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The flavoring and the flowering of Shringara rasa
- Kala Ramesh, Pune

December 19, 2008

Shringara rasa is generally thought to be too technical and more of academic interest to the ordinary reader/ listener. Since it is extensively employed in Indian poetry, dance and music, I have tried my best to make it simple enough, that anyone reading it would easily come to understand what this 'king of rasa' is all about.

In the Indian context, the chief goal of music, dance and drama is to produce 'rasa,' the aesthetic emotion, brought about by the help of the various angas present in any presentation, from not only the sahitya, tala, laya and abhinaya, mime, gestures or poses but also from the total effect of the art of stagecraft.

What is that something that gives sugar its sweetness?
That quintessential, characteristic 'something' that is of sugar?
That 'something' that cannot be separated or torn apart from the sugar, for in the sweetness of sugar does sugar remain as sugar.

That is what rasa is to a work of art.
Just like the wave is part of the ocean but still rises repeatedly from the ocean to fall at your feet, for your enjoyment, so is 'rasa' an intrinsic part of any work of art, but arises constantly out of that art to touch your being. Rasa is not raw emotion but emotion depersonalised. It is devoid of any personalised human real life experiences, so naturally it becomes emotion re-presented, distilled by art. And since it is not personalised nor touched by human real life-experiences, rasa or the aesthetic emotion only gives 'joy.' That is the reason that human beings once having tasted 'rasa' in any art form, hunger for more!

Ananda Coomaraswamy says, "Apart from perception, it (rasa) does not exist. It is timeless. It is again super sensuous, hyperphysical (alaukika), and the only proof of its reality is to be found in experience (rasavadana)."

In Abhinaya Darpana we have,
Jato hasta stato drusti, Whither the hand goes, the glance follows
Jato drusti stato mana: Whither the glances lead, the mind follows
Jato mana stato bhavo, Whither the mind goes, there the mood follows
Jato bhava stato rasa: Whither the mood goes, there is "rasa" born.

The shastras talk of the nine rasas or sentiments, they are as follows: Sringar (love), veera (heroism), bibhatsa (disgust), raudra (anger), hasya (mirth), bhayanaka (terror), karuna (pity), adbhuta (wonder), shanta (tranquillity).

The queen of rasas is undoubtedly shringara rasa. Now what is shringara rasa?

Shringara rasa in today's undertones mean images of sexual love, or the pangs of separation, unfaithfulness of the beloved. Tiruvalluvar in the Kural has said: Love is sweeter than wine-its mere name intoxicates.

But the Natya Shastra says that the erotic flavour arises from what ever is, sacred, pure, placid and worth seeing.

Again as the renowned Bharatnatyam dancer Dhananjayan has rightly pointed out: Sringara rasa can be created by many different kinds of methods.

"First, 'Kuru Yadunandana' from Geeta Govindam represents the Sambhoga Shringara. This can be depicted by the meeting between the male and the female, their attitudes to love varying from shy to bold. Second, 'Krishna nee begane baro' can be shown as Vatsalya, the bond between a mother and child. And third, Bhakti, the tie between a devotee and God. Amorous interpretation of this would be inappropriate."
Shringa means a horn or a peak. In the context of the erotic, as B N Goswamy suggests, it means, "A peak or climax of delight."

"Seen in this light, the tasting of shringara becomes a metaphoric orgasm, an explosion of ecstasy that penetrates and infuses the spirit," says Juliet Reynolds.

Yes. But how does one portray it in the arts? In drama it is easier, in dance slightly difficult, but in music, depiction of this rasa needs a masterly touch. The voice must get that 'feel,' that certain emotion but with a dignity, so that it is not made mundane, earthy, coarse and vulgar. In Indian poetry from Kalidasa's time of Ritusamharam, we have extensively layered nuances explored in this rasa!

The secret is in not 'overdoing' it. The minute it is explained or demonstrated in great detail it loses its sophistication and spontaneity and looks fussy and contrived. It demands subtleness and brevity. As we say, if taken in excess even honey becomes poison.

What is needed is the conciseness of suggestion, whereby leaving the rest to the imagination of the rasika. The tasting of rasa, aesthetic contemplation is rasavadana. As Ananda Coomaraswamy has rightly said above: "The only proof of its reality is to be found in experience (rasavadana)."

There is a famous proverb in Tamil, which goes, "Aada theriyaada thevadiya mitham konal endralaam." Translated roughly, it means that a devadasi who does not know how to dance, complains that the stage is crooked. The closest in English is, 'A bad worker blames his tools,' but the above Tamil proverb is implying something more than that. Meaning, that it is rare for a devadasi to not 'know' her art.

There is a definite belief that compared to the present day artistes, the olden days devadasi could emote feelings or emotions more effectively only because like the noted dancer, the late Balasaraswati * has said: "The Devadasi had to constantly rely on her wit and talent to keep her lover(s) coming back to her. Only a woman who gets up in a morning to find her lover gone knows what viraha is."

Yes, we have heard that to give 'art' its vision and re-vision, the artiste needs to have endured suffering. That individual must have experienced the pangs of separation, the pain of self-doubt, of self-worth and the pangs of hunger. Never can a work of art arise out of a smug, snug secure life style. And when devoid of feeling, art ceases to be art! For rasa is the birthright of any piece of art.

But again, in today's world of virtual reality, anything is possible. When a very famous writer was asked recently, how he gets his story line and whether he travels a lot to observe people, he replied that the human mind is so complex, filthy and so devious that it has a wealth of characterisations and plots within. And all that a writer has to do is to look deep within his own mind. In the same way, any emotion or rasa can be projected very effectively if the artiste is creative and bold with a certain awareness and sensitivity. If her 'thaiyari' (preparedness) is there, meaning if her erudition and grooming is of good quality, if she has that 'creativity,' then portraying a rasa is not beyond her.

The flavouring and the flowering of shringara rasa, the queen of rasas, are worth pursuing. For to hold, relish and enjoy that beautiful transient fleeting moment is joy. That is what art is all about.

* 'On the Wings of a Metaphor,' S Kalidas, India Today, May 8, 2000
Ananda Coomaswamy, G N Goswamy, Juliet Reynolds are all connoisseurs and have worked extensively on Indian art.

Searching - searching, the one word that seems to say everything about me. I went through the path of Indian classical music, first instrumental, then vocal, from South Indian classical crossed over to North Indian classical music, performed in various cities in India. All of a sudden, I found myself teaching children drawing and painting, thoroughly enjoying myself. Then plunged into Yoga, Hindu Philosophy and Vipassana - and this accidentally led me to haiku (Japanese nature poetry) in 2005, and since then it has been haiku, senryu, tanka, haibun and renku that I breathe. It seems, the elusive path of haiku would keep me engaged for a long time...
- Kala Ramesh

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