Rasa Theory in Natyashastra by Bharat Muni

 Bharata Muni's Rasa Theory in Natyashastra

The key concept in the aesthetic theory presented in Natyashastra is Rasa. It is an Indian concept of aesthetic flavour, an essential element of any work of literary or performing art that can only be suggested and not described. The term Rasa occurs frequently in Vedic texts, where it has various meanings i.e. water, soma juice, cow's milk and flavour.

Rasa theory Bharat Muni in Natyashastra
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However, it was in the 4th century A.D. when Bharat Muni in his Natyashastra enunciated the theory of art which focused on the idea of Rasa, as an aesthetic concept, for the first time. It was later elaborately developed by many learned scholars, philosophers and theoreticians. Abhinav Gupta, Bhatta Tauta, kauntak, Mammata, Vishvanatha and many other scholars contributed greatly to the development of indian aesthetics.

In the context of Indian aesthetics, Rasa is understood as the aesthetic experience of the actor and especially the spectator. In the aesthetic context Rasa is translated as a sentiment; the fictionalized emotions which we experience through the poetry and art. It is considered to be the essence of a work of art. Rasa, thus, is an realisation of impersonal contemplative aspect of the self. According to Bharat, "No composition can proceed without Rasa". Thus, Rasa is the ultimate criterion of literariness.

There is no concurrence on the number of Rasas. Bharat Muni in his Natyashastra enunciated the eight Rasas. According to him each Rasa has a presiding diety and specific colour. These Rasas are: Sringaram, Hasyam, Raudram, Karunam, Bibhatsam, Bhayanakam, Viram and Adbhutam. Later on the ninth Rasa, Shanta, has been added. This Rasa was suggested by Abhinav Gupta. In addition to these nine Rasas two more appeared later especially in literature, the Vatsalya and the Bhakti.

The concept of Rasa in Natyashastra is phrased in the form of a short statement, a shutra: "Vibhava- Anubhava- Vyabhicharibhava- Samyogad Rasa-Nispattih". It means "Rasa is produced (Rasa nispattih) from a combination (Samyogad) of Vibhava, Anubhava, and Vyabhicharibhava". Vibhava(determinants) is characterized by the situations that cause the emergence of Rasa. Vibhava means karana or cause. It is of two kinds. The Alambana Vibhava is the basic stimulus, capable of arousing the sentiment, whereas Uddipana Vibhava is the enhancing stimuli. However, it must be noted that Vibhava is not the cause of producing any emotion but only 'medium'.

Anubhava (consequents) are defined as the means of histrionic representation. These are the effects following the rise of emotion. They are deliberative manifestations of feelings on the part of the actor. They consist of the various gestures and glances of the actor which are intended to develop the basic stimulus or the Vibahva. In case of Sringara Rasa the presence of a beautiful girl on the stage is a Vibahva and her movements and Glances are the Anubhavas.

The Vyabhicharibhava (complementary emotional states) are the transient emotions which arise in the course of maintaining and developing the basic mood. If the basic mood is love, joy in union and the anguish in separation will be the accompanying ancillary emotions.

Sattvic bhavas are the involuntary expressions such as blushing, perspiration. They arise as a result of experiencing and portrayal of emotions. As a result of the joint operation of all these factors the Sthayibhava (latent sentiment) is aroused in the spectator's mind and becomes Rasa.


  1. Aristotle's theory of imitation.
  2. Aristotle's Theory of Tragedy.
  3. Aristotle's theory of Catharsis.
  4. Sources of Sublimity by Cassius Longinus.
  5. Concept of Rasa in Natyashastra.

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