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Rasa Sutra and the factors of Art construction
- Leesa Mohanty, Mumbai
Photos courtesy: Temple of Fine Arts, Johore Baru

July 18, 2009

Trailokyasyaasya sarbasya natyam bhavaanukirtanam.

Natya is an imitative rendering of the emotions of all the people in the universe.

The effort of every artiste is to create an art that stirs the emotions of the spectators and thereby, has an emotional impact. And the spectator in turn comes to a performance only for this pleasure. Therefore, the purpose of any performance is not to convey or share information, knowledge or intent but to elicit emotion or the aesthetic experience in the audience. The greater the emotional experience, the better (according to the spectator) is the performance.

Thus, an artiste should give utmost importance to the structural components of construction for the success of the artwork. Bharata's Natya Shastra mentions the 'Rasa Sutra' that forms the foundation of Indian Dramaturgy; a one line statement on the elements of arousing the aesthetic experience in the audience. One of the shortest, yet, the most convincing and complete formulation for evoking an emotional response in the spectator.

Bharata devotes the sixth chapter of his classical work Natya Shastra, to an in depth analysis of the concept of Rasa. It is in this chapter that we find the famous 'Rasa Sutra.' The awareness of the emotions has to be elicited in the minds of the spectator for them to relish it. The Rasa Sutra summarizes the factors in art construction that leads to relishing of the Rasa.

Vibhava-anubhava-vyabhichari-samyogad rasa nispattih

Vibhava, anubhava and vyabhichari bhava in combination with one another evokes / arouses / infuses the supreme delight which we call rasa or the aesthetic experience in the spectator.

Vibhava literally means the determinant, the cause or the 'karana.' Vibhava is of two types: Alambana Vibhava and Uddipana Vibhava. Alambana Vibhava refers to the main stimulating cause whereas Uddipana Vibhava refers to excitants that support the main stimulating factors in evoking an emotion.

Anubhava refers to the impact or the consequents of a determinant. This is the physical or the outward manifestation. The function of anubhava is to apprehend the emotion or the prevailing permanent psychological state i.e. Sthayi Bhava.

Vyabhichari Bhava are transitory emotions and are also known as Sanchari Bhava. These transitory states help the permanent psychological states to mature into Rasa or the aesthetic delight in the spectator.

Thus, vibhava and anubhava have a cause and effect relationship. Vyabhichari or the transitory states of mind is again an impact due to some specific cause. The difference between anubhava and vyabhichari bhava is that the former is a physical reaction whereas the latter is a mental reaction or a psychological state.

A step further comes the result i.e. the awareness of the emotion in the minds of the spectator which Bharata calls Rasa Nispattih.

Even if we have all these factors of art construction in place, still we may be short of making the audience delighted. How we use these elements in art creation is the deciding factor for the success of a piece of artwork. Firstly, the artiste while using his / her imaginative or creative prowess to bring certain emotions into existence in the spectator has to follow the laws of causation in order to make the work of art realistic and convincing. Secondly, the artiste has to maintain the right proportion and harmonious expression of these construction factors for stirring emotion that will lead to aesthetic delight.

Leesa is the Executive Director of Bansi Bilas, an NGO dedicated to the propagation of Odissi Dance across the globe. She is a dancer, choreographer and trainer in Odissi. She also writes her views on

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