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Flavours of flowers: a rasaesthetics of Karnad's "Flowers".

Rasa is the cumulative result of vibhava (stimulus), anubhava (involuntary reaction) and vyabhicharibhava (voluntary reaction).For example, just as when various condiments and sauces and herbs and other materials are mixed ,a taste (different from the individual tastes of the components) is felt ... so also along with the different bhavas (emotions) the sthayibhava becomes a 'taste' (rasa, flavour, feeling)... Because it is enjoyably tasted, it is called rasai. (1) (Rajan 48)

Indian aesthetics is the theorization of the beautiful. It is a state of heightened awareness, and of bliss. The theory was stated by Bharata in Natyashastra. It transcends pleasure, declaring kinship with the spirit rather than the corporeal self. Abhinavagupta's Dhvanyaloka revolutionized Sanskrit literary theory by proposing that the main goal of good poetry is the evocation of a mood or "flavor" (rasa) and that this process can be explained only by recognizing a semantic power beyond denotation and metaphor, namely, the power of suggestion. Rasa, when roughly translated means "emotive aesthetics". The Aesthetic experience is described as the "tasting of flavour" or rasa swadana. Rasa means the quintessential essence of a work of art. A two-way process, the artist strives for rasa in his work and the rasika or connoisseur intuitively detects it. Rasa is bestowed not made. In its most obvious sense, rasa refers to the sap, juice of plants or extract.

More composite connotations include the non-material essence of something or the "best or finest part of it".

When rasa is applied to art and aesthetic experiences, the word signifies a state of heightened delight or anand, the kind of bliss that can be experienced only by the spirit. Rasa experience is not the physical understanding of a creation, but the emotion, or empathy--as opposed to sympathy. The artist creates a situation that the viewer enters--a world of illusion, Maya,--that leads the viewer to a state of empathic bliss. (2)

The spectator--"rasika", as he is called, witnesses a dramatic performance for the enjoyment of "rasa". This "rasa" is a phenomenon of mind. It is the delight which the spectator experiences when witnessing an emotion enacted on the stage. Thus, the rasa theory argues that the presentation of emotions is the proper object and domain of poetic discourse. Bharata in Natyashastra, says rasa is produced when "Vibhaava", Anubhava and Vyabhichari bhava come together. Vibhava can be described as a medium through which an emotion arises in an actor. Vibhavas are the stimuli such as the story, the stage and the actors responsible for the awakening of the sthayi, i.e. the latent sentiment in the spectator. The vibhavas are of two kinds: alambana vibhava is the basic stimulus capable of arousing the sentiment, whereas uddipana vibhava is the enhancing stimuli, the environment in which the basic stimulus is located.

All the physical changes arising due to the vibhavas are Anubhava. Anubhavas are the deliberate manifestations of feelings on the part of the actor (in accordance with the mood aimed at). They consist of various gestures and glances, etc. of the actor which are intended to develop the basic stimulus or the vibhava. Vyabhichari bhava stands for transient emotions. These arise in the course of maintaining and developing the basic mood; they are ancillary emotions determined by the basic emotion (in the scene or the story) and Vyabhicaribhavas in turn reinforce the basic mood. The basic mood being that of love or rati, there is joy in union and anguish in separation. According to Abhinavagupta, a work of art possesses abhida (literal meaning) and laksana (metaphorical meaning) but in addition, it should also possess, vyanjana, the suggested meaning. Vyanjana has absolutely nothing to do with the other two levels of meaning. Aesthetic experience is Aloukika. It is not like any other experience. Abhinavagupta further points out
 ... it arises in a sensitive man (sahrdaya--a man who is
 sensitive to literature) through his knowledge of vibhavas
 and anubhava, because of his hrdaya-samvada (sympathetic
 response) and his tanmayibhava (identification). It is
 vilaksana (different) from ordinary awareness of happiness
 etc., and it is not an objective thing. (3)

An emotion is produced through abhida. Yet a rasa is not produced like this or through the secondary usage (laksana, gunavrtti, bhakti). Bharat enumerated "sthayibhavas" as "Rati", "Hasa", "Shoka", "Krodha", "Utsaha", "Bhaya", "Jugupsa", and "Vismaya". These eight "sthayibhavas" inspired eight corresponding "Rasas". Accordingly, "Rati" is the root of "Shringara"- love or amour; "Hasa", of "Hasya"- humour or comic sentiment; "Shoka", of "Karuna"--pathos and compassion; "Krodha", of "Raudra"--fury, wrath or anger; "Utsaha", of "Vira"--valour or heroic sentiment; "Bhaya", of "Bhayanaka"--fear, fearful, or that which strikes terror; "Jugupsa", of "Vibhatsa"--loathsome, loathing, horrible, or odious; and, "Vismaya", of Adbhuta--dismay, amazement or marvel. Later scholars added another rasa to create the "Nava Rasa" ("Nine Emotions"), as they are commonly known today. This ninth rasa is "Shanta"--peace or calm. According to Bharat, the number of rasa is immaterial. What matters most is their application in practical criticism. Another scholar, Rudrata, does not restrict the number of rasa to ten or twelve. He is of the opinion that anything that helps in the aesthetic appreciation of a work of art is rasa.

The rasa theory implies that there are a number of specific emotions, each with its distinct tone or flavor. Works of art treat a specific number of emotions as their subject matter. These include psychic states, attitudes, and reactions. A poetic composition or art is an organization of various feeling tones, but it invariably subordinates the weaker tones to a dominant expression. In drama, emotions are expressed through varied situational factors such as event, character, language, lighting, costume, gesture, music, etc.

The Navina School declares rasa is the soul of art. The rasa theory is applicable to all works of art but especially holds true of poetry and drama. Any work of art is an organic product full of sthayis. Any rasanubhava should comprise of vachik, aangik and satvik sthayibhava. These are enjoyed by the audience giving rise to rasaasvad. For the spectators, Abhinabagupta feels that the "wilful suspension of disbelief" is a prerequisite for enjoying any art form. The spectator should not be dubious about it. Questioning stance spoils its charm. A character in the play should be enjoyed as the character from the drama and not as an acquaintance. The character should take over the actor in a spectator's mind i.e., the spectator should rise above the worldly matters and try to experience the supernatural aspect of art which has nothing to do with worldly concerns.


All Kannadigas rejoiced when the rare honour of the Jnanpith Award was bestowed upon the famous litterateur Girish Karnad. Girish Karnad is a well known writer, actor, and theatre personality. Girish Karnad's plays have received wide critical acclaim. Most of his plays are rooted in the Indian mythology, folklore, and history. In his works, he examines the crisis of an individual lodged in a deep psychological and philosophical conflict. The character's predicament is universalized by Karnad in his oeuvre and is the secret of his popularity, and immense appeal. "Flowers" is his dramatic monologue written on the violation of social conventions and marital infidelity. The theme is that of a Shaivite priest taking on a lover. This central metaphor is employed to show the
 ...tension between conflicting systems of religious worship,
 between the Sanskritic, male-centric tradition and the
 tribal/folk, femalecentric tradition of Shakti. The priest's
 transgression lies not only in breaking the bonds of marital
 fidelity but also transferring his loyalties from lingam to
 yoni. (4)

As is his habit, Karnad has based his play on a folk tale from north Karnataka. A Shaivite married priest, a devout worshipper of the lingam, was fond of decorating it with novel floral patterns everyday. He was assisted in the pooja by his wife. The chieftain appreciated his efforts. Living with his parents and two kids, he was hesitant in enjoying sexual bliss in the small confines of his home. His wife was also a "plain Jane." The family members and home conditions did not offer any privacy to the couple restricting their togetherness to a "furtive scuffle" in the bed and "a minimum of uncovering". He met Chandravati, the courtesan, on the first day of Shivratri. This meeting transferred him to an entirely different universe free from any inhibitions and restrictions. The "happily married priest" was attracted towards her. Nature took its own course and unable to bear her absence from the temple for some days, the priest reached her home with the Prasad. On her suggestion, he used the flowers on the lingam to adorn her body and landed in trouble. Once, due to the late arrival of the Chieftain and his signal, the process was reversed and he used the polluted flowers from Chandravati's body to decorate the lingam. As a result, the Chieftain found a long strand of hair in the Prasad. The Chieftain mockingly commented, "I didn't know god has long hair". The priest replied: "If we believe that god has long hair, he will have long hair." He was asked to substantiate what he had said. For twelve days, he ardently prayed for rescue. He was full of remorse and pleaded with the God to save him from disgrace. Due to his complete surrender, God came to his rescue and "waves of jet black hair came billowing out, their tips gently eddying and swirling in the evening breeze". It was a miracle. Chandravati left the very next day. "The courtesan was gone and had been replaced by Lord Shiva." It was a real homecoming for the priest. The world saw the miracle as a great act of faith by the priest and duly rewarded him. The priest, who had only asked god for "courage to live in disgrace", felt that "such grace is condescension". Besides, he had lost his wife too, for in his new role of state priest his wife could only be his devoted helper. He committed suicide in the temple tank.


The success of "Flowers" was the result of too many factors at work, prominent among them was the rasanubhava. The rasa experience commenced with the stage arrangement itself. The clever Director set the stage as a big bowl of vessel filled with water and spread with flowers. The stage was spread with mallige flowers allover and a heap of mallige right at the centre back. Hanging midway was floating board with the lingam protruding outside. The actor dressed up as the priest was already on the stage when the spectators entered the auditorium. He established an eye contact with them before commencing the monologue. For any aesthetic experience, especially related to the performing art, stage setting is very crucial. The Director of "Flowers" with his vision and planning made the experience of watching the play more meaningful and aesthetic. The isolation and seclusion of the priest is obvious from the initial part of the monologue:
 This temple, this tank, these rough, grey boulders towering
 over them, the flowering shrubs and trees, the birds that
 come and go through the seasons-they are my world, a
 private universe from which I have never for a moment
 wanted to step out. (5) (Karnad 243)

The nameless Shaivite priest had spent all his life in the isolated temple and has "discouraged all friendly attentions from the world outside" spending his time with the linga. The linga is his soul mate and he held all talks and discussions with it. The linga is "essentially a phallic stump" and the priest loved to decorate it with flowers, devising new ways always. His wife grumbled, "The linga is my step-wife." His devotion to the lingam had fetched for him name, fame and honour. The Chieftain appreciated and admired his "floral efforts." The attachment of the priest with the lingam is due to bhakti--his selfless devotion to it. The atmosphere of bhakti and pooja is evoked by the use of "jawsticks and camphor and the placement of wicks in different silver plates for aarati," "a deep in the tank," "wet dhoti," "basket of flowers," etc. The description of all the objects used in pooja and the temple setting (uddipana vibhava) enhanced and enriched his bhakti. Flowers of various hues, shapes, and fragrance like "malligai, sevanti, chendu, hoovu, sampigai, and kanakambara" were the means of manifestation of his bhakti. Bhakti is described as devotion, loyalty, faithfulness; engagement, commitment; dedication; reverence, service, and homage. It signifies the condition of the whole being of a Bhakta whose mind and body are totally absorbed in the object of his worship and remain continually directed or oriented towards it; the object of such worship can be an anthropomorphic deity, a symbol, a name, an image, a concept, an abstraction, or the non-discursive or inconceivable "Whole Being" itself. Bhakti Rasa would literally mean "the juice of Bhakti" or "(the uninterrupted flow of) the feeling of devotion". Worshipping God as a devotee, focused on a specific image and a "name", began with saint Jnanadev and his contemporaries; poetry and music, singing songs and chanting, were believed to produce a distinct "bhakti rasa" or "flow of feeling", of oneness with God; this is the "rasa" or "state of being in a continuous flow". The Chieftain always appreciated the priest's bhakti and efforts. He took a single flower as god's prasada daily and left.

Various vibhavas and anubhavas have been used effectively in this play to create an atmosphere of bhakti. The cracked coconut halves with petals and sandal paste within it were given as Prasad to the milling devotees. The priest's devotion for the lingam was beyond question and "People shake their heads in admiration at my passion for the Lord and physical stamina." While distributing the prasada, he became aware of Chandravati and her physical beauty. The presence of the courtesan in the temple is vibhava and her bending, her glances, and other movements are anubhava suggestive of the shringaar rasa. It was this joy ("Rati") that is felt by the priest in the company of Chandravati. The priest confessed, "Chandravati is a courtesan, the only breach in the invisible defenses I have built around my private domain." This awareness built up a tension in the inner and outer world of the priest. His objective, artistic pooja of the lingam, very aesthetically performed in a detached manner, gave way to practicing the same art on the courtesan. Without realization, the detachment changed into attachment. Chandravati's tucking of the shevanti flower in the priest's sacred thread was the violation of the socially approved moral conduct of a priest. The priest tried to control his erring mind and emotions with something akin to a chant, "She is a courtesan I kept saying to myself, she is a courtesan ... ." The bending of the courtesan, her "holding the pallu of her saree spread out in front of her," "their catching of each other's eyes," "staring at her average height," "her bright teeth set off by her dusky skin," "her brilliant eyes which she quickly averted," "the straight nose, her thick petal like lips, and her captivating smile" all produced the desired effect and culminated into a relationship without any social sanction. Both were aware of their limitations. "I can't step into the inner sanctum," said Chandravati, "And you can not be seen in my company in public." The overstepping was a conscious action on part of the priest. The courtesan's loose and tumbled hair, her clutching of the saree close to her body, her pushing back of her lush black hair from the forehead, and her elaborate make-up had the most wanted result and the poor, repressed priest was mesmerized and captivated. Many things used in the pooja like the sandal paste, turmeric, the flame of the oil lamp, and most important of all flowers, assumed a newer never experienced before connotation. The malligai buds, shevanti, white parijatak with its orange stems, hibiscus, and the curling flame of the forest were put to a different use for the first time. Flowers as symbols of bhakti and a symbol of worship turned into tokens of eroticism. The sensuousness of flowers merged with the sensuousness of the lady. Yet all the while, even in her company, the thoughts of the linga and his betrayal kept passing through his mind and he was ashamed of himself:
 But I was distressed by the pain I was causing my wife. I
 loved her. I knew I had made her a target of vicious gossip. I
 sensed her anger, her humiliation and felt ashamed of
 myself. (Karnad 251)

The priest was unable to control his instincts and "Each day I coaxed the flowers to say something special to God and then, something entirely different to Chandra." Chandravati too was aware of his preoccupation and confronted by asking, "Why don't you just stay back, trying things on that stone linga?" The elaborate ritual of the worship of the lingam and its decoration with flowers in an elaborate aesthetic pattern were external objects in the eyes of the readers/spectators, but its true, ultimate inner meaning was understood in the act of adornment of the courtesan's body with the same spirit and zeal. When the Chieftain, failed to arrive at the stipulated time, he had to do something:
 So I went to the inner sanctorum and started to tie the
 garlands on the linga. I felt better. It brought back the warm
 security of being in the company of an old friend. (Karnad

In the absence of the Chieftain, he performed the pooja perfunctorily and consoled himself with the fact that "the linga was Shiva and he was used to austerities." After the pooja, the tucking of the flower in hair, the look in his wife's eyes, the brazen desire in her eyes conveyed a different message to him. In his perplexed state of mind, he picked up a garland. Love and flowers possessed an intricate association in his mind. Yet the magical moment between the husband and wife was lost as the wife had another loathsome association of flowers in her mind. She seemed to freeze. The unperturbed priest went out and in the house of the courtesan (uddipana vibhava) practiced the ritual of decking up the body. This moment of intense love, Rati, was spoiled by the sound of the cannon. At the temple, the wife was not ready for the worship and inquired about the flowers:
 As I hurriedly opened the bundle and started decorating the
 linga, there was a sharp intake of breath. I felt buffeted by
 the revulsion. I could sense welling up inside her. We had
 already performed a pooja with these flowers. They were now
 the leavings, polluted discards. What further use they had
 been put to in Chandravati's house she didn't need to try
 hard to imagine. To place them on the linga again was
 desecration. (Karnad 256)

Karnad has made skillful use of the Vibhatsa rasa here. The pooja was performed. The Chieftain's comment resulted in a chill in the sanctum. The chieftain's dramatically stretched out right hand, other stiff fingers, the dangling marigold in the air, his looks, his cold anger, conveyed volumes without words. The Chieftain respectfully put the flower back into the plate and granted time to the priest to prove his point. The bhaya aroused by this incident and the challenge to prove his devotion to the God, impelled him to impose seclusion upon himself and to offer prayers. The priest prayed to the linga to save his face. He struggled constantly and detached himself to reach the Almighty. His complete surrender wrought in a miracle and on the new moon day, the linga had sprouted jet black hair. The Cheiftain's faltering response, the Brahmins twisting and tugging at the hair, the tuft in his hand, the blood stained roots of hair, and his stained fingers, the bleeding lingam evoke the adbhuta rasa. ("Adbhuta" is the "bhava", which anything marvelous evokes.) The sudden change in the situation had flummoxed the priest. The Chieftain begged for forgiveness and the crowd put the priest on the pedestal. His wife took charge of him and took him home. Drained he went of to sleep. On waking up, the wife informed him that the courtesan had left the town. The priest thought,
 The courtesan was gone and had been replaced by Lord
 Shiva. I was among the chosen of the Lord and she could not
 possibly think of herself as a wife now, only as a slave and
 guardian, all shades of the marital bond expunged in favour
 of her devotion to me, her good fortune in having me for her
 husband. (Karnad 259)

The krodha of the Chieftain and the mockery of the Brahmin were transformed into reverence. The priest said, "I am the state saint now, to be prized, protected and shown off to visiting envoys." But the priest's mind is restive and he had a quarrel to pick with God. He knew he was "guilty of gross dereliction, of sacrilege." He failed to understand the logic of God. He wanted "courage to live in disgrace" and yet God had cast His vote in the priest's favour. He felt,
 Such Grace is condescension even if comes from God. Why
 am I worthy of this burden He has placed on my shoulders? I
 refuse to bear it. God must understand I simply cannot live
 on His terms. (Karnad 260)

The realization of his mistake and God's unconditional forgiveness gave him the courage and peace of mind to decide his course of action which results in the Shanta Rasa. The inner conflict was resolved, the cause of the outer conflict had ceased to exist and he, thus, had reached a state of Madhura bhakti. In this stage, there is communion between the worshipped and worshipper. He committed suicide to "seek in the narrow confines of that hollow the answers that God has denied" him.


Thus, in Girish Karnad's "Flowers", there is a combination of rasas like Karuna (pathos, compassion), and its related "bhavas", "shoka" and "santapa"--grief and remorse. Helplessness, fear, despair, defeat, disgrace, and humiliation are incidental to, "raudra", "bhayanaka", and triumph. Freud considered sex to be the most decisive factor in his analysis of human beings. The ancient theory of "Rasa" (like the modern sciences) found love, sex, eroticism as significant for life, as the sweetest bhav and perceived it as the foremost of all emotions. If anything, Bharat said, was "sacred, pure, placid and worthy for eye", it would be some aspect of "shringara". Yet shringara in the Indian aesthetic tradition presumes a framework of values where the expression and communication of love must be based on a certain degree of social acceptability. If it violates such norms, it is taken as a case of rasabhasa rather than rasa and this is the vyanjana Karnad has harped upon in the play.

A play being a performing art, while watching it, the spectators forget their self. In the dramatic monologue "Flowers" the objective worship of the lingam led to the ultimate aesthetic experience in the play and is thus, an integral part of it. A fear of being seen by the elders in the family led to the bhakti for the lingam which, in turn, led him through flowers to another passion. This led to his downfall, a sense of repentance, and self pity. A study of the vyanjana-vyapara of "Flowers"--"a process of suggestion" as per the Navina school shows that the lingam, flowers, sandal, wet dhoti, etc. act as vibhavas, and the priest's staring at the mole is anubhava. Thus, vibhavas and anubhavas are synthesized by the reader in his mind. These, in turn, give rise to akhanda-carvana (integral aesthetic experience) or rasa. Rajit Kapur as the priest was dressed in a redbordered dhoti. He delivered his one hour, thirty minutes long dramatic monologue either standing or sitting cross-legged inside a black hemisphere attached to a black ledge suspended high above the audience. From below, it looked like a halige aarti ladle (the priest burns camphor in it). Viewed from above, it looked like the channel and hollowed circle surrounding the lingam. An uruli filled with water representing the temple tank was below it. There was a heap of white flowers in background centre, and a light carpet of flowers across the entire stage, blue backlighting and a spot on the face of the actor completed the striking set. Kapur's voice, with its rise and fall, quavers and pauses, was the sole indicator of emotion. The audience sat riveted and spellbound due to the adbhutarasanubhava of the play.


(1.) Valli Rao, Suggestive taste theory: Rasa and dhvani in Hiriyanna's art experince, Indian Literary Criticism in English, Edited by P. K. Rajan (Ed.), Rawat Publications, Delhi, 2004

(2.) Alka Pande, Navarasa--An Embodiment of Indian Art, 16-Jan-07

(3.) Geetika Kher, A Glimpse into Abhinavagupta's Ideas on Aesthetics, Jan 29 2005 12:00AM < aglimpse-into-abhinavagupta-s-ideas-onaesthetics.htm>

(4.) C. K.Meena, Speaking of the forbidden, The Hindu, online edn, 16-Jan-07 2006101000860400.htm>

(5.) Girish Karnad, 2005, Collected Plays, Vol. II, Oxford Publications, Delhi, All subsequent quotes are taken from this edition of the play.




Vandana Pathak,

L.A.D. & Smt. R. P. College for Women, Nagpur

Dr. Urmila Dabir,

Mahila Mahavidyalaya, Nagpur-09.
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Author:Pathak, Vandana; Dabir, Urmila
Publication:Creative Forum
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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