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Rasa in the classical performances of India

Anupama Hoskere

Mars 2020


Texte intégral

Exalted Aesthetic Experience in Puppet Theater

Nātya Shāstra – The text for movement and its objective

1The Nātya Shāstra (Ghosh, Nātya Shāstra, 1951) is a text of complete theater of ancient India, authored by Bharata Muni. The period of the text is not determinable but scholars are of the opinion that since there is no mention of the Epics of Rāmāyana and Mahābhārata the period may be inferred as older than the Epic period of India.

2The text gives us the theory of movement and defined ways of communication. It uses symbolism and stylization to communicate. It is used extensively even today by practising artists and scholars. It defines the fourfold approach - Chaturvidhabhinaya (Ghosh, Nātya Shāstra, 1951) to communicate with the audience. In the process it brings into light the importance of Emoting – Bhāva by the actor and its creation of an aesthetic experience –Rasa Anubhāva, with the audience. Even though the Nātya Shāstra defines different stages of rules and grammar for acting, the ultimate goal would be a presentation where none of this is visible to the audience and only the aesthetic experience is a take home. The measure of a good theatrical performance becomes the ability of the actor and the play to transmit this aesthetic experience to the audiences.

  • Aesthetic experience – Rasa Anubhāva of the audience is the intent of design of Nātya or complete Theater. Rasa roughly translates as nectar –the essence or the transferred emotional feeling to the audience.

Philosophy of the Arts in India

3According to Indian philosophy of Non-Dualism or Advaita (Hiriyanna, 1993), the manifest world of forms is supposed to be an illusion - Maya. The only reality being the attainment of bliss – Ānanda – by realization of one’s true nature. The defined purpose of Life is to find this state of Bliss or unalloyed and pure happiness. The purpose of art is also to experience and impart to the audience a glimpse of this blissful joy.

4If the material world is taken as real for a moment, the theater of the human actor is considered an illusion. But within the theater of the human actor, the actors are real and the puppet is considered to be an illusion. But in the puppet theater itself, the puppet is real and its image in the mirror would be an illusion. The design of the whole puppet play will be to take the audiences through a journey of temporal real states of performance (parallel to those experiences in a human lifetime which we consider to be Maya or an illusion - Non Dualism) during which one may experience feelings and resonate with the emotional state of the actor / puppet which is fine-tuned and bereft of ego and experience the joy of emotional communication, Rasa Anubhāva thus resulting in an elevation of the spirit. This, of course, cannot be predicted. It can happen any time during a performance or not happen at all.

Fig.1: To the puppet its mirror image is an illusion, Aabharana, ISS Bangalore, April 2012, Rabindranath Tagore’s 150-year birth anniversary, Bangalore


© Dhaatu

5The whole exercise of training of the Actor, creation of music and lyrics, costume and choreography is all done only to achieve the above-mentioned goal. Aesthetic experience –Rasānubhava is brought about in a puppet performance by creating the judicious combination of nine natural emotive response modes of the human being to worldly stimulus. These nine response modes are defined classically as - 1. Love - Shringāra, 2. Valour - Vīra, 3. Compassion - Karunā, 4. Humour - Hāsya, 5. Fright - Bhayānaka, 6. Disgust - Bhībhatsa, 7. Astonishment - Adbhuta, 8. Anger - Roudra, and, 9. Peace - Shānta.

6In the puppet theater, the exalted aesthetic experience is achieved by appropriately modulating the four elements of the theatrical expression, which is defined by the Nātya Shāstra as Chaturvidhābhinaya – four aspects of expression.

Chaturvidhābhinaya in Puppetry (Hoskere, 2013)

7Chaturvidhābhinaya essentially delineates the differentiated roles of the four essential elements of the play in bringing the audiences close to the actor, and talks about an integrating approach that allows the body, mind, senses and the intellect to fall back into their own natural place within the wholesome human experience that results in an elevation of the spirit. The four aspects are

1. Āngika – communication by physical actions is the movement of the major limbs of the human body like arms, legs, waist, hips, head, which indicate actions, to bring to the fore the appropriate moods. This is supported by the movement of the minor limbs like the eyes, eyebrows and neck. Symbolic gestures of the hands - Hastas are also used.

The puppet body is crafted with stringing and play techniques designed to facilitate the above movements as the characters demand.

2. Vāchika – communication by verbal means

This refers to all forms of sounds used in the performance - The music, the instruments, the lyrics, tunes and structures and rhythmic patterns. Since puppets are incapable of expressions, background sound track becomes a major player in emoting.

3. Āharya – Embellishment of Appearance

This refers to the colouring, costume and jewellery, stage props, backdrops and other equipment like lighting and stage design – it forms the palette of choice for an artist to splash on her creative canvas. Indian puppetry gives due importance to these as these embellishments are designed to enhance the movement of the limbs and amplify the motion to enable it to effectively reach the audience.

4. Sāttvika – Emotional content.

While the above three categories, communication by physical actions, communication by verbal means and decorative processes in a puppet play contribute to the success of the theatre, it is the talent and control of the puppeteer in playing the puppet that results in transmitting the emotional content, leading to an exalted aesthetic experience of the audience – Rasa anubhāva. The palpable experience of Rasa amongst the audience is what makes a performance truly successful.

8How does puppet get the “Feeling to portray”?

  • The creator (puppet maker) gives certain embellishments to the puppet which conveys the nature of the character and the main emotion through a fixed facial expression.

  • The dramatic elements are given by music. The soul or what touches the audience in a performance is transferred to the puppet through the player.

9Initially when I started performing marionettes, I was sceptical about the exalted feeling a puppeteer could experience. It is common knowledge amongst classical solo dance performers that one can reach ecstatic moments even if for a split second, during performances. But the puppet is external to the puppeteer. How can the puppeteer experience heightened moments while the performing actor is the puppet?

10In the year 2010, when I was performing for a large audience of three thousand people near the town of Dharwad, in the state of Karnataka, the dance of a puppet, I felt unity with what I was playing, I disappeared into the puppet. Here, for the first time I realized that I had reached an elevated state of bliss, playing a puppet character. Tears of joy were rolling down my cheeks. Of course, this emotion, Bhāva had been transferred to the puppet and created the Rasānubhāva, a felt appreciation of a depth of human experience. It was 10 p.m. at night when we finished the performance. When we came out for the curtain call, our audiences were cheering us in large numbers asking for another show. We did give them another show the next day. The grammar of the Chaturvidhābhinaya, the fourfold path of communication, when followed with care and involvement, disappears and gives way only to the exalted experience of the audience through the aesthetics of fine theater.

Puppet has no ego

11It is easier for the actor to disappear and character to communicate in puppetry. Here happiness which is caused by an elevated experience is not to be confused with love or a happy ending, even though it may be a coincidental event. The aim is presentation of emotions in its purest form, devoid of ego, with fine-tuning to create awe in the audience.

12What is called as the exalted aesthetic experience of the audience or Rasa Anubhāva comes when the circumstances are portrayed, emoted and created in a judicious mix of natural intensities by the master artist.

  • The intensity of experience rises as this becomes separated from self or ego. What would be a human emotion normally, when filtered and has the ego removed and is portrayed becomes an exalted aesthetic experience, Rasānubhāva.

Fig.2: Krishna and Rukmini in Rajasuya Yaga. Dhaatu Navaratra Mahotsava 2010


© Dhaatu

Role of Shānta Rasa in the classical performances of India

13Shānta means a state of equanimity or a state of no emotion. How can this then be significant in achieving the transfer of emotions between the actor and the audience? Abhinava Gupta has mentioned this as the ninth Rasa while Bharata Muni mentions only eight. Bharata Muni implicitly through the pages on Rasa makes us understand that each of the eight Rasas or their combinations have to emerge from a state of Shānta, to yield a Rasanubhāva to the audience.

14In order to understand this, one has to go through certain principles, practices and theories commonly understood and followed in the Indian subcontinent.

152.1. आकाशात् पतितम् तॊयम्

यथा गच्छति सागरम् I

सर्व दॆव नमस्कारः

कॆशवम् प्रतिगच्छतिII

16This is a traditional Shloka or verse in Sanskrit which says, just as all the waters which fall from the sky join the ocean, so also all prayers offered go back to that Cosmic Energy which is the culmination of birth, sustenance and death.

172.2. Becoming one with Universe, to experience Ananda or Bliss, to be removed from Time – Space Co-ordinates is Rasa Swādhana.

182.3. Occurrence of the experience of Ānanda - when, where and how does it happen? How is it transmitted to the audience is a very important question. If the answer to this is known, the success rate of a performance will rise. The goal of design will be met.

192.4. Sādharaṇīkaraņa - literally means merging without identity, Universalisation of actions and emotions.

20Let us examine the following points:

21a. Even though the actor may have got the idea for the emoting process from the living world, it is important to lose the context from which it came and concentrate only on the emotion in its purest form. Only when this is achieved, the actor can be a detached observer of the self and yet be involved completely. The’ I ‘disappear and ‘it is’ takes over.

22Only when the actor / performer is able to render the Bhāvas (feelings) following this principle of universalization (Sādharaṇīkaraṇa) are the audience able to enjoy and relish this pure form of the Rasa. We will deliberate on this point a little later.

23b. When the performer is free from bonds and limitations of reality and when the Bhāvas are working to retell a story (and not reconstruct it) with the judicious combination of the variety of the Bhāvas which leads to the experience of the story, then there is universalization (Sādharaṇīkaraņa). The simplest example of this (quoting Shatavadhani Dr. R. Ganesh) is, most popular characters of theatre in India, are avataras or Vishnu, the God of sustenance – Rāma and Krishna. Nobody has seen them. Living actors may not even be remotely close to their appearance in form. It does not matter. What matters is to transmit a feeling that the character would have invoked in the audience and do successful storytelling.

24Here, it is very important to understand the brilliance of symbolism and surrealism of the Indian Theater Design. The Hastas or symbolic hand gestures and Āharya, the attributes given to the character which in turn define the scope of the character, make the audience understand whom it is right at the outset. Time is not wasted explaining in detail the known. Hence it is also smart in the Indian context to invest in characters which are popular with the people. The time spent in the theater now is to take the audience on a journey away from the mundane.

25There is an incident of a student of Bharatanatyam who had learnt dance in the United States of America and did a piece on Rāma in Bengaluru, my home town. Her dance grammar was excellent. At the end of the performance, somebody asked her “nice, but why have you kept your mouth so tightly closed all through the performance and never smiled”. The student answered, “Well, I read that Rāma was a man of few words and very silent.” The artist, trying to portray realism lost the larger picture.

26The theory of Sādharaṇīkaraņa uses mind over matter. Realism is an inhibitor like material while emotional representation has the freedom and speed of communication like the mind.

272.5. Nātya Shāstra says:

28शृङ्गार हास्य करुणा रौद्र वीर भयानकाः भीभत्स अद्भुत संङौ चेत्यष्टौ नाट्ये रसाः स्मृताः (Ghosh, Nātya Shāstra, 1951). According to Bharata Muni, a judicious combination of the eight Rasas:Love, Laughter, compassion, anger, valour, fear, disgust and astonishment, should yield a successful performance. As a rule of thumb, he tells us how to create these rasas.

292.6. Nātya Shāstra says:

30विभानुभावव्यभिचारिसंयोगाद् रसनिश्पत्तिः

31The Rasa is created by the combination of Vibhāva (determinant), Anubhāva (consequent) and Vyabhichāri Bhāvas (Transition) states.

322.7. Nātya Shāstra says:

33.विभानुभवव्यभिचरि परिवृतः स्थायीभावोरसनाम् लभते

34Also, only the sthāyi Bhāva (durable psychological state) accompanied by the transitory states gets the name Rasa.

35Ok. If then the eight rasas created are truly complete, by the above explanations of the Nātya Shāstra, then where is the role of Shānta Rasa? Let us examine the process from the spectator point of view.

362.8. Spectator Point of View

37From the spectator point of view, enjoyment can be at

  • Physical state (ādhi-bhoutika)

  • Mental state (ādhi-daivika)

  • Spiritual state (ādhi-ātmaka)

38A complete experience of Rasa is possible only when the performance is enjoyable at all three levels.

39Having understood the above, let us go through the analytical journey of the performance presented.

40Enjoyment of the Performance

41As you will see in the performance being presented, the physical and mental states of enjoyment are enabled through the expertise in theatrical design leading to Rasa niṣpattiḥ, as told by Bharatamuni using a judicious combination of temporary and durable Psychological states.

42Spiritual state (ādhi-ātmaka)

43How does the actor translate or transmit this dimension to the audience?

44The basis of ādhi-ātmaka is universal truth.

Fig.3: Infographic- 1 PC Anupama Hoskere

© Dhaatu

45Referring back to the first shloka about all rain going back to the ocean.

46Step 1 – The emotions of all the people of the world falls in our atmosphere similar to the rains.

47Step 2 – Just as the rivers gushing with water join the ocean, these rivers of emotions of the world flow and join the ocean of Art, the world of performing arts.

48Step 3 – Just as the river water loses its individual identity in the ocean, so also the emotions of the world when they enter the Ocean of the world of performing Arts, lose their individual identity, leading to Sādharaṇīkaraņa or Universalization.

49Step 4 – Just as the Sun becomes the source by the heat of which the ocean waters reach a boiling temperature and evaporate into the atmosphere, so also the Truth or honesty of performance in the actor / performer which is a by-product of cultural aesthetics, mastery over the arts by practice and perseverance, a deep understanding of the Art becomes the catalyst to create the state of equanimity or Shānta Rasa, which is equivalent of the 100 degrees required by water to evaporate. When Bhāva emerging is from Shānta, the Rasa sublimes.

50The honesty of emoting the bhāva will come to the performer only with the total knowledge and understanding of the culture, subject matter as well as expertise in the performance.

51Any bhāva which, when presented, emerges from this plane of truth, is essentially emerging from a state of complete knowledge. This state of knowledge which encompasses all of the bhāvas is the sthāyi for the Shānta Rasa. Hence Shānta Rasa becomes the most important of all to achieve during a performance.

52Step 5 – Just as all water which evaporates does not become cloud, just us even today we can never predict when and where clouds will be formed, the Rasa becomes an Anubhāva, experience only to those in the audience who are receptive.

53This can be assimilated by the connoisseur provided they are honest in experiencing the performance without prejudices and are primed to appreciate the nuances of the performance.

54When that level of performance is reached, Bhāva sublimes into Rasa. It creates joy in the audience which reflects the inner self or the true self (atma) of the human being and emanates all around.

55This is what I would like my audiences to take home – the joy of their own true selves.

56Step 6 – Just as the clouds formed yield rain back into the cycle, the Rasa received by the receptive audience showers upon this world as Ānanda or Bliss and thereby the cycle of Art continues.

The performance

57Slaying of demoness Pūtana

58Pūtana has been ordered by King Kamsa to kill baby Krishna. Pūtana, anoints her breasts with poison and intends to kill baby Krishna by nursing him with this poison.

59Universalization (Sādharaṇīkaraṇa) is brought about by bhāvānukīrtanam by retelling the emotional states of the character Pūtana and portraying the emotions (Bhāva) of baby Krishna.

60The abhinaya (enacting) portrays Pūtana entering the village of Nandagokula where Krishna is. In retelling the story, let us examine the different Emotions or Bhāvas.

61What is the durable psychological state (sthāyībhāvaḥ)? It is reverence or Bhakti which is an add-on to the nine we have already discussed.

62The durable psychological state of Bhakti is assisted by the ‘attendants’ of fleeting and moving emotions which include the Determinants (Vibhāva).

63The assisting sanchāri bhāvas here would be (in the order of appearance):

1. Disgust (jugupsā)

2. Mirth (hāsya)

3. Love (Rati)

4. Marvel (Vismaya)

5. Motherly love (Vātsalya)

6. Ferocity (Krodha)

7. Fear (Bhaya)

8. Heroic sentiment (Utsaha)

64As Pūtana enters the village, she realizes that she looks grotesque and changes her form into that of a beautiful, enticing woman. Here we have the following:


66Vibhāva being her form and Uddīpana vibhāva also being the other good-looking women of the town lead to establishing the sancharibhāva of jugupsā (emotion of disgust) creating the Rasa of bhībhatsa. In this context, the bhībhatsa Rasa is actually the fleeting emotion which aids in bringing out Hāsya or mirth, another sanchārībhāva.

67Hāsya and Rati

68What else does she do? She decides to change her form from grotesque to beautiful (because she has powers to change her form). Here ṣṛngāra Rasa is glimpsed where the beauty of the town is described. Pūtana now in admiration of her own beautiful form walks with a charming gait in an enticing manner. The Rati Bhāva (love emotion) of the ṣṛngāra Rasa is here supporting the Hāsya Rasa.

69Vismaya and Vātsalya

70Pūtana enters the chambers and is awe struck by the beauty of the baby. Here the adbhuta Rasa (emotion of awe and wonderment) she experiences is only enhancing the durable psychological state (sthāyībhāvaḥ) of Bhakti. Further we see a delineation of Bhakti- vātsalya, motherly love. This again is supporting the main sentiment.

Fig.4: Divya Hoskere, MNNAG Paris 29.11.2016


© FrancoisJolly

71Krodha, Bhaya & Utsāha

72Pūtana now reminds herself of the primary cause of her visit. Her action is brought about by the Determinant (Vibhāva) fear of offending Kamsa. She shakes off all her feeling of motherly love and picks up the baby portraying the sentiment of ferocity (Krodha).

Fig.5: Divya Hoskere, MNNAG Paris 29.11.2016


© FrancoisJolly

73This though creates a fleeting feeling of fear (bhaya) in the audience for the baby, the bhāvānukeertana (re-enacting of emotions associated) flips this to the heroic act of the baby creating the Heroic Sentiment (Utsāha). Which ends with surrendering to the sthāyībhāvaḥ of Bhakti.


75We are able to enjoy Rasas of Roudra, Bhībhatsa, Bhayānaka and appreciate them, as, they come bereft of ego. For this to happen, the source of all and also the sink has to be truth. The Bhāva and Rasa of this are Shānta. Shānta is that catalyst which is not visible but is omnipresent only for the actor to grow to experience it.

Fig.6: Divya Hoskere, MNNAG Paris 29.11.2016


© FrancoisJolly

76ऒँ शान्ति शान्ति शान्तिः

Gajendra Moksha : a performance at The National Museum of Asian Arts-Guimet, Paris

77The sculpture chosen in the Museum and the construction of the puppets in Bangalore

Fig.7 Vishnu Garudasana, MNAAG, 3011.2016


© Labex Arts-H2H

Fig.8 Vishnu Garudasana, puppets made by Anupama Hoskere, Dhaatu, MNAAG, 3011.2016


© Labex ArtH2H/F.Jolly

78A choice of sculptures was given to me to choose from. Since Shānta is the chosen Rasa, and I have a personal fondness to Lord Vishnu with Garuda being my Native Deity, it is but natural that I chose Garudavahana. The Chatura bahu of Vishnu ( four arms) and his attributes / symbols in the four arms, Shanka ( conch), Chakra ( Disc), Gadha ( mace) and Padma which are missing in the sculpture have been brought into the puppet.

79The story staged

80The story is an adaptation of that in the Bhāgavata of Veda Vyasa.

81The story is symbolic. The elephant represents the person blinded by the ego of form, wealth, strength and popularity and the kind, who gets caught in this world which is like the crocodile.

82The more we struggle the deeper we are caught. Surrender to the cosmic energy of Narayana, frees us from these bindings, just as the Disc of Vishnu frees Gajendra elephant from the grip og the jaw of the crocodile in the story.

83Indradhumna, the king of Southern India and an ardent devotee of Vishnu is cursed to be born as an elephant, Gajendra. The elephant does not remember his previous birth. The elephant is magnificent and is the leader in his herd. Everyday all the elephants go to the lake nearby and have a grand dip in the waters, sport around and return after savouring all the bamboo and green around. No creature can surpass or oppose this Elephant leader Gajendra who stands majestically in his surroundings.

84One day while sporting in the waters, Gajendra’s feet are caught by a crocodile. The more he tries to get away the harder is the grip of the crocodile. Gajendra trumpets in pain, but nobody can do anything. One by one all the elephants abandon him. There is no friend left.

85Gajendra is losing all his strength. He suddenly sees a lotus flower in the lake. This brings back his memory of his previous birth. Gajendra is full of remorse for the times he has spent filled with ego and worldly pleasures. In his last attempt to make amends, Gajendra thinks to Maha Vishnu. He picks up the lotus in his trunk, holds it up high and offers it to Lord Vishnu asking for his forgiveness.

86Lord Vishnu who always protects his devotees, appears on Garuda with his conch and Sudarshana Chakra. He set the Sudarshana Chakra at the Crocodile and rescues Gajendra.

87The preparation of the puppets in the MNAAG (Paris) Museum

Fig.9: Divya Hoskere testing the head of the crocodile, MNAAG, 30 November 2016


© Labex Arts-H2H/François Jolly

Fig.10: Vishnu-alighting on Garuda. Anupama Hoskere MNAAG, 30 novembre 2016


© Labex Arts-H2H/François Jolly

88The puppets were designed to transport and had to be assembled before they were ready to perform. The crocodile is a special string puppet of India. When the chakra strikes the head, the head gets severed and falls off. The picture depicts the player checking on this feature of the puppet.

89The second puppet of Vishnu is being made ready to alight on Garuda.

90The performance with the visitors

91Gajendra & Crocodile in dance by Divya Hoskere.

92Vishnu on Garuda played by Anupama Hoskere.

93Amidst the sculptures of Asian deities of the 11th and 12th centuries, the sculpture of Maha Vishnu on Garuda was brought alive by the puppet performance of Gajendra Moksa. The performance began with a benedictory verse for the Guru recited by Anupama Hoskere followed by the benedictory verse in praise of Lord Vishnu which gave the gist of the story and was emoted through dance by Divya Hoskere. The scene of the frolicking elephant – Gajendra was depicted through dance by Divya Hoskere. This was continued by the elephant puppet whose feet got stuck in the powerful jaws of the crocodile. Lord Vishnu on Garuda emerged from behind the sculpture of Vishnu and the Chakra succeeded in slaying the crocodile. Performance ended with a mangala shloka.

Fig.11: Story of the crocodile and the elephant, Anupama and Divya Hoskere MNAAG, 2016


© Labex Arts-H2H/François Jolly

Fig.12, 13: Story of the crocodile and the elephant, Anupama and Divya Hoskere MNAAG, 2016



© Labex Arts-H2H/Pierre Jolly


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Pour citer cet article

Anupama Hoskere, « Rasa in the classical performances of India », L'ethnographie, 2 | 2020, mis en ligne le 20 mars 2020, consulté le 18 juin 2024. URL :

Anupama Hoskere

Director, Dhaatu Puppet Theater, Bangalore, Inde