Humour in Treatises of Indian Aesthetics – 2

Moving on to one of the greatest masters of all schools of thought and a very creative and gifted genius Abhinavagupta, we see humour sparkling aptly in both his excellent and incomparable commentaries Abhinavabhāratī (on the Nāṭyaśāstra) and Locana (on the Dhvanyāloka). Both his works, along with excellent usage of Sanskrit, portray a beautiful style of writing interspersed with his natural penchant for humour and thus is a source of joy for rasikas. Without exception, even though the humour is based on argumentative logic, it has a great appeal. He is at his best while criticizing Bhaṭṭanāyaka, the composer of Hṛdayadarpaṇa. The maxims that appear here and there are themselves an inspiration for generating humour.

The verse quoted while discussing the first passage of Dhvanyāloka itself has an interesting union of humour, abhorrence, and sublimity:
यदि नामास्य कायस्य यदन्तस्तद्बहिर्भवेत्।
दण्डमादाय लोकोऽयं शुनः का कांश्च वारयेत्॥
(Dhvanyāloka Locana, p. 7)

In another instance where Bhaṭṭanāyaka agrees with rasa—emotional moods—but not dhvani—suggestion—he ridicules that ‘self-goal’ in the following way:
किञ्च वस्तुध्वनिं दूषयता रसध्वनिस्तदनुग्राहकः समर्थ्यते इति सुतरां ध्वनिध्वंसोऽयम्। यदाह क्रोधोऽपि देवस्य वरेण तुल्यः।
(Dhvanyāloka Locana, p. 30)

In yet another instance he says:
यद्भट्टनायकेन द्विवचनं दूषितं तद्गजनिमीलिकयैव
(Dhvanyāloka Locana, p. 45)

Since Bhaṭṭanāyaka belongs to the Mīmāṃsā school, it gives several more opportunities for Abhinavagupta to settle scores and ridicule him.
पश्यत! श्रोत्रीयस्यानुवाकहतबुद्धेरुक्तिकौशलम्।
(Dhvanyāloka Locana, p. 19)

जैमिनीयसूत्रे ह्येवं युज्यते न काव्येऽपि।
(Dhvanyāloka Locana, p. 63)

In the commentary on the second chapter, while warning logicians and people from Mīmāṃsā school not to analyse dhvani irrelevantly, he says:
शब्दान्तरं वाकर्षतीत्यनुमानस्य श्रुतार्थापत्तेर्वा तार्किकमीमांसकयोर्न ध्वनिप्रसङ्ग इत्यलम्।
(Dhvanyāloka Locana Kaumudī, p. 295)

mocking them through kāku (selective emphasis). Likewise in the third chapter, the commentator who wrote the Candrikā isn’t spared. Despite being the author’s ancestor, he is taken to task as follows:
स देवं विक्रीय यात्रोत्सवमकार्षीत्। एवं हि व्यङ्ग्यस्य या गुणीभूतता प्रकृता सैव समूलं त्रुट्येत्।
रसादिव्यतिरिक्तस्य हि रसाङ्गभावयोगित्वमेव प्राधान्यं नान्यत्किञ्चिदिति अलं पूर्ववंश्यैः सह विवादेन !
(Dhvanyāloka Locana Kaumudī, p. 515)

In this way Abhinavagupta’s sense of humour is laudable in the Locana.[1]

Abhinavabhāratī of Abhinavagupta is the only extant commentary on the Nāṭyaśāstra. Abhinavagupta excels as a commentator with insightful observations in numerous aspects. At the same time, in places, his sense of humour is sparkling. A few examples are laid out here.

Right at the start, Bharata mentions that the apsarās (celestial damsels)—created by Brahmā himself—were invited to participate in the theatrical production. Bharata however fails to mention why Brahmā had to create these damsels when hermit-girls were already present. Abhinavagupta has a mischievous justification for the creation of these celestial maidens. He says that the Kaiśikī vṛtti, the most graceful articulation of emotions through body, mind, and speech, along with costumes, are not the forte of hermit-girls, who lack understanding of śṛṅgāra; it is only the apsarās who would excel in this:
अनेन मुनिकन्यानामत्र अयोग्रत्वं तावदुक्तम्।
(Abhinavabhāratī, Volume 1, p. 21)

In the Rāmāyaṇa, Vālmīki writes that having lost Sītā, Rāma was overcome by emotion and suffered greatly in the pangs of separation from his wife. Often, he slips into deep depression. Abhinavagupta finds fault with such a docile portrayal of Rāma, who is a dhīroddhāta. But can we overlook what Vālmīki has written? The mighty Abhinavagupta says in bold words, “Even if such a thing were in the Vedas, I would not have developed cold feet!” We see here a typical instance of his pāṇḍityavīra:
रामायनेऽपि मुनिना तथा वर्णितमिति चेत्किमतो वेदेऽपि हि तथा वर्न्यताम्। न वयमतो बिभीमः।
(Abhinavabhāratī, Volume 3, pp. 71-72)

While dealing with the siddhi of a play, Bhaṭṭa Nāyaka, the arch-rival of Abhinavagupta, had become a bit ritualistic. Here is thus a dig at him for blindly following the rules of Jaiminī, the champion of karma-kāṇḍa and not Bharata, the propounder of rasa-kāṇḍa:
केवलं जैमिनिरनुनृत इति अलमनेन।
(Abhinavabhāratī, Volume 3, p. 299-300)

Kṣemendra, being a disciple of such an illustrious preceptor, is curious about everything and is a master of all trades. The sense of humour of this great scholar has been universally acknowledged and attains a unique and invincible position in the history of humour itself. In his work Kavikaṇṭhābharaṇa, while discussing the attainment of poesy, he categorises disciples and one such categorization deals with the incorrigible ones in two humorous verses as follows:
यस्तु प्रकृत्याश्मसमान एव कष्टेन वा व्याकरणेन नष्टः।
तर्केण दग्धोऽनलधूमिना वाप्यविद्धकर्णस्सुकविप्रबन्धैः॥
न तस्य वक्तृत्वसमुद्भवस्स्याच्छिक्षाविशेषैरपि सुप्रयुक्तैः।
न गर्दभो गायति शिक्षितोऽपि सन्दर्शितं पश्यति नार्कमन्धः॥
(Kavikaṇṭhābharaṇa 1.22-23)

His contempt towards dry logic and useless wordplay is evident even without explanation!

Further in the fourth chapter, discerning good and bad qualities (virtues and vices) he quotes a verse by a poet named Candraka who has fallen prey to the avarice of wordplay. Seeing the verse itself it becomes evident how his sense of humour works! This verse can be taken as an example for Nonsense Poetry too:
स्तनौ सुपीनौ कठिनौ ठिनौ ठिनौ कटिर्विशाला रभसा भसा भसा।
मुखं च चन्द्रप्रतिमं तिमं तिमं अहो सुरूपा तरुणी रुणी रुणी॥
(Kavikaṇṭhābharaṇa 4.30)

In this way he also provides a way for beginners to practise and master metrical constraints and the flow of words required without emphasis on meaning in the level of sentences. This is also similar to sweet nothings
(Kavikaṇṭhābharaṇa 1.21)

Thus we see the sense of humour of Kṣemendra in abundance.

Rājaśekhara, who is next in line, is also an interesting poet and scholar. With mastery over multiple subjects and languages, thorough study of many works and keen observation of life through a lot of travel, he has written the Kāvyamīmāṃsā, which reflects his great sense of humour.

द्वन्द्वोऽस्मि द्विगुरस्मि च गृहे न मे सततमव्ययीभावः।
तत्पुरुष कर्म धारय येनाहं स्यां बहुव्रीहिः॥[2]
(Kāvyamīmāṃsā 4.1)

The humour is evident to the rasikas.

Likewise in the fourth chapter, he discusses rāsikya (connoisseurship) and the jealousy among the poets in a memorable way:
‘कस्त्वं भो’ ‘कविरस्मि’ ‘काप्यभिनवा सूक्तिः सखे पठ्यतां’
‘त्यक्ता काव्यकथैव संप्रति मया’ ‘कस्मादिदं’ ‘श्रूयताम्’।
यस्सम्यग्विविनक्ति दोषगुणयोस्सारं  स्वयं सत्कविः
सोऽस्मिन्भावक एव नास्त्यथ भवेद्दैवान्न निर्मत्सरः॥
(Kāvyamīmāṃsā, p. 14)

Further when he discusses the ways of poets, this humorous verse mixed with despair is loaded with suggestion:
गीतसूक्तिरतिक्रान्ते स्तोता देशान्तरस्थिते।
प्रत्यक्षे तु कवौ लोकस्सावज्ञः सुमहत्यपि॥
(Kāvyamīmāṃsā, p. 51)

He also highlights how the nearest and dearest of the poet finds everything he writes is worth its weight in gold:
पितुर्गुरोर्नरेन्द्रस्य सुतशिष्यभटादयः।
अविविच्यैव काव्यानि स्तुवन्ति च पठन्ति च॥
(Kāvyamīmāṃsā, p. 51)

He then directs his sharp gaze towards bad poets and derides them in a very suggestive way:
इदं महाहासकरं विचेष्टितं परोक्तिपाटच्चरतारतोऽपि यत्।
सदुक्तिरत्नाकरतां गतान् कवीन् कवित्वमात्रेण समेन निन्दति॥
इदं हि वैदग्ध्यरहस्यमुत्तमं पठेन्न सूक्तिं कविमानिनः पुरः।
न केवलं तां न विभावयत्यसौ स्वकाव्यबन्धेन विनाशयत्यपि॥
(Kāvyamīmāṃsā, pp. 51-52)

His next target is plagiarism:
नास्त्यचोरः कविजनो नास्त्यचोरो वणिग्जनः।
स नन्दति विना चौर्यं यो जानाति निगूहितम्॥
(Kāvyamīmāṃsā, p. 61)

After deriding them with his razor-sharp wit, he categorises them further as follows:
उत्पादकः कविः कश्चित् कश्चिच्च परिवर्तकः।
आच्छादकस्तथा चान्यस्तथा संवर्गकोऽपरः॥
(Kāvyamīmāṃsā, p. 62)

(Here आच्छादक means someone who covers his theft and संवर्गक is someone who mixes and matches from numerous sources to avoid getting caught.)

The most interesting part is the chapter which deals with spoken languages. Rājaśekhara analyses how Sanskrit, the lingua franca of India is spoken and how the vastness of the country has resulted in variations in pronunciation despite so much standardisation. This humorous passage is valuable both historically and culturally.

Seeing how Bengalis speak/recite Prākṛta,[3] the poet begs Brahmā, the creator as follows:
ब्रह्मन्! विज्ञापयामि त्वां स्वाधिकारजिहासया।
गौडस्त्यजतु वा गाथामन्या वास्तु सरस्वती॥
(Kāvyamīmāṃsā, p. 33)

His style of analysing the clear and intelligible style of Kannada speakers is filled with appreciation and liberty.
रसः कोऽप्यस्तु काप्यस्तु रीतिः कोऽप्यस्तु वा गुणः।
सगर्वाः सर्वकर्णाटाः टङ्कारोत्तरपाठिनः॥[4]
(Kāvyamīmāṃsā, p. 34)

Likewise he analyses the style of the provinces of Drāviḍa, Lāṭā, Saurāṣṭra and others in a wonderful manner:
गद्ये पद्येऽथवा मिश्रे काव्ये कव्यमना अपि।
गेयगर्भे स्थितः पाठे सर्वोऽपि द्रविडः कविः॥
पठन्ति लटभं लाटाः प्राकृतं संस्कृतद्विषः॥
सुराष्ट्रत्रवणाद्या ये पठन्त्यर्पितसौष्ठवम्।
अपभ्रंशवदंशानि ते संस्कृतवचांस्यपि॥
ततः पुरस्तात्कवयो ये भवन्त्युत्तरापथे।
ते महत्यपि संस्कारे सानुनासिकपाठिनः॥
ललिल्लकारया जिह्मं जर्जरस्फाररेफया।
गिरा भुजङ्गाः पूज्यन्ते काव्यभव्यधियो न तु॥
(Kāvyamīmāṃsā, p. 34)

In this manner, while describing reality, he emphasizes more, thus bringing out humour due to exaggeration, but on the other hand his opinion that people apart from Kāśmīris are excellent speakers raises doubts and gives away his personal bias and is thus humorous in itself!

Jayadeva, the composer of Candrāloka, while being aware of rasa-dhvani, still bats for the alaṅkāras. A chapter in his work that deals with the aspects of meaning in figures of speech is the inspiration behind the later work, Kuvalayānanda. Thus when Jayadeva elaborates on the attributes of poetry, he doesn’t agree with a scholar like Mammaṭa who writes ‘तददोषौ शब्दार्थौ सगुणावनलङ्कृती पुनः क्वापि’ evidently not giving the top slot to figures of speech. He starts off by mocking Mammaṭa as follows:
अङ्गीकरोति यः काव्यं शब्दार्थावनलङ्कृती।
असौ न मन्यते कस्मादनुष्णमनलं कृती॥
(Candrāloka 1.8)

Next he directs his anger towards logicians who never understand how enjoyment of poetry transcends their dry, good for nothing logic!
अङ्गभङ्गोल्लसल्लीला तरुणी स्मरतोरणम्।
तर्ककर्कशपूर्णोक्तिप्राप्तोत्कटधियां वृथा॥
(Candrāloka 6.27)

Mammaṭa by nature is a reserved person and thus doesn’t take too much liberty in mocking and ridiculing others; so there is not much room for humour. Still in the fourth chapter of his work where he discusses the power of dhvani manifesting through the meaning, he takes up the famous conversation between the vulture and the jackal (Gṛdhragomāyusaṃvāda) which is in the Śāntiparva of the Mahābhārata resulting in some humour.

Even with that reserved nature and straightforward style, humour has crept in here and there. It is due to both appreciation towards—and derision for—others.

There are a lot of commentaries on the Kāvyaprakāśa. Scholars opine that probably after the Bhagavadgītā this is the text that has so many commentaries. The existence of so many commentaries might be due to the respect the work has earned among scholars. Even with (and perhaps because of) all those commentaries, the work is still not intelligible is the lament of one of the commentators Maheśvara:
काव्यप्रकाशस्य गृहे गृहे कृता व्याख्या तथाप्येष तथैव दुर्गमः।

It is prudent to remember a verse by Śrīharṣa taunting the dry erudition and lack of rāsikya in Mammaṭa:
काव्यप्रकाशो यवनः काव्याली च कुलाङ्गना।
अनेन प्रसभाकृष्टा कष्टमेषाश्नुते दशाम्॥[5]

To be concluded.

This is a translation of a Kannada essay by Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh titled ‘ಅಲಂಕಾರಶಾಸ್ತ್ರದಲ್ಲಿ ಹಾಸ್ಯ’ from his remarkable anthology ಹುಡುಕಾಟ. Thanks to Dr. Ganesh and Shashi Kiran B N for their review and feedback. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.


[1] Even a casual quote from Abhinavagupta results in great humour as can be shown by the following example. This is a rājastuticāṭu employing flattery to praise a king:
किं वृत्तान्तैः परगृहगतैः किन्तु नाहं समर्थस्तूष्णीं स्थातुं प्रकृतिमुखुरो दाक्षिणात्यस्वभावः।
गेहे गेहे विपणिषु तथा चत्वरे पानगोष्ठ्यामुन्मत्तेव भ्रमति भवतो वल्लभा हन्त कीर्तिः॥
(Dhvanyāloka Locana, p. 60)

[2] The same verse occurs in Kṣemendra’s Kavikaṇṭhābharaṇa as an example of expertise in grammar.

[3] There is another anonymous verse mocking the pronunciation style of the Bengalis:
अनुदित य-व-ष-सकारैर्येषां भाषा समुल्लसति।
गुदवदनविवरभेदः केवलमनुमीयते दन्तैः॥

[4] Here the word टङ्कार signifies immense self-confidence in recital. It can also mean absence of stage fright. For more details, one can refer to the article titled “Karṇāṭaka ṭaṃkāra ṭīke” by Rāḻḻapalli Anantakṛṣnaśarma. (Sāhitya mattu Jīvanakale, pp. 103-9. Mysore: Kavyalaya Publishers, 1971)

[5] The story goes that Mammaṭa is the maternal uncle of Śrīharṣa. When he was shown Naiṣadhīyacarita by his nephew, he exclaimed “Alas! If I had access to this work earlier, I could have quoted it extensively, to give examples of transgressions. I could have avoided the long and hard search for the same!”  Śrīharṣa, it appears, was angry after hearing that, and recited this verse to insult his uncle. The seventh chapter of Kāvyaprakāśa extensively deals with the transgressions one needs to avoid in poetry.

Raghavendra G S humor in trestises of indian aesthetics Humour in Treatises of Indian Aesthetics – 2 gsr

Raghavendra G S

Raghavendra G S is currently pursuing a PhD in Computer Science at the Indian Institute of Science. He is a Sanskrit poet and a keen student of classical literature in Sanskrit and Kannada.
Raghavendra G S humor in trestises of indian aesthetics Humour in Treatises of Indian Aesthetics – 2 gsr