Chapter 3 The Aesthetics of Dance

In: Theatre and Its Other
Elisa Ganser
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In Abhinavagupta’s famous formulation of aesthetic theory, a dramatic text presented on stage with the help of the spectacular machinery, complete with all of its components, triggers, in the spectator, an experience sui generis that takes the name of rasa. Rasa is the sap, flavour or essence of the performance, and its experience is described as a tasting, relishing or savouring (rasanā, āsvādana, carvaṇā), drawing on a culinary analogy already in vogue in Bharata’s text.1 The analysis of the process leading to the arousal of rasa in the spectator and the components into which this process can be dissected form the core of Abhinavagupta’s aesthetics. Its essence can be extracted from the extensive commentary dedicated to the famous rasasūtra, Bharata’s ‘Aphorism on Rasa’, vibhāvānubhāvavyabhicārisaṃyogād rasaniṣpattiḥ: ‘Rasa arises out of the union of the determinants, the consequents, and the transitory states’.2 In a scene dominated by śṛṅgāra (the amorous rasa), for example, the determinants (vibhāva) would be all of those factors arousing the character’s emotion of delight (rati): a beloved, pleasure gardens, unguents and fragrant creams, garlands, etc. The consequents (anubhāva) would be all the visible reactions to that emotion, such as sidelong glances, gentle speeches, playful movements, and so on. Finally, the transitory states (vyabhicārin) would be those accompanying the primary emotion or stable state (sthāyibhāva), for instance joy, jealousy, shame, etc. Abhinavagupta establishes a fundamental difference between the emotions we experience in ordinary life, the bhāvas, and those that are triggered by a work of art, the rasas.3 In theatre, as in literature more generally, the cognizing subject ideally becomes a sensitive spectator, able to savour the emotions depicted through a sympathetic response, which is triggered by the generalization of the emotion. The latter guarantees that the spectator can identify himself with the events depicted and thereby savour the emotions in an essentially blissful experience, i.e. as rasa, an experience devoid of the ordinary reactions to emotions in real life: attachment, rejection, indifference.4

Far from developing a mere psychological theory, Abhinavagupta pays great attention to establishing exactly how such ‘purified’ emotions are engendered through the performance, paving the way for a phenomenological account of the aesthetic experience. If the sixth and seventh chapters of the Abhinavabhāratī are mainly concerned with analysing the composition of a work of art in terms of its emotional configuration (the determinants, the consequents, and the transitory and stable states), and how this can trigger an affective response in the spectator, it may be argued that the rest of the commentary strives to integrate all the disparate components of theatre so as to form a coherent and meaningful whole, where all the parts work in harmony, variously contributing to the arousal of rasa.5

Once it had been theorized by Bharata as a central principle in the field of dramatics, other theorists—more or less successfully—started to incorporate rasa into the treatment of the different artistic forms, including those having an essentially non-linguistic nature, such as music and dance.6 One possible way to explain the incorporation of rasa into other artistic domains has been proposed in the following terms by Katz:

It is natural that music, being treated as part of a Gesamtkunstwerk, such as theatre, should follow the general aims of dramatic and poetic art, namely, it should be able to contain rasa and generate aesthetic responses.

Katz 1983: 60

As I will demonstrate in this chapter, instead of treating the incorporation of rasa into the domains of music and dance as a natural development of dramatic theory, Abhinavagupta’s analysis is fully aimed at problematizing the presence of rasa in arts other than poetry and theatre, that is, outside of the specialized field of literature.

To understand Abhinavagupta’s reluctance to extend the concept of rasa to drama’s closest ancillary arts, not to speak of painting and sculpture, one has to keep in mind that his work presupposes a theoretical turn that occurred in Kashmir in the middle of the ninth century, starting in the field of Ālaṃkāraśāstra with Ānandavardhana, and later extending to the adjacent field of Nāṭyaśāstra. In brief, this paradigm shift consisted in applying a model of textual analysis first developed in the field of Mīmāṃsā—the science of ritual hermeneutics—to the literary work or poetic text. Under the influence of Mīmāṃsā, poetics shifted from being dominated by a formalist paradigm, in which single alaṃkāras are analysed as functioning independently from one another, to a teleological text analysis, in which all the components of the poetic text conspire to bring about the overriding goal of poetry, identified with the rasa principle typically borrowed from the allied discipline of dramatics.7 This move entailed a greater focus on the mechanisms of poetic language—the communication of rasa typically being conceived in linguistic terms—as well as a new focus on the epistemology of rasa.

The main conceptual challenges posed by the extension of Mīmāṃsā hermeneutics to poetry and drama are in my view essentially twofold. First of all, if the unity and coherence of the literary work are guaranteed by the rasa principle, and if rasa is conveyed by a specific linguistic function, theorized in Ālaṃkāraśāstra as vyañjanā (‘suggestion’, ‘manifestation’) or dhvani (‘resonance’, ‘implicature’),8 how can non-linguistic elements such as dance and music, which are typically seen in a dramatic performance, be independently expressive of a rasa or even contribute to its arousal and therefore be meaningfully integrated into a comprehensive theory of aesthetics? In the field of Alaṃkāraśāstra, in fact, the validity of a poetic work can be assessed in terms of poetic suggestion, without exceeding the boundaries of the text and its linguistic matrix. In the domain of Nāṭyaśāstra, on the contrary, the process of aesthetic communication is much more difficult to account for due to the intrinsic complexity and multimediality of theatre. Apart from a whole array of non-homogeneous artistic techniques, theatre also involves a multiplicity of agents.9 Explaining the process leading to the arousal of rasa in the spectator, as epitomized in the famous rasasūtra, became a major ground for dispute in the tradition of dramatics.10

The second challenge concerns a development that typically derives from the rapprochement of poetic and dramatic theory. When rasa became the accepted aesthetic standard for both drama and poetry, the attention of the theorists shifted from rasa as aesthetic object to rasa as aesthetic experience.11 This gave rise, in dramatic theory, to a series of new and specific questions, different from those that had first been raised in connection with rasa in the field of literary theory. Theatre, in fact, distinguishes itself from poetry due to its paradigmatic use of dramatic representation or acting (abhinaya) for the communication of rasa. This being the case, how can we account for the communication of rasa in the absence of abhinaya—for instance, in poetry to be heard, danced, or sung—and how can we preserve the specificity of these other art forms, when they incorporate, to a greater or lesser extent, the representational function proper to theatre?

Abhinavagupta’s evaluation of the aesthetics of dance can best be grasped in the light of these new theoretical engagements, which developed in Kashmir at a time of intense intellectual and artistic renewal. In such a climate of cultural effervescence, the newly developed theories could immediately be tested against the existing practices and vice versa. Rather than being simply considered as infused with rasa, or as capable of directly conveying rasa, the object called nṛtta (‘dance’, in its many acceptations) was examined both in connection with its ability to work within the theatrical performance—seen as an interconnected whole—as well as independently, as a form in its own right, distinct from theatre but sharing many of its features. Under these premises, the question dealt with in the section of the Abhinavabhāratī edited and translated in this book could be put in the following terms: provided that dance is a component of theatre, are we justified in attributing to it an active role in the aesthetic process culminating in the rasa experience, or should we consider it a simple embellishment to the performance, the way in which Ālaṃkārikas conceived ornaments and poetic qualities prior to the Kashmirian poetic revolution? And if dance be taken as an independent form of spectacle, connected with a poetic text endowed with rasa, does it remain an ornamental art of bodily movement, or does it assume a theatrical nature? Before proceeding to the exposition of Abhinavagupta’s detailed and original examination of these connected issues, it will be useful first to have a look at the prodromes of a discussion about dance in Bharata’s text.

3.1 Dance within Theatre, Dance without Theatre

To begin with, an enquiry about the place of dance in Bharata’s theatre is called for by the very narrative logic built up in the Nāṭyaśāstra. Even though, in the economy of the treatise, dance is treated earlier than all the other elements of performance, from the temporal perspective of the narrated events, it represents a further addition to an already complete entity, the knowledge of which it presupposes.12

The questions about the reason for introducing dance into theatre are presented in the Nāṭyaśāstra as if they were asked, out of sheer curiosity, by the Ṛṣis gathered around Bharata to hear about the origin of theatre. The questions arise, namely, after Bharata’s account of how Śiva presented the gift of dance to Taṇḍu, and he in turn connected dance with melodic and instrumental music, thus giving shape to the tāṇḍava. This episode recounts the first formal transmission of the art of dancing directly from the deity to an apt recipient. Whether we place it in illo tempore or just before the transmission of the art of dance from Taṇḍu to Bharata, chronologically it necessarily precedes Bharata’s systematic description of the karaṇas and aṅgahāras to the Ṛṣis, although it follows in the textual economy of the treatise. The account of the piṇḍībandhas and their foundation myth and of how Taṇḍu connected dance with music are also presupposed by the seers’ questions about dance. Their background could be reconstructed as follows: Śiva advises Brahmā to introduce dance into the pūrvaraṅga; he calls Taṇḍu and tells him to instruct Bharata in dance; Śiva transmits the dance to Taṇḍu; Taṇḍu connects dance with instrumentation; and Bharata is instructed by Taṇḍu in the karaṇas, aṅgahāras, and recakas. Having listened to all this, the Ṛṣis pronounce two crucial verses:

Given that dramatic acting has been devised by those experts in [theatre] for the sake of attaining [its] objects, why indeed has this dance been devised [and] what is the nature to which it conforms? It is not connected with the contents of the songs, nor does it bring any object into being. Why has this dance been devised in [connection with] gītas and āsāritas?13

It is not easy to evaluate the exact purport of this sentence in Bharata’s order of ideas. Surely, the second part of the question has to be related to the sphere of the pūrvaraṅga, since it mentions some of the technical terms proper to it. Śiva, in fact, suggested making the preliminaries variegated by introducing dance into the vardhamāna, the gītakas, and the āsāritas, as well as by enacting the meaning of the mahāgītas.14 The details on the course of action followed in combining dance with songs and instrumental music in the pūrvaraṅga are provided immediately after the answers to the questions of the Ṛṣis (v. 4.269cd–270ab ff.). In the various segments forming the longer musical compositions of the preliminary rite, the phases of abstract dance (nṛtta), performed to instrumental music, alternate with moments of enactment (abhinaya), aimed at representing the meaning of the song lyrics. This alternation is particularly visible in the vardhamāna, a musical piece comprised of a collection of four āsāritas, and in the gītakas, a fixed group of seven musical compositions, starting with the madraka, that are performed as the first limb of the pūrvaraṅga after the drawing of the curtain.15 The actual presence of dance side by side with acting in these musical structures suggests two different but contiguous uses of bodily movement. Moreover, Śiva’s instruction to use dance to enact the meanings of ‘great songs’ makes the function of dance overlap with that of abhinaya, which might have raised legitimate doubts about their respective domains and separate identity.16

Alternatively, the first part of the question ‘why indeed has this dance been devised and what is the nature to which it conforms?’ can be viewed as a more general question concerning the nature and scope of the newly introduced object called ‘dance’ within theatre. As told in the narrative of origins, dance assumed the status of an ancillary of theatre only after adding the kaiśikī vṛtti to the other manners. In this connection dance is declared to be a constituent element of the bodily acting (āṅgikābhinaya), along with two other modes of using the body expressively, namely śākhā and aṅkura.17 This suggests that dance must have played a role in the protocol of acting, at least as a mode of bodily expression, if not as directly connected with representational content. As can be gleaned from some famous specimens of classical Sanskrit plays, dance could also function as the content of representation itself: dance scenes indeed became a favourite topic of depiction by dramatists.18

The laconic answer, provided by Bharata in three verses, does not help us any further in narrowing the scope of the questions posed by the seers:

On this point, it is said that dance does not indeed conform to any object, but it is meant to generate beauty (śobhā); that is why dance has come into use. Generally, everybody likes dance in itself. Moreover, this dance is praised because it is considered auspicious (maṅgalya). And on [occasions such as] weddings, the birth of a child, welcoming a new child-in-law, jubilation, success, and so forth, it is a cause of merriment. That is why this dance has come into use.19

A straightforward translation of the term śobhā as ‘beauty’ may sound reductive and not unambiguous, considering that the concept of beauty in art and aesthetic theory has had such a multiplicity of interpretations in the West.20 The task proves even more arduous when one considers that a fully fledged theory of aesthetics, which might be of help in evaluating these statements on dance, is nowhere to be found in Bharata’s text. In other parts of the Nāṭyaśāstra, the term śobhā is connected with the idea of beauty as achieved through ornamentation, that is, through the addition of some beautifying element. Similarly, in the chapter on harmonious acting (sāmānyābhinaya), śobhā is listed among the seven effortless (ayatnaja) graces or virtues (lit. ‘ornaments’, alaṃkāras) of women,21 and is explained as the action of embellishing (alaṃkaraṇa) the limbs with physical beauty (rūpa), youth (yauvana), and charm (lāvaṇya), enhanced by amorous enjoyment.22 When, on the contrary, śobhā is manifested as one of the virtues of the hero, it consists in the display of resolve (dhairya), prowess (śaurya), valour (utsāha), and contempt for menial objects, a quality in which he vies with the best of men.23 Elsewhere in the Nāṭyaśāstra, śobhā is described as something produced through the addition of some element to an already complete whole, as for instance by adding facial colouring (mukharāga)—e.g., blushing—to an already well constructed bodily enactment, complete with the major and minor limbs. Indeed, although bodily acting might be less prominent at some moments in the dramatic performance, when one employs facial colouring, beauty is nevertheless doubled, like the night by the moon.24

With regard to the use of bodily movement, the production of beauty in the body in both theatre and dance is said to depend on a certain grace of the limbs, called sauṣṭhava.25 In all these occurrences, śobhā coincides to some extent with the production of a specific kind of beauty in an already beautiful aggregate, through the addition of a special element enhancing it. Is dance used similarly in theatre, as an embellishment that guarantees the production of beauty? And how does beauty contribute to the performance and its overall aim? As a matter of fact, no clear idea about the supposed aesthetic function of dance can be traced in the fourth chapter of the Nāṭyaśāstra, nor is it possible to draw a definite picture of the place of dance within the performance of a play.26

As to Bharata’s qualification of dance as auspicious (maṅgalya), it should be pointed out that this term has to be seen in connection with the festive occasions to which dance is linked outside of theatre. Apart from dance, instrumental music is also prescribed by Bharata for the depiction of auspicious occasions in a play, suggesting the analogous use of music independently of theatre.27 Situations in which dance and music are used in connection with festivals and rituals find depiction in the extant plays and in literature more generally.28 All this suggests that the use of dance and music for auspicious ends had its basis in worldly practices.

Taking advantage of the intrinsic ambiguity of Bharata’s statements, Abhinavagupta unsheathes his exegetical weapons and literally dismantles the questions about dance, starting from the very source of the query. Disregarding the caption ‘the seers said’ (ṛṣaya ūcuḥ) which, in the transmitted text of the Nāṭyaśāstra, precedes the questions about dance, Abhinavagupta interprets the two verses as an imaginary objection (pūrvapakṣa), raised by Bharata himself in the guise of an opponent.29 Hidden under such a guise, the opponent/Bharata would raise the following doubt:

Is dance different from theatre or is it no different from it? And if it were considered to be different, would it have a purpose or not?30

In the typical style of a philosophical debate, the presentation of the opponent’s view or first thesis (pūrvapakṣa) is followed by a long elaboration, in which the positions of various adversaries are exposed and refuted before the established opinion (siddhānta) is finally presented in the form of an answer to the pūrvapakṣa ( 4.263cd–266ab). Two main opponents alternatively take the floor, through objections and counter-objections: the first maintains the identity of dance and theatre, and is thus called ‘abhedapakṣin’; the second argues in favour of their difference, whence the appellation ‘bhedapakṣin’. The arguments of the abhedapakṣin, identified with the pūrvapakṣa staged by Bharata, will form the main object of Abhinavagupta’s refutation. Although the commentator upholds the difference between dance and theatre, the arguments of the bhedapakṣin may be regarded as a prima facie view, lacking as they are in proper philosophical acumen. They mainly serve the purpose of moving the debate forward and bringing its different levels of interpretation to the fore. The pūrvapakṣa is in fact presented as tripartite, on the basis of three different alternative interpretations of the purport of Bharata’s questions, which are derived by playing on the polysemy of the Sanskrit words in 4.261cd–263ab.

Thanks to this sophisticated device, the pūrvapakṣa reveals a multiplicity of layers in which the word ‘nṛtta’ is seen to refer, successively, to 1) dance as an independent genre of staged performance; 2) dance as an element of the dramatic performance or play; 3) dance as a component of the pūrvaraṅga. Accordingly, questions about the nature of dance and its difference from theatre apply to all three domains. In all the three cases, the pūrvapakṣin assumes the presence of a fundamental feature of theatre in dance, namely its mimetic or narrative function, called abhinaya, which would be the ground for their assimilation. Even though the thesis that dance and theatre are the same will ultimately be refuted, this does not entail the complete denial of abhinaya in dance. The position that dance is a bodily movement devoid of abhinaya, which corresponds to the communis opinio expressed, for instance, by Dhanika, is presented by Abhinava only as a temporary position in his unprecedented examination of the nature and aesthetics of dance.31

In my opinion, Abhinavagupta’s original argument aims at enlarging the field of dance so as also to encompass the emerging new spectacular genres, such as Ḍombikā and others, which the texts list under a variety of categories: nṛttakāvya, nṛtya, uparūpaka, and the like.32 These genres patently contain some form of enactment, just like the lāsyāṅga dance pieces of the pūrvaraṅga, since both connect dance with the lyrics of the songs to which they are performed. Moreover, in the case of the other songs in the preliminary rite, it is not the alternation of dance and dramatic acting that raises ambiguity about the respective spheres of application of dance and theatre, but rather the fact that dance itself is used to enact textual meaning, that is, as an abhinaya.

First of all, Abhinavagupta’s definition of nṛtta has to be flexible enough to encompass all the different manifestations of dance. Secondly, in order to avoid its conflation with theatre due to their common use of enactment, Abhinavagupta opts for an overall reconfiguration of the meaning of abhinaya in theatre and dance. Moreover, just as abhinaya enters the sphere of dance, dance is seen to participate in theatrical performance, not only in its preliminary phase, but both as a topic in the narrative plot and as a staging technique. In the latter respect, dance is considered, though in a very special sense, to be part of the bodily code used to express emotions and ideas, the so-called āṅgikābhinaya. This raises questions about its potential as an expressive medium within drama. Similar questions about expressivity are raised in connection with other non-linguistic elements of theatre, such as instrumental music and vocal singing. Their overwhelming presence during a theatrical performance is suggested by the orchestra being placed directly on stage, as well as by the many instances of songs and instrumental accompaniment punctuating key moments in the dramatic representation, for instance the entrance of characters, sudden changes or transitions in the emotive mood, and so on. The issue of the connection of dance and music might thus be seen to develop from a specific question about the use of bodily movements along with āsāritas and other songs in the pūrvaraṅga, to a more general query about the coordination of the different elements in the staging of a play. The presence of dance and music within the play calls moreover for a consideration of the role of pleasure and the alluring elements in the aesthetic process, and the contribution of beauty to the attainment of the twofold aim of theatre, i.e. pleasure (prīti) and instruction (vyutpatti), both encompassed by the notion of rasa.33

Without recounting the whole discussion of the nature of dance and its difference from theatre—which can be consulted in the edition, translation, and explanatory notes presented in this book—in the rest of this chapter I will concentrate on the original motives of what I regard as Abhinavagupta’s formulation of an ‘aesthetics of dance’. Before we delve into the question of the role of dance as an expressive medium within theatre, we must have a look at its homologue, dramatic acting, and its categories.

3.2 Enacting Emotions: A vademecum for the Actor

Si deve trovare un linguaggio—con parole, con immagini, movimenti, atmosfere—che faccia intuire qualcosa che esiste in noi da sempre. È una conoscenza molto precisa. I nostri sentimenti, quelli di tutti noi, sono molto precisi.34

Pina Bausch

Dramatic acting (abhinaya) has been recognized in India as the characteristic feature distinguishing drama from other literary works. The earliest theoreticians of poetry had already posited a disciplinary boundary between drama and poetry on the basis of the enactment of the literary content in the former.35 The amplitude of the treatment devoted to this defining feature of drama in Bharata’s text finds no parallel in other dramatic traditions across the world. The techniques of enactment in fact cover the entire scope of an actor’s activity, including his capacity for control over the emotional sphere. Judging from the extent of the treatment of bodily movement in the Nāṭyaśāstra, and as can also be gleaned from contemporary dance/theatre practices, it appears that the Indian tradition never considered gesticulation as a mere appendix to the written text. On the contrary, body language or non-verbal behaviour was viewed as a fully fledged expressive medium, whose techniques could be codified through rules and mastered by actors.

The four registers of acting are the bodily (āṅgika), the vocal (vācika), the psychophysical (sāttvika), and the ornamental (āhārya).36 These are, as their names indicate, differentiated according to the medium by which the representation is carried out: the body, the voice, the mind, and the costume. From the most general uses down to the smallest details, dramatic acting was seen as closely intertwined with the emotional sphere, including in its textual encoding.37 The general definition of abhinaya is given in 8.6, based on its etymological formation:

The root , preceded by [the prefix] abhi-, has the sense of determining the meanings (artha) [of the dramatic text] as directly manifested in front (ābhimukhya) [of the spectator]. It is called abhinaya because it carries (nayati) the objects (padārtha) [of theatre to the audience]. And it has been called abhinaya since it determines the different meanings, according to practice, in association with the twig-limbs (śākhā), the major limbs (aṅga), and the minor limbs (upāṅga).38

Dramatic acting is thus defined according to its function in theatre, which is to communicate the textual meanings to the audience. These meanings are primarily conceived in terms of emotions, as it emerges, for instance, from the use of the term abhinaya in what Abhinavagupta regards as the very definition of theatre: ‘This nature proper to the ordinary experience, associated with pleasure and pain, is called theatre (nāṭya) when it is conveyed by the means of dramatic enactment such as the bodily and the others (aṅgādyabhinaya).’39 An even more specific link between acting and the emotional sphere is provided in the definitions of the bhāvas in the seventh chapter: ‘the emotional states (bhāva) [are so called, since] they, associated with the voice, the body and the mind (sattva), bring the contents of poetry (kāvyārtha) into being (bhāvayanti).’40

The treatment of acting techniques covers the largest portion of Bharata’s treatise (roughly chapters 8–26). The commentary on the eighth chapter, on bodily acting (āṅgikābhinaya), is lost at present, and there is little hope that it will ever resurface. This is all the more regrettable since the eighth chapter is the first in the treatise to deal exclusively with the topic of abhinaya, and therefore must have contained important introductory remarks on the art of acting in general, and through the body in particular.41 I deem it legitimate to assume that something of a fully fledged theory of acting may have been presented in this lost chapter of the Abhinavabhāratī, since Abhinavagupta declares on various occasions that he will later engage in explaining some particular aspect of abhinaya that one cannot trace to the extant portion of the commentary.42 Even though it is not possible, given the present state of the text, to form a complete picture of Abhinavagupta’s concept of dramatic acting, occasions for speculation about such a central topic are not lacking throughout the extant text of the Abhinavabhāratī. In this perspective, the discussion about dance and abhinaya dealt with in the Tāṇḍavādhyāya and fully translated here assumes a new relevance for the study of Abhinavagupta’s ‘lost theory of acting’.

As to the group of four abhinayas, these are sometimes referred to with the abbreviated formula āṅgikādyabhinaya-, or aṅgādyabhinaya-, which refers in order to bodily,43 vocal,44 psychophysical,45 and ornamental acting.46 The hierarchy between them is explained by Abhinavagupta in metaphorical terms: while vocal enactment is the body of theatre (tanur nāṭyasya), since it is like a canvas on which the whole performance is inscribed (sakalaprayogabhitti), bodily enactment provides theatre with vital breath (nāṭyānuprāṇaka).47 Still superior to these is psychophysical enactment, in which theatre is grounded (cf. 22.1cd: nāṭyaṃ sattve pratiṣṭhitam), and according to the presence of which a performance can be defined as superior, average, or inferior.48 As to costume or accoutrements (āhārya), its very status as an enactment was a debated topic among theoreticians since, strictly speaking, costumes and scenic props are not acting techniques. Nevertheless, as Abhinavagupta argues, actors use them in order to hide their own identity beneath that of the dramatis persona, hence they help in conveying the determinant factors to the spectators, which is one of the functions specific to abhinaya.49

In order to bring out the emotional core of theatre, the four abhinayas need to be used in combination. With a view towards their effective employment by actors and theatre directors, the technique of acting is analysed into a ‘harmonious acting’ (sāmānyābhinaya) and a ‘pictorial acting’ (citrābhinaya), the objects of chapters 22 and 25 respectively. As pointed out by Bansat-Boudon, such a twofold division into basic and combined techniques has to do with the field of theatrical practice, not textual structure:

Whereas the abhinaya, when it is presented as quadruple, consists of an inventory of elementary techniques of acting, the sāmānyābhinaya and the citrābhinaya actually represent the same techniques put into practice on stage by the actor in the specific context of performance according to rigorously codified procedures. Therefore, a new statement whereby the actor will initiate himself to these rules of interpretation unknown to him as yet proves necessary. This accounts for the double treatment given to abhinaya in the Nāṭyaśāstra.

Bansat-Boudon 1995: 150

The sāmānyābhinaya is explained by Abhinavagupta through the metaphor of the perfumer who, combining the different essences and basic substances in the right quantities, skilfully creates a fragrant, homogeneous blend.50 The section on sāmānyābhinaya focuses on the enactment of the inner states, giving ample scope to the unfolding of love between men and women, while that on citrābhinaya describes the enactment of the various external realities.51 According to Abhinavagupta, both methods of acting are ultimately concerned with the communication of emotional meaning. The sāmānyābhinaya is a mingling of the means of dramatic enactment for the sake of conveying the objects in which rasa is predominant (rasātmakapradhānaṃ padārthaviśeṣam abhinayānāṃ samāṇīkaraṇam, ABh ad 25.1, vol. 3 p. 264), while the citrābhinaya is conceived as a subtype of it, a blend specialized in the depiction of the external objects, useful for bringing the rasa and the other emotional states into being (rasādyupayogibāhyavastuviṣayam evābhinayānāṃ bhāvanārūpaṃ miśrīkaraṇātmakaṃ samānīkaraṇam, ABh ad 24.90, vol. 3, p. 263).

Although these acting methods are supposed to contain all four registers of acting, the sāmānyābhinaya undergoes a further subdivision into psychophysical (sāttvika), corporal (śārīra), and verbal (vācika), according to the predominant component in it. Among the three, the śārīrasāmānyābhinaya is particularly relevant to the discussion of the difference between dance and theatre, since it displays a succession of phases in which the bodily movement becomes gradually entangled with the spoken word, each to different degrees. Its six phases are given in the following order: vākyābhinaya (‘verbal acting’), sūcā (‘indicative acting’), aṅkura (‘sprout acting’), śākhā (‘twig-limb acting’), nāṭyāyita (‘simili-drama’ or ‘pseudo-drama’)52, and nivṛttyaṅkura (‘sprout at the end of the acting’).53 These various phases create, in the words of Bansat-Boudon (1992: 151), a true ‘protocol of acting’. Two of them, the śākhā and the aṅkura, are listed in 8.14 along with dance as components of the āṅgikābhinaya, and therefore seem to represent different ways of using the body during the enactment, with different semiotic and expressive values.54 From this perspective, the special way in which dance contributes to the bodily enactment without being assimilated to it will be the central topic of discussion in the textual passage on the difference between dance and theatre, as translated and investigated in this book.

More than constituting an infallible means for reproducing external reality as faithful as possible, or providing an automatic mechanism for the actor to enact any kind of written text, this sophisticated acting protocol aims at unfolding all the implicit suggestions and shades of meaning latent in the dramatic text. With regard to its application to the play’s text, the skill of a proficient actor lay in his capacity to use all the means of enactment conjointly, with a view to realizing its emotional potential. The Abhinavabhāratī provides many an example of how the acting was to be carried out in extant plays, which includes different ways of enacting the same textual portion,55 as well as creative expansions of the transmitted versions of well-known plays.56 There was, as the examples suggest, a certain freedom on the part of the actor, which was disciplined by his mastery over the acting techniques on the one hand, and by his personal reflection and understanding of the import of the play on the other. Abhinavagupta, while reflecting on how an actor should apply the code of hand gestures to a certain scene, points out that a preliminary consideration of the meaning of the text (arthayukti) was required on his part. Actors should ponder which sense would be more logically and efficaciously enacted, be it the primary (mukhya), metaphorical (gauṇa), metonymical (lākṣaṇika), or suggested (vyaṅgya) one.57 In exceptional cases, one actor could choose to render several layers of meaning simultaneously, using different means of enactment at the same time. A very telling example is given in the Dhvanyālokalocana, in which a stanza of the Ratnāvalī containing a double entendre in the form of a simile (upamāśleṣa) is said to require that both levels of the simile be enacted, the primary meaning word by word, and the secondary meaning through looks and facial expressions.58

The image of the actor as a perfumer demands that he combine the basic ingredients in different doses and that, if the occasion requires it, he even choose to omit some of them. The moments of emotional intensity, in which the rasa is supposed to arise in the hearts of the spectators, appear to require a sort of suspension of the scenic action, in which gestures and speech become as if rarefied. In these crucial moments, the dramatic dialogues give way to the lyrical verses, by which the characters more poignantly express their states of mind. This kind of performance is considered to be of a superior type, especially when the character is caught in the act of experiencing his inner feelings. When no visible action takes place and everything occurs in an intimate sphere, suspended, so to say, within the texture of the dramatic text, the outer gestures become still; the dialogue, taking place inwardly, is then rendered through the subtle expression of sattva, and its text can be even taken up by a song.59

Even from such a limited number of stray examples, it should be clear that acting was not a matter of the mechanical application of a fixed code of gestures and conventional behaviours to the contents of a literary text and its vocal rendering. Rather, each course of action had to be carefully evaluated and constructed on stage by paying the utmost attention to the presence (or absence) of an emotionally demanding situation, around which different strategies—including the addition of scenic protocols, songs, and interludes—were developed. If Bharata had attempted to build a vocabulary for representing the world in theatre, Abhinavagupta is concerned with the creation of a proper scenic syntax, capable of conveying the full spectrum of the emotional sphere to the spectators. Apart from his glimpses into current scenic practices, suggesting a certain degree of autonomy on the part of the actor or theatre director with respect to the author’s dramatic text,60 Abhinavagupta also stresses on several occasions that the śāstra does not offer a complete catalogue of usages, but rather a vademecum for the artist.61 After this brief overview of acting as a bridge between the play and its stage performance, it is now time to turn to the mechanisms of dramatic communication vis-à-vis linguistic communication, as examined by Abhinavagupta and as discussed in other intellectual domains.

3.3 Communication without Words

Since their first textual codifications, the performing arts of India have been marked by a constant emphasis on the role played by emotions in these disciplines. In the case of a dramatic production, the rasa is said to pervade the whole process, from the composition of the dramatic text by the poet, its staging by actors, and, finally, its aesthetic apprehension by the spectators.62 Indeed, the very name raṅga (‘stage’, but also ‘auditorium’) is said to derive from the Sanskrit root rañj, ‘to colour’, whereby theatre is the place where the mind becomes emotionally tinted.63 Despite the pervasiveness that had been assigned to emotions already in Bharata’s treatise, precisely determining the nature and locus of rasa became an especially compelling question for literary critics. The dramatic changes that rasa underwent, as it was appropriated by Alaṃkāraśāstra, posed many a challenge to the adjacent field of Nāṭyaśāstra, which prompted dramatic theorists to formulate more and more sophisticated analyses in order to re-appropriate rasa as a central concept in dramatic theory. As has been argued by Pollock, a turning point in aesthetic theory is represented by Bhaṭṭa Nāyaka, to whom we owe a decisive shift in focus from a formal to a reception analysis of rasa.64 Following Bhaṭṭa Nāyaka in this and many other respects, Abhinavagupta conceptualizes rasa as an experience located in the spectator and, only by affinity, in the poet.65

The whole problem of aesthetic communication coalesces around the passage of rasa from the poet to the spectator, while actors are explicitly excluded from it. The process of rasa communication is in fact described as a transferring or a pouring of rasa from heart to heart—the rasa is in fact first and foremost conceptualized as a liquid—in which the actor becomes a mere vessel for savouring the poem’s taste: filled with its liquor, he is however untouched by it.66 We have seen in the previous section that the actor avails himself of a whole range of means of communication, especially designed to convey the complete emotional sphere as effectively as possible. However, what does it mean to represent an emotion dramatically if the actor is not intimately touched by it?67 Is his action limited to the imitation of the external signs of an emotion? And what does it mean to communicate an emotional meaning dramatically, by way of abhinaya? In what follows, I will take a closer look at the role of abhinaya as a function in the theatrical communication of rasa and its factors.

Although the four abhinayas are central to the effective communication of emotions in theatre, the aesthetic factors—the determinants, consequents, and accompanying emotions—might well just be part of the literary description, and as such able to be conveyed by the mere power of words, as in the case of poetry meant to be heard and not enacted. From the time of Ānandavardhana, and with the incorporation of the rasa principle into Alaṃkāraśāstra, literary critics began to analyse poetry by paying particular attention to spotting the determinants and other factors leading to rasa in particular instances of poetic stanzas. The question of how poetic language could be expressive of rasa was first dealt with by Indian theoreticians within the boundaries of verbal language and linguistic analysis.

As Ānandhavardhana theorized in the Dhvanyāloka, poetic language possesses a special power, called vyañjanā (‘suggestion’, ‘manifestation’), capable of manifesting the unexpressed or implied meaning of poetry, characterized as dhvani (lit. ‘sound’, ‘resonance’). He typically considered rasa or emotional content a type of dhvani—the highest in poetry—to be conveyed through this special mode of verbal signification. In Ānandavardhana’s view, in fact, it is impossible to express the rasas by their names, in a purely denotative way (i.e. by abhidhā or vācakatva, in linguistic terminology), or through secondary or figurative expression (i.e. by guṇavṛtti or lakṣaṇā). Poets had to resort to a third linguistic function, the so-called ‘suggestion’ (vyañjanā), by which a rasa came to be manifested in the mind of the sensitive reader through the linguistic expression of the various aesthetic factors conveying it. As a corollary to this theory, it followed that rasa was to be conceived in poetry as a textual meaning or a linguistic entity, albeit one that could be expressed only indirectly by language.68

Ānandavardhana essentially relied on dramatic speculation to extend rasa to poetry, conforming in particular to Bharata’s famous dictum in the rasasūtra and the role of the aesthetic factors. He discussed poetic examples alongside dramatic ones, without ever transgressing the boundaries of linguistic analysis. Drawing on an earlier distinction in Alaṃkāraśāstra, he recognized a difference between poetry to be enacted (abhineyārtha-kāvya) and poetry not to be enacted (anabhineyārtha-kāvya).69 However, he never dealt with the consequences of such a difference in the medium of communication, as he failed to explore the potential of non-verbal communication alongside the dramatic text for the manifestation of rasa in theatre. This is all the more surprising given his familiarity with Bharata’s text, and the latter’s emphasis on the role of abhinaya in conveying the various aesthetic factors leading to the arousal of rasa.70 Moreover, while claiming the independence of suggestion from the process of denotation, Ānandavardhana argued for its existence even outside the realm of poetic language:

The power of denotation (abhidhāna), in fact, is different from the power of suggestion (avagamana), because one sees that the sounds of a song or the like, although they do not have a denotative content (avācaka), can suggest objects such as those defined as rasa and so on, and because such non-verbal behaviours (aśabda) as gestures (ceṣṭā) are known to manifest particular meanings. Thus, a good poet has shown that a particular gesture can be the cause of manifestation of a meaning, as in the verse ‘With her face bowed in shyness, etc.’.

Translation based on Ingalls et al. 1990: 55571

One may interpret the verse quoted here as an example of a gesture, i.e. bowing the head down, suggestive of an emotion in the character, i.e. shyness. However, Ānandavardhana quotes the full verse in an earlier passage of the Vṛtti, which reveals a slightly more complex picture. The verse reads:

Her face was bowed in shyness
in the presence of our elders
and she forced back the grief
that gave motion to her breast.
But did not the mere corner of her eye,
lovelier than a startled deer’s,
somehow, as it dropped a tear,
tell me not to go?
Translation Ingalls et al. 1990: 39572

In this stanza, the particular sidelong glance of the woman suggests, in a manner similar to that of verbal language, that the lover not leave. Somewhat surprisingly, in the Vṛtti ad DhvĀ 3.4, where the verse is quoted in full, Ānandavardhana attributes the suggestive power of the stanza as a whole not to a gesture, but to the word tribhāga (‘corner’) in the compound ‘netratribhāga’ (‘eye-corner’) (ibid.). According to Abhinavagupta, the verse suggests love in separation—a rasa—which the reader understands from the presence of the word ‘corner’ (of the eye), together with the associations it evokes in the speaker, which acts as a stimulating determinant (uddīpana-[vibhāva]) triggering the context in which the emotion of the narrating voice arises.73

Although Ānandavardhana never explicitly attributes the capacity to suggest rasa to gestures, it is tempting to draw from his example an implicit distinction between the suggestiveness of gestures in human communication and the suggestiveness of gestures as embedded in poetic description. In the first instance, gestures can manifest specific meanings (artha) in the context of interlocution—just as language—while in the second, their suggestive power is assigned to words that are directed to the reader and—at least according to Abhinavagupta—are ultimately expressive of rasa. One may venture to argue that Ānandavardhana is aware of the potential of gestures to suggest emotions both in human and in poetic communication, and that he must have been aware of their centrality to dramatic communication or abhinaya in theatre; however, his aim in the Dhvanyāloka is restricted to explaining suggestion as a literary phenomenon and dhvani as a characteristic peculiar to the poetic text.74

Poetic examples in which gestures play a prominent role in betraying and revealing human emotions abound in Ānandavardhana’s illustrations of poems and dramatic stanzas containing rasa. This choice, one might argue, might be a consequence of the paradigmatic status that Bharata’s rasasūtra assumed for literary critics. In the Nāṭyaśāstra, in fact, the illustration of the various aesthetic factors for each rasa and bhāva is laid down mainly in terms of gestures and visible actions, as befits theatrical communication. It is therefore quite understandable that, if rasa were to be found in literature as expressed by way of those same vibhāvas, anubhāvas, and vyabhicāribhāvas, examples containing a verbal description of the visible signs of an emotion, especially bodily gestures, would have been found to be particularly fitting for the sake of illustration. What may look somewhat paradoxical is that even while dealing with dramatic examples in particular, Ānandavardhana never takes into account how body language or other non-verbal behaviours—such as dance and music—might have been used to communicate additional meaning in theatre, besides what was already expressed in the words of the playwright.

Some scholars have attempted to explain Ānandavardhana’s way of analysing poetic and dramatic examples alike as a reflection, in the theory, of the collapse of the distinction between drama and poetry in practice, a position that was ultimately found to be untenable.75 Even a cursory look at the Sanskrit plays of the classical period reveals that we can find many examples of the full array of aesthetic factors as embedded in literary descriptions, without necessarily having to rely on enactment. One might easily be led to wonder if, in the light of the dhvani theory, which was a theory conceived within the boundaries of verbal language, enactment would contribute anything at all to the expression of rasa, even in theatre. Moreover, it is legitimate to ask the question of whether the poetic stanzas in dramas, which are privileged examples in Ānandavardhana’s literary analysis, were originally conceived for enactment through gestures and facial expression in the same way as dramatic dialogues.76 A famous instance is the description of the frightened deer chased by Duṣyanta in the hunting scene at the opening of the Abhijñānaśākuntala. Here the deer, though not physically present on stage, is vividly described through the eyes of Duṣyanta as displaying all the signs of fear:

Repeatedly darts a glance at the pursuing chariot,
gracefully twisting his neck,
with his haunches drawn acutely forward
into his forebody
out of fear of the arrow strike,
scattering the path with grass half-chewed,
dropping from his mouth gaping
with exhaustion.
Look! With his lofty leaps he moves
more through the sky
and hardly touches the ground.
Abhijñānaśākuntala 1.2, Translation Vasudeva 2006: 58

This literary passage displays all the elements that build up an emotion and lead to an aesthetic response, according to the well-known rasasūtra: the element determining fear in the deer (vibhāva) is King Duṣyanta himself, while the consequents of the fear (anubhāva) are the physical signs described in the stanza as being displayed by the deer, such as the turning of the neck, the open mouth dropping half-chewed grass, the contraction of the body, and the unsteady movements. The transitory states (vyabhicāribhāva) accompanying the main mood are impetus and exhaustion, evident from the deer’s pace. All these elements converge in the stable state (sthāyibhāva) of fear (bhaya), and result in the rasa bhayānaka, the fearsome. Such analyses in terms of aesthetic factors are typical of the later commentators on drama.77 If rasa be part of poetry—and for Abhinavagupta, rasa will become definitional of all poetry—it has to be communicated in a way that conforms to the rasasūtra, i.e. through the display of the proper configuration of aesthetic elements rather than by mentioning the rasas directly by name. Ānandavardhana expresses this as follows:

The third variety [of suggested meaning], concerning the rasas and the like, becomes manifest when it is implied by the capacity of the expressed meaning (vācyasāmārthya), but it cannot directly be the object of the function of words. That is why it is different from the directly expressed meaning (vācya). To clarify: [a rasa] could be directly expressed either by making it known by its proper term, or by means of the communication of the aesthetic factors (vibhāvādi). In the first case, one would end up with the unwanted consequence that the rasas and so on would not be apprehended lest the proper terms [designating them] were made known. The [rasas], moreover, are not always made known by their proper terms. And even when that is the case, they are apprehended only by means of the communication of specific determinants etc. The proper terms [for the rasas etc.] would only confirm the apprehension, not constitute it. That is why we do not see the [rasas etc.] apprehended in other contexts. In a poem that merely contains isolated words such as ‘love’ and the like, without communicating the aesthetic factors, there is little apprehension that it contains rasa. And because of this positive and negative concomitance—that we apprehend the rasas even without their proper denotation, just through the specific determinants [consequents and transitory states], and that by their mere denotation we do not [necessarily] have [such] apprehension—the rasas can only be implied by the capacity of the denoted meaning and they cannot be denoted. Hence the third variety [of suggested meaning] is established as different from direct expression.78

Around the time of Ānandavardhana, Śrī Śaṅkuka arrived at similar conclusions about the incommunicability of rasa through denotation, though starting from different premises. According to Śaṅkuka—as quoted by Abhinavagupta in the Abhinavabhāratī—the vibhāvas, anubhāvas, and vyabhicāribhāvas work as inferential signs (liṅga) in the cognition of a stable state (sthāyibhāva). This emotion is inferred as being in the actor, in the form of an imitation of the emotion belonging to the character, for instance Rāma. A rasa is nothing but this inferred emotion which, due to its being an imitation, is designated by a different name.79 While the other aesthetic factors can be known either through the poetic text or through their skilful display by an actor, the stable states cannot be simply denoted by their proper terms, but have to be communicated through dramatic enactment:

The determinants (vibhāva) can be realized on the strength of the poetic text; the consequents (anubhāva) by the training [of the actor] (śikṣā); the transitory states (vyabhicārin) by force of presenting one’s own factitious consequents. But the stable [state] (sthāyin) cannot be realized even on the strength of the poetic text. For words such as ‘desire’, ‘grief’, and so on, just make desire etc. into verbal referents through denotation, but do not communicate them in the form of vocal enactment. Since vocal [enactment] (vācika) is not simply the voice (vāk), but what is accomplished through the [voice], just as the bodily enactment (āṅgika) [is not just the body, but what is accomplished] through the limbs (aṅga).80

This theoretical explanation is followed by some examples in which the stable states are either merely denoted (abhidheya) or more effectively enacted (abhineya). The second case, which interests us here, is exemplified through a verse pronounced by King Udayana in the Ratnāvalī, when he looks at a portrait in which Sāgarikā has depicted him in her company:

The flood of spraying tear-drops
that fell from her as she sketched
seems like sweat breaking out on my body
from the touch of the palm of her hand.
Translation Doniger 2006: 15381

Śrī Śaṅkuka explains it thus:

While it denotes (abhi-dhā-) its own meaning, this very sentence enacts (abhi-nī-) the stable state of delight (rati-sthāyībhāva), consisting of pleasure, pertaining to Udayana. But it does not state it [directly]. For dramatic enactment (abhinayana) is a power of communication (avagamanaśakti) different from verbal denotation (vācakatva).82

The example from the Ratnāvalī is quite obviously presented as a case of vocal enactment (vācikābhinaya), in which all the aesthetic factors are made known by means of the sentence (vākya) alone, including perspiration, which is normally counted among those psychophysical reactions that can be rendered visually by a good actor, the sāttvikabhāvas. The underlying stable state is said to be enacted rather than being mentioned explicitly. If we connect Śaṅkuka’s analysis of the mechanism of communication at play in this stanza with what was stated immediately before, it appears that abhinaya is a special power of communication, and that it works through inference. What is inferred is a state, which is imitated. It appears that the function assigned to abhinaya by Śaṅkuka is similar to the one assigned to poetic suggestion by Ānandavardhana.83 Both have a special status in aesthetic communication: they are effective in conveying emotions, and they are distinguished from direct denotation. Note also the similarity of their formulations:

  • na hi yaivābhidhānaśaktiḥ saivāvagamanaśaktiḥ (Vṛtti ad DhvĀ 3.33, p. 417)

  • avagamanaśaktir hy abhinayanaṃ vācakatvād anyā (ABh ad rasasūtra, vol. 1, p. 267)

Although Ānandavardhana aimed at extending suggestiveness to domains other than words, such as music and gestures, he does not take into consideration enactment as a separate medium for the dramatic suggestion of rasa. Analogously, Śaṅkuka identifies dramatic enactment (abhinaya) as the specific medium for conveying rasa in theatre, but he does so within the boundaries of vocal enactment as confined to the verbal text, without exploring—at least in the restricted number of fragments we possess—the suggestive potential of an actor’s non-verbal communication. The fact that Śaṅkuka mentions the case of bodily enactment, alongside the vocal, suggests that his theory was supposed to be valid for gestures as well.84

Although Śaṅkuka’s examples draw the distinction between verbal denotation and vocal enactment on purely textual grounds, the stage dimension of abhinaya is not altogether neglected. First of all, Śaṅkuka mentions the training of the actor and his capacity to communicate the transitory states by presenting his own factitious consequents, by which one has to understand the physical reactions affecting his voice and body. The various aesthetic factors, apprehended from the text and from the actor’s enactment, operate jointly as inferential signs, by which the emotion—actually belonging to the character—is inferred as abiding in the actor. In the latter, however, it is only the imitation of an emotion acquired through conscious effort, not a genuine one, and takes the name of rasa. Secondly, since his work was a commentary on the Nāṭyaśāstra, Śaṅkuka’s notion of abhinaya must necessarily have been quite ample, so as to include the whole spectrum of the means of enactment, among which bodily movement was a primary medium for conveying emotions. To Śaṅkuka goes the credit of formulating what can be regarded as the first theoretical attempt to combine verbal and non-verbal media for the effective communication of theatrical emotions. His choice of an example of abhinaya in which rasa is enhanced by gestures and psychophysical reactions—the falling drops, the action of painting, the appearance of perspiration, the touch of the hand—which are all just part of the literary description, might be regarded as stemming from a general hesitation to combine words and gestures more effectively in a comprehensive theory of aesthetic communication.

While in oral literature the function by which rasa is communicated is taken up by vyañjanā—the linguistic function newly theorized by Ānandavardhana—in visual literature the communication of rasa is assumed by abhinaya, already defined by Bharata as the very medium for conveying emotions in a theatrical context.85 Besides the technical but rather unspecific definition of abhinaya in the Nāṭyaśāstra, we find another, conventional meaning attached to this term in Indian philosophy, especially within discussions about knowledge acquisition and the validity of the means of knowledge, the so-called pramāṇas. The view that gestures and movements communicate meaning by inference is not an original position of Śaṅkuka, but is rather the communis opinio in Indian sources. Gestures (including facial expressions) and movements, designated in these texts by the comprehensive term ceṣṭā, are recognized to have the power to make something known, and this something is sometimes identified with the inner states of the mind. Some philosophical schools therefore list gestures among the pramāṇas, typically as a special type of inference. The Praśastapādabhāṣya, a Vaiśeṣika text from the fifth or sixth century CE also known as Padārthadharmasaṃgraha, maintains that gestures produce a cognition for someone who knows abhinaya, that is, one who knows the invariable concomitance between specific bodily actions and meaning:

Since we see that a cognition comes about through bodily gestures (ceṣṭā), for the one who is acquainted with gesticulation (abhinaya), even the [cognition issuing thereof] has to be regarded as a case of inference.86

The available commentaries on this verse especially stress the fact that gesticulation should fall under the category of inference or, in some cases, even of verbal knowledge.87 However one considers them, gestures cannot be thought of as independent means since, for them to produce knowledge, it is necessary to have a previous knowledge of the connection between, say, a certain way of moving the palms and the fingers of the hands, and a meaning, for instance calling or sending somebody away.88 The Vyomavatī, a commentary on the Padārthadharmasaṃgraha written by Vyomaśiva around 900 CE, uses the following example for a gesture producing knowledge by inference: I see a man raising his cupped hands to his mouth, and I infer that he is thirsty. The source for the knowledge of the invariable connection between the two is the direct observation of worldly behaviour. However, Vyomaśiva adds:

In this way, other kinds of gestures (ceṣṭā), known from the science of theatre (nāṭyaśāstraprasiddha), should also be subsumed under inference.89

These examples suggest that, outside the specialized field of theatre, the word abhinaya was understood primarily as gesticulation, as a worldly way of communicating without words, and that this was mainly understood to work by inference, by means of a conventional relation between gestures and meanings. Paradigmatic of this kind of bodily behaviour are certainly the gestures of the hands, but examples with other kinds of expressive gestures are not lacking in philosophical sources. An oft-cited example is that of the winking of the eyes (akṣinikoca), to which the Dhvanyālokalocana even assigns a method (mārga), similar to dancing and singing.90 Before that, grammarians typically took the winking of the eyes as an analogy for the functioning of what they considered as incorrect linguistic forms, such as Apabhraṁśa words. These—explains the philosopher of language Bhartṛhari—do not convey their object directly, but indirectly, either by prompting recollection of the correct word through inference, or by conveying just a vague idea, by force of repetition, similar to the way madmen communicate by winking their eyes.91 Bhartṛhari’s testimony is interesting, since it reflects a negative opinion about gesticulation intended as an indistinct form of language, conveying ideas in a confused way.

Within the theatrical sphere, Abhinavagupta analogously explains the profusion of gestures used to enact certain dramatic scenes as reflecting the mental condition of the character, which in its turn is based on worldly behaviour. In the world, in fact, the excessive use of gestures is attributed to a lack of mental clarity affecting bodily expression. Here one may be tempted to read an indirect allusion to the opposite appraisal of the mastery over one’s own psychophysical sphere, typical of a certain courtly milieu.92 The philosophical cliché that gesticulation reflects mental confusion is typically used by Abhinavagupta in other works to mock the opponent’s way of arguing. One instance is the humorous description of a Buddhist’s definition of the means of correct knowledge (pramāṇa) in the Īśvarapratyabhijñāvivṛtivimarśinī: ‘This [argument] amounts to nothing but a grimace, a shaking of the head, a snap of the fingers and the like’ (Ratié 2013: 384, n. 29).93 In a verse by Manoratha, quoted by Abhinavagupta in his Locana, it is the lack of mindfulness on the part of the interlocutor that triggers a dialogue through gestures, clearly expressing scornful derision: ‘If a fool asked him [to define dhvani], he could reply with such [silly gestures] as raising the eyebrows and rolling his eyes’ (Ingalls et al. 1990: 62–63).94 Such examples show that Abhinavagupta was aware of the common negative value assigned to gestures in other spheres, but he certainly did not put it on the same plane as the use of gestures proper to aesthetic communication in theatre, i.e. abhinaya.

Vyomaśiva’s evidence marks an important step towards the understanding of dramatic enactment as a sphere separate from worldly communication, as is mirrored in Śaṅkuka’s discussion of the function of abhinaya. But the credit for definitively separating the common sense of abhinaya in worldly communication from the abhinaya proper to aesthetic communication, including in its epistemological modalities, goes to Abhinavagupta. As will be shown in the next section, Abhinavagupta distinguished dramatic enactment both from the sphere of inference and from that of linguistic expression, giving abhinaya a totally new interpretation as a case of direct perception, though a very special one. The formulation of a comprehensive theory, capable of accommodating not only the coordinated actions of speech and gestures, together with costumes and psychophysical reactions, but also the non-representational elements, such as music and dance, was a task our commentator consciously assumed. In what follows, his main presuppositions and achievements will be outlined.

3.3.1 Dramatic Mimesis vs Imitation

In the previous sections, the close connection between dramatic enactment and emotions has been investigated both with regard to the actor’s training, and as grounded in a literary text. It has been noticed how, around the ninth and tenth centuries, the abhinaya of theatre started to be recognized as a specific domain even outside specialistic literature on drama, and how, in the newly enlarged field of literary criticism, attempts were being made to link the question of abhinaya, as the specifics of theatre, to the new theories of suggestiveness in poetic analysis. In order to understand Abhinavagupta’s redefinition of the status of abhinaya as dramatic mimesis (read ‘the mimesis proper to drama’), it is now necessary to delve into its theoretical premises, which concern the phenomenological and epistemological status of dramatic fiction. Abhinavagupta takes his cues from the critique of imitation in theatre. It is well known that he rejected the view that theatre is an imitation (anukṛti/anukāra/anukaraṇa) both of the world more generally and of emotions in particular. As I will argue, however, it would be a mistake to draw the conclusion that literature and drama—just like painting and sculpture, according to a prejudice common in early twentieth-century perceptions of Indian art—knew no realism whatsoever and preferred to linger on inner and spiritual essences rather than representing external realities.95 At the same time, I would like to rehabilitate the concept of mimesis in Indian theatre as a possible equivalent for abhinaya. Given the shifts in usage that the term mimesis has undergone in Western theories of representation over the long history of this concept, it would be restrictive to intend mimesis in the limited sense of imitation-qua-mimicry,96 which is how scholars commonly understand the term anukaraṇa in art after its dismantling by Abhinavagupta.

Following his master Bhaṭṭa Tauta, Abhinavagupta rejects the logical possibility that representation in theatre could be conceived as imitation-qua-mimicry. This theoretical position, however, did not prevent further discussion on representation, on the status of fiction and on the status of reality in art. On the contrary, the rejection of imitation provides an occasion for Abhinavagupta to reflect on the particular status of representation in art and of dramatic representation in particular. If we regard ‘mimesis as a concept (or rather a family of concepts) of representation’, as Halliwell (2002: 16) proposed for the history of mimesis in the West, it becomes possible to view Śaṅkuka’s theory of anukaraṇa and Bhaṭṭa Tauta/Abhinavagupta’s rejection of it as part of a continuous discourse on mimesis—in the larger sense of representation-cum-expression—rather than in terms of a rupture with the idea of art as imitation tout court, as it has commonly been understood. As I will argue, the concept of abhinaya plays a crucial role in Abhinavagupta’s framing of the concept of mimesis in Indian theatre, not only as an artistic medium with the meaning of dramatic acting, but as a mode of representation entailing a reflection on the audience’s cognition of theatre and the ontological status of the world represented. The discourse on representation and abhinaya will be particularly relevant in the discussion of mimetic or narrative dance, where the possibility that dance, just like theatre, may function through abhinaya becomes a debated issue. The discussion will be framed by Abhinavagupta as a reflection on the specificity of dramatic mimesis and what should fall outside of its semantic field. Unlike for Aristotle, the discourse on mimesis in Abhinavagupta does not take the form of a discourse on the representational arts in general, but on the status of ‘perfect’ and ‘imperfect’ mimesis, whose paradigmatic form is Sanskrit drama.

To begin with, it would be useful to have a look at what was understood by the term anukaraṇa in theatre, and what the theory of imitation—anukaraṇavāda is a term used in the Abhinavabhāratī to refer to Śrī Śaṅkuka’s thesis—implied for its most fervent supporter. Although Śaṅkuka’s theory is essentially presented as an interpretation of rasa as an imitated emotion known via inference, its refutation is connected with a larger critique of theatre as imitation. Abhinavagupta imparts the first blows to this theory in the first chapter of the Abhinavabhāratī, taking Bharata’s statement that theatre is an imitation of the seven continents (saptadvīpānukaraṇa, 1.117) as his point of departure. The second and fatal blow arrives with the already mentioned refutation of Śaṅkuka’s thesis on rasa in the sixth chapter. As the number of intertextual references between these two chapters indicates, the two critiques should be read as closely interconnected. Since the relevant portions are available in a number of translations nowadays,97 I will limit my account to presenting the arguments for establishing a special status for aesthetic communication that accounts for the full spectrum of representational media, in which dramatic mimesis is irrevocably divorced from imitation, and its epistemology from inference.

Let me start with the limited critique of rasa as the imitation of an emotion. In its basic form, according to Śrī Śaṅkuka’s anukaraṇavāda, a stable state (sthāyibhāva) is cognized as being in the actor—the anukartṛ—by force of the inferential signs (liṅga) consisting in the aesthetic factors (vibhāvādi), which correspond to the causes, effects, and accompanying elements that configure a certain emotion in real life. The stable state inferred from them is an imitation (anukaraṇa) of the stable state belonging to the character—the anukārya—and takes the name of rasa.98 The main problem highlighted by Bhaṭṭa Tauta/Abhinavagupta does not concern the cognition of emotions by means of some externally visible signs acting as inferential reasons (liṅga),99 but Śaṅkuka’s explanation of the object inferred in theatre as the imitation of an emotion and not simply as the emotion itself, just as in real life. The idea that rasa is an imitation of the emotion of a fictional character, in fact, is triggered by the fictional context of the theatrical performance or poem. This, according to Śaṅkuka, accounts for the unreality of the events represented or depicted, including the emotions. At the same time, however, he seems to argue that the spectators do not recognize the aesthetic factors as factitious, otherwise the inferential process would be invalidated.

Now, Bhaṭṭa Tauta argued that for rasa to be an imitation, somebody has to apprehend it as an imitation and not as the real thing, which means that a distinction has to be made between the imitator, the imitated, and the term of the imitation. The example he gives is the imitation of somebody drinking alcohol in a particular way. For it to be grasped as an imitation, the imitator must be perceived drinking water, which would be the term of the imitation standing for the imitated thing.100 Analogously, to apprehend rasa in theatre as an imitation, a spectator would have to apprehend the actor as the imitator of the character’s emotion by means of something analogous but not equal to that emotion. It would be difficult, however, to see how the perception of the external paraphernalia of an actor, or his actions and psychophysical reactions, would lead to the cognition of the imitation of an emotion, and how that imitated emotion could be attributed to a fictional character, like Rāma, that nobody has ever seen.101 Moreover, the only way to explain how the inferential signs of an emotion, i.e. the determinants, the consequents, and the transitory states, could lead a spectator to apprehend the imitation of an emotion instead of the emotion itself would be to admit that they are indeed grasped as fictitious. And this leads to an impasse, since it invalidates the possibility of inferring either a real emotion or an imitated one: from a fake inferential sign recognized as such, it is neither possible to infer something real nor something imitated. In the famous example used in the Abhinavabhāratī, mist perceived as an imitation of smoke cannot lead one to infer a bouquet of red flowers as an imitation of fire.

The discussion then shifts from an epistemological to a phenomenological plane, where the acting process is examined for evidence for the claim that the actor is imitating the character’s emotion. But this would be untenable since, even if imitation (anu-karaṇa) be understood as ‘making similar to’ (sadṛśa-karaṇa), the actor, just like the audience, has never seen Rāma, let alone his emotion. The experience of the actor is described as follows by Bhaṭṭa Tauta/Abhinavagupta:

Moreover, the actor simply gesticulates (ceṣṭate), while displaying (pradarśayan) the consequents alone—thanks to his training, to the recollection of his own determinants, and to his empathy through the generalization of the emotion [in the text]—and while reciting (paṭhan) the poetic text with the help of the appropriate intonations etc. To this alone amounts his experience, but he does not have the experience that [what he is doing] is an imitation. For there can be no imitation of the gestures of Rāma (rāmaceṣṭita-anukāra) in the same way that the attire of the beloved can be imitated (kāntaveṣa-anukāra). Moreover, we have already explained this in the first chapter.102

The reference to the Abhinavabhāratī’s first chapter in this passage has the function of connecting the critique of rasa as the imitation of an emotion with the more general critique of theatre as an imitation-qua-mimicry. A similar phrasing and reference to the general rejection of imitation in theatre is found just a few lines below the above-quoted passage, while discussing the possibility that Bharata could ever have meant rasa as the imitation of a stable state:

As to the statement that ‘[theatre] is an imitation (anukaraṇa) of the seven continents’ ( 1.117cd), it can be explained in a different way. Moreover, even if one admits that there is imitation of the [stable state], why is there not a different name [i.e. rasa] in the case of the imitation of the attire and the gait of the beloved (kāntaveṣagaty-anukaraṇa)?103

As this passage hints, in the first chapter Abhinavagupta sets out to justify Bharata’s use of the word anukaraṇa. Many of the arguments used by Bhaṭṭa Tauta to refute Śaṅkuka’s theory of rasa as imitation are reused in the first chapter to refute the general idea that theatre is an imitation. However, since the first chapter does not aim to counter Śaṅkuka’s thesis, but to explain Bharata’s—at first view—puzzling statement that ‘theatre is an imitation (anukaraṇa) of the seven continents’ ( 1.117cd), it provides the occasion for presenting a general theory of what theatre is and does. Abhinavagupta takes his cue from Bharata’s use of another term, i.e. anukīrtana, in 1.107cd, to which he assigns a meaning different from imitation, namely ‘celebrative renarration’ of the three worlds. The term anukaraṇa would then be reinterpreted as similarly nuanced, thereby justifying Bharata’s use of it.104 Bharata’s statement that theatre is an imitation of the seven continents in 1.117cd is moreover acceptable, provided that the term nāṭya in it is understood as ‘the activity of actors, consisting of an imitation of the seven continents, that one sees on stage’ (saptadvīpānukaraṇamayī hi naṭakriyā raṅge dṛśyate, ABh ad locum, vol. 1, p. 42). At this juncture, there is an interesting overlap, never made explicit as such by Abhinavagupta, between the concept of anukaraṇa and that of abhinaya. What could the activity of actors—conforming to the ways of the world and seen on stage—ever be, other than dramatic acting, i.e. abhinaya? Abhinaya is the activity of actors par excellence, and it is often qualified in terms of activity (kriyā) in the Abhinavabhāratī.105 As to the reference to 1.117cd in the quotation from the rasasūtra discussed above, it must hint at this interpretation of anukaraṇa as the activities of actors on stage, which correspond largely to worldly ones, according to the sense of anukaraṇa as anusaritayā karaṇa (‘acting in conformity [with the world]’ ABh ad 1.107cd, vol. 1, p. 37). To say that their activities conform to the ways of the world is indeed utterly different from saying that the actors imitate the emotions while acting. Clearly, the discourse on anukaraṇa in the first chapter is intended as a general discourse on representation in theatre, in which imitation is just one of the possible options for thinking about the connection between art and reality. And that is rejected as an impossibility under every point of view.106

The challenge posed by Śrī Śaṅkuka’s anukaraṇavāda was to theoretically distinguish the aesthetic factors leading to the cognition of rasa in theatre from the corresponding inferential signs leading to the inference of emotions in real life, without letting the whole distinction between art and life collapse. Emotions or bhāvas are acknowledged almost unanimously by Indian literary critics to exist in the world and in theatre alike, and in both domains they are displayed through the same configuration of external signs. In art, however, emotions are conveyed conjointly by the literary text and by actors displaying the appropriate visible reactions on their body. According to Abhinavagupta, Śaṅkuka’s account fails to differentiate the process by which an onlooker or a spectator cognizes an emotion in real life and in theatre.107 Although Śaṅkuka ascribes a special power to poetic language, as a matter of fact, his theory of rasa as an imitated emotion requires an actor (the anukartṛ) as the locus of the display of the inferential signs of the character’s emotion (the anukārya), which ultimately seems to confine the communication of emotions to gestures and other visible behaviours. This echoes the communis opinio, mentioned in the previous section, by which abhinaya works as a synonym of gesticulation (ceṣṭā) as a means of knowledge based on inference that encompasses worldly and theatrical gestures alike.

Abhinavagupta, on the contrary, is adamant when he says that dramatic acting (abhinaya)—a function proper to theatre and distinct from imitation—does not work through inferential signs, or through convention like ordinary language. The explanation of the functioning of abhinaya in epistemological terms is provided in his commentary on what is commonly regarded as the definition of theatre, i.e. 1.119,108 where abhinaya is the very means by which theatre, and the emotions embedded in it, become an object of cognition for the spectators:

In this way, how can such an object defined as theatre (nāṭya) enter the field of cognition? [In reply to this question, Bharata] says: [when it is conveyed by] the bodily and the other (aṅgādi) [means of dramatic enactment]. The enactments, such as the bodily and so on, cannot be assimilated to inferential signs (liṅga) or to linguistic convention (saṅketa). On the contrary, they are akin to an immediate direct perception (pratyakṣasākṣātkārakalpa). †The entity defined as theatre does not† consist in worldly knowledge and so on, [to be established as] true or false. Its essence is indeed the [rasas] such as the amorous one (śṛṅgāra) and others, which are instrumental to the cognition coinciding with a relishing, different from that of [states of] delight and so forth. Precisely because they are causal in bringing (nayana) [the meanings] directly in front (abhimukya˚) [of the spectators], they are technically designated by the word abhinaya (‘enactment’, ‘dramatic representation’), unknown with this meaning in the śāstra (i.e. Veda), in the world (i.e. in ordinary discourse), or elsewhere.109

In this passage, Abhinavagupta asserts the deep and irreducible distinction between the functioning of aesthetic communication and ordinary communication. The special cognition derived from abhinaya is not of a worldly order, since it transgresses ordinary experience, where cognitions are qualified as true, false, or doubtful. To emphasize its extraordinariness, the cognition resulting from dramatic representation is defined as similar—but not identical—to a direct perception, which will become a leitmotiv throughout the Abhinavabhāratī. The special status of abhinaya in theatre, as endowed with the directness of perception, sets aesthetic communication apart from the abhinaya known from other knowledge systems with the non-technical sense of gesticulation (ceṣṭā), as well as from the speculation on gestures and linguistic convention in the sphere of grammar.110 At the same time, since abhinaya is conceptualized in the dramatic tradition as a blend of voice, body, mindfulness, and costume, its mechanism cannot be conflated with that of poetic suggestion, which works exclusively through language. Thus Abhinavagupta conceives the vocal enactment as twofold, since it cannot be reduced to the literary text disjoined from its vocal rendering by an actor, which includes aspects of prosody and melody as well.111

Although rasa had clearly been conceptualized since Ānandavardhana’s time as the domain of the literary text, which became a prerogative of every kāvya, it appears that Abhinavagupta considered the performative dimension as absolutely primary for the production of rasa in theatre. The first one to express this idea in clear terms was possibly Bhaṭṭa Tauta, according to whom the experience of rasa in theatre is paradigmatic and definitional, and cannot but be achieved through the staged performance of the poetic text. However, rasa can also be found in poetry to the extent that poetry behaves like a theatrical performance (nāṭyāyamāna)—in other words, when it gives rise to an especially vivid awareness that is similar to a direct perception (pratyakṣakalpasaṃvedana). And this is exactly what abhinaya is bound to achieve in theatre.112 As we will see in the next section, if the purpose of dramatic acting is to convey the meanings of the poetic text in a lifelike manner that cannot be mistaken for an imitation, the discourse on aesthetic communication also takes into account—possibly for the first time, with Abhinavagupta—those aspects of non-verbal communication less directly connected with the play’s text and proper to the specific spectacular format of dramatic performances, including singing and dancing. At given times in the performance of a play, music and dancing can in fact assume a particularly prominent role and appear as inextricably intertwined with a text and its enactment. The presence of such spectacular elements in the performance of a play is taken by Bhaṭṭa Tauta/Abhinavagupta as an argument against the interpretation of rasa as the imitation of a stable state and of theatre as an imitation in general:

Contrary [to the opinion that rasa is the imitation of a stable state, which can be inferred by the display of its external signs], [Bharata’s] illustrations [of the rasas] etc., enlivened by the dhruvā songs, the variety of rhythms and the lāsyāṅgas, is rather a sign to the opposite.113

Echoes of a discussion about the imitative value of songs and music in theatre are also found in the first chapter, again within the general critique of theatre as an imitation:

Moreover, since [theatre] is no imitation, then even the objection raised by some [against theatrical extravagance and the lack of similitude]—namely that nobody can be imitated as accompanied by songs and instrumental music in all situations—has no place. For we did not say that songs and the like [in theatre] are objects of imitation. Besides, a counter-objection to this has been voiced as follows: ‘in the world, vocal and instrumental music are commonly encountered during activities such as sitting, walking, bathing, sleeping, awakening, eating, and so forth[, therefore the musical accompaniment in theatre imitates those].’ This is untenable too, for in the world we do not find vocal and [instrumental music] in the form of dhruvās, rhythms, etc.[, proper to theatre,] in [association with] activities such as walking and so forth, with the sole exception of auspicious [occasions]. And [the imitative value of music in theatre is also untenable] because the very idea of imitation does not logically hold also with regard to such actions as singing, playing instruments, etc. That is all.114

This passage establishes an important difference between the use of music in theatre and in the world. In the world, playing instruments or singing songs can be performed in connection with other actions for the sake of auspiciousness, i.e. in ritual contexts. In theatre, although playing and singing are seen in connection with the enactment of some dramatic situation, they should not be considered as either the imitation of music played in connection with real-world events, nor as imitating anything in particular. They are a part of aesthetic communication on a par with enactment, but they are further removed from an external referent and hence from imitation because of their non-mimetic nature. As we shall shortly see, such spectacular elements that do not imitate anything are not just accessory elements, but are integral to the very idea of the fabrication of dramatic fiction and its educational goal.

To sum up, abhinaya can neither be equated with simple gesticulation, nor with the capacity of poetic language alone. On the contrary, it is a peculiar way of representing things on stage, involving the four means of the body, voice, mind, and costume, plus an array of non-semantic elements. As such, it must be distinguished from the mimicry of other people’s behaviours and emotions, both in epistemological and in phenomenological terms. If abhinaya were to coincide with an imitation recognized as such, it would turn out as a parody, while if imitation were so perfectly achieved as to create a sense of illusion, it would be impossible to properly account for the cognition of theatre and its content as different from reality. The special status Abhinavagupta assignes to the cognition resulting from dramatic enactment, as a quasi- or simili-perception (pratyakṣasākṣātkārakalpa-pratīti), pleads for a nuanced interpretation of his rejection of anukaraṇavāda, where there is no absolute denial that theatre has any mimetic relation whatsoever to the world, but rather a re-qualification of dramatic representation and its object. As will be shown in the next sections, this re-qualification entails an even stricter mimetic connection between the actor, the enactment, and the enacted thing or character, which is exploited to distinguish theatre from the new genres of danced poetry or narrative dance.115

3.4 Dance, Beauty, and the Fabrication of Dramatic Fiction

śobhāpradhānaṃ hi nāṭye sarvam (ABh ad 1.121, vol. 1, p. 45)

The famous dictum that scripture instructs like a master, history like a friend, and poetry like a lover appears time and again in discussions on literary genres in poetic treatises. Such a neat threefold distinction in the didactic modes of operation of different textual types was popularized through the writings of Abhinavagupta.116 Although not expressed in the form of a maxim, the peculiar capacity of poetry to instruct and delight at the same time was already present in nuce in Bharata’s treatise,117 as well as in some of the first non-systematic discussions about the function of literature embedded in literary works, famously in Aśvaghoṣa’s second-century poems.118 From a discourse used to justify the beginnings of a new genre in Sanskrit with didactic aspirations, the pleasurable experience ascribed to literature crystallized, in the works of literary critics, into a debate about the double purpose of art: pleasure (prīti) and instruction (vyutpatti).119

Given the predominantly courtly production of poetry in the classical and medieval periods, poetry was conceived—at least in theory, but probably also in practice—as an art to be consumed in the elite, restricted circle of literary connoisseurs.120 Theatre, on the contrary, seems to have enjoyed a larger audience from the beginning, given the diversity of occasions for the performance of drama besides the royal sabhā.121 At least in theory, drama was presented as an art whose ambition was to reach out to all levels of Indian society, irrespective of caste affiliation and including even those strata of the population less exposed to Sanskrit education, i.e. women, children, and the feeble-minded (strībālamūrkha˚, as 34.222 puts it). This capacity to affect larger audiences, which delineates theatre from poetry, was contingent on its spectacular dimension, a fact that was already stressed by Bhaṭṭa Tauta in his Kāvyakautuka.122 But establishing what exactly singles out the pleasure provided by the performance of a play from the one provided by the recitation of a poem, the reading of an epic text, a solo dance recital, or a musical performance, is Abhinavagupta’s original contribution to the field of aesthetics. His fine analysis relies on an essential distinction among the elements participating in the aesthetic process into those that serve the communication of specific textual meanings and those that merely provide pleasure. This distinction could be conceptualized, in terms of functionality, as one between semiotic elements and, to borrow a term well established in classical studies, psychagogic ones.123 Moreover, Abhinavagupta pays utmost attention to how these two kinds of elements interact with one another at different times in a performance, and to how they merge, as it were, into one another in the fabrication of the fictional object. This object, it is worth reminding, aims at the arousal of rasa for the totality of the spectators and in its twofold dimension of pleasure and instruction.

3.4.1 On the Psychagogic Power of Dance

As hinted above, dramatic acting in its four registers guarantees an especially vivid cognition of the contents of the literary text, by which all spectators see things as if they were taking place directly in front of their eyes. Only connoisseurs, however, intended as individuals especially gifted with aesthetic sensibility and imagination, are believed to be able to experience the rasa merely by reading or hearing a poem, or by having a drama read out, and not enacted. According to Abhinavagupta, such individuals are endowed with a heart especially similar to a spotless mirror, since their mind is not guided by desire, confusion, or anger, which characterize the human condition. Due to this special quality, they may obtain a vivid cognition of the content of literature and sympathize with the emotional core of a poem, or get to taste the various rasas of the text of a drama that is simply read out.124 Those who are not susceptible to poetry, on the contrary, depend on the actors and the means of dramatic enactment for achieving a vividness of the cognition and experiencing the depicted events more directly.125 Key terms recurring as a leitmotif in Abhinavagupta’s explanation of the distinctive perception of theatre achieved by means of the fourfold enactment (abhinaya) are the aforementioned pratyakṣasākṣātkārakalpapratīti, the loosely synonymous pratyakṣakalpasaṃvedana, sphuṭādhyavasāya, sākṣātkārakalpānuvyavasāya, and so on.126

In order to untie the knots in the hearts of those spectators who are still prey to their own passions so that they might become absorbed in the events represented, Abhinavagupta recommends pleasant activities such as singing, instrumental playing, and the like.127 Key words in this connection are (upa)rañjanā, *hṛdayahāraṇa, etc., all having to do with notions of entertainment, beauty, charm, and allurement, typically assigned to a group of elements said to be entertaining (uparañjaka, lit. ‘colouring’) or charming (hṛdya, lit. ‘hearty’). These typically include vocal music, instrumental music, and dance, performed alone or in combination. The role played by the charming elements in purifying the still opaque heart of the spectators so as to enable an aesthetic experience even for the least aesthetically endowed individuals is best illustrated in the following passage from the rasasūtra. The passage contains an explanation as to how to get rid of one of the main obstacles hindering the cognition of rasa (the third obstacle), lying in the fact that a spectator may be overwhelmed by his own worldly concerns and find it difficult to concentrate on another object:128

Moreover, how could someone who is under the sway of his own pleasure[, pain, or indifference] make his consciousness rest on another object? In order to remove such an impediment, [Bharata] has resorted to the charm (uparañjana) of vocal and instrumental music, well-adorned playhouses, courtesans skilful in eloquence, and so on. These [charming elements], made of vocal objects and the like, residing in all the different components [of the performance], are liable to be enjoyed by all the [spectators] thanks to their power of generality (sādhāraṇya). Thanks to this [‘colouring’], even a person devoid of any sensibility is turned into a connoisseur by obtaining a limpidity of the heart. In fact, it has been said that [this theatre must be] ‘visible and audible ( 1.11d)’ [i.e. pleasing and instructing].129

Turning the spectator into a connoisseur, a sahṛdaya (lit. ‘endowed with heart’), is indeed what the charming elements are supposed to effectuate during a theatrical performance. This coincides with a cleansing of the heart of all possible distracting and obstructing mental states, which is a prerequisite for being aesthetically touched by the performance. This ‘aesthetic susceptibility’ (Rastogi 2016: 142), proper to sahṛdayas, was initially described by literary critics as the capacity to appreciate poetry.130 Abhinavagupta’s famous definition of the ‘ideal connoisseur’ in the Locana states that sahṛdayas are ‘persons who are capable of identifying with the subject matter, as the mirror of their hearts has been polished by the constant study and practice of poetry, and who respond to it sympathetically in their own hearts’.131 Similarly, in the Abhinavabhāratī, Abhinavagupta attributes the capacity to appreciate poetry independently of stage presentation to those who are already connoisseurs thanks to the repeated practice of poetry, previous merit, and so forth: for them, ‘heard’ rasa can be the object of a quasi-direct perception.132 Whereas poetry is produced by sahṛdayas and for sahṛdayas, theatre has to appeal to everybody by developing one’s aesthetic susceptibility. Turned into a sahṛdaya thanks to the special charm brought forward by some of its spectacular elements, the spectator will be able to sympathetically respond to the events represented and access the rasa, and through it the twofold goal of theatre, pleasure and instruction.

A concrete example of how the charming elements operate in a theatrical performance is seen in the use of the gorgeous manner (kaiśikīvṛtti). With regard to its introduction into the performance, Abhinavagupta voices the idea that although the meanings may be vividly expressed through the enactment, charm or beauty are required in order to access the rasa. The kaiśikī, containing elements of dance as well as instrumental and vocal music, is said to be a supporting element of the performance (upakaraṇa); yet it is not just an accessory item, but is defined more than once as the vital essence of the performance (sakalaprayogaprāṇa).133 Abhinavagupta describes the kaiśikī as a ‘heart-catching multifariousness’ (hṛdayahāri vaicitryam),134 necessary for the manifestation not only of śṛṅgāra rasa—quite intuitively enhanced by beautiful elements such as dances and songs—but of all the other rasas too. Without such a beautiful multifariousness, he argues, the performance would not appeal to the spectators, and the dramatic representation would remain completely unintelligible or barely accessible, which would invalidate the manifestation of rasa, jeopardizing all efforts towards a lifelike representation:

However, how would the [kaiśikī] be useful in theatre? […] From the [gorgeous manner] springs the amorous rasa taught in theatre, not in any other manner. […] Therefore, if one employs the enactment, even if fourfold and delicate (sukumāra), as a means to manifest the amorous rasa, without sweet and indolent spins and whirls, without frowns of the eyebrows, sidelong glances, etc., one cannot even mention the relishing of śṛṅgāra rasa[, let alone experience it!] […] Even if one has to bring about the manifestation of [other] rasas such as raudra and so on, the enactment employed cannot be the cause of the manifestation of rasa, insofar as it is hardly alluring or non-alluring if it is not commingled with the beautiful multifariousness [of the gorgeous manner,] consisting in alliterations, spins and whirls, and the like. Therefore, in every possible case [i.e. for every rasa], the gorgeous (kaiśikī) [manner] is the vital essence [of the performance]. This is what Bharata will say in 8.14: ‘The śākhā, dance (nṛtta), and the aṅkura [should be known here by practitioners] as the elements of this [bodily] acting (abhinaya)’. Therefore, without the [kaiśikī] one cannot even mention the name of śrṅgārarasa.135

Such remarks about the necessity to use the kaiśikī alongside the acting for the sake of every rasa, be it the amorous or the furious, can be read, I think, against the background of the function ascribed to the charming elements in theatre, which operate side by side with the enactment for enabling the experience of rasa. However, besides loosening the knots in the spectator’s heart and preparing him for a cognitive immersion in the object of representation, this passage suggests that the beautifying elements have an effect on the enactment itself, with which they are closely intermingled. To be sure, it is sometimes difficult to clearly distinguish the charming elements from the means of dramatic enactment, since these two, though their function may be distinguished for the sake of theory, are in practice not found in isolation. It suffices to think of the songs used in theatre, the so-called dhruvās which, besides featuring elements of melody, also contain meaningful lyrics; or dance, which may sometimes come very close to bodily acting. In the passage above, for instance, the ‘sweet and indolent spins and whirls, frowns of the eyebrows, sidelong glances etc.’ are movements common to the vocabulary of dance as well as to the āṅgikābhinaya.136 Moreover, the verse quoted by Abhinavagupta on this occasion in order to motivate the use of dance as part of the kaiśikīvṛtti, and its consequent incorporation into the dramatic production, indicates that dance is an element of bodily acting ( 8.14ac: asya śākhā ca nṛttaṃ ca vastūny abhinayasya). Does this mean that, under certain conditions, dance can be used to communicate meaning, i.e. as bodily enactment?

The problem of grasping the specific purport of the charming elements alongside dramatic enactment, which allows for distinguishing the use of dance within theatre vis-à-vis bodily acting, is at the heart of Abhinavagupta’s second interpretation of the pūrvapakṣa in the passage translated in this book.137 The opponent, in fact, puts dance in the same category as instrumental and vocal music, arguing that these provide variety, entertainment, and beauty to the performance, all notions encompassed by the term uparañjaka. Nonetheless, he argues, one clearly sees that songs—typically of the dhruvā type—are added in order to provide pieces of information about the type of character, his mood, and situation by supplying what is only implicit in the dramatic text. On the other hand, he continues, instrumental music is seen to enhance the rhythm, which is introduced for harmonizing the song.138 From this perspective, the opponent concludes, one cannot attribute any independent nature to dance, lest it end up being a form of bodily acting (āṅgikābhinaya). Abhinavagupta’s mordacious reply pins his opponent in a corner, revealing the fallacies of his argument: if songs be used only to supply information absent from the play’s text, then the dhruvās may just as well be read out, and all the vocalists’ singing efforts be dispensed with.139 The opponent’s mistake lies indeed in confining the role of songs to their meaningful portion (the lyrics that are delivered through singing), which can easily be equated with a simple case of vocal enactment (vācikābhinaya) that relies primarily on its semiotic value. However, semiotic elements (the text recitation) coexist with psychagogic ones (the various tonal structures and vocal ornaments) in songs, and they are not always easy to disentangle. Moreover, the very presence of psychagogic elements differentiates singing from vocal acting. Similarly, dance can be mingled with bodily acting to various degrees, but should not be confused with it.140

Abhinavagupta compels the opponent to modify his position with regard to how the pleasurable elements in theatre help the audience grasp the meanings that are brought forward through the acting: by piercing the heart like a needle, pleasure enables the spectator to access the contents of the play and identify sympathetically with the characters, thereby learning which forms of conduct must be accepted and which should be rejected.141 This function of pleasure is evocative of the innate pedagogy of theatre, and literature more generally.

Now that a psychagogic function has been ascribed to the charming elements—distinct but complementary to the semiotic one142 proper to dramatic acting—the commentator proceeds to attribute another function to dance within dramatic performance, one that is specific to it. Before looking at the details, it might be useful to point out that a subtle nuance is at play here between the beauty characteristic of dance performed even outside theatre, out of sheer joy—for instance, Śiva’s dance performed at dusk, the model evoked for the theatrical kaiśikī—and the beauty of dance performed within a play, which is directed at charming the spectator. In itself, dance is described merely in terms of movements characterized by beauty, having no aim outside itself, unlike other purposeful actions.143 This amounts to saying that it is different both from the purposeful actions of the characters represented in theatre, whose model is clearly worldly, human action, and from theatre itself, which aims at instructing the audience in what to do and what to avoid in order to pursue an ethical life. However devoid of any aim or meaning outside itself, when it enters the complex object that is theatre, dance is put into its service, in particular by providing pleasure. It is the latter that I have dubbed the psychagogic power of dance, close to the function that the Greeks assigned to music in leading or persuading the soul to enjoy aesthetic pleasure.

3.4.2 Like a Fire-Wheel: Dance and Fiction

Besides its special power to charm the spectator, dance has also another, more specific use in theatre, which has much to do with the construction of fiction and its cognition by a spectator. Abhinavagupta expresses this function by means of two metaphors, the fire-wheel and the bracelet:

In particular, without [dance], theatre could not be mentally grasped by the [spectators] in the image of a fire-wheel (alātacakrapratimatve). For this very reason, dance—consisting of spinning, [whirling,] and the like—is similar to a thread (sūtra) that joins together into a bracelet (gumpha) the clear rubies of abhinaya. Due to [its] proximity to [dance], [namely] the fact of being homogeneous [with it, since both display bodily movement], theatre encompasses the songs and the other [pleasurable elements] that are part [of it].144

Of the two images evoked with regard to theatre, the alātacakra motive is not completely absent from the Nāṭyaśāstra, since it is found in a single occurrence in chapter 28, at the beginning of the section on music. This is most certainly the source for its various uses by Abhinavagupta. Besides its theatrical uses, the example of the fire-wheel (alātacakra) produced by the quick rotation of a firebrand (alāta) has been extremely productive in the philosophical literature of South Asia, acquiring different shades of meaning in its various uses. It is moreover current already in the epics, with some of the connotations that will be proper to later philosophical uses, but also with meanings specific to them.145 Now, whereas the Nāṭyaśāstra is a text closer in date to the epics, Abhinavagupta’s use of the alātacakra trope is rather marked by its later philosophical adaptations. Therefore, in order to properly grasp its connection with dance, it is necessary to proceed to a comparison of the use of the alātacakra trope in the theatrical field with its use in philosophical texts.

In 28.7, Bharata says:

In this way, theatre practitioners should make songs (gāṇa), music (vādya), and drama (nāṭya) having different bases, similar to a fire-wheel (alātacakrapratima).146

This verse, found at the beginning of the section on music, immediately follows the description of the three ensembles (kutapa) responsible for a theatrical performance, which includes their configuration and arrangement on the stage. These are the ensemble of stringed instruments (tatakutapa), to which belong the vocalists, the vipañcī and vīṇā players, and the flautist; the ensemble of percussionists (avanaddhakutapa), including the various drummers playing on the mṛdaṅga, paṇava, and dardura; and the ensemble for enactment (nāṭyakutapa), including actors impersonating all classes of characters.147 The three basic elements singled out by Bharata in 28.7 as songs (gāna), instrumental music (vādya), and theatre (nāṭya) stand for the various means of expression appointed to these three different groups of practitioners. The first group, that of the singers, along with the players of stringed and wind instruments, is responsible for the melodic part. The second, to which the drummers belong, is responsible for the rhythmic part, and the last one, formed by the actors, is responsible for the enactment. Although distinct and belonging to separate artistic disciplines, in theatre these three groups should function interdependently and work in unison. While using the alātacakra image, Bharata must have had in mind the unification and harmonization of the performers of the multiple media used in theatre. However, he might also have used this specific image with a view to the cognitive act grasping the unity of the fire-circle, hence to the experience of spectators: after all, the circle is ‘real’ only insofar as it is perceived as a unitary image by an onlooker. As will be shown below, even in other contexts, the image of the alātacakra is invariably connected with the cognitive act grasping it.

While reflecting on Bharata’s usage of the fire-wheel image, Abhinavagupta places it explicitly in the realm of cognition and focuses on the act of perceiving the alātacakra as a single image formed by the disparate elements of theatre. At the same time, he does not lose sight of its being the product of human activity, which requires an effort towards the harmonization of the different parts by theatre practitioners:

Since [theatre] is based on various [elements], i.e. has the form of various actions grasped by different organs of perception, its unity must be produced by [theatre practitioners] through an effort, by means of which it may become, for the spectators, the object of a single cognition. For in reality, a spark from the flame of a firebrand cannot be connected simultaneously with several points in space. However, just as [the fire-wheel] is brought to homogeneity through an effort [to achieve] speed, so too is the performance. For, similarly, [the performance] does not consist in one single action, but can be produced in the same way [as the fire-wheel] through an effort aimed at achieving a harmonization [of its different parts]. Therefore, [Bharata] says that this [theatrical performance] is ‘similar to a fire-wheel’.148

The comparison of a theatrical performance with the image of the alātacakra here indicates the functioning of the various parts of theatre in dependence on one another, which allows the spectator to have a cognition of theatre as a single object.149 Not only should the three ensembles work together harmoniously; each ensemble, forming a complex unity in itself, should be responsible for the harmonization of its peculiar medium of expression. The overarching principle governing their combination is a hierarchical arrangement in which enactment is the primary element, and the two musical ensembles are secondary elements that colour it. Abhinavagupta expresses this by way of an imaginary objection, in which the reader is reminded that the alātacakra image was already used by the commentator in the chapter on the sāmānyābhinaya or harmonious acting:150

An objection may be raised, [namely] that the fact [that the performance is similar to a fire-wheel] has already been stated in the chapter on the harmonious acting. True, but that was [said] with regard to the enactment, while here it concerns the mutual [combination] of vocal music, instrumental music, and acting. The objector might continue: but why have they been distinguished into three groups? Bharata removes this doubt by uttering the seventh verse (i.e. 28.7). First of all, acting (nāṭya) is the element to be enhanced (uparañjanīya) [by vocal and instrumental music].151 If one says that in harmonious acting (sāmānyābhinaya), one group (rāśi) is brought to unison by force of the enactment, there is no disagreement about it. Furthermore, the group responsible for the melody, mutually combining [the action of the singer with that of the other melodic instruments], has to be constituted, as it were, into a fire-wheel. The regulation of the orchestra, which has in its turn different bases including the vīṇā, the flute, and the singer, has to be similarly unified. Thus, these three [groups] subsequently have to be made into a lump. That is why what has been said [in 28.7] is appropriate.152

The image of the alātacakra is clearly used in all these passages as a metaphor for theatre, in which processes of combination and unification occur on multiple levels and involve the activity and effort of multiple agents. Theatre is indeed a complex case of multimedial and intermedial performance that combines different arts such as dance and vocal and instrumental music. The preoccupation with the unity of theatre is referred to time and again in the Abhinavabhāratī, and its problematic cognition is addressed already in the first chapter:

If the [various] ancillaries [of theatre] are performed simultaneously, how is it possible to have a cognition of theatre as one, as it is impossible to be simultaneously aware of objects perceived by different sensory faculties? In addition, since the performance entails succession, it is even more problematic [to cognize theatre as one]. Therefore, how is the performance possible?153

Considerations of a similar order certainly match well with a spectator-oriented aesthetics like the one developed by Abhinavagupta, although, as I suggest above, an attempt at finding unity amid multiplicity can already be spotted in Bharata’s use of the alātacakra motive in chapter 28. As Bansat-Boudon (1992: 62) remarks, the metaphor of the fire-wheel also has the function of emphasizing theatre’s power of illusion. The circle produced by the swift motion of a firebrand in fact becomes a stock example in the philosophical sources in talking about perceptual error, along with the ‘city of the Gandharvas’, the ‘two moons’, the ‘moving trees’, and the ‘silver in the mother-of-pearl’.154 The question remains, however, how illusion is evaluated in Indian theatre, and how dance contributes to its construction.

In the context of Indian philosophy, says Fitzgerald (2012: 776), ‘the theme of the alātacakra is familiar primarily as a Madhyamaka argument made to undermine naïve confidence in the accuracy of sensory experience and essentialistic conceptualization, and as such it is invoked by Nāgarjuna and his intellectual progeny alongside other things that may appear to the human senses but are not real: foam, bubbles, magic tricks, and Gandharva cities floating in the air’. While Nāgarjuna uses the alātacakra metaphor to point out the unreality of the saṃskāras, similar to dreams or mirages, the later Madhyamaka commentator Candrakīrti has a more articulated description of the formation of a circle of fire:

Just as an inflamed firebrand quickly revolving is apprehended with the shape of a circle, since it depends on a mistaken vision of that [firebrand], […].155

The Āgamaśāstra of Gauḍapāda (c. 550–700 AD?) probably contains the most developed image of the alāta, elaborated in six consecutive verses [ĀŚ 4.47–52]. In this passage, the various trajectories created by the moving firebrand stand as a metaphor for the illusory movement of consciousness (vijñānaspanda) appearing as fragmented into an act of perception (grahaṇa) and a perceiver (grāhaka).156 Without entering into Gauḍapāda’s philosophical tenets, nevermind the possible origin of this example in a Madhyamaka milieu, as some have suggested, it is quite evident that the alāta and the various shapes created by its movement stand here for the illusory character of phenomenal reality as it appears in the perceptive act. As the title of the chapter of the Āgamaśāstra containing these verses suggests—i.e. alātaśānti (‘The Repose of the Firebrand’)—one is expected to overcome the outer appearance of the shapes traced by the firebrand in order to arrive at the absolute reality.

In the Nyāyasūtra, the alātacakra motive is used to explain the non-simultaneity of the cognition of different actions, which may appear as simultaneous due to the rapidity of their succession, just as in seeing the circle traced by a firebrand in motion. In the Bhāṣya, Vātsyāyana explains that it is impossible for either the same sensory faculty to produce several cognitions simultaneously, since one instrument can only accomplish one thing at a time, or for different sensory faculties to grasp several objects simultaneously. If it is argued that the cognition of several actions can happen simultaneously, the answer is that the simultaneity is only apparent: just as with the fire-circle, where the sequencing is not perceived because the swiftness of the rotatory movement allows the idea of the circle to be perceived as uninterrupted, the sequencing of neither cognitions nor actions, though real, is grasped because of their occurrence in rapid succession, and therefore one has the erroneous impression that actions happen simultaneously.157 Similarly, for the grammarian Bhartṛhari, the alātacakra is a metaphor that explains the nature of actions that, although actually happening in a sequence, are perceived as if unitary and simultaneous. Just as the fire-wheel, in fact, corresponds to the points in time and space touched by the revolving firebrand, brought together in the mind, actions are made up of innumerable micro-actions happening in succession and grasped in succession, but conceived by the intellect as a single and unitary idea.158 Both Bhartṛhari and Vātsyāyana stress the fact that the senses cannot simultaneously perceive different objects, or complex objects such as actions or words, although at times they may appear to do so.

Whereas in many philosophical systems the illusory character of the perception of the alātacakra has been regarded in negative terms, as a reality to overcome, in the grammarian’s version, this trope works more as an operational device for describing the apprehension of actions. Similarly, despite being ultimately illusory in nature, the fashioning of the various elements of theatre into a unitary and continuous image—the fire-wheel—is the very condition for grasping the object called ‘theatre’ as a single and continuous whole. If, in Gauḍapāda’s metaphor, one is expected to overcome appearances to arrive at reality, in theatre it is quite the opposite: the illusion of the continuous circle has to be accepted for the entire duration of the theatrical performance.

Abhinavagupta explains in clear terms how the recognition and acceptance of the theatrical illusion are necessary conditions for a successful aesthetic experience, while he speaks about a group of obstacles threatening the experience of rasa for the spectators and how to remove them.159 The fourth and fifth obstacles, says the commentary on the rasasūtra, are ‘deficiency in the means of cognition’ (pratītyupāyavaikalya) and ‘lack of vividness’ (sphuṭatvābhāva), which are removed together. Sticking to the primacy of direct perception over the other means of valid knowledge, Abhinavagupta maintains that even when we perceive something illusory, such as a fire-wheel, our perception can be invalidated only through a more forceful direct perception that is subsequent to it. The means to achieving such a clear apperception are indeed the four registers of acting, the abhinayas, combined with all those elements that provide a somewhat realistic touch to the performance, namely the worldly convention (lokadharmī),160 manners (vṛtti),161 and local usages (pravṛtti):162

Moreover, in the absence of the means of cognition, how is the cognition possible? Even though a word or an inferential sign causing a non-vivid cognition might be present, the cognition does not come to rest [in them], because the expectancy persists for a proper understanding, i.e. a direct perception consisting of a vivid cognition. As [Vātsyāyana] said [in the Bhāṣya ad Nyāyasūtra 1.1.3]: ‘All valid knowledge resolves into direct perception’. This is so because even in the case of [an illusion such as] a fire-wheel etc., that knowledge can be dismissed only by means of another forceful direct perception, since there is an intimate awareness that what we have directly perceived ourselves cannot be proved to be otherwise even by hundreds of verbal testimonies and inferences. This is indeed the ordinary sequence. Therefore, the consecrated way to remove both obstacles are the registers of acting, assisted by the worldly convention, the manners, and the local usages. For dramatic representation (abhinayana), differently from operations requiring words or inferential signs, is akin to the operation of perception. We will establish this later on.163

Although it might be quite evident that the representation should aim at creating a unitary and coherent image, one must not forget that this image has been given the status of an alātacakra. The spectator is indeed well aware that what he is witnessing is not real, but he accepts the ‘reality’ of the fiction. To be precise, it is the very judgement of his cognition of theatre according to the criterion of truthfulness and falsity that is suspended. More than an illusion, I would argue, the alātacakra of theatre has the status of a fiction, which has to be accepted wholeheartedly by the spectator lest the aesthetic process be on the whole invalidated. This ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ is guaranteed for the spectator by the special cognition of theatre in general as neither real nor unreal, a cognition whose status is incessantly repeated to be that of a quasi-evident direct perception (pratyakṣasākṣātkārakalpa), and that of the performer in particular, whose identity is perceived as ambiguously oscillating between the actor and the character.

The personal identity of the performer—his being Caitra or Maitra, living in a particular time and space, in the classical example—is concealed by the costume and his skilful use of the registers of acting, combined with the superimposition of the name of a famous character like Rāma.164 However, the performer is not perceived as the character superimposed on him as in illusionistic play, since his identity as ‘actor’ was disclosed to the spectator on the occasion of the preliminary rite, the pūrvaraṅga; the latent impression ‘this is an actor’ is still lingering in the spectator, and his cognition does not come to rest completely on the character evoked by the poetic text. In the preliminary rite, in fact, all the spectacular elements are on display and the performer enters as the sūtradhāra, accompanied by two assistants, who are perceived as actors since they are not properly dramatis personae, although they do play a part, as they enact the prologue (prastāvana) composed by the dramatist.165 The whole is moreover immersed in the alluring complex of the charming elements, which allows the spectator to emotionally adhere to the fiction.166

The construction of the fictionality of the character, as I have just sketched here, is explained by Abhinavagupta as tightly connected to the process of generalization (sādhāraṇīkaraṇa),167 the absence of which coincides with the second obstacle to the aesthetic experience, the ‘immersion in temporal and spatial determinations perceived as limited to one’s own self or to somebody else’ (svagatatvaparagatatvaniyamena deśakālaviśeṣāveśaḥ):

As far as its elimination is concerned, the expedient consists in the manner in which the individuality of the actor is concealed through the headgear and the [other accoutrements], after it has been apprehended through the disclosure of the preliminary rite168 as [seen] in the verse ‘one should not insist too much on [dance and song …]’169 and through the viewing of the prologue. This is assisted by the theatrical convention (nāṭyadharmī), which encompasses extraordinary (alaukika) [elements such as the] distribution of conventional languages, the lāsyāṅgas, the subdivisions of the stage and of the playhouse, and so forth.170 When this [obstacle is removed], in fact, there is no such [cognition] as: ‘it is the pleasure or pain of this specific [actor or character], in this specific place, at this specific time’, because the nature of the [performer] is concealed, and because [the cognition] does not come to rest on the nature proper to the other superimposed individuality, [i.e. the character,] either, as there can be no rest in a [fictional] appearance [that is recognized to be so]. The [cognition], in fact, culminates only in the concealment of the nature belonging to that real [spectator].171 To clarify: [types of dramatic lāsyāṅgas such as] the āsīnapāṭhya, the puṣpagandhika, and the like are not seen in the ordinary world. Anyway, it cannot be said that they do not exist at all, because they could exist somehow.172 The sage has resorted to all this as a preparation, insofar as it facilitates the gustation of rasa through the accomplishment of the state of generality (sādhāraṇībhāva).173

This passage shows quite well how opposite trends are at play in the construction of dramatic fiction, a process ultimately aimed at triggering the relish of rasa for the spectator, the real protagonist of the aesthetic experience: the first operates through a distancing from the events represented, reminding the spectator that what he is witnessing is, after all, a fiction, while the other hides the fiction and entangles him in those very events, accounting for his sympathetic response to them. This twofold tension alone can provoke the special cognition of theatre as neither real nor unreal, necessary for an aesthetic experience detached from the limitations of ordinary experience.174 From the point of view of the performance, three stages can be tentatively identified in provoking this ‘detached-cum-involved’ cognition: initially, the spectator is allowed to see all the elements of theatricality that are used to construct the fiction, the firebrand and the hand holding it, so to say; then, the dramatic representation starts and the various scenes are displayed, i.e. the firebrand begins to revolve and the image of the fire-wheel is formed; finally, through the action of the charming elements, the spectator turns towards the illusory image and sympathetically adheres to the events represented. Obviously enough, this schematic picture is bound to involve a certain degree of imprecision and simplification. The charming elements, such as singing, music, and dance, for instance, are present throughout the play, for instance in the lāsyāṅgas; however, they are operative from the preliminary rite, where they prepare the spectator to attend to an extraordinary event by getting rid of their own personal everyday preoccupations. Besides being enchanted by the extraordinariness of the group of charming elements, to the extent that he does not even start wondering about the reality of the representation and becomes disentangled from his own state of mind, the spectator is at the same time reminded that what he is witnessing is nothing but a wondrous alātacakra. It does not matter, for the sake of the effect, that the image provided by the revolving firebrand is illusory; as long as the circle is perceived as unitary and the stick is unseen, the image has validity in the mind of the spectator who grasps it.

It seems to me that in all the occurrences examined so far, the alātacakra motive raises a concern about the construction of a unitary and ordered cognition of theatre from disparate and heterogeneous elements, rather than pointing to the fact that, if theatre is created in the image of a fire-wheel, it remains an object impossible to grasp. Even though a certain distance from the events represented is indeed required of the spectator, this does not strike me as the specific function assigned to dance with regard to the alātacakra metaphor of theatre.175

One last occurrence of the fire-wheel image in the ninth chapter of the Abhinavabhāratī, which treats the hand gestures, might provide further evidence for the interpretation of dance as a cohesive factor in the performance.176 After describing the hand gestures that are commonly used for enacting different meanings (abhinaya-hasta), Bharata lists a separate group of hand gestures that he qualifies as gestures for dance (nṛtta-hasta). Since these hand gestures do not represent anything, their treatment in one of the chapters devoted to bodily acting is quite at odds with the rest of the exposition. One would have expected to find this group of gestures in the fourth chapter, entirely devoted to dance and its units of movement in their abstract, non-semiotic dimension. The commentator provides the following explanation for this unusual arrangement in Bharata’s treatise:

By saying ‘nṛttahastān etc.’ [Bharata] qualifies this [group of gestures] with the word ‘dance’ in order to show that the hand gestures for enacting (abhinayahasta) are similar to a fire-wheel because they are part of a single course [of action] (ekavartanānupraveśa)177 since the gaps [occurring between them] are hidden [thanks to dance]. […] [Moreover, the qualification ‘dance’ is used] in order to proclaim the fact that the [various cognitions issued from the enactments] come to rest in a single sentence meaning (ekavākyārtha), since it is in [their] nature to [follow] a course [that is sometimes] mild, [sometimes] vehement.178

In my understanding of this passage, dance provides the necessary link between the various enactments, which are chained one after the other so as to encompass the whole performance. However, one should not necessarily imagine that each scene was linked to the following by means of a danced intermezzo. Even though it is possible that moments of dance were indeed added to the performance, either by embedding them in the plot as cases of ekphrasis or, at the discretion of theatre practitioners, as part of the gorgeous manner or as an element of the theatrical convention (in a lāsyāṅga, for instance), I would refrain from overemphasizing the presence of dance in classical Sanskrit theatre. It seems to me that Abhinavagupta’s analysis is subtler and is meant to operate within the smallest units of the enactment. If this is correct, the general definition given by Abhinavagupta to the basic units of dance, the nṛttakaraṇas, could be extended to include any beautiful movement leading from an initial position in space to a final one,179 hence even to movements occurring between one enactment and the other, or between one expressive gesture and the one immediately following it, if we consider that by enactment, even the single representation of an object through a gesture can be intended, and that there were cases in which the text was enacted word by word.180

Such interpretation relies on an extended meaning of ‘dance’ as including any abstract movement performed in an uninterrupted manner, which at the same time accounts for its irruption into the realms of dramatic enactment, where it aims at providing continuity by hiding the unavoidable gaps. To adduce an additional piece of evidence, I would like to recall another key passage in the fourth chapter, where Abhinavagupta comments on the uses of karaṇas in a play, enumerated in 4.55cd–56ab, in the following way:

That which will be called ‘dance’ (nṛtta) as an element of dramatic acting (abhinaye) is employed [in theatre] because it hides the gaps (chidrapracchādana) occurring in between the various enactments (abhinayāntarāla).181

No doubt, the implicit reference is the oft-quoted verse in 8.14, of difficult interpretation, in which Bharata lists dance, along with the śākhā and the aṅkura, as elements of [bodily] acting.182 In this light, it becomes evident that Abhinavagupta is attempting to establish the autonomy of dance outside of its canonical performance as part of the karaṇas and aṅgahāras in the preliminary rite, and to account for its autonomous function within the theatrical performance, keeping it apart from bodily acting yet deeply intertwined with it. Once more, the modern concept of semiotic and phenomenal body elaborated by Fischer-Lichte comes to our aid in understanding how the same body movement can be analysed as carrying out two distinct functions in performance, without necessarily postulating phases of abstract dance that alternate with phases of mimetic acting. The sentence, and the rasa it encapsulates, is indeed the meaningful unit that the body movement is called on to express. The semiotic body communicates the meanings by way of mimesis, while the phenomenal, non-semiotic body helps the spectator grasp the enacted meanings as a continuum, culminating in the sentence unit: on the one hand, it hides the gaps occurring in the intervals between the enactments, revealing the image of the fire-circle; on the other hand, it allows the mind of the spectator to rest on the sentence meaning.

Besides the image of theatre as an alātacakra, a homogeneous and wondrous whole, in which dance assures cohesion and dynamism, the relation of dance to theatre shall now be considered in the light of the second metaphor as well, that of the bracelet. Together with the fire-wheel, the bracelet and the garland work as similar metaphors for theatre as a Gesamtkunstwerk. Yet the metaphor of the bracelet works even better in highlighting how dance operates in close association with dramatic acting and the other components of theatre, to the point of raising a possible confusion about their respective identities and roles. As pointed out by Bansat-Boudon (1992: 62), as metaphors for performance, the garland and the bracelet highlight the multifariousness of the flowers or gems joined in the thread. While the theatrical performance, in our passage, is compared to the whole bracelet, and the enactments to its clear gems, dance is the thread that keeps them together and remains visible throughout. This, in my view, makes a stronger argument for the specific role of dance within theatre.183 While it strings together the various enactments, dance also provides the necessary link between theatre and music: dance is homogeneous with theatre, since both use the body as a main instrument, albeit in different ways, while with music it shares an alluring character and the connection with rhythmic patterns, while remaining non-homogeneous with it.184

Although drawing on a reconstructed net of cross references, sometimes fragmentary, this exploration of the role of dance in the construction of dramatic fiction has highlighted Abhinavagupta’s attempt at finding a rationale in Bharata’s own words, while skilfully furthering his own personal interpretation of the aesthetic experience as triggered by the multimedial object that is theatre. The loss of the commentary on the eighth chapter of the Nāṭyaśāstra, the first one dealing with bodily acting, represents a serious but unavoidable limit to the present enquiry. However, it has been shown how an exploration of the chapter on dance and its network of textual references allows us to partly reconstruct the context of the discussion on the nature and function of dance, namely its problematic relation with dramatic acting. Besides the problematic use of dance within theatre, the use of theatre—or at least some of its characteristic features—within dance will be considered next.

3.5 Reshaping the Idea of abhinaya in Dance

The characteristic feature of abhinaya is that, unlike dancing or singing a melody, it always depends on a text, which it seeks to communicate in a particularly vivid way, engaging the mind of the spectator as if he or she is witnessing real-life events. Even when it appears disconnected from a text, it may simply be the case that the bodily acting is not being performed at the very same time as the vocal acting; however, both ultimately rely on the dramatic text and its linguistic matrix. An illustration of such diachronicity between words and gestures is offered in those phases of the acting protocol, defined in the chapter on harmonious acting (sāmānyābhinaya), in which gestures and facial expressions are used by actors to communicate meaning even without speaking. In these phases, the dependence of gestures on the dramatic text can be called into question, as Abhinavagupta suggests at the junction between the explanation of the corporal harmonious acting (śārīra-sāmānyābhinaya) and verbal harmonious acting (vācika-sāmānyābhinaya):185

Even if a sentence (i.e. a text) may be [pronounced], the body [can move] even on its own, without any [verbal] object [to be enacted]. That is why some people considered the śākhā, the aṅkura, and the nāṭyāyita as [bodily acting] disjoined from verbal sentences. Thus they restrict [Bharata’s statement]—when he says that [he will explain the verbal object] of all these [forms of corporal acting]—to the vākya, the sūcā, and the nivṛttyaṅkura alone. [However,] they do not know the real state of things, since each and every enactment (abhinaya) depends on a sentence, otherwise impropriety would ensue. Apart from this, in fact, there is no other restriction [in the use of abhinaya]. It is possible to disjoin the sentence [from its bodily enactment] only insofar as it may be simultaneous or non-simultaneous with it.186

The connection of the śākhā with a sentence is the most difficult to explain, since all definitions available are elliptical, and its explanation as an acting technique was probably to be found in the lacuna in chapter 8.187 What emerges from the sparse references to it is that the śākhā must have been a coordinated bodily movement on the verge of dance.188 The aṅkura is explicitly said, in Bharata’s definition, to be performed without words,189 while the nivṛttyaṅkura looks more like the sūcā in that it displays the symptoms of the emotions affecting the character when hearing the words of another, but is also followed by a sentence pronounced by the same character. In this sense it is categorized, together with the vākya and the sūcā, with the phases of the bodily acting protocol more evidently connected with the verbal enactment.190 The phase called nāṭyāyita represents an especially interesting case in the discussion of the nature of dance in the fourth chapter. In the nāṭyāyita of the second type, a dhrūvā song is delivered by the vocalist, to which the actor adds bodily acting through gestures and facial expressions.191 Indeed, this may look quite similar to a dance, since the orchestra takes up both the instrumental and the vocal parts, while the actor makes just a visual display based on the text of the song. In this case, the actor does not enact the lyrics of the song word for word, but mainly uses the sāttvikābhinaya for the expression of his own feelings in reaction to the text of the dhruvā he hears.192

The practice of joining a bodily enactment with a text that is not delivered directly by a character and is accompanied by music triggers legitimate doubts about where to set the border between theatre and dance, at a time when new types of intermedial performance193 were gaining visibility in the disciplinary discourse embedded in the śāstra.194 Although the nāṭyāyita described above is typically regarded as a device in theatrical performances, where it is used, for instance, in combination with the lāsyāṅgas to communicate meaning in a more poignant and emphatic way, what exactly prevents us from considering it a kind of dance? And what prevents us from applying the definition of the nāṭyāyita to other kinds of solo performances, in which the performer does not speak but nevertheless executes bodily gestures at the same time that a text is rendered by a vocalist, to the accompaniment of instrumental music executed by an orchestras? And what happens when such a performance becomes the main focus, i.e. when a solo performance is executed by an actor/dancer independently of a dramatic performance? And what if the music in it, carrying its own narrative plot, becomes the main medium in the delivery of the poetic text? How can we distinguish such performances from, say, a one-actor monologue play like the Bhāṇa, classically listed as a dramatic genre? Does the only difference lie in the fact that the text is sung by a vocalist in the first case, while it is recited by an actor in the second?

All of these figures have been carefully analysed in the long passage edited in this book, where Abhinavagupta seeks to distinguish the new performance genres, such as danced or sung poetry (nṛtta-kāvya and rāga-kāvya), from theatre proper (nāṭya) while taking into account the specific interaction of the bodily and the verbal media in both. As hinted above, this was achieved through the reinterpretation of the term abhinaya in the particular sense of ‘dramatic mimesis’, which allowed for singling out Sanskrit drama from other genres that are characterized by what I have designated elsewhere as forms of ‘incomplete mimesis’.195

In the last part of this chapter, dealing with the aesthetics of dance, I would like to illustrate such an exegetical strategy by focusing on Abhinavagupta’s analysis of the genre called Ḍombikā, cited as a case of nṛttakāvya (‘danced poetry’ or ‘poetry based on dance’), a term implying the presence of a poetic text in which dance is nevertheless the overarching category. The Ḍombikā represents a particularly exemplary case of what I regard as an instance of meta-dance or ‘dance-within-dance’, where the representation of a second-degree dancer by a dance performer reveals an original theoretical reflection about narrativity and its media, unique in the whole of Indian literature. It moreover allows some insights into the practice, protocol, and audience reception of a genre which, albeit lost both in its textual and performative dimensions, appears to have enjoyed considerable popularity around the turn of the millennium in Kashmir. As I shall demonstrate, the Ḍombikā as a performance genre described by Abhinavagupta must have been a sort of parody of another worldly—in the sense of non-fictional—dance performed by a ḍombikā, a low-caste dancer. The dance of the ḍombikā becomes the second-degree dance, the object represented in the genre that goes by the same name, Ḍombikā.196 An instance of what I consider the worldly counterpart of the Ḍombikā—the latter standing for a genre recorded in the dramatic treatises—has been described in Kalhaṇa’s twelfth-century Rājataraṅginī. We shall have a look at it shortly, after a review of scholarly opinions about the Ḍombikā.

In his masterful study of the Śṛṅgāraprakāśa—an early eleventh-century treatise on poetry and drama contemporaneous with but unknown to Abhinavagupta—V. Raghavan (1978) remarks the absence of a definition of the Ḍombikā among the twelve minor genres, or padārthābhinayātmaka-prekṣyaprabandha (‘compositions to be seen, based on the enactment of the word meanings’), listed by Bhoja. He instead notes the mention of a genre called Ḍombalikā and the definition of another genre by the name Durmilitā, also appearing with the spelling Durmilikā. A reference to Ḍombalikā is also made in the tenth chapter of the Śṛṅgāraprakāśa, along with Prasthāna, where both are identified as performance genres (prekṣya) realized through bodily enactment and devoid of other means of representation, such as the vocal. On the Durmilitā/Durmilikā, Raghavan (1978: 549, n. 1) quotes the opinion of Bhayani, according to whom the name of the genre would be a Sanskritization of Ḍombalikā—appearing also as ḍombilī/ḍombilikā in narrative sources in Prakrit—and both would correspond to the Ḍombikā referred to several times in the Abhinavabhāratī (Bhayani 1993: 27–28). As we have seen, this form was already known to Dhanika, who mentions it by the name Ḍombī in his list of the nṛtya types in the Avaloka. Abhinavagupta is the first to provide a definition for the Ḍombikā, which he borrows from some earlier, unidentified source attributed to some equally unidentified ‘ancients’.197 A later treatise, Śāradātanaya’s Bhāvaprakāśana (first half of the 13th c.), lists the Ḍombī and the Durmallikā (a variant of Durmilitā/Durmilikā) as separate genres complete with their own definitions.198 As noted by Bhayani, the definition of the Durmilitā given by Bhoja looks very similar to the definition and the descriptions of the Ḍombikā in the Abhinavabhāratī, such that both can be traced to a single genre, common to earlier Jain sources.199

The definition of the Ḍombikā by Abhinavagupta reads:

When the mind of the king is seduced by words full of concealed passion,
that graceful [genre] is known as Ḍombikā.200

And that of the Durmilitā by Bhoja:

The female messenger secretly betrays a clandestine affair or presents a description, through vulgar stories, of the passion between two young people. She, who belongs to a lower caste, dispenses counselling on that matter and begs for goods, and as soon as she has received [them] she longs to receive [more]. [When such is the content of the performance, the genre] is called Durmilitā.201

Apart from such inevitably concise definitions of the genre, the only textual passage containing some more details about the Ḍombikā is the fourth chapter of the Abhinavabhāratī. Here, Abhinavagupta provides information about the Ḍombikā on several occasions, especially, but not exclusively, in the passage edited in this book. He even quotes two Ḍombikās by name, the Cūḍāmaṇi (‘The Crest Jewel’) and the Guṇamālā (‘The Garland of Qualities’), and possibly the name of two Ḍombikā composers, the poets and masters Rāṇaka/Raṇaka and Guñjiyaka.202 In his article on the Ḍombikā and Ṣidgaka genres, Bhayani identifies four quotations from the scripts of Ḍombikās in the Abhinavabhāratī: three are from the Ḍombikā called Cūḍāmaṇi, and one from the Guṇamālā. Despite the ill-preserved state of these quotations, Bhayani’s reconstructions—based on the less corrupt text of the Kāvyānuśāsana (in particular, on Hemacandra’s sub-commentary, the Viveka)—highlight their linguistic and metrical form. The language is Apabhraṁśa, or Prakrit in the sole case of the third quotation from the Cūḍāmaṇi, and the metre is rāsaka for the portions in Apabhraṁśa and gāthā for the one in Prakrit.203 From the descriptions of Abhinavagupta, it is clear that these verses were set to music and delivered through song. Another quotation in Sanskrit—unrecorded by Bhayani and Raghavan but most probably also part of the Guṇamālā—suggests that the Ḍombikā was a multilingual genre that followed its own conventions.204

In the Ḍombikā, Raghavan saw an antecedent of the Nautch, since he believed that its songs were rendered vocally by the accompanying vocalists while a dancer or ḍombī interpreted them through her dance. However, the dancer in the Ḍombikā did not render the words and meaning closely through abhinaya, but concentrated mainly on bodily movements and expressions similar to everyday ones, whereas in the Nautch the padams (lyrical compositions) are generally rendered word for word. Raghavan attributes this difference to the popular character and origin of the genre called Ḍombikā. He derives this idea from the description, in Kalhaṇa’s Rājataraṅginī, of a musical and dance performance by an ensemble composed of a ḍomba singer (ḍombagāyana) and his two daughters, also ḍomba singers (ḍombagāyikā), collectively referred to as a ḍomba ensemble (ḍombamaṇḍala). Raghavan further mentions the existence of a peripatetic community of performers in South India called ḍombas, whose performances, the ḍombankūṭṭādis, featured acrobatic numbers, drumming and rope-dancing (Raghavan 1993: 190–191). Rājataraṅgiṇī 5.354–380 recounts the visit of a troupe of ḍombas to the court of Kashmir in the tenth century, and how the ruling king Cakravarman, flattered and seduced by the singing and dancing of the two daughters of Raṅga, the ḍomba singer, introduced them into his court. Blinded by passion, Cakravarman let the ḍombas take control over the affairs of his kingdom, while he fell into misery and was eventually murdered.205

Such commonalities led Raghavan and Warder to consider the Ḍombikā described by Abhinavagupta on a par with the performance by the ḍombamaṇḍala described in the Rājataraṅginī. The differences between the two, however, were not properly taken into account, so the nature of the Ḍombikā as a genre has generally been misconstrued. Looking at the occurrences of forms similar to ‘ḍombī’ in the Prakrit sources, Bhayani concludes that the ḍombī or ḍomba girl must have been the central figure of this genre, giving its name to it (Bhayani 1993: 28). According to Bose (2007: 123), the Ḍombikā is ‘a minor dramatic form which shows how a woman performs the actions of flattering a king’. Although these statements seem to suggest that the ḍombī, or a comparable figure carrying out the seduction of the king, was the main character of the Ḍombikā, the failure to make a distinction between the ḍombī/ḍombikā as a performer or as a character has led scholars to identify these two figures. Because of this confusion, scholars have tended to consider the genre called Ḍombikā as a lower one, since it was thought to be performed by a ḍombī, a low-caste dancer, in order to flatter a king and obtain material gain, just as the two singers in the episode recorded in the Rājataraṅginī.206

In my opinion, the ḍombī as a danseuse of a lower form of spectacle, especially aimed at entertaining the king in a courtly context, is just a ‘fictional character’ of the Ḍombikā as a genre of danced poetry described in the dramatic sources. If this interpretation is correct, the genre called Ḍombikā should have been analysed at great length by Abhinavagupta as an instance of narrative dance, to be carefully distinguished from theatre, not only because it displays a complex structure, in which parts of abstract dance alternate with songs and abhinaya, but because the status of the performer (the interpreter) and that of the character (the interpreted) are particularly difficult to grasp in this genre. Let us have a closer look at the protocol of performance in a Ḍombikā as described in the Abhinavabhāratī. I will attempt to separate the different phases by numbering them, in what I regard as a possible reconstruction of this lost genre. I will then contrast these data with the descriptions of this performance in the Rājataraṅginī. Finally, I will address the theoretical problems raised by this genre in Abhinavagupta’s reformulation of abhinaya as a specific mode of dramatic mimesis that cannot be extended to the art of dancing.

The protocol of performance in a Ḍombikā can tentatively be reconstructed as follows:207 1. gīta: invocatory song rendered by the vocalists, entrance of the dancer; 2. pratijñā: announcement of the Ḍombikā and its theme; 3. varṇana-gīta: storytelling by the ḍombikā with different embedded characters, in the form of a sung text; 4. samuddeśa: address to the king or patron; 5. anyat ceṣṭitam: telling of another story; 6. upasaṃhāra: conclusion by the ḍombikā; 7. sābhinayanṛtta; 8. śuddhanṛtta.

Although there may have been some variability, and some of the descriptions might well reflect just one particular instance among the existing Ḍombikās, it emerges from the sparse references in the fourth chapter that the main portion of the Ḍombikā was narrative and to some degree fictional, and that this was framed by an initial invocation and some further dancing performed by the dancer without interpreting any character, to the accompaniment of the orchestra. The main part featured the character of the ḍombikā proper, a dancer who seduces the king to obtain material benefits. This part corresponds to the main content of the Ḍombikā as a genre endowed with a poetic script (a kāvya), and is itself divided into several phases alternating singing and dancing, also including narrative portions aimed at displaying embedded characters within a plot of clandestine love (phases 3–6). The second part of the performance consisted in dance without any depiction of secondary characters, in which songs and instrumental music were performed together with dance, alternating phases of pure movement and phases including some kind of abhinaya. In this part, multiple dancers possibly performed together (phases 7–8).

The performance by the Ḍomba party described in the Rājataraṅginī shows some similarities: it is mainly presented as a musical performance, with a main vocalist, and two female singers. The female performers sing and accompany their singing with coquettish bodily gestures, by means of which they seduce the king. As they notice his feelings, they sing tenderly with smiles, exchanging glances with him. At the end, the king gives jewels to the ḍomba party and retires. The ḍomba singer designates the king with some epithets and allusions and by name during a violent tāṇḍava. The narrative of the seduction of the king by the performer through singing, facial expressions, and bodily gestures is thus analogous in both descriptions, and similar to the singing by the women who play the role of seducers, alternating with that of a male vocalist. The manner of addressing the king with flattering words is also a common feature. In the account of the Rājataraṅginī, however, no mention is made of either a narrative text underlying the singing or an enactment of the meanings of the song, whereas by contrast the Ḍombikā is presented as a nṛttakāvya, a name that emphasizes dance as the main performative medium, joined with a poetic text delivered by the dancer or by the vocalist with musical accompaniment. My suggestion is that the Ḍombikā as a danced genre is profoundly different from the performance described in the Rājataraṅginī, and represents a sort of parody of it.

Abhinavagupta takes in fact great pains to draw a distinction between the worldly dancer, who has arrived in order to dance and engage in performing the genre called Ḍombikā, and the ḍombikā as a ‘fictional character’ in that first-degree performance. The second-degree or embedded performance, of which the ḍombikā character is the second-degree performer, aims at charming the king with stories about furtive love. The vocabulary used by Abhinavagupta to describe these narrative parts suggests that these stories and their embedded characters were not enacted by the ḍombikā dancer in a gestural pantomime, but rather that they were rendered through vocal narrative or songs. Typically, the verb used to speak of her activity in such a narrative part is abhidhā- (‘to speak’, ‘to denote’), not abhinī- (‘to enact’). Even when the dancer displays some gestures, she is just showing (pradarś- ‘to show’) or making a display (darśanamātra˚) of how a ḍombikā dances, with or without abhinaya. Again, the dancer is said to perform in a way similar (sadrś-) to how the real ḍombikā performed in the past, which is marked by Abhinavagupta through the opposition prayuṅkte (present ‘performs’, for the performer of the Ḍombikā)/prāyuṅkta (imperfect ‘performed’, for the ḍombikā). The dancer, however, does not enact the ḍombikā as if she were directly present in front of the spectators, since she does not conceal her own self with the costume of the ḍombikā. Moreover, her dialogues are sometimes rendered by the vocalist and only punctuated by some coquettish gestures, which violates the basic coordination of words and gestures prescribed for the harmonious acting.208 Abhinavagupta’s choice of words to refer to the pseudo-enactment in a Ḍombikā indeed emphasizes the relation of similarity between the performer and the character, which typically defines imitation-qua-mimicry, and hence also parody. As shown above, imitation was exactly what Abhinavagupta wanted to ban from theatre in general and from dramatic acting in particular, in the reconfigured sense of ‘quasi-direct perception’. This amounts to saying that in a Ḍombikā, as in all genres of narrative dance, there is no abhinaya in the fullest sense, since the quasi-direct experience that is definitional of theatre is lacking.

Dance can indeed combine with a poetic text and have a narrative content, but even if the quality of its movements conforms to its basic flavour, it cannot give rise to that particularly vivid experience of the characters and emotions proper to theatre, in which the confusion between performer and character is a necessary prelude to the generalization of the emotion that alone can lead a spectator to give the consent of the heart and identify with the emotional situation depicted.209 Although the phases of the aesthetic process leading to the savouring of rasa are not a direct topic of discussion in the analysis of narrative dance, the lack of a quasi-direct perception of a character is linked by Abhinavagupta with the theme of instruction and pleasure as the twofold purpose of theatre. In the Ḍombikā, it is said, instruction is not the primary aim, nor is pleasure. Although the activity of the dancer is directed at pleasing the king, this nevertheless applies to the worldly activity of the ḍombikā, while the genre, like all other danced genres, ultimately aims at satisfying the deities. Instruction, in its turn, can be derived indirectly from the manifestation of the extraordinary characters evoked in the narrative parts. This is indeed a characteristic of all genres of danced or sung poetry, in which the pedagogical ends are subordinated to the pleasurable nature of the medium, and both of these to higher ritual ends. At the other end of the spectrum, Abhinavagupta evokes another class of texts that were publicly recited, thus in a way performed, corresponding to the Purāṇas, where the depiction of the good and evil deeds of men aims exclusively at instruction in the aims of mankind, without the pleasurable filter of poetic or theatrical embellishments and the persuasive force of the direct presence of the character.210

The incomplete mimesis that characterizes narrative dance is no anodyne detail, since it accounts for the very incommensurability of theatre and dance. It was perhaps the need to preserve Bharata’s twofold division of the spectacular object, while at the same time accounting for the undeniable presence of narrative content in the newly recorded genres, that prompted the commentator’s reflection on the specificity of representation and its media in theatre and other forms of performed narratives. The differentiation between different kinds of abhinaya—foregrounded by the recognition of a technical and a non-technical sense of the word—became not only a strategy to explain narrative dance as a genre distinct from theatre, but also an expedient to account for all the passages in which Bharata spoke of abhinaya in the context of dance. How exactly the root abhinī has to be understood in such cases is explained with reference to the dancer’s enactment of the songs of the pūrvaraṅga:

The expression ‘after [paying homage to the deities] the [dancer should perform] the acting (abhinayam ācaret)’ is to express the extraordinariness [of its object], through a visualization (bhāvanā) of the meaning of that [song] by means of an abundant devotion (bhakti). The enactment (abhinaya) of the text of the āsāritā, which has as its object the meaning of words and sentences, is a conveying in front of one’s own self (svātmany ābhimukhyanayanam), which does not aim at the spectators.211

This passage assigns a specific value to the preverb abhi-, so that abhinaya comes to mean ‘conveying in front of one’s self’, possibly through a visualization (bhāvanā) of the deity described by the song, which assumes the character of a meditation by the artist filled with devotion. In the primarily ritual part of the performance that is the pūrvaraṅga, in fact, the various songs are meant to praise and satisfy the deities. Another secondary use of the word abhinaya is that of storytelling, in which the story is rendered through speech and gestures, although the body movements just adequate to the song’s content and rhythm.212 These examples suggest that there existed a number of forms that used a blend of several media, in particular vocal speech and bodily gestures, combined with musical accompaniment, to bring out verbal content. Based on their characteristics, these forms were regarded as either literary or performative by Indian theoreticians. However, all of them were ultimately found to be different from theatre, lacking as they were that specific kind of embodiment that can be assured only in the case of an actor putting on the costume of a character and rendering the dialogues with the appropriate linguistic code and accompanying movements.


For a discussion of the culinary analogy and its implications for understanding Bharata’s aesthetic theory, see Cuneo 2013.


For a translation of the commentary on the rasasūtra, see Gnoli 1968; Cuneo 2008–20091; and Pollock 2016. For a partial translation and a broad analysis of Abhinavagupta’s aesthetics, see Bansat-Boudon 1992.


The primary emotions or stable states (sthāyibhāva) are: delight (rati), humour (hāsa), sorrow (śoka), anger (krodha), valour (utsāha), fear (bhaya), disgust (jugupsā), and astonishment (vismaya) ( 6.17, 7.8 ff.). Their corresponding rasas are: the amorous (śṛṅgāra), the comic (hāsya), the pathetic (karuṇa), the furious (raudra), the heroic (vīra), the fearsome (bhayānaka), the odious (bībhatsa), and the wondrous (adbhuta) ( 6.15, 6.45 ff.). Moreover, Abhinavagupta admits a ninth rasa, the pacified (śānta), whose primary emotion is ultimately the ātman itself. On the number of rasas, see Raghavan 1940.


Although the aesthetic experience is conceptualized as an undivided cognitive event, it can be analysed into a sequence of phases in which the spectator first goes through the ‘generalization’ of the emotion (sādhāraṇīkaraṇa), implying a process of distancing, since the emotion is felt as common to everybody. This triggers a sympathetic response to the events represented, or empathy (hṛdayasaṃvāda, literally ‘dialogue with the heart’), which leads to an identification with them (tanmayībhāva, literally ‘the fact of becoming that’), and finally to the savouring or mastication of rasa (rasāsvāda/carvaṇā). On the different phases of the aesthetic process, see Bansat-Boudon 1992: 152–153.


To some extent, however, already in the Nāṭyaśāstra, the various rasas and bhāvas work as organizing principles around which the various dramatic techniques are systematized.


In the field of music, such a tendency can already be detected in the Bṛhaddeśī of Mataṅga, a text on music theory written around the eighth century.


This paradigm shift has been analysed in McCrea 2008. The new hermeneutics of the poetic text promoted by Ānandavardhana entailed that ‘one must always ask not only whether a particular element is beautiful in and of itself, but whether it is appropriate to the aesthetic objective of the work viewed as a whole’ (ibid.: 25). To be even more accurate, as argued in Bronner 2016, the active borrowing of cognitive and hermeneutical models from Mīmāṃsā and its transposition within the field of Ālaṃkāraraśāstra had already started with Udbhaṭa.


On dhvani, the ‘soul of poetry’ as theorized by Ānandavardhana, see especially Ingalls et al. 1990 and McCrea 2008.


On the new challenge posed by the analysis of the spectacular object from the hermeneutic perspective elaborated by Mīmāṃsā, see Ganser 2016.


In particular, the shift of rasa from the character (or the actor) to the spectator (the perceiving subject), in the revolutionary work of the tenth-century literary critic Bhaṭṭa Nāyaka, raised compelling new questions about its creation from factors belonging to the dramatic text and its performance.


This is just one of the possible ways to explain the semantic shift of the word rasa from its first occurrence in the field of aesthetics in Bharata’s treatise to its reconceptualization by Abhinavagupta. On the crucial question of the interpretations of the word rasa before Abhinavagupta, see Pollock 1998, 2016; Ali 2006; and Cuneo 2013.


On the first introduction of dance into theatre via the kaiśikī vṛtti, and on its further introduction by Śiva into the preliminary rite, through its formal teaching by Taṇḍu, see § 1.3.3.


4.261cd–263ab: yadā prāptyartham arthānāṃ tajjñair abhinayaḥ kṛtaḥ || kasmān nṛttaṃ kṛtaṃ hy etat kaṃ svabhāvam apekṣate | na gītakārthasaṃbaddhaṃ na cāpy arthasya bhāvakam || kasmān nṛttaṃ kṛtaṃ hy etad gīteṣv āsāriteṣu ca |


4.14–15ab, cf. § 1.3.3, n. 75.


On the structure of the pūrvaraṅga, see § 2.3.2, n. 91.


Transposed to the terminology nowadays used by scholars of performance, this could be regarded as a problem of the fuzzy boundaries between the phenomenal body and the semiotic body, i.e. the body perceived in itself, i.e. in its own materiality, and the body perceived as something else, i.e. as a signifier. On these two concepts, see Fischer-Lichte 2008: 140–147, and for their application to ancient dance discourse, see Schlapbach 2018: 10.


The relevant verse is 8.14: asya śākhā ca nṛttaṃ ca tathaivāṅkura eva ca | vastūny abhinayasyeha vijñeyāni prayoktṛbhiḥ || ‘The śākhā, dance and the aṅkura are known as the elements of this [bodily] acting.’ Abhinavagupta quotes this verse on several occasions, on which see below, n. 182.


A famous example is the dance competition described in the Mālavikāgnimitra. This and other examples could be regarded as cases of ekphrasis, to borrow a term from classical studies. For a discussion of the importance of ekphrasis in the study of ancient dance, in the less commonly attested sense of ‘literary depictions of dance’, see Schlapbach 2018: 9–18.


4.263cd–266ab: atrocyate na khalv arthaṃ kañcin nṛttam apekṣate || kin tu śobhāṃ prajanayed iti nṛttaṃ pravartitam | prāyeṇa sarvalokasya nṛttam iṣṭaṃ svabhāvataḥ || maṅgalyam iti kṛtvā ca nṛttam etat prakīrtitam | vivāhaprasavāvāhapramodābhyudayādiṣu || vinodakāraṇaṃ ceti nṛttam etat pravartitam |


An informed history of beauty in the Indian context still needs to be written. For the various words used for indicating ‘beauty’ or beauty-related concepts in the field of Sanskrit poetry, see Ingalls 1962 and Smith 2010. A significant step in the interpretation of the concept of beauty in a broader cultural perspective was taken by Ali in his innovative study on courtly culture. Ali (2004: 143) speaks of ‘an enduring concern with beauty’ and suggests that ‘the theory of beauty was something like a worldview’. On beauty in the Indic world, see also Raghavan 2008 and the recent Torella (forthcoming) on spiritual and aesthetic beauty in Abhinavagupta’s work.


The other types of graces are the three produced from the body (aṅgaja) and the ten natural ones (svābhāvika). Cf. 22.5 and, for a study thereof, see Bansat-Boudon 1991a, where these graces are given the collective name of sāttvikālaṃkāras.


22.27: rūpayauvanalāvaṇyair upabhogopabṛṃhitaiḥ | alaṃkaraṇam aṅgānāṃ śobheti parikīrtitā ||


22.34: dākṣyaṃ śauryam athotsāho nīcārtheṣu jugupsanam | uttamaiś ca guṇaiḥ spardhā yataḥ śobheti sā smṛtā ||


8.165cd–167ab: śākhāṅgopāṅgasaṃyuktaḥ kṛto ’py abhinayaḥ śubhaḥ || mukharāgavihīnas tu naiva śobhānvito bhavet | śārīrābhinayo ’lpo ’pi mukharāgasamanvitaḥ || dviguṇāṃ labhate śobhāṃ rātrāv iva niśākaraḥ |


10.89cd–91ab: sauṣṭhave hi prayatnas tu kāryo vyāyāmavedibhiḥ || sauṣṭhavaṃ lakṣaṇaṃ proktaṃ vartanākramayojitam | śobhā sarvaiva nityaṃ hi sauṣṭhavaṃ samupāśritā || na hi sauṣṭhavahīnāṅgaḥ śobhate nāṭyanṛttayoḥ | On sauṣṭhava and its connection with dance, see § 2.2, n. 62.


Besides the intrinsic difficulties in reconstructing scenic practices that are no longer extant, the written medium—be it in the form of theoretical manuals or of dramatic texts—is in any case inadequate to account for a living reality such as dance. Although art forms like Kutiyattam and Kathakali are generally considered the closest ‘heirs’ of classical Sanskrit drama, the data we receive from modern sources should be handled with care. There has been a tendency among scholars, especially in the pioneering studies on Indian theatre, to superimpose what one sees on stage today onto the ancient theatre outlined by Bharata, so that a ‘dance character’, similar to that witnessed in contemporary performances of Bharatanatyam and Odissi, has been unjustifiably superimposed onto Sanskrit theatre. On the political motives underlying such over-interpretations, see § 1.2.


Cf. 34.18–19: utsave caiva yāne ca nṛpāṇāṃ maṅgaleṣu ca | śubhakalyāṇayoge ca vivāhakaraṇe tathā || utpāte saṃbhrame caiva saṅgrāme putrajanmani | īdṛśeṣu hi kāryeṣu sarvātodyāni vādayet || Note that Abhinavagupta affirms that musical instruments should be played all together on such occasions, both in theatre and in the world (ABh ad locum, vol. 4, p. 413: etac ca nātye loke ’pi ca). The reference here is probably to the dramatic depiction of festivals, which is based on the world.


See, for instance, the description of the dance performed ritually in the temple of Mahākāla in Ujjain in Kālidāsa’s Meghadūta (vv. 34–36), or the depiction of Kāma’s festival in the first act of Śrī Harṣa’s Ratnāvalī.


See Translation 1.1.


ABh ad 4.261cd–263ab, vol. 1, p. 168: nṛttaṃ nāṭyād bhinnam abhinnaṃ vā. bhinnatve ’pi saprayojanam aprayojanaṃ vā.


See Translation, 3.1. On this point, my interpretation of Abhinavagupta’s ultimate position differs from that of Bansat-Boudon, who declares: ‘Du débat, nous ne donnerons que les conclusions: la danse, en effet, diffère du théâtre en ce qu’ elle est exempte d’ abhinaya’ (Bansat-Boudon 1992: 400). The definition of dance as a movement of limbs devoid of representational function, however, is the most common by far in the theoretical texts. It appears for the first time in the Avaloka on the Daśarūpaka, where Dhanika interprets the definition of dance as tālalayāśraya- (DR 1.9b) as tanmātrāpekṣo ’ṅgavikṣepo ’bhinayaśūnyo nṛttam iti (AL ad DR 1.9), cf. § 2.1, n. 24. The Saṃgītaratnākara of Śārṅgadeva (13th c.), which otherwise follows the Abhinavabhāratī quite closely, presents the same tripartite object as the Daśarūpaka and defines dance in analogous terms: gātravikṣepamātraṃ tu sarvābhinayavarjitam || āṅgikoktaprakāreṇa nṛttaṃ nṛttavido viduḥ | (SR 7.27cd–28ab) ‘The experts in dance, however, know dance as consisting in a mere throwing of limbs, devoid of all kind of enactment, under the modality that has been stated with regard to bodily acting.’


The possibility that Abhinavagupta could have deliberately avoided using the category of nṛtya, common in other texts, has been discussed in § 2.1. On the scope of the word nṛtta in the Abhinavabhāratī and on the seven nṛtta varieties, see § 2.4 and Translation 8.6.


On pleasure and instruction as the twofold purpose of theatre, see below, § 3.4.


From Laurea Honoris Causa a Pina Bausch, Alma Mater Studiorium, Università degli Studi di Bologna, 1999, quoted in Lo Iacono 2007: 129. (‘One should find a language—with words, images, movements, atmospheres—capable of suggesting something that exists within us since time immemorial. This knowledge is very precise. Our emotions, those of everybody, are very precise’ [my translation]).


See, for instance, Bhāmaha’s Kāvyālaṃkāra 1.24cd on drama (nāṭaka): uktaṃ tad abhineyārtham ukto ’nyais tasya vistaraḥ || ‘Drama has been said to have its content enacted, and its details have been expounded by others.’


Cf. 6.23: āṅgiko vācikaś caiva hy āhāryaḥ sāttvikas tatha | cātvaro ’bhinayā hy ete vijñeyā nāṭyasaṃśrayāḥ || For an elaboration of the term ‘abhinaya’ with respect to the means involved, as opposed to the restricted Western concept of ‘acting’ or ‘reciting’, see Ganser 2007: 65–67. This section represents a revised and enlarged version of this earlier article.


For instance, of the thirty-six types of looks (dṛṣṭis) that are classified in 8.40–44 as part of the upāṅgābhinaya (‘acting through the minor limbs’), eight correspond, by a rather artificial parallelism, to the eight rasas, eight to the eight sthāyibhāvas, and the remaining twenty to some of the vyabhicāribhāvas.


8.6–7: abhipūrvas tu ṇīñdhātur ābhimukhyārthanirṇaye | yasmāt padārthān nayati tasmāt abhinayaḥ smṛtaḥ || vibhāvayati yasmāc ca nānārthān hi prayogataḥ | śākhāṅgopāṅgasaṃyuktas tasmād abhinayaḥ smṛtaḥ || In 8.6c, some manuscripts read yasmāt prayogaṃ nayati; however, given Abhinavagupta’s insistence elsewhere on the fact that abhinaya carries the meanings, I prefer to read padārthān here.


1.119: yo ’yaṃ svabhāvo lokasya sukhaduḥkhasamanvitaḥ | so ’ṅgādyabhinayopeto nāṭyam ity abhidhīyate ||


prose before 7.1: vāgaṅgasattvopetān kāvyārthān bhāvayantīti bhāvā iti | According to Abhinavagupta, the kāvyārthas are the rasas, whose savouring is preceded by the knowledge of the stable and transitory states (cf. ABh ad locum, vol. 1, p. 337).


It might be argued that the first chapter dealing with abhinaya should be considered the one on the emotional states (bhāvas), namely the seventh chapter, since it is here that the psychophysical states (sāttvikabhāvas), which are part of psychophysical acting (sāttvikābhinaya), are explained at length. (See 7.93–117, as well as 8.10: sāttvikaḥ pūrvam uktas tu bhāvaiś ca sahito mayā | aṅgābhinayam evādau gadato me nibodhata || ‘The psychophysical-[acting] has been treated by me earlier [in the treatise], in connection with the bhāvas. Now listen to the explanation of the bodily acting’). The commentary on the seventh chapter, however, breaks off abruptly after the fourth verse.


For instance, the anticipation of the full explanation of the śākhā in ABh ad 4.61cd–62ab, on which see § 2.2, n. 45. Other examples include mentions of topics to be discussed in the chapter on upāṅgābhinaya, suggesting that a full account of abhinaya and its various means was to be found there. For instance: ABh ad 14.2, vol. 2, pp. 220–221: eṣā hi tanur nāṭyasya sakalaprayogabhittibhūtatvenātodyagītābhinayānugrāhakatvāt svayam abhinayarūpatvāc ca. pradarśitaṃ caitad asmābhir upāṅgābhinayārambha eva. ‘For this [i.e. the voice] is the body of theatre since, due to its being the canvas on which the whole performance [is inscribed], it encompasses instrumental music, singing and acting, and since it itself has the nature of enactment [i.e. the vācikābhinaya]. We have shown this at the beginning of the [chapter on the] acting through the minor limbs (i.e. ch. 8)’; ABh ad 22.1, vol. 3, p. 149: vāgaṅgasattvābhinayā anyonyaṃ sahacaryamāṇāḥ, na tv evaṃ teṣv āhārya ity asyānupādānakriyā. etac ca na muner matam ity āveditam asmābhir upāṅgābhinayāhāryābhinayādhyāyayor ity āstām, ‘The registers of acting through the voice, the body and the mind sustain each other, but the one based on the costume does not [interact] with them in the same way. That is why it has not been included [in the sāmānyābhinaya]. But this is not the opinion of the Muni, as we have acknowledged in the chapter on acting through the minor limbs (i.e. ch. 8) and in the one about ornamental acting. Let the matter rest for the time being’; ABh ad 22.50, vol. 3, p. 174: yat pūrvam uktam—asya śākhā ca [corr., na E1] nṛttaṃ ca tathaivāṅkura eva ca | trividhaṃ vastv abhinayasya [corr. Bansat-Boudon 1992: 387, n. 466a, abhinayaḥ … E1]| iti tena sahāsya yathā na virodhas tathaivopapāditam upāṅgābhinaye. ‘As to what has been stated before[, namely that] “the śākhā, dance (nṛtta), and the aṅkura are the three elements of the [bodily] acting (abhinaya)” ( 8.14), it has been demonstrated in the chapter on enactment through the minor limbs how it does not contradict the [reasoning here]’ (For the context of this statement, see Bansat-Boudon 1992: 387); ABh ad 22.51, vol. 3, p. 175: kevalaṃ tatkālikātatkālikādimātreṇa vākyaṃ bhidyatāṃ nāma. etac copāṅgābhinaye vitatyopapāditam. ‘It is possible to disjoin the sentence [from the enactment] only insofar as it may be simultaneous or non-simultaneous with it. Moreover, we have treated this [topic] in detail in the [chapter] on acting through the minor limbs.’


Āṅgikābhinaya covers chs. 8–12 and is said to be threefold: corporal, facial, and based on gestures ( 8.11: trividhas tv āṅgiko jñeyaḥ śārīro mukhajas tathā | tathā ceṣṭākṛtaś caiva śākhāṅgopāṅgasaṃyutaḥ ||). Although facial expression (mukhaja) is explained in chapter 8 and is based on the minor limbs (upāṅga), the scope of the other two subdivisions, i.e. śārīra and ceṣṭākṛta, and how they differ from one another is not crystal clear. On the range of the major and minor limbs, see 8.13 (cf. § 2.2, n. 39).


Vācikābhinaya does not concern prosody alone, but the written text as well, so that along with instructions on prosody—including intonation, accentuation, pauses, and so forth—directions are given to the poets on how to write a play using the appropriate plot, metres, rhetorical figures, and language. See below, n. 111.


The principal object of sāttvikābhinaya are the emotions, in which both a psychical and a physical dimension is recognized, hence the English rendering as ‘psychophysical acting’. No specific chapter of the Nāṭyaśāstra is devoted exclusively to this means of enactment, and no acting technique can be actually apprehended and systematized under this heading. Nevertheless, Abhinavagupta (ABh ad 1.23, vol. 1, p. 17) refers to some technique connected with breath control (prāṇa) that the actor could use to display on his body the signs of an intensely felt emotion, the so-called sāttvikabhāvas, listed as paralysis (stambha), perspiration (sveda), horripilation (romāñca), stammering (svarabheda), tremor (vepathu), change of colour (vaivarṇya), tears (aśru), and fainting (pralaya) ( 7.94). On sāttvikābhinaya, see Bansat-Boudon 1991a, 1992; Malinar 2010; and Cuneo & Ganser (forthcoming).


The section on āhāryābhinaya, in chapter 21, describes the dress and the make-up along with a reduced number of accessories, such as bows and banners, and scenic devices like props.


Cf. ABh ad 14.1–2, vol. 2, p. 220: nāṭyānuprāṇakatayā pūrvoddiṣṭāṅgikasya, and n. 42 above.


Cf. 22.2, in Translation, n. 34.


On the various arguments for and against the exclusion of āhārya from the discussion on sāmānyābhinaya, see ABh ad 22.1, translated in Bansat-Boudon 1992: 363–364.


On the image of the perfumer in the Abhinavabhāratī and a translation thereof, see Bansat-Boudon 1989–1990: 68, 1992: 344, and 2004: 158–176.


As Bansat-Boudon (1995: 150) states it, ‘the citrābhinaya—which the Abhinavabhāratī presents as an appendix, as a supplement to the sāmānyābhinaya—is the multicoloured and, so to speak, pictorial acting by which the world is theatrically depicted’.


I follow Bansat-Boudon 1995: 152 in this translation, based on the use of the denominative suffix -āya and middle endings, which adds the following meanings to the root based on which it is formed: ‘to be like’, ‘act/behave like’, ‘play the part of’.


The vākyābhinaya is when the bodily acting is simultaneous with the recitation of the text; the sūcā is a silent phase in which gestures alone convey the interior reflection of a character, followed by its enunciation through words; the aṅkura is the silent gestural phase that follows the verbal enunciation and reveals its latent meanings. The śākhā is the coordinate movement of the head and face, legs and thighs, and hands and feet, on the verge of dance. The nāṭyāyita is of two types: the first is the acting of a play within the play, which corresponds roughly to the later garbhāṅka; the second is the enactment of a song inserted in the play, the dhruvā. Lastly, the nivṛttyaṅkura is the display of the feelings of one character affected by the discourse of another. My understanding and rendering of the different phases of the śārīrasāmānyābhinaya closely follows Bansat-Boudon 1989–1990, 1992: 341–387 and 1995. The latter contains a translation of Abhinavagupta’s commentary with very telling examples of each phase taken from extant plays.


For a discussion of the semiotic and expressive value of dance within theatre, see § 3.4 below.


In the chapter on hastābhinaya (ABh ad ch. 9), some such examples are found, as for instance the option to enact an inaugural stanza either with a hand gesture for every word, or by rendering only the first element in a list or the main action. The example given is the nāndī of the Abhijñānaśākuntala (yā sraṣṭuḥ sṛṣṭir ādyā …), in which the eight visible forms of Śiva are described. A superior actor, says Abhinavagupta, should enact only the first two of the eight visible forms of Śiva, i.e. water and fire, while an inferior one would represent many of the words because of his faltering nature. See ABh ad 9.173, vol. 2, p. 67: atraika eva jalahutāśanābhinaya uttamena prayojyaḥ. adhamena tv anekaś ca calasvabhāvatvāt.


For an example of a lāsyāṅga added in the second act of Śrī Harṣa’s Ratnāvalī, unnoticed in previous studies and alluded to in the discussion of the nature of dance, see Translation, n. 187. Many other instances of such insertions are reported in Bansat-Boudon 1992.


Cf. ABh ad 9.164, vol. 2, p. 64: arthasya yuktir upapattiḥ mukhyagauṇalākṣaṇikavyaṅgyādibhedena.


This is Ratnāvalī 2.4, where King Udayana is describing a vine in the palace garden which, he says, looks like a rival woman in love, namely Ratnāvalī, who has just arrived at the palace and is about to arouse the jealousy of the queen (for a translation, cf. Ingalls et al. 1990: 278). In explaining how this stanza should be represented on stage, Abhinavagupta says: abhinayo ’py atra prākaraṇike pratipadam. aprākaraṇike tu vākyārthābhinayenopāṅgādinā, na tu sarvathā nābhinaya ity alam avāntareṇa (DhvĀL 2.18–19c, pp. 226–227): ‘[One may] also [note that] the acting out of the primarily intended meaning, [namely that pertaining to the vine,] should be at every word, while the acting out of the secondary meaning [which pertains to the woman] would be only of the general meaning of the stanza and should be effected by upāṅgas (facial gestures). On the other hand, it would be wrong to give no gesture at all [to the secondary meaning]. But enough on this incidental matter’ (translation Ingalls et al. 1990: 279).


ABh ad 9.173, vol. 2, p. 68: jyeṣṭhe ’bhinaye pratyakṣavartamānātmajñasthaviṣaye hastavyāpāro ’lpah. ‘hiaa samassasa’ ityādau. On the possible use of the example in Prakrit as occurring in concomitance with a lāsyāṅga involving a song in the Abhijñānaśākuntala, see Bansat-Boudon 1992: 332–337, and for a new hypothesis about its literary context, see Translation, n. 187.


A further evidence is the existence in manuscripts of ‘inflated’ or ‘scenic’ versions of some acts from famous plays, on which see Introduction, n. 24.


On the scope of the śāstra, see § 2.5.


The tree metaphor is famously used in Nāṭyaśāstra 6.38: yathā bījād bhaved vṛkṣo vṛkṣāt puṣpaṃ phalaṃ yathā | tathā mūlaṃ rasāḥ sarve tebhyo bhāvā vyavasthitāḥ || ‘Just as the tree comes from the seed, and from the tree the flower and the fruit, so the rasas are the root, and all the other emotional states are established from those.’ According to Abhinavagupta, this indicates that the whole is pervaded by rasa: the root is the rasa belonging to the poet that, like a seed, develops into the poetic text, which is similar to a tree. With regard to the latter, the activities of the actor, consisting in the enactments (abhinaya), are like flowers, and the tasting of the rasa by the spectators is the fruit (cf. ABh ad 6.38, vol. 1, p. 288).


Cf. ABh ad 1.127, vol. 1, p. 46: rajyate ’neneti raṅgo nāṭyam; ABh ad 9.40, vol. 2, p. 34: rajyaty asmin hṛdayam iti raṅgaḥ.


See Pollock 2010 and 2016: 144–148.


The poet is likened to a spectator who, Abhinava says—echoing his predecessor Ānandavardhana—looks at the world as if at a spectacle: kavir hi sāmājikatulya eva. tata evoktaṃ ‘śṛṅgārī cet kaviḥ’ ityādy ānandavardhanācāryeṇa (ABh ad 6.38, vol. 1, p. 288). ‘The poet is similar to a spectator. In this vein, Ānandavardhana said that “if the poet is full of love, etc.”.’ The verse quoted is in the Vṛtti ad DhvĀ 3.42, p. 498: śṛṅgārī cet kaviḥ kāvye jātaṃ rasamayaṃ jagat | sa eva vītarāgaś cen nīrasaṃ sarvam eva tat || ‘If the poet is full of love, a world made of rasa will arise in his poem; if he himself is dispassionate, then everything will be devoid of rasa.’ The idea that the poet looks at the world as a spectator is linked to the experience of Vālmīki, considered by tradition as the first poet (ādikavi). Witnessing a curlew’s grief over the loss of his mate, slain by a hunter, Vālmīki transformed his own grief (śoka) into verse (śloka), and thus composed the Rāmāyaṇa (cf. DhĀ 1.5 and Vṛtti thereon, translated in Ingalls et al. 1990: 113–114).


ABh ad 6.32–33, vol. 1, p. 285: ata eva ca naṭe na rasaḥ. […] naṭe tarhi kim. āsvādanopāyaḥ. ata eva ca pātram ity ucyate. na hi pātre madyāsvādaḥ. api tu tadupāyakaḥ. tena pramukhapātre [corr. Viśvesvara, cf. Pollock 2016: 391, n. 200, ˚mātre E1] naṭopayoga ity alam. ‘And so the rasa is not in the actor. […]—What then is there in the actor?—He is the means of savouring. That is why he is called a vessel (pātra). For there is no savouring of the wine by the vessel, but yet it is instrumental to it. Therefore, actors are used as the main vessel [for the savouring of rasa].’ The common argument used to exclude actors from the tasting of rasa is that if they were to taste the rasa, they would be unable to follow the rhythm, or would be caught, for instance, in the reality of the experiences represented, such as death. See DhĀL 2.4, p. 183: anukartari ca tadbhāve layādyananusaraṇaṃ syāt; and ABh ad 6.11, vol. 1, p. 258: naṭasya hi rasabhāvayoge maraṇādau tattvāveśo layādibhaṅgaś ca syāt.


Although the actor does not experience the rasa while he acts, he should not be thought of as an inert technician, as is suggested by the very existence of a psychophysical acting (sāttvikābhinaya), involving the use of the body-mind complex. For an in-depth study on the emotional and aesthetic experience of the actor in historical perspective, see Cuneo & Ganser (forthcoming).


On the controversy over the existence of dhvani, and the necessity to postulate a third power of language, see Ingalls et al. 1990; McCrea 2008; and Pollock 2012b, 2016.


See above, n. 35, for the definition of theatre as abhineyārtha in Bhāmaha.


See, for instance, the verses defining the various emotional states (bhāva), the determinants (vibhāva) and the consequents (anubhāva), all containing abhinaya as a principal component, in 7.1–5.


Vṛtti ad DhvĀ 3.33, pp. 417–418: na hi yaivābhidhānaśaktiḥ saivāvagamanaśaktiḥ. avācakasyāpi gītaśabdāde rasādilakṣaṇārthāvagamadarśanāt. aśabdasyāpi ceṣṭāder arthaviśeṣaprakāśanaprasiddheḥ. tathā hi ‘vrīḍāyogān natavadanayā’ ityādiśloke ceṣṭāviśeṣaḥ sukavinārthaprakāśanahetuḥ pradarśita eva.


Vṛtti ad DhvĀ 3.4, pp. 305–307: vrīḍāyogān natavadanayā sannidhāne gurūṇām, baddhotkampaṃ kucakalaśayor manyum antar nigṛhya | tiṣṭhety uktaṃ kim iva na tayā yat samutsṛjya bāṣpam, mayy āsaktaś cakitahariṇīhārinetratribhāgaḥ || The verse is also found in the Sūktimuktāvalī, as reported by Ingalls et al. 1990: 395, n. 1.


See the translation of the Locana in Ingalls et al. 1990: 396. The post-Bharata tradition commonly distinguishes two types of determinants: the foundational determinants (ālambanavibhāva), which are the support of the emotion, i.e. the characters, and the stimulating determinants (uddīpanavibhāva), which consist in the contextual factors that facilitate the appearance of an emotion in the character. See, e.g., Ingalls et al. 1990: 16 and Pollock 2016: 7.


As a matter of fact, Ānandavardhana recognizes suggestion in music and gestures, just as in ordinary language. As McCrea (2008: 186) puts it, ‘While admitting that suggestiveness is a property of all human language, Ānandavardhana contends that in poetry this function of language takes on a special and unique importance which distinguishes it from the suggestive aspect of non-poetic language. Dhvani is not coterminous with suggestiveness’.


The hypothesis was advanced by Gerow and criticized by McCrea, cf. § 1.4, n. 116. Similarly, it has been commonly assumed that at some point around the end of the first millennium, Sanskrit drama stopped being performed, but continued to be composed throughout the second millennium as an exclusively literary form. For a criticism of this position, see Leclère 2010: 27, n. 5.


As is well known, Sanskrit drama is a literary genre combining prose (gadya) and verse (padya). In contemporary Kutiyattam, these textual portions are enacted differently: dramatic dialogues are usually rendered just through simple gestures, while poetic stanzas can be the object of long elaborations, and they are often the place for inserting side episodes or for giving full space to the play of emotions. The question of how poetic stanzas were rendered on stage must of course have been given different answers at different historical times and in different traditions of the performance of Sanskrit theatre. I have not been able to find any discussion on this topic in the theoretical texts, except for stray examples in Abhinavagupta’s commentary and a distinction between prose (gadya) and verse (padya) in the corporal acting registers called vākyābhinaya and sūcā, on which see Bansat-Boudon 1992: 346–347.


This is how a commentator such as Rāghavabhaṭṭa (15th c.) explains this verse, which coincides with similar analyses in dramatic treatises, where this verse is cited as an illustration of bhayānaka rasa. To the best of my knowledge, Abhinavagupta is the first to comment on this verse as an example of the fearsome rasa, although he does not comment on it in terms of the aesthetic factors, but focuses on the epistemology of rasa in terms of the spectator’s cognition through the text and its performance. See the beginning of the siddhānta in ABh ad rasasūtra, quoted and discussed in Gnoli 1968; Cuneo 2008–2009; Pollock 2010, 2016; and David 2016.


Vṛtti ad DhvĀ 1.4, pp. 78–84: tṛtīyas tu rasādilakṣaṇaḥ prabhedo vācyasāmarthyākṣiptaḥ prakāśate, na tu sākṣāc chabdavyāpāraviṣaya iti vācyād bhinna eva. tathā hi vācyatvaṃ tasya svaśabdaniveditatvena vā syāt, vibhāvādipratipādanamukhena vā. pūrvasmin pakṣe svaśabdaniveditatvābhāve rasādīnām apratītiprasaṅgaḥ. na ca sarvatra teṣāṃ svaśabdaniveditatvam. yatrāpy asti tat, tatrāpi viśiṣṭavibhāvādipratipādanamukhenaivaiṣāṃ pratītiḥ. svaśabdena sā kevalam anūdyate, na tu tatkṛtā viṣayāntare tathā tasyā adarśanāt. na hi kevalaśṛṅgārādiśabdamātrabhāji vibhāvādipratipādanarahite kāvye manāg api rasavattvapratītir asti. yataś ca svābhidhānam antareṇa kevalebhyo ’pi vibhāvādibhyo viśiṣṭebhyo rasādīnāṃ pratītiḥ, kevalāc ca svābhidhānād apratītiḥ, tasmād anvayavyatirekābhyām abhidheyasāmarthyākṣiptatvam eva rasādīnām. na tv abhidheyatvaṃ kathaṃcit, iti tṛtīyo ’pi prabhedo vācyād bhinna eveti sthitam. Translated also in Ingalls et al. 1990: 105–106 and Pollock 2016: 90.


ABh ad rasasūtra, vol. 1, p. 266: tasmād dhetubhir vibhāvākhyaiḥ kāryaiś cānubhāvātmabhiḥ sahacārirūpaiś ca vyabhicāribhiḥ prayatnārjitatayā kṛtrimair api tathānabhimanyamānair anukartṛsthatvena liṅgabalataḥ pratīyamānaḥ sthāyī bhāvo mukhyarāmādigatasthāyyanukaraṇarūpaḥ. anukaraṇarūpatvād eva nāmāntareṇa vyapadiṣṭo rasaḥ. ‘The rasa is the stable state (sthāyī bhāva), in the form of an imitation (anukaraṇa) of the stable [state] belonging to the character, such as Rāma. And it is simply because it is an imitation that it has been designated by a different name. It is apprehended as present in the actor by force of those inferential signs (liṅga): the causes, called determinants (vibhāva), the effects, i.e. the consequents (anubhāva), and the concomitant factors, consisting of the transitory [states] (vyabhicāri[bhāva]), all of which are, even though factitious—insofar as they are produced by an effort [of the actor]—not realized to be so.’ (Translation based on Cuneo 2008–20091: 270).


ABh ad rasasūtra, vol. 1, pp. 266–267: vibhāvā hi kāvyabalānusandheyāḥ. anubhāvāḥ śikṣātaḥ. vyabhicāriṇaḥ kṛtrimanijānubhāvārjanabalāt. sthāyī tu kāvyabalād api nānusandheyaḥ. ‘ratiḥ śoka’ ityādayo hi śabdā ratyādikam abhidheyīkurvanty abhidhānatvena. na tu vācikābhinayarūpatayā ’vagamayanti. na hi vāg eva vācikam. api tu tayā nirvṛttam. aṅgair ivāṅgikam.


Ratnāvalī 2.12, bhāti patito likhantyāḥ tasyā bāṣpāmbuśīkarakaṇaughaḥ | svedodgama iva karatalasaṃsparśād eṣa me vapuṣi || Quoted in ABh ad rasasūtra, vol. 1, p. 267.


ABh ad rasasūtra, vol. 1, p. 267: ity anena tu vākyena svārtham abhidadhatā udayanagataḥ sukhātmā ratiḥ sthāyībhāvo ’bhinīyate na tūcyate. avagamanaśaktir hy abhinayanaṃ vācakatvād anyā.


Cuneo (2008–20091: 271, n. 150) first pointed out the similarity between the communicative power of representation postulated by Śaṅkuka and Ānandavardhana’s dhvani theory. Building on this insight, I try to show here the limits of Śaṅkuka’s theory, and how in his example he fails, despite the very promising declaration of intent, to properly deal with the spectacular dimension of abhinaya.


It is difficult to establish whether Ānandavardhana borrowed from Śrī Śaṅkuka or vice versa. For an argument in favour of Śaṅkuka’s predating Ānandavardhana on the basis of later evidence about their different patronage, see Pollock 2016: 77. According to Pollock (ibid.: 13), Śaṅkuka was the first to formulate a distinction between referential and expressive language.


See above, n. 38, on the definition of abhinaya in the Nāṭyaśāstra.


PDhS, p. 48 (anumānaprakaraṇam): prasiddhābhinayasya ceṣṭayā pratipattidarśanāt tad apy anumānam eva.


This is the case of the Kiraṇāvalī, Udayana’s commentary on the Padārthadharmasaṃgraha, where the most detailed commentary on this verse is found. Udayana analyses both positions: 1) gestures work as the signs of an inference; 2) gestures function like words. In the second case, gestures are compared to writing (lipivat), which works through the memory of the words with which the graphic signs are associated, and would in any case still fall under anumāna, since even verbal knowledge is subsumed under inference according to the Vaiśeṣika thinkers. Cf. Kiraṇāvalī, pp. 213–214.


Interestingly, in a note on his translation of Śrīdhara’s Nyāyakandalī, Ganganath Jha (1982: 466) says that those who take gestures as an independent means of knowledge are the Tāntrikas. Unfortunately, I have not been able to trace the source of this statement in the available literature.


Vyomavatī, p. 175: evam anyāpi ceṣṭā nāṭyaśāstraprasiddhā anumāne ’ntarbhāvanīyeti. The opposition of ‘world’ and ‘science of theatre’ is not given explicitly by Vyomaśiva, but it is found in another source, Bhāsarvajña’s Nyāyabhūṣana (9th c.) in the context of a similar discussion about the status of ceṣṭā as pramāṇa, where it is recognized to be part of inference on the strength of similar arguments as those of the Vaiśeṣikas. Again, the point of departure is that some people consider ceṣṭā as an independent pramāṇa. Nyāyabhūṣana, p. 435: anye tu ceṣṭākhyaṃ pramāṇam icchanti. kā punar iyaṃ ceṣṭeti? prayatnajanitā śarīratadavayavānāṃ kriyā ceṣṭā. sā nāṭyaśāstraprasiddhasamayabalena lokakṛtasamayabalena ca puruṣābhiprāyaviśeṣam arthaviśeṣaṃ ca pratipādayantī pramāṇam iṣyate. ‘Some, however, consider the one called ceṣṭā a valid means of knowledge. What is then this ceṣṭā? Ceṣṭā is the activity of the body and its limbs, brought about through an effort. This is considered as a pramāṇa, since it conveys the particular intention of a man, or a particular meaning, on the force of the convention known from the science of theatre and on the force of the convention established in the world.’


See DhvĀL 1.1, p. 22: mārgasyeti. nṛttagītākṣinikocanādiprāyasyety arthaḥ.


See Vṛtti ad VP 1.147, p. 235: tatra tu sādhuvyavahitā vā bhavaty arthapratipattir abhyāsād vā pramattānām akṣinikocādivat saṃpratyayamātraṃ jāyate.


For a broader context of the court and its practices, see Ali 2006. With reference to psychophysical practices and following Michel Foucault, Ali speaks of ‘technologies of the self’ (Ali 1998) and of ‘aristocratic body techniques’ (Ali 2008). For a treatment of this issue from an actor’s point of view, see Cuneo & Ganser (forthcoming).


ĪPVV 2.3, vol. 1, p. 91: mukhabhaṅgamūrdhakampāṅgulimoṭanādimātratattvaṃ tat.


DhvĀL 1.1, p. 27: jaḍena pṛṣṭo bhrūbhaṅgakaṭākṣādibhir evottaraṃ dadat.


For a recent re-evaluation of imitation in Indian art, see Dave-Mukherji 2016. Dave-Mukherji equates anukaraṇa with mimesis, which she understands as imitation or realism, a position that is not shared by the present author. On the genesis of the prejudice about the lack of imitation-qua-realism in the Indian arts, as it emerged in the cross-cultural exchange between India and Europe in the early twentieth century, see Ganser 2018.


A good point of departure for looking at the shifting concept of mimesis from antiquity onwards is Halliwell 2002. According to Halliwell, mimesis was intended in antiquity in the sense of representation-cum-expression, and it was not until the eighteenth century that its semantic sphere was narrowed down to signify imitation, with the negative connotation of the ‘copy’, ‘replica’ or even ‘counterfeit’ (ibid.: 13–14).


Most importantly in Gnoli 1968, Cuneo 2008–20091, and Pollock 2016.


The theory is summarized in the concise formula ‘bhāvānukaraṇaṃ rasāḥ’ (ABh ad rasasūtra, vol. 1, p. 270). For details, see above, n. 79.


As also stated at the beginning of the section on the essence of rasa, we recognize emotions in theatre because we have learned to infer other people’s emotions from the display of the appropriate signs in real life. See ABh ad rasasūtra, vol. 1, p. 278: tatra lokavyavahāre kāryakāraṇasahacārātmakaliṅgadarśane sthāyyātmaparacittavṛttyanumānābhyāsapāṭavād […] ‘In this regard, in ordinary life, one develops, through repeated practice, the ability to infer the stable states belonging to others, by seeing the inferential signs consisting of causes, effects, and concomitant elements.’


ABh ad rasasūtra, vol. 1, p. 268: kiṃcid dhi pramāṇenopalabdhaṃ tad anukaraṇam iti śakyaṃ vaktum. yathā ‘evam asau surāṃ pibati’ iti surāpānānukaraṇatvena payaḥpānaṃ pratyakṣāvalokitaṃ pratibhāti. ‘Something can be called an imitation when it is grasped as such by a valid means of knowledge. For instance, the cognition “he drinks alcohol in this way” manifests itself as the imitation of the drinking of alcohol when the drinking of water is directly perceived’ (Translation based on Pollock 2016: 183–184). The context for this particular case of imitation is not totally clear; possibly, it was intended as a case of mimicry aimed at caricaturing someone, not necessarily a case of fiction, and certainly not a trompe-l’ œil. To convey the idea of drinking on stage, in fact, an actor would normally just reach up with his hands to his mouth, possibly displaying afterwards the effects of intoxication (mada being one of the 33 vyabhicāribhāvas) through the appropriate anubhāvas, thereby conveying the idea of an intoxicating drink.


ABh ad rasasūtra, vol. 1, p. 268: iha ca naṭagataṃ kiṃ tad upalabdhaṃ yad ratyanukaraṇatayā bhātīti cintyam. taccharīraṃ tanniṣṭhaṃ pratiśīrṣakādi romāñcakagadgadikādi bhujākṣepavalanaprabhṛti bhrūkṣepakaṭākṣādikaṃ ca na rateś cittavṛttirūpatayānukāratvena kasyacit pratibhāti. jaḍatvena bhinnendriyagrāhyatvena bhinnādhikaraṇatvena ca tato ’tivailakṣaṇyāt. mukhyāvalokane ca tadanukaraṇapratibhāsaḥ. na ca rāmagatāṃ ratim upalabdhapūrviṇaḥ kecit. etena rāmānukārī naṭa ity api nirastaḥ pravādaḥ. ‘In the case [of theatre], one has to reflect on what it is that one perceives in the actor, which looks like the imitation of desire. The body of the actor, the headdress and the other [elements of the costume] fixed on him, [the psychophysical reactions] such as horripilation, stammering and so on, the shaking and spinning of his arms, the frowns of the eyebrows, the side glances and so on; for nobody does this appear as an imitation of the mental state of desire, since, given that they are insentient and therefore grasped by different sense organs, and that they have different substrata, [these external manifestations] are radically different from desire. And if one argues that the imitation of [desire] is manifested as observed in the character, our answer is that nobody has ever perceived the desire belonging to Rāma. Therefore, to say that the actor is imitating Rāma is just empty talk’ (Translation based on Pollock 2016: 184).


ABh ad rasasūtra, vol. 1, pp. 269–270: kiṃ ca naṭaḥ śikṣāvaśāt svavibhāvasmaraṇāc cittavṛttisādhāraṇībhāvena hṛdayasaṃvādāt kevalam anubhāvān pradarśayan kāvyam ucitakākuprabhṛtyupaskāreṇa paṭhaṇś ceṣṭata ity etāvan mātre ’sya pratītir na tv anukāraṃ vedayate. *kāntaveṣānukāravad dhi [conj. Gnoli, ˚ānukāravṛddhi E1] na rāmaceṣṭitasyānukāraḥ. etac ca prathamādhyāye ’pi darśitam asmābhiḥ. In his translation, Gnoli refers to one of the graces of women known in the Nāṭyaśāstra as līlā, in which the woman dresses up and makes a mimicry of the lover’s appearance and speech to amuse her companion friend (Gnoli 1968: 40). The reference to the practice of līlā and its resulting in somebody else’s amusement is pertinent, since it is analogous to the case of parody or caricature (vikāraṇa), which is described in ABh ad 1.107, vol. 1, p. 36 as one of the possible senses of anukaraṇa.


ABh ad rasasūtra, vol. 1, p. 270: saptadvīpānukaraṇam ityādi tv anyathāpi śakyagamanikam iti. tadanukāre ’pi ca kva nāmāntaraṃ kāntaveṣagatyanukaraṇādau. My translation, on the whole, follows Pollock 2016: 186. Cf. also Gnoli 1968: 41, and Cuneo 2008–20091: 278, who understand the passage slightly differently.


The relevant verses are 1.107cd: trailokyasyāsya sarvasya nāṭyaṃ bhāvānukīrtanam || ‘Theatre is the renarration of the states of these three entire worlds’, and 1.117cd: saptadvīpānukaraṇaṃ nāṭyam etad bhaviṣyati || ‘This theatre will be an imitation of the seven continents.’ 1.112 also defines theatre as ‘an imitation of the conduct of common people’ (lokavṛttānukaraṇa). On the notions of anukīrtana and anukaraṇa, see Bansat-Boudon 1992: 125–127.


See, for instance, Abhinavagupta’s insistence on the sāmānyābhinaya as having the character of an activity (kriyā), with some reservations about the āhāryābhinaya; cf. Bansat-Boudon 1992: 345 and 363, n. 358.


The verses under discussion are part of Brahmā’s discourse on the nature of theatre, pronounced to pacify the obstacles ( 1.106–119), who had mistaken the first performance for a mockery of their own defeat by the gods. The commentary on these verses contains many of Abhinavagupta’s reflections on the status of fiction in art. A full translation of these passages is available in Cuneo 2008–20091. A translation of ABh ad 1.107 appears as Appendix I in Gnoli 1968, and a portion of it in Pollock 2016: 218–222 (On the Nature of Dramatic Acting). A new French translation and critical edition of the totality of the first chapter is currently under preparation as a collaborative project of the present author with Lyne Bansat-Boudon and Daniele Cuneo.


Abhinavagupta expresses this idea in ABh ad rasasūtra, vol. 1, p. 278: laukikacittavṛttyanumāne kā rasatā? tenālaukikacamatkārātmā rasāsvādaḥ smṛtyanumānalaukikasaṃvedanavilakṣaṇa eva. ‘Where is the relish in inferring a worldly mental state? Therefore, the savouring of rasa, consisting in a super-mundane rapture, is absolutely different from worldly forms of awareness such as memory or inference’.


See above, § 3.2, n. 39.


ABh ad 1.119, vol. 1, p. 44: evaṃbhūto [M1ac T1ka T5 T6 T7 E1(2)pc E1(4)pc, evaṃ dayāratyādirūpānusaraṇabhūto M1pc T1 E1(2)ac E1(4)ac, evaṃ mayā ratyādirūpānusaraṇabhūto E1(1)] nāṭyalakṣaṇo ’rthaḥ kathaṃ pratītigocarībhavatīty āha—aṅgādīti. ye ’bhinayāḥ āṅgikādayaḥ na ca te liṅgasaṅketādirūpāḥ, api tu *pratyakṣasākṣātkārakalpāḥ. †nāṭyalakṣaṇo ’rtho† ’laukikasamyaṅmithyājñānādirūpaḥ [conj., pratyakṣasākṣātkārakalpalaukika˚ M1 T1 T5 T6 E1, pratyakṣasākṣātkārakalpyalaukika˚ T1ka T7, pratyakṣasākṣātkārakalpā pratītiḥ. ato na laukika˚ E2] tasyaiva bhāvaḥ [M1, bhāvāḥ ΣM ΣE] śṛṇgārādayo ratyādivilakṣaṇāsvādaparyāyapratītyupayoginaḥ. ata evābhimukhyanayanahetutvād anyalokaśāstrāprasiddhenābhinayaśabdena vyapadeśyāḥ. My translation is based on the text of the ongoing critical edition of the first chapter of the ABh, which requires a conjecture in order to make sense of the text.


The reference to the workings of language by the use of the word saṅketa in the passage under discussion is made clear by a parallel expression used to describe the process of dramatic communication in the sixth chapter (rasasūtra, section on the obstacles, vol. 1, p. 275): abhinayanaṃ hi saśabdaliṅgavyāpāravisadṛśam eva pratyakṣavyāpārakalpam iti niśceṣyāmaḥ. ‘Dramatic acting, in fact, is different from the operation of inferential signs or words, as it is similar to the operation of perception. We will ascertain this later on’. This is possibly a reference to the lost Abhinavabhāratī on chapter 8.


From this perspective, the statement in 14.2ab—vāci yatnas tu kartavyo nāṭyasyaiṣā tanuḥ smṛtā | ‘An effort should be made in the verbal [component], for this is known to be the body of theatre’—is interpreted by the commentator as referring to the twofold effort required by the poet and the actor in vācikābhinaya. Cf. ABh ad 14.2ab, vol. 2, p. 220: vāci yatnas tu kartavya iti kavinā nirmāṇakāle naṭena prayogakāle: ‘An effort in the verbal [component] should be made by the poet at the time of the composition [of the dramatic text], [and] by the actor at the time of [its] performance’.


ABh ad 6.33, vol. 1, pp. 284–285: nāṭyāt samudāyarūpād rasāḥ. yadi vā nāṭyam eva rasāḥ. rasasamudāyo hi nāṭyam. nāṭya eva ca rasāḥ. kāvye ’pi nāṭyāyamāna eva rasaḥ. kāvyārthaviṣaye hi pratyakṣakalpasaṃvedanodaye rasodaya ity upādhyāyāḥ. yad āhuḥ kāvyakautuke: ‘prayogatvam anāpanne kāvye nāsvādasaṃbhavaḥ |’ iti ‘varṇanotkalitā bhogaprauḍhoktyā samyag arpitāḥ | udyānakāntācandrādyā bhāvāḥ pratyakṣavat sphuṭāḥ ||’ iti. ‘[The compound nāṭyarasāḥ can be interpreted as:] “the rasas arising from theatre”, which is a composite entity. Or, as “the rasas that are theatre”, for theatre is indeed a collection of rasas. Moreover, the rasas are found in theatre alone. Yet rasa is also found in poetry to the extent that it behaves like theatre. For according to my master [Bhaṭṭa Tauta], the rasa arises when an awareness similar to a direct perception arises with respect to the content of a literary text. As he stated in the Kāvyakautuka: “As long as a poem does not reach the status of a performance, it is not possible to savour [it]. When factors such as a garden, a beloved woman, the moon, etc. appearing in a [poetic] description are properly conveyed by a verbal expression fully developed with enjoyment, they become as vivid as if they were directly perceived”.’


ABh ad rasasūtra (refutation of Śrī Śaṅkuka by Bhaṭṭa Tauta), vol. 1, p. 270: pratyuta dhruvāgānatālavaicitryalāsyāṅgopajīvanaṃ nirūpaṇādi viparyaye liṅgam. Gnoli (1968: 40) translates lāsyāṅga as ‘sub-divisions of women’s dance’, and Pollock (2016: 186) as ‘components of the preliminary dance’, which cannot be the case here, since the context is the performance of drama and not the preliminary rite. An essential difference between the two types of lāsyāṅgas described in chapter 19 (the lāsyāṅgas of the play) and in chapter 31 (the lāsyāṅgas of the pūrvaraṅga) has been clearly established by Lyne Bansat-Boudon (cf. § 2.1, n. 30 and§ 2.3.1).


ABh ad 1.107, vol. 1, p. 38: yataś cedaṃ nānukaraṇaṃ tato yat kaiścic coditaṃ tad anavakāśam—‘na ca gītavādyayuktaḥ sarvāvasthāsu kaścid anukāryaḥ’ iti. na hyM E1(1), tv M1 T1ga E1(1)vl ΣE] anukāryatvena gītādaya ity uktam. parihāro ’pi ya uktaḥ ‘*āsanagamanasnānasvāpapratibodhabhojanādyāsu vastuto [E1(4), ˚ādyāsu vastu māsu M1pc, ˚ādyāsu(…)māsu M1ac, ˚ādyāsu yastumāsu T1, ˚ādyāsu vyastumā T5, ˚ādyāsu ΣE] gītavādyaṃ loke ceṣṭāsv atiprathitam’ ityādi, tad apy anupapannam. na hi gamanādau taddhruvātālādirūpeṇa gītādi loke ’sti maṅgalamātratvād ṛte. gāyanavādanādiṣv api cānukārabuddhyāpatter ity alam. My translation and understanding of this passage are based on the ongoing critical edition and translation of the first chapter of the ABh. The passage is translated differently in Cuneo 2008–20091: 206, and omitted both in Gnoli’s and Pollock’s translations of ABh ad 1.107.


This distinction will be treated in detail below, in § 3.5, and constitutes one of the foci of the discussion of the nature of dance in the passage from the fourth chapter as edited and translated in this book.


As Pollock (2016: 31; 152; 369, n. 28; 371, n. 59) remarks, the division existed even earlier and was possibly inaugurated by Bhaṭṭa Nāyaka. The textual locus of this attribution is a fragment of Bhaṭṭa Nāyaka in DhvĀL, p. 39 (ibid. 149, #7).


Notably, at the beginning of the treatise, when the gods ask Bhramā for an object of diversion, a krīḍanīyaka ( 1.11c), which is at the same time an instrument of moral instruction, the Fifth Veda ( 1.12); for other passages suggesting such a twofold purpose of theatre, see Cuneo 2015: 75.


The image of the bitter medicine coated in honey is used at the end of the Saundarananda as a metaphor for the teachings imparted by poetry. Saundarananda 18.63: ity eṣā vyupaśāntaye na rataye mokṣārthagarbhā kṛtiḥ | śrotṝṇāṃ grahaṇārtham anyamanasāṃ kāvyopacārāt kṛtā || yan mokṣāt kṛtam anyad atra hi mayā tat kāvyadharmāt kṛtaṃ | pātuṃ tiktam ivāuṣadhaṃ madhuyutaṃ hṛdyaṃ kathaṃ syād iti || ‘This composition on the subject of liberation is for calming the reader, not for his pleasure. It is fashioned out of the medicine of poetry with the intention of capturing an audience whose minds are on other things. Thinking how it could be made pleasant, I have handled in it things other than liberation, things introduced due to the character of poetry, as bitter medicine is mixed with honey’ (translation Covill 2007: 363). See also Buddhacarita 28.74. The metaphor of poetry as the sweet honey allowing people to swallow the bitter remedy was taken up by Bhāmaha in the seventh-century. Kāvyālaṃkāra 5.3 reads: svādukāvyarasonmiśraṃ śāstram apy upayuñjate | prathamālīḍhamadhavaḥ pibanti kaṭu bheṣajam || ‘One would use even a scientific treatise, provided it is mixed with the sweet flavour of poetry. Those who have first licked honey, drink the bitter medicine.’


On the development of this debate and on the priority assigned to either purpose by literary theorists, see for instance Cuneo 2015.


Abhinavagupta’s remarks about the need of poetry for the instruction of the royalty, in DhvĀL 3.10–14, p. 336, are revealing in this regard: iha prabhusammitebhyaḥ śrutismṛtiprabhṛtibhyaḥ kartavyam idam ity ājñāmātraparamārthebhyaḥ śāstrebhyo ye na vyutpannāḥ, na cāpy asyedaṃ vṛttam amuṣmāt karmaṇa ity evaṃ yuktiyuktakarmaphalasaṃbandhaprakaṭanakārikebhyo mitrasaṃmitebhya itihāsaśāstrebhyo labdhavyutpattayaḥ, atha cāvaśyaṃ vyutpādyāḥ prajārthasaṃpādanayogyatākrāntā rājaputraprāyās teṣāṃ hṛdayānupraveśamukhena caturvargopāyavyutpattir ādheyā. hṛdayānupraveśaś ca rasāsvādamaya eva. ‘Princes, who are not educated in scripture—those works of śruti, smṛti, etc. which consist in commands, like those of a master, to do this or that—and who have not received instruction from history, which like a friend reveals to us the connection of cause and effect as endowed with reasoning, such as “this result came from such an act”, and who are therefore in pressing need of instruction, for they are given the power to accomplish the wants of their subjects, can be given instruction in the four goals of man only by entering into their hearts. And what enters into the heart is the relish of rasa (rasāsvāda)’ (translation based on Ingalls et al. 1990: 437).


Festivals, whether religious or not, were also typical occasions for the staging of Sanskrit drama, as many of the prologues of the extant plays indicate. The historical evidence about the staging of Harṣa’s seventh-century plays, collected in Bakker 2014, suggests that theatrical performances were primarily public events, attended by royals and citizens alike.


See above, n. 112, for Bhaṭṭa Tauta’s quotation on the importance of prayoga. As Abhinavagupta explains on several occasions, the accessibility of the instruction (vyutpatti, upadeśa) given by theatre about the right means for obtaining the four aims of mankind is linked to its character of being similar to a directly experienced reality. While watching a play, in fact, a spectator sees the display of actions connected with their results, and thus receives an ethical teaching on how to behave like Rāma to obtain good results, and unlike Rāvaṇa to avoid bad ones. For an elaboration on the connection between drama and dharma (and the other aims of man), see Bansat-Boudon 2001.


I use the term psychagogy (and the adjective psychagogic derived from it) in the Hellenistic sense of an aesthetic principle that singles out the function of art as the ‘leading of the soul’, connoting ‘pure entertainment’ (also ‘enchantment’) as opposed to ‘instruction’ (Zanker 2015: 63). The idea, used to designate the function of music in antiquity but extending to other arts as well, especially in the Hellenistic period, is that art should ‘lead or persuade the spirit’ into aesthetic pleasure (ibid.: 67).


ABh ad 6.33, vol. 1, p. 285: hṛdayasaṃvādatāratamyāpekṣayā śrotṛpratipattṛsphuraṇaṃ sphuṭāsphuṭatvenātivicitram. tatra ye svabhāvato nirmalamukurahṛdayās tata eva saṃsārocitakrodhamohābhilāṣaparavaśamanaso na bhavanti teṣāṃ tathāvidhadaśarūpakākarṇanasamaye sādhāraṇarasanātmakacarvaṇagrāhyo rasasañcayo nāṭyalakṣaṇaḥ sphuṭa eva. ‘Now, given the varying degree of their heart’s concurrence, those who hear a reading or watch a play can have a highly differentiated appreciation, depending on its clarity or obscurity to them. Someone whose heart is by nature like a spotless mirror has, for that very reason, a mind no longer subjected to the anger, confusion, craving, and so on typical of this phenomenal world; for such a person, on the occasion of hearing a play with its various appropriate components, the cluster of rasas—the defining feature of drama—will be entirely clear and cognized by a relishing that is essentially a tasting of their commonality’ (translation Pollock 2016: 209).


ABh ad 6.33, vol. 1, p. 285: ye tv atathābhūtās teṣāṃ pratyakṣocitatathāvidhacarvaṇālābhāya naṭādiprakriyā. ‘Someone else, by contrast, who lacks these traits will require the procedures of actors and the rest of stagecraft in order to attain that sort of perception-like relishing’ (translation Pollock 2016: 209).


On anuvyavasāya, see below, n. 164, and Translation, n. 140.


ABh ad 6.33, vol. 1, p. 285: […] svagatakrodhaśokādisaṅkaṭahṛdayagranthibhañjanāya gītādiprakriyā ca muninā viracitā. sarvānugrāhakaṃ hi śāstram iti nyāyāt. ‘[…] for such a person the sage—on the maxim that a work of systematic thought must seek to fulfil everyone’s needs—has made further provision in the procedures of singing and so on, to loosen the knot of the viewer’s heart, hardened as it is by the anger, grief, and so on he bears inside’ (translation Pollock 2016: 209). See also, at the end of the rasasūtra (vol. 1, p. 281), Abhinavagupta’s statements on music and dancing as means to purify the hearts of even insensitive spectators: ahṛdayānāṃ ca tad eva nairmalyādhāyi. yatra pratītā gītavādyagaṇikādayo na vyasanitāyai paryavasyanti nāṭyopalakṣaṇāt. ‘But for those lacking in receptivity, drama alone can produce such clarity, because it is only there that the apprehension of singing, music, and the courtesan actresses does not lead to vicious behavior, since they are simply features of drama’ (translation ibid.: 204).


Gnoli (1968: xli, n. 1) described these ‘obstacles’ in the following way: ‘The vighna, obstacles, are all the extraneous elements which break the unity of a state of consciousness (desire for gain, worry of all kinds, etc.).’


ABh ad rasasūtra (section on the hindrances), vol. 1, p. 275: nijasukhādivivaśībhūtaś ca kathaṃ vastvantare saṃvidaṃ viśrāmayed iti tatpratyūhavyapohanāya pratipadārthaniṣṭhaiḥ sādhāraṇyamahimnā sakalabhogyatvasahiṣṇubhiḥ śabdādiviṣayamayair ātodyagānavicitramaṇḍapapadavidagdhagaṇikādibhir uparañjanaṃ samāśritam. yenāhṛdayo ’pi hṛdayavaimalyaprāptyā sahṛdayīkriyate. uktaṃ hi ‘dṛśyaṃ śravyaṃ ca’ iti (translation based on Cuneo 2008–20091: 292–293). I understand sādhāraṇyamahiman- as strictly connected to the process of sādhāraṇīkaraṇa or generalization, in that the charming elements transform the experience of the viewer and thus allow the suppression of the usual references of the cognition to one’s own limited experience. On sādhāraṇīkaraṇa, see below, n. 167 and 173. Prīti and vyutpatti are to be read in filigree under the ‘visible and audible nature of theatre’, as declared in ABh ad 1.11d, vol. 1, p. 12: dṛśyam iti hṛdyaṃ śravyam iti vyutpattipradam iti prītivyutpattidam ity arthaḥ.


In one of the earliest uses, Vāmana wrote that a certain poetic style known for its excellence, called vaidarbhī, was assumed to produce a certain ripening that is charming (rañjaka) to the hearts of sahṛdayas. See Kāvyālaṃkārasūtravṛtti ad 1.2.21, quoted in Smith 1985: 46: sahṛdayahṛdayānāṃ rañjakaḥ ko ’pi pākaḥ.


DhvĀL 1.1, pp. 38–39: yeṣāṃ kāvyānuśīlanābhyāsavaśād viśadībhūte manomukure varṇanīyatanmayībhavanayogyatā te svahṛdayasaṃvādabhājaḥ sahṛdayāḥ (translation Ingalls et al. 1990: 70).


ABh ad rasasūtra, vol. 1, p. 281: tena ye kāvyābhyāsaprāktanapuṇyādihetubalādibhiḥ sahṛdayās teṣāṃ parimitavibhāvādyunmīlane ’pi parisphuṭa eva sākṣātkārakalpaḥ kāvyārthaḥ sphurati. ata eva teṣāṃ kāvyam eva prītivyutpattikṛd anapekṣitanāṭyam api. ‘Thus, for those who are receptive readers thanks to, among other things, their study of literature and their good karma from past lives, the “aim of a literary text” manifests itself with absolute clarity, as if before their very eyes, even when only a limited number of aesthetic elements is disclosed. And hence for them, literature alone, without any reference to dramatic spectacle, can bring at once pleasure and instruction’ (translation Pollock 2016: 204).


Cf. avataraṇikā ad 1.41, vol. 1, p. 20: atha sakalaprayogaprāṇabhūtakaiśikyupayujyamānopakaraṇāntarasaṃharaṇāyopakramaṃ darśayati bhāratīm ityādi; ABh ad 4.5, vol. 1, p. 86: evam itihāsasya parisamāptiṃ paśyan sakalaprayogaprāṇabhūtakaiśikīsarvasvabhūtanṛttaprayogaprastāvanāyetihāsam anusandhatte.


ABh ad 1.44, vol. 1, p. 21: etanmadhye hṛdayahāri vaicitryaṃ yojanīyam iti. ‘a heart-catching multifariousness should be employed among these [other manners].’


ABh ad 1.44–45, vol. 1, p. 22: nanu sā nāṭyopayoginī katham […] tan nāṭyoktaśṛṅgārarasaḥ saṃbhavati, nānyathā. […] tena śṛṅgārābhivyaktihetau sukumāre caturvidhe ’py abhinaye yojite madhuramantharavalanāvartanābhrūkṣepakaṭākṣādinā vinā śṛṅgārarasāsvādasya nāmāpi na bhavati. […] raudrādirasābhivyaktāv api kartavyāyāṃ yo ’bhinaya upādīyate so ’py anuprāsavalanāvartanādyātmakasundaravaicitryasyāmiśraṇayā duḥśliṣṭo ’śliṣṭa eva vā na rasābhivyaktihetur bhavatīti sarvatraiva kaiśikī prāṇāḥ. yad vakṣyati—‘asya śākhā ca nṛttaṃ ca vastūny abhinayasya’ iti śṛṅgārasasya tu nāmagrahaṇam api *tayā vinā na śakyamM, na tayā vinā śakyam ΣE]. Translation based on Cuneo 2008–20091: 171–172. Partially translated also in Bansat-Boudon 1992: 176–177, n. 509 and 517.


As remarked by Bansat-Boduon (1992: 176, n. 509), such movements as ‘spins and whirls’ (valanā-vartanā) are especially found in dance and in the register of acting called śākhā.


See Edition and Translation 3.1–6.


See Edition and Translation 3.4.3.


See Edition and Translation 6.9.3.


As the title of a penetrating section in Bansat-Boudon’s analysis of dance reads, ‘Allier, mais ne confondre’ (‘Associate, but don’t conflate’) (2004: 193–198), one cannot avoid thinking of the necessary co-existence of the phenomenal and semiotic body in performance as theorized by Fischer-Lichte 2008: 82, and their relationship as being ‘in constant flux’ (Schlapbach 2018: 18).


See Edition and Translation 6.9.4.


As Bansat-Boudon (1994b: 195) says about the role of dance within theatre, ‘indépendamment de la diversité des intrigues, elle ouvre au sens, par la beauté’.


See the definition of karaṇa in § 2.2, n. 40, and § 2.4, n. 111.


ABh ad 4.263cd–264ab, vol. 1, p. 178: viśeṣato hi tadvinā ’lātacakrapratimatve tair buddhigrāhyam eva nāṭyaṃ na syāt. tata eva vimalābhinayamāṇikyagumphavidhāyisūtrasthānīyaṃ valanādirūpanṛttasajātīyatvān nikaṭatvād antaraṅgagītādivyāpi nāṭyam. See Edition 3.9.5. This passage was first brought to my attention in the French translation of Bansat-Boudon (1992: 403 and 62, n. 50). As I will clarify in what follows, my translation differs mainly in the interpretation of the compound ‘alātacakrapratimatve’. In the French translation, it is interpreted as the reason for the impossibility to mentally grasp theatre, which, in the absence of dance, is bound to remain an alātacakra, i.e. a vortical but inaccessible spinning wheel: ‘en effet, sans elle, il serait à l’ image d’ un cercle de feu (alātacakra) dont les (spectateurs) ne pourraient se saisir mentalement’ (ibid.). On the contrary, I tend to read ‘alātacakrapratimatve’ as the conditio sine qua non for grasping theatre, which cannot be achieved without dance. Both translations are syntactically possible; the reasons for my privileging the second interpretation has to do with how I understand the peculiar use of the metaphor of the fire-wheel in theatre.


For references on early occurrences of alāta and alātacakra in philosophical contexts, see Bouy 2000: 255–256 and Schmithausen 1965, and for the epic background of some philosophical usages, see Fitzgerald 2012.


28.7: evaṃ gānaṃ ca vādyaṃ ca nāṭyaṃ ca vividhāśrayam | alātacakrapratimaṃ kartavyaṃ nāṭyayoktṛbhiḥ ||


On the three kutapas, see 28.3–6. A double semantic analysis is given to the word kutapa in the Abhinavabhāratī. See ABh ad 2.72, vol. 1, p. 64: kur nāṭyabhūmis tāṃ tapati ujjvalayatīti kṛtvā. kutaṃ śabdaṃ pātīty anye. ‘[The word kutapa signifies] that which heats up (tapati) the earth (ku), i.e. the theatrical stage. According to others, it is that which protects (pāti from root ; cf. DP 2.47) what resounds (kuta, from root ku/kū, cf. DP 2.33), i.e. the sound.’ Cf. also ABh ad 5.17, vol. 1, p. 210: evaṃ kutaṃ pāti kuṃ tapatīti śabdaviśeṣapālakasya nāṭyabhūmikojjvalatādhāyinaś ca vargasya; ABh ad 4.271: kutaṃ śabdaṃ pātīti caturvidham ātodyaṃ kutapaṃ tatprayoktṛjātaṃ ca; ABh ad 28.2, vol. 4, p. 2: kutaṃ śabdaṃ pāti, kuṃ ca raṅgam, tapaty ujjvalayati.


This is a tentative translation of ABh ad 28.7, vol. 4, p. 4, with some emendations to what appears to be a highly corrupt text: yasmād vividhāśrayaṃ bhinnendr1iyagrāhyavividhakriyārūpam, tasmād yatnenāsyaikatā tatsaṃpādyā, yenaikabuddhiviṣayatā sāmājikasya gacchet. alātatejaḥkaṇo hi na vastuto yugapad anekadeśasaṃbandhī. lāghavayatnena tu yathā (conj., tathātathā E1(4)) sāmyam āpāditam, evaṃ prayogo ’pi. *tathā hi (conj., tathāpi E1(4)) naikakriyātmā, sāmyāpādanāya yatnena (conj., … tnena E1(4)) tu tathā saṃpādita ity etad āha ‘alātacakrapratimam’ iti.


In the fifth century, the grammarian Bhartṛhari had already noticed the multimedial nature of theatrical performance, pointing out that theatre is a complex and composite action involving different agents, cf. VP 2.373.


The alātacakra image is used in ABh ad 22.1 (vol. 3, p. 147) to express one of the possible analyses of the compound sāmānyābhinaya: sāmānyasya samānīkṛtasakalāṅgopāṅgakarmaṇā sato ’bhinayanaṃ yenālātacakrapratimatā prayogasya jāyate. ‘Sāmānyābhinaya is the action of enacting the sāmānya, i.e. the existent, by means of the action of all the major and minor limbs brought into harmony, by which the performance is produced in the likeness of a fire-wheel’. The same image is taken up again in ABh ad 22.73–74, vol. 3, p. 180: evaṃ viśiṣṭaḥ sāmānyenābhinīyamānaḥ saṃbhūyābhinayair yuktaḥ sarvābhinayeṣu sāmānyabhūta ity evaṃ yaḥ sāmānyābhinaya asyā ekībhāvanibandhanabhūtāyā alātacakrasaṃnibhatvasaṃpādikāyā sāmānyābhinayakriyāyāḥ prādhānyapradarśanārtham āha […] ‘In this way, sāmānyābhinaya is that which is common to all the enactments, i.e. the particular thing enacted in a general way, i.e. connected with the means of enactment taken together. In order to show the primary character of the activity of this sāmānyābhinaya, which, being the cause of unification [of the registers of acting] produces the resemblance [of the performance] to a fire-wheel, [Bharata utters the next verse].’


I am interpreting nāṭya as abhinaya on the force of a parallel in ABh ad 28.3, vol. 4, p. 2, where Abhinavagupta explains the elements of performance while introducing the three ensembles: tatra caturvidhātodyam uparañjakam, uparañjanīyaś [corr., uparaścānīyāś E1(4)] cābhinaya iti tayor ekasaṃniveśātmakaḥ samūhaḥ kartavyaḥ. ‘Among the [elements of the performance], the fourfold instrumental music is the enhancing element, while enactment is what has to be enhanced. These two have to be made into an aggregate composed as a unit.’


ABh ad 28.7, vol. 4, p. 4: nanu sāmānyābhinaye ’dhyāye etad uktam, satyam, tat tv abhinayaviṣayam, idaṃ tu gītavādyanāṭyānāṃ parasparasya viṣayam. nanu kasmāt trayo rāśayaḥ kṛtāḥ ityāśaṅkamānenaivāpasārayati evaṃ gānaṃ ceti nāṭyaṃ tāvad uparañjanīyam. sāmānyābhinaye ’bhinayabalād ekatvaṃ nīta eko rāśir iti nātra vivādaḥ. svaragatarāśiś cānyonyasaṃmilito ’lātacakravat kāryaḥ. vividhāśrayo ’pi vīṇāvaṃśagātrādigato ’pi vādyavidhir ekībhāvaṃ neya iti trayāṇām apy atha grāsīkaraṇam iti yuktam uktam.


ABh ad 1.5, vol. 1, p. 7: yadi yugapad aṅgāni prayujyante tad bhinnākṣagrāhyeṣu yugapatsaṃvedanābhāvāt katham ekaṃ nāṭyam iti pratipattiḥ? kramaprayoge ’pi nitarām. tasmāt kathaṃ prayoga iti (translation based on Cuneo 2008–20091: 135). See also the following remarks about theatre being a visible and audible object extended over time in ABh ad 1.11cd, vol. 1, p. 11: cakāreṇedam āha—tādṛśā kenacid upāyena saṃbandhas tat kurute yena bhinnendriyagrāhya api dṛśyaśravye ekānusandhānaviṣayatvaṃ na vijahīta iti sāmānyābhinayakālaprāṇatvaṃ prayogasya sūcitam. ‘With the word “and” [in “visible and audible”], the author means this: the correlation with such a means, whatever it may be, makes it so that the visible and the audible, even though perceived by different sensory faculties, do not relinquish the nature of the object as a single interconnected unity. Thus it is suggested that the harmonious acting and the temporal [succession] are the vital breath of the performance.’


These examples are analysed differently in the different darśanas. The most complete study on error in the various philosophical schools is Schmithausen 1965. See also Rao 1998 on perceptual error. As for Abhinavagupta’s conception of error, see Rastogi 1986. For error in the Pratyabhijñā system, see Torella 2002: 171, where the more common example of silver in the mother-of-pearl is dealt with by Utpaladeva in ĪPK 2.3.13 and Vṛtti thereon.


Catuḥśatakavṛtti 197: yathā sajvalanasya indhanasya āśu bhrāmyamāṇasya tadgatadarśanaviparyāsanibandhanatvāc cakrākāropalabdhir bhavati […]. This reference from the early seventh century is noted in Schmithausen 1965: 149.


Cf. Āgamaśāstra 4.47: ṛjuvakrādikābhāsam alātaspanditaṃ yathā | grahaṇagrāhakābhāsaṃ vijñānaspanditaṃ tathā || 47 || ‘De même que le mouvement d’ un Brandon ardent (alāta) a une apparence droite, courbe, etc., de même le mouvement de la Conscience (vijñāna) a l’ apparence de la saisie et du sujet saisissant’ (translation Bouy 2000: 254).


See NS 3.2.56–58, pp. 107–108: jñānāyaugapadyād ekaṃ manaḥ || na yugapad anekakriyopalabdheḥ || alātacakradarśanavat tadupalabdhir āśusañcārāt || NSBh 3.2.58, p. 208: āśusañcārād yathā alātasya bhramato vidyamānaḥ kramo na gṛhyate, kramasyāgrahaṇād avicchedabuddhyā cakravad buddhir bhavati, tathā buddhīnāṃ kriyāṇāṃ cāśuvṛttitvād vidyamānaḥ kramo na gṛhyate. kramasyāgrahaṇād yugapat kriyā bhavatīty abhimāno bhavatīti. ‘In the case of the whirling fire-brand, even though there is sequence among the several perceptions of fire, yet it is not perceived, by reason of the extreme rapidity of motion; and the sequence not being perceived, there arises the idea of the continuity (of fire in revolution), which gives rise to the notion that there is a single circle of fire;—similarly in the case of cognitions also, sequence, even though present, fails to be perceived by reason of the rapidity of the cognitions or actions, and the sequence failing to be perceived, there arises the notion that the actions (or cognitions) appear simultaneously’ (translation Jha 1939: 391).


See VP 3.8.7–8: yathā gaur iti saṃghātaḥ sarvo nendriyagocaraḥ | bhāgaśas tūpalabdhasya buddhau rūpaṃ nirūpyate || indriyair anyathāprāptau bhedāmśopanipātibhiḥ | alātacakravad rūpaṃ kriyāṇāṃ parikalpyate || ‘Just as the entire group [of phonemes forming] the word “cow” cannot [simultaneously] be the object of the senses, its form however is determined in the intellect after it has been apprehended part by part. Likewise, the form of actions is imagined [as one in the intellect], just like a fire-wheel, even if it is grasped differently by the sensory faculties rushing towards the parts of differentiation.’ The example given by Bharṭhari in kārikā 9 for the non-unitary and processual nature of action is cooking, which includes parts such as the pouring of water and so on, which in turn have their own parts.


On the obstacles, see above, n. 128.


Two conventions (dharmī) are listed in the nāṭyasaṃgraha as topics of theatre, namely the lokadharmī or ‘worldly convention’, and the nāṭyadharmī or ‘theatrical convention’. The two are described by Bharata in 13.70–82 as conventions, or manners of performance (dharmī or dharma, glossed by Abhinavagupta as itikartavyatā), used for representing things on stage. Lokadharmī is the way of enacting in a realistic fashion, following the way things are in the world, while nāṭyadharmī typically involves a greater degree of stylization and dramatization, and follows the ways that are proper to theatre. For the definition of lokadharmī, see Translation n. 79, and n. 82 for nāṭyadharmī. On lokadharmī and nāṭyadharmī, see Bansat-Boudon 1992: 155–169 and Raghavan 1993: 201–241.


On the four manners, see § 1.3.3, n. 64.


The four pravṛttis are described in ch. 13 as local usages or customs, which correspond to the four regions of India in the four cardinal directions. See Bansat-Boudon 1992: 178–180.


ABh ad rasasūtra, vol. 1, p. 275: kiṃ ca pratītyupāyānām abhāve kathaṃ pratītiḥ? asphuṭapratītikāriśabdaliṅgasaṃbhave ’pi na pratītir viśrāmyati, sphuṭapratītirūpapratyakṣocitapratyayasākāṅkṣatvāt. yathāhuḥ ‘sarvā ceyaṃ pramitiḥ pratyakṣaparā’ iti, svasākṣātkṛta āgamānumānaśatair apy ananyathābhāvasya svasaṃvedanāt, alātacakrādau sākṣātkārāntareṇaiva balavatā tatpramityapasāraṇād [corr. Pollock (2016: p. 387, n. 115) following KA, taptam ity apasāraṇād E1(4)] iti laukikas tāvad ayaṃ kramaḥ. tasmāt tadubhayavighnavighāte ’bhinayā lokadharmīvṛttipravṛttyupaskṛtāḥ samabhiṣicyante. abhinayanaṃ hi saśabdaliṅgavyāpāravisadṛśam eva pratyakṣavyāpārakalpam iti niśceṣyāmaḥ. In this same passage, Gnoli (1968: 68–70) translates the expression ‘iti laukikas tāvad ayaṃ kramaḥ’ as ‘this is quite an ordinary process’. Pollock (2016: 197) does not translate this. I tend to agree, with Cuneo (2008–20091: 293), that a more apt translation would be: ‘This is indeed the ordinary sequence’. I believe in fact that what Abhinavagupta wants to stress here is that the sequence by which the perception of a fire-wheel comes to be invalidated by another, subsequent perception—for instance, that of the firebrand coming to a halt—is proper to the ordinary experience. In theatre, on the contrary, different dynamics between cognitions are at play.


This is explained in the first chapter as follows, with regard to the particular cognition of theatre as a determination or ‘recognitive cognition’ (anuvyavasāya). ABh ad 1.107, vol. 1, p. 37: āhāryaviśeṣādinā nivṛtte taddeśakālacaitramaitrādinaṭaviśeṣapratyakṣābhimāne, viśeṣaleśopakrameṇa ca vinā pratyakṣāpravṛtter āyāte, rāmādiśabdasyātropayogāt prasiddhatadarthatayādaraṇīyacaritavācakasyāsaṃbhāvanāmātranirākaraṇenānuvyava- sāyasya pratyakṣakalpatā [conj. Gnoli, ˚kalpanā˚ ΣM E1(1), ˚kalpanāṭye E1(2) E1(4)]. ‘When the presumption of perceiving a specific actor such as Caitra, Maitra, etc. in their specific time and place is removed by a particular costume and [other accoutrements], and [at the same time] is achieved because there can be no direct perception without the introduction of a minimum part of particularity, the determination [of the spectator] gets the status of a “quasi-perceptual cognition” by averting the mere non-verisimilitude, because the words expressing such worthy deeds have well-known referents thanks to the use of the names of Rāma and so forth in this [narration].’


In the prologue (prastāvanā) of the play, the stage manager or sūtradhāra usually engages in a metatheatrical dialogue with an assistant, the jester, or an actress about the play that is just about to start, providing information about the name of the play and the playwright, their qualities, etc. The sūtradhāra, besides announcing the play in the guise of an actor, does also enact a character in the story. The importance of the prologue for the construction of the ambiguous cognition of theatre is stressed in the same passage, ABh ad 1.107 (ibid.): abhinayacatuṣṭayena svarūpapracchādanaṃ prastāvanādinā naṭajñānajasaṃskārasācivyam. ‘As to the concealment of the identity [of the actor] through the fourfold enactment, it is assisted by the latent impressions born out of the knowledge “it is an actor” due to the prologue[, the preliminary rite, etc.].’


ABh ad 1.107 (ibid.): hṛdyagītādyanusyūtatayā camatkārasthānatvād dhṛdayānupraveśayogyatvam. ‘[The cognition of theatre] has the capacity of entering the heart, as it is the abode of rapture on account of its being intertwined with elements such as pleasant music and so forth.’


Famously, sādhāraṇīkaraṇa is the ‘generalization’ (or ‘commonalization’, as Pollock translates Bhaṭṭa Nāyaka’s concept) of the emotional situation embedded in a work of art. Through generalization, the emotions are freed from their spatial and temporal connotations, as well as from the reference to a particular individual. In my understanding of sādhāraṇīkaraṇa in theatre, and how it is boosted by the charming elements, I follow Reich 2018, who speaks of a twofold process concerning both the object of the poetic description (the vibhāvas and other aesthetic factors) and the awareness of the spectators. Sādhāraṇīkaraṇa, which Reich equates with the transformative power that Bhaṭṭa Nāyaka calls bhāvakatva, ‘also applies to the spectators, changing the nature of their awareness. When it strips the objects of their particularity it also strips the spectators of the ordinary, habitual reactions they would have to such objects’ (ibid.: 537–538). Reich’s analysis of sādhāraṇīkaraṇa/bhāvakatva/bhāvanā in Bhaṭṭa Nāyaka stresses its Vedantic background as the creation of a special state of awareness that in literature is prompted by rhetorical figures and other literary devices (ibid.: 549). In Abhinavagupta’s analysis of the aesthetic experience triggered by drama, however, the accent is not on literary language, but on stage presentation, and the role of the literary devices is transferred to the charming, extraordinary elements (cf. also the elimination of the third obstacle in n. 129 above).


Here Pollock seems not to take into account the negative particle in a-niguhanena, as he translates ‘and the occultation effected by the theatrical preliminaries’. On the contrary, in the preliminaries, just as in the prologue, the idea that ‘this is an actor’ is disclosed. See following note.


5.158–159: kāryo nātiprasaṅgo ’tra nṛttagītavidhiṃ prati | gīte vādye ca nṛtte ca pravṛtte ’tiprasaṅgataḥ || khedo bhavet prayoktṝṇāṃ prekṣakāṇāṃ tathaiva ca | khinnānāṃ rasabhāveṣu spaṣṭatā nopajāyate || ‘In the [pūrvaraṅga], there should not be too much elaboration towards dance and songs. When vocal music, instrumental music and dance are protracted for too long, the performers will be tired and the spectators bored. If the [performers] are tired and [spectators] bored, a clear [cognition] of rasas and bhāvas cannot be obtained.’ The disclosure of the idea of the actor occurring in the pūrvaraṅga is explained by Abhinavagupta in connection with the second verse, in ABh ad 5.159, vol. 1, p. 244: prekṣakāṇām ity anena sāmajikānāṃ pūrvaraṅge sphuṭaiva naṭabuddhir bhavatīti darśayati. tatsaṃskārasaṃskṛtatvāt tattvadhīḥ [E1(1)pc, tantudhīḥ E1(1)ac, tu E1(4)] bhrāntyādibuddhiś ca nāṭyadhīr bhavatīti sūcayati. yadi hi teṣu nāṭyabuddhir evotpādanīyā syāt pratyuta prayatnena naṭabuddhisaṃpādakaṃ pūrvaraṅgaprastāvanādi tān prati gopanīyaṃ syāt. darśitaṃ caitad asmābhiḥ prathamādhyāye. ‘By the word “spectators”, [Bharata] indicates that for the audience, the idea of the actor [and not that of the character] becomes clearly evident in the pūrvaraṅga. Later on, on account of having prepared their minds through the impregnations of the [cognition of the actor], the idea of reality (tattva) and the idea of illusion (bhrānti) etc. become the idea of theatre (nāṭyadhī). For if only the idea of theatre had to be produced for the [spectators], then the prastāvanā, the pūrvaraṅga, and the other parts that produce the idea of the actor should have been concealed from the [spectators]. This has been already explained in the first chapter.’ The reference is to ABh ad 1.107, quoted above in n. 165.


The extraordinary elements of the nāṭyadharmī referred to here belong to the performance of the play, so the lāsyāṅgas must be the ‘dramatic fragments’ or ‘amorous vignettes’ described in chapter 19, and not those of the pūrvaraṅga. My understanding is based on the distinction established in a penetrating analysis by Bansat-Boudon (see above, n. 113), against Gnoli’s (1968: 65) translation of lāsyāṅga as ‘women’s dance’ and Pollock’s (2016: 197) as ‘preliminary dance’.


I understand tadīya- in satyatadīyarūpanihnavamātra as referring to the spectator himself, along with Cuneo (2008–20091: 292). Gnoli (1968: 66) takes it as referring to both ‘the real being of the actor and the real being of the character he is playing’, Pollock as the ‘real form of the actor’. I think that the concealment here concerns the individuality of the spectator, which corresponds to the action of the charming elements, explained just afterwards, in effecting the process of generalization of emotion for the spectator, so that the spatio-temporal limitations connected with himself are suppressed. The reference to the spatio-temporal limitations concerning another (the actor or the character) are, on the contrary, explained as being removed by the enactment, and by the preliminary rite and the prologue.


Gnoli contrasts this sort of existence with that of nonentities, since the former is ‘a datum of one’s own consciousness’ (Gnoli 1968: 66, n. 4). According to Gnoli, such a kind of existence applies, in Abhinavagupta’s statement, to the represented character; however, I think it refers to the extraordinary elements of the nāṭyadharmī, to which the lāsyāṅgas belong. These elements are often defined as otherworldly (alaukika), yet possible (saṃbhavin). As Bansat-Boudon (1992: 155) puts it in her treatment of nāṭyadharmī, ‘l’ alaukikatva du théâtre n’ est en aucune façon invraisemblable ou impossible: pour le retrouver dans la réalité, il n’ est que de savoir regarder, et c ’est à quoi, précisément, le théâtre forme son public’. See also ibid.: 337, n. 270.


ABh ad rasasūtra, vol. 1, pp. 275–276: tadapasāraṇe ‘kāryo nātiprasaṅgo ’tra’ ityādinā pūrvaraṅgānigūhanena prastāvanāvalokanena ca yo naṭarūpatādhigamas tatpurassaraḥ pratiśīrṣakādinā tatpracchādanaprakāro ’bhyupāyaḥ alaukikabhāṣādibhedalāsyāṅgaraṅgapīṭhamaṇḍapagatakakṣyādiparigrahanāṭyadharmisahitaḥ. tasmin hi sati ‘asyaivātraivaitarhyaiva ca sukhaṃ duḥkhaṃ vā’ iti na bhavati pratītiḥ, svarūpasya nihnavāt, rūpāntarasya cāropitasya pratibhāsaviśrāntivaikalyena svarūpe viśrāntyabhāvāt. satyatadīyarūpanihnavamātra eva paryavasānāt. tathā hi—āsīnapāṭhyapuṣpagandhikādi loke na dṛṣṭam. na ca tan na kiṃcit. kathaṃcit saṃbhāvyatvāt iti eṣa sarvo muninā sādhāraṇībhāvasiddhyā rasacarvaṇopayogitvena parikarabandhaḥ samāśrita. Pollock (2016: 197) does not seem to translate the last example with the lāsyāṅgas.


See also Cuneo (2013: 64–65) who talks about a ‘sort of clash between cognitive stances’. Using the modern perspective of theatrical ‘embodiment’, Fischer-Lichte (2008: 148) talks about the phenomenon of ‘perceptual multistability’, in which the spectator’s perception is made purposefully to oscillate between the ‘phenomenal body’ (read: the actor) and the ‘semiotic body’ (read: the character). ‘Aesthetic perception’, she says, ‘takes the form of oscillation. It switches focus between the actor’s phenomenal and semiotic body, thus transferring the perceiving subject into a state of betwixt and between’ (ibid.: 88–89).


With this I would like to take distance from Bansat-Boudon’s interpretation of the passage expounding the role of dance in theatre. As I mentioned in n. 144 above, Bansat-Boudon interprets dance as a sort of intermezzo that provides the spectator with some pause in the performance, by means of which he is able to plunge into the meaning and taste the rasa: ‘Aussi convient-il […] d’ interrompre de temps à autre le lent tournoiement de ce cercle de feu que doit être la représentation afin que soit évité le vertige qu’ il susciterait immanquablement et qui serait tout le contraire d’ un enchantement. […] La danse, explique l’ Abhinavabhāratī, a pour vocation de ménager ces pauses nécessaires, […]’ (Bansat-Boudon 1992: 63).


Bansat-Boudon also recognizes this role for dance, though with regard to other passages: ‘par la vertu de la grâce et de la tendresse qu’ elle déploie inlassablement, la danse assure la cohésion de la représentation (notamment, lorsqu’ il s’ agit de passer d’ un rasa à un autre, ou d’ un registre de jeu à un autre)’ (Bansat-Boudon 1992.: 402).


For an analogous use of the compound vartanānupraveśa, see ABh ad 4.61cd–62ab in § 2.3, n. 45, and the explanation thereof.


ABh ad 9.11–17, vol. 2, p. 27: eteṣāṃ tv abhinayahastānām chidracchādanenaikavartanānupraveśād alātacakrapratimatāṃ darśayitum, masṛṇoddhatavartanātmakatayā caikavākyārthaviśrāntatāṃ prathayitum, […] nṛttaśabdena viśeṣyaṃ nirdiśati nṛttahastān ityādinā. The compound masṛṇoddhatavartanātmakatayā is not straightforward, but one could connect it with the twofold character of the text to which the acting and dance are applied, which in turn determines the character of the movement as mild or vehement, since masṛṇa and uddhata are the two terms consecrated to describing bodily movement when it combines with a poetic text, on which see § 2.3.2 and Translation 8.4.1–2. The other editions give a slightly different, more elaborate text, which I suspect has been supplied by Madhusudan Sastri and then followed by Dvivedi and Nagar: eteṣāṃ tv abhinayahastānām alātacakrapratimatāṃ darśayitum, mārgāṇāṃ masṛṇoddhatachidravartanātmakatayā masṛṇatādinivṛttaye vālukotkṣepaṇena uddhatotsāraṇena chidracchādanena caikavartanānupraveśavad ekābhineyārthe viśrāntatāṃ prathayitum, […] (E2, vol. 2, pp. 871–872; E3, vol. 2, p. 387; E4, vol. 2, p. 20). It could be translated as follows: ‘In order to show that these hand gestures for enacting are similar to a fire-wheel, and in order to proclaim the fact that the [various cognitions issuing from the enactments] come to rest in a single sentence meaning, just as when one enters a single path and, since it is in the nature of roads to have muddy patches and bumps and holes, throws sand [over the mud], removes the bumps, and fills the holes in order to remove such [obstacles] as softness etc. […].’ In both cases, dance is seen to supply the unity or homogeneity required for the spectator’s cognition to rest on its object, be it a single scene or the whole play. The same idea is repeated and developed in Kallinātha’s Kalānidhi, which quotes the same passage of the Abhinavabhāratī. Kalānidhi ad SR 7.90, vol. 4, p. 27: kiṃ cābhinayaprastāve nṛttam apy upakarotīti. āveṣṭitādibhiḥ abhinayasya [conj., abhinayasyā˚ Ed.] vicchinnākāratām apohya vākyārthaviśrāntipratītijananāt. yathāha abhinavaguptācāryo bhāratīyavivṛtau. ‘Moreover, it is said that when the enactment is produced, dance also assists since, by means of the āveṣṭita and other [rotatory movements of the hands, the four karaṇas belonging to dance,] it prevents the acting from appearing as interrupted and thus engenders a cognition that comes to rest in sentence meaning, as Abhinavagupta stated in his commentary on Bharata’s text.’ The āveṣṭita is part of a group of four karaṇas executed by the hands through a rotating motion of the fingers and wrists. They are defined in 9.213–219, and are often mentioned by Abhinavagupta to exemplify the connecting movements in some of the karaṇa sequences.


See § 2.2, n. 40.


See above, n. 58.


ABh ad 4.55cd–56ab, vol. 1, p. 94: abhinaye vastutvena yan nṛttaṃ vakṣyate ’bhinayāntarālavarticchidrapracchādanād etat prayujyate. For the whole passage, see § 2.2, n. 61.


For the text and translation of 8.14, see above, n. 17, and for other quotations of this verse, see § 2.2, n. 45, § 3.2, n. 53, § 3.4.1, n. 135, and Translation n. 71. On śākhā and aṅkura as stages in the protocol of the corporal harmonious acting, see above n. 53, and below n. 186.


In a similar vein, although in a different context, a passage at the beginning of the section on music assigns to rhythm, or to the rhythmic part of theatre (tālāṃśa), the function of a thread that joins together or coordinates the performance and its various elements. Cf. ABh ad 28.1, vol. 4, p. 1: tālāṃśo ’pi prayogaṃ sūtrakalpatayā samīkurvan.


The terms used are samajātīya (passage under discussion, cf. Edition 6.9.5), and dvitīyajātiya (nṛttasya gītadvitīyajātīyatvāt, cf. Edition 2.4.6).


Cf. Bansat-Boudon 1992: 12 ‘That homogeneous acting is presented by Bharata as threefold: thus, there are an «emotional» (sāttvika), a «verbal» (vācika), and, lastly, a «corporal» (śārīra) sāmānyābhinaya.’


ABh ad 22.51, vol. 3, pp. 174–175: vākyabhāve yady apy ātmāpi śarīro nirviṣaya eva tena yad eke śākhāṅkuranāṭyāyitānāṃ ca vākyavirahitatvaṃ manyamānā eteṣām iti sarveṣām ityādi vākyasūcānivṛttyaṅkuramātraviṣayatvenaiva saṃkocayanti, te na tattvajñāḥ, sarvo ’py abhinayo vākyopajīvanam antareṇa niyamahetvabhāvād asamañjasatām abhyeti. kevalaṃ tatkālikātatkālikādimātreṇa vākyaṃ bhidyatāṃ nāma.


See n. 42 above.


As Bansat-Boudon expresses it: ‘Ainsi la śākhā, succédant à l’ aṅkura qui déjà avait evincé la parole au profit du corps, mais dont la vocation était de déployer le sens, représente-t-elle le point ultime de la gestualité aux frontières de la danse avec laquelle elle entretient des relations privilégiées’ (1992: 350). The common traits of dance and the śākhā would be the use of the vartanā, movements typical of the dance lexicon (cf. § 2.2, n. 46), and their belonging to the kaiśikī vṛtti.


Cf. the expression nirvacana- in the definition of the aṅkura ( 21.46: hṛdayastho nirvacanair aṅgābhinayaḥ kṛto nipuṇasādhyaḥ | sūcaivautpattikṛto vijñeyas tv aṅkurābhinayaḥ ||), glossed by Abhinavagupta as vacanaśūnya. For a translation of the whole passage, see Bansat-Boudon 1992: 375–375.


An example of nivṛttyaṅkura in the Ratnāvalī, quoted by Abhinavagupta and translated in Bansat-Boudon 1992: 386, is quite telling in this regard. Bansat-Boudon (ibid.: 353) considers the nivṛttyaṅkura more akin to the aṅkura, because both make use of the sattva, the facial expression, and body, to represent feelings rather than objects. This is undoubtedly the case; however, the discourse pronounced by the second character in the nivṛttyaṅkura—the one who, unseen, hears the words uttered by the first one—seems to be definitional of this phase of the acting protocol.


On the two types of nāṭyāyita in the sāmānyābhinaya, see Bansat-Boudon 1992: 377–384, 1995, and n. 53 above.


For a definition of the dhruvā defined as a nāṭyāyita, see Translation, 1.5.1, n. 26, and for a discussion of its enactment, see Translation, 6.5.3–4, n. 182 and n. 185.


I borrow the notion of intermediality from the theory of narratology, where forms of dance and theatre are nowadays analysed in terms of intermedial performances, i.e. performances that combine several media—here dance, prosody, music—that interact with verbal narratives. For an approach to the study of ancient Greek drama using narratological insights, see Gianvittorio-Ungar 2020.


On the new genres and on the verge between dance and theatre and their classifications in the technical texts, see Chapter 2, especially, § 2.1.


See Ganser 2020.


To avoid possible confusion I visually distinguish, here and in the translation, Ḍombikā as a performance genre and ḍombikā as the performer/danseuse.


On the ‘ancients’, see § 1.4.1, n. 123, Translation, n. 30.


According to Cox (2016: 57–90), the Bhāvaprakāśana is indebted to the Daśarūpaka and Avaloka, the Śṛṅgāraprakāśa, and the Abhinavabhāratī.


Leclère (2013: 69–70) traces the genre to the lists contained in Jain narratives as early as the eighth century, spelled variously as ḍombilaya, ḍombilliya, ḍombilaga, and ḍumbaḍaa.


ABh ad 4.268cd–269ab, vol. 1, p. 179, see Edition and Translation 8.5.2.


ŚP 11, p. 466: cauryapratibhedaṃ yunor anurāgavarṇanaṃ vāpi || yatra grāmyakathābhiḥ kurute kila dūtikā rahasi | mantrayati ca tadviṣayaṃ nyagjātitvena yācate ca vasu || labdhvāpi labdhum icchati durmilitā nāma sā bhavati |


See ABh ad 4.280, vol. 1, p. 186: ata evaitatsthānopajīvibhir eva śrīrāṇakādikavibhir ḍombikādau caturapasārakaḥ prayogaḥ and ABh ad 4.318cd–319ab, vol. 1, p. 203: raṇakaguñjiyakādeś caturapasārakādividhā ca ḍombikādiṣu krameṇa nartakīvṛddhir ācāryair ādheyā. The indication that Śrirāṇaka/Raṇaka is a kavi points to his being a composer of the text of a Ḍombikā. The title ācārya in the second quotation might indicate that such figures were both text composers and theatre or dance masters, which is also suggested by the content of both quotations, namely the increase in the number of dancers in a Ḍombikā to four, and their entering and exiting the stage in succession, just as in the songs of the pūrvaraṅga.


According to Warder (1972: 157), who adduces a reference from the Abhinavabhāratī, the text of the Ḍombikā was, like that of the Prasthāna, composed in Saindhava, a type of Apabhraṁśa originally from Sindhu. Bhayani states that the other uparūpakas also used Apabhraṁśa and rāsaka metre, namely the Rāsaka and Nāṭyarāsaka (also known as carcarī), since some literary works of the same name exhibit these very characteristics. He concludes: ‘This evidence for the use of Apabhraṁśa for some of the Uparūpakas significantly extends the hitherto known range of Apabhraṁśa literature’ (Bhayani 1993: 26).


A passage with both Apabhraṁśa and Sanskrit words is quoted in connection with the Guṇamālā in ABh ad 4.263cd, vol. 1, p. 173, on which see Translation 6.4.4, n. 150 and 152.


See also Warder 1972: 156–157. For reference to ḍombas in Dharmaśāstra literature, see Kane 1930: 82.


Raghavan (1993: 190) compares the theme of the Ḍombikā, i.e. love affairs, in particular clandestine ones, with the theme of the ‘lower specimens of padas in bharata nāṭya’. Obviously enough, this judgement rests on the bias against Indian dance as a degraded and vulgar practice at the beginning of the twentieth century (cf. my remarks in § 1.2).


All the passages dealing with the Ḍombikā are extremely corrupt and difficult to restore to some degree, since the only manuscripts that preserve those passages are D, M1, and T1, which provide the same readings most of the time. Unfortunately, T4 skips all the relevant passages. In this respect, the KAV has proved an invaluable tool for instituting some better readings or confirming some conjectural emendations. The secondary literature on the subject does not help either. On the descriptions of the Ḍombikā in the technical literature, see Raghavan 1978 and Bose 2001.


On the necessary dependence of one’s gestures on one’s speech, see my remarks, at the beginning of this section, on the diachronic yet interdependent use of gestures and sentences in the various phases of the śārīrasāmānyābhinaya.


On the successive steps in the aesthetic process, see n. 4 above.


See Translation 6.6.5, n. 202. For an in-depth study of the public reading, narration, and performance of the Purāṇas, in particular the Bhāgavatapurāṇa, until the present day, see Taylor 2016.


ABh ad 4.276ab, vol. 1, p. 184: tato ’bhinayam iti. bhaktyatiśayena tadarthabhāvanayā viśiṣṭatāṃ [M1 T1 E1(1) E1(2) E2, viśiṣṭaviṣayatāṃ T4 E1(4)] pradarśayitum. āsāritavākyasya padārthavākyārthaviṣayo ’bhinayaḥ svātmany ābhimukhyanayanam [T4 E2, ābhimukhyanayanāt ΣM E1]. na tu sāmājikān prati. See also Translation 7.2.2 on the secondary meaning of abhinaya in connection with the songs of the pūrvaraṅga.


See Translation 7.2.3.

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Theatre and Its Other

Abhinavagupta on Dance and Dramatic Acting



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