Rasa Theory with reference to Bharata's Natyashastra

"na hi RASAdrite kaschidarthah pravartate"1

Bharata Muni very emphatically states in the Rasadhyaya of Natyashastra that "no meaningful idea is conveyed if the "Rasa" is not evoked."

The very core of the Sanskrit Natya theory is the creation of "Rasa". Every dramatic presentation was aimed at evoking in the minds of the audience a particular kind of aesthetic experience, which is described as "Rasa". The concept of "Rasa" is the most important and significant contribution of the Indian mind to aesthetics. The study of aesthetics deals with the realization of beauty in art, its relish or enjoyment, and the awareness of joy that accompanies an experience of beauty. Rasa has no equivalent in word or concept in any other language or art of the world hitherto known to us. The closest explanation can be 'aesthetic relish'.

We do come across the mention of Natasutras of Silalin and Krishasva by Panini, prior to Bharata's Natyashastra, yet, it is only Bharatamuni who seems to have given a scientific analysis and codification of the concept of Rasa. Bharata says that Natya is the imitation of life (lokanukruti) wherein the various human emotions have to be dramatically glorified (bhavanukirtanam) so that the spectator is able to flavour
the portrayed pleasure and pain (lokasya sukhaduhkha) as Natyarasa. This Rasa experience will entertain and enlighten the spectator who hence becomes the 'Rasika'.

The word Rasa is derived from the root 'rasah' meaning sap or juice, taste, flavour, relish. The extract of a fruit is referred to as 'rasa,' which itself is the essence of it, the ultimate flavour of it. Bharata succinctly encapsulates the theory of Rasa in his most famous formula-like Rasa sutra thus: "vibhavanubhavavyabhicharisanyogatRASAnishpattih."1

The aesthetic relish is produced (rasanishpattih) by a combination of the determinants (vibhava), consequents (anubhava), and transitory states or fleeting emotions (vyabhicharibhava). He explains Rasa as the essence derived from the various ingredients. He gives the parallel of the extract, rasa, got from various condiments, having different tastes, when combined becomes delectable to taste. Hence, that
which can be tasted or flavored (asvadya) can be termed as Rasa. Just as the gourmet with a refined taste relishes good food, so also cultured and learned persons taste and relish the well established dominant mood (sthayibhava) created by various bhavas and abhinaya.2 This aesthetic relish, which is possible only through mental perception, is termed as 'natyarasa'. Even the terms vibhava, anubhava, and vyabhicharibhava refer only to stage representations, not to realities of life. It naturally follows that what they produce should
only be 'natya rasa' (sentiments pertaining to the dramatic spectacle). One enjoys experiencing the emotions with the artistes, and sometimes even visibly expresses it by shedding tears or laughing spontaneously. But both the artiste and the spectator are well aware that neither of them is going through it in reality. This enjoyment is 'natya rasa'.

The 6th and 7th chapters of the Natyashastra, known as the Rasadhyaya and Bhavaadhyaya respectively, together bring out the concept of the Bhava-Rasa theory of Bharata, and have hence become the bedrock for all deliberations on aesthetics, including the most brilliant contribution of Abhinavaguptacharya, whose Abhinavabharati remains till date the best commentary on the Natyashastra.

"Bhava" is derived from the root 'bhu'-bhavati, that is, 'to become', 'to come into existence'. Bharata gives a causal quality to Bhava, saying 'bhavayanti iti bhava',3 that is, a thing or mental state that brings its awareness or makes one conscious of it, which pervades one like a particular smell.

Bharata classifies the Rasa under eight categories (ashtarasa) and gives the corresponding Bhava which gives rise to the rasa. These are known as Sthayi Bhava or pervading stable emotion. They are rati(love), hasa(mirth), shoka(grief), krodha(anger), utsaha(heroism), bhaya(fear), jugupsa(disgust), and vismaya(wonder).4 The corresponding eight Rasa are sringara(amorous), hasya(humorous), karuna(pathetic), raudra(furious), vira(valorous), bhayanaka(horrific), bibhatsa(repugnant), and adbhuta(wondrous).5 There are three types of Bhava, namely, Sthayi (eight types), Vyabhichari (thirty three), and Satvika (eight), totaling to forty-nine. The Satvika bhava are the physical manifestation of intense emotion. They are sthamba(petrification), sveda(perspiration), romancha(horripilation), svarabheda(voice change), vepathu(trembling), vaivarnya(facial colour change), asru(weeping), and pralaya(fainting). It is an amazing analysis of human emotions put in a nutshell !

Vibhava is the cause (karana), the main stimulating cause being termed as alambana vibhava (the determinant), and, the environmental factors that are additional causes termed as uddipana vibhava (excitant). Anubhava is the consequent physical reaction through action, word and facial expression that follows (anu), as the impact of the vibhava. The thirty-three vyabhichari bhava (also referred to as sanchari bhava in some editions), are transitory, fleeting emotions based on psychological states of the mind. Several such emotions follow one after the other, one replacing the other, strengthening the sthayi bhava at each stage, till finally the sthayibhava is established and there is 'Rasanubhava'. "Just as in music a procession of notes in certain combinations reveals a characteristic melodic whole or raga, similarly it seems that the representation of bhavas reveals rasa as an aesthetic whole."6

For instance, in the play Abhijnanashakuntalam, Kalidasa uses King Dushyanta's coming to the hermitage to pay respects to the sage, as the alambana vibhava. The girls' talk, the bee, their attire, the flower garden and such others become the uddipana vibhava. On Dushyanta's entry, fleeting emotions like confusion, wonder, fear, curiosity, bashfulness and such others seem to fill the minds of all the characters
present. The blossoming of love between Shakuntala and Dushyanta is gradually established through the reactions of both of them to the conversation of the sakhis with the King. If the 'patra' enacting as Shakuntala is able to show the Satvika bhava of horripilation (romancha) or vepathu (trembling) out of the new experience of love which is strange to an ashramite and Dushyanta is able to portray sthambha
(petrification) on seeing her beauty and romancha on knowing her lineage, then the rati sthayi bhava gets established in the mind of the people who can experience the sringara rasa.

Bharata says that Bhava and Rasa are mutually dependent. The performer or producer, be it an actor, dancer, singer, instrumentalist, or stage craftsmen, should be conscious of the sthayi bhava and the rasa that they are striving to establish. This will help them realize their 'siddhi' through 'Rasotpatti'.


  1. Abhijnanasakuntalam of Kalidasa, Ed. M.R. Kale, Motilal Banarasidass, Delhi, 10th Ed. 1969, reprint 1980.
  2. Abhinavabharati of Abhinavagupta, Natyasastra of Bharatamuni with (Hindi translation) and Manorama (Hindi commentary) Ed. Dr. Parasanatha Dvivedi, Sampurnanda Sanskrit University, Varanasi, Vol. II, 1992 and I.
  3. Natyasastra of Bharatamuni with the Abhinavabharati of Abhinavaguptacarya Vol. I,1st Edn. Ed. Dr. R. S. Nagar (whose given an exhaustive introduction), Parimal Pub. Delhi,1981.
  4. Pande, Anupa, A Historical and Cultural Study of the Natya Sastra of Bharata, Kusumanjali Publications, Jodhpur, 1996


  1. Bharatamuni's Natyashastra Ch VI sl 32.
  2. Ibid sl 33.
  3. NS ch VII opening prose lines
  4. Ibid chVI sl 17.
  5. Ibid sl 15.
  6. Anupa Pande, A Historical and Cultural Study of the Natyasastra of Bharat, Kusumanjali Prakashan, Jodhpur, 1996, p.313.