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The production of unpleasurable rasas in the Sanskrit dramas of Arya Ksemisvara.

Writing at the Kannauj court sometime around 915 c.e., the dramatist Arya Ksemisvara would have found himself at a remarkable moment in the history of Sanskrit literature. It was a time of great innovation in literary theory, not least of which was a "paradigm shift" from alamkara (figuration) to rasa (emotional flavor) as the fundamental unit of poetic analysis. This was part of a larger unification of poetics (alamkara-sastra) with dramaturgy (natya-sastra)--long-independent intellectual pursuits that would be definitively brought under one umbrella a little more than a century after Ksemisvara's time. At the very heart of these changes lay Anandavardhana's (c. 850) proposal of a new type of signification--suggestion (dhvani)--which, unlike denotation (abhidha) or indication (laksana), was not an isol-able feature of the poetic text, but a phenomenon involving the sensibilities of the literary connoisseur. (1)

Anandavardhana's Dhvanyaloka proved to be a landmark text, forcing practically every theorist after him to confront what we, following Roland Barthes, might call the "writerly" nature of rasa. In SIZ (1970) Barthes approached the question of textual interpretation by describing the "writerly" (scriptible) text as one in which the reader must act as a kind of "writer" in order to produce meaning. He distinguished this from the traditional idea of the static, "readerly" (lisible) text, in which the reader may only be a passive receiver of a meaning prefigured by the original (and authoritative) author. In the French intellectual and political context of the 1960s and 70s, the writerly text represented for Barthes and other newly "poststructural" theorists the means through which literature might achieve an emancipatory goal, "to make the reader no longer a consumer, but a producer of the text" (Barthes 1974: 4). (2)

In the middle of the ninth century Anandavardhana produced an equally liberative moment for Sanskrit poetics, opening up the field to a new, overarching goal: the experience of rasa (McCrea 2008). Rasa, of course, was nothing new; before the advent of dhvani, however, most critics regarded it to be an intrinsic feature of a poem or play to be appreciated during performance. Thus, for Lollata (early ninth century), this aesthetic flavor (rasa) was an augmented or enhanced stable emotion (sthayibhava) of a character and shared by the actor playing the part; for Saiikuka (late ninth century), rasa was also located in the character but only imitated by the actor (Warder 1972-2004, vol. 1: 36-37; Kane 1971: 370-71). Intrinsic to these models was the proposition that rasa, like any other figure, belonged to the "readerly" text and not to the spectator, who only consumed it. Anandavardhana's approach, in contrast, treated rasa as an affective response of the connoisseur (sahrdaya), generated through the suggestive power (dhvani) of a literary text (Pollock 1998: 124-25). Accordingly, the rasa experience required an active, "writerly" participation on the part of sahrdayas, who were to be "perceptive of the underlying principles of the aims of poetry" (kavyarthatattvajna) (Dhvanyaloka 1.7).

This writerly concept of rasa-dhvani allowed later Kashmiri theoreticians to challenge some basic assumptions about aesthetics. Using Mimamsa concepts, Bhatta Nayaka (tenth century) solidly rejected both Lollata's and Sankuka's models of rasa production, arguing instead for the existence of an underlying process of bhavana ('production') located in the mind of the spectator and through which rasa is experienced (Pollock 2010: 154-55). Abhinavagupta (c. 1000) further specified rasa to be a clarification of a spectator's own latent emotional propensities, resulting in a momentary manifestation of an inner brahmasvada--the tasting of ultimate bliss (Gerow 1977: 267-68). To be precise, he suggested that "the enjoyment of rasa was a semblance of only a particle of that bliss" (tadanandaviprunmatravabhaso hi rasasvadah) (Locana commentary to Dhvanyaloka 3.43). Literary experience thereby produced an epiphany, a "magical break in the web of relationships of which everyday life, Samsara is woven" (Gnoli 1970: 79). This focus on bhavana or brahmasvada became the basis for what Pollock has described as a "new mentality," in which "literature for the first time came to be seen as a model or even kind of religious experience" (Pollock 2001: 198). It is thus hard to dispute Anandavardhana's impact upon literary theory at the end of the first millennium; but how did it affect literary practice? That is, to what extent did the "dhvani revolution" of this Kashmiri critic really change the working methods of those Sanskrit poets and playwrights, like Ksemls'vara, who lived in and wrote for elite courtly communities across the subcontinent? How did they reconcile the writerly concept of dhvani, not to mention the new focus on rasa as the ultimate goal of poetic expression, with their professional interests in the older, readerly notions of alamkara (figure), guna (quality), and rlti (style)? And how did Sanskrit theater, in which rasa had always been of primary interest, react to this growing fusion of dramaturgical and poetic theory?

This essay hopes to investigate these questions through a study of specific writerly moments within Arya Ksemlsvara's two extant theatrical works: the Candakausika ("Fierce Kaugika"), an adaptation of the legend of Harigcandra from the Markandeya Purana (7-8), and the Naisadhananda ("The Bliss of the Nisadha King"), a version of the Mahabharata's Nala story (3.50-78). (3) In the first play Ksemisvara explores the pleasurability of horror (bibhatsa) and terror (bhayanaka) through a rather ghastly description of the Varanasi cemetery. In the second play the protagonist Nala (in disguise as a driver named Bahuka) joins the king of Ayodhya in watching a play-within-a-play (garbhanka) depicting Damayanti's suffering while separated from her husband in the forest. Here, the aesthetized experience of misery (karuza) comes with a slight twist. Rasa, Ksemihvara explains, is not simply a product of the author's genius, nor is it entirely the spectator's affective response; rather, an unmediated experience of rasa requires what he calls a "transparent" performance (sphutabhinaya). The evidence will suggest that Ksemisvara, writing on the cusp of the dhvani revolution, sought a median position between "readerly" and "writerly" models of rasa production by highlighting what we might call the "performerly" nature of this process.

Ksemisvara's views are best understood within his immediate historical context. He dedicates both plays to "Mahipaladeva," and, according to the prevailing scholarly opinion, this would have been the Gurjara-Pratihara king Mahipala I, who ruled from Kannauj beginning sometime around 912 c.e. Kannauj at this time was a coveted prize for three regional powers locked in perennial conflict--the Rastrakutas in the south, the Pratiharas in the west, and the Palm in the east. The Arab writers Sulaiman al-Tajir (851) and al-Mas'udi (944) found the city to be an epicenter of military and economic activity, and from the accounts of Xuanzang (seventh century) and other Chinese travellers we learn of its importance for Buddhist learning and practice. Furthermore, for at least three centuries, the Kannauj court had been home to some of history's most celebrated Sanskrit poets: Bana, Harsa, Mayura, and, in all probability, Bhavabhuti. Kannauj thus would have been a key hub in the "Sanskrit Cosmopolis" (Pollock 1996), and Ksemisvara's date makes him a junior colleague, successor, or perhaps even student of one of its most prominent architects, Rajasekhara Yayavariya. (4)

It is difficult to overstate Rajasekhara's stature in Sanskrit literary history. Few poets were cited by medieval anthologists and critics as often as Rajasekhara, and he seemed to have gained quite a level of celebrity even in his own time. He called himself a "king of poets" (kaviraja) (Karpuramanjari 1.9) and, with more audacity, the reincarnation of Valmiki, Bhartrmentha, and Bhavabhuti (Balaramayana 1.16). His prolific writings offer a rich and whimsical snapshot of courtly life in Kannauj at the turn of the tenth century, a cosmopolitan and "transregional" mosaic of regional languages, fashions, and material pleasures (Pollock 2006: 200-204). His Ketvyamimamset remains one of the earliest available discussions of Sanskrit poetry as a profession, providing valuable details about the practical side of the art (Shulman 2008: 483-84). Aware of Anandavardhana but seemingly unaffected by his new theories, Rajasekhara's writings present a grand, pre-dhvani vision of Sanskrit kavya. (5)

Ksemisvara's plays never explicitly mention Rajasekhara, but he would undoubtedly have felt the influence of his senior colleague. His use of puranic references to Visvamitra's exploits in the Candakautika, for example, is reminiscent of Rajagekhara's portrayal of the sage in the Balaramayana. (6) His lavish use of Prakrit in both plays likewise points towards one of the most striking qualities of Rajasekhara's writings (Konow 1901: 199-204). Even his near-plagiaristic imitation of Bhavabhuti might have been emboldened by the Kavyamimamsa's lengthy treatment of intellectual theft (sabda- and arthaharana). But here is really where the influences end, for even if he were a colleague, student, or replacement for Rajasekhara in Mahlpala's court, Ksemisvara infuses his dramas with a certain gravitas barely present in Rajasekhara's light-hearted works.

I will more rigorously explore this difference by comparing how each poet approached the question of the so-called "unpleasurable" rasas. Beginning with Bharata's Natyasastra dramaturgists posited the existence of (at least) eight major rasas corresponding to eight sthayibhavas or stable emotional states, which became classified as either "pleasant" or "unpleasant" (Kulkarni 1995: 281; Nagendra 1970a: 118). Sensuality (rati), laughter (hasa), excitement (utsaha), and wonder (vismaya) were the pleasant bhavas, while grief (soka), anger (krodha), fear (bhaya)y and disgust (jugupsa) were unpleasant. Less clear, however, was the pleasurability of the corresponding rasas, a topic that gained importance especially after Anandavardhana tied the appreciation of poetry to the appreciation of rasa. For if the literary experience must ultimately be pleasurable, but also emotional, then what is the pleasure in experiencing unpleasant emotions?

On the broadest level, pleasurability was seldom a matter of serious dispute within an intellectual field, rooted in the kamasastra (Warder 1972-2004, vol. 1: 15), that regarded theater as "producing courage, amusement, and joy, even while giving rise to moral lessons" (hitopadesajananam dhrtikridasukhadikrt) (Natyasastra 1.113cd). Bhoja (eleventh century) perhaps carried this ideal to its extreme in proposing that all rasas are manifestations of a deeper emotional potential, a "higher-order Passion [srngara]" that "enables a person to experience the world richly," and therefore "may be taken as the origin of all other affective states, or rasas" (Pollock 1998: 126; see also Raghavan 1963: 463). This pleasurability was perhaps also what led dramaturgists to suggest that only certain rasas ought to be dominant within a play. According to Dhanalijaya (late tenth century), for example, "Only one rasa is to be predominant--either vira or srngara--while all the other rasas should be subordinated, and at its closing one should evoke adbhuta" (eko raso kartavyo virah srngara eva va II an gam anye rasah sarve kuryan nirvahane 'dbhutam) (Dasarupaka 3.33cd-4ab).

However, because it advocated rasa as the "single, overriding goal" of poetry (McCrea 2008: 25), and because the burden of rasa production was now on the "writerly" spectator, Anandavardhana's rasa-dhvani theory raised some new questions about this pleasurability. After all, too many painful feelings in a play could conceivably lead one to have an overall unpleasant experience. Still, for most posi-dhvani Kashmiri critics (Abhinavagupta, Mammata, etc.), the "otherworldly" (alaukika) nature of rasas guaranteed a transcendent pleasure, no matter what their specific emotional value. Even for those who admitted that rasas produce both pleasure and pain {sukhaduhkhatmaka), the unpleasurable rasas served either a satirical function (Gitomer 2000: 221; Monius 2004: 132) or were carefully subordinated to pleasurable ones (Kulkarni 1995: 283-84; Tubb and Bronner 2008: 625). As we will see, Ksemlsvara appears to have been especially absorbed by this issue.

Ksemlsvara's interest in the unpleasurable rasas ultimately results in a portfolio that invites comparison not to his senior colleague, but, as Indologists have long noted, to Bhavabhuti, a poet also thought to have lived in Kannauj perhaps 150 years before his time. (7) Like Bhavabhuti, our playwright uses theater to probe the depths of the human condition in ways that Rajasekhara does not; and, like Bhavabhuti's, his plays at times appear provocative, at least to our modern sensibilities, highlighting the real human anxieties that lie beneath the facade of a detached "curious interest" with which spectators are ordinarly expected to take in unpleasant scenes on the Sanskrit stage. (8) Ksemls'vara's relationship to Bhavabhuti is a topic worthy of a separate comparative study; in this essay, however, the best we may do is to point out these parallels as they appear in the production of unpleasurable rasas in Ksemisvara's two plays.


The Candakausika is an adaptation of the Markandeya Purana version of the Hariscandra legend, featuring a number of innovations that serve to produce all eight classical rasas. (9) Act I, a pure invention, develops the srngara and ha sya rasas (passion and comedy), as the lovelorn Harigcandra, strolling in the palace gardens with his Brahman jester (vidusaka), spies upon his wife, who, ironically, also pines for his affections. Act II produces the vira and raudra rasas (heroism and fury), as Hariscandra bravely hunts after a vicious boar in the forest, but accidentally disturbs Visvamitra's austerities and rouses the sage's anger. The king offers his entire kingdom to appease him, but Visvamitra demands a daksina, a gratuity, over and above this gift. Act III finds our hero trying to earn this money in the Varanasi slave market, first by selling his wife and son to an elderly Brahman teacher, and then himself to the Candala master of the burning grounds. Act IV, which we will examine more closely, features the bibhatsa and bhayanaka rasas (horror and terror), as Hariscandra surveys the grisly surroundings of his new place of work. The final act initially delivers karuna (misery) at the death of Haris'candra's son Rohitasva and the tearful reunion of husband and wife at the cemetery, but it ends with ascarya (wonder), when suddenly there is a miracle: Lord Dharma enters the stage with a shower of flowers and restores the dead child to life.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Ksemls'vara's adaptation is how he maximizes the horror and terror of the cremation grounds in Act IV. (I0) We will first examine how Ksemisvara produces these rasas--that is, the formal and stylistic features of his poetry--before turning to the question of how he might have wanted his audience to appreciate them. As we will see, Ksemisvara's production of the unpleasurable rasas highlights a central problem within Sanskrit aesthetics (Tubb 1991): is the spectator really expected to feel what the protagonist is feeling?

Throughout his writings Ksemigvara tends to be quite explicit about his protagonist's feelings, either through stage directions (to the actor) or verbal declarations (to the spectator). For example, it is in a state of shock (savastambham) that Harigcandra gives his first impression of what is to become his new home (CK 4.7):
vidurad abhyastair viyati bahuso mandalasatair
  udaficatpucchagrastimitavitataih paksatiputaih I
patanty ete grdhrah savapilitalolananaguha
  galallalakledasthagitanijacancubhayaputah II

With envelopes of wings, steady and spread out, and with their tails
  They congregate from far and wide, forming hundreds of circles in the
So fly the vultures, the slivers of space between their beaks covered
by the juice of saliva
  Dripping from the cavities of their mouths that yearn for the flesh of

The long compounds of this verse stretch across its metrical caesuras and lend an almost cinematic quality to Ksemlsvara's poem: first a long panoramic shot of the slow, ominous movements of circling vultures, and then a focalization on the abhorrent sight of saliva dripping from their beaks. Gitomer, using Bakhtin, explains that this kind of imagery often produces a "literary grotesque" that takes on a satirical relationship to the erotic "canonical body" of Sanskrit literature that is otherwise "perfect, smooth, hermetic" (Gitomer 1991: 95). In this regard, our dramatist was likely influenced by equally gruesome visions of the burning grounds in Bhavabhuti's Malatimadhava (e.g., 5.18), Subandhu's Vetsavadatta (242-43), or perhaps even the disgusting behavior of raksasas in the Sanskrit epics (Goldman 2000). However, Das Gupta in her edition (p. lxxxi) maintains that Ksemisvara's "own theme suggested the situation, and his picture is not weakly imitative." Regardless of possible influences there can be no doubt that Ksemisvara's poems left their own mark, for the medieval anthologist Vidyakara was sufficiently impressed to include this verse, along with two others (CK 4.19, 21), in the section of his Subhasitaratnakosa treating cremation grounds (Section 44, verses 1537-39; Warder 1972-2004, vol. 5: 547-48). (11) This verse is, furthermore, just the tip of the iceberg--Ksemigvara gives a series of a dozen more graphic verses of death and gore, augmenting the sentiment of bibhatsa to a level rarely witnessed in Sanskrit drama.

Consider, for example, what HariScandra next sees as he gets closer to the cemetery(CK 4.8):
ima murchanty antahpratiravabhrtah karnakatavah
  sivah krariikrandair asivapatahadambararavah I
jvalanty ete tiipasphutitanrkarotiputadari
  lasanmastiskakta stimitajatilagra hutabhujah II

The jackals over here are deafening, echoing through the place;
  Bitter to the ear with their harsh cries,
  they roar with a great noise like the ominous pataha drums.
Over there blaze the hungry fires, their steady and tangled tips
  By the brains oozing from cracks in the human skulls exploding from
  the heat.

Again, Ksemigvara's primary objective seems to be to paint as poetically vivid an image as possible. In what appears to be a typical strategy of what Warder calls the "bold" style of kavya (Warder 1972-2004, vol. 5: vii-viii), the verse offers an explosion of horrific imagery--here, quite literally so--leaving little for the audience to decipher. In fact, Ksemisvara frequently prefaces his verses with a precise declaration of the intended rasa. In this case, prior to reciting the poem, Hariscandra exclaims aho bibhatsaraudratet mahatmafanasya "Oh the honor and fury of this great cemetery!"--thus announcing its emotional blend: the harsh cries of the jackals generate raudra, while the oozing brains result in bibhatsa.

Besides another long compound and the wordplay between the jackals (sivah) and their ominous (asiva) cries, this verse also features an alliteration (anuprasa) of unvoiced retroflex and labial stops, mimicking the sound of skulls cracking in the fire ("tetpa-sphutita-nr-karoti-puta-dari-"). Anuprasa is a technique that Ksemisvara will again use in describing an unpleasant tree (CK 4.17):
a skandhad utpatantah prthukuharagrhadvari kajanty uluka
  dhunvantah paksapalih prabalakilakila mardhni grdhrah patanti I
Sakhagralambisiryatkunapaghanavasagandham aghraya raudram
  krandantah spharayanti sphuradanalamukhah pheravah phetkratani II

The owls are hooting, flying out from the bowers,
  through the wide hollows that are the front doors of their homes.
  In the higher reaches the vultures fly,
  making a loud racket as they shake the edges of their wings.
Smelling the thick fat from the decaying corpses hanging from the ends
of the branches,
  The jackals, howling ferociously, spit out shrieks, with burning fire
  in their mouths.

The repetition of harsh-sounding aspirated labials in the fourth line, spharayanti sphuradanalamukhah pheravah phetkrtani, produces an aural enhancement of the disgusting image. Das Gupta observes that in the Candakausika "alliteration and sound-repetition ... are to be naturally found, very often with a pleasing effect," but she assigns them no special significance, suggesting that "on the whole, Ksemisvara does not appear specially inclined to any rhetorical display" (CK, p. lxxxxii). On the contrary, I would argue that Ksemisvara's alliteration, like his use of long compounds, indicates his use of the gaudiya riti, the poetic style characterized by an "abundance of compounds, alliteration and display of recondite language, even at the expense of the other qualities such as clarity" (Warder 1972-2004, vol. 1: 93). A century prior to Ksemisvara, the poetician Vamana described the gaudlya style as being "composed of strength and beauty" (ojahkantimati) (Kavyalamkarasutra 1.2.12), in which ojas, as a sonic quality (sabdaguna), was a kind of verbal density or "thickness" (gadhabandhatva) (3.1.5), while as a thematic quality (arthaguna) it involved a boldness or maturity (praudhi) of imagery (3.2.2). Mammata (twelfth century) and others explained that this ojas made gaudlya rlti particularly suited for producing bibhatsa, raudra, and vira rasas (e.g., Kavyaprakaa 8.69-70 [pp. 475-76]), thus offering a more persuasive, aesthetic basis for Ksemisvara's use of long compounds and alliteration in these macabre verses.

Our playwright is again quite frank about the intended aesthetic value of this poem. First, before reciting the verse, Harikandra signals the bhayanaka rasa: "Oh, my! the trees in the cemetery have suddenly become quite grave and frightening!" (aho atigambhirabhiyaijaifi samprati vartante smasanasdkhinah). Next, within the verse itself, there is the mention of the jackals' raudra howling. These two sentiments are further complemented by the abhorrent images of vultures and dripping fat, resulting in a curious blend of bhayanaka, raudra, and bibhatsa rasas. Again with a nod to Bhavabhilti, many of Ksemisvara's verses in this series involve alchemical mixtures of bibhatsa with other rasas sometimes, as we will see, even "pleasurable" ones like sirrigara or hasya.

We are thus able to see how Ksemisvara produces unpleasant imagery, but why might he have been drawn towards it in the first place? The Markaijdeya Purana, to be fair, is itself quite graphic in describing the cemetery as a brutal backdrop for Hariscandra's ethical struggle to maintain moral truth (satya) in the midst of great suffering. Ksemisvara's extravagant poetry, on the other hand, is clearly designed for maximizing his audience's experience of horror and tenor, and not for delivering any particular soteriological message. One wonders, however, whether this interest is enough to explain a glaring absence in Ksemigvara's adaptation: Hariscandra's convoluted dream while sleeping in the burning grounds, in which he must endure a long series of hells, and through which is revealed his truthful character (Sathaye 2009: 142-43; Doniger O'Flaherty 1985: 143-46).

The dream is bizarre, to be sure, but Ksemisvara is elsewhere quite interested in Hariscandra's satya, inventing an entire scene later in Act IV expressly to highlight this very theme. While keeping watch in the cemetery, Hariscandra assists a tantric ascetic (who is in reality Lord Dharma in disguise) in acquiring a certain magic power hidden in its environs. In gratitude the Kapalika offers him a treasure that will free him from bondage, but Hariscandra steadfastly refuses, suggesting that the reward be given instead to his Candala master. (12.) We are thus provided with an example of how, in the words of the Kapalika, "the steady mind of the wise does not waver even under duress" (krcchre 'pi na calaty eva dhlranam niscalam manah) (CK 4.35cd). This point is not terribly different from what we find in the Markandeya, where, at the greatest depth of his nightmare, Yama urges perseverence: "Go back to the human world and endure the rest of your suffering. Once it has passed, King, then you will have good fortune" (gaccha tvam manusam lokam duhkhas'esan ca bhunksva vai I gatasya tatra rajendra s'reyas tava bhavisyati) (Markandeya Purana 8.161).

Ksemisvara's elision of Hariscandra's nightmare was, I believe, an aesthetic decision. It was crucial that his protagonist remain detached throughout this horrific scene, while in the dream, he actually watches himself suffer. As we will see, Ksemisvara reserves Hariscandra's suffering for the final, climactic Act V, in which the king, overwhelmed by his wife's anguish and the death of his only son, is driven to the point of attempting suicide. (13.) In Act IV, however, Hariscandra does not himself suffer but only reports, poetically, the suffering of unnamed others in the cemetery. (14) As a result, he is able to serve as a model spectator for consuming the "unpleasurable" emotional content of literature.

Hariscandra takes in the abhorrent sights around him with a feeling that Ksemisvara identifies as "curious interest" (kutuhala or kautuka). Consider Hariscandra's reactions when he witnesses an orgy of blood-drinking pisacas in the following verse (CK 4.19):
pibaty eko 'nyasmat ghanarudhiram acchidya casakam
  jvalajjihvo vaktrad galitam aparo ledhi pibatah I
tatah styanan kascid bhuvi nipatitan sonitakanan
  ksanad uccairgrivo rasayati lasaddirgharasanah II

One snatches away a cup of thick blood from another, and drinks from
  As he drinks, another, with a burning tongue, is licking at whatever
  dribbles from his mouth.
Then, someone else, craning his neck and stretching out his long
  Quickly slurps up the splattered drops of blood fallen on the ground.

Though the scene is quite obviously revolting, Hariscandra only looks on it "with interest" (sakautukam) and declares "Oh what skill these ghouls have in play-fighting!" (aho krldakalahakausalam pisacanam). After reciting the verse, he beholds another remarkable image with a smile {sakautukam avalokya sasmitam). "Oh, my word! It's like a joke on those of uncultivated taste, for even the love-play of these monsters quickly turns into a different rasa altogether!" (aho nu khalu bhohl parihdsa iva durvidagdhandm kelir api rasantaram alambate yatudhananam) (CK ad 4.20). He explains further (CK 4.20):
kva ramyah sambhogo mrdumadhuracestdngasubhagah
  kataksah kvanyonyam pralayavitatolkadyutihhrtah I
kva damstrasanghattajvalitadahanas cumbitavidhir
  ghanaslesah kvayam pratirasad urahpanjararavah II

How can you compare delightful lovemaking, with it gentle and sweet
Acts of physicial pleasure,
  To their leering glance, blazing at one another like an apocalyptic
  Hail of fairballs?
Or to their form of kissing, a fire kindled by teeth grinding
  Or to their tight embraces, with the crackling of their ribcages
  echoing inside their chests?

This humorous verse sets up an incongruity between the inherently abhorrent cemetery-dwellers and the sensual feelings that would typically be signalled by sidelong glances, kisses, and embraces. These features of their love-play (keli) cannot be erotic but only disgusting in this context, and only those of uncultivated tastes--durvidagdhas--would be fooled into thinking it to be a srngara experience. As Gitomer has noted, this is a common tactic in Sanskrit drama, transforming a potentially disgusting experience into a delightfully comic one (Gitomer 1991: 90), while also raising a social argument: to be cultivated (vidagdha) means being able to discriminate between true rasa and its false semblance (rasabhasa).

If it is the case that durvidagdhas, because they read poetic imagery superficially, are easily tricked by rasetbhasa, then how should a vidagdha read these complex scenes of horror and tenor? The standard dramaturgical opinion was that audiences react directly to what they see. According to Bharata, for example, "Spectators who feel joy when there is joy, and who feel sorrow when there is sorrow, are known to become depressed when it's a depressing play" (dainye dinatvam ayanti te natye preksakah smrtah I ye tustau tustim aydnti soke sokam vrajanti ca) (Natyasastra 27.42). And, as noted above, Lollata and Sankuka offered similar models to explain rasa production. Ksemlsvara's own view of the issue becomes apparent when Hariscandra sees the following scene (CK 4.21):
citagner akrstam nalakasikharaprotam asakrt
  sphuradbhir nlrvapya pralayapavanaih phutkrtasataih I
siro naram pretah kavalayati trmavasalaiat-
  karalasyah plusyadvadanakuharas tudgirati ca II

Pulling it out of the funeral pyre, repeatedly puncturing its top
with a leg bone,
  Then cooling it off with a hundred blows of his throbbing,
  Doomsday wind--
The ghoul swallows up a human head, his gaping maw lolling with
the force of his thirst,
  Only to vomit it back out as it scorches the inside of his mouth.

One is hard pressed to find a more gruesome scene in Sanskrit theater. In fact, Hariscandra does initially feel revulsion (saghrnam avalokya) and cries out: "Damn, this is too disgusting!" (dhik, atibibhatsam etat). But after reciting the verse, Hariscandra regains his composure and declares alam amlsam darsanakutuhalita "enough of this [idle] curiosity of gazing at these things!" He then begins his appointed duty of guarding the burning grounds. Haris'candra has been momentarily affected by the repugnant scene, but the dominant sentiment here is not one of actual horror, as might be expected from older aesthetic theories. It is also not exactly the comic hasya, which Gitomer suggests "shares sort of a permeable membrane" with horror (Gitomer 2000: 221; discussed more fully in Gitomer 1991: 84-87). Indeed, Hariscandra's ultimate reaction here is not an emotional response at all, but kutuhala--curious interest.

A general pattern thus appears in Hariscandra's experience of bibhatsa: first, a feeling of disgust or shock, then an exposition of the unpleasurable imagery of the verse itself, and finally a state of kutuhala. Rasas--both "pleasurable" and "unpleasurable"--are elements found in Ksemlsvara's poems; but like Hariscandra the sophisticated spectator ought to remain emotionally unaffected by what he observes and take in the scene with only curious interest. Ksemisvara thus takes a median position between pre-dhvani and post-dhvani theories of rasa production. He continues to treat rasa as a fixed feature of the readerly text, but also requires the spectator to maintain a writerly responsibility to appreciate the intended rasa (that is, to avoid rasabhasa) and not let unpleasurable imagery actually "get to him."

Ironically, unpleasurable imagery will "get to" Hariscandra in the very next act. Hard at work, Hariscandra spies upon a woman in the burning grounds desperately looking for the body of her dead son. He does not recognize her, but she is, in fact, his wife Saivya. In a remarkable depiction of death onstage, she finds the boy's corpse, and begins in vain to inspect the body for signs of life. (15) Hariscandra is initially sympathetic to the painful laments of this woman who has also been abandoned by her husband (CK ad 5.8), but when her descriptions of the boy sound much like his son, Rohitasva, he grows increasingly worried. Finally, when Saivya cries out "Lord Kausika, you've finally succeeded!" (bhaavam kosia kidattho danim si) (CK ad 5.9), there can be no further doubt, and Hariscandra realizes what has happened.

Far from feeling merely curious, Hariscandra now succumbs to a flood of utter sorrow. Filled with misery (sakarunam), he laments for his wife, whose "beauty is now sullied like an old painting, and recognized only through outlines" (kantih saiva puranacitramalina lekhabhir unnlyate) (CK 5.9d). He faints and then regains consciousness, only to be driven deeper into despair by memories of his son (CK 5.11):
nestam na dattam na kulocitani
  sukhany avaptani yaso na kirnam I
nyagrodhabljahkuram usarastham
  vidambayan vatsa divam gato'si II

You did not sacrifice, you did not give;
  You did not enjoy the pleasures of high family, and you did not have
  great fame.
Acting like a banyan sapling in saline soil,
  Dear child, you have gone off to heaven.

The contrast could not be more stark between this evocation of karuna and the earlier scenes of bibhatsa and raudra rasas. There is no mention of kautuka or kutuhala here, and Hariscandra can no longer gaze passively at the unpleasurable--this time the suffering is real, it is debilitating, and it is his own. He declares "There are no tortures in all the hells that compare to the sorrow born from the suffering of one's own child" (naitesu santi narakesv api yatanas ta duhkhena yas tanayaviklavajena tulyah) (CK 5.14cd). He solemnly prepares to commit suicide on his son's funeral pyre--a plan thwarted only by the even more depressing realization that, as a slave, he lacks the liberty even to take his own life.

Throughout this scene Hariscandra no longer serves as a model spectator, but is instead the experiencing subject. He does not therefore feel the karuna rasa, which is, after all, a literary phenomenon. Instead, Hariscandra succumbs to an outpouring of genuine emotion, the bhava of soka (grief). The result is what we might call a "split-image" between Hariscandra's rasa experience (of bibhatsa, raudra, and bhayanaka) as a model spectator in Act IV and his sthayibhava (of soka) as the experiencing subject in Act V. Ksemisvara thus exposes an ambivalence between curiosity and anxiety in how we experience unpleasurable rasas--though we, as spectators, ought to delight at a poet's skillful descriptions of awful things, there lurks an ever-present danger that these awful things might be real, and that they might actually happen to us. This is why Ksemisvara is so careful to eliminate any trace of Hariscandra's own suffering as a model spectator in Act IV.

We might be able to better appreciate Ksemisvara's position by comparing it with that of his senior colleague. Rajasekhara seldom indulges in bibhatsa or bhayanaka, but one such occasion comes at the beginning of Act III of the Balaramayana, through two verses describing the slaying of the demoness Tataka. (16) Here the speaker is a vulture, who is narrating Rama's adventures to his pregnant wife while the couple is off hunting for demon meat to satisfy her cravings. The vulture first describes how the "gaping corners of [Tataka's] mouth were smeared with blood" (raktabhyaktorusrkka), and how "the rattling sounds of the grinding of the blades of her crunching teeth make her terrifying" (dastadamstrankurakarsana-ranatkarabhima) (Balaramayana 3.4). To this his wife simply responds, "Oh my! That lowlife is scary even to scary creatures! So, then what happened?" (ahaha bhlsananam vi bhlsana hadasa I tado tado). The vulture next describes, in even more graphic terms, the slaying of Tataka: "Her pair of hands was demolished (vidhvastahastayugalam), the strands of her entrails had spilled (galitantratantram), a pool of blood was spilled (muktaraktatati), and her liver was shattered (khanditakalakhandam)" (Balaramayana 3.6). The vulture's wife, however, hardly balks at the image and simply praises Rama for killing her only on the orders of the sage Visvamitra.

Rajasekhara's brief foray into the bibhatsa rasa thus becomes largely an occasion to show off his own verbal dexterity and poetic richness, hardly resulting in anything as probing as Ksemlsvara's treatment of the cremation grounds. It is not quite a fair comparison, for a female vulture cannot possibly serve as an appropriate model spectator, and one cannot compare the lighthearted tone of talking vultures out on a raksasa-hunt to the gravity of the death of an lksvaku king's only son. Still, this scene is typical for Rajasekhara, and one gets the feeling that Ksemisvara was venturing into an area of aesthetic experience left largely unexplored by his more renowned colleague.

It may be argued that another kind of contrast is drawn in the Candakausika, between the experience of bibhatsa, raudra, and bhayanaka rasas versus that of karuna. Horror provokes disgust, fury provokes anger, and terror provokes fear; but all of these raw emotions may be safely distanced if the spectator adopts an attitude of kutuhala. Misery, however, is unique among the rasas in that it stimulates not only grief but sympathy (see Cuneo forthcoming). Hariscandra is, for example, initially sympathetic to Saivya's plight before realizing she is actually his own wife, at which point it stops being an aesthetic experience for him. After all, if Ksemisvara were influenced by Bhavabhuti it would not be surprising for him to take special interest in the subtleties of karunay and to treat it differently from the other rasas (Shul-man 2001: 74--see especially Uttararamacarita 3.47). This, however, does not seem to have been the case; for, as we shall see, our playwright uses his second play, the Naisadhananda, to produce an even more profound "split-image" between curiosity and anxiety in the experience of the kar una rasa.


Just as in the Candakausika, Ksemisvara introduces a number of unique plot twists into his adaptation of the Nala-Damayanti story. In Act I we join the action already in progress, as Nala and his vidusaka (again a Ksemisvara innovation) are speeding towards Damayanti's self-choice marriage (svayamvara). Nala is approached by Indra's attendant Matali and is recruited to speak to Damayanti on the gods' behalf. When Nala delivers his message in Act II, we witness the simultaneous romantic afflictions of both hero and heroine--Nala confesses his love for Damayanti to the vidusaka, while they eavesdrop on Damayanti confessing hers to her girlfriend. (17) In Act III the events of the marriage are reported in ornate but rapid Prakrit prose by the vidusaka to Damayanti's mother--first the parade of kings, then Damayanti's selection of Nala, and finally a bloody conflict between Nala and the other spurned kings. Nala's downfall begins in Act IV as he gambles away his kingdom under the influence of Kali, and he and his wife are forced into exile with only the clothes on their backs. In Act V Nala loses even these in a vain effort to catch a pair of golden geese. Eventually, he abandons his sleeping wife in the midst of a smoky forest fire, whereupon he is bitten by the serpent king Karkotaka. The snake's poison eliminates Kali from Nala's body, but leaves him disfigured as a result. We are next taken to Ayodhya in Act VI, where the ugly and dwarfish Nala, now known as Bahuka, is employed as king Rtuparna's driver. The king invites him to watch a play about Damayanti's tribulations in the forest--a piece, as it turns out, that the princess has herself composed in order to locate her missing husband. The moving performance convinces King Rtuparna, with his driver in tow, to rush to Damayanti's second marriage contest at the beginning of Act VII. Nala then reveals his true identity, retakes his kingdom by defeating his brother in dice, and is successfully reunited with wife and family.

The most striking innovation in the Naisadhananda is the play-within-the-play (garbhanka) of Act VI that allows our playwright to tie up the bifurcated story arc as well as make two significant meta-theatrical observations. First, as is typical of garbhankas, it highlights the cultural power of literary expression to reveal the true emotional self that is otherwise hidden in the shifting complexities of everyday life. Second, we are told that this revelation comes not merely from the aesthetic content of a poetic text, but due to skillful performance. More precisely, Ksemisvara asserts that a spectator experiences rasa most directly when the acting is transparent (sphuta), facilitating its transference from text to spectator. As we will see, these two points serve again to bifurcate the cognitive and emotive experience of the karuna rasa.

For obvious reasons, the play-within-the-play is a device that reflects upon the creative cultural power of Sanskrit theater (see Jaspart-Pansu 1998; Tieken 2000: 131-32). As David Shulman has noted (1997: 83), the garbhanka in Sanskrit drama often produces "an unexpected self-coincidence, in which the normative disjunctions and unaligned perceptions that comprise awareness are superseded by a continuous, expressive, expansive self-embrace." It results in situation in which "the king is expanding into himself--a subject bursting out of the constricting borders of his earlier, heavily determined roles." In other words, the garbhanka allows the protagonist of a Sanskrit drama to perceive who he really is, an understanding that is otherwise obscured by the layers of social and political obligations of public life. Since the protagonist, as we have seen, also may serve as the model spectator, garbhankas often become conscious, self-reflexive explorations of how actual audiences might learn to see themselves better through the power of theater.

In the Naisadhananda's garbhanka, this self-realization occurs through three stages: (1) the hidden Nala; (2) the emergence of the "real" Nala as he watches the play; and (3) Nala's self-recognition, as well as his recognition by the actress in the play. At first, Nala is literally unrecognizable in the Ayodhya court, his true identity concealed beneath a layer of disfigured skin. Still, nearly everyone senses that there is something odd about this hunchback driver and that something more brilliant lurks underneath his grotesque exterior. Seeing Bahuka enter into the drama-house, for example, King Rtuparna remarks (NA 6.7):
ratnam jaradvastranibaddham etad
  avaskaracchannam idam nidhanam I
unmattavaktrac ca sa eva vedah
  sa eva kosantaritah krpanah II

This is a jewel wrapped in old clothes,
  A treasure buried in excrement;
This is the Veda itself, coming from the mouth of a madman;
  This is a sword concealed in its sheath.

Growing more and more emotional during the course of the performance, the hidden Nala uncontrollably bursts out from his Bahuka mask. Ksemlsvara gives this typical garbhanka theme a novel twist--for not only does Nala begin to notice his latent, emotional self through his genuine reactions to the play, but so does the actress playing Damayanti, who has been charged with discovering the hidden Nala. In an aside the garbhanka's director explains to us what the actual Damayanti had ordered the troupe to do: "You should carefully go check him out, approaching him under the pretense of a new play that has a plot based on what has happened to me" (tena hi madvrttetntagrathitavastuna navanatakena samvidhanopasthayina nipunam avadharaniyam tvaya) (NA ad 6.10). Through an inversion of the theatrical gaze, the ordinarily objectified actress is now placed in a subject position, covertly assessing the authenticity of the spectator.

Ksemlsvara's focus on the actress continues throughout the garbhetnka. Seeing Damayanti suffer, Nala breaks down again and again and keeps forgetting that he is watching a play. At one point, he declares that he can no longer tell the difference between the actress and the role:
tad evedam devya vapur upanatam mlanamadhuram
  rajobhih saiveyam dhruvam alakamala malinita I
idam nidracchedad arunanayanam tac ca vadanam
  nati sarvakarair dhruvam alikhita saiva sumukhi II

There is my lady's body, bowed and its sweetness faded.
  That is definitely her hair garland, stained with dirt.
This is her face, its eyes reddened from interrupted sleep,
  And with all her features, this actress who wears no makeup, this
  lovely girl--it's really her.

Of course, it is not really her, but an actress who will eventually report her findings to the real Damayanti in the next act. But the power of theater is such that as Nala sees Damayanti suffer more and more on stage, it begins to trigger emotions inside of him that will force him to emerge further and further out of his shell, and to forget that, after all, it's just a play.

But Nala is not the only one watching the drama. Eventually, the Queen MadhumatI also cannot contain her sorrow and is moved to tears. The King, also in tears, asks his driver what is making them cry. It's the acting, explains Nala. "My lord, this is, in fact, a feature of the transparent acting of someone performing poetry that is filled with rasa" (deva rasavatah khalu ketvyasya prayoktuh sphutabhinayatayah khalv ayam gunah) (NA ad 6.19). He explains further (NA 6.20):
karunakarunodbhrantodbhrantah patanti muhur drsor (18)
  jadam iva muhuh sunyakaram vapuh parivepate I
bhayakarunayoh samkirnatma tathabhinayah sphuto
  vayam apt tatha yatsamkrantya ksanad iva tanmayah II

Her glances are falling, in one moment, so sad, so sad, and in the
next, so scared, so scared,
  And her body trembles, as if it's heavy at one moment, and hollow
  at the next.
This is transparent acting, containing a mixture of terror and misery,
  And so, by its transference, we, too, have become instantly filled
  with it.

This important verse offers a key to understanding our dramatist's view of the growing poetic interest in rasa. The aesthetic experience, Ksemlsvara suggests, involves two phenomena: first, the poet's creation of a rasa-filled (rasavat) text, and then its delivery to the spectator through a "transparent" performance. The former is clearly indebted to Dandin, Bhamaha, and other pre-dhvani poeticians, who classified rasavat as a poetic figure (McCrea 2008: 42-52). The latter belongs to the world of dramaturgy, which had emphasized the active role of performance in producing rasa. He calls this acting "sphuta" a term not prominently found in dramaturgical literature, but which here seems to indicate a kind of acting that facilitates a direct and immediate experience of rasa. (19.) Damayanti's speech by itself does not make the audience cry; this only happens because the facial expressions and gestures of the actress perfectly embody Damayanti's feelings. This accords with Bharata's seminal statements on how acting enables bhavas to be processed into rasas: "Just as a meal is prepared using many different kinds of ingredients, so too do bhdvas, when accompanied by acting, produce rasas" (nanddravyair bahuvidhair vyahjanam bhavyate yathd I evam bhava bhavayanti rasdn abhinayaih saha) (Ndtyasdstra 6.35). In this regard it is important to mention a key difference between Ksemisvara's two plays: while in the Candakausika the unpleasurable rasas were produced exclusively through the recitation of poetry, here the karuna rasa is produced entirely through acting--there are no verses actually recited within the garbhanka. By juxtaposing a dramaturgical model of rasa production with a poetic one {rasavat as a poetic guna), Ksemlsvara explores one of the more unclear points of Anandavardhana's "dhvani revolution"--what precisely is the locus of rasa? (20.) Later dhvani-based theorists would come to focus almost exclusively on the role of the writerly connoisseur in this process, but for Ksemlsvara the answer seems centrally to involve the actor; Ksemlsvara's position might thus more appropriately be deemed as "performerly." We will revisit this point when we compare his views with those of Rajasekhara--but first, let's see how the garbhdhka ends.

As Damayanti continues to suffer onstage, Nala struggles to maintain his disguise. When she falls into a snake hole, he suddenly gets up and cries, "Oh damn! What awful madness!" (ha dhik kastam pramadah) (NA ad 6.21). This gives King Rtuparna a perfect opportunity to state the classic garbhankaline, "Don't get so worked up, sir! This is only a reenactment" (arya alam sambhramena I vrttanukaranam etat). Nala regains his composure, but not for long. A hunter comes to Damayanti's rescue and kills the snake--but then he tries to rape her. Witnessing this abuse, Nala again loses control, gets up from his seat, and yells, "Damn ruffian!" (dhik jalma) (NA ad 6.23) Again Rtuparna must reassure him, "It's just a play, sir!" (arya natyam idam), and again Nala must hide his feelings.

Things are now only going to get more serious on stage. With no hope left, Damayanti decides to commit suicide. As she starts to wrap the vine around her neck, Nala's emotions finally explode and he rushes out of his seat--"Lady of Vidarbha, no, no, please, you shouldn't act on impulse! Is it right for you to give up that place in heaven meant fordevoted wives and seek instead the pitch darkness so easily gained through suicide?" (devi vaidarbhi na khalu na khalu sdhasam anustheyam I devi api yujyate tava pativratdlokdn apahdya atmavadhasulabham andham tamo 'nusartum) (NA ad 6.24). The actress is now fully convinced. She says to herself, "There's no need to doubt it. That's him. With luck, I've succeeded" (kidam samdehena I sojjeva eso I dittid kadatthamhi). Rtuparna, too, grows suspicious about his driver's identity (NA 6.25):
yathaivanukarotiyam vaidarbhyah karunam dasam I
tathaivdnena vaiklavyam nalasydnuvidhlyate II

In the same way that she acts out the tragic lot of the Lady of
So, too, does his suffering match that of Nala.

Though the central point of the garbhanka is Nala's self-discovery, he is not actually the model spectator in this scene. Instead it is Rtuparna who takes on this role. As we have seen, both King and Queen are initially moved to tears by the play, but by its conclusion gtuparna looks on "with fascination" (sakautukam) and declares, "Sir, this story is making my curiosity grow" (drya vardhayati nah kutuhalam ayam vrttdntah) (NA ad 6.29). In order to satisfy this kutuhala, he suggests to Bahuka they go to DamayantI's second svayamvara. Rtuparna thus reacts in exactly the same manner as Hariscandra in the Candakausika--an initial shock at the unpleasant imagery that he sees, followed by fascination and curiosity: kautuka and kutuhala. The difference is only one of context--while Hariscandra had witnessed the grisly activities of strange, shadowy figures in the cemetery, Rtuparna is here watching a bona fide piece of high literary art. Nala, however, is deeply affected by what he has witnessed and has not, in fact, had a rasa experience. And so he takes quite a different stance on this opportunity to visit DamayantI, telling us in an aside that "the doctor has prescribed exactly what this sick man craves" (yad evaturasydbhildsitam tad evopanyastam bhisajd) (NA ad 6.29). This is a direct parallel to Hariscandra's soka-fi\\z& reactions to seeing his suffering wife and dead son. Again there emerges a split-image: Rtuparna is the model spectator, taking in the unpleasurable karuna rasa with a detached curiosity, while Nala suffers a real feeling--a sthdyibhdva--of grief. Even though the king and his driver watch exactly the same play, they understand it in two completely different ways, exemplifying the two distinct modes in which a spectator might consume Sanskrit theater.

We may again better appreciate Ksemlsvara's split-image by comparing his garbhanka to one written by Raja^ekhara, in Act III of the Bdlardmdyana, when a travelling troupe performs a small play at Ravana's court in Lanka. The title of Rajasekhara's garbhanka is Sltdsvayamvara ("Slta's Wedding Contest"), and it details how a procession of kings attempts, one by one, to string Siva's bow and win Sita's hand. While an actor playing Janaka's chamberlain describes the regionalized qualities of each king, the spectator, Ravana, reacts to the sequence of events. (21.) As in most garbhahkas, Rajasekhara uses Ravana to lampoon unsophisticated literary connoisseurs. Ravana is jealously in love with Silk and his repeated outbursts towards each king demonstrate how a spectator's private feelings might possibly intermingle with the literary experience, causing him--to our amusement--to forget that the play is just a play. (22.) At the same time, when in the end Rama is chosen as Slta's groom, Ravana angrily dismisses the entire production as fiction, as merely a "poets' wish-giving cow" (kavinam kamadhenu) (Betlaramayana ad 3.77). Once more this pokes fun at Ravana, since the play, as everyone knows, has actually told the truth.

Like Ksemisvara, Rajasekhara touches upon the revelatory power of poetry to expose the inner, emotional reality of the connoisseur. There is, however, an important difference. As we have seen, Ksemisvara suggests that rasa is transferred from text to audience through good acting; Rajasekhara, on the other hand, emphasizes only the responsibility of the skilled poet to endow a literary work with rasa. A comment made by the garbhdnka's director in its prologue is especially revealing: (Bdlaramayana 3.14):
vag vaidarbhim madhurimagunam syandate srotralehyam
  vastunydso harati hrdayam suktimudrdnivedyah I
sadyah sute rasam anupamapraudhijanma prasddah
  sandarbhasrir iti krtadhiydm dhama girdevatdydh II

The vidarbha style of speech, with its sweet quality, flows like syrup
to the ear;
  The unfolding of the plot, as shown through choice words and gestures,
  steals away the heart;
Clarity, which is born from incomparable boldness, immediately
produces rasa--
  And this is why, for educated gentlemen, the beauty of poetic
  composition is where the Goddess of Speech makes her home.

For Rajasekhara the qualities (guna) of poetic expression are what deliver style (riri)[much greater than] content (vastu), and aesthetic experience (rasa), and it is from the guna known as prasdda--'clarity' or 'grace'--that rasa is born, immediately (sadyah), and without any noticeable intervention by the actors. Rajasekhara pursues this point further, through a clever paronomasia (slesa) in the next verse (Bdlaramayana 3.15):
suvarnabandhavidyoti kuruta sravandsrayam I
  sacchayam ullasadvrttam kdvyam muktamayam budhah II

Wise gentlemen, give poetry a place at your ears!
  Made of pearls [made of independent verses],
  it glitters with its golden links [it sparkles with words made of
  nice sounds]. (23)
It is bright and shiny [it has Prakrit glosses],
  And it has a circular shape [it has merry rhythms].

The emphasis here is on the crafting of good poetry and its consumption by wise gentlemen (budhah). Like jewelry, poetry is decorative--a sophisticated enhancement of everyday life. As Warder puts it (1972-2004, vol. 5: 417), "Rajasekhara, at least, is confident that art must be an excursion for pleasure and that life should imitate this ideal." Furthermore, like jewelry and other plastic arts, the quality of the poetic text is entirely dependent upon the craftsmanship of its manufacturer, the poet (cf. Pollock 2001: 225 n. 26, citing Kavyamimamsa, pp. 45-46). The spectator is simply a passive consumer of the readerly text, while the actor's role goes entirely unmentioned.

This comparison with Rajasekhara's garbhanka sheds some light on what Ksemlsvara may have been trying to accomplish through these "writerly" moments in his plays. While he appears largely to have accepted Rajasekhara's pre-dhvani principles of textual production, in which rasavat is a poetic guna, he was perhaps also aware of Anandavardhana's idea that the connoisseur was responsible for experiencing rasa. Furthermore, we should note that Ksemlsvara generates the unpleasurable rasas in the Candakausika entirely through poetry, while in the Naisadhananda he emphasizes how acting mediates this aesthetic experience. Taken in sequence, these two plays indicate not only how the world of Sanskrit theater was grappling with the newfound poetic interest in rasa, but also how the new theoretical concept of rasa-dhvani, by then only a few decades old, would have raised new questions for dramatists. What is now the role of the actor in "writerly" rasa production? What is the relationship between a character's sthayibhava and the spectator's rasa? And, most importantly for Ksemlsvara, what is the pleasure in producing unpleasurable rasas on the Sanskrit stage?


As this study has argued, Ksemlsvara tackles the problem of unpleasurable rasas by creating a "split-image" between curiosity (kutuhala) and anxiety in their appreciation. The importance of kutuhala as an analytic concept for Ksemlsvara is further expressed at the start of the Naisadhananda's play-within-the-play. The acting troupe here disposes of the normally elaborate opening ceremonies (purvarahga) of the Sanskrit theater with one simple verse. Seeing this, King Rtuparna declares with satisfaction, "Oh very good! They've done away with that whole business of the musical arrangements (pratyahara) and so on, which just bruise the interests (kutuhala) of the audience; instead, using a benediction that praises the directions, the actors have simply summarized the opening ceremonies" (sadhu bho sadhu parisatkutuhalavimardakari pratyaharadiprapahcam apahaya digvandanam nandim prayujyamanair ayam upasamhrtaprayah purvarahgah kusilavaih) (NA ad 6.9). (24.) Clearly kutuhala is, for Ksemlsvara, a central measure of the success of theater, and deserves a closer examination so that we might arrive at some larger conclusions about the theoretical impact of this playwright's work.

The words kutuhala and kautuka are largely synonymous in Sanskrit, meaning 'curiosity', 'interest', or 'fascination' (see Amarasimha's Amarakosa 1.7.470). In the theater these terms were commonly used to indicate, as one might expect, a character's fascination with something unusual. In Kalidasa's Abhijnanasakuntalaf for example, it is kutuhala that prompts the king Dusyanta to ask for a more complete account of how Sakuntala was abandoned at birth by her true father Vis'vamitra (Sakuntala ad 1.21). In Bhavabhuti's Malatimadhava the heroine Malati is described as being "fascinated" (kutuhalini) by Madhava's beautiful garland (Malatlmadhava ad 1.32). And in Harsa's Ratnavall, when the Vidusaka notices a picture of the king and Ratnavall (drawn by Ratnavall and her friend) and cries out, "Hey, friend, luckily you've succeeded!" (bho vayasya distya vardhase), the king asks him, with curiosity (sakautukam), "What is it, my friend?" (vayasya kirn etat) (Ratnavall ad 1.8). As these examples suggest, kutuhala and kautuka do not accompany any fully developed aesthetic experience, and represent a cognitive rather than emotional reaction.

The technical usage of kutuhala as a cognitive response also finds support in the Natyasastra. In discussing the ten bodily (Iariri) indicators of a performance's success (siddhi), Bharata states that "it is by the bristling of the hairs of the body that the inner experience of kutuhala towards engrossing speech is demonstrated by a gentleman" (saviksepesu vakyesu praspanditatanuruhaih I kutuhalantaravedyam bahumanena sadhyate)" (Nalyasastra 27.12). Sanskrit dramaturgy thus did recognize kutuhala as an important ingredient in the enjoyment of theater. But while other bodily and verbal reactions were designated as proof of rasa experience--the exclamation alio, for example, was associated with srngara, adbhuta, and vira (Natyasastra 27.10)--kutuhala was not tied to any specific rasa, but instead to speech that grabs one's attention (saviksepa vakya). This is precisely the sense in which vara uses the term during Rtuparna's remarks about overlong purvarahgas. Why, then, does he also use it to describe how his model spectators react to the unpleasurable rasas?

As noted earlier, the unpleasurable rasas became a theoretical problem only after rasa was foregrounded as the ultimate goal of literary practice. As long as rasa was just one element within a more comprehensive literary experience, alongside other figurative, linguistic, and theatrical qualities, its pleasurability did not pose any particular problem--the overall effect of a poem or play could continue to be delightful even when a specific rasa was not. If, on the other hand, the very object of creating poetry and drama was to evoke an aesthetized emotion in the spectator, then it would be dangerous if this evocation were predominantly unpleasant. Furthermore, if, as Pollock suggests, a sea change in Sanskrit literary criticism took place between 850-1050, when "the notion of rasa was radically displaced from text to reader" (Pollock 2001: 198), then the success or failure of a literary work was now highly dependent on how a reader or spectator might respond to these unpleasurable rasas. Ksemlsvara's grappling with the "split-image" of curiosity and anxiety, I suggest, represents a crucial moment within this sea change.

In the end Ksemisvara's work raises questions about the unpleasurable rasas rather than offering a comprehensive solution about how they should be appreciated. We are left with a rather schizoid understanding of kutuhala as an idealized response to the unpleasurable rasas, but with the threat of genuine anxieties lurking underneath. Ksemisvara provides us with no real answers about how this bifurcation of cognitive and emotive response might be reconciled, how this "split-image" might be brought into a singular focus. This is no fault of our playwright; after all, he was not--so far as we know--a theorist. Moreover, he was writing in the shadow of Rajasekhara, and only a few years after the advent of the rasa-dhvani concept. A more complete set of answers to this problem would await the work of later, post-dhvani theorists, who, when dealing with the unpleasurable rasas, did not speak of kutuhala but rather of camatkara ('delightful surprise') as the feeling that theater or poetry ultimately should produce within the spectator. Determining how camatketra is linked to Ksemisvara's notion of kutuhala would require a detailed historical analysis that unfortunately lies beyond the scope of the present study; instead, let us simply take a cursory look at how these later critics used camatkara to answer the same aesthetic questions raised by Ksemisvara's plays

The flexibility of camatkara as a theoretical concept made it quite useful for post-dhvani aestheticians. It is probable that the term was originally an onomatopoeic expression of gastronomic delight (Raghavan 1973: 294) that later came to be used as an indication of literary success, "the dependable signal that performance works" (Shulman 2005: 60; Sriramamurti 1969: xxxiv). (25) It thus encompassed both a feeling of immediate delight and an expression of that feeling. Camatkara was a foundational part of Kuntaka's (tenth-eleventh century) theory of poetics: "alamkara is something extraordinary placed in poetry for producing a multi-colored charm (vaicitrya), which in turn gives rise to an otherworldly delight" (lok-ottaracamatkarakarivaicitryasiddhaye I kavyasyayam alahkarah ko 'py apurvo vidhlyate) (Vakroktijlvita 1.2). These mystical connotations made camatkara particularly valuable within the Pratyabhijna school of Kashmir Saivism, in which, as Dupuche suggests, it was "used in a technical sense probably for the first time by Utpaladeva, Abhinava's paramaguriT (Dupuche 2001: 5). For Abhinavagupta camatkara provided a convenient solution for the unpleasurable rasa problem, since the spectator was now expected to feel a detached, intellectual delight, regardless of the emotional value of the text. Rasa for Abhinavagupta did not constitute a true emotional event, but involved a generalized affective state (sadharanlbhava) occurring in the spectator's mind and extracted from a remembered personal experience of emotion (see Cuneo forthcoming). The resulting immersion in pleasure (bhogavesa) he declared to be camatkara--a feeling that transcended the pleasurability or unpleasurability of the specific rasa at hand. (26.) And so, even if a play should delve into the bibhatsa or karuna rasas, the resulting feeling in the reader or spectator--camatkara--would still be delightful (Kulkarni 1998: 80). (27.)

In some ways, however, Abhinavagupta's clever approach to the unpleasurable rasa problem does not fully address Ksemisvara's "split-image," since it simply disallows anxiety as a valid response to literary expression. Since any personal emotional experience is to be carefully bracketed off by the process of generalization (sadharanikarana), there can be no question of a sahrdaya's anxieties bursting out during the enjoyment of literature, as they do for Nala or Hariscandra. (28.) For a more "realist" solution we must turn instead to the Natyadarpana of the twelfth-century scholars Ramacandra and Gunacandra. These students of the Jaina polymath Hemacandra make the bold assertion that there are, in fact, two kinds of rasa: "those made of happiness and those made of sorrow" (sukhaduhkhatmako rasah) (Natyadarpana 3.7d). In the lived world of theater, audiences clearly can and do become disturbed by certain rasas. Kulkarni further clarifies their position: "To say that all rasas are pleasurable is against experience. Karuna, raudra, bibhatsa and bhayanaka--these four rasas cause indescribable pain to the sahrdayas. They simply shudder when they witness plays depicting these rasas" (1995: 283; see commentary to Ndtyadarpana 3.7). To explain how unpleasurable rasas nonetheless contribute to an overall positive effect, they propose an analogy to a bitter drink: "In the same way that the sweetness of a beverage is better enjoyed by the presence of a sharp (tiksna) taste, so too are joys better appreciated by the presence of sorrows" (panakamadhuryam iva ca tikmasvadena duhkhasvadena sutardm sukhani svadante) (commentary to Ndtyadarpana 3.7). After one swallows this wicked brew and after the bad taste goes away, the feeling that emerges is camatkdra: "Camatkdra appears when the rasa experience ends, through the ability and skill of the poet and the actors in performing the story as it is supposed to be" (yat punar ebhir api camatkdro drsyate sa rasasvadavirame sati yathavasthitavastupradarsakena kavinatasaktikausalena) (commentary to Natyadarpana 3.7). (29.)

Ramacandra and Gunacandra deal with Ksemisvara's bifurcation of curiosity and anxiety in two ways. First, camatkara emerges only after the painful rasas subside; anxiety is therefore an essential aspect of the theatrical experience. Second, their emphasis on the role of poets and actors involves a return to the older, readerly understanding of rasa production, in which the "ability and skill of the poet and actors" (kavinatasaktikausala) are foregrounded. Writing two centuries after Ksemisvara, Ramacandra and Gunacandra thus arrive at a median analytical position quite similar to that of our playwright: unpleasurable rasas are produced by poets and actors in performance, and they do, in fact, provoke real, painful emotions in the writerly spectator. The concept of camatkara, however, allowed them to resolve what Ksemisvara leaves as a split-image. No longer does the delightful, cognitive reaction (kutuhala) need to be differentiated from the painful, emotional one; these may instead be incorporated linearly into a single experience: first anxiety and then delight. Later theorists would establish their own, distinct views on camatkara and the problem of unpleasurable rasas; any further clarification of their opinions must also await a more comprehensive study. At the very least, this brief inquiry suggests how deeply the unpleasurable rasa problem engaged both theorists and composers of Sanskrit literature at the end of the first millennium.

Ksemisvara ends both plays with an identical pair of verses that reveal his professional interests: to create literature appreciated by the cogniscenti and to give his audience a thrill (harsa). "May those of good taste welcome even a single kernel of quality (guna) that we poets offer in our work" (kavibhir upahita nijaprabandhe gunakanikapy anugrhyatam giinajnaih) (CK 5.30cd; NA 7.21cd). At the same time, in praising his patron, "who asked for the production of this play," he hopes that "he now has goosebumps from its thrills" (yenadisya prayogam ghanapulakahhrta natakasyasya harsat) (CK 5.31a; NA 7.22a). When it came to unpleasurable rasas, as we have seen, this harsa was bifurcated into a split-image of cognitive curiosity and emotional anxiety. In this way Ksemisvara's plays engage with the new idea of rasa-dhvani, along with its writerly shift from poet to spectator as the agent of the aesthetic experience. It may indeed be true, as Gerow notes, that "poetics, in India as anywhere else, follows poetry" (Gerow 1971: 80), but at least in the case of Arya Ksemisvara we find a striking example of how theoretical innovations may have contoured the issues and concerns of Sanskrit literary practice at the end of the first millennium.


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(1.) For discussions on the unification of Sanskrit poetics and dramaturgy, see Tubb 1998: 58; Gerow 1977: 256; McCrea 2008: 44-45. For analyses of the novelty of Anandavardhana's dhvani concept, see McCrea 2008: 162-63; Pollock 2001: 200; Gerow 1977: 252-53. Barthes's concept of readerly vs. writerly texts grows from his study of the "Death of the Author" (1977: 252-53.

(2.) Barthes's concept of readerly vs. writerly texts grows from his study of the "Death of the Author" [1968]), in which he had first attempted to loosen the authoritative grip of the author (now simply seen as a "scriptor") on textual meaning; it would culminate in his Pleasure of the Text (1975 1973)), in which he proposed that writerly texts generate a different, more ecstatic kind of enjoyment (jouissance) than the pleasure (plaisir) of readerly texts.

(3.) Das Gupta prepared a critical edition using thirteen manuscripts of the Candakausika in 1962, while 1986 saw the publication of Warder and Kunjunni Raja's comparative edition of the two extant manuscripts of the Naisadhananda. All references to these two plays (respectively abbreviated CK and NA) will be to these editions; all translations, unless otherwise noted, are my own.

(4.) Das Gupta and Warder both discuss in detail the controversies surrounding ksemisvara's date and provenance (Das Gupta in her CK edition, p. li; Warder 1972-2004, vol. 5: 535). For further discussion of the rise of Kannauj as an early medieval imperial power, see Tripathi 1964: 255-91; Majumdar 1964: 19-43. Lucid accounts of the conflicts between Mahipala and his neighbors--especially Indra III of the Rastrakutas to the south--are found in Tripathi 1964: 259-62; Mitra 1958: 34-35; Majumdar 1964: 35-36; Warder 1972-2004, vol. 5: 534-35. Mirashi's study (1975: 21-23) of the temple name Kalapriyanatha points towards placing Bhavabhuti in Kannauj.

(5.) For analyses of Raja&khara's Kavyamimamsa, see Chattopadhyaya 1994; Dalai and Shastry in their edition of the Kavyamimamsa pp. xxxiv-xlv; Kulkarni 1993; Parashar 2000; Venkateswaran 1970; Warder 1972-2004, vol. 5: 414-16. Not only does Rajasekhara quote Anandavardhana in the Kavyamimamsa (p. 17), he applauds the Kashmiri critic in the following independent verse; "By his extremely deep dhvani, piercing the core of kavya, whose delight (ananda) has Anandavardhana not increased?" (dhvaninatigabhirena kavyatattvanivesina I anandavardhanah kasya nasid anandavardhanah) (Suktimuktavali 4.78).

(6.) Compare, for example, CK 2.18-25 and Balaramayana 3.3-7; ad 3.16. Visvamitra's portrayal in Bhavabhuti's Mahaviracarita (ad 1.10) was perhaps an influence on both.

(7.) The editors of both plays provide compelling discussions of Ksemisvara'sKsemis'vara's textual sources and influences, including Bhavabhuti (Warder and Kunjunni Raja. NA. pp. xxxvii-xl; Das Gupta. CK, pp. Ixxxxiv-lxxxxvi).

(8.) Studies by Goldman (1986: 360), Shulman (2001: 50), and Pollock (2007: 38-44) have done much to shed light upon the provocative nature of Bhavabhuti's works.

(9.) For evidence that the Candakaufika is adapted from the Markandeya (and not the Devibhagavata) Purana, see Das Gupta 1953: 266-72.

(10.) This is the only act in the play that is given a title ("Smasanacarita," or "The Account of the Cremation Grounds"), indicating both its centrality in the plot and the degree of reknown it may have achieved among later readers (Warder, 1972-2004, vol. 5: 552).

(11.) Our playwright is also cited three times by Sridharadasa (c. 1205) in his Saduktikarnamrta (CK 1.3, 3.20; NA 1.1), and once by Visvanatha (fourteenth century) in his Sahityadarpana (CK 3.30); see Das Gupta's edition of CK, p. xlv.

(12.) In a historical study of tantrism, David Gordon White has, it seems, misread this passage, stating that Hariscandra does accept the Kapalika's gift, "which he may now use to pay off his debts to the irascible sage Visvamitra" (White 1996: 305; see also White 1991: 259 n. 71). Here is Harigcandra's response to the Kapalika's offer (CK ad 4.33): "How could it be so, since they say that the life of a slave should be penniless?" (katham evam bhavisyati I yaw dhanam dasabhavam manyante). "But it is also not right to reject it, and so I accept your offer--on behalf of my Master" (svamyarthatas tu nedam pratydkhyanam arhatity anumata evayam bhavatah samkalpah). "So let this great buried treasure be granted to my Master" (tat prdpyatam svdmino nibhrtam idam nzahanidhanam).

(13.) One should note also that Harikandra suffers in Act III of the Candakausika, in which he is forced to sell his family and then himself into bondage.

(14.) thank the anonymous reviewers for this and other important observations in the revision of this essay.

How can you compare delightful lovemaking, with its gentle and sweet acts of physical pleasure, To their leering glances, blazing at one another like an apocalyptic hail of fireballs?

(15.) Sullivan has argued that scenes of death were not as forbidden on the Sanskrit stage as Indologists commonly believe. In the Candakausika aivya finds Rohitas'va's lifeless body, presumably offstage, and brings it onto the stage (though these actions are not stated in the stage directions). Later, Lord Dharma revives the boy, who slowly opens his eyes and speaks to his parents. The scene is therefore quite reminiscent of Jimutavahana's revival in Harsa's Nagananda (cf. Sullivan 2007: 430; Das Gupta in her edition of CK, pp. Ixxxii, Ixxxxv).

(16.) Jalhana was sufficiently impressed with how these verses evoke bhayanaka and bibhatsa that he included them in his Suktimuktavali (93.8, 94.8).

(17.) An identical amorous surveillance takes place between Hariscandra and his wife in Candakausika, Act I; both were surely inspired by Kalidasa's Abhijiianafakurztala (Warder and Kunjunni Raja, NA, p. xxxvii; Gerow 1990: 179).

(18.) Here, I am following the variant reading "drJodrso" (from drsah) as given by Warder and Kunjunni Raja (in their edition (157 n. 8).

(19.) Abhinavagupta perhaps approaches this idea when discussing the obstacles to rasa experience, the fifth of which is sphutatvabhava or "the lack of transparency." This, he suggests, is resolved through "acting that is furnished with conventions, styles, and modes" (abhinaya lokadharmivrttipravrttyupaskrtah). Acting, he explains, is especially suited for making literature cognizable because it is "almost like directly observed activity" (pratyakavyaparakalpam) (Abhinavabharad commentary on Bharata's Natyasastra, ad 6.31 [p. 275]; see also Cuneo 2009, vol. 2: 82).

(20.) For further discussions on the "locus" (asraya) of rasa, see Kulkarni 1998: 81-87; Tubb 1991: 188-93.

(21.) The anachronistic descriptions of the kings are clearly drawn from the poetic geography in Rajasekhara's Kavyamimamsa (see the edition of Dalai and Shastry. pp. xxvi-xxvii, 281-314; Parashar 2000, appendix 2; Pollock 2006: 200-204).

(22.) In an unpublished study of this play, McCrea (2003: 13) has analyzed the ramifications of Havana's "over-personalized involvement" through a theory of "spectation."

(23.) Here, 1 read mukta ('pearl') as a pun on muktaka ('independent verse').

(24.) Described by Bharata as "an arrangement of the musical instruments" (kutapasya tu vinyasah), the pratyahara is the first of an elaborate series of preliminary rituals, the purvaranga, that were conducted before the start of the play itself (Natyasastra 5.17ab, cf. Vis'vanatha's Sahityadarpana 5.23). Ksemisvara is perhaps alluding to Bharata's warning against overdoing the preliminaries, as "there might be fatigue among the performers and also among the spectators--and no clarity regarding rasas or bhavas arises among those who are tired" (khedo bhavet prayoktfnam preksakanam tathaiva ca I khinnanam rasabhavesu spastata nopajayate) (Natyasastra 5.159).

(25.) Mayrhofer (1956: 374) posits that camal- "might have been an exclamation of surprise" (durfte ein Ausruf des Erstaunens gewesen sein) and cites Kuiper's suggestion that it may have been a Munda loanword (Kuiper 1948: 21). limier (1964: 253, no. 4676) notes its relationship to the Prakrit camakka, the source for modern vernacular terms meaning 'glitter, startle, dazzle', etc. Alternatively, Shulman (forthcoming) links camatkara to the click of appreciation found in classical music performance.

(26.) To be precise, Abhinavagupta states that "by being no different from satisfaction, it [camatkara] is also described as an uninterrupted immersion in pleasure" (sa catrptivyatirekenavicchinno bhogavefa ity ucyate) (Abhinavabharati commentary to NavaAstra at 6.31 [p. 273]; see also Masson and Patwardhan 1969: 46; Gnoli 1968: 14, 59, who reads sa ca trptivyatirekenacchinno ...).

(27.) Ksemendra (eleventh century), in the Kavikanthabharana, would later classify this camatkara into ten distinct types, based upon its particular effect upon the reader--see Sharma 2000: 85-87, 119-20, 149-50; Raghavan 1973:294-95.

(28.) Abhinavagupta describes "being at the mercy of one's own happiness and so on" (nijasukhadivivaslbhuta) as a hindrance for the rasa experience. It may be overcome by the charm (uparanjana) produced "by things like instrumental and vocal music, fancy halls, and verbally adept courtesans" (atodyaganavicitramandapapadavidagdhagani-kadibhih) that "sustain everyone's pleasurability through the generalizing power [of theater]" (sadharanyamahimnasakalabhogyatvasahisnubhih) (Abhinavabharatl commentary to Natyasastra ad 6.31 [p. 275]; see also Gnoli 1968: 16,67).

(29.) See Warder 1972-2004, vol. 1: 38; Kulkarni 1995: 283; Nagendra 1970b: 132.


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Author:Sathaye, Adheesh
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jul 1, 2010
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