Humour in Treatises of Indian Aesthetics – 3

Viśvanātha who wrote Sāhityadarpaṇa starts off by criticizing the attributes of poetry as described by Mammaṭa and others, and ridicules the suggestion that comes from the topic or the object of poetry. Such suggestion, in his opinion, cannot be poetry. From his perspective, sentences filled with emotion make up poetry and nothing else, for:
देवदत्तो ग्रामं याति इति वाक्ये तद्भृत्यस्य तदनुसरणरूपव्यङ्ग्यावगतेरपि काव्यं स्यात्!
(Sāhityadarpaṇa Vṛtti 1.2)

The dexterity that is in display here is employed in ridiculing his opinion by Jagannātha in his Rasagaṅgādhara, which can been seen later. Viśvanātha analysing extreme secrecy in poetic suggestion provides an interesting example:
संधौ सर्वस्वहरणं विग्रहे प्राणनिग्रहः।
अल्लावुद्दीननृपतौ न सन्धिर्न च विग्रहः॥
(Sāhityadarpaṇa Vṛtti 4.14)

His objection is that the primary import here – friendship or enmity with Allauddin Khilji is futile – is extremely secretive. Also there is another unintended humorous meaning: ‘Allauddin’ being a word not originating from Sanskrit, it is violation of the rules of grammar to either compound it (samāsa) or connect it (sandhi) with any other Sanskrit word! In his Rasārṇavasudhākara, Siṃhabhūpāla has substantiated that “semblance of emotion” is also good enough and derides others like Bhoja and Vidyādhara who are against it.
विवेकरहितजनोपलक्षणम्लेच्छगतस्य रसस्याभासत्वे स्वेष्टावाप्ते
(Rasārṇavasudhākara, p. 206)

Moving on, we have Appayyadīkṣita who was a master of all trades and also author of more than a hundred works. One among them is Citramīmāṃsā. Some examples given there are very humorous. Here is one verse just to drive home the above point. The verse contains Sandeha, the figure of speech expressive of doubt:
काञ्चित्काञ्चनगौराङ्गीं वीक्ष्य साक्षादिव श्रियम्।
वरदस्संशयापन्नो वक्षस्थलमवैक्षत॥
(Citramīmāṃsā, p. 63)

The last expert among this dying class of aestheticians is Paṇḍitarāja Jagannātha who is the heir apparent of Bhāmaha-Mahimabhaṭṭa when it comes to sharp derision. Self-exaggerating humour manifests here and there in his writings. In the introduction itself he establishes his opinion on the attributes of poetry and mocks Viśvanātha’s opinion: वाक्यं रसात्मकं काव्यम्. With such attributes, he alleges that even sentences like गौश्चरति मृगो धावति would appear as though filled with emotive content and passes his verdict by saying:
इत्यादावतिप्रसक्तत्वेन अप्रयोजकत्वात्
(Rasagaṅgādhara, p. 24)
thus employing the famous maxim—परदण्डेनैव परस्य ताडनम्—beating up the opposition with their own stick!

The commentary to this work Rasacandrikā, in a different context says ‘गूढत्वस्फुटत्वाभ्यां व्यङ्ग्यस्य चमत्कारिता नश्यतीति सहृदयानुभवः’ and thus tries to indicate how clarity and secrecy should work.
अर्थो गिरामपिहितः पिहितश्च कश्चित् सौभाग्यमेति महराष्ट्रवधूकुचाभः।
नो गुर्जरीस्तन इवातितरां निगूढो नो केरलीकुच इवातितरां प्रकाशः॥
(Rasacandrikā, p. 41)

Further it analyses the famous verse from Amaruka ‘शून्यं वासगृहं…’ and finds fault in that resulting in this taunt ‘कवेर्निर्माणसामग्रीदारिद्र्यं प्रकाशयति’ followed by a conclusive judgement ‘इत्यलं परकीयकाव्यविमर्शनेन!’ He abuses Appayyadīkṣita at the drop of a hat as ‘draviḍaśiśu’ as though on a personal mission seeking vengeance. Most of the mockery is a result of jealousy and thus is returned in kind by Nāgeśabhaṭṭa, a commentator on his own work; this is an irony in itself![1] Overall we find more derisive humour than light humour in Paṇḍitarāja.

Till now we have seen humour that has occurred during the presentation and refutation of arguments by various aestheticians. We can see some of the examples they quote when describing humour and conclude this article.

Surprisingly, expressing humour hasn’t been a well-developed paradigm among the aestheticians.  The different methods of analysing it have also been not set in stone. Thus the examples can be often rustic, and also inappropriate. Therefore we can see examples in various stages of fineness.

The following verse is an example of intimate humour. It is from the great work Sarasvatīkaṇṭhābharaṇa by the doyen among the kings, Paramāra Bhoja.
यदेव रोचते मह्यं तदेव कुरुते प्रिया।
इति वेत्ति न जानाति यत्करोति च तत्प्रियम्॥
(Sarasvatīkaṇṭhābharaṇa, p. 698)

This verse in Rasaratnapradīpikā of Allarāja is loaded with suggestion and portrays the general descent of value systems and thus mocks the society. (This is also present in Daśarūpaka of Dhanañjaya).
‘भिक्षो मांसनिषेवणं प्रकुरुषे’ ‘किं तेन मद्यं विना’
‘मद्यं चापि तव प्रियं’ ‘प्रियमहो वेश्याङ्गनाभिस्सह’।
‘वेश्या द्रव्यरुचिः कुतस्तव धनं?’ ‘द्यूतेन चौर्येण वा’
‘चौर्यद्यूतपरिग्रहोऽपि भवतो?’ ‘भ्रष्टस्य कान्या गतिः?’॥
(Rasaratnapradīpikā, p. 31)

Even though Bhānudatta’s Rasamañjarī mainly deals with romance, humour makes an appearance here and there and can be seen in the following Āryā verse:
तस्याः सुतनुसरस्यां चेतो नयनं च निष्पतितम्।
गुरु चेतस्तु निमग्नं लघुनयनं सर्वतो भ्रमति॥
(Rasamañjarī, p. 265)

The humour is evident to rasikas. Another work by the same author, Rasataraṅgiṇī, also contains valuable information about humour with many examples and quotations. We can see a few here:
रतोत्सवे वल्लभयज्ञसूत्रं कण्ठावलग्नं परिमोचयन्तीम्।
द्विजाङ्गनां दीर्घतरं श्वसन्तीं तारस्वनं वारवधूर्जहास॥
(Rasataraṅgiṇī 7.6)

चोरः कामरिपोर्गृहं निशि गतः शूलं कपालं हरन्
बीजं धूर्तफलस्य तण्डुलधिया नीत्वा पुनर्भुक्तवान्।
व्यावल्गन्प्रचलन् स्खलन् परिपतन् मुह्यन्निघूर्णन् हसन्
अट्टाट्टध्वनिमुक्तमौलिकुसुमं स्वर्वेश्यया हस्यते॥
(Rasataraṅgiṇī 7.7)

These are indicative of his creativity and fearlessness and also the all-pervading erudition of Sanskrit scholars of yore.

The verse from the commentary of Alaṅkārakaustubha by Kavikarṇapūra, which is written on a king named Lokanātha is quite famous and drives its point through the usage of emphasis and oblique expression:
परान्नं प्राप्य दुर्बुद्धे! प्राणेभ्यो मा दयां कुरु।
दुर्लभानि परान्नानि प्राणा जन्मनि जन्मनि॥
(Alaṅkārakaustubha, p. 143)

Keśavamiśra’s Alaṅkāraśekhara contains the following verse, which uses his knowledge of grammar to create such a wonderful humour that remains eternally fresh despite being quoted numerous times by one and all:
नपुंसकमिति ज्ञात्वा प्रियायै प्रेषितं मनः।
तत्तु तत्रैव रमते हताः पाणिनिना वयम्॥
(Alaṅkāraśekhara, p. 80)

Jagannātha again in Rasagaṅgādhara gives this beautiful example:
श्रीतातपादैर्विहिते निरूपिता नूतनयुक्तिरेषा।
अङ्गं गवां पूर्वमहो पवित्रं न वा कथं रासभधर्मपत्न्याः॥
(Rasagaṅgādhara, p. 119)

While there is an abundance of such verses we need to conclude so as to complete the article within a reasonable length.

Akin to all other related fields in Sanskrit, even in aesthetics, we find limited humour. The reason is yet again the rules of the game. And wherever it appears, it is mainly due to the expertise of the scholar and serves the purpose of thrashing the opponents. Even so, aesthetics is about analysis of poetry and thus light and entertaining humour that appears is a bonus, and produces joy in the hearts of rasikas. The current attempt is a set of baby steps towards recognising such instances of humour within the limits of the author’s expertise and in no way is it complete or rigorous.


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. Nāṭyaśāstra (Bharata). Baroda: Gaikwad Oriental Series, 1980
  2. Rāvaṇavadhā (Bhaṭṭi). Benaras: Chaukambha Publications, 1980
  3. Kāvyālaṅkāra (Bhāmaha). Edited by Dr. K. Krishnamoorthy. Mysore: Sharada Mandir, 1974
  4. Kāvyādarśa (Daṇḍi). Edited by Dr. K. Krishnamoorthy. Mysore: Sharada Mandir, 1975
  5. Kāvyālaṅkāra (Rudraṭa). Bombay: Kavyamala Series, 1928
  6. Dhvanyāloka (Ānandavardhana) [with Locana]. Benaras: Kashi Sanskrit Series, 1970
  7. Dhvanyāloka Locana (Abhinavagupta) [with Kaumudī ] 1940
  8. Locana of Abhinavagupta. Edited by Dr. K. Krishnamoorthy. Delhi: Meherchand Lakshmandas Publications, 1988
  9. Kavyānuśāsana (Hemacandra). Bombay: Nirnaya Sagar Press, 1934
  10. Vakrotijīvita (Kuntaka). Edited by Dr. K. Krishnamoorthy. Dharwad, 1977
  11. Vyaktiviveka (Mahimabhaṭṭa). Benaras: Kashi Sanskrit Series, 1936
  12. Daśarūpaka (Dhanañjaya). Bombay: Nirnaya Sagar Press, 1941
  13. Kavikaṇṭhābharaṇa (Kṣemendra). Edited by Dr. K. Krishnamoorthy. Mysore: Sharada Mandir, 1977
  14. Kāvyamīmāṃsā (Rājaśekhara). Baroda: Gaikwad Oriental Series, 1920
  15. Candrāloka (Jayadeva). Bombay: Nirnaya Sagar Press, 1907
  16. Kāvyaprakāśa (Mammaṭa). Mysore: Oriental Research Institute, 1974
  17. Kāvyaprakāśa (Mammaṭa). Translated and edited by Dr. K. Krishnamoorthy. Mysore: Sharada Mandir, 1973
  18. Sāhityadarpaṇa (Viśvanātha) Benaras: Kashi Sanskrit Series, 1955
  19. Rasārṇavasudhākara (Simhabhūpāla). Madras: Adyar Library, 1979
  20. Citramīmāṃsā (Appayadīkṣita) Bombay: Nirnaya Sagar Press, 1907
  21. Rasagaṅgādhara (Jagannātha). Benaras: Sampurnananda Sanskrit University, Saraswati Bhavan Granthamala, 1977
  22. Sarasvatīkaṇṭhābharaṇa (Bhoja). Bombay: Kavyamala Series, 1934
  23. Rasaratnapradīpikā (Allarāja). Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1940
  24. Rasamañjari (Bhānudatta). Benaras: Kashi Sanskrit Series, 1904
  25. Rasataraṅgiṇī (Bhānudatta). Benaras: Kashi Sanskrit Series, 1886
  26. Alaṅkārakaustubha (Kavikarṇapūra). Rahshahi: Varendra Research Society, 1926
  27. Alaṅkāraśekhara (Keśavamiśra). Bombay: Kavyamala Series, 1914
  28. Nāṭyaśāstra (Bharata). R S Nagar. Delhi: Parimal Publications, 1988

Other than the references listed above, treatises such as Ekāvalī, Pratāparudrīya, Alaṅkārasarvasva, Alaṅkārasārasaṃgraha, Sāhityamīmāṃsā, Śṛṅgāraprakāśa, Vāgbhaṭā-laṅkāra, Kuvalayānanda, Citramīmāṃsākhaṇḍana, Kāvyālaṅkārasūtra, Aucityavicāracarcā, Alaṅkārasaṃgraha, Kāvyapradīpa, Nāṭyadarpaṇa, Bhāvaprakāśana, Ujjvalanīlamaṇi and others were also referred to, although nothing has been quoted from them.


[1] There are many instances in Sanskrit literature and aesthetics where the commentator himself becomes the critic of a work. Famous among them are Ruyyaka’s commentary to Vyaktiviveka as well as the Marmaprakāśa, a commentary on the Rasagaṅgādhara by Nāgeśabhaṭṭa.

Raghavendra G S humor in treatises of indian aesthetics Humour in Treatises of Indian Aesthetics – 3 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 treatises of indian aesthetics Humour in Treatises of Indian Aesthetics – 3 gsr

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