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Rasa theory in Natya Shastra

Theory of Rasa described in Chapters VI and VII of Natya Shastra

The theory of Rasa-Bhava establishes a relationship between the performer and the spectator. The model spectator is a Sahrdaya, someone ‘who empathizes with the author.’ Since the success of a performance is measured by whether or not the audience has a specific experience (rasa), the spectator becomes a vital participant in the play.

Bharata calls human soul as Bhava-Jagat (the world of emotions). Bharata and later authors explain how the Art universalizes emotions making them an instrument of appeal to the spectators. They say that the actor acts as bearer, media and connector of emotions of the character. By conveying emotions the actor step by step opens inner Bhava-Jagat of the character, creates special emotional atmosphere, which can be felt and relished. The actor introduces and involves the spectators into this emotional atmosphere. Thus, emotions of the character are spread through the actor to spectators, who share them collectively, as a group, by relishing the Rasa. Thus emotions are embodied and translated from one person to many.

Bhava and Rasa

Bharata says that which can be relished – like the taste of food – is rasa: “Rasyate anena iti rasaha (asvadayatva).”

According to Bharata, the playwright experiences a certain emotion (bhava). The director of the play should properly understand the idea and bhava-s of the character and convey his knowledge and understanding to the actors. The actors perform their parts using their own vision and experience, but they should follow the main idea and key bhavas emphasized by the director, Sutradhara.

The term bhava means both existence and a mental state, and in aesthetic contexts it has been variously translated as feelings, psychological states, and emotions. In the context of the drama, bhavas are the emotions represented in the performance.

Bhava is that which becomes (Sanskrit root “bhoo”, “bhav” means “to become”); and bhava becomes rasa. In Natya Shastra it is said, that bhavas by themselves carry no meaning in the absence of Rasa: “Nahi rasadyate kashid_apyarthah pravattate.” Forms and manifestations of bhavas are defined by the rasa. It is therefore said, Rasa is the essence of art conveyed.

Rasa is the emotional response the bhavas inspire in the spectator (the Rasika or Sahrudaya). Rasa is thus an aesthetically transformed emotional state experienced by the spectator. Rasa is accompanied by feelings of pleasure and enjoyment. Such emotions tunes perception of the spectators, they create atmosphere of empathy, make people more sensitive, help to open mind and heart to understand the idea and message of the play.

Rasa is associated with palate, it is delight afforded by all forms of art; and the pleasure that people derive from their art experience. It is literally the activity of savoring an emotion in its full flavor. The term might also be taken to mean the essence of human feelings.

Rasa is sensuous, proximate, experiential. Rasa is aromatic. Rasa fills space, joining the outside to the inside. What was outside is transformed into what is inside.


The actors convey bhavas using Abhinaya. The Sanskrit root “abhi” means “to lead”, “to go together”. Abhinaya is the process by which the meaning of the play is “led toward” the audience.

Human activity is divided into the physical, the verbal and the mental. Thus Abhinaya is four-fold – Sattvika (temperamental), Angika (physical), Vachika (verbal) and Aharya (dress, make-up, etc.).

Mrinalini Sarabhai uses famous shloka from “Abhinaya Darpanam” to explain these four aspects: “Where the hands go the eyes follow [anubhava], where the eyes go the mind follows [sattvika abhinaya], where the mind goes the mood [bhava] follows, where the mood goes there is rasa born.”

Sattvika abhinaya is very important kind of Abhinaya, showing the highest level of actor’s identification with the character . All of the components of abhinaya must be applied by the actor in order for him to bring the audience to the correct rasa, and thus to the enjoyment of the play, but sattva, which literally means ‘purity,’ however in dramaturgy is the psychological ability of the actor to identify with the character and his emotions, is the hardest to master and to understand.

As Bharata asserts, “Sattva . . . is [something] originating in mind. It is caused by the concentrated mind. The Sattva is accomplished by concentration of the mind. It’s nature cannot be mimicked by an absent-minded man.”

The Natya Shastra calls Sattvika abhinaya the “Spirited” modes of abhinaya, but the best explanations link it to Stanislavsky’s “Magic ‘If’” and “Sense of Truth.” This allows the actor to convince himself the circumstances are real to the character, even though, as the actor, he knows they are not.

When executed properly, sattvika abhinaya allows the actor to exhibit the physical signs of the emotions the character’s feeling, such as tears, trembling, change of color, or horripilation (the hair standing on end, or goosebumps). For the audience to feel the correct rasa, the actor must manifest the outward expressions of the character’s emotion using all kinds of abhinaya, but especially sattva. The Natya Shastra insists, “The Histrionic Representation with an exuberant Sattva is superior, the one with the level Sattva is middling, and that with no [exercise of] Sattva is inferior.”

Vibhava and Anubhava

Actions and feelings are evoked in connection with certain surrounding objects and circumstances, called Vibhava-s. Different mental and emotional states manifest themselves and become visible through universal physiological reactions called Anubhava-s.

Thus Bhava, the emotion felt by the character, results from a “Determinant” (vibhava), or determining circumstance, such as the time of year, the presence of loved ones, the decor or environment, and so on. The vibhava affects the character so that he feels sorrow, terror, anger, or some such emotion (bhava).

The “Consequent” (anubhava) of a particular bhava is a specific behavior exhibited by the actor as he portrays the character such as weeping, fainting, blushing, or the like. The anubhava, if properly executed, will cause the audience to feel a specific rasa corresponding to the bhava felt by the actor:


This is precisely the process Stanislavsky describes for his actors. A character’s feelings arise from the circumstances of the scene, both those in effect at the moment and those that occurred before. The feelings, combined with the “given circumstances,” cause her to behave in a certain way--the “stage action.” Replacing the Sanskrit terms of The Natyasastra with Stanislavskian terminology, the diagram might look like this:


Eight Sthayi bhavas

Chapter VII of The Natya Shastra goes into great detail about the bhavas, which are broken down into three categories. Bharata mentions eight “Durable,” “Permanent,” or “Constant” emotional conditions called Sthayi bhavas:

These emotional states are inherent to humans. They are basic as they are inborn, understandable without explanation. They also are characterized by intensity, as they dominate and direct behavior. On the stage Sthayi bhavas are represented by certain Anubhavas, explained in Natya Shastra as follows:

Sthayi bhavas are manifested by corresponding Anubhavas:

  1. Rati (Pleasure) - Smiling face, sweet words, contraction of eye-brows, sidelong glances and the like.

  2. Hasa (Joy) - Smile and the like, i.e., laugher, excessive laugher.

  3. Shoka (Sorrow) - Shedding tears, lamentation, bewailing, change of color, loss of voice, looseness of limbs, falling on the ground, crying, deep breathing, paralysis, insanity, death and the like.

  4. Krodha (Malice) - Extended nostrils, unturned eyes, bitten lips, throbbing cheeks and the like.

    • against enemies - knitting of the eye-brows, fierce look, bitten lips, hands clasping each other, touching one’s own shoulder and breast.

    • when controlled by superiors - slightly downcast eyes, wiping off slight perspiration and not expressing any violent movement.

    • against beloved woman - very slight movement of the body, shedding tears, knitting eyebrows, sidelong glances and throbbing lips.

    • against one’s servants - threat, rebuke, dilating eyes and casting contemptuous looks of various kinds.

    • artificial - betraying signs of effort.

  5. Utsaha (Courage) - steadiness, munificence, boldness of undertaking and the like.

  6. Bhaya (Fear) - trembling of the hands and feet, palpitation of the heart, paralysis, dryness of the mouth, licking lips, perspiration, tremor, apprehension of danger, seeking for safety, running away, loud crying and the like.

  7. Jugupsa (Disgust) - contracting all the limbs, spitting, narrowing down of the mouth, heartache and the like.

  8. Vismaya (Surprise) - wide opening the eyes, looking without winking of the eyes and movement of the eye-brows, horripilation, moving the head to and fro, the cry of ‘well done’ and the like.

Eight Rasa-s

The eight Sthai bhava-s evoke eight corresponding Rasa-s:

  1. Rati evokes Sringara (the Erotic - romance, love)

  2. Hasa evokes Hasya (the comic - laugh, humor)

  3. Shoka evokes Karuna (the pathetic - compassion, sadness)

  4. Krodha evokes Roudra (the furious - indignation, anger)

  5. Utsaha evokes Veera (the heroic - valor)

  6. Bhaya evokes Bhayanaka (the terrible - fear, horror)

  7. Jugupsa evokes Bibhasa (the odious - disgust, aversion, repugnance)

  8. Vismaya evokes Adbhuta (the marvelous - wonder, astonishment, amazement)

1. The Erotic - Sringara – (1) in union – The Anubhava-s to be represented are clever movements of eyes and eye-brows, soft and delicate movements of limbs, sweet words, etc.; whereas those to be represented (2) in separation – are despondency, weakness, apprehension, envy, weariness, anxiety, yearning, sleep, dreaming, awakening, illness, insanity, epilepsy, inactivity (temporary) death and other conditions.

2. The Comic - Hasya – It is to be represented by throbbing of the lips, and the cheeks, opening of the eyes wide or contracting them, perspiration, color of the face and taking hold of the sides. Hasya is self-centered when a man laughs himself and it is centered in others when he makes others laugh. This two-fold division of Hasya relates to its infectious nature. In the verses of the Anubhavas of the six types of Hasya are given.

  • ‘smita’ (gentle smile): slightly blown cheeks, elegant glances, teeth not visible;

  • ‘hasita’ (smile): blooming eyes, face and cheeks, teeth slightly visible;

  • ‘vihasita’ (gentle laugher) – laugher suitable to the occasion; slight sound and sweetness, face joyful, eyes and cheeks contracted;

  • ‘upahasita’ (laugher of ridicule): the nose expanded, squinting eyes, shoulder and head bent;

  • ‘apahasita’ (vulgar laugher) – laugher on unsuitable occasion: tears in eyes, shoulders and the head violently shaking;

  • ‘atihasita’ (excessive laugher) – eyes expanded and tearful, loud and excessive sound, sides covered by hands.

Smita and hasita should be employed in the case of superior characters, vihasita and upahasita in the case of middling ones and apahasita and atihasita in the case of the inferior types.

3. The Pathetic - Karuna – This is to be represented by shedding tears, lamentation, dryness of the mouth, change of color, drooping limbs, being out of breath, loss of memory and the like.

4. The Furious - Roudra is to be represented by red eyes, knitting of eye-brows, defiance, biting of lips, throbbing of the cheeks, pressing one hand over the other and the like.

5. The Heroic - Veera – This is to be gesticulated by firmness, heroism, charity, diplomacy and the like.

6. The Terrible - Bhaya is to be represented by trembling of the hands, the feet and the eyes, horripilation, change of color and the loss of voice.

7. The Odious - Bibhatsa is to be gesticulated by contraction of all the limbs, narrowing down of the mouth and eyes, vomiting, spitting and (shaking the limbs in) disgust and the like.

8. The Marvelous - Adbhura – This is to be represented by wide opening eyes, looking with fixed gaze, horripilation, tears. Joy, perspiration, uttering words of approbation, making gifts, crying (incessantly) ‘ha, ha, ha’ waving the end of dhoti or sari and movement of fingers and the like.

Abhinavagupta interpreted rasa as a “stream of consciousness”. He then went on to expand the scope and content of the rasa spectrum by adding the ninth rasa: the Shantha rasa, the one of tranquility and peace. Abhinava explained that Shantha rasa underlies all the other mundane rasas as their common denominator. All the other rasas emanate from the Shantha rasa and resolve in to it. Shantha rasa is a state where the mind is at rest, in a state of tranquility.The other rasas are more transitory in character than is shanta rasa. The Shanta Rasa is the ultimate rasa the summum bonum.

Transitory states - Vibhichari or Sanchari bhavas

Emotions have many shades, are characterized by different levels of intensity. Basic emotions can be also combined with each other. Such individual varieties of emotions, possible in different situations, in case f different characters are called Vibyachari (or Sanchari) bhava-s. They are many in number.

Sthayi bhava-s are accompanied by thirty-three Vyabhicari-bhavas, called “Complementary” or “Inconstant” modes, which may be seen as “Conditioning Forces” of a scene or the changeable conditions that affect character’s behavior, such as intoxication or exhaustion.

1. Nirveda - weeping, sighing, deep breathing, deliberation and the like.

2. Glani - week voice, lusterless eyes, pale face, slow gate, want of energy, loss of color of the body and the limbs, change of voice and others.

3. Sanka - constantly looking about, hesitating movement, dryness of the mouth, licking the lips, change of facial color, tremor, dry lips, change of voice and the like. Concealment of appearance to be characterized by adoption of clever gestures according to some authorities.

4. Asuya - finding fault with others, decrying their virtues, casting glances in jealousy, downcast face, knitting eyebrows, disregard and abuse in public.

5. Mada -
In case of superior persons – sleeping
Middling ones – laughing and singing,
Low ones – crying and using coarse words.
Stages of Mada –
(i) light smiling face, pleasant feeling, slightly faltering words, delicately unsteady gait.
(ii) medium drunken and rolling eyes, arms drooping or restlessly thrown about, irregularly unsteady gait.
(iii) excessive loss of memory, incapacity to walk due to vomiting, hiccup, tick protruding tongue and spitting. When there is panic, grief and increase of terror due to some cause, intoxication is to be stopped by effort.

6. Srama - gentle rubbing of the body, deep breathing, contraction of the mouth, belching, massaging of the limbs, very slow gait, contraction of the eyes, making hissing sound.

7. Alasya - aversion to any kind of work, lying down, sitting, drowsiness, sleep, etc.

8. Dainya - want of self-command, headache, dullness of the body, absent-mindness, giving up of cleansing (of the body), etc.

9. Cinta - deep breathing, sighing, agony, meditation, thinking with a down-cast face, thinness of the body, etc.

10. Moha - want of movement, excessive movement of a particular limb, falling down, reeling, dazed condition.

11. Smrity - nobbing of the head, looking down, raising up the eye-brows, etc.

12. Dhriti - enjoyment of objects attained, absence of regret for the unattained, impaired or lost, etc.

13. Vrida - covered face, thinking with down casting face, drawing lines on the ground, touching cloths and the ring, biting the nails, etc.

14. Capalata - harsh words, rebuke, beating, killing, taking prisoner, goading, etc.

15. Harsa - brightness of the face and eyes, using sweet words, embracing, horripilation, tears, perspiration, and the like.

16. Avega -
(a) due to portends - looseness of all the limbs, distraction of the mind, loss of facial color, sadness, surprise, etc.
(b) due to violent winds - veiling the face, rubbing the eyes, collecting the ends of the clothes worn, hurried going, etc.
(c) due to heavy rains - lumping together the limbs, running, looking for some cover of shelter, etc.
(d) due to fire - eyes troubled with smoke, contracting all the limbs or shaking them, running with wide steps, flight, etc.
(e) due to elephants - hurried retreat, unsteady gait, fear, paralysis, tremor, looking back, etc.
(f) due to having something - getting up, embracing, giving away cloths and ornaments, tears, horripilation, etc.
(g) due to unfavorable news - falling down on the ground, rolling about on a rough surface, running away, bewailing, weeping and the like.
(h) due to calamity - sudden retreat, taking up weapons and armor, mounting elephants and horses and chariots, striking, etc.

17. Jadata - not uttering any word, speaking indistinctly, aversion to all work, remaining absolutely silent, looking with steadfast gaze, dependence on others, etc.

18. Garva - disrespect for others, harassing, not giving reply, not greeting others, looking to oneself, roaming, contemptuous laugher, harsh words, transgressing commands of the superiors, insulting others, etc. (In case of persons of inferior type, (boastful) movement of the eyes and the limbs is to be employed.)

19. Visada - looking for allies, thinking about means, loss of energy, absent-mindedness, deep breathing and the like in the case of superior and the middling types; in case of the inferior type – running away, looking down, drying of the mouth, licking the corner of the mouth, sleep, deep breathing, meditation and the like.

20. Autsukya - sighs, thinking with downcast face, sleep, drowsiness, desire for lying down.

21. Nidra - heaviness of the face, rolling of the body, rolling of the eyes, yawning, massaging of the body, deep breathing, relaxed body, closing the eyes, etc.

22. Apasmara - throbbing, sighing, trembling, running, falling down, perspiration, foaming in the mouth, motionlessness, licking (lips) with tongue and the like.

23. Supta - deep breathing, dullness of the body, closing the eyes, stupefaction of all senses, dreaming, talking while asleep, closing eyes softly.

24. Vibodha - yawning, rubbing the eyes, leaving the bed, etc.

25. Amarsa - shaking the head, perspiration, thinking with downcast face, determination, looking for means and allies, etc.

26. Avahittha - speaking otherwise, looking down words, break in speech, pretended patience.

27. Ugrata - killing, imprisoning, beating, rebuking, etc.

28. Mati - instructing pupils, ascertainment of meanings, removal of doubts, etc.

29. Vyadhi -
(a) fever with a feeling of cold - shivering of the entire body, bending the body, shaking the jaws, desire for heat, horripilation, movement of the chin, narrowing down the nasal passage, dryness of the mouth, lamentation, etc.
(b) fever with a feeling of heat - throwing out cloths, the hands and the feet, desire to roll on the ground, use f unguents, desire for coolness, lamentation, dryness of mouth, crying.
(c) other types of sickness - narrowing down the mouth, dullness of the body, downcast eyes, deep breathing, making peculiar sounds, crying, tremor, etc.

30. Unmada - laughing and weeping without any reason, crying, irrelevant talk, lying down, sitting and rising up, running, dancing, singing, reciting, smearing the body with ashes and dust, taking grass and remains of flower-offering to deity, soiled clothes, rags, potsherd, and earthen tray as decorations of the body, many other senseless acts, imitation of others who are not present, etc.

31. Marana -
(a) from sickness - looseness of the body, motionless of the limbs, closed eyes, hiccup, deep breathing, not looking towards surroundings people, indistinct words, etc.
(b) due to accidental injury -
(i) wounded by weapons - suddenly falling down on the ground, tremor, throbbing, etc.
(ii) snake bite or poison - gradual development of the following symptoms – thinness of the body, tremor, burning sensations, hiccup, foaming mouth, breaking of the neck, paralysis and death.

32. Trasa - contraction of limbs, shaking, tremor of the body, paralysis, horripilation, speaking with choked voice, etc.

33. Virtaka - various discussions, non-settling1 of problems, concealment of the counsel, movements of the head and eye-brows, etc.

Temperamental states - Sattvika bhavas

Temperamental states are expressed on the stage using Sattvika abhinaya. In fact, all the gesticulation of mental states may be designated as the Sattvika abhinaya. But the prominence given to the gesticulation of the temperamental states is due to the peculiar mental effort which is necessary for their presentation. Bharata has thus given first the gesticulation of temperament for, without it the real purpose of the performance would be lost.

  1. Sveda - taking up the fan, wiping off sweat, looking for breeze.

  2. Stambha - being inactive, smileless, being like inert object, limbs drooping.

  3. Kampa - quivering, throbbing and shivering, wiping the eyes of tears, shedding tear incessantly.

  4. Asru - wiping the eyes full of tears, shedding tears incessantly.

  5. Vaivarnya - alteration of the color of the face with effort by putting pressure on the artery.

  6. Romanca - repeated thrills, hair standing on end, touching the body.

  7. Svarabheda - broken and choked voice.

  8. Pralaya - motionlessness, breathing gently (unnoticed), falling on the ground.

Tags: dance theory

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