Bharat Muni’s Hasya Rasa in Ancient Indian Aesthetics

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      In about 200 BC, Bharat Muni, in his Natyasastra — the ancient work of dramatic theory, has described the origin, development, forms and categories of drama. Bharat Muni has made some interesting discoveries on the fundamental truth about the relation between the two important essentials of drama - the actor and the audience. According to Natyasastra, drama is a Drishyakavya - the visible poetry. In a poem words are written down on paper and we try to understand the meanings of the words by knowing the relation between words with help of grammar. In a play, on the other hand, we hear the actor’s accent and modulation of voice in support of actor’s gesture. So, the play provides both the visible and audible aspects. The spectator’s duty is to experience both the aspects within his own self. An essential mental state helps the spectator doing the same. Bharat Muni introduces such a mental state in his Natyasastra. This is the concept, of ‘Kasa’. In Indian Aesthetics, a Rasa (Sanskrit: lit. ‘juice’ or ‘essence’) denotes an essential mental state and is the dominant emotional theme of a work of art or the primary feeling that is evoke in the person person that views, reads or hears such a work. The aesthetic pleasure of Hindu theatre is determined by how successful the artist is in expressing a particular emotion and evoking the ‘rasa’. According to Bharat Muni, in producing the play, the ‘rasa’ is created by actor in his acting and is enjoyed by the spectators - ‘Just as the combination of several vegetables and spices creates a flavor in food, so too the combination of several emotions yields the ‘rasa’ in the play’. The entire independent emotions combine into one final emotion in the body of the actor which is called the ‘Sthayi Bhava’, which in turn develops in the mind of the spectator into ‘rasa’. According to the emergence of such ‘Sthayi Bhavas’, Bharat Muni has recognized eight races in his Natyasastra. Each rasa, according to Natyasastra, has a presiding deity and a specific color:

      As the tradition of Alankara-shastra developed from the 6th to 10th century CE, a ninth rasa was contentiously endorsed by certain scholars. This rasa was only widely accepted after an extended philosophical and aesthetic theorization by Abhinavagupta. Subsequently, the nine rasas were accepted by the majority of the Alankarikas, and the expression Navarasa (the nine rasas), could come into vogue.

Navarasa: Sant am (peace or tranquility), Deity: Vishnu, Color: white.

      In addition to the nine Rasas, two more appeared later especially in literature: Vatsalya Parental Love and Bhakti Spiritual Devotion. However, the presiding deities, the colors and the relationship between these additional rasas have not been specified. In the literary compositions, the emotion of Bhakti as a feeling of adoration towards god was long considered only a minor feeling fit only for Stothras, but not capable of being developed into a separate rasa as the sole theme of a whole poem or drama. In the 10th century, it was still struggling, and Aacharya Abhinavagupta mentions Bhakti in his commentary on the Natyasastra, as an important accessory sentiment of the Shanta Rasa, which he strove with great effort to establish.

      However, turning to Bharat Muni’s concept of Rasa, there are 4 pairs of Rasas. Of the principal rasas, the Shringaram, the Viram, the Raudram and the Bibhatsam have been regarded as the primary Rasas, while the remaining four are secondary Rasas derived from the former: as Hasyam comes from Shringaram, Adbhutam from Viram, Karunyam from Raudram and Bhayanakam from Bibhatsam. Hasya is a Sanskrit word usually translated as humor or comedy. The color associated with hasya is white and deity, Pramatha or Ganesha, and leads to exultation of the mind. This is an emotion engendered by the distortion of speech, costume and gesture.

      The 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 direct behavior. According to Bharat Muni, the Rasa is produced by a combination of Vibhavas, Vibhavas and Vyabhicharis. Bharata’s Natyasastra defines Rasa thus: “The sentiment or aesthetic pleasure (Rasa) arises as a result of the harmonious blending of the appropriate vibhavas, anubhavas and vyabhicharibhava”. The Rasas evoke in the audience an emotional climax accompanied by a sense of joy. This is the aesthetic pleasure of Rasa. The Vyabhicharbhavas are 71 temporary or transitory moods that tend only to develop the sthayibhava or dominant mood. The dominant mood could be love, anger or pathos. On the stage Sthayi bhavas are manifested and represented by certain corresponding Anubhavas, as explained in Natyasastra.

      In the Shringara, the Anubhava is represented by clever movements of eyes and eye-brows, soft and delicate movements of limbs, sweet words, etc. On the other hand, in Hasya rasa, 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 at himself and it is centered on others when he makes others laugh. This two-fold division of Hasya relates to its infectious nature. The six types of Hasya and their appropriate images are as followings -

(i) ‘Smita’ (gentle smile): slightly blown cheeks, elegant glances, teeth not visible

(ii) ‘Hasita’ (smile): blooming eyes, face and cheeks, teeth slightly visible

(iii) ‘Vihasita’ (gentle laughter): laughter suitable to the occasion; slight sound and sweetness, face joyful, eyes and cheeks contracted

(iv) ‘Upaliasita’ (laughter of ridicule): the nose expanded, squinting eyes, shoulder and head bent

(v) ‘Apahasita’ (vulgar laughter): lau ghter on unsuitable occasion, tears in eyes, shoulders and the bead violently shaking

(vi) ‘Atibasita’ (excessive laughter): eyes expanded and tearful, loud and excessive sound, sides covered by hands.

      The determinants or Vibhavas of Hasya rasa are Vikrtavesa (Unseemly dress), Vikrtalankara (misplaced ornaments), Dharstya (Impudance), Laulya (covetousness), Kalaha (quarrel), Asatpracapa (near-obscene utterance), Vyanga Darsana (displaying deformed limbs), Doso dharana (Pointing out the faults of others) and other related things. The Vyabhicari Bhavas or the Transitory States of Hasya Rasa are lethargy, dissimulation, drowsiness, sleeplessness, dreaming, waking up, envy and other things.

      Hasya is of two kinds, Atmastha or selttased, Parastha or based on others. When the actor laughs at him/herself it is called Atmastha; when she makes another person laugh it is called Parastha. The display of oddly placed ornaments, unseemly behavior, irrelevant words, faulty dress, strange movements of the limb etc. make people laugh. So, this Rasa is called Hasya. This Rasa is most common to women characters and persons of the mean order. It has six distinct varieties which are Smita (gentle smile), Hasita (slight laughter), Vihasita (open laughter), Upahasita (Laughter of ridicule), Apahasita (obscene laughter) and Atihasita (Boisterous laughter). The superior types of persons, the middling ones and the base ones have respectively two of these. Smita and Hasita belong to the people of high rank; Vihasita and Upahasita to the ordinary people and Apahasita and Atihasita to the mean people.

      For the people of high rank, the cheeks are slightly blown, the glances are elegant, and the teeth cannot be seen, in the Smita. And in
Hasita, the mouth and the eyes are blooming, the cheeks are blown and the teeth are slightly seen. For the middling ones, Vihasita should be befitting the occasion. It is laughter when slight sound is produced sweetly. The actor contracts the eyes and the cheeks. There is cheerful luster in the face. In the course of the Upahasita, the nostrils become expanded. The shoulder and the head become a little bent. For the mean people the Apahasita is usually unsuitable to the context. Tears trickle from the eyes. The actor violently shakes the shoulders and the head. The Atihasita is excessively boisterous. The eyes are expanded, tears drop from them and hands cover the sides. Hasya rasa is an essential part of the Natyasastra. When humorous interludes arise in the course of a dramatic performance the author shall so depict the smile or laughter as the case may be, that the superior, middling and the mean do so befittingly.

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