Elements of Rasa in "Gitanjali" by Rabindranath Tagore

Term Paper, 2010
25 Pages




Rasa studies in Vietnam
The origin of the term of Rasa
The definition of Rasa
Rasas and their relationship

The application of Rasa theory to Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali
Tagore studies in Vietnam
The pathetic sentiment in Gitanjali
The rasa of marvelousness in Gitanjali
The peaceful sentiment - the dominant rasa of Gitanjai




Rasa (flavor[1], sentiments[2], aesthetic delight[3], flavor of mood[4], taste, feeling[5] ) is the principle which encompasses the entire body of Indian literature. Although other literary theories such as Dhvani (suggestion, implication), Alankara (figure of speech) are also important terms of Indian aesthetics and poetics, these theories either originated in Rasa or appear in conjunction with it. Rasa is typical of both Indian poetics and Eastern poetics. As one type of Eastern poetics, Rasa can be used to enrich Vietnamese poetics and literary theory, which now is mainly preoccupied with Western viewpoints. In addition, Indian culture has had significant influence on Vietnamese culture, as a result Buddhism is present in all of Vietnam, and Hinduism in Cham and Khmer areas[6].

Indian literature was first introduced to Vietnam during the early twentieth century through newspapers such as Nam Phong, Phụ nữ tân văn, Thanh Nghị, Tri Tân and publishers Tín Đức thư xã (1931), Mỹ Thắng (1936), Impr Quang Hoa (1942), Tân Việt (1944). However, Indian poetics, particularly the Rasa theory, was not given much attention. During period of 1962 – 2006, only four studies discuss rasa; these include Shakuntala (Cao Huy Dinh, Culture Publisher, Hanoi, 1962); From comparative literature to comparative poetics (Phuong Luu, Literature Publisher, Hanoi, 2002), Comparative Literature: Translating and studying (National University Publisher, Hanoi, 2002) and Indian classical poetics (Phan Thu Hien, Literature Publisher, Hanoi, 2006). Unfortunately, each one appears by and large to be an inaccurate and cursory explanation, which has lead to incomplete applications of the Rasa theory.

Based on English translations[7] of Natyasastra ascribed to Bharata, this research describes Rasa theory and offers a critical review on Rasa studies of Vietnam. It also approaches Gitanjali of Rabindranath Tagore through the theory of Rasa.

Rasa studies in Vietnam

The origin of the term of Rasa

Rasa”, a term whose meaning is variously water, soma juice, cow’s milk, and flavor, existed many centuries before becoming an aesthetic concept in Natyasastra of Bharata[8]. In Vietnam, only Phuong Luu mentions this issue in his book From comparative literature to comparative poetics. He wrote: “From before Moria dynasty (322-185 BC), which is contemporaneous to the ancient Greek and the Qin dynasty of China, characteristics of Indian poetics was mentioned in Rigveda and Upanishad... Beside Rigveda and Upanishad, there may be many other manuscripts on this. Unfortunately, they are lost. Not many years later, which is approximated to the Han dynasty and ancient Roman time, appear Natyasastra ascribed to Brahdamuni”[9]. The author states that in ancient texts, Rasa constitutes one kind of wine flavor leading to Brahman, and in Natyasastra, Rasa originates from emotions. He points out that Rasa is a term referring to the spiritual and material world. However, his quotations without any directions from these ancient books make audiences doubt their truth. He ignores differences between Rigveda and Upanishad in their usage of the Rasa term.

The earliest use of the word Rasa is found in the Rigveda with the concrete meaning: water, soma juice, etc. In Upanishad, its use is more abstract as a flavor or the essence of Brahma and a process to capture the Ultimate. Prior to Natyasastra, the Rasa s are recognized as the main constituents of all medicines. The use of Rasa term as a concrete substance and an abstract aesthetic context in Natyasastra maintains all these meanings. Even following Natyasastra, its metaphysical context in Upanishad re-appears in Abhinavagupta[10]. In Natyasastra, Rasa is one of the four primary components of drama including wisdom, dance, music and Rasa. Bharata deals elaborately with Rasa ’s nature, its constituents in the chapter six (Rasa), chapter seven (Bhavas). He also returns to Rasa in other chapters that deal with different techniques of dramaturgy, such as the chapter twenty-four (Samanya Abhinaya), twenty-five (Men and Women – Outward Characterization), twenty-nine (Stringed Instruments) and thirty-two (Dhruva Songs).

The definition of Rasa

Regarding the definition of Rasa, Vietnamese scholars have different interpretations. Cao Huy Dinh in his Vietnamese translation of Shakuntala (Culture Publishing House, Hanoi, 1962) cursorily talks about Rasa when introducing the Indian dramaturgy in Natyasastra. Although Cao Huy Dinh states that Rasa is the main content of the Indian drama, his description is brief and general: “Rasa (rơ xơ), the taste of drama and poetry, must originate from eight bhavas (bhavơ) or emotions including minor bhavas: anger, hate and fear and major bhavas, love, joy, might, admiration, compassion. An ideal drama can lead the audience forwards to God and the King”[11]. Instead, he concentrates on other aspects of dramaturgy, including its content, its plot, and its dialogue, which makes Indian drama sound like Western drama. As a result, his followers have tended to ignore the principle of Rasa when studying Indian literature and Indian drama.

Until 2000s, in the context of renewing and developing Vietnamese literary theory and criticism, some researchers begin to take notice of Indian poetics, here, Rasa theory. From comparative literature to comparative poetics concretizes the concept of Rasa more than Cao Huy Dinh’s book. It explains that Rasa and Alamkara are two important categories of Indian poetics, Rasa is content and alamkara refers to figures of speech. It also designates that Rasa is taste or flavor (Vị) arising from emotions including permanent emotions (thường tình), transient emotions (biệt tình), inconstant emotions and temporary emotions (bất định tình). However, terms of the theory of rasa used here are completely different from their ancient meaning in Indian drama. The author seems to be sketchy when understanding them as daily terms in Vietnamese language[12]. In addition, his naming without any definitions or explanations makes audiences confuse Indian poetics with Chinese poetics[13]. Furthermore, he is unclear in differentiating terms of the rasa theory as in the following passage:

“Permanent emotion of the Eroti c Rasa is pleasure, bright dress-center[14], its transient emotions are beloved ones[15], beautiful flower gardens[16] ; its inconstant emotion is lifting eye brows, loving looks, graceful gesture, sweet words[17], its temporary emotions are fear, talkativeness, angry and indignation”[18].

In addition, the way he names these concepts in Vietnamese, for example, “tuỳ tình”, “bất định tình”, both of which means contemporary emotions, also shows his deficient understanding of Indian poetics and the Rasa theory. Researchers in Indian literature easily accept Phuong Luu’s inexact view on Rasa [19]. This situation requires reconsiderations of the Rasa theory.

In this context, Indian classical poetics by Phan Thu Hien is the first book to introduce Indian poetics in general and Rasa theory in particular systematically. Here the author interprets the definition of Rasa clearly by the quotation from NatyasastraRasa is produced from the combination of Vibhavas (the causes), Anubhavas (result or concequences) and Vyabhicari bhavas (transitory states). Is there any instance? Yes, as taste (Rasa) results from a combination of various spices, vegetables and other articles, and as six tastes (Rasa) are produced by articles such as, raw sugar or spices or vegetables, so the Permanent states (Sthayibhava), when they come together with various states (bhavas) attain the quality of the Rasa[20]. Here, explanations on meaning of the terms Vibhavas, Anubhavas and Vyabhicari bhavas approximate to their usages in Natyasastra. However, its description on relationship between Rasa and other states or the procedures of producing Rasa, which can be outlined as following diagram, is improper.


[1] According to A.K Coomaraswami (see Manomohan Ghosh)

[2] According to Manomohan Ghosh (The Natyasastra ascribed to Bharata Muni, translated into English by Manomohan Ghosh, Callcutta, Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1950)

[3] According to G.H.Tarlekar (Studies in the Natyasastra with Sepcial Reference to the Sanskrit Drama in Performance, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd, Delhi, First Edition 1975, Second Revised Edition, 1991)

[4] According to Daniel H. H. Ingalls, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, M. V. Patwardhan (Dhvanyaloka of Anandavardhava with the Locana of Abhinavagupta, Harvard University Press, 1990)

[5]. According to Adya Rangacharya (The Natyasastra English Translation with Critical Notes, Munshiram Manoharlal, Publishers Pvt. Ltd. 2007)

[6] Read: Inrasara: Cham Society & Culture: Researches & Dialogues (essay), Văn học Publisher, Hà Nội, 200; Culture of the Mekong River Delta (Văn hóa đồng bằng song Cửu Long), Publishing House of Social Sciences, Hanoi, 1981

[7] Natyasastra (English Translation with Critical Notes), Adya Rangacharya, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt.Ltd, 2007; The Natyasastra ascribed to Bharata Muni, translated into English by Manomohan Ghosh, Callcutta, Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1950

[8] Priyadarshi Patnaik, Rasa in Aesthetics, An application of Rasa theory to Modern Western Literature, D. K. Prinworld (P) Ltd. New Delhi – 110015, 2004

[9] Phuong Luu, Pp: 325-326

[10] See: Daniel H. H. Ingalls, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, M. V. Patwardhan, pp: 36-37 and Priyadarshi Patnaik, pp: 16-22.

[11] Phuong Luu, Pp: 11

[12] For example, the Vietnamese name “biet tinh” makes the term “transient emotion” turn to states of parting.

[13] The Sino-like sound of these terms makes Vietnamese researchers confused with concepts of Chinese poetics popular in Vietnam for centuries like inspiration (hứng, vị), isolated love (biệt tình) etc.

[14] In fact, in Natyasastra, never is this factor a permanent emotion. Instead, it is the soul of the Erotic Rasa because “whatever in this world is white, pure, bright and beautiful is appreciated in terms of the Dominant State of Love” (Manomohan Ghosh, pp: 108). The reason why the sentiment is called erotic is because it traditionally associates with bright and elegant dress (pp: 108)

[15] In fact, in Natyasastra, this factor belongs to vibhavas (Determinants (the translation of Manomohan Ghosh – pp: 108), stimulus (the translation of Priyadarshi Patnaik, pp: 36, Adya Rangacharya, pp: 55)) which refers to things cause Erotic Rasa (see Manomohan Ghosh pp: 109 and Adya Rangacharya pp: 56)

[16] In fact, its is also one vibhava (see Manomohan Ghosh pp: 109, Adya Rangacharya pp: 56)

[17] In fact, these elements are of anubhavas (involuntary reaction (the translation of Adya Rangacharya: pp 55), response (the translation of Priyadarshi Patnaik, pp: 35), consequents (the translation of Manomohan Ghosh, pp: 105))

[18] Pp: 326

[19] This can be seen in two papers on Indian poetics in the book Van hoc so sanh: Nhung van de dich thuat va nghien cuu (Comparative Literature : Translating and studying - National University Publisher, Hanoi, Vietnam, 2002) comparing Indian poetics and Chinese poetics, the theory on drama of Aristotle and Bharata, wherein Chinese-sound-like Rasa concepts and its wrong content are reused.

[20] Pp: 107

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Elements of Rasa in "Gitanjali" by Rabindranath Tagore
National University of Singapore  (Asian Research Institute)
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elements, rasa, gitanjali, rabindranath, tagore
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Pham Chi (Author), 2010, Elements of Rasa in "Gitanjali" by Rabindranath Tagore, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/312450


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