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Rasa theory facilitates holistic approach to school education
- Chandra Anand

April 14, 2017

Holistic development of all students is the aim of education systems universally. Accordingly, education is focused on not only intellectual and physical development of students, but also their moral and emotional development. In fact, today's trend is to introduce teaching and learning methods where all aspects of students' personalities develop in an integrated manner. And, one such opportunity is seen through arts education which is being considered for inclusion in the main curriculum of schools. As a matter of fact, the aesthetic theory of arts facilitates a holistic approach to teaching academic subjects too.

Creativity - a gift of nature:
By nature, all humans have a creative potential. For example, let's imagine an art class where drawing and painting is taught. In a class of fifty, instructions were given to draw a scene depicting seashore. It was observed, that scenery drawn by all students had same elements plus or minus, but each drawing gave a different view of seashore. Owing to individual experiences, these differences were to happen. Thus, a viewer connected to this particular scene in fifty unique ways. As it is clear that every student had talent for creativity, it follows that it ought to be nurtured and nourished from a young age so that it is fully realized. Therefore, different opportunities to train and hone students' creative talents can be made accessible by introducing art education.

Aesthetic and emotional developments:
From above example, it is clear that the content of art is inclusive of human experiences. Indeed then, all arts explore expressions of human moods and emotions in their presentations. When students express one's own exact thoughts and feelings about a human experience through art work, they achieve emotional growth. Other than training to expressing oneself, benefits of indulging in art works are many. It develops capacity to experience, learn things and grasp ideas, cultivates capabilities of analytical thinking, decision making, risk taking and problem solving. Further, it helps acquire habits of understanding, sharing, appreciating each others' creative efforts, cooperation and collaboration. Thus, art education develops balanced personalities.

Furthermore, students also need to know to enjoy and appreciate the created art work. So, art education should involve training faculties of discerning and enjoying beauty in art work. Hence, it is essential to educate them about aesthetic rules for creating and appreciating their art works. Subsequently, these rules will direct them towards handling elements and processes of art creation.

Undoubtedly, if arts education is to be included in the main curriculum, it is a fundamental requirement that all teachers also be aware of creative elements and processes of art. Particularly, it is essential to have knowledge of the aesthetic theory of rasa experience, which is common to all Indian arts, and can help in a holistic approach to teaching academic subjects.

Indian aesthetic theory of rasa experience:
Unquestionably, the main aesthetic that rules Indian arts is rasa theory. In Sanskrit, rasa means a juice or flavor that has to be tasted. Without doubt, the experience of appreciating a work of art depicting human emotions is like tasting or relishing the flavor of some emotions. Then like tasting of a dish, this relish-able feeling too is felt within oneself, i.e., gets internalized.

Generally, one understands that an emotion or attitude towards an object is a perfect signal to ratify the affinity of a person towards that object. Thus, the emotional response of audience to art presentation ratifies the success of art presentation. Regardless of field, form or intuited idea, the goal of Indian arts is to elicit emotional responses from its audiences. In fact, techniques of Indian arts are so devised and laid out that they help create an artistic presentation which brings out the required emotional response from the audience.

(i) Process of presentation: Bearing this in mind, an artist intuits a reality of life. Projecting it as a human experience, he/she then processes the idea. In order that every spectator can identify with the idea, he/she treats the idea with a universal approach. Identifying the main emotion in that particular moment of life, he/she uses techniques to evolve that emotion as the substratum (sthayibhava) of the presentation. When a discerning audience connects to it, a similar emotion arises in its mind. The arising emotion takes effect like a sentiment upon spectators, which is sum total of concept presented. And experience of an arising sentiment is called rasa experience.

(ii) Process of rasa utpattih: By nature, nine dominant emotions are subconsciously inherent in man and are considered as permanent 'states of being' or natural moods of the spirit. It is believed that the rise and ebb of these emotions influence the mental state of man. In his art, an artist brings one basic emotion to conscious level as sthayibhava and as rasa in spectators. This evocation and arising of sentiment is called "rasa utpattih". The process of rasa utpattih is explained thus:

Through art process, a relish-able state of a permanent basic mood (a sthayibhava) is developed and conveyed to an audience. This development towards a relish-able 'state of being' takes effect, due to interplay of supporting voluntary emotional conditions which are vibhavas, anubhavas and vyabhicharibhavas. Vibhava determines the cause of bhava, while anubhavas are physical indications of vibhava. Further, vyabhicharibhavas enhance anubhavas and sthayibhava comes into being. The indication is arising of involuntary emotions called satvika bhavas. The communication taking place due to the interplay of bhavas through the idiom of physical movements or actions (dance or drama) is called abhinaya. When this sthayibhava gets communicated, it takes effect as rasa experience on discerning spectators. Thus, the rasa sutra or definition of rasa theory states that elements vibhava, anubhava, and vyabhichari bhava brought together in appropriate proportions produce rasa. The sthayibhava doesn't get a mention in the definition as it is a produced element, which comes into existence through the process of creation, like a prepared dish.

"The technique of arts was directly conditioned by these principles, and techniques of Indian classical arts are rules through which these rasa states could be evoked" [1].

(iii) Rasa as a theory of technique: Since the goal of art work is to evoke rasa, knowledge of various methods and techniques to be employed for a particular rasa to take effect is also important. Thus the plot, characters, types of enacting (abhinaya), different modes (vritti) of delivery, elaborated conventions (dharma) of suggestive or realistic presentation and of zoning (kaksavibhaga), as well as rules governing use of costumes, colors, ornaments and even coiffure are to be correlated to the basic state (sthayibhava). Along with rasa sutra, these rules are also laid down in Natyasastra. This book explains the "science of dramatic presentation". Knowledge of these elements and their part in creative processes of various arts make up the content of arts education.

"The more deeply we penetrate the technique of any Indian art, the more clearly we see that what may seem spontaneous, individual, impulsive and natural to the lay spectator is in reality well-considered, long–inherited, minutely studied and imbued with a highly symbolic significance" [2].

Educational psychology and rasa theory:
Evidently, according to rasa theory, abhinaya is the art of expression which evokes an emotional response, from the audience, to an idea communicated. In doing so, abhinaya exerts influence on the spectator and leads him towards right conduct and conscience. By the way that Natyaveda was created to entertain, educate and enlighten society, this statement is validated.

In recent times, experiments dealing with concepts of educational psychology concluded that the best education is through 'response' to one's experiences in one's environment and society. Understandably, process of learning is explained like this. "An individual reacts to a particular situation. As a result of his reaction, he gains some new experience. This experience causes modification or change in his behavior." [3]

For sure, this is the same as rasa theory as expounded by Bharatamuni in Natyasastra. With this inference, one can conclude that rasa theory could be applied to processes of teaching-learning of academic subjects too.

The Teacher as a performer:
Naturally the question arises as to, how does one relate rasa theory to normal subject oriented education?

Here too, a teacher undertakes an entire process of planning a lesson and its presentation. In order to make certain that the aim of lesson achieves its goal, right in the beginning itself, he/she has to plan the outcome of the lesson taught. While planning a lesson, he/she should decide on a suitable approach and method of instruction. To plan the lesson in a logical manner, he/she has to adhere to principles of teaching; and make use of maxims of teaching. As nothing can be left to chance, he/she organizes teaching points by gauging students' responses at every step. Or, prepare his/her explanations, narrations and illustration in such a manner, as to direct students to give requisite responses. In order to attract the attention of students, he/she has to prepare teaching aids and present them at the appropriate moment during development of the lesson. To keep students alert to the lesson, he/she has to plan student participation that facilitates in progress of the lesson. If the teacher is able to captivate attention of students through the teaching methods, surely students would enjoy the lesson. Then, here also, rasa is experienced. Here, the teacher is a performer and students are his/her audience.

Let's analyze these steps of teaching with elements of rasa utpattih:

In the beginning of his/her performance, the teacher stimulates the curiosity of students by an interesting opening statement, illustration or anecdote as introduction to a concept. This technique can be called as the vibhava element. In order to go further into the concept, he/she illustrates examples, narrates stories and anecdotes, displays various teaching aids such as maps, models, charts etc, as relevant to the lesson. As these techniques elaborate the concept being taught, they can be called as anubhava elements. For enabling students partake in the teaching process, he/she introduces 'role-play', viz., asks students to narrate a similar story, anecdote, and illustration from their experiences, take turns to point on the map, to handle models and other teaching aids. Also, to check whether they are in step with the process of concept formation, he/she asks other leading questions. Thus, through these teaching techniques he/she is able to prod students into being active and bring forth requisite reactions and responses from them. As these techniques make certain students' understanding of the concept, they can be called as vyabhichari elements. In the end, he/she interrogates students with relevant questions specific to the teaching unit and diagnoses whether the concept in the lesson planned (sthayi) has been taken in by them. With thrill and excitement (satvika bhavas), students answer questions. The pure joy that follows indicates the success of the lesson plan. Through this involvement of both teacher and students in teaching and learning the lesson, the sum total of the concept is deeply impressed upon students.

The teaching perspective:
In reality, all subjects inform about discoveries of objects and invisible forces that exist in nature. Systematically, all findings are compartmentalized according to resemblance of concepts. For instance:

Geography describes nature in all its diversity and tells us how nature varies from region to region and life adapts itself in a comfortable manner to the particular region. With precision, Sciences elucidate laws that make up mechanics of nature. In a rational manner, Languages preach us values and morals of life through human experiences. And in a dramatic way, History tells us what has happened in the past and makes cautious the way to follow in future. With logic, Mathematics helps to compute objects of the universe with numbers; while truthfully, Arts answer queries of life and its existence.

Totally, subjects make us understand the Universe in all its variety and beauty. 'With feeling of awe and wonder' (adhbuta rasa), students receive concepts and ideas of different subjects. What's more, man discovers various entities and invisible forces of nature and utilizes it to make his life more and more comfortable. Then objectively, one feels that there is a necessity to learn these subjects, as in some way or other they are connected to us. Teaching with this perspective, facilitates students to know about the wonderful world they live in. Surely then, feelings of wonder and admiration that encompasses them propel them to protect and sustain the world in all its beauty.

In an artistic way, these teaching methods which form elements of "rasa utpattih" in lesson planning, helps a teacher to captivate attention of students. As a result, the class room expands into a space for "transcendence and transformation." Evocatively, the teacher reaches hearts of every student and nurtures and nourishes them, which helps students to connect emotionally, intellectually and spiritually with the world they live in.

Thus, inclusion of arts education in the main curriculum can create a nation of artists and artistic teachers. With practice of art, students get trained to apply aesthetical techniques in all kinds of work and build up a creative workforce which is an asset in this competitive global scenario.

Notes to reference:
1)Kapila Vatsyayan, Classical Indian Dance in Literature and the Arts, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, second edition, 1977, chapter 1, pg 6.

2) Ibid, chapter1, pg 8.

3) K.K. Bhatia & J.N. Arora, Methodology of teaching, Prakash Brothers Educational publishers, 1981, chapter 3, pg 24-25.

1) Bhatia K.K. & Arora J.N., Methodology of teaching, Prakash Brothers Educational publishers, 1981.

2) Vatsyayan Kapila, Classical Indian Dance in Literature and the Arts, Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, second edition, 1977.

Chandra Anand is a Bharatanatyam artiste and teacher. Apart from having MA in Classical Dance (Bharatanatyam) from Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth, Pune (2014), she has an MA in Eng Lit. from Bombay University (1990) and has done B Ed from Kapila Khandvala College for Education, Santacruz, affiliated to Bombay University (1994).

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