the fact that this instance strikes us as an authentic example of narmadyuti interpreted (deliberately?) in superficial inauthentic terms, how could orthodox commentators have been expected to point out true instances of narmadyuti analyzed in such a way as to reveal the vidūṣaka’s true role as the violator of a brahmanical taboos? Our interpretation of Vasantaka’s speech and gestures here should be considered in the light of Vāsavadattā’s comment on his ‘crooked speech’ (vakra-bhanitāni), completely missed by ‘straight’ (rjuka) folk (like ourselves?), a little further on in the same Act (cf. note 2 supra). What is significant for our thesis is that, of the only two sandhyangas defined in terms of hāsya, the first narma refers to the positive exploitation of hāsya (with strong ritual associations of the ‘joke-rite’) and the second narmadyuti refers to the negative function of hāsya to divert the focus of public attention away from violations of established norms that are given disguised valorization.

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59 Anyonya-vākyādhikyoktih spardhayā’dhibalam bhavet / DR III.28a. This is especially brought out in Sylvain Lévi’s rendering: “exchange of provocative speech whose violence keeps increasing” (Le Théatre Indien, p.115, note 7: “échange de paroles provocantes dont la violence va toujours en croissant”). The complementarity still retained in Abhinava’s gloss ‘paraspara-prajñanopajīvana-balāt’ is completely ousted by the element of hostility and violence.

60 For the ‘bragging,’ cf. especially Renou NB p.104 on Vājasaneyi-Samhitā XXIII.50 and 60: “the brahmán boasts his integral knowledge of the universe. He does not answer, he affirms, and the brahmodya ‘enunciation of enigmas’ turns into brahmodya ‘affirmation of the bráhman-principle’…” For the contest, coloring of violence and danger, cf. ibid., p.114.

61 “The specious knowledge is that which stops at the literal meaning, the real knowledge is that which goes right till the implications. He who emerges the victor is the evamvid ‘he-who-knows-thus,’ he who ‘realizes’ (in every sense of the word) the energy accumulated in the Formula: energy which, precisely, emanates from the double meaning, the fundamental ambiguity, this property that the direct acceptations have of leaving the field open to implicit perspectives. He who has answered well is put in possession of what he knows; he will be ‘constructed’ (says one text) as is the Fire-Altar, that is to say the very object proposed by the enigma” (Renou, L’énigme, pp.17-18). Compare Abhinava adhibala-sambandhād, note 58 above. Cf. also Renou, on the bráhman as “connective energy compressed into enigmas” (NB, p.114).

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69 This would account for the existence of both readings, “exalted” and “non-exalted,” which latter reading Kuiper has been unable to reconcile with his conception of the pūrvaranga-trigata as a serious (i.e., non-comic) ritual presenting exalted mythical personages (Varuṇa and Vidūṣaka, pp.182-83, 192). The vīthyaṅga-trigata, especially the “non-exalted” variant, refers not to the pūrvaraṅga item of the same name but to its transposition in the play, where the ideal occasion for it would have been the prologue where all the vīthyaṅgas are permissible. Abhinava ad GOS XX.30 interprets it to mean that whereas the ‘stage-manager’ (sutra-dhāra; originally the sthāpaka dressed as the sūtradhāra?) must always be present, the other three (which includes the ‘actress’ natī) may participate separately or altogether or in various permutations. One of these combinations is the same as the pūrvaraṅga one, and if the sūtradhāra (or sthāpaka) had now only a profane function (cf. Kuiper SS passim), their speech would have often been non-exalted. Prof. Biardeau has already suggested that the Nātya Shāstra should be approached rather as the brahmanical codification as it were ‘from above’ of the rich variety of living forms appealing to different kinds of audience, instead of a monolithic over-systematic structure (review of Varuṇa and Vidūṣaka, p.297).

70 For this dialectic, also expressed as sát, ásat, sadasat = upperworld, netherworld, third heaven, cf. Kuiper, Ancient Indian Cosmogony, pp.19-20, 48-49, 53-54. An example of such a transposition so as to constitute the basic structure of the play would seem to be found in the Mudrārākṣasam where Candragupta’s claims to sovereignty, repeatedly thwarted by Rākṣasa, are firmly established by Cāṇakya. Ad Act III.15 Rākṣasa compares himself to Karṇa, Candragupta to Arjuna and Cāṇakya to Viṣṇu (Kṛṣṇa); how his (Karṇa’s) attempt to bring down Candragupta (Arjuna) has been turned to the latter’s advantage by Cāṇakya (Viṣṇu). Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna have been amply demonstrated to be the epic transposition of the Vedic Vishnu and Indra respectively (since Dumézil, ME I); and the same could be easily shown for Karṇa and Varuṇa (especially on the basis of the embryonic symbolism of Varuṇa: ‘ear’ (Karṇa) being the equivalent of the womb in the brahmanical sacrifice; cf. Heesterman The Ancient Indian Royal Consecration, p.19 and note 22). This dialectical structure which determines the action of the whole play is already inaugurated by the astrological symbolism of the comic nālikā through which sūtradhāra introduces Cāṇakya in the prologue (cf. Dhundirāja’s comment on it). Vishnu, as god of the Totality occupies the same central position as Brahmā-Prajāpati (Ancient Indian Cosmogony, pp. 48, 49; Varuṇa and Vidūṣaka p.102). Due to lack of space, we have to forgo commenting on the other symbolic equivalences deliberately exploited in the play and which seem to reflect the transposition of a sacrificial ideology into terms of political strategy.

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[this concludes the Footnotes to chapter 10: “Wit and Linguistic Ambiguity”]