Sheldon Pollock - What was Bhatta Nâyaka saying?


Sunthar Visuvalingam

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Digest is still being compiled, reformatted, copyedited and proofed – Sunthar]

This is a digest of critical feedback begun in October 2009 on Sheldon Pollock's essay "What was Bhatta Nâyaka saying? The Hermeneutic Transformation of Indian Aesthetics" (PDF) , which has since been published in Sheldon Pollock, ed. Epic and Argument in Sanskrit Literary History: Essays in Honor of Robert P. Goldman. Delhi: Manohar, 2010, pp. 143-184. It began as a parenthetical digression within my then ongoing (from August 2009) redaction of a concise essay on Hindu aesthetics for The Oxford Handbook of Religion and the Arts. I had copied Sheldon Pollock on my paragraph on "Secular ways of being artistic - Sanskrit poetry (kâvya) and the body of fame" (12 Sep.) that proposed a 'religious' perspective on his secularized approach to this cultural construct. Responding the same day, he kindly send me for comment his already completed contribution to the above anthology already in press, which has since been made available at his faculty webpage at Columbia University:

 Now that the published paper is publicly available, I have posted (on 23 January 2010) my earlier critique of  his understanding of Abhinava's debt towards Bhatta Nâyaka, in the hope that other scholars will also contribute to this debate. [ be completed...]

The versions below of the posts have (apart from the usual proofing, copyediting, etc.) been retrospectively updated for clarity, but readers can always refer back to the original posts online at the Abhinavagupta archive. I have inserted introductory comments to contextualize some of the posts. Having decided to make this archive available to the public, I would like to offer some concise clarifications—a conceptual grid as it were—of my own take on the various perspectives that are under scrutiny in this discussion: [ be completed...]

Related threads and essays at svAbhinava:

Sunthar Visuvalingam, "Religious ways of being artistic: Hindu aesthetics" (August 2009) - encyclopedia entry

Sunthar V., "The 'Little Clay Cart' (Mrcchakatikâ) as sacrificial theater” (Essay) - Digest 1: Sep-Oct 2009 / Digest 2: May-June 2010

Digest: The 'semblance' of râga, rasa, and hâsya: the Lapak Jhapak approach to Bollywood, Indian aesthetics and Vedic ritual (May - June 2009)

Sunthar V., “Towards an integral appreciation of Abhinavagupta’s aesthetics of Rasa” (2005)

Doctoral thesis: Abhinavagupta's conception of humor: its resonances in Sanskrit drama, poetry, Hindu mythology and spiritual praxis (1984)

This compilation will be eventually complemented by others including those listed above; in the meantime please check out the (incomplete) Abhinavagupta forum-index under the following headings and topics:


From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Sent: Tuesday, October 06, 2009 4:37 PM

To:; 'Dia-Gnosis'; 'Ontological Ethics'

Cc:; 'Hindu-Buddhist';; 'MeccaBenares';

Subject: Religious ways of being artistic - "What was Bhatta Nâyaka really saying?" (Sheldon Pollock)

[150>] In terms of the three-part Mīmāmsā paradigm, these components represent the means (abhidhā), the method (bhāvakatva), and the what (bhogīkrttva) of literary “reproduction,” and we may synthesize as follows: Aesthetic experience (this is the kim or sādhya) arises thanks to a conceptual transformation of the literary elements (the underlying factor and so on) via “commonalization” (this is the kena, or sādhana or karaNa), which for its part is made possible by the unique powers of literary language (this is the katham or iti-kartavyatā). The term of art by which the whole process is itself designated, bhāvanā or (re)production, is meant to suggest a grand analogy: that the same mechanism enabling us to understand and to become the subject or agent of a commandment of scripture enables us to understand and become the subject or agent of a literary text. It is this process itself, as Bhatta Nāyaka himself says, that constitutes the essential or most distinctive trait of literariness: vyāpāra-prādhānye kāvya-gīr bhavet, “when the aesthetic process itself has primacy we call it ‘literature.’”

Now, in one sense Bhatta Nāyaka’s “hermeneutic” turn would seem to be largely formal: conceiving of the literary text as a discourse enabled him to apply to it the three-fold process of “production” that Mīmāmsā developed for scripture, recoding the components to fit with the new type of “sentence meaning” of an aesthetic phenomenon. But to end with this analytical formalism would be a mistake, for it is only the surface manifestation of far deeper conceptual affiliations with Mīmāmsā. Until we understand these, key questions of Bhatta Nāyaka’s systems will remain unanswered. What, for example, is the exact relationship between the “reproductive capacity” (bhāvakatva) and the overall process, bhāvanā? How precisely does “commonalization” (sādhāraNīkaraNa) enable the reproductive capacity to arise in the experience of a literary text? And why should the entire literary process be designated as “reproduction”? [<150]

[154>] The extract from the start of Abhinavabhāratī’s reconstruction of aesthetics shows how profoundly it breathes the spirit of Bhatta Nāyaka, from the idea of “commonalization” to (very possibly) the specific wording of the details of the process. This general influence has been widely recognized, but less so the precise nature and extent of Abhinava’s hermeneutical turn, and what this may allow us to infer about Bhatta Nāyaka’s aesthetic system. Aside from its formal linkages with Mīmāmsā as discourse analysis, bhāvanā, once reconceptualized as aesthetic process, enabled Bhatta Nāyaka to think of the force of the literary text in the same way as the hermeneutists thought of the force of the scriptural text. We can imagine him starting with some simple questions that his two disciplines would have forced upon him: how is it that actions that the Veda shows concern other people at other times and places are actions that we here and now are impelled to re-enact? And by the same token, how is it that we here and now are able in some way to experience a literary discourse that always concerns other people at other times and places? Is there a power in the literary text that makes us re-enact the text ourselves in a way analogous to our experience with scripture? And this led him to conceive of the force operating in each as identical. This force renders the meaning of a particular (past, unique) narrative significant for or applicable to us; we reproduce that meaning, in the sense of recreating it as something that relates to us, and we do this by “commonalizing” its content so that “I” can in some way do or feel what “they” once did. [<154]

[155>] The revolutionary move made by Bhatta Nāyaka was to put the subjective experience of the reader front and center in his aesthetic analysis. As a result, all earlier questions about the aesthetic experience—locked as they were into a linguistic analysis of literature, and text-centric—were pushed to the margin. (And perhaps locked into radically different epistemologies: If Śrī Śankuka, for example, was in fact a Buddhist, did Bhatta Nāyaka’s Mīmāmsā realism also contest and replace a Buddhist idealism and illusionism?) Once you realize that the key thing about rasa is the reader’s or spectator’s experience, it no longer matters whether rasa is engendered, inferred, or manifested in the character—indeed, talk of engenderment, inference, and manifestation will no longer make much sense. You begin to ask how literary language transforms a discourse about people you do not know (Rāma, Sītā) into something you as reader can somehow enter into and feel is applicable to your own self, and how that enables an altogether unique kind of experience and knowledge. And what aids you in answering this question is the analytic method developed for scripture, which gives commandments to others that are somehow meant for you, which you make your own, and then proceed to act upon. And in the process of this action, scriptural or literary, transform yourself and your world.

What is worth stressing in conclusion, aside from how profound was Bhatta Nāyaka’s transformation of Indian aesthetic theory, is the quality of his thinking measured against that of contemporary scholars who write on emotions and the aesthetic. I cannot go into that literature here beyond registering my conviction that, except for the more recent advances in cognitive theories of emotion, present-day efforts to make sense of aesthetic response would most certainly have gained in sophistication and depth had it been possible to read in full the “Heart’s Mirror” of Bhatta Nāyaka. [<155]

Sheldon Pollock, “What was Bhatta Nâyaka saying: the Hermeneutical Transformation of Indian Aesthetics,”
Suvarnasamkrta: Essays on Sanskrit Literary Culture in Honor of Robert P. Goldman (Motilal Banarsidas, 2009)


This fresh paragraph on the relationship between scriptural and poetic language is also an initial response to the attempt to pit Bhatta Nâyaka against Abhinavagupta in Sheldon Pollock’s forthcoming essay (that he has kindly permitted me to quote extensively):

The language of both literature and scripture somehow succeeds in powerfully engaging us here and now in the apparent motivations and bygone, perhaps wholly imaginary, deeds of other people elsewhere. These particular narratives and even pithy allusions to them  are thereby rendered universal and their attentive interiorization produces shared fruit in the form of immediate (aesthetic) or future (heaven) enjoyment. Earlier attempts, understandably (over-) engrossed in the art-object, had stopped short at processes such as imitation, inference, (psychological) ‘production’ (utpatti) and so on to account for our rasa-experience. Ânandavardhana’s theory of suggestion (vyañjanâ) too was focused primarily on those linguistic properties specific to poetry that could not be accounted for by denotation (abhidhâ) and figuration (bhâkta) but whose reverberations constituted aesthetic meaning (dhvani) culminating in rasa. The contemporary resistance to dhvani-theory stemmed not only from the reluctance to admit an additional, third, power of language but also due to the gap between the ‘objective’ mechanisms of suggestion and the ‘subjective’ experience of rasa. Since dramatic literature was conceived from the very beginning on the model of sacrifice, and analyses restricted to the external form of poetry could not explain its shared enjoyment, it was but natural to resort to the science of Vedic hermeneutics (mîmâmsâ) to account for its uniqueness. The ‘anecdotic’ (artha-vâda) materials in the Vedic corpus were understood to be wholly ancillary to and culminating in the core injunctions (vidhi and prohibitions, niSedha), especially the imperative to offer up sacrifices, to the extent that the elements of such descriptive narration were conceived as ‘words’ brought into the syntactic relationship that constitutes sentence-meaning as command (to sacrifice). Bhatta Nâyaka, an innovative Mîmâmsaka who was also a philosophically informed connoisseur, therefore postulated three psycho-linguistic stages in literary appreciation each corresponding to a specific potency. Like the scriptural ‘sentence’, poetry evokes additional faculties capable of ‘reproducing’ (bhâvakatva) its meaning in a manner that ‘personally’ engages us, uniformly ‘generalizing’ the (emotional) experience by stripping it of its spatio-temporal particularities, and thereby procuring shared (aesthetic) enjoyment (bhojakatva). Though Abhinava accepts all three features as integral to poetic language and endorses the scriptural paradigm, he finds the postulation of separate (though interlinked) and largely inexplicable ‘potencies’ conceptually uneconomical. Why exactly do the specificities of poetic language ‘reproduce’ meaning so differently for us? What are the constraints on our psychological response that ensure the ‘universalization’ (sâdhâraNî-karaNa)  of the emotions evoked? How is it that rasa as meaning is no longer simply experienced but ‘relished’? Abhinava reduces all three operations to the single psycho-linguistic operation of suggestion by showing how it relies on the evocation of latent traces (samskâra) of basic drives in the listener even while arresting them at their incipient (pre-personal) stage to be suffused with the rapture (camatkâra) of reflexive self-repose (vimarsha = âtma-vishrânti). Not only has the authorless impersonal ‘scripture’ (âgama) of Bhatta Nâyaka been thoroughly interiorized, the inscrutable powers of (not just literary)  language, as manifested above all in the ‘intuition’ (pratibhâ) of the artist, have become inalienable to the creative Consciousness.

I hope that those interested in Indian aesthetics will take the trouble to carefully study Pollock’s essay, to my knowledge the first comprehensive treatment of Bhatta Nâyaka in cultural context, when it is published (even if unavailable online).

Points to note:

* When Abhinava chides Nâyaka for being a loyal disciple of Jaimini  (jaiminir anusrtah)  and adamant champion of the Mîmâsakas (mîmâsaka-agraNîh), he is rejecting the mechanical transposition of its hermeneutic categories, not his valid insights into rasa-experience.

* The sacrificial model of theater has been endorsed from the beginning by Bharata, reaffirmed within poetry itself by Kâlidâsa, leading to radical sociological conclusions in Abhinava. I’ve already provided sufficient evidence that the Mrcchakatikâ is a sacrifice in disguise.

* The resort to scriptural injunction as the paradigm for the efficacy of literary language is implicitly legitimized by the shared understanding that poetry evokes rasa through imaginative ‘dramatization’ (conjunction of vibhâva, anubhâva, vyabhicârin, around an âshraya)

* SâdhâraNî-karaNa does not mean, not in my readings so far of Abhinava, that ‘determinants’ (vibhâva) like Sîtâ are reduced to (Nyâya) ‘universals’ (sâmânya) such as ‘womanhood’ that are unable to arouse (I recall he insists on ‘particularity’ in at least one instance).

* Vishrânti here is not a word or concept that Abhinava owes to Nâyaka’s aesthetics for the simple reason that it is an integral and key term of his Pratyabhijñâ epistemology and tantric writings, whereas it seems tangential to Mimâmsâ discourse on the self as agent.

* The grammarian Bhartrhari (to whom the Pratyabhijñâ owes so much) had already attempted to internalize the Veda by equating it with innate ‘intuition’ (pratibhâ); Abhinava is able to get away with this (previously failed) move because he leaves the Veda alone.


P.S.  Note the revised paragraph below.


From: Sunthar Visuvalingam
Sent: Thursday, July 30, 2009 1:56 PM
To:; 'Hindu-Buddhist'
Cc: 'Ontological Ethics';
Subject: Religious ways of being artistic: Hindu aesthetics (dance and drama)


The most popular and delectable sentiment depicted in the arts, especially literature, is eros (shrngâra), the 'juice' (rasa) that (pro-) creates and sustains the worldly drama of human life. Though the unruly emotions (bhâvas), driven by passion, are the prime cause of such entanglement, the Buddhist theater sought legitimacy by inculcating their restraint and cessation through sympathetically portraying the ideal of non-attachment in exemplary Buddha-like personages, so much so that shânta ('tranquility') was championed as the paradoxical ninth rasa. Though Hindu orthodoxy initially resisted the incorporation of this anti-rasa, they came to recognize that the ‘universalized’ aesthetic emotions evoked through art were cognitively different from their egocentric real-life counterparts. These insights into the sui generis (alaukika) nature of rasa were developed most fully and synthesized by the towering 10th-11th century polymath, philosopher, and mystic, Abhinavagupta, in his insightful, comprehensive, and authoritative NS commentary. Their underlying literary appeal of alankâra and other qualities (guna) of  literary speech having been already subsumed within the powers of poetic suggestion (dhvani) expounded by Anandavardhana (9th C) in his Dhvanyâloka, the finality and supremacy of rasa-dhvani was firmly established by Abhinava in his Locana commentary. His crowning synthesis of aesthetics, which assimilated and eclipsed all preceding efforts, sought to demonstrate publicly that turbulent and typically painful emotions such as lust, anger, fear, sorrow, etc., become distanced from and purified of their instinctual bases when evoked through the artistic medium, and suffused as it were by the transcendental peace and joy of the universal consciousness. He therefore upheld the supernumerary and supreme shânta, even while insisting that it permeates all the other 'worldly' rasas. Thus, a discerning connoisseur enjoying highly sensuous, even erotic, poetry with no, not even implicit, reference to transcendental values, is nevertheless graced by a foretaste of the sort of spiritual bliss otherwise achieved only through strenuous efforts at introversion by yogins who have turned their backs on the world. Here the content of art remains profane though its relish is recognized to be quasi-religious. What is more, the manner in which rasa is evoked in the spectators by the unique power of even ‘secular’ literature and the fruits of such shared enjoyment are understood on the model of scriptural (Vedic) injunction.

Sunthar V., “Religious ways of being artistic: Hindu aesthetics

From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Date: December 07, 2009 6:43 PM

To:; 'Dia-Gnosis'; 'Ontological Ethics'

Cc:; 'Hindu-Buddhist';; 'MeccaBenares';

Subject: "What Bhatta Nâyaka was saying" - who is the most ardent if most reluctant if not ungrateful disciple?

[151>] The answers to these questions, and thereby the true hermeneutical force of Bhatta Nāyaka’s insights, are contained in none of the surviving fragments of his The answers to these questions, and thereby the true hermeneutical force of Bhatta Nāyaka’s insights, are contained in none of the surviving fragments of his work. But I believe we can see them emerging from the restatement of his views by his most ardent if most reluctant if not ungrateful disciple, Abhinavagupta.

As is well known, Abhinava begins his discourse on rasa in chapter 6 of the with a celebrated critique of earlier views, including Bhatta Nāyaka’s, to which we owe much of what we know about earlier aesthetic theory. What has been insufficiently registered, however, let alone explained in intellectual historical terms is why Abhinava should choose to begin his reconstruction (or “purification of principles” pariśuddha-tattvam) in the way he does. Here is the completely unexpected argument with which it opens:

yathā hi rātrim āsata tām agnau prādād ity ādāv arthitādi-lakSitasyādhikāriNah pratipatti-mātrād iti-vrtta-prarocitāt prathama-pravrttād anantaram adhikaivopātta-kāla-tiraskāreNaivāse sampradadānīty-ādi-rūpā samkramaNādi-svabhāvā yathā-darśanam pratibhā-bhāvanā-vidhy-udyogādi-bhāSābhir vyavahrtā pratipattis, tathaiva kāvyātmakād api śabdād adhikāriNo ’dhikāsti pratipattih.

[On hearing a sentence of scripture such as “They held a sacrificial session through the night,” or “He offered up [the oblation] into the fire,” a qualified individual—that is, someone who has the necessary wealth and meets the other prerequisites—has at first a bare comprehension, if one that carries the persuasive power of historical eventfulness. But thereupon a certain surplus comprehension arises, of the nature of a set of grammatical transformations whereby the original tense is suppressed and he thinks, “Let school, such as “intellection,” “production,Rup.” This sort of comprehension is identified by various terms of art depending on the philosophical school, such as “intellection,” “production,” “commandment,” “injunction,” and the like. In precisely the same way, from literary language there arises for the qualified individual a surplus comprehension.]

It is impossible to understand why Abhinava’s reconstruction of aesthetics should begin by adducing passages from scripture that contain what is known as an background information from Mīmāmsā. Such descriptions are held to be supplementary to the actual commandments that make up the core of the Veda and whose capacity to compel us to act is embedded in the deontic language they employ (“One who desires heaven must sacrifice”), and toward which much of the discussion of bhāvanā is directed. In the case of the arthavādas, however, it is far less evident how they are related to the action the Veda enjoins upon us—as they must be if they are to be considered part of the Veda—for on first glance their purpose is simply narrative. Mīmāmsā argues that, by providing an inducement (prarocaka is a common term) for obeying the commandments and performing a rite, often by making commendatory reference (stuti) to a particular quasi-historical event (such as an earlier performance of the sacrifice and the success that the sacrificer thereby achieved), the arthavāda persuades the subject to act in the same way. By the use of the śābdī bhāvanā analytic, the narrative passage is shown to “form a single sentence with an injunction and have the purpose of commending it.” Indeed, from a more abstract perspective, whereas the what of śābdī bhāvanā as such is some human activity, and the whereby is awareness of the syntactical connections of the sentence, the how is the inducement offered by those descriptive passages of the Veda, the arthavādas, that metaphorically or indirectly commend acts that should be done (or condemn those that should not), given that man’s natural indolence causes him to turn away from action. Indeed, “modal production” necessarily requires the “method” (itikartavyatā) supplied by a descriptive passage.

Abhinava goes on to explain how this process works. When a duly qualified person, one who meets the requirements for participation in a Vedic rite hears a descriptive passage such as “They once attended the all-night rite,” or “He once offered the [oblation] in the fire,” he has at first a straightforward understanding of the discourse, one that induces him to act by reason of its historical eventfulness (ture of a set of grammatical transformations leading him to suppress the temporality and personhood of the original discourse (the historical past tense, the third person plural/singular), so that he comes to personalize the discourse: “I myself should attend,” or “Let me myself offer.” Different philosophical schools may have different terms for this process—above all, bhāvanā—but they all agree that the discursive function enables a particularized statement such as “they once attended” to be dissociated from its particularity, —but they all agree that the discursive function enables a particularized statement such as “they once attended” to be dissociated from its particularity, and thereby to become available for active recreation on the part of the sacrificial agent.

It is obvious why Abhinava chose his scriptural examples from the genre of ddress the reader. But the arthavāda is not a commandment, and [<152-153>] yet it must speak to us and prompt us to act if it is to be considered part of the Veda. As we have just seen, Mīmāmsā typically explains this capacity through the discourse analysis of śābdī bhāvanā—indeed, that analytic has special propriety in the case of the arthavāda—by showing how such descriptions complement the express commandments with which they form a single vākya, by indicating some praise or blame that would enable man to proceed toward or turn away from some action. Embedded in Abhinava’s cognitive sequence is, explicitly, an extended sense of bhāvanā—perhaps even a new view of ārthī bhāvanā (which is strictly speaking puruSa-niSThā, located in the agent, rather than śabda-niSThā, located in language). Here bhāvanā is not primarily a tool of discourse analysis required for a correct interpretation of sentences. It is instead a “surplus comprehension” leading to an inducement to reproduce an act; in other words, a hermeneutical force in a scriptural text that, even in the absence of an explicit commandment (one recovered only afterward, through śābdī bhāvanā), can impel the reader toward that act. “The very presence of a narrative produces two things,” says the Mīmāmsā exegete Śabara, “both), can impel the reader toward that act. “The very presence of a narrative produces two things,” says the Mīmāmsā exegete Śabara, “both a knowledge of what occurred and an inducement toward or repulsion from some action.”

In the same way, the literary work produces in a qualified reader a surplus, ch describes the fear gripping a hunted deer, the spectator after first grasping the actual meaning of the sentence has a kind of apprehension (pratīti) that leads him to discard all the specifications in the sentences, whether of time or space or individuality. The deer is stripped of its particularity, and the source of its fear (the hunter, king DuhSyanta) of his absolute reality. We are left with the stable emotion of fear, untouched by any time-space particularities; completely different from the sort associated with such everyday notions as “I am afraid; he is afraid; he is enemy, friend, or neutral.” Abhinava continues: The fear thus grasped unimpeded, transforming itself before one’s eyes and entering almost visibly into one’s heart, is the rasa of horror. In the case of this sort of fear, one’s own self is neither completely obscured nor specifically referenced—and the same is true for everyone else. The “commonalization” is therefore not exclusive [to oneself], but rather comprehensive: it is like grasping the invariable concomitance of smoke and fire, or fear and trembling … All the spectators have the same completely undifferentiated awareness, [a realization] that serves to enhance the rasa even more. “In short,” he concludes, “rasa is just this stable emotion grasped in an apprehension (pratīti) that consists of physical tasting.” [<153]

 [157>] Nâtyaśāstra (c. 1000), supplemented by Hemacandra’s Kāvyānuśāsana (c. 1175)

Bhatta Nāyaka, however, argues that rasa can neither be the object of a normal perceptual experience, nor is it a thing that actually comes into being or can be “manifested.” If rasa were perceptible, it would have to be perceived either as being in oneself or in someone else. If rasa were perceived as internal to oneself (it would have to be thought as arising in oneself, DhĀL). The first problem with this is that, in the case of the tragic rasa, one would feel actual pain oneself (and never return to the theater to see sad plays, DhĀL). Second, the perception would not even stand to reason, since a character, Sītā for example, cannot be an underlying factor for the spectator such as would enable him to perceive rasa in himself (she is a factor of that sort only for another character, such as her husband, Rāma, M). Third, the spectator cannot be thinking of his own beloved in the midst of a description of Sītā, because she is a divine/*royal being for whom it is senseless to say that she has any kind of property in common with his beloved (and there would therefore be nothing to stimulate the spectator’s latent disposition of desire, DhĀL). Fourth, in the case of a rasa like the heroic, for example where the stimulant factor is something never experienced, as in the case of Rama’s building a bridge across the ocean, the possibility of perceiving the rasa in oneself through the functioning of a commonly shared property is ruled out: there is no stable emotion the spectator shares in common with non-worldly beings like Rāma (DhĀL). And one cannot have any memory of Rāma’s energy (the stable emotion of the heroic rasa), as empowering him to cross the ocean, because one never had the perception of him in the first place that would be required to ground such a memory. Nor can one be said to have “perceived” Rāma by some other means of valid knowledge, say testimony or inference, in order to provide a basis for one’s memory. Such a mediated perception would no more provide an experience of rasa than would glimpsing with one’s own eyes the love-making of the actual characters, when the spectator would be expected to be absorbed in one or another state of mind—shame, disgust, or yearning.

If, on the other hand, rasa were perceived as external to the perceiving subject (as present in the actor or the characters), then it could not be a “taste” (that is, something experienced), but an object, like a pot (M), toward which one would be emotionally indifferent.

Accordingly, it makes no sense to say that there is a perception—in the form of an empirical experience or memory or whatever—of rasa. The same [<157-158>] criticism applies to the view that rasa actually comes into being. And lastly, if rasa were something that existed only in potential form (since rasa cannot be conceived of as already existing, like some material object, M) and that was subsequently “manifested,” it would be subject both to the gradations of actualizing the object that are inherent in any idea of “manifestation,” and also to the same dilemmas as before, that is, whether it is manifested in oneself, or another, and so on (DhĀL).

Therefore, there must be a second component other than expression, the process known as “reproduction,” which is something utterly different from other kinds of language by virtue of the three-fold constitution of literary language (DhĀL). This is marked in poetry by language that shows an absence of faults and the presence of language qualities and figures of speech, whereas in drama it is embodied in the four different modes of representation (gestural, verbal, and so on). If literary expression were not complemented by “reproduction,” literary figures of speech would be no different from those used in everyday life, and particular literary styles and norms would be meaningless (DhĀL). “Reproduction” has the capacity to overcome the resistances of one’s deep inner perplexity, and consists in essence in the communalization of the aesthetic elements, the underlying factor and so on. By this process is produced rasa, which comes to be experienced by a form of “experience” utterly different from empirical experience, memory, and so on; one marked instead by a melting, enlargement, and expansion that depend on the relative degree of volatility and impassivity in the spectator, and marked by an absorption of the spectator’s consciousness consisting of a predominance of sensitivity, light, and bliss, and which shares something of the character of savoring the supreme being. [<158]

Sheldon Pollock, “What was Bhatta Nâyaka saying: the Hermeneutical Transformation of Indian Aesthetics,”
Suvarnasamkrta: Essays on Sanskrit Literary Culture in Honor of Robert P. Goldman (Motilal Banarsidas, 2009)

Here is some more feedback in the form of queries:

Where are the analytical clarifications of bhâvakatva, sâdhâraNî-karana, bhojakatva in Abhinava’s otherwise sympathetic restatement of BN’s views? Perhaps the Hrdaya-Darpana was not conserved because his contemporaries could not find any answers there.

Other than giving a name to a defining feature of rasa, how precisely does ‘reproduction’ strip Sîtâ of relation to self and other so as to ensure ‘commonalization’? The scriptural analogy resorts to another inexplicable, the conversion of the third to the first person.

Whereas our enjoyment of rasa is immediate, sustained, and coterminous with the duration of the play or recitation of poetry, the otherworldly fruit (heaven) of the sacrifice is outside its parameters and deferred. What is gained by conflating the two as bhojakatva?

Reading other fragments from BN scattered across subsequent works on rhetoric and theater, particularly the endorsement of Dhanañjaya and Dhanika, what crucial elements of the architecture of BN’s theorizing may Abhinava have omitted or willfully suppressed?

Even if theater were modeled on sacrifice, the emotional states and consciousness of the recipient so central to rasa are subordinated to strict performance in the ritual. Could BN have arrived at a unified hermeneutic without compromising either of his allegiances?

Given his endorsement of BN’s critique of previous speculations and  the latter’s own insights, what reason is there to believe that Abhinava has not been (more than) generous in his presentation, in the same way that he has been to those views rejected by BN?

OTOH the ‘mystical’ Abhinava is charged with having ‘unproductively’ shifted the onus of rasa from the poem to the spectator, OTOH he is robbed, even by the same Indologist, of the credit for this ‘revolutionary’ move: isn’t this like talking through both cheeks?

 Abhinava has transformed Ânanda’s vyañjanâ  (in which Porcher already sees a ‘confusion’ of a linguistic category with our rasa-response) into a seamless psycho-linguistic operation that bridges the hermeneutic gap between subject-object. What’s the alternative?

For Buddhist logicians, Dharmakîrti’s Pramâna-vârttika commentary (which takes cognizance of Bhartrhari) eclipsed his master Dignâga’s founding (but lost in India) Pramâna-samuccaya because the disciple understood the latter better than its author. Why not here?

We find ourselves in the paradoxical situation of being able to appreciate BN’s profound “revolution” thanks only to Abhinavagupta’s constructive reformulation, minus all the guesswork, of his enduring insights…so who is “ungrateful” here, the Indian or the Indologist?


P.S. Note the slightly revised version below of the earlier paragraph.


From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Date: Thursday, October 08, 2009 1:23 PM

To:; 'Dia-Gnosis'; 'Ontological Ethics'

Cc:; 'Hindu-Buddhist';

Subject: Does our shrngâra relish the noble beauty of Sîtâ or just her common womanhood? the meaning of sâdhâraNî-karaNa

[141>] Furthermore, given that Bhatta Nāyaka redirected attention to rasa reception, that mysterious process by which the reader experiences the emotions of the literary work, the idea of vyañjanā as a mechanism for rasa was rendered irrelevant. He states his position unequivocally: “As for the other process called ‘implicature’ (dhvani), which consists of manifestation, even were it proven to be different from the other two [i.e., abhidhā and lakSaNā], it would only be a component of literature, not its essential form” (appendix #9). Then, too, not only did Abhinavagupta fully accept bhāvakatva, taking it from Bhatta Nāyaka’s work as he took so much else, but he placed the concept at the forefront of his reconstruction of aesthetics. In fact, by a curious fate, it is only through the appropriation of his critic, I want to suggest, that we are finally able to get to the heart of Bhatta Nāyaka’s aesthetic insight. This will become clear once we have some sense of the basic ideas of his theory, beginning with his reexamination of the ontology and epistemology of rasa. [<141]

[147>] Bhāvakatva is consistently defined as the literary process whereby the emotional states represented in the literary work are made into something in which the reader or spectator can fully participate: “commonalization” (sādhāraNī-karaNa), a synonym for bhāvakatva and apparently another of Bhaṭṭa Nāyaka’s coinages, is a conception that obviously depends entirely on the relocation of the substratum of rasa from the character to the reader. The most important exposition of this idea is again offered by Dhanika: [<147]

[148>] What then functions as the underlying factor (ālambana-vibhāva) for rasa when it resides in the audience? Take the case of Sītā, who is a royal (or divine) being: how can there not be something fundamentally contradictory in her acting as such a factor for the spectator? …Unlike a spiritual adept, a poet does not behold things with the “eye of insight” and present a character like Rāma in a state of sheer individuality (prātisvikī), as is the case with historical discourse. Rather, he creates a typological state (avasthā)—”the noble” protagonist, say, in the case of Rāma—which is given presence through the poet’s imagination (utprekshā) by means of the process of “commonality” that each viewer undergoes (sarva-loka-sādhāraNya); the state itself simply providing a substratum for a given rasa. Consider here a word like “Sītā”: emptied of all its particularities, such as being the daughter of King Janaka, it signifies nothing more than “woman”—and how could anything untoward come of that?

In the real world we have no natural commonality with a figure like Sītā: as a queen (or goddess) and another’s wife she cannot rightly be an object of our sexual desire. In literary hermeneutics bhāvakatva is therefore not a productive but a “reproductive” capacity, something that allows us to relive the emotions appropriately in ourselves. Aided by the alchemical powers of literary language, bhāvakatva abstracts Sītā from her particularity—this is what Bhaṭṭa Nāyaka calls “the capacity to overcome the resistances of one’s deep inner perplexity”—and renders her an underlying factor for the stimulation of the spectator’s own stable feeling. One of the best short descriptions of Bhaṭṭa Nāyaka’s idea is offered by Simhabhūpāla (c. 1380):

Whereas with reference to the historical hero (Rāma, for example) the underlying factor (Sītā) was once completely particularized, the process that in a poem or a play is called “reproduction” consists of “commonalizing” the underlying factor by means of the process of expression (abhidhā), and thereby enables it to be imagined by the spectator as connected with himself. It thereby comes to transform itself in the mind of the spectator doing the imagining or “reproducing,” without there being any contradiction with its persistence as an underlying factor (for Rāma). Thereby, the stable emotion that Rāma feels can be experienced by the spectator, and without the least disruption through impropriety, in an experience whose nature is a pure blissful absorption. [<148]

[Note 10: 166>] I leave for another occasion a discussion of the acrobatics required by Abhinava to retrofit vyañjanā epistemology for an ontology for which it was never intended.[<166]

Sheldon Pollock, “What was Bhatta Nâyaka saying: the Hermeneutical Transformation of Indian Aesthetics,”
Suvarnasamkrta: Essays on Sanskrit Literary Culture in Honor of Robert P. Goldman (Motilal Banarsidas, 2009)

Dear Shelley,

SâdhâraNî-karaNa  does not mean reducing Sîtâ to the lowest common denominator of ‘womanhood’ so that we may all enjoy her beauty without any qualms.  Reflecting for a moment on our own experience of novels and the cinema will tell us that our favorite heroines are cherished for their distinct individualities, not as some (Nyâya) ‘universal’ (sâmânya). Nowhere does Abhinavagupta claim the contrary and nor does he (nor Simhabhūpāla above) impute such a ridiculous notion to Bhatta Nâyaka. Such a proposition would be demeaning to any theorist and, until proven otherwise, I’d prefer to think that Dhanika has either misunderstood BN or has so paraphrased the latter as to interpolate his own (mis-) understanding of this transformative power (bhâvakatva) so unique to literature.

 ‘Commonalization’ is simply the blanket term for our ability to relish Sîtâ in a shared (sarva-loka-sādhāraNya) mode that does not relate her individuality to self or another.  It is because (other forms of) cognition (including those pertaining to scriptural injunctions) are always caught up in such (interpersonal) ‘relationality’ that BN (against the dictates of both experience and common sense…) denies  the possibility of rasa being perceived and resorts instead to this rather mysterious bhâvakatva (on the shâbdî-bhâvanâ modality). Abhinava has resolved this epistemological dilemma by underlining the sui generis nature of rasa as (not an object but) a (‘de-personalized’) mode of cognition (pratîti, bodha), even a complex apperception (anuvyavasâya-vizeSa). The ‘commonalization’ that sustains our shrngâra is realized through aesthetic ‘identification’ (tanmayi-bhavana) with the ‘receptacle’ (âshraya) such that we are in fact enjoying Sîtâ as it were ‘through’ Râma (who is no longer experienced as another nor as our regular separate selves). 

After all, we enjoy rasa only so long as we are attentively watching the play (or imaginatively recreating a poem) and do not ‘reproduce’ the various feelings by turning away from their representational elements in the  art-object.  Abhinava’s ‘ringing endorsement’ (in section 4 of your essay cited previously) of the scriptural bhâvanâ (= pratibhâ) ironically ends up reducing BN’s bhâvakatva to a unique mode of heightened cognition that is almost a visual (cakSuSor iva parivartamânâ) perception of (bhayânaka) rasa.

I look forward to your ‘reproduction’ of Abhinava’s attempt “to retrofit vyañjanā epistemology for an ontology for which it was never intended,” but it seems to me that we have already had our entertaining fill of acrobatics for now!



From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Sent: Saturday, October 10, 2009 12:39 PM

To:;; Hindu-Buddhist; Ontological Ethics; Dia-Gnosis

Cc: MeccaBenares; JerusalemBenares; Akandabaratam

Subject: Bhatta Nâyaka's literary 'leap' of faith - can (scriptural) 'reproduction' account for (aesthetic) 'commonalization'?

[Note 51: 169>] Abhinava tries, quite shamelessly, to reappropriate this triad [abhidhâ, bhâvaka-tva, bhogî-krt-tva] for his own view (DhĀL p. 189; Ingalls et al. p. 225). [Note 53:] While Filliozat rightly (and for the first time that I am aware of) flags the importance Abhinavagupta’s śruti example, instead of describing his goal of appropriation to be “pour la [sc. bhāvanā] modeler à nouveau et l’inscrire dans le cadre de sa pensée,” it would be more accurate to say that Abhinava brings out the true hermeneutical significance of Bhatta Nāyaka’s thought (unless he is actually still borrowing from him). And what he misses most of all is the core linking concept of sādharaNī-karaNa. [<169]

[Note 63: 170>] “Grammatical transformation,” sankramaNa, but the word seems unattested in precisely this sense. The ādi presumably refers to the interpretative techniques adhyāhāra, vipariNāma, and so on (see e.g., Śabara on Pūrva-mīmāmsā-sūtra 2.1). [<170]

[Note 70: 171>] “Transforming itself before one’s eyes,” cakSuSor iva viparivartamānam (bhāvam) is almost certainly Bhatta Nāyaka’s language, see DRA 4.1 and 27 (śrotr-prekakāām antar [bhāvaka-cetasi, 37] viparivartamāno raty-ādirsthāyī); RasārNavasudhākara, appendix #1b (vibhāvādi-bhāvānāmsākSādviparivartamānānām). Curiously, Abhinava seems not even to think of some of these ideas as Bhatta Nāyaka’s; in AB 1.275.6, for example, he attributes the idea of sādharaNī-karaNa to Bharata..

[Note 71:] Mīmāmsā itself nowhere, so far as I can see, offers an explicit discussion of the textual psychology described by Abhinava, by which the lakSaNā or indirection of the artha-vāda leads the reader to transform an ancient meritorious act into a present possibility. [<171]

Sheldon Pollock, “What was Bhatta Nâyaka saying: the Hermeneutical Transformation of Indian Aesthetics,”
Suvarnasamkrta: Essays on Sanskrit Literary Culture in Honor of Robert P. Goldman (Motilal Banarsidas, 2009)

The conventional account of there having been several ‘schools’ of rasa-theory based on different philosophies—Sānkhya (Lollata), Nyāya (logic, i.e., Śankuka), Mīmāmsaka (hermeneutics, i.e., Bhatta Nāyaka), Buddhist (rasa as stream of consciousness), Advaita-Vedānta (Jagannātha), etc.—largely miss the point. The aesthetic experience defied encapsulation within the narrow categories of any of these systems, which were formulated to conceptualize, defend, and propagate the concerns—worldly, ritual, or spiritual—of their respective disciplines. What we are witnessing, rather, is the best minds coming together in an interdisciplinary effort to leverage and adapt existing categories of thought to do full justice to a shared pleasure that remained intractable to intellectual analysis. Abhinava (see my opening invocation) does not reject any of these contributions that he rather builds upon by integrating them into a sophisticated ‘phenomenology’ (ābhāsa-vāda) of art. Though providing the hidden intellectual framework, the Pratyabhijñā perspective is itself extended into the emotional realm and enriched in the process. [note #21] Nor is it necessary to invoke some mysterious twin-power, inherent in the language of theater, that would first universalize through ‘creative imagination’ (bhāvakatva) then ‘render into an object of relish’ (bhojakatva) the otherwise private emotion. Though taking Bhaṭṭa Nāyaka to task for inventing these supposedly separate ‘operations’ (vyāpāra) of poetic language, Abhinava integrates both the principle of ‘universalization’ (sādhāraNī-karaNa) and of delectation into (his systematic defense of) the psycholinguistics of Ānanda’s theory of ‘suggestion’ (dhvani) that his contemporary had thereby sought to refute. The Pūrva Mīmāmsā likewise accounts for the efficacy of ritual by resorting to the unique causative power of Vedic injunctions to engender unseen fruits (apūrva). Bhatta Nāyaka’s attempt to explain the peculiar emotional effect of kāvya upon the audience through such a hermeneutics assumes a special significance in the light of the sacrificial underpinnings of Bharata’s theater [note #24]. Ever since the Buddha’s ‘skeptical’ interrogations into the nature of self and the categories we impose upon our world of suffering, Indian philosophy has always proceeded—especially given the diversity of its often mutually exclusive perspectives (darśana)—from a rigorous analysis of everyday experience that appeals to the logic of common sense, which is precisely what grounds the evolution of their polemics upon a shared bedrock of reason. Though all the darśanas draw their inspiration from the privileged insights of yogins (Buddhism and Jainism) or even from Revelation (brahmanical schools), they are intent on deriving general principles and conditions of validity that would apply universally to the specific phenomenon they are investigating. Thus, Nyāya-VaiśeSika realism accounts systematically for pragmatic activity and logical inference in the external world (despite its theism); Sānkhya-Yoga for human psychology, uncovering and dissolving the ‘unconscious’ (despite its finality in self-liberation); Advaita scrutinizes the inherently dialectical nature of all cognitive categories (so as to transcend them); even the Pūrva Mīmāmsā (despite its avowed purpose of justifying and preserving the Vedic ritual) has contributed greatly to hermeneutics in general and has eventually helped clarify the specificity of poetic language (see note 24 above); though Sanskrit itself was ‘normalized’ to contain and preserve the Vedic Revelation, it has served as the privileged medium for such ‘secular’ intellectual pursuits (see note 77 below) and for the poetic expressions which are the object of classical aesthetic theory. [note #53]

Sunthar V. “Towards an Integral Appreciation of Abhinava’s aesthetics of Rasa” (Evam 2006)

Dear Shelly,

In your eagerness to make a (crypto-) Mîmâmsaka of Abhinavagupta (despite his protests) to better prosecute his show trial for ‘plagiarizing ingratitude’ towards (your poster-boy rendering of) Bhatta Nâyaka (BN), it seems to me that you have not only mistranslated a crucial term but also misconstrued the strategic import of his ‘scripturalist’ (âgamika) invocation of the Veda (nigama). Though both theorists endorse the transformative ‘transfer’ of emotion, for Abhinava this is no mere (acrobatic?) ‘leap’  (sankramaNa) of faith.

Abhinava’s invocation of the Veda studiously omits showcasing the conceptual baggage he has supposedly stolen from our arch-Mîmâmsaka.  SankramaNa here is the ‘complete’ (prefix sam-) ‘transference’ (from –kram to ‘stride’ across or cross over) of another’s (implied) ‘experience’ (pratipatti) across spatio-temporal boundaries to our own consciousness. Abhinava uses similar forms (sankramaNâtmâ, sankramaNa-zîla, etc.) of this compound verb to account for the ‘infectious’ nature of laughter. Addressing the perplexity of previous commentators on Bharata’s seemingly superfluous distinction between ‘laughter’ (hâsa) ‘located in another’ (para-stha) and ‘in oneself’ (âtma-stha), he points out from banal everyday experience that we sometimes laugh directly at the (joke or other) stimulus (vibhâva) and at other times simply at the sight of someone else laughing. Of course, the latter reflex may result in our laughing at (the semblance of) a ‘joke’ that we might otherwise not have found so funny (which accounts for the loud guffawing of the vidûSaka). The corresponding response at the emotional level is personal ‘empathy’, in itself not an aesthetic sentiment, which is why Abhinava refuses to reduce the tragic sentiment (karuNa) to (Aristotle’s terror or) ‘pity’ (dayâ).  That such ‘knee-jerk’ reproduction is occurring even at the raw physiological level is shown by his choice comparison of our salivating at the sight of another sinking his teeth into a juicy watermelon. Freud similarly bases the ‘comic of movement’ on our tending to ‘reproduce’ the projected effort of the slapstick clown (as when he falls over attempting to lift what had seemed to be a heavy box) only to have our inner readiness contradicted by his bungling gestures. All this long before the discovery over the last decade of mirror neurons behind the foreheads of even our simian cousins. What matters here is that ‘reproduction’ is not restricted to the ideational transmission of scriptural injunctions or routine empathizing with the emotions of others, but extends even to involuntary reflexes like mouthwatering and laughter.

BN’s ‘reproduction’ (bhâvakatva) is forced to assume the unnecessary burden of serving two distinct conceptual needs: 1) the ‘transference’ of emotion through a linguistic utterance and 2) its ‘commonalization’ (sâdhâraNî-karana) among all qualified hearers. By introducing sankramaNa  in this context, Abhinava is underlining that the verbal injunction implied by scriptural anecdotes is only a special case of more generic processes of  (even unmotivated) transference in daily life. Moreover, the motivated action is converted (‘grammatically’) from the (indifferent) third to the (engaged) first person, without this personal orientation being suppressed or transcended. Commonalization in the scriptural context amounts only to each hearer ‘self-ishly’ appropriating the impulsion to sacrifice, without actually participating ‘self-lessly’ in its actual performance. Scriptural reproduction is therefore both too narrow and inadequate to account for the aesthetic commonalization that defines our shared relish of rasa. Which is probably why “our principal guide to [BN’s] argument […] the exposition of Dhanañjaya and Dhanika (in the fourth chapter of their works, the Daśarūpaka and Avaloka, respectively, both c. 975), who while never naming Bhatta Nāyaka offer virtually a systematic restatement of his doctrines” (p.138), have felt obliged to ‘interpolate’ the stopgap rationale of reducing Sîtâ’s uniqueness (not just in Râma’s eyes) to her common womanhood. Since the treatise and its commentary are on theater, they understandably opt for BN’s spectator-response approach to rasa, as opposed to Ânanda’s textual approach (to (rasa-dhvani). Simhabhūpāla (c. 1380), who has the benefit of hindsight thanks to Abhinava (c. 1100) and therefore offers “one of the best short descriptions of Bhatta Nāyaka’s idea” (p.148), does not fall into this quandary.

Why then does Abhinava invoke the Vedic injunction to sacrifice only to end up graphically depicting the universalized terror of the fleeing victim? Because even the wholly secular drama, exemplified by the Mrcchakatikâ which revolves around the ‘victimization’ of the hero Cârudatta, has been ’re-produced’ as a “sacrifice (rendered) delightful to the eyes” (Kâlidâsa), the sacred function that Bharata assigns from the beginning to the Nâtya-Veda. We, the (unwitting) rasa-hungry spectators, participate ‘self-lessly’ in this performance (yajña) through identification with the principal protagonist (nâyaka) ‘protected’ by Indra, the sacrificer-par-excellence whose cosmogonic role (as pâripârshvika) is revealed in the ritual preliminaries (pûrva-ranga). BN’s resort to Mîmâmsâ is therefore yet another instance, legitimate and wholly natural, of the belated attempts of explicit Hindu theorizing to catch up with what was already tacitly acknowledged and embedded in practice.  Like Abhinava, he would have recognized the principle of ‘commonalization’ as already implied though undeveloped by Bharata. The problem here, again quite understandable, is that this scripture-oriented onto-epistemology cannot do full justice to our experience of worldly theater. The ‘conservative’ Mîmâmsâ is a relatively late development that constitutes only one possible approach to the already ‘obsolete’ Veda, charged with preservation rather than full intelligibility (we may compare BN’s insistence that rasa is not perceived to the claim that the victim is not killed but simply ‘liberated’). Moreover, stretching categories like bhâvakatva too far to accommodate literature is also to open up the playing field to subversive attempts to reduce the sacrifice to ‘mere’ theater, in much the same way that Bhartrhari’s defense of the Veda in terms of innate ‘intuition’ (pratibhâ, which has ‘subjectivizing’ implications absent in  bhâvanâ) resulted in his transformation (in the hands of Dharmakîrti) into and rejection as a (crypto-) Buddhist. Abhinava’s ‘reticent’ endorsement of BN is but the innocuous tip of a cultural iceberg… 

My teacher used to insist that a true guru is one whose disciple sits (not only on his shoulders but), like a crest-jewel (cûDâ-maNi), on his head. Were BN alive today, it seems to me that he would have been justifiably proud and grateful to Abhinava for salvaging, by reformulating, his valuable insights for (not just Indian) posterity, and also deeply chagrined by the way ventriloquists in the guise of Indologists, which should no longer surprise us here, are forcing him to bear false witness against his partner in this common project. 



From: Sunthar Visuvalingam

Sent: Saturday, January 23, 2010 10:30 PM

To:;; Hindu-Buddhist; Ontological Ethics; Dia-Gnosis

Cc: MeccaBenares; JerusalemBenares; Akandabaratam

Subject: "What was Bhatta Nâyaka saying?" (Sheldon Pollock) now available online with my svAbhinava critique...


Sheldon Pollock’s article "What was Bhatta Nâyaka saying? The Hermeneutical Transformation of Indian Aesthetics” (PDF), is now available for public viewing at his Columbia University faculty website:

So, I am posting at svAbhinava the digest (October 2009) of my queries to and critique of the paper, especially Pollock’s understanding of Abhinavagupta’s reception and reworking of BN’s theories: [still being proofed and re-formatted for online viewing]

Now that the original paper is available in full, specialists of Indian aesthetics and interested laymen are welcome to contribute to the discussion at our Abhinavagupta forum. I’ll  eventually get around to providing an introduction to the digest that might also clarify, should the need arise,  the ‘hostile’ tone of some of my initial feedback…and shall also substitute a more appropriate image animation in  the top left frame.



[Rest of this thread at Sunthar V. (10 October 2009)

Bhatta Nâyaka's literary 'leap' of faith - can (scriptural) 'reproduction' account for (aesthetic) 'commonalization'?