Rasa (art)

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Rasa ( Sanskrit , m., रस, "juice, taste, essence, mood") is the central concept of classical Indian aesthetics. It describes the mental state of joy and fulfillment that cannot be put into words, which occurs when the viewer enjoys a successful work of art.

According to legend, the rasa theory was laid down in writing by the holy Bharata Muni in the book of Natyashastra and expanded by Abhinavagupta at the turn of the first millennium . It describes eight or nine basic moods (rasas), which, depending on the type of work of art, are caused by combinations of precisely defined emotional triggers (bhavas). The Rasa concept is still used in theater, dance, music, literature and the visual arts today and also shapes Indian cinema .


The emergence of the book Natyashstra is, depending on the author, about the period between the 2nd century BC. And dated to the 2nd century AD. It comprises about 6000 partly in prose, partly in metrical shlokas or stanzas, which are arranged in 36 chapters. A 37th chapter was added later. It is considered the oldest treatise on art and drama that we know. In Natyashastra a detailed breakdown of the performing arts is made an analysis of various poetics. The name of the author refers to the long Indian tradition of calling masters of theater, music and dance Bharata. This name is made up of the elements Bha (from Bhava), Ra (from Raga ) and Ta (from Tala ). Natya generally refers to the classical Indian forms of the performing arts. Bharatanatyam , for example, is a classical dance form based on the Natyashastra from southern India. Shastra generally means a textbook.


The text begins by describing the origin of the drama. This is created by the god Brahma at the request of lower gods, after people have begun to forget the Vedas and to behave uncivilized. Indra requires Brahma to create a "toy" (kridaniyaka) that people can see and hear in order to lead them away from their bad path. Since the Vedas were not accessible to all castes , a “fifth Veda” should be created that reaches all four castes. Brahma follows Indra's request and creates a book describing the drama. When Indra reads this to the other gods, it turns out that it is completely incomprehensible and too complicated. A wise man is then sought to prepare the extensive book for mortals. The choice fell on Bharata Muni, who is rewriting the book and is producing the first drama with his hundred sons. This legend establishes the basic understanding of drama and integrates it into the cultural and spiritual context.

In addition to the original legend and the Rasa theory, the 37 chapters of Natyashastra deal with every conceivable component of a theatrical production. From the nature of the stage and the theater to the precise description of foot movements, gestures of the hands and limbs, stride, language, the structure of the piece, of the music and its instruments, the structure and types of the pieces, the audience, the content The topics of the individual sections range from the distribution of roles to the success of a piece.

Reception and transmission

Whether Bharata Muni was a historical person remains controversial. While Kapila Vatsayan assumes a historical author, emphasizing the unity of the text, there are many voices that consider Natyashastra to be a collection of various orally transmitted and written texts from previous historical periods. At least in the third century BC, the Sanskrit grammarian Panini mentions nata sutras that were later lost. In the text of the Nātyasāstra itself, the god Brahma is given as the author who turned to Bharata Muni for the development of the complex work, and in the last chapter the names Kohala, Vatsya, Sandilya and Dattila are named as editors of the earthly edition, about whom nothing else Details are known. On the other hand, some sections are written metrically, others in prose. In the genesis, first the prose chapters, later the verse chapters and finally the addition of the last two chapters for authorization could have been written in different periods of time.

The oldest surviving manuscript is around 500 years old. Most of the surviving versions are no more than 300 years old. Commentaries relating to Natyashastra have been passed down from the third through fifth centuries.

The text is rediscovered in sections from 1826. In that year part of HS Wilson was found, and in 1865 another part by F. Hall. The first complete edition was published in 1894, and another partial publication was published by J. Grosset in 1896. A new Sanskrit edition followed in 1929. In 1920, M. Ram Krishna Kavi collected around 40 manuscripts from different parts of the country in order to put together an authentic body of text that appeared in 4 volumes from 1926–1964. The first English translation by MM Gosh appears in 1950.

The Rasa Theory

In chapters 6 (states of being / rasa) and 7 (feelings and other states / bhava) of Natyashastra the basic theory for Indian drama is developed. It describes what is presented in a play, how the creative process is possible and how the aesthetic transmission takes place. Its object is the abstraction of life in basic moods, feelings and emotional states of a universal nature, from which the drama can then be put together. The starting point is the aesthetic appreciation and experience of the viewer to be reached. Later, the application of the rasa theory expanded to other fields of art.

Word meaning of rasa

The earliest use of the word rasa can be found in the Rigveda . There it has the meanings water, life juice (soma juice), cow's milk and seasoning or aroma. Atharvaveda extended the meaning to include the sap of the plant, taste. In the Upanishads an abstract, symbolic level was added to these concrete meanings: essence. Here comes the context of Brahman . Both the concrete meaning of the culinary context and the abstract meaning of the spiritual context are used in Natyashastra. Both meanings have in common that they describe both an object and a process in time that cannot be directly grasped with the senses.


The Rasa theory is an aesthetic based on a logic of feelings . Its guiding principle is to create a mood in the audience. The evocation of feelings in the viewer is not only the goal of the aesthetic effort, it is also the key to the structural integrity of a work, the form of the story and its representation. The theory relates equally to the artistic side of production and the aesthetic side of reception. Rasa also describes the artist's creative experience. The dramatic means described in the theory derive from a semiotics of the expression of feelings, because the feelings or psycho-physical states of a stage character cannot be expressed directly, but only through gestures, words and movements. A performance succeeds when the performer and the audience share the same mood in the end. Rasa is the essence of the totality of all the qualities that make up a poem or theater performance.

The theory of Rasa is based on stimulus-reaction relationships and their transfer into the aesthetic space. Emotional states are triggered by external causes - vhibhava. They manifest as gestures, body movements, sounds, speech, facial expressions, looks, etc. These reactions are called anubhava. The theater is about the representation of these emotional states, which are divided into three groups in 49 bhavas. The composition of a work is the organization of the expression of various fleeting emotional states - vyabhicaribhava - into a permanent overall mood stahyibhava, which forms the keynote of a work. When this keynote touches the clear heart of an ideal viewer, the timeless and placeless experience of Rasa is triggered as a deep aesthetic enthusiasm and blissful rapture that cannot be put into words.

It is not the job of the artists involved in a work to express their personal feelings. The poet, actor, musician must succeed in objectifying feelings through the creation of images, characters, actions, etc. Through “transpersonalization”, sadharanikarana, a process of objectification and universalization, the artist and the viewer are detached from their private everyday experience and raised to the level of a collective human experience. "As the tree emerges from the seed (bija), and the flowers and fruits (with the seed) emerge from the tree, so are the sensations - rasas - the source and root of all states - bhavas, and likewise the states are the origin of all sensations - rasas. “At the beginning of the creative process is the author's rasa experience, which is transmitted by the actors, dancers and musicians. As a manual, the Natyashastra gives meticulous instructions on the means by which this can be achieved.

Often in connection with Rasa one speaks of “aesthetic taste”. This can lead to misunderstandings. The metaphor of the sense of taste and taste in culture, used with Rasa as an “aesthetic aroma”, mean something different in each case, even if for Rasa it is assumed that the viewer knows the underlying rules of a work. In Rasa’s perspective, art becomes “felt knowledge”. By “tasting” feelings, we experience a universal meaning. Rasa is also compared to the state after an excellent meal, in which all the ingredients of the evening combine to form a single deep sensation, Rasa . The analogy also relates to the process of evoking the taste sensation, for which a refined mixture of the various ingredients and a process of connection is required.

The Rasa theory is based on the most important concepts of Indian philosophy. The text of Natyashastra is "heavily coded" and has therefore experienced a multitude of interpretations and recontextualizations. So the teaching of Purusha , the cosmic man, Brahman and Guna is implicitly presupposed. The difference between stahyibhava and rasa is tied to their different composition of the gunas: Bhavas all three gunas contain tamas , rajas and sattva , while rasa consists only of sattva or satoguna. Rasa , the rapture, enthusiasm is always blissful, while the moods and states of the bhavas can be tragic or funny. Rasa is infinite and does not know effect and cause like the bhavas that run in time; this is the relation to Brahman and Atman . While bhavas can be felt by all people, the experience of rasa presupposes a sensitive, attentive and conscious heart.

The rasas

Rasa is the aggregate result of stimulus (vibhava), involuntary response (anubhava), and spontaneous voluntary response (vyabhicaribhava). Just as the different ingredients for a dish are not tasted individually, but combine to form an overall enjoyment, so those of the actors merge through the expression of feelings with words, gestures, movements etc. at the end of the piece to form an overall feeling (stahyibhava), the evokes a tuned experience of Rasa in the audience. There is no dramatic identification without rasa . The eight rasas described by Bharata differ in their emotional state. Analogous to the connection Brahman-Atman, each Rasa is also connected to a specific deity from Hinduism and has been assigned a color. The experience of rasa is also coded as a spiritual experience.

The four primary rasas are love / eroticism (Śṛngāram), heroism (vīram), anger (raudram) and disgust (bībhatsam). Derived from these are humor (Hāsyam) from love (Śṛngāram), compassion and pathos (Kāruṇyam) from anger (Raudram), miracles and magic (Adbhutam) from heroism (Vīram) and fear (Bhayānakam) from disgust (Bībhatsam). Thus humor results when erotic love is parodied, a terrible situation evokes compassion, a heroic act appears wonderful, and something repulsive creates horror.

Later, a ninth Santa Rasa Śāntam (peace, silence) was added by Abhinavagupta , pointing out that Bharata was already aware of the possibilities of this rasa. Śāntam is the faculty of "supreme bliss", the state in which there is no pain and man feels the same towards all creatures. This has been discussed controversially in the tradition. Arguments against it are, among other things, that Śāntam already shines through all the other eight rasas and is thus contained in them and that this is not an independent feeling. The representability of Śāntam in the drama was also doubted.

Śṛngāram (शृङ्गारं): love

Śṛngāram is the most important of the rasas. It is pure for the pious soul, bright, elegant, magnificent and its nature is joy. It is expressed through the attraction of man and woman. This attraction can have two qualities: sanyoga / oneness or viyoga / separation. For the embodiment of Śṛngāram, 46 Bhavas can be used, only Alasya - laziness, Ugrata - violence and Jugupsa - disgust are not used.

The feeling of unity is evoked by provisions such as pleasant seasons, the joy of jewelry and ornament, fragrant ointments, walks in the garden, staying in beautiful rooms, company of the loved one, tender words, playing with the partner.

The feeling of separation is associated with worry and desire. The states asuya - jealousy, srama - tiredness, cinta - fearfulness , autsukya - restlessness, desire, nidra - slumber, supta - sleeping, overwhelmed by sleep, dreaming, vibodha - awakening, vyadhai - fever, illness, disorder are used for its representation , unmada - madness, jadata - dullness, apasmara - forgetfulness, maranam - death caused by illness or violence.

Hāsyam (हास्यं): humor

Laughter is generated by unusual jewelry, deranged clothing, cheek, trickery, mistakes, incoherent speech, etc. This rasa is mostly seen in female characters and figures of lower rank.

There are 6 types of this rasa: Smita-gentle laugh, Hasita-laugh, Vihasita-broad smile, Upahasita-satirical laugh, Apahasita-silly laugh, Atihasita-loud laugh. The first two tints can also occur in figures of higher rank.

Eleven bhavas are used for the embodiment of Hāsyam.

Raudram (रौद्रं): anger, anger

This rasa is associated with evil spirits and violent people, but it can also appear in other characters. It creates fights. The characters are described as people with more than one face whose appearance in language, gestures and words is terrifying. Even when these characters are in love, their love is violent. This rasa also belongs to their servants and soldiers .

Raudra is caused by slaughter, slamming, wounds, killing, etc. His portrayal involves many weapons, severed heads, and the like. Raudra is present in actions like beating, hitting, causing pain, bloodshed, attacking with weapons, etc.

It is embodied by 14 bhavas.

Kāruṇyam (कारुण्यं): pathos

Kāruṇyam is produced when we see a loved one or loved one die or from hearing bad news.

It is embodied through 24 bhavas.

Vīram (वीरं): virtue, chivalry

  • God: Mahendra
  • Color: dove gray
  • based on the Stahyi bhava #Utsaha (zeal)

Vīram concerns noble and brave characters. It is evoked by cold bloodedness, determination, justice, chivalry, strength, cleverness etc. This rasa is expressed through steadfastness, fearlessness, open-mindedness and artistry.

Sixteen Bhavas are used to represent Vīram.

Bhayānakam (भयानकं): fear, fear

Bhayānakam is evoked by seeing or hearing scary people or objects, tales of death of people, imprisonment, etc.

It is embodied through the use of 16 bhavas.

Bībhatsam (बीभत्सं): disgust, disgust

Bībhatsam is triggered by the things that disturb the mind, such as the sight of or the telling of undesirable, ugly, evil, smelly, foul tasting, jarring, bad-feeling things.

Eleven Bhavas can be used for embodiment.

Adbhutam (अद्भुतं): amazement

Adbhutam is triggered by the sight of gods, the sudden success of an exertion, walks in the park, visiting temples, and the like. Any unusual event can be considered a trigger of Adbhutam.

For the embodiment of Adbhutam, 12 bhavas are used.

The Bhavas

Bhava : The Sanskrit word roughly translated means “psycho-physiological” states: moods and feelings. The term also playsa rolein yoga and other Indian traditions. In the Natyashastra 49 Bhavas are described, which are divided into three categories: Sthaayee Bhava: permanent moods, Vyabhichaaree Bhava (or also sancaribhava): changeable moods - triggered by external stimuli - and Saattvika Bhava: emotional moods - triggered by the inner state of the heart or a state of mind. Natyashastra describes in detail how the various bhavas are to be embodied by actors.

The bhavas themselves cannot necessarily be represented directly. However, they are caused by perceptible triggers and evoke perceptible reactions. These causes are called vibhavas . For example, the tiger causes fear in the lonely traveler. So loneliness and the call of the tiger are vibhavas . The manifestations of fear in turn cause tremors, goose bumps, numbness, etc. These reactions are called anubhavas because the bhavas are accompanied (anu) by words, gestures, intonations etc. The description of the representation is given by specifying the vibhavas and anubhavas . For the permanent moods Sthaayee Bhava, the associated changeable and emotional moods are also given.

The various possible combinations of the bhavas result in the mood of the piece, the meaning of which touches the heart of the viewer and evokes the rapture of rasa .

Sthaayee Bhava: The "Enduring Moods"

In contrast to the other bhavas, sthaayee bhava are permanent and dominate all other bhavas. Only Sthaayee Bhava can induce the indulgence of the rasas. In a play or a poem, they create the keynote. "Like the king the highest among men and the teacher the highest among the students, so the permanent moods dominate all other moods," it says in one verse.

The background to the theory is the Indian concept of perception samskara : the thoughts, actions and perceptions of every person generate impressions without interruption. These are shaped by innate tendencies and instincts and sink to the level of the unconscious. There they are organized around feelings. Feelings, in turn, are related to universal, typical situations and evoke precisely determinable patterns of action. These are called stahyibhava or permanent states because they are always embedded in the human organism and your character.

Rati (pleasure, joy)

Is evoked by the fulfillment of desire. Is to be portrayed tenderly and gracefully. The trigger is the season, flowers, ornament, a rich residence, anything that is beautiful or worth striving for. A slight smile, a melodious voice, fine gestures of the eyebrows, furtive looks and looking to the side, etc. are given as involuntary reactions for the representation.

Haasa (laughter, happiness)

Caused by the imitation and caricature of other people and their actions or by stupidity, absurdity or empty, irrelevant words. Triggers are strange clothes or language etc. Is represented by aping, smiling, giggling, laughing, excessive laughter, spraying saliva etc.

Soka (crying, sadness)

Caused by separation from a loved one, loss of wealth, sadness over the death or imprisonment of a family member, and the like. There are three types of tears mentioned: The tears of joy, pain and jealousy. Representation through silent sobbing, crying, deep breathing, falling to the ground and lamenting, etc. Tears of joy with raised cheeks, tears of pain are represented by body movements of discomfort and tears of jealousy in women, shaking lips and cheeks, sighing, shaking head and narrowing eyebrows. Unhappiness or grief triggers crying and sadness in low figures and women, middle and higher characters dominate it.

Krodha (anger)

Is caused by conflict, insult, quarrel, abuse, contradictions, differences of opinion and the like. There are different ways of expression depending on whether the anger is triggered or simulated by an enemy, a teacher, the love partner, a servant. Anger at an enemy is indicated by flaring nostrils, pinched lips, and eyebrows. Anger towards the teacher requires, among other things, controlled modesty and shy gestures, towards the beloved tears from the corners of the eyes and pouted lips, towards servants an intense and threatening look with wide eyes. Faked anger is represented by tiredness, made up reasons, and feigned anger.

Utsaha (zeal)

Energy or zeal is a characteristic of a higher figure. Is evoked by joy, strength, patience, bravery, and the like. Is played to express clarity, decision-making power, wisdom and judgment. Representation through determined facial expression, dashing movements, leadership, etc.

Bhaya (fear)

Caused by improper behavior towards the king or the elderly, wandering in lonely forests or houses, abysses in the mountains, sighting an elephant or a snake, darkness of the night, the calls of owls, scary animals, hearing terrible stories and the like. Represented by trembling of the body, dry mouth, hastiness and confusion, wide eyes, frozen standing and so on. Only assigned to women or lower figures in the piece.

Jugupsa (disgust)

Caused by the sight of dirty and repulsive things. Representation by holding the nose, crouching down and contracting the limbs, skeptical look, hands holding the heart and other things. the expression of disgust is only assigned to female characters and lower figures.

Vismaya (astonishment, surprise)

Is triggered by the sudden appearance of something, magical properties, extraordinary human achievements, outstanding paintings and works of art, etc. Is played by wide-open eyes, uninterrupted gaze without blinking, eyebrow movement, goose bumps, head tremors, comments of appreciation, etc. Should be in great joy to be expressed.

Vyabhicaribhava: Changing moods

In contrast to the anubhavas , the involuntary reactions to an external stimulus ( vibhava ), the variable states of vyabhicaribhava are of an arbitrary nature - that is, they can be controlled. 33 Vyabhicaribhava are described with their respective triggers and presentation modalities:

Nirveda detachment , Glani remorse, Sanka anxiety, Asuya jealousy, Mada intoxication, Srama fatigue, Alasya laziness, Dainya misery, Cinta fearfulness, Moha fainting, Smrti memory , Dhrti bravery, Vrida - Shame , Capalata nervousness, Harsa joy, Avega excitement, Jadata dullness, Garva pride or arrogance, Visada regret, disappointment, Autsukya restlessness, desire, Nidra slumber, Apasmara forgetfulness, Supta - asleep, from sleep overwhelmed, dreaming, Vibodha awakening, Amarsa impatience, Avahittham concealment, Ugrata violence, Mati understanding, judgment, Vyadhai fever, illness, disorder, unmada madness, Maranam death caused by illness or violence, Trasa fear , Vitarka conclusion

Saattvika Bhava: Emotional moods

Feelings have to be made visible in drama if people's behavior is to be represented. They are considered to be more difficult to depict than the Vyabhicaribhava. Their embodiment requires a concentrated mind in order to be able to represent the pain and joy in an emotionally correct and natural way. In contrast to the Vyabhicaribhava, the actor to be portrayed has to feel the emotions mentally.

Stambha numbness, Sveda sweating, Romanca feeling enthusiastic, Svarbheda broken voice, Vepathu tremors, Varivarnya pallor, Asru tears, Pralaya fainting, death


Rasa in Indian art: drama, music, painting

Starting with dance and drama, the scope of the rasa theory first expanded to include poetry and literature. The composition of emotional states as a guiding principle, in conjunction with the idea of ​​the "seed" and a circular structure as a starting point, results in different courses of action than a linear time axis. Ras lila is the dance theater form in honor of Krishna .

In the music of the raga , the melodic elements create moods and the emotional power of the sounds evokes rasa. Experiencing rasa through music becomes a sacred act.

In the exhibition Navarasa: An Embodiment of Indian Art in 2002, the works of contemporary visual artists were placed in the context of the Rasa theory.

Comparison between Rasa and Catharsis

Both Western and Indian scholars keep comparing rasa and catharsis . The similarities include the reference to the emotional reactions of the audience as the goal of the drama and its extrinsic message.

While Aristotelian poetics only knows the two states Eleos - emotion and sadness - and Phobos - horror and shudder - Bharata differentiates eight rasas of different content. And regardless of the emotional tone, the experience of Rasa is always pleasant and enrapturing.

If you try to assign the rasas, the result is an unclear situation with overlaps

  • Tragedy: compassionate, angry, heroic, terrifying, disgusting, great, or wonderful
  • Comedy: erotic, weird, heroic and great or wonderful

The Indian drama does not follow the mimesis concept of the Platonic imitation theory. For Plato, literary images are bad reflections because they are three times removed from reality. In Indian aesthetics, on the other hand, the attempt is not made to depict “reality”, but on the contrary, to recreate it by following the parameters of art.

Rasa in contemporary use

Today attempts are being made to use the Rasa theory in contemporary literary criticism. It also plays a bigger role in the cinema. The best known are films by Satyajit Ray such as Devi or the Apu trilogy . But Bollywood productions also sometimes use the Rasa aesthetic.


  • Murat Ates: Rasas. Basic moods of aesthetic perception . In: Georg Stenger, Anke Granße, Sergej Seitz (eds.): Facets of contemporary image theory . Springer, Berlin 2018, pp. 125–145, ISBN 978-3-658-22826-2 .
  • Harriette D. Grissom: Feeling as Form in Indian Aesthetics . In: East-West Connections. 2007.
  • GB Mohan Tampi: "Rasa" as Aesthetic Experience . In: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 24, No. 1, Oriental Aesthetics. (Autumn, 1965), pp. 75-80.
  • Braj Vallabh Mishra: The Rasa and Bhaava in the Naatyashaastra . In: Rasa-Bhaava. Darshan. New Delhi 1997
  • Adya Rangacharya: Introduction to Bharata's Nātyasāstra . New Delhi 2005, ISBN 81-215-0829-0 .
  • Adya Rangacharya: The Nātyasāstra. English Translation with Critical Notes. New Delhi 2010, ISBN 978-81-215-0680-9 .
  • Priyadarshi Patnaik: Rasa in Aesthetics . New Delhi 2005, ISBN 812460081-3 .
  • Rasa-Bhaava: Darshan . New Delhi 1997

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Vatsyayan 1996, p. 6
  2. Braj Vallabh Mishra: The Rasa and Bhaava in the Naatyashaastra . In: Rasa-Bhaava. Darshan. New Delhi 1997 p. 251
  3. Compare Patnaik, p. 15ff
  4. Harriette D. Grissom: Feeling as Form in Indian Aesthetics . In: East-West Connections. 2007
  5. ^ GB Mohan Tampi: "Rasa" as Aesthetic Experience. In: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 24, No. 1, Oriental Aesthetics. Fall 1965, pp. 75-80.
  6. Patnaik 2004, p. 50
  7. Natyashastra Chapter 6, Verse 38, quoted from Kapila Vatsayan, p. 50
  8. ^ Adya Rangacharya: Introduction to Bharata's Nātyasāstra. New Delhi 2005. ISBN 81-215-0829-0 , pp. 76f
  9. Some reflections on Bharata's Natyasastra at www.thefreelibrary.com
  10. Rasa Bhavaan Darshan, p 259
  11. Rangcharya 2010, p. 56
  12. Archived copy ( Memento of the original from April 8, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.arcadelamor.org
  13. Compare Priyadarshi Patnaik: Rasa in Aesthetics. New Delhi 2005. ISBN 812460081-3 S7 and Adya Rangacharya: The Nātyasāstra. English Translation with Critical Notes . New Delhi 2010, pp. 64f, ISBN 978-81-215-0680-9
  14. Rasa Bhaava Darshan, p 48
  15. ^ GB Mohan Thampi, p. 76
  16. ^ Adya Rangacharya, p. 7. 6th
  17. Navarasa: An Embodiment of Indian Art . ( Memento of the original from 23 August 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. indiahabitat.org @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.indiahabitat.org
  18. Patnaik 2004, p. 54
  19. Patnaik 2004, p. 54