Western Indology on Rasa: A Pūrvapakṣa

Volume Editorial

artho’sti cen, na pada-śuddhir, athāsti sāpi
no rītir asti, yadi sā ghaṭanā kutastyā?, |
sāpy asti cen, na nava-vakra-gatis, tad etad
vyarthaṁ vinā rasam – aho gahanaṁ kavitvam! ||”

“A poem may have a good idea (artha), but the words therein may not be grammatically sound (pada-śuddhi). It may have even this, but it may lack style (rīti). Given even this, the work may not have a proper organisation of its contents (ghaṭanā). Assuming even that, it may not be equipped with new tropes (vakra-gati). Should that be there too, it would still be a waste if the poem is devoid of rasa. Oh, how deep the art of poetry is!”

As has been indicated in the Series Editorial, and in the Volume Editorials of the earlier volumes, Western Indology has steadily endeavoured for two centuries (and with a great deal of success) to take full control of Indic studies. Alaṅkāra-śāstra (the discipline in Sanskrit that studies the very concept of literature in its origins as well as effects) has been flourishing in India easily for over two thousand years, and the Rasa Theory propounded by this śāstra, with greater and greater ramifications and clarifications through centuries, has much to contribute towards many issues in modern psychology and poetics. The fanatic votaries of Euro-centrism would of course continue either to trace everything good or great to Greece, or proclaim that these have little relevance to the present day, after all.

Prof. Sheldon Pollock has thus sought to show that the Theory of Rasa has lost its utility and is of no importance or relevance to the current complex developments in the fields of psychology/rhetorics. This volume, with contributions from over half a dozen authors, is devoted to show that his contentions have no real foundation in facts.

A synoptic view of the various papers in the volume is quite in order here.

The paper by Naresh Cuntoor (Ch.1) entitled Rasa Theory: Changes and Growth explores the history of the Theory of Rasa which has been studied for ages under the formalisms of Mīmāṁsā, Vedānta, and Bhakti traditions. The different formalisms sensitise us to different aspects of the theory. Pollock’s perspectives on Rasa Theory are first provided, followed by an outline of related studies in cognitive and computational linguistics. Pollock’s perception of the evolution of the Rasa Theory is based on the differentiation of literature seen and literature heard, and the application of the Theory, pertinent to the
former, to the latter.

Even though Cuntoor remarks that “the final blow” to the existing notions of rasa expression, spoken of by Pollock as a valuable insight, it must be noted that T.N. Sreekantaiyya* (1953) has already stated this in more than one place in his immortal work (Sreekantaiyya 1953:23, 24ff, 34, 321). One may indeed make a comparative study of T. N. Sreekantaiyya (1953) and Pollock (2016). Again, Pollock’s statement that “Śrī Śaṅkuka was the first to argue from the spectator’s point of view” is also a point noted by Sreekantaiyya (1953), who notes the issue as “the most important question”. Further the key significance of Citra-turaga-nyāya as applicable to art in general itself was also noted by Sreekantaiyya (1953), (with a further note in the footnote that this is what shows the relationship between God’s creation and the artist’s creation) though Pollock is not keen to credit him with the idea. Cuntoor remarks that such an application across art disciplines is more striking than application across two forms of literature such as drama and poetry.

*Sreekantaiyya, T.N. (1953). Bhāratīya Kāvya Mīmāṁse. Mysore: Mysore University.

While discussing Bhaṭṭa Nāyaka, Pollock does not mention, Cuntoor notes, the Mīmāṁsā framework used in grammar by Bhaṭṭoji Dīkṣita. Pollock’s accusation – that Abhinavagupta is an ungrateful disciple of Bhaṭṭa Nāyaka – is quite unfair; for, Abhinavagupta has clearly
stated that he has “seldom attacked the schools of thought of the noble [scholars that preceded him], but on the other hand, they, the schools, have only been refined (śodhita).” “tasmāt satām atra na dūṣitāni / matāni tāny eva tu śodhitāni”.

Cuntoor is careful not to “infer modern scientific notions from ancient knowledge, or assert that ancient Indians discovered everything before modern science”, which is only proper and fair. His motivation is to see if we can “gain new insights into Rasa Theory using the perspectives of the modern notions of cognitive and computational models”. Cuntoor raises the question, for example, as to whether the framework of multiple memory systems can be used to gain a better understanding of the types of bhāva-s. Also to be investigated is –  whether Rasa Theory could provide new principles of perceptual organisation in the context of experiencing literature; whether the study of mirror neurons — in the context of imitation, self-identity and empathy — can have a bearing on ideas pertaining to Karuṇarasa. Pollock’s unnatural contentions – of the unnaturalness of pity in man, and of his supposition of compassion as a Buddhist invention – need also be be scrutinised. Computational aesthetics, dealing with sentiment analysis and emotion recognition, can also be tried for recognising rasa in literature. The technique of reductionism may perhaps be tested to its limits in Rasa Theory, in particular. Cuntoor also refers to the absence of a detailed discussion in Pollock on aucitya, which constitutes, as Ānandavardhana says, the parā upaniṣad (supreme secret) of rasa.

The second paper written by Ashay Naik (Ch. 2) is entitled Desacralization of the Indian Rasa Tradition. Profanation verily may well be described as the singular agenda of Pollock, and he is accordingly on a fissiparous overdrive. Tradition linked rasa, the poetic relish, with the Upaniṣadic rasa; and presented kāvya as but an allotrope of the Veda inasmuch as kāvya being a kāntā-sammita (à la a beloved) is kindred in spirit to the Veda which is a prabhu-sammita (à la a king) – both thus seeking to subserve certain common purposes though their modus operandi may differ. But Pollock is frantic to drive a wedge between the Veda and the kāvya. Bitten as he is by the reductivity bug, Pollock can perceive kāvya only as a socio-political aesthetic, divested of its religio-spiritual dimensions – thus the very antithesis of the Hindu ethos. And so this “Last Sanskrit Pandit” (as his hagiographers hail him) aims his arrows against Abhinavagupta, attempting to sabotage his status in the realm of Indian aesthetics. It is not Pollock’s failure that arouses our pity, but his audacity. Pitting Bhoja or Bhaṭṭa Nāyaka against Abhinavagupta betrays Pollock as a strategist, but also ultimately betrays Pollock himself. Praśasti-s of his own patrons notwithstanding, Pollock dutifully if brazenly attacks the praśasti-writers. Desacralising Rasa Theory thus on the one hand, and
pressing Indian aesthetics to subserve Christian propaganda on the other, are but two sides of the same coin.

Speaking of Veda-s as no poetry; portrayal of the Rāmāyaṇa as essentially political in character; attempting a dichotomy between the Veda and the kāvya; undermining the orality of the Rāmāyaṇa so as to suit a late dating of the text; postulating a consubstantiality of the kāvya and the praśasti; subtle sabotage of his own master Ingalls’s admonition to the Western critics of Eastern poetry; valorising Bhoja and Bhaṭṭa Nāyaka at the cost of Abhinavagupta; reading ideas of social pragmatics into the most innocent of situations; concoction of a “theological turn” in literary theory; projecting discrepancies, with and breaches in, the tradition; positing the aim of kāvya as the creation of “politically correct subjects and subjectivities”; attributing the genesis of a “spiritualised Indian aesthetic” to royal depradations and kindred social contexts; speaking melodramatically of ”an episteme
that Abhinava successfully overthrew”; effectively tweaking truths subtly and ably, distorting meaning thereby localising rasa in the text, rather than in the reader; implying that Western intervention is necessary to rewrite a true history of Indian aesthetics; preferring to speak of rasa as a linguistic modality, rather than a psychological modality; valorising a sociological hermeneutics so as to render it amenable to Marxist pigeonholing and reinterpretation etc — are all but ploys of Pollock — assayed by Ashay — to usher in his own brand of Orientalism. Ashay also makes a reference to the sinister Christianisation of Bharatanāṭyam and Indian aesthetics — aimed at spreading the gospel of Jesus on the Indian soil where they need to
harvest Hindu souls while the religion of the cross is being supplanted in the land of its own origin.

The long paper of K Gopinath (Ch. 3) having the caption Towards a Computational Theory of Rasa, takes on squarely the contention of Pollock – that Indian thinkers have neither attempted a robust theory for creativity, nor did they have a theory across kalā-s. Gopinath sketches a computationally inspired Theory of Rasa (which, he notes, is still in progress) throwing light on Indic insights in support of the theory, and buttressed by a few art forms. Pollock also complains about the absence of a settled terminology pertaining to kāvya, nāṭya and saṅgīta, as also citra, pusta and architecture, and the other kalā-s. Gopinath shows at the outset that the rendering of the word pratibhā as creativity or genius is poor, and “flash of insight” would indeed be a better one, citing verses in support from Vākyapadīya; (the same is also demonstrated in the 1923 paper (on the very key word) of (another Gopinath viz.) Late Gopinath Kaviraj).

Prof. Gopinath adds Abhinavagupta’s statement also to that effect. Gopinath adduces the testimonies of Mukund Lath, Kapila Vatsyayan, Dr. V Raghavan, Manomohan Ghosh and Sylvan Levi to show the common origin or common essence, or common terminology that encompasses these. The testimonies of Viṣṇu Dharmottara Purāṇa and Mallinātha (the famed commentator) are also brought to bear on these issues. The academic temerity of Pollock in boldly making false statements — as when he says God in India was generally not an artist – is countered by the mention of the musical associations of the divinities viz. Kṛṣṇa, Sarasvatī, Nārada, Hanumān and so on. (Saṅgīta-ratnākara has even categorical statements, in the very opening chapter, not noticed by Pollock; the most superficial glance at either Hindu sculpture or pages of Hindu mythology could have opened the purblind eyes of this Neo-oriental critic). After all, Pollock has himself translated the Rāmāyaṇa, and asserted Rāma’s divinity, and yet fails to note that Rāma knew music too very well: surprising; or rather, nothing so surprising.

Coming to the written text versus the oral text argument, the obsession of the West with the former, and its futility, are set forth by Gopinath by invoking the statements of stalwarts such as Vasudha Narayanan, Coward, Kunjunni Raja and others. 

An important factor, viz. the “intangibility” of rasa, as reflected, for example, in the very nomenclature of a particular type of dhvani as asaṁlakṣya-krama (“of imperceptible sequence”) is missed by Pollock. Gopinath hits the nail on the head when he indicates the essential complexity involved in the signification of rasa: rasa can be seen abstractly as a certain mapping of a text, performance or artefact, from a creator/actor, through a medium onto a receiver; and the factor of semantics involved in addition to the affective part of rasa itself needs to be reckoned with, too. He draws an effective analogy from science — of the protein folding which is a complex function of a linear DNA structure, whence the message may be a complex function of the linear atomic units, but possibly without a deterministic mapping. To draw a parallel from another domain of art, the svara to rasa mapping is non-trivial and may be probabilistic too. The svara arrangements and shapes are huge — like the innumerable proteins; and it may not be impossible to construct a finite automaton to characterise rāga-s. Though their ascending and descending scales are defined, there yet are factors that spell probabilistic conditions and subjective characterisations. One may look into Hidden Markov Models — with possibilities of hybridisation and crossover and transpositions — that can show the burgeoning possibilities. It is no coincidence that the temporo-parietal junction, the location of self-referential activity in the brain, is also the region involved in musical experience. It is certainly not the case that the neuro-correlates in such instances have all been worked out yet.

Pollock’s claims of noncommonality across departments of arts are not well-substantiated; and substantiations to the contrary are available even if not very extensive and very detailed. Gopinath provides textual support, as from Citrasūtra, as to how there is an inextricable relationship between and amongst the different disciplines such as sculpture, painting, dance, and music — (instrumental as well as vocal on the one hand, and classical and popular on the other). Stella Kramrisch records also mappings between rasa-s and colours; and speaks of the common basis of architecture, sculpture and painting. Analogies obtain even in the philosophical ramifications across fields like Vyākaraṇa, Alaṅkāraśāstra and the Pratyabhijñā schools. All texts on nāṭya discuss the mind-body coordination and correlation. The traditional analogy of the seed and the tree with its flowers and fruits – indicates the relationship between the various limbs of dance. The multiplicity of inputs generates a richly textured and emotionally resonant experience which is larger than the sum of its parts, as Logan Beitmen elaborates. The intimate relation between rasa-s, sthāyi-bhāva-s and sañcāri-bhāva-s on the one hand; and the physical expression of emotions on the other – are worth noting. The objectivity in the taxonomy of the various rasa-s is borne out by the fact that they find corroboration from a totally unconnected domain viz. modern psychology which too has identified the same set as the basic emotions. 

A computational cum cognitive analysis of rasa would involve the generative and recognitive aspects. The creator and the spectator have their tasks allocated to the design time and run-time respectively – the former involving the computationally, and the latter the cognitively, structured models (even though both normally happen unconsciously). If the cognitive and computational models are fairly well-developed, Pollock’s charges can be shown to be laden with negative biases, despite his exhibition of erudition and advertised appreciation of a few aspects of Indic arts here and there.

The Indic tradition has always evinced a clear distinction between an actual emotion, and a same emotion experienced via nāṭya. Any system built on a finite set of rules necessarily involves iteration and recursion — alike applicable to microscopic and macroscopic entities. The model of the Indra’s Net employed by the Atharvan seer (or the later Buddhist sage) – as set forth in Rajiv Malhotra’s book bearing the same title – is a telling case in point. The very acts of recursion and reiteration after a quantitative threshold, impart upon the structure an unexpectable and inexplicable qualitative leap of sensation and perception.

Simulation of real emotions and iteration of particular patterns induce the dominant rasa and the subordinate rasa – mediated and spurred as they also are by memory traces and dhvani excitations that get richer and richer – and go in fine to trigger even affective impulses. Sādhāraṇīkaraṇa, the Generalization, that then takes effect subtly removes the self-interest of the spectator, which removal alone activates the rasa-spring. Patterns of iteration and recursion generate anticipation of substructures, and thereby conduce to greater enjoyment. While on the one hand the artist of each kind is expected to acquaint himself well with many other departments of art, he also has the choice to generate new patterns on the nonce
(a not-easily-imagined blend of abundant constraints with yet more abundant freedom) – little to compare with the rigidity of Western Classical Music.

The art of the stage involves triple levels — the Third Person experience (of the viewer), the Second Person enactment (by the actor), and the First Person thought (by the author — and hence the schema here ought to be much more complex than what Pāṇini attempted which involves only double levels — the speaker’s and the hearer’s). The actor and the spectator each loses his identity but in different ways. Given the complexities involved, mathematical modelling involving axiomatics may not constitute an apposite approach, and a computational model may be nearer to the real issues. Such a model may involve generative aspects and descriptive aspects, and a particular sensitivity to Indic sensibilities. The Indic perspective looks even into ontogenic aspects (as with the Piṇḍotpatti Prakaraṇa in Saṅgīta Ratnākara involving embryological studies), or the sandhi aspects in Pāṇini (involving the anatomical structures of the sound-producing organs), and the great leap from the “atomic” svara-s to a rāga endowed with a “personality” of its own. An element of synaesthesis involves in the correlation of rasa-s and colours. Apart from sthāyi-bhāva-s and rasa-s, each eight in Nāṭyaśāstra with one-to-one mappings, there are eight sāttvika-bhāva-s and 33 sañcāri-bhāva-s with many-to-many mappings in between. Indian art revels in the profusion of the interplay of vyañjanā-s, rather than in the reductive, fixed-and-formed entities. None, else than Hindus, excelled in extreme digitisation, as also in extreme integration, (but note on the other hand that mindless proliferation of terminology is an illness that besets modern linguistics, as Dwight Bolinger once noted). The magnificent juxtaposition of linguistics and music on a phenomenological basis was provided by Māgha long ago (anantā vāṅmayasyāho geyasyeva vicitratā!Śiśupālavadha 2.72).

Scientists are open to the suggestion that there is a connection between the brain’s biomolecular processes and the basic structure of the universe. The primacy of the sentence (in grammar) though it is constituted of its own components of diverse patterns, and the primacy of rasa (in Sāhityaśāstra) though it issues out of certain combinations of its various constituent factors — in other words of the integrality of the higher despite apparent decomposability into numerous intermediary/terminal nodes — is an extraordinary contribution of the Hindu mind. The top-down and bottom-up approaches have been looked into, and their optimisations have also been worked out — as in the two schools of Mīmāṁsā — in contexts as of Anvitābhidhāna-vāda and Abhihitānvaya-vāda.

In a given passage, there may be no element (noun or verb, adjective or adverb, or even a particle) that may not be suggestive; and even so, in a performance there may be no element (word or song, mudrā or aspect of dress etc.) that may not conduce to a particular rasa. The 
gestalt of sense first generated by the components and subcomponents (words/phrases/clauses) of items in a sentence, and the gestalt of dhvani produced by the senses of the three types of meaning (viz. abhidhā, lakṣaṇā, and vyañjanā), are presumably analogous.

Rhythms and mathematical regularities occurring in performances in sounds/metrics/gestures etc. can create a vibrational sense for the audience. What came in handy for the Hindu poets/aesthetes is the early mastery (circa 5th century B.C.E) of the requisite mathematical
notions as of the Pascal’s triangle, binary computations and Fibonacci series – applicable to different realms. Even the concept of anu-raṇana, [re-]echoing, came to be exploited even in the nomenclature of dhvani types.

As to the general schema in regard to music (extensible perhaps to other arts), Rowell says well: “A hallmark of the early Indian way of thinking about music was to identify and name all possible permutations of the basic elements, but with the realisation that only certain authorised (and far more specific) melodic constructions can become the basis for actualised music … It was the job of the theory to provide the widest selection of possibilities, but it remained for practice to select the most pleasing of these arrangements…”.

Indian texts have also worked out many rāgasvara mappings, and rasarāga mappings and even rasatāla mappings. Amazing feats in various fora – in the realms of prosody (in metrical compositions in Sanskrit); in the vikṛti-s in Vedic chanting; in the various bandha-s in citra-kāvya-s; in the construction of cryptic mnemonic verses; in the kaṭapayādi encoding in rāga-nomeclature in music; in the pyramid-like or other structures erected on foundations of odd or fractional beats in percussion instruments; in the fractal constructions in architecture; in the astronomical rhythms captured in temple architecture; in the design formulae in Śrīcakra or maṇḍala-s etc – all betray complex mathematical patterns, progressions and symmetries that arouse a sense of wonderment at once in the mind of the lay as well as the accomplished artist and the mathematician as well. They also clearly indicate certain recurring motifs and techniques in various domains of art — quite contrary to the biased and unsubstantiated hence irrational proclamations of polymath-pundits of the likes of Pollock. Hindu temples, the point of convergence indeed of all Indic arts, verily depict an evolving cosmos of growing complexity which is self-replicating, self-generating, self-similar, and dynamic; the procedures therein are recursive and generate visually complex shape from simple initial shapes through successive application of the production rules that are similar to rules for generating fractals.

Wonder may be the beginning point – for the Westerner, for all science; as for the Hindu, wonder is also the end-point of many investigations in art which also course through various sciences, (especially mathematics, “the Queen of Sciences”). Marvel then, at the beginnings and elements of Hindu culture, and marvel again at the many peaks and consummations of Indian art – from the very design of the alphabets to productions such as the Gītagovinda of Jayadeva or the icon of Naṭarāja, to cite but two examples — the multi-storeyed semantics of which must all be beyond the ken of these intellectually impoverished Pollockish nothing-morists.

The next chapter is from the pen of Charu Uppal (Ch. 4) and is entitled Rasa: From Nāṭyaśāstra to Bollywood. The paper goes to challenge Pollock’s reading of the Nāṭyaśāstra as being rigid and frozen in time, and allowing little scope for novelty – which features, according to him, render the age-old work irrelevant to the present context (and by implication, to the future). She is also concerned to show that even pre-Christian Greek drama had a concept of heiropraxis

Whereas Indian tradition has all along been a blend of the laukika and the alaukika, the mundane and the transcendent, Pollock attempts to divest it of the latter, and hence is utterly ineligible to be an authentic interpreter of the tradition, for all his vaunted scholarship. The inappropriateness of his application of the Marxist theory of aestheticization of power and the false picture he portrays – one of numbing the masses into obedience by deployment of oppressive Vedic ideas — is something that goes against the dictum of his own “preceptor” Daniel Ingalls. The very purpose of Nāṭyaśāstra, as of the Mahābhārata, is to make available to the common man the precious Vedic verities which are not easily accessible, often, even to scholars. Pollock invokes chronology and authorship issues to subserve his goals, dragging the dates of ancient texts as nigh as possible to our own, in tune with the Western agenda. Countering Gerow and Pollock, she cites V S Ramachandran who speaks of artistic universals. Uppal draws attention to the role played by rasa in Bollywood even to this day. 

The paper by Sreejit Datta (Ch. 5) entitled “From Rasa Seen to Rasa
Heard”: A Criticism, takes a close look at Pollock’s depiction of the evolution of the idea of rasa. Datta questions the very differentiation between “literature seen” and “literature heard” that Pollock starts with. He explores how literature as a Western category and sāhitya as an Indian category differ. Pollock’s “Rasa Seen to Rasa Heard” is essentially an exercise, he says, in peddling Western Universalism. The very etymology seems to hint at something of the nature of their content: Literature from Latin “litteratura” is something written or something pertaining to learning; whereas sāhitya implies a blend or fusion indicative of an integrality. The Nāṭyaśāstra speaks of what the gods told Brahmā — that they want something which is at once dṛśya as well as śravya.

Datta also draws our attention to Pollock’s reprehensible resort to the translation of all technical terms in Sanskrit into English, which is tantamount to epistemological domination of one culture by another as indicated by Vazquez. To translate Dhvanyāloka as “Light on
Implicature” sounds atrocious. The very individuality of the original words is totally lost in the translations – dilution and disfigurement being the invariable consequences. Much earlier (1950), Manomohan Ghosh had been careful enough to provide the Sanskrit term also, and
with a capitalisation of the first letter of the English rendering “lest these should be taken in their usual English sense”. Recitation of the Veda-s, eminently the śravya, is also enjoined to be accompanied by mudrā-s (gestures); and the four vṛtti-s are related to the four Veda-s —
all emphasising once again the link between the dṛśya and the śravya aspects. Kapila Vatsyayan also clarifies that the various arts are not to be referred to in isolation or in mutual exclusiveness. The sonic and deific forms of the rāga-s are set forth together by Somanātha in his Rāga-vibodha (17th century C.E.); the former being śravya, and the latter, dṛśya. To see schism where none exists, or create one where only subtle differences are shown – is all a part of the fissiparous agenda of the West.


The next two, in fact the last two, papers are authored by two eminent Sanskrit poets from Karnataka, who have also a deep knowledge of Indian poetics. We introduce in this context three verses that hold a mirror to some of the raucous Western critics/commentators (Pollock, in particular who stoops to aspire to be a “lover” of Mother Sarasvatī, the Goddess of Speech).

ye sad-artham ajānanto
vṛthā vacana-vistaraiḥ |
dūṣayanti kaveḥ kāvyaṁ
dhik tān paṇḍita-māninaḥ ||

(Fie upon the self-styled scholars who vitiate a poet’s composition through their verbiage without first comprehending the good sense in the original.)

The paper by Shankar Rajaraman (Ch. 6) is entitled The West on Our Poems: A Critique (in the context of Translation, Editing and Analysis). Western scholarship has its own shortcomings, and the nastiest of it all is, undoubtedly, its abundant prejudice: it considers it its duty to be spiteful of all other civilisations, and is eminently capable of overt and covert arm-twisting. Plus, its scholarship is not always sound and unquestionable. Shankar examines in this paper a score of cases of mistranslations and cases of faulty editing and misanalysis.

Rather than making a mere catalogue of Westerners’ errors, Shankar has classified them — tracing them to their causes, making use of Rajiv Malhotra’s four-tier model of critiquing Western Indology. He seeks to demonstrate how traditional scholarship in Sanskrit can equip one with sound analytical tools that help in detecting instances where there is inherent misunderstanding of texts. Western Indologists can be accused of not one or two errors. Shankar presents a classified list of their blunders such as — getting the narrative wrong; non-familiarity with Indian ethos; non-familiarity with complementary bodies of knowledge; getting the semantics wrong at all possible levels — of unitary words, compound-words, and phrases/sentences, and even failing to spot puns, (single or multiple, but as are nevertheless vital for the appreciation of the verse at hand) etc. Some of the Western translators have been blenders of these blunders — providing unintended, unexpected, and unlimited entertainment to discerning readers.

Literary narratives are characterised by features, one or more, of coherence, meaningfulness and emotional import, and these translators can err on all counts. Shankar illustrates mistranslations — all from the CSL (Clay Sanskrit Library) publication series — involving big figures in Western Indology such as Sheldon Pollock (General Editor), Yigal Bronner, Wendy Doniger, David Shulman, and Gary Tubb. He has shown how Friedhelm Hardy has erred in missing out on the very anvaya of a verse from Āryā-saptaśatī of Govardhanācārya. James Mallinson’s translation misses out on the sequence of events in a verse from Pavana-dūta of Dhoyī. Pollock has thoroughly mistranslated a verse from Rasa-taraṅgiṇī where he has confused trees with mountains; all the adjectival translations, therefore, have gone wrong, and so, Pollock’s lack of cultural understanding shows itself clearly. He has made many silly mistakes including translating a lyabantāvyaya as if it were a tumunnantāvyaya! In yet another verse from Rasa-mañjarī, Pollock has mistranslated the verb itself and advertises his ignorance of what Sanskrit poets are wont to represent in the given circumstances.

The Notes added to the translations are usually meant to help readers understand the verse and its cultural context the better. In spite of a Sanskrit commentary giving the correct explanation, Wendy Doniger boldly mistranslates the verse, and in effect, converts an altruistic king into a selfish one. One has to show utmost care while rendering the nāndī verse of a play as it is often intended to be suggestive. Wendy Doniger brazenly mistranslates the nāndī verse of the play Priyadarśikā, and in an attempt to show off her knowledge of mythology, renders the verse in a perverse manner. And the result: Wendy Doniger’s fixations about sexual impulses can give rise to ‘shameless’ improprieties.

A verse from Prabodha-candrodaya of Kṛṣṇamiśra is wrongly rendered by Kapstein, ignorant as he is of the role of sindūra at the spot of the parting of the hair of a Hindu woman; wrong dissolution of a compound word also conduces to this. He has confused a pigment term to be a colour term, and missed the very force of a simile, and taken a noun as an adjective. Rendering the verse is made worse by his fictitious justification which only adds colour and flourish to the blunder and blemish. A little less elequence would have helped him, but he is bent upon advertising his ignorance.

In his translation of another verse, Mallinson falters on three counts — ignorance of the typical and significant sporting of the lotus by Goddess Lakṣmī; rendering a word by its popular sense in a context where it is used in a specific and special sense; and worse, seeing a pun where none exists! — and thereby laying bare his lack of knowledge of the lexicon — of information that is available in the opening pages of Amara-kośa (not some rare kośa, to wit)!

Adding uncalled-for footnotes helps Pollock show off his ignorance — showing a visiting student as a royal priest — in the course of is translation of a verse cited in Rasa-taraṅgiṇī of Bhānudatta; where a very famous context of Kālidāsa’s Raghuvaṁśa (the most famous poet) presents itself. What should be very familiar to a student of Kālidāsa, the celebrated poet, is not familiar to Wendy Doniger and her notes converts wine into water! She seems to be ignorant of poetic conventions available in even Apte’s Student’s Sanskrit-English Dictionary — not some recondite source!

Hardy renders, in his translation of a verse from Āryā-saptaśatī, the word pradoṣa as ‘early morning’! — verily a blunder extraordinary (pradoṣa)! In another verse he miscopies and misrenders tūla as tula; he is indeed nistula (unparalleled) in his carelessness! Mallinson makes a king out of a brahmin by misunderstanding a simple vocable. In his translation of a verse from Anargha-rāghava, Torzsok makes out a lamp as a star, thereby spoiling a wonderful poetical fancy figuring in a description of the evening twilight.

In his translation of Dhoyī’s Pavana-dūta, Mallinson dissolves a Karmadhāraya compound as though it is a Tatpuruṣa compound, jeopardising thereby the meaning of the verse as a whole.

Bronner and Shulman effectively spoil the very essential idea of a verse of Vedānta Deśika by an atrocious mistranslation that destroys the very intention of the poet. Hardy mishandles a verse from Āryāsaptaśatī by mistranslating two words — thereby destroying a pun —
springing from his insensitivity to grammatical subtleties in Sanskrit and his ignorance of Hindu mythology.

Numerous verses in Sanskrit abound in puns, and a careless translator misses them even when they are very much present, and what is worse, “sees” puns where they just are not — all due to lack of sensibility. Pollock has missed a beautiful pun of Bhānudatta where the very beauty of the poem depended upon the pun. Sanskrit poets carefully choose words that are open to pun, and the translation that leaves out the pun on some words (while taking some into account) in a verse would be considered an inane translation. Notes may be the place to explain puns that cannot be easily translated, but the ignorant translator makes it clear to all discerning readers in his Notes that he is just unaware of the pun. And what is worse, the pun he has missed is a pun that is much in evidence even in the early chapters, the first few pages of Kāvya-prakāśa — for all his vaunted scholarship of Alaṅkāraśāstra. Another mistranslation by Hardy is so well done as to make a verse of Govardhana totally unintelligible, and so, can bring infamy to the original.

As to editing: careless editors give themselves away quite often. Wendy Doniger gives a distorted text that does violence to grammar and prosody alike, while rendering a verse from Ratnāvalī. The most elementary principle – of concord between the subject of a sentence and its verb, most elementary and almost universal in character – is grossly violated by her. The very verse format can give clues to certain common mistakes, and a little sensitivity to prosody suffices to suspect something going amiss. Prolificity in writing is no compensation for infelicity in rendering. 

Many a Western Sanskritist has no habit perhaps of reading Sanskrit texts aloud, and so is liable to miss out on the metrical felicities. Insensitive as they would be to sound and rhythm, such translators are liable to be insensitive to sense also, consequently. Insensate translators misread the original Sanskrit verse, and make bold to attribute boldness to the author of the original itself. Gary Tubb deems a “violation of meter” a “bold change”(!), and rushes to bring out the “poetic significance” of the imagined bold change by the poet!! On the contrary, nowhere have Sanskrit poeticians condoned any such violation, though so rare, of prosody. Pretending to be quite sensitive to yati (caesura), some translators have read texts too critically; but the fact is that quite on the other hand, yati is not quite an essential feature
to certain meters.

Thus overdoing and underdoing their tasks as translators is by no means a small lacuna on the part of these Western scholars. The discretion to be humble is far better than the indiscretion of being supercilious.

It is a tragedy that incompetent scholars make bold to translate texts beyond their ken or without care and discipline. That a whole series is vitiated by unpardonable errors in translation reflects poorly upon the editor viz. Prof. Sheldon Pollock, hailed by his hagiographers as “The Last Pandit”.

A poet himself, Shankar has drawn our attention to the very many pitfalls of translators — the Western translators in particular, that beam generally with confidence. The samples Shankar has provided show that these translators neither possess a minimum sensitivity nor display any remarkable sensibility. We do not know how many texts were ultimately spoilt by Westerners who tend to think that it is their prerogative to interpret any culture on Earth. And did not John Ruskin admonish: “Be sure that you go to the author to get at his meaning, not to find yours.”? Their ridiculousness makes one recall a poet’s jibe:

yadi khaṁ karaṭo gatvā
sindhor upari gāyati |
tat kiṁ sa vetti gāmbhīryaṁ
ratnāni ca tadāśaye ? ||

(Loafing in the sky over the ocean, should a crow keep cawing, would he realise on that account, the depth of the ocean below, or cognise the gems therein?)

The last paper by R. Ganesh (Ch. 7) entitled Rasabrahma-samarthanam, counters some of the ideas of Pollock presented in the introductory portion of his Rasa Reader. Ganesh contrasts the views and approaches of some of the modern Sanskritists against those
of Prof. Hiriyanna, Narasimha Bhatta and Dr. D.V. Gundappa (all hailing from Karnataka), and Dr. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy and V. S. Agrawala, the two celebrated authorities in the field of Indian art.

He contests at the outset the physicality of rasa which cannot be reduced to mere chemical reactions in the brain. He also speaks of the cyclicity/non-linearity of linguistic and metaphysical ideas, as against the linearity of science, and rejects the idea of Bharata’s magnum opus as representative of a field but in its stage of infancy. The Nāṭyaśāstra is on par with the “epics”, in terms of their naturalness yet beyond the pale of ordinary imagination. After the fashion of writers on Nyāya and Vyākaraṇa, he invokes the analogy of Ayurvedic prescriptions whose value/validity is not contestable despite advancements in anatomy/physiology/biochemistry; and asserts the validity of the Rasa Theory irrespective of the developments in modern psychological investigation. Drawing on an analogy of universal experience as applicable to Vedānta, one may rather deny Brahman, but not the
experience of rasa, he says. He traces the genesis of rasa to early Vedic literature — ancient portions such as the Puruṣa-sūkta, Nāsadīyasūktaand Skambha-sūkta, as also the Upaniṣadic portions such as the Theory of Pañca-kośa (Five Sheaths), and even the chapter on Vibhūtiyogain the Bhagavad-gītā. Even as, in the depiction of M. Hiriyanna, all the darśana-s (schools of Indian philosophy) find their culmination in Vedānta, and are not contradictory to it, even so the Rasa Theory is in no contradiction with the different darśana-s.

His focus is on the Introduction in the Rasa Reader, as it is that section that teems with Pollock’s key notions. He grieves Pollock’s utter ignorance of musicological works. Speaking of the applicability of the Rasa Theory to other arts such as music and dance, he refers to the preponderance of “practicals” in these realms as an important reason for a lack of discussion in books on Indian rhetorics/aesthetics. Further, they pose a few problems unique to their own fields. Pollock limits the realm of rasa to literature — which is unfounded. All arts originate in the mental realm of the artist and culminate in the mental realm of the connoisseur. As Coomaraswamy states well: “The end of the work of art is the same as its beginning, for its function is … to enable the rasika to identify himself in the same way with the archetype of which his work of art is an image”.

Pollock has a complaint that the principle of pratibhā (creativity) has not been well formulated in Indian tradition. It is only logical that it is so, argues Ganesh, as pratibhā is essentially subjective and indescribable; and it is only in respect of its consequences that one can speak of pratibhā. To seek the genesis of the faculty that is at the root of all arts may well be an invitation to anavasthā, “endless regression” — akin to seeking the definition of Brahman.

Similarly, it has been shown here how relish of poetry is more valuable than its critical assessment. Pollock’s charge on the absence of a comprehensive investigation of beauty is also baseless, as it is comparable to a similar investigation of Brahman. The objection
raised by Pollock in regard to not counting vātsalya as a rasa is nothing new. What is more important is an investgation into rasa as such, rather than an examination of the number count of rasa-s. 

As to the issue of the locus of rasa in regard to its being in the artist or in the creator, it has been shown how even the artist enjoys his own work as a sahṛdaya, and the opening chapter of Nāṭyaśāstra testifies to the importance of the sahṛdaya. The argument of Pollock that Alaṅkāraśāstra is later than Nāṭyaśāstra is easily answered by the fact that nāṭya is itself all-encompassing – covering all aspects in general of poetry, picture, and song. Pollock is only attempting to sow seeds of discord between dṛśya-kāvya and śravya-kāvya. The artist dons the role of a sahṛdaya in the process of fine-tuning the work, and in addition, has the roles of kartṛ and bhoktṛ, jñātṛ and vimarśaka (creator and consumer, connoisseur and critic). The enjoyment of the sahṛdaya is post-event in the case of the creation of kāvya/citra/śilpa, but concurrent/co-event in the case of the creation of gīta/nṛtya/āśu-kavitā (poetry ex tempore).
While the poet exercises kārayitrī pratibhā as well as bhāvayitrī pratibhā, the sahṛdaya employs only the latter; it is thus that it is bhāvayitrī pratibhā that is more extensive in its role. While the function of the kavi is but once, that of the sahṛdaya can be multiple times. Viewed from the matrix of the triguṇa-s, the poet’s act is impelled by rajas, while that of the sahṛdaya is permeated by sattva — and sattva is discernibly superior to rajas.

The charge of Pollock that Hindu poetry had its origins in Buddhism is answered by the fact that there is no Buddhist poetry as such, and that the Veda is already poetic. Further, all civilisations (including prehistoric ones) have had their share of song and dance and drawing. The wealth of literature even in early Hinduism is immense – comprising the Veda-s, the Vedāṅga-s, and so on; and in contrast, Buddhism has only nivṛtti-oriented literarture. It may be added here that Coomaraswamy had taken strong exception to the fact that a typical Westerner would exhibit a stronger affinity towards Buddhism rather than Hinduism, even though the former concerned itself predominantly with the life of the recluse, whileas Hinduism saw life in a bigger and fuller and natural compass. The indebtedness of Aśvaghoṣa to Vālmīki is not unknown either.

Pollock’s argument that the Rasa Theory has been Vedānticised holds no water. Bharata traces the various rasa-s to the Atharva-veda, in which are contained the Skambha-sūkta and the Ucchiṣṭa-sūkta which are permeated by poetic content. Coomaraswamy has dwelt on these sūkta-s in significant detail. Pollock’s diatribe against aucitya — after hailing its merits — bespeaks rather of the maxim of alaṅkṛta-śiraścheda

Ganesh aptly describes Pollock as a riotous elephant in the forest of books. “No rasa, no humanity”, asserts Ganesh. Pollock’s posturing of humility is, Ganesh notes with a poet’s touch of a telling simile, akin to fastening a tender flower in a garland of thorns. An exhaustive, or at least a more detailed, criticism of Pollock’s Rasa Reader remains a desideratum, and will help to show how the handling of a lofty theme by this American Orientalist betrays an approach which is anything but healthy and wholesome.

A few final remarks may be made here. That Abhinavagupta was by no means a guru-drohin towards his senior Bhaṭṭa Nāyaka (whose ideas he refined, rather than repudiated (matāni na dūṣitāni, kintu śodhitāni by his own express declaration)) is just as true as Pollock is a guru-drohin towards his own preceptor, Prof. Daniel Ingalls (whose prime and sublime dictum it was that the path of the critic of poetry must begin with poetry and not with theories of society); too, there is little of aucitya in the cavalier manner with which Pollock treats the key ideas of Alaṅkāra-śāstra. Pollock is impartial in his cultivated contempt whether towards the Vedic of antiquity or towards the latterly evolved rhetorical tradition. Almost every paper has shown that a good many of the claims of Pollock are hollow and lack substance.


It goes without saying that the authors of the papers here all hold themselves responsible for the ideas they have presented. Also note that square brackets [ ] have been introduced within verbatim quotes to add the explanations/remarks of the author of the paper.


One is reminded of a Sanskrit verse on the good and bad uses of a command over language.

asthāne gamitā layaṁ hata-dhiyāṁ vāg-devatā kalpate
dhikkārāya parābhavāya mahate tāpāya pāpāya vā |
sthāne tu vyayitā satāṁ prabhavati prakhyātaye bhūtaye
ceto-nirvṛtaye paropakṛtaye prānte śivāvāptaye ||”

(Confer the divine faculty of speech indiscreetly upon the pervert: be sure to expect curses and humiliation, and agony and sin, unlimited. Bestow it, on the other hand, sensibly upon the noble: you may well look forward to fame and weal, bliss and benevolence, and the attainment of beatitude in fine).

Cāndramāna Yugādi Dr. K. S. Kannan
Śrīvilambi Saṁvatsara Academic Director
(18th March 2018) and
General Editor of the Series