Rasa (aesthetics)

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Sringāra rasa in Koodiyattam

A rasa (Sanskrit: रस, Malayalam: രാസ്യം) literally means "juice, essence or taste".[1][2] It connotes a concept in Indian arts about the aesthetic flavour of any visual, literary or musical work that evokes an emotion or feeling in the reader or audience but cannot be described.[2]

The rasa theory is mentioned in Chapter 6 of the ancient Sanskrit text Natya Shastra, attributed to Bharata Muni,[3] but its most complete exposition in drama, songs and other performance arts is found in the works of the Kashmiri Shaivite philosopher Abhinavagupta (c. 1000 CE).[2][4][5] According to the Rasa theory of the Natya Shastra, entertainment is a desired effect of performance arts but not the primary goal, and the primary goal is to transport the individual in the audience into another parallel reality, full of wonder and bliss, where he experiences the essence of his own consciousness, and reflects on spiritual and moral questions.[4][5][6]

Although the concept of rasa is fundamental to many forms of Indian arts including dance, music, theatre, painting, sculpture, and literature, the interpretation and implementation of a particular rasa differs between different styles and schools.[7][8][9] The Indian theory of rasa is also found in the Hindu arts and Ramayana musical productions in Bali and Java (Indonesia), but with regional creative evolution.[10]


The word rasa appears in ancient Vedic literature. In Rigveda, it connotes a liquid, an extract and flavor.[11][note 1] In Atharvaveda, rasa in many contexts means "taste", and also the sense of "the sap of grain". According to Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe – a professor of Drama, rasa in the Upanishads refers to the "essence, self-luminous consciousness, quintessence" but also "taste" in some contexts.[11][note 2][note 3] In post-Vedic literature, the word generally connotes "extract, essence, juice or tasty liquid".[1][11]

Rasa in an aesthetic sense is suggested in the Vedic literature, but the oldest surviving manuscripts, with the rasa theory of Hinduism, are of Natya Shastra. The Aitareya Brahmana in chapter 6, for example, states:

Now (he) glorifies the arts,
the arts are refinement of the self (atma-samskrti).
With these the worshipper recreates his self,
that is made of rhythms, meters.

— Aitareya Brahmana 6.27 (~1000 BCE), Translator: Arindam Chakrabarti[14]

The Sanskrit text Natya shastra presents the rasa theory in Chapter 6, a text attributed to Bharata Muni.[3] The text begins its discussion with a sutra called in Indian aesthetics as the rasa sutra:[15]

Rasa is produced from a combination of Determinants (vibhava), Consequents (anubhava) and Transitory States (vyabhicaribhava).

— Natyashastra 6.109 (~200 BCE–200 CE), Translator: Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe[11]

According to the Natya shastra, the goals of theatre are to empower aesthetic experience and deliver emotional rasa. The text states that the aim of art is manifold. In many cases, it aims to produce repose and relief for those exhausted with labor, or distraught with grief, or laden with misery, or struck by austere times.[14] Yet entertainment is an effect, but not the primary goal of arts according to Natya shastra. The primary goal is to create rasa so as to lift and transport the spectators, unto the expression of ultimate reality and transcendent values.[4][16]

The Abhinavabhāratī is the most studied commentary on Natyasastra, written by Abhinavagupta (950–1020 CE), who referred to Natyasastra also as the Natyaveda.[17][18] Abhinavagupta's analysis of Natyasastra is notable for its extensive discussion of aesthetic and ontological questions.[18] According to Abhinavagupta, the success of an artistic performance is measured not by the reviews, awards or recognition the production receives, but only when it is performed with skilled precision, devoted faith and pure concentration such that the artist gets the audience emotionally absorbed into the art and immerses the spectator with pure joy of rasa experience.[19]


Bharata Muni enunciated the eight Rasas in the Nātyasāstra, an ancient Sanskrit text of dramatic theory and other performance arts, written between 200 BC and 200 AD.[3] In the Indian performing arts, a rasa is a sentiment or emotion evoked in each member of the audience by the art. The Natya Shastra mentions six rasa in one section, but in the dedicated section on rasa it states and discusses eight primary rasa.[11][20]

Raudram rasa of the destructive fury of goddess Durga in Bharatanatyam
  • Related to love, eros (Śṛngāra, शृङ्गार)
  • Humorous, comic (Hāsya, हास्य)
  • Pathetic, disgust (Bībhatsa, बीभत्स)
  • Fury, anger (Raudra, रौद्र)
  • Compassion, sympathy (Kāruṇya, कारुण्य)
  • Heroic (Vīra, वीर)
  • Terrible, horrifying (Bhayānaka, भयानक)
  • Marvellous, amazing (Adbhuta, अद्भुत)

According to Natya shastra, a rasa is a synthetic phenomenon and the goal of any creative performance art, oratory, painting or literature.[10][21] Wallace Dace translates the ancient text's explanation of rasa as "a relish that of an elemental human emotion like love, pity, fear, heroism or mystery, which forms the dominant note of a dramatic piece; this dominant emotion, as tasted by the audience, has a different quality from that which is aroused in real life; rasa may be said to be the original emotion transfigured by aesthetic delight".[20]

Rasas are created through a wide range of means, and the ancient Indian texts discuss many such means. For example, one way is through the use of gestures and facial expressions of the actors.[22] Expressing Rasa in classical Indian dance form is referred to as Rasa-abhinaya.

The theory of rasas forms the aesthetic underpinning of all Indian classical dance and theatre, such as Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Manipuri, Kudiyattam, and others.[7]

In Indian classical music, each raga is an inspired creation for a specific mood, where the musician or ensemble creates the rasa in the listener.[21] However, predominantly all ragas and musical performances in Hindu traditions aim at one of six rasa, wherein music is a form of painting "love, compassion, peace, heroism, comic or the feeling of wonder" within the listener. Anger, disgust, fear and such emotions are not the subject of raga, but they are part of Indian theories on dramatic arts. Of the six rasa that are aimed at in Indian music, each has sub-categories. For example, love rasa in Hindu imagination has many musical flavors, such as erotic love (sringar) and spiritual devotional love (bhakti).[21][23]

Rasa is a fusion of word and meaning,
that bathes the minds of readers,
with savor of bliss.
It is the truth of poetry,
shining without cessation.
Clear to the heart,
it is yet beyond the words.


In the theories of Indian poetics, ancient scholars state that the effectiveness of a literary composition depends both on what is stated and how it is stated (words, grammar, rhythm), that is the suggested meaning and the experience of rasa.[9] Among the most celebrated in Hindu traditions on the theory of poetics and literary works, are 5th-century Bhartrhari and the 9th-century Anandavardhana, but the theoretical tradition on integrating rasa into literary artworks likely goes back to a more ancient period. This is generally discussed under the Indian concepts of Dhvani, Sabdatattva and Sphota.[24][9][25]

The literary work Bhagavata Purana deploys rasa, presenting Bhakti of Krishna in aesthetic terms. The rasa it presents is as an emotional relish, a mood, which is called Sthayi Bhava. This development towards a relishable state results by the interplay on it of attendant emotional conditions which are called Vibhavas, Anubhavas and Sanchari Bhavas. Vibhavas means Karana or cause: it is of two kinds - Alambana, the personal or human object and substratum, and Uddipana, the excitants. Anubhava, as the name signifies, means the ensuants or effects following the rise of the emotion. Sanchari Bhavas are those crossing feelings which are ancillary to a mood. Later scholars added more emotional states such as the Saatvika Bhavas.[26]

In the Indian theories on sculpture and architecture (Shilpa Shastras), the rasa theories, in part, drive the forms, shapes, arrangements and expressions in images and structures.[27] Some Indian texts on Shilpa on image carving and making, suggest nine rasas.[28][29]

Influence on cinema[edit]

Rasa has been an important influence on the cinema of India. Satyajit Ray has applied the Rasa method of classical Sanskrit drama to movies, for instance in The Apu Trilogy (1955–1959).[30]

In Hindi cinema, it is the theme of the film Naya Din Nayi Raat, where Sanjeev Kumar played nine characters corresponding to nine Rasa.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See Rigvedic hymns 1.187.4–5 composed by Agastya, for example. The entire hymn praises liquid extract of foods as the spirit of greats gods, the source of great strength within humans, as Agastya glorifies foods. Sanskrit: तव त्ये पितो रसा रजांस्यनु विष्ठिताः । दिवि वाता इव श्रिताः ॥४॥ तव त्ये पितो ददतस्तव स्वादिष्ठ ते पितो । प्र स्वाद्मानो रसानां तुविग्रीवा इवेरते ॥५॥[12]
  2. ^ Many Upanishads use the word rasa. For example, the "Ananda Valli" section of the Taittiriya Upanishad states, according to Dinkgrafe Daniel Meyer, "rasa is essence par excellence, the universal essence/bliss". (रसो वै सः । रसँ ह्येवायं लब्ध्वाऽऽनन्दी भवति ।)[13]
  3. ^ The philosophical or mystical meaning of rasa is common in the bhasya or commentaries on Principal Upanishads of Hinduism. For example, Adi Shankara comments that rasa means "bliss as is innate in oneself and manifests itself even in the absence of external stimuli" because bliss is a non-material state that is spiritual, subjective and an intrinsic state of a human being. Happiness, to Shankara, does not depend on others or external material things, it is a state one discovers and reaches within through atma-jnana (self knowledge).[11]


  1. ^ a b Monier Monier-Williams (1899), Rasa, Sanskrit English Dictionary with Etymology, Motilal Banarsidass (Originally Published: Oxford)
  2. ^ a b c Rasa: Indian Aesthetic Theory, Encyclopedia Britannica (2013)
  3. ^ a b c Natalia Lidova 2014
  4. ^ a b c Susan L. Schwartz (2004). Rasa: Performing the Divine in India. Columbia University Press. pp. 12–17. ISBN 978-0-231-13144-5. 
  5. ^ a b Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe (2005). Approaches to Acting: Past and Present. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 73, 102–106, 120. ISBN 978-1-4411-0381-9. 
  6. ^ Ketu H. Katrak; Anita Ratnam (2014). Voyages of Body and Soul: Selected Female Icons of India and Beyond. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 45. ISBN 978-1-4438-6115-1. 
  7. ^ a b Wallace Dace 1963, pp. 249-252.
  8. ^ Rowell 2015, pp. 327-333.
  9. ^ a b c d W.S. Hanley (2012). Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, ed. Analecta Husserliana, Ingardeniana III: The Performing Arts, the Fine Arts, and Literature. Springer. pp. 299–300, 295–309. ISBN 978-94-011-3762-1. 
  10. ^ a b Marc Benamou (2010). RASA: Affect and Intuition in Javanese Musical Aesthetics. Oxford University Press. pp. 122, 172–194. ISBN 978-0-19-971995-2. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe (2005). Approaches to Acting: Past and Present. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 102–103. ISBN 978-1-4411-0381-9. 
  12. ^ Laurie L. Patton (2005). Bringing the Gods to Mind: Mantra and Ritual in Early Indian Sacrifice. University of California Press. pp. 100–101. ISBN 978-0-520-93088-9. ; For original text: Rigveda 1.187, Wikisource (in Sanskrit)
  13. ^ Dinkgrafe Daniel Meyer (2011). Consciousness, Theatre, Literature and the Arts. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 243. ISBN 978-1-4438-3491-9. ; For Sanskrit original, see: तैत्तिरीयोपनिषद ब्रह्मानन्दवल्ली, Wikisource
  14. ^ a b Arindam Chakrabarti (2016). The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Indian Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 1–2. ISBN 978-1-4725-2430-0. 
  15. ^ Narendra Nath Sarma (1994). Paṇḍitarāja Jagannātha, the Renowned Sanskrit Poet of Medieval India. Mittal Publications. p. 75. ISBN 978-81-7099-393-3. 
  16. ^ Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe (2005). Approaches to Acting: Past and Present. Bloomsbury Academic. pp. 102–104, 155–156. ISBN 978-1-4411-0381-9. 
  17. ^ Ghosh, Manomohan (2002). Natyasastra. p. 2 note 3. ISBN 81-7080-076-5. 
  18. ^ a b Ananda Lal 2004, p. 308, 492.
  19. ^ Tarla Mehta 1995, p. 24.
  20. ^ a b Wallace Dace 1963, pp. 249-250.
  21. ^ a b c Peter Lavezzoli (2006). The Dawn of Indian Music in the West. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-8264-1815-9. 
  22. ^ Farley Richmond, "India", in The Cambridge Guide to Asian Theatre, ed. James R. Brandon (Cambridge University Press, 1993), p.69.
  23. ^ Emmie Te Nijenhuis 1974, pp. 34-42.
  24. ^ Sebastian Alackapally (2002). Being and Meaning: Reality and Language in Bhartṛhari and Heidegger. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 78–97. ISBN 978-81-208-1803-3. 
  25. ^ Harold G. Coward (1980). The Sphota Theory of Language: A Philosophical Analysis. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 17–23. ISBN 978-81-208-0181-3. 
  26. ^ C.Ramanujachari and Dr.V.Raghavan. The Spiritual Heritage of Tyagaraja.
  27. ^ Alice Boner; Sadāśiva Rath Śarmā; Bettina Bäumer (1996). The essence of form in sacred art. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 72–78, 45–46, 57–58, 115–116, 121–122. ISBN 978-81-208-0090-8. 
  28. ^ Alice Boner; Sadāśiva Rath Śarmā; Bettina Bäumer (1996). The essence of form in sacred art. Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 73–74. ISBN 978-81-208-0090-8. 
  29. ^ Ariel Glucklich (1994). The Sense of Adharma. Oxford University Press. pp. 30–31. ISBN 978-0-19-508341-5. 
  30. ^ Cooper, Darius (2000), The Cinema of Satyajit Ray: Between Tradition and Modernity, Cambridge University Press, pp. 1–4, ISBN 0-521-62980-2 


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