Category Archives: L. Hindu Arts, Architecture and Culture


The origin of Rangoli dates back to many centuries ago and is an important part of Indian festivals. Rangoli is a design that is drawn on the ground with colored powder sometimes even with colored rice. Since Rangoli is mentioned in the Epics, it probably originated from before they were composed. The tradition is said to have come from the story of Chitralakshana. [The son of the highest priestly son dies and is said to be drawn and as the painting is completed the priestly son comes to life] (Dhawan 1). During the beginning of this tradition, it is said in the epic Ramayana after the return of Lord Rama from his exile he was showered with love by the art of Rangoli (Rao 1)

In Hinduism anything that has a deep meaning to it, is taken very seriously among the older generations, such as art of Rangoli. It is not only just used for making the courtyard look pretty but also to avoid the evil spirits from entering the house. This is the reason why most Rangoli designs are made very intricate and detailed. Spirits and negative vibes that are surrounding the house to get intertwined in the intricacy of the design (Ashu 1). The designs are the first thing people see when they enter the house. It allows them to bring more positivity into the house after seeing the Rangoli. The traditional Rangoli were more symmetrical because it was pleasing to look at. Different types of shapes are included when making Rangoli, such as certain religious flowers, drawings of gods, and many other things that have some sort of significance. Mostly white was used in the traditional Rangoli as it was a sense of peacefulness and calmness. Rangoli is made during Diwali (festival of lights) to welcome the Goddess Laksmi (Goddess of wealth). During every festival or any special occasion, the women of the house make the Rangoli. They wake up early as it takes hours for them to complete. The designs are only made once the front yard is fully cleaned with water, as it is a way for the women to cleanse their mind and have a sense of calmness.

In traditional Rangoli making powdered color was not used but colors that were available naturally were used such as haldi, vermillion, and rice flour. Natural powders were used so that birds and other insects would have food. The principle of ‘Vasudaiva kutumbaka’ in Sanatana Dharma (Hindusim) meaning ‘the whole world is one big family’ (Sankar 1) is a reason why rice flower and such natural powders were used, so that the insects could feed off of them. Each color has a significant meaning behind it and is different in different parts in India. Now color that has dye in it is mainly used to attract more people and make it look more vibrant and realistic. Modern Rangoli is more focused towards the creativity of it rather then the spiritual aspect of it.

In southern India, there is myth about Lord Thirumal getting married in the Margazhi month, a time of the month that is said to be very auspicious. During this month, the girls get up before sunrise to start drawing Kolams [Rangoli is called kolam in southern India] to welcome the God of Thirumal (Dhawan 1). Going around a dot pattern makes Kolams.

During the month of January the Pongal kolam is made, in which the drawing is left undone until the next day so that they can join them with the neighboring houses.

More then just a design, Kolams is also used for mathematical ideas. They are very particular in using symmetry while making the designs and some even have a pattern that repeats several times. Some kolam are drawn using repetition of patterns in various angles Ascher (57-63). Symbols such as letters or numbers are used to explain the step-by-step way they are made.

Where Kolams are made up of more lines and have a geometrical pattern to them, Rangoli is made with vibrant colors and have many different designs. Each have there own significance and are used in different parts of India. Rangoli requires more intricate work than Kolams. Kolam is used more so in the southern part of India and Rangoli in northern part.

There are many different types of kolam designs; the most popular ones are the line and pulli Kolams. Line Kolams are free handed and are just geometrical lines. Pulli Kolams are designs where the dots are made in a certain sequence and lines are drawn to connect the dots. The pulli kolam has two different ways of making the design, one of which is connecting the dots and the other are twisted chains that are made around the dots Ascher (57-63). One other kind of kolam, called the snake kolam, different from any other Kolam, since it is drawn continuously and ends off where it began.

Rangoli is used in all of India whether it is for making drawing or used for special occasions. It has been passed down from centuries ago and is now being used in different ways and has even moved its way to a different side of it, the mathematical aspect. In the most recent years is when computer scientists have seen the usage of mathematical concepts being incorporated into the designs. As this tradition is passed down to future generations, the meaning and importance will slowly change as well. Slowly the designs will be improved by adding innovative aspects which differ from the past generations.. Rangoli’s is used upon arrivals of guests, family gatherings, and even when there are no special occasions. This allows women to get together and calm their minds down from the household work and provide them with a sense of relaxation from the tedious lifestyle. It is a way to express your happiness and allow others to enjoy the beautiful colors and designs made.


Sankar, Gayatri (2011) “Significance of Rangoli.”

Dhawan, Ashu (2015) “Why do we draw Rangoli? Significance & Importance!” Retrieved from

Subramanian, Ram (2014) “Kolam: A Tradition Combining Art and Geometry to Form Colorful Patterns.” Retrieved from

Ascher, Marcia (2002) “The Kolam Tradition: A Tradition of Figure-drawing in Southern India Expresses Mathematical Ideas and Has Attracted the Attention of Computer Science.” American Scientist 90, no.1: 56-63.

Rao, Venkata V (2006) “What is the origin of Rangoli?” Retrieved from

Hopkins, Dwight N (2001) Religions/Globalizations: Theories and Cases. Durham and London Duke University Press

Related Topics for Further Investigation


Pulli kolam

Line kolam



Lord Thirumal

Pongal kolam


Snake kolam



Goddess Lakshmi


This article was written by: Preet Parmar (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for this content. ab

A Brief Examination of The Kathasaritsagara

The Kathasaritsagara, also known as the Ocean of the Streams of Stories is a 11th-century Sanskrit text composed of Indian fairy tales and legends. Similarly to other stories, legends and epics, a Saiva [a follower of the Hindu tradition favoring the god Siva] named Somadeva retells the Kathasaritsagara. The Kathasaritsagara is a well-known adaptation to the Brihatkatha (Big Story), an Indian epic written by Gunadhya, often compared to Vyasa, the author and a character in the Mahabharata. Gunadhya, is credited as the author of the Brhatkatha, although it is not written in Sanskrit, rather, written in the hard to understand, and archaic language of Paisaci. The Brhatkatha was lost, and can now be only tracked through its two adaptations, being the previously mentioned Kathasaritsagara, and the Brhatkathamanjari written by Kshemendra, a 11th century poet.

The Kathasaritsagara as written by Somadeva, consists of 18 books written in Sanskrit, but was adapted into English by Charles Henry Tawney, an English scholar highly revered for his multi-lingual skills that lead him to often translate Indian legends to English. Tawney published two volumes of the English translated Kathasaritsagara, as The Katha sarit sagara; or Ocean of the Streams of Story between 1880-1884. Norman Mosley Penzer expanded upon Tawneys English translation adding commentary and notes, publishing his The Ocean of Story, being C.H. Tawney’s Translation of Somadeva’s Katha sarit sagara in 10 volumes between 1924-1928.

The original Kathasaritsagara is written in Sanskrit, an Indian prose. There are 18 books in Somadeva’s text. The first book is Kathapitha, followed by Kathainukha, Chaturdarika, Mandanamanhuka, Ratnaprabha, Suryaprabha, Alankarvavati, Saktiyasa, Vela, Sasankavati, Madiravati, Mahabhisheka, Suratamanjari, Padmabati and then the last book; Vishamasila. Tawney’s English adaptation, published in two volumes, compiles Somdeva’s 18 books into 56 chapters in the first volume, and 69 chapters in the second volume.

While the Kathasaritsagara itself is a compilation of many stories and legends, there is a great emphasis on the story of Udayana and his son. The first tale in the Kathasaritsagara follows the story of Pushpadanta, and the curse the Mountain Goddess places on him, as he travels around in human form in an attempt to cure his curse. The story of Udayana and his son, Naravahanadatta, in which the role of King is passed on through three generations.

The Story of Pushpadanta’s Curse, and His Human Life as Vararuchi:

Somdeva’s first book, compiled into chapters one to eight in Tawney’s The Katha sarit sagara; or Ocean of the Streams of Story, begins with the introduction of Pushpandanta, a loyal devotee to Siva, eavesdropping into a conversation between Siva and his beloved, Kaliasa, the Mountain Goddess. This story spreads, and Kaliasa learns of Pushpadanta’s intrusion. Angry by his disobedience, Kaliasa curses him, while also telling him how to free himself from the curse (Tawney 1880: 4). Pushpandanta, now wandering the earth as a human named Vararuchi, has grown forgetting his origins and his past life. He runs into a character named Kanabhuti, who was also a loyal devotee to Siva, telling him the story that Pushpandanta started. After Kanabhuti is finished telling the story, Vararuchi remembers that he was once Pushpandanta, and then sets to trying to end the curse.

Similarly to other Hindu legends, the Kathasaritsagara has many side stories that tie into the main story. Continuing with the fourth chapter in Tawney’s adaptation, Vararuchi comes upon a beautiful woman and falls in love with her. During the night, Sarasvati, the goddess of eloquence and learning, visits him in a dream and tells him that the woman he fell in love with, Upankosa, was Sarasvati’s lover in a past life and is still destined to her. Vararuchi, marries Upankosa regardless. In a humorous side story, Upankosa refutes the advances of several men while Vararuchi is gone performing a ritual. Later in the story Vararuchi is told to find Badarika, a hermit in the forest. After proving himself to Badarika, Vararuchi then sacrifices his body through fire, “putting off his mortal condition”, and then ascending to his heavenly home (Tawney 1880: 31).

In chapter six, Gunadhya, the author of the Brhatkatha and also a character, recites the story of his life to Kanabhuti. Kanabhuti in return, recites the tale of Pushapandanta, in which Gunadhya then writes it in the Paisaci language, but fearful of having his composition stolen, writes it in his own blood (Tawney 1880: 47). Empathetic to Vararuchi’s condition, Gunadhya sends his heavenly tale to earth, in which king Satavahana disregarded the work, “… the Paisacha language is barbarous, and the letters are written in blood; away with this Paisacha tale” (Tawney 1880: 48). Gunadhya, overcome with sorrow, then destroys the book in a fire as his two disciples, Gunadeva and Nandideva, watch and listen tearfully. King Satavahana falls ill, in which leads him to search out Gunadhya. At this point, Gunadhya had almost burnt his entire tale, save for one section, named the Vrihat Katha. King Satavahana takes this tale and the two pupils as Gunadhya dies, and ascends to his heavenly home. To conclude the story, Satavahana recompiles the original tale with the help of the two pupils, and names it the Kathapitha, redistributing the story similarly to how Pushpadanta spread Siva’s story(Tawney 1880: 49).

The story of Udayana and his son, Naravahanadatta:

Udayana, the child of King Sahasranika and Queen Mrigavati, was born after a bird carried off his mother while she was bathing, separating Mrigavati from King Sahasranika, leaving the King tormented in grief. The bird realizes she is not food, and drops her into the wilderness (Tawney 1880: 54). Scared, she weeps loudly, catching the attention of a hermit’s son. The hermit, Jamadagni and his son, take care of Mrigavati as she gives birth to Udayana. During his birth, a voice from the heavens spoke “an august king of great renown has been born, Udayana by name, and his son should be monarch of all the Vidyadharas” (Tawney 1880: 55). Udayana grew up to be virtuous, heroic, and intelligent under Jamadagni, who taught him the sciences and archery. In a side story, Udayana shows his virtuous nature by saving a beautiful snake caught by a hunter. He trades the snake’s life for a bracelet he wore that bore the King’s name written on it. The hunter then tries to sell the bracelet, catching the attention of a servant working for the king, who then reports that his wife was alive. The King sets out to find his wife, finally coming upon the hermitage of Jamadagni. Jamadagni hands Mrigavati and Udayana over to King Sahasranika, as they made the long journey back to their kingdom of Vatsa. The King then appoints Udayana as prince, and him and his wife Mrigavati retire to the forest.

Udayana as a ruler becomes bored, and gives into the pleasures of royalty rather than becoming a Dharmic ruler. King Udayana’s only worry was finding a suitable wife, and through a lengthy side story, marries the daughter, Vasavadatta, of the neighboring kingdom’s King, Chandamamahasena. King Chandamahasena was a sworn enemy of Udayana and the Vatsa kingdom, and captured Udayana as a prisoner. Vasavadatta grew fond of Udayana while he was kept a prisoner, and they escaped from King Chandamahasena to complete a marriage ceremony in the Vindhya forest, and Vasavadatta became the Queen of Vatsa (Tawney 1880: 94). A scheme is composed by Yaugandharayana to make the King a better ruler. Through Yaugandharayana’s planning, the Queen fakes her death in a fire, and is taken to the kingdom of Magadha where the princess Padmavati takes in Queen Vasavadatta who conceals her true identity under the alias Avantika. King Udayana, similarly to his father before him, is thrown into a fit of sorrow and grief and considers suicide, before realizing that she might still possibly be alive and further investigates her condition. The king is convinced to marry Padmavati, the Princess of Magadha before the truth is revealed, in which the King happily rules with his two wives as the two Queens of Vatsa (Tawney 1880: 145).

Later in the story, in a dream, Siva tells King Udayana that he “shalt soon have a son who shall be king of all the Vidyaharas” (Tawney 1880: 145). Having a renewed energy, the King sets out to conquer the Benares region, ruled by King Brahmadatta. His father-in-law, Chandamahasena, and the King of Magadha honor his victory by devoting their kingdoms under his rule. Anxious for the birth of a son, Vasavadatta soon becomes pregnant after summoning Siva who informs her that her son will be the incarnation of the God of Love, Kama (Tawney 1880: 167). Vasavadatta gives birth to her son, and the whole kingdom celebrates the birth of Naravahanadatta. The King’s ministers also had sons about the same age, in which Naravahanadatta grew up with.

Naravahanadatta, like his father before him, is raised with the appreciation for the sciences and archery by his father and two mothers, Vasavadatta and Padmavati. In another humorous side story, Naravahanadatta turns eight, and the King Udayana is faced with a difficult decision. To either wed Kalingasena, daughter of King Kalingadatta, in which his passion will be sated, but if he consents to the marriage, Vasavadatta, Padmavati and Naravahanadatta will all die. He debates the options while his wives scheme, encouraging him to marry the Princess, knowing that their encouragement will make him reflect, and decide not to marry her. With the help of the Kings sly minister, Yaugandharayana, the two Queens convince King Udayana not to marry Kalingsena. Kalingsena admits she’s married to another, and pregnant with her husband’s child. The king decided that the daughter of Kalingsena will be beautiful enough for his son, Naravahanadatta, and therefore, will be the next appointed queen (Tawney 1880: 305). The Daughter, of Kalingsena, named Madanamanchuka, grew up to be very beautiful as predicted, while the Kings ministers sons all grew up with the prince as well, Gomukha becoming the closest of friends to the young prince. Not long after, Naravahanadatta and Madanamanchuka are married, becoming his head wife as he gains other wives throughout the rest of the tales.

The story of Udayana now focuses on its third generation. The King and Queen of Hemaprabha give birth to a girl, named Ratnaprabha in which a voice from the heaven tells the Queen that she is to marry the young prince Naravahanadatta once he’s old enough to realize his divine nature, as the incarnate of Kama. Impatient, Ratnaprabha goes to meet Naravahanadatta, and are married. Naravahanadatta grows up as a mischievous but virtuous among his ministers, remaining in his fathers, gaining a harem, while waiting for his turn to become the Emperor. Marriage is a reoccurring theme in Naravahanadatta’s story, as he also marries Alankaravati after the King of the Vidyadharas bestows her upon him (Tawney 1880: 485).

In Tawney’s The Katha sarit sagara; or Ocean of the Streams of Story volume two, Naravahanadatta’s closest friend and minister, Gomukha tells the young prince several stories and moral tales preparing the prince for his turn in the throne. In the meanwhile, he’s preparing to marry Saktiyasas, but he gets restless and impatient while waiting. Gomukha tells him stories throughout the time to keep him distracted. After marrying Saktiyasas, Naravahanadatta gains another wife, Lalitalochana, whom faked the identity of his first wife, Madanamanchuka, so the Prince of Vatsa would listen to her proclaim her love to him. He takes Lalitalochana to the Malaya Mountain to celebrate spring. While Lalitalochana is picking flowers, a hermit named Pisangajata spots Naravahanadatta, and invites him to his hermitage to tell him the lengthy side story of Mrigankadatta, son to King Amaradatta. The hermit’s story reflects Naravahanadatta’s own worry of not being near his head consort, Madanamanchuka. The Hermit consoles him by saying “ as Mrigankadatta in old time gained Sansakavati after enduring affliction, you also will regain your Madanamanchuka” (Tawney 1884: 427). With renewed hope, Naravahanadatta leaves the hermitage with Lalitalochana to find Madanamanchuka.

Returning home looking dejected, Marubhuti tells Naravahanadatta that his head wife is in the Garden, in which the prince races off to. Madanamanchuka tells her husband why she had left, admitting that because she had forgotten the oblations she promised the Yakshas she’d make, they took her away, and demanded that she re-do their marriage ceremony. Unknown to Naravahanadatta, the supposed Madanamanchuka was actually Vidyahari Vegavati in disguise. After Narahanadatta marries Vidyahari Vehavati, he sees through her disguise, she shows him her true form, and flies away with him. He’s gone for some time, soon forgetting about his other wives and his ministers after he marries Bhagirathayasas. Worried, he makes the long trip back to his fathers palace, and has to battle Manasavega, who has stolen his wife, Madanamanchuka, similar to the Ramayana in which Ravana steals Sita from Rama, and Rama must go to save her. During a fight with Manasavega, Naravahanadatta is thrown down a mountain, in which Amitagati insists he now accepts his role as Emperor (Tawney 1884: 469). The new Emperor’s army defeats Manasavega, and he is finally reunited with Madanamanchuka, and he is free to enjoy the rest of life’s pleasures, becoming the Lord Paramount over all of Vidyadhara with his many ministers and 25 wives (Tawney 1884: 505).

The Kathasaritsagara, rich with legends and folklore, also makes references to other Hindu stories, such as the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata. As well as its references to other Hindu epics, the Kathasaritsagara is very obvious with to which God it preffers. Somadeva, as a Saiva, tailors his adaptation of Gundhya’s Brihatkatha to favor Siva, as Siva is the main God the characters turn to, and offers the most help. The Kathasaritsagara is not well known for its moral tales, however a life lesson can be taken from all of the stories presented.


Sternbach, Ludwik (1980) Aphorisms and proverbs in the Kathā-sarit-sāgara. Lucknow: Akhil Bharatiya Sanskrit Parishad.

Mosley, Norman (1924) The Ocean of Story, Being C.H. Tawney’s Translation of Somadeva’s Katha Sarit Sagara (Or Oceans of streams of story). London: Private print.

Tawney, Charles H. (1880) The Katha Sarit Sagara; or Ocean of the Streams of Story. Calcutta: Printed by J.W. Thomas at the Baptist Mission Press.

Tawney, Charles H. (1884) The Katha Sarit Sagara; or Ocean of the streams of story. Calcutta: Printed by J.W. Thomas at the Baptist Mission Press.




Charles Henry Tawney






Normal Mosley Penzer










Article written by: Dakota Knull (March 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

Lila in Hinduism

Unlike the Abrahamic religions, where God is rigid with many laws and amendments for his devotees, in Hinduism, “God is playful. Like a child building sand castles on the beach, God creates the world and destroys it again. God plays with his (or her) devotees, sometimes like a lover, sometimes like a mother with her children, sometimes like an actor in a play” (Sax: 3). Gods of most religions are characterized by their otherness, spacelessness, timelessness, deathlessness, creativity and power however in Hindu religion Gods are further identified by their playfulness (Kinsley: x). This playfulness of Hindu Gods is called Lila. “Lila is a Sanskrit noun meaning ”sport” or “play” that has been the central term in the Hindu elaboration of the idea that God in his creating and governing of the world is moved not by need or necessity but by a free and joyous creativity that is integral to his own nature” (Sax: 13). About the third century C.E., Lila was first introduced as a theological term in the Vedanta Sutra of Badarayana where the author believes that “God who is all and has all cannot be credited with creation, because persons create only to come into possession of something that they do not already have” (Sax:14). The concept of Lila was primarily explained in the work of Vaisnava tradition especially by devotees of the young, cowherd and mischievous Krsna (Sax: 14). Lila has been used by some Hindus to appreciate the world in a spirit of religious wonder and to sustain joy in living (Sax). Lila or play as a symbol of divine activity and as cultic activity displays that play is a positive activity and demonstrate positive relationship to religion (Kinsley: x). However, other Hindus did not accept the positive application of God’s playfulness, instead they used the idea of Lila to domesticate the tragedies of life (Sax 1995). There are two different understandings of the conception of God’s playfulness and sportiveness. In the Bhagavad Gita, the playfulness of God is described as an action “to assist devotees, to maintain righteousness, and to preserve integrity of the world” (Sax: 15). But in the school of Caitanya, it is insisted that “God acts solely for his own sport and without thought of benefiting his creatures; creatures are in fact benefited by God’s sportive acts, but only because those acts are the pleasure of a supreme being whose nature includes compassion” (Sax: 15). These two explanations of Lila have been no different from each other in other Vaisnava circles because in both explanations, Gods act playful without scheming the selfish gain they might get out of the play (Sax 1995).

Despite these conflicts of the meaning and understanding of Lila, it mainly refers to the positive playful relationship between Brahman and the world. It is written in the Brahma sutra of Badarayana, “creation is not possible for Brahman on account of having a motive, but as in ordinary life, creation is mere sport to Brahman” (Radhakrishnan: 361-362). In the Vaisnava version of creation of the world, creation of the world is viewed as the play of God because the world is created by Brahma who was created in a lotus flower growing from navel of sleeping God, Visnu (Kinsley: 2). It is believed that there are ten different avatars as incarnations of Vishnu who came to correct the balance of good and bad in the world. However, Hindu scriptures expressed these avatars as playful act of Visnu to amuse himself (Kinsley: 4). In the Saivite tradition, creation of the world is also viewed as playful and spontaneous because the world is created by the dancing of Siva who is known to be the king of dancers (Kinsley: 5). Siva created the world by means of dancing hence he destroys the world by his continuous great dance (Kinsley: 6). As creation of the world by Visnu in the Vaisnava version is defined as playfulness of Visnu, Siva creating the world by means of dancing is also taken as playfulness of Siva.

The stories, tales or myths told about Krsna narrate that Krsna is the most playful than other Gods. There are two mainly known myths of Krsna: the young, carefree, playful and cowherd boy of Vrndavana and the counselor, politician and hero of Mahabharata (Kinsley: 57). When discussing the playfulness of Krsna, it is solely associated with the young cowherd Krsna. The story of young Krsna is widely told and narrated to youth of India. Young or child form of Krsna is the most worshipped and loved form of Krsna in India. Child Krsna was playful in his spontaneous play of the divine (Kinsley: 61). As an infant, Krsna played in his mother’s yard and covered himself with dirt; while as a child, he played by repeatedly stealing butter from his mother and other women. As an adolescent, he played with friends, teased girls and imitated animals (Kinsley: 62). Besides his playfulness, there are also stories told that prove Krsna as the divine lover. “This charming, youthful god who entrances all by his beauty is the hero of the love Lila of Vrndavana, the central episode of the Krsna cult” (Kinsley: 78). Even though his beauty alone is not considered as Lila, it plays an important role in Krsna’s playful relationships with gopis (cow herding girls) (Kinsley: 74-77). Krsna is referred as the divine lover as the result of his playful nature of love and lovemaking (Kinsley: 78). Krsna’s devotees should feel like lovers of Krsna by amusing him and be amused by him (Kinsley).

In Hinduism, the play of gods in its abundance and variety shows the play is an appropriate means of expressing the otherness of the divine sphere” (Kinsley: 122). In South Asia, Lila has different meanings such as play, game, theatre, sport, and creativity. South Asian devotees perceive god as individual with personality and passions (Mason: 52). The playfulness, sportiveness and silliness of god appeal to most devotees. Hindu celebrations of gods such us Holi and Diwali hence are filled with colors, games and fireworks. In conclusion Lila contributes to the understanding of Hindu culture and religion.



Allen, George, and Unwin (1960) The Brahma Sutra: The Philosophy of Spiritual Life. Translated and edited by S. Radhakrishnan. London.

Kinsley, David R. (1979) The Divine Player: A study of Krishna Lila. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt Ltd.

Mason, David V. (2009) “Krishna, Lila, and Freedom.” Theatre and Religion on Krishna’s Stage 43-56. Accessed February 05, 2017. doi: 10.1007/978-0-230-62158-9_3.

Misra, Ram S. (1998) The Integral Advaitism of Sri Aurobindo. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt Ltd.

Nelson, Lance E. (1998) Purifying the Earthly Body of God: Religion and Ecology in Hindu Indi. New York: State University of New York Press.

Sax, William S. (1995) The Gods at Play: Lila in South Asia. London: Oxford University Press.

Zimmer, Heinrich, and Joseph, Campell. (1969) Philosophies of India. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.


Related Topics for Further Investigation

Brahma Sutra

Vedanta Sutra


Vaisnava Tradition

School of Caitanya

Saivite Tradition









Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Blen Chiko (Spring 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Natya Sastra

The Natya Sastra is an ancient classical treatise on the performing arts. The word natya means and comprises both dance and drama. The dual meaning signifies also the fact that drama, as conceived by Bharata, is an integrated art of music, dance, action, and poetry (Raghavan 36). This, along with the word sastra, a work of scripture/holy text, explains the meaning of the title of this treatise. It is also sometimes known as the “fifth Veda” or Scripture on Dramatic Arts. Authorship of the Natya Sastra is attributed to one of India’s greatest heroes and sages, Bharata (Lidke 126). This old Sanskrit text is often difficult to date; many estimates range from 500 BCE to 500 CE (Dace 249), and even 200 BCE to 200 CE (Raghavan 37).

The Natya Sastra begins with a passage describing the origins of drama and the theatre. It describes how the golden age, in which all human beings enjoyed a state of enlightenment, complete health, and fulfilment, had come to an end. The silver age had begun and humans were afflicted by the first symptoms of suffering (Meyer-Dinkgrafe 2005:1). People took to uncivilized ways, were ruled with lust and greed, behaved in angry and jealous ways with each other and not only gods but demons, evil spirits, yaksas and such like others swarmed over the earth (Rangacharya 4). Upon seeing all of this, the gods, with Indra as their leader, were concerned and approached the creator God, Brahma. They asked him to come up with a way to allow humans to revert to the golden age. They requested him to give the people a toy (kridaniyaka); one which could not only be seen, but also heard. They had hoped that it would become a diversion so that people gave up their bad ways (Rangacharya 4). This did not sit well with Brahma, as he was the one who created all beings and the Vedas. If humans were being uncivilized and behaving in such bad ways, then surely it would mean that they were not following the Vedas and of all its knowledge. Indra then explained to him that although the Vedas were available to many, they were not available to all. Sudras, the lowest caste, did not have access to the Vedas – they were not allowed to learn, read, or even listen to the Vedas. Indra specified that the means should be a fifth Vedic text, an addition to the four main texts of Indian (Vedic) philosophy (Meyer-Dinkgrafe 2005:1). It was to be captivating, pleasing, instructive, and above all, accessible.

Brahma listened to Indra’s request and created a Natyaveda. He immersed himself in meditation and came up with natya, drama, which he asked Indra and the gods to implement (Meyer-Dinkgrafe 2005:1). In the Natya Sastra, the creator god, Brahma, is cited as stating that the purpose of the Natya Sastra is to reveal to humankind the technology by which one can come to understand the nature of the world through its dramatic re-presentation (Lidke 126-127). Indra carried the book with him and read it to the other gods, but believed that none of them were capable of understanding. He then proposed to Brahma that a search for the correct person be made among the many sages. Sages were often regarded as studious, hardworking, intellectual people. Indra believed that a sage would be the proper person for this task. Thus, it was that the final choice fell on Bharata, who was asked to take charge of the work (Rangacharya 5). Bharata condensed the work so that all mortals would be able to understand and use it. Bharata then went ahead and taught all of the knowledge that he obtained from Brahma to his hundred sons, who were thus the very first actors.

The Natya Sastra is a great work that describes all of the aspects of drama in detail. This Sanskrit Hindu text contains close to 6,000 verses that deal with many topics. The diverse range of topics go from the ideal size of a theatre to directions for blessing the stage. The Natya Sastra defines hand gestures and meaningful combinations of foot steps, for example, those used to mime “riding in a sky chariot” (Delmonico 520-521). It describes elaborately proper dresses for male and female characters, not only according to the part of the country and age of the character, but also according to the status (social) of the character; even different locales would mean a change in dress (Rangacharya 37). No detail is considered too small in this treatise. The Natya Sastra describes thirty-six different eye motions and matches different things, such as colors and musical instruments to distinct moods. Slight variations in vocal pitches are analyzed and discussed to determine appropriateness for stage whispers. It outlines the ideal arrangement of the numerous elements of the plot, as well as the construction of the play. It includes diverse topics like dramatic premise, characters, auditorium, poetics, acting, language, dance, song, instruments, costumes, the religious ceremony to be performed before opening of the act, different types of drama, poetics, style and abilities required of different characters like the stage manager, comedian, courtesan, lead actor and actress (Joshi 36).

The Natya Sastra lists the ten forms of stage-representations: dasa rupakas, as nataka, prakarana, anka, vyayoga,bhana, samavakara,vithi, prashasana, dima, and ihamrga. Traditionally, dramas are formed and shaped according to the hero and the rasa. The word rasa means “essence” and refers to the nature of aesthetic sentiment. It is the emotional theme of a work of art or the overall feeling that the viewer experiences after watching or reading such a work. A rasa depends on not only the type of story, but also on the hero. Together, the elements of hero (neta), story (vastu), and rasa (artistic enjoyment) constitute the three essential ingredients of a drama (Rangacharya 56). Each of the ten forms are able to be examined with these three characteristics in mind. For example, in a nataka, the story is quite well-known with a royal sage as the hero. The rasa is usually either srngara (love) or vrna (heroic), and it is five to seven acts in length. In a prakaranam, the story is made up by the writer with a Brahmana or minister as the hero. The main rasa is srngara (love) and it is five to ten acts in length. An anka could either be a well-known story with an ordinary man as the hero, the rasa being pathos done in only one act. These can be compared to, say, a prahasana, which is just an imaginary story.

In addition to theatre aesthetics, the Natya Sastra is also notable for its aesthetic Rasa Theory. Chapter six of this treatise contains the roots of the theory of rasa. According to Bharata, a dramatist uses all available means – words, plots, gestures, songs, dance, costumes, etc. – to enrapture sensitive viewers (Delmonico 521). A great example to help understand rasa is one of a meal that contains many different dishes, all with a variety of tastes such as sweet, hot, sour, etc. While each dish is being eaten, a different taste is being enjoyed. Just like the food, the audience ‘tastes’ different states of experience, namely, love, joy, sorrow, anger, virility, terror, disgust, and wonder. Some later writers on Sanskrit poetics add one more rasa to this number, santa (Meyer-Dinkgrafe 2001:103). This ninth rasa is one with a “peaceful” flavor. Like the taste of food, rasa is something which can be relished.  Typically, a single rasa will dominate a play or poem, however each will be slightly unique as there are many different factors that can be taken into account.

Chapter seven of the Natya Sastra examines forty-nine mental states (bhavas) out of which rasa is created. A bhava is nothing but what expresses a reaction, be it by bodily gestures or by words. (Rangacharya 77). Rasa is the result of and from the bhavas, but not vice versa. Eight of them are long lasting sthayi-bhavas, while another eight are involuntary physical responses (sattvika-bhavas) like blushing or trembling. The other thirty-three emotions are fleeting ones, vyabhicari-bhavas, powerful enough to fuel a moment or to affect the flavor of a stronger emotion, but not powerful enough to reign over a whole aesthetic experience (Delmonico 521).

The Natya Sastra is a voluminous work that many view as a masterpiece. It has been an important resource for Hindu theatre and has provided many individuals with information regarding the role of arts in both one’s social and personal lives. Many different forms of art have been heavily influenced by this major treatise. One of the most notable being the Nataraja temple in Cidamaram. Carved into this temple are the one hundred eight karanas (postures) that are denoted in the Natya Sastra (McCutchen 450). The movements of dance and expression described in the Natya Sastra can be found carved into the pillars, walls and gateways of some Hindu temples. It is evident that this treatise on dramatics is the most comprehensive study on performance arts and one of the most influential.





Dace, Wallace (1963) “The Concept of “Rasa” in Sanskrit Dramatic Theory.” Educational Theatre Journal 15, no. 3: 249-54. Accessed February 3, 2017. doi:10.2307/3204783.


Delmonico, Elizabeth Otten (2000) “Rasa in Arun Kolatkr’s “Jejuri”: An Application of Classical Indian Aesthetics.” Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal 83, no. 3/4: 519-42. Accessed February 3, 2017.


Joshi, Dinkar, and Yogesh Patel (2005) Glimpses of Indian Culture. New Delhi: Start Pubns Pvt Ltd.


Lidke, Jeffrey 2011. “Tabla, spirituality, and the arts” In Studying Hinduism in Practice, edited by Hillary Rodrigues, 118-130. London: Routledge, 2011.


McCutchen, Brenda Pugh (2006) Teaching Dance as Art in Education. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.


Meyer-Dinkgräfe, Daniel (2001) Approaches to Acting: Past and Present (Continuum Studies in Drama). London: Continuum.


Meyer-Dinkgräfe, Daniel (2005) Theatre and Consciousness: Explanatory Scope and Future Potential. Bristol, U.K.: Intellect Books.


Raghavan, V. (1967) “Sanskrit Drama: Theory and Performance.” Comparative Drama 1, no. 1: 36-48. Accessed February 3, 2017.


Rangacharya, Adya (1998) Introduction to Bharata’s Natyasastra. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publ.



Related Topics for Further Investigation

Dance in India




Rasa Theory


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic



Article written by: Kristine Villaluna (February 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

Rasa Theory

Rasa [the academic study is referred to as rasa theory], is an ancient concept of aesthetics discussed in the text, the Natyasastra, which dates to approximately the 4th or 5th century CE (Gnoli XIV). “Sastra” in Hindu philosophy refers to the first text or treatise written on any subject (Scheherazaad 337); the person generally credited for the Natyasastra is the legendary, Bharata Muni (Higgins 44). Many philosophers have contributed ideas to the theories in aesthetics including Dandin, Bhatta Lollata, Sanuka, and Bhatta Nayaka. The ideas of all these philosophers have been passed down through the writings of the philosopher Abhinavagupta (Gnoli XXXV).

Abhinavagupta was born in the latter half of the 10th century in Kashmir (Gnoli XXXV), and he produced two well-known texts. He wrote the Abhinavabharati (commentary on the Natyasastra), and a commentary on the Dhvanyaloka (a text written by 9th century, Anandavardhana) (Gnoli XXXV). The Dhvanyaloka is translated to “Light of Resonance,” which discusses the metaphorical powers of language (Gnoli XXVII). Anandavardhana discusses the difference between everyday language and poetic language; suggesting the worth in poetic words—they lose their meaning when interchanged with other words (Gnoli XXIX). The Sanskrit word, dhvani, synonymous with “resonance” in this context (Gnoli XXIX), is also often referred to as “suggestion” in reference to rasa (Higgins 47). In Abhinavagupta’s commentary on the Dhvanyaloka, he suggests that “admitting that a sentence can have several meanings is thus a fallacy.” However, he conveys that poetics is in a different realm where once a person has realized the words, they become an “object of aesthetic experience” and it is unnecessary to apply the regular conditions of understanding everyday language (Gnoli XXVIII).

By looking at earlier philosophers like Bhatta Lollata of the 9th century, we see some contradictions to what Bharata describes about rasa in the Natyasastra. Lollata was most likely a Saivite (worshipper of Siva) mystic, who felt rasa was something experienced by both the character and the actor playing the role (Gnoli XVIII). Using the Ramayana, he describes that the character of Rama first feels the rasa and then subsequently any actor who plays the character of Rama also feels the rasa (Arjunwadkar 83). Lollata described that rasa is a “permanent mental state” (a sthayin) that exists at its most extreme form; used with Determinants, Consequents, and Transitory Mental States (Gnoli XVIII). Following Lollata, the philosopher Sanuka had highly controversial ideas of rasa compared to Abhinavagupta. Sanuka proposed an imitation theory: within a performance, rasa involved an actor emulating a specific mental emotion. He suggested that the audience did not make a distinction amongst the character being played and the actor; therefore, they always remained naïve to this artificiality (Gnoli XIX).

Another very important theorist in the conception of rasa theory is Bhatta Nayaka, who is also Kashmiri, from the 10th century (Gnoli XX). Nayaka is recognized as forming two ideas: bhavakatva and bhojakatva. Bhavakatva is the idea of “generalization” (sadharanikarana) that essentially rids the spectator from the consciousness of their individuality and universalizes the experiences of the character in the play or in spoken poetry (Arjunwadkar 87). The bhojakatva is the experience of the audience savouring the generalized rasa in a mind frame that is entirely separate from the regular cognitive processes and one that leads to pure joy (Arjunwadkar 87). Nayaka describes how certain experiences of everyday life have a way of impacting us that brings us grief and sorrow. However, in the theatre domain the ability to see them in the generalized form allows one to take pleasure in feeling these emotions (Gnoli XXII- XXIII). When Bharata talks about this concept of generalization, he suggests that one experiences a suspension of their ego in the process (Chaudhury 149). Nayaka suggests that a rasa is a “fruition” (bhoga), where one evades their consciousness and enters the realm of pure bliss that is associated with Brahman (Gnoli XXIV). Nayaka makes the correlation between religious schools of thought and rasa, suggesting they both come from the same foundation: a person can be released from their thoughts of everyday life (Gnoli XXVI). It is noted, by Abhinavagupta, that rasa is something that exists only in the world of drama, while the permanent emotions (sthayins) occur in real life. These emotional states exist instinctually, but become the experience of rasa once the permanent emotion undergoes a transformation into the universalized form separate from oneself or their counterparts (Arjunwadkar 90).

The Natyasastra is a detailed text that examines the workings of theatre, and discusses how different mental states translate into the artistic plane (Gnoli XIV). From the text, rasa arises, which literally means “taste” (Chaudhury 147) which develops into an idea of how an audience experiences these dramatic works.  The Natyasastra can be compared to Western concepts of aesthetics by comparing it to the work of Aristotle in his text, Poetics (Higgins 44). Both have a focus on action: Aristotle is concerned with the actions of the character in the play, whereas Bharata is concerned with the actions of the person who is playing the character. Bharata focuses on gestures and body movements that align with one of the four religious goals in Hinduism, dharma (Higgins 44). Both Aristotle and Bharata focus on the unity of the audience and actor, but Aristotle discusses the unity in connection to the plot line, while Bharata confers over a unity with establishing an emotion in the audience (Higgins 44).

The discussion of rasa is complex, in that many other terms are used to explain it. There are eight emotional states called bhavas or sthayibhavas, these states exist instinctually in every person either from experience or “inherited instincts” (Gnoli XVI).  Sthayibhavas are more fundamental emotions of a piece, as opposed to bhavas that can be viewed as a general way to describe emotions within aesthetics (Rangacharya 55 as cited in Scheherazaad 338). The eight bhavas are as follows: “Delight (rati), Laughter (hasa), Sorrow (soka), Anger (krodha), Heroism (utsaha), Fear (bhaya), Disgust (jugupsa), and Wonder (vismaya)” (Gnoli XV). Bharata acknowledges that there are many other emotional states that exist in association with these permanent ones; he suggests thirty-six impermanent states (Gnoli XVI). Paired up with these bhavas or sthayibhavas are the eight rasas, that are not experienced in real life but are exposed by an actor or a poet (Gnoli XVI). The rasas are as follows: “the Erotic (srngara), the Comic (hasya), the Pathetic (karuna), the Furious (raudra), the Heroic (vira), the Terrible (bhayanaka), the Odious (bibhatsa), and the Marvellous[sic] (adbhuta)” (Gnoli XVI). A ninth rasa, the Quietistic (santa) and paired bhava, Serenity (sama), were later added to the list, not without some controversy amongst other thinkers though (Gnoli XVI).  Once an actor has experienced an emotion, their goal is to facilitate the translation of this bhava into a rasa, through their performance.

When a dramatist portrays these rasas on the stage and not in real life they are categorized in three ways, which are essentially sub-emotions used during the performance: vibhava, anubhava, and vyabicaribhava. Vibhavas or “Determinants”, are the actual contextual causes for the emotion, these stimuli can be an object or a situation (Higgins 45). The anubhavas, meaning the “Consequents,” are any of the ways the character represents these states through gesture and action, or involuntary bodily functions, like sweating (Higgins 45). Finally, the vyabicaribhava, translated to “Transitory Mental States,” are fleeting emotional states that lead to an underlying atmosphere in the play (Higgins 45). The suitable combination of these sub-emotions within the play leads to rasa (Scheherazaad 338). When these rasas appear onstage, the audience (rasikas) (see Arjunwadkar 81) have an experience of enjoyment. Bharata uses a metaphor to compare people who can appreciate and savour the many spices and ingredients of a dish to the process of people experiencing rasa. He likens this savouring of the dish to an actor depicting the various bhavas with use of their body movements, variation in voice, spontaneous reactions, and the achievement of pleasure (Higgins 46).  In the Natyasastra, Bharata does make a point to distinguish a long list of stipulations for which type of spectators can experience rasa. Amongst the list, there is a high importance on class and status, and a well-versed knowledge of cultural and artistic practices, with an ability to analyze (Higgins 46). Along with these requirements, many who have interpreted Bharata’s work say that it is crucial for the rasika to have a high empathetic capability to experience the rasas (Higgins 47). He reiterates that rasa occurs cognitively as “a perception without obstacles and consisting in a relish” (Gnoli 62).

Within the text of the Natyasastra, Bharata gives ways an actor will go about this entire process, by listing the various phases that accompany a certain rasa. He uses the example of the ways a woman on stage, through erotic love, produces insanity: “one should sometime[sic] look with a steadfast gaze, sometimes heave a deep sigh, sometimes be absorbed with oneself and sometimes weep at the [usual] time for recreation” (N.S., XXVII.50-58 523 as cited in Higgins 47). Abhinavagupta, in concurrence with Anandavardhana, emphasizes the importance of the use of dhvani or “suggestion” for communicating rasa through emotional meaning (Higgins 47). He also describes how a spectator will have remnants in their memories of emotions that will allow them to experience the rasa, using the example (Higgins 48) of a grandparent’s ability to remember their own childhood, allowing them to be empathetic with their grandchild’s emotional experiences. This idea, touched on previously, is the idea of generalization that facilitates rasa. The ninth rasa added later in history, as Abhinavagupta and some others may agree with, is the suggested end goal for the other eight rasas. Abhinavagupta advocates that the experience of tranquility is equivalent with moksa. This religious idea can be traced back to his Saivite roots, with the concept of “seeing one’s individual consciousness as a play of the universal consciousness” (Higgins 50). This discussion around the ninth rasa led to some debate on which sthayibhava would correspond with it; Abhinavagupta said “Knowledge of the Self” would be the associated sthayibhava. However, Abhinavagupta was careful to make the distinction that moksa is a constant experience while santarasa is an aesthetic expression that ends when the performance does (Higgins 50). Other scholars, Susan L. Schwartz for example, have considered that to fully understand rasa, one must be aware of the religious context of Indian classical art forms, as the spiritual aspect exists in all of them (Scheherazaad 341).

Rasa exists in many art sectors of Indian classical traditions, including dance. Those in the classical dance world, Aziz Esmail for instance, have attested that spirituality is embodied in the culture that lends itself to the production of rasa in dance and those who experience it; ritual practice is built into every step of the dance-making process (Scheherazaad 342). The training and practice involved with Indian classical dance, Odissi abhinaya dance for example, is very complex and in depth. The dancer must learn the philosophical literature of the poems, along with physical mastery over their body to be able to convey story, energy, and meaning appropriately (Scheherazaad 344). The demonstration of rasa within the performance realm in India has experienced a shift. Some scholars make an argument using modern Bollywood dance as an example to suggest that globalization throughout the years has led to a shift from a commonly displayed sringara (rasa of erotic desire) to a focus on material consumption (Chakravorty 223).  Rasa theory is about the union of the audience with the actor on stage; through this traditional interaction, a relationship between the two parties was meant to form with emotions being shared. With this occurring change, new films and dances are being cycled through media platforms for purpose of commodity, and “repeat value” (Chakravorty 218). It has been suggested that not all, but many, dance studios within urban centres in India have a detached sense of embodiment as the industry becomes more commercialized; the bodies are no longer rooted in a cultural artistic form but only represent the newly expressed commodity focused society (Chakravorty 222).



Arjunwadkar, K. S. (1984) “The Rasa Theory and The Darsanas.” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 65 no.1: 81-100. Accessed February 5, 2017.

Chakravorty, Pallabi (2009) “Moved to Dance: Remix, Rasa, and a New India.” Visual Anthropology 22 no.2-3: 211-28. Accessed February 3, 2017. doi: 10.1080/08949460902748113.

Chaudhury, Pravas J. (1952) “The Theory of Rasa.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 11 no. 2: 147-50. Accessed February 3, 2017. doi:10.2307/426040.

Scheherazaad, Cooper (2013) “The Alchemy of Rasa in the Performer-Spectator Interaction.” NTQ – New Theatre Quarterly 29 no. 4: 336-48. Accessed February 3, 2017.

Gnoli, Raniero (1985) The Aesthetic Experience According to Abhinavagupta. Varanasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office.

Higgins, Kathleen M. (2007) “An Alchemy of Emotion: Rasa and Aesthetic Breakthroughs.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 65 no.1: 43-54. Accessed February 3, 2017.




Dace, Wallace (1963) “The Concept of ‘Rasa’ in Sanskrit Dramatic Theory.” Educational Theatre Journal 115 no.2: 249-54. Accessed February 5, 2017.

Patankar, R. B. (1980) “Does the ‘Rasa’ Theory Have Any Modern Relevance?” Philosophy East and West 30 no.3: 293-303. Accessed February 26, 2017. doi:10.2307/1399189.

Sundararajan, Louise (2010) “Two Flavors of Aesthetic Tasting: Rasa and Savoring A Cross-Cultural Study with Implications for Psychology of Emotion.” Review of General Psychology 14 no. 1: 22-30. Accessed February 26, 2017. doi:10.1037/a0018122.

Sundaram, Dheepa (2014) “Aesthetics as Resistance: Rasa, Dhvani, and Empire in Tamil ‘Protest’ Theater.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. [need an Interlibrary Loan Request]

Timalsina, Sthaneshwar (2007) “Metaphor, Rasa, and Dhvani: Suggested Meaning in Tantric Esotericism.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 19 no. 1-2:134-62. Accessed February 23, 2017. doi:10.1163/157006807X224404.

Related Topics for Further Investigation



Bhatta Lollata


Bhatta Nayaka

Bharata Natyam (classical Indian dance)



Odissi (classical Indian dance)

Bharata Muni

Dhvani (Vyanjana)


Related Websites to Rasa Theory


This article was written by: Sydney Murdoch (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.

Antal: The Tamil-Poet Saint

Antal was a Tamil saint who occupied a unique position amongst the twelve Alvars (saints) because she was the only woman Alvar of Vaisnavism. Before she was given the name “Antal”, she was known as “Goda” (‘Go’ means the ‘earth’ and ‘da’ means ‘given by’) and in Tamil she was named “Kodai” (one who has beautiful hair) (Sundarsanchar 15). Antal was also known for having a powerful love connection towards the god Visnu, and has composed the greatest Tamil works of Thiruppavai and Nachiar Thirumozhi. They are recited by the devotees during the month of Margashira (Maghshar) in Srivaishnava mandirs (Dehejia 4). The first 1,000 verses contain songs by Vishnuchitta Alvar and his adopted daughter, Antal (Antal means ‘One who attracts’). Srivilliputtur was the birth place of Antal and in that same area, there is a temple dedicated to her (Dehejia 5-7).  Legend goes that Antal was the incarnation of the goddess Sri Bhudevi (goddess earth) and was understood that the goddess “asked as a boon of Visnu, to be born on earth as his greatest devotees” (Deheijia 7). Therefore, a priest named Vishnuchitta from the Srivilliputtur temple found a young infant girl in his garden and decided to adopt her. In many places in India, particularly in Tamilnadu, Antal is treated as a saint and form of Goddess.

The Tamil word, Alvar means one who has drowned or lost himself in the sea of the divine being (Dehejia 1). Between the fifth and ninth century in the Tamil-speaking region of South India, these twelve saints revitalized the Indian religious milieu, sparking the renewal of devotional worship throughout the subcontinent. They were the earliest proponents from the bhakti movement which was a form of worship that emerged in medieval India (Chabria and Shankar 13). Traveling from temple to temple and from site to site, they composed exceedingly beautiful poetry to their Divine beloved Visnu as an expression of their love to him. Anyone can see why their poetry was so attractive; at once both impassioned and philosophical, their words cut across all barriers of class and inviting everyone to be part of their faith. In doing so, they sculpted a new religious heritage of intensely emotional bhakti which are still felt today in the Indian religious life. Among the twelve Alvars was Vishnuchitta who spent his time mostly tending to the flower garden and serving the Lord Vatapatrasayi at Srivilliputtur Temple. He later became known as “Periyalwar” (Sundarsanchar 10-11). Antal, whose life and poetry are celebrated every December to January, is the most visible contributor to this heritage.

According to legends that have developed around her, Antal was discovered under a tulsi bush (holy basil) in the temple garden of Srivilliputtur by the devouted Brahmin Visnucitta. Having no family of his own, he considered it as being a sign from God and named her Kotai which meant “she of the fragrant tresses” (Dehejia 1). Since her foster-father was known to be a great Alvar, he used to worship God in the Srivilliputtur temple by showing Visnu great love and affection. Vishnuchitta lived in villaputtur which was a town near Madurai, his duties included acquiring flowers for the worship of the Lord at the local temple. Therefore, Antal grew up in an atmosphere of love and devotion. Vishnuchitta cherished her in every respect, singing songs to her about his beloved Krsna, teaching her all the stories and philosophy he knew, and sharing with her his love of Tamil poetry (Dehijia 7). The love he had for his Lord, intensified further in his daughter and before long, a great love for the Lord was awoken in her heart (Dehejia 7-8). Even as a child, Kodai made up her mind to marry none but the Lord Ranganatha and refused to think of any human being in similar terms.

As she began growing into her teenage years, Antal developed a great attachment and longing for the Lord. She imagined what it would be like to be his bride, playing the role of his beloved, and enjoying his presence (Chabria and Shankar 9-10). She began craving for him deeply. Unknown to her father, she adorned herself daily with the flower garland which he prepared for the Lord at the temple. After admiring her reflection and thinking of herself as his ideal bride, Antal would put the garland back for Vishnuchhitta to take to offer it to the Krsna. One day, Antal put on the garment and said “This is offered to God” (Sundarsanchar 20). Her father witnessed this and was shocked for he considered this as a great violation. He remonstrated her for this act and threw away the garland. Therefore, Vishnuchitta had to perform the evening puja without an offering to the Lord. On that night, Lord Krsna appeared in his dream and asked him why he discarded Antal’s garland instead of offering it to him. The Lord told him that he missed the scent of her garland. He told Vishnuchitta that he yearned for the smell of Andal’s body in the flowers and that he preferred them that way. “Periyalwar, the garland worn by your daughter has the sweet fragrance of her devotion and purity; that is the garland I love” (Sundarsanchar 22). Overcome with emotion, Vishnuchitta awoke and cried tears of joy because his daughter found a bridegroom. Her spiritual greatness was such that the Lord himself wished to share her presence. From that day on, “she won Periyalwar by her qualities and indeed became Antal (one who attracts)” (Sundarsanchar 23). She was also known as “Soodi Koduthra Sudarkodi, maiden, shining bright as a golden creeper, who offered garlands after wearing them” (Chabria and Shankar 20). This last name that was given to her, refers to the event of her wearing the garlands.

Antal blossomed into a beautiful young woman as she came of marriageable age. When asked to marry, however, she stubbornly refused, saying that she would only agree to marry Srirankam, the Lord at the great temple. Vishnuchitta became extremely anxious, wondering what was to become of his daughter. Until one night, Lord Srirankam appeared in his dream and Visnu assured him that he would accept Andal as his bride (Dehejia 8). Vishnuchitta once again was filled with joy because his beloved daughter would attain her goal. However, at the same time he was sad because he had to let her go. It is said that Visnu himself made all the wedding preparations and arrangements for Antal’s journey to Srirankam, including the fanfare of a royal marriage party. Antal waited with excited anticipation as the wedding party approached the Lord’s shrine. As they entered the temple, she jumped out of the palanquin, unable to restrain herself any longer. Running onto the sanctum, she embraced the feet of the lord and disappeared in a mysterious way (Sundarsanchar 30-32). The marriage ceremony initiated by Antal’s gift of the garland, closed with a formal wedding. At the end of her story, she passes from a normal human being, into “a deity to be worshipped” (Sundarsanchar 32).

Antal composed two works throughout her life, both works display a literary and religious maturity far beyond her years. Her first work is the Thiruppavai, a collection of thirty verses in which Antal imagines herself to be a gopi (cowherdess) during the incarnation of Lord Krsna (Dehjia 14). There are beautiful descriptions of the water lilies unfolding, the buffaloes grazing, and the maidens calling out to each other and over to Krsna to come and join them. Antal yearns to serve him and achieve happiness not just in this birth, but for all eternity. The second is the Nacciyar Thirumozhi. This poem fully reveals Antal’s intense longing for Vishnuchitta, the divine beloved and describes how she uses certain methods to achieve the union with Krsna. In one verse, she prays to the god of love to help unite with her lover and another verse illustrates how she refuses to marry any other human being other than the Lord (Sudansanchar 33-35). “It is clear from both the Thiruppavai and the Nacciyar Thirumozhi that Antal’s chosen god is Krsna the cowherd Lord” (Dehejia 14).


Antal is now one of the best love poet-saints of the Tamils, she was present in all Sri Vaisnava temples in India and elsewhere next to her Lord as she always desired. There is a beautiful temple dedicated to her in Srivilliputtur, by the side of the garden where she was found as a child (Dehjejia 6). Her life epitomized ideas of devotion, feminism and empowerment during that century. “Antal Utsava (celebrations) in Srivilliputtur is like a grand religious fair. The women of the place participate in the festival with pride. Antal is like a precious jewel among women” (Sundarsanchar 54). Antal continues to be praised as a heroine and saint with the flowers of that garden. To this day, the Lord is presented with the garland that was worn by her. The impact of these works on the daily religious life of South India, has been tremendous; people are never tired of listening to the Thiruppavai. The poem itself is recited with great religious passion by women, men and children of all ages, particularly in Tamil Nadu. The daily services in most Vaisnava temples and householders recite these poems. Antal showed the people how to present God’s grace with a true longing for desire and devotion to him. She emphasized that everyone should submit themselves before the Lord like a lover (Sundarsanchar 51-52). In her hymns, Antal has incorporated all the essence of four Vedas, Puranas and all spiritual knowledge about God Thiruppavai is recited during the sacred month of Margashira (also known as Marzazhi in Tamil), that is in the auspicious month of Dhanurmasam (Chabria and Shankar 24-25). Dhanurmasam is considered so holy and sacred that during this month, no Vedic Hindu marriages take place as everyone want to devote all their energy and time in the Holy name of the Lord Sri Narayana. “The vow was undertaken by the young unmarried girls who, throughout the month, bathed at dawn in cold waters of river or pond to secure the blessing of a happy married life” (Dehejia 17). Even though the hymns in the Thiruppavai are only 30 in number, they contain the full knowledge of the Lord. Most of all, Antal is remembered for her poetry, in which she often discovers autobiographical notes about her love for her Lord.


References and Further Recommended Readings

Chabria, P.S., and Ravi Shankar (2016) The Autobiography of a Goddess. New Dehli: Zubaan Books

Dehejia, Vidya (1990) Antal and Her Path of Love: Poems of a Woman Saint from South India. Albany: SUNY Press.

Simha, s.n.l. (1987). Andal: Tiruppavai and Nachiya Tirumozhi. Bombay: Ananthacharya Indological Institute.

Srinivasa, Reddy (2010). Giver of Worn Garland. New Dehli: Penguin.

Sundarsanchar, Jaggu (2010) Andal. Association of American Publishers: Litent ePublishing

Venkatesan, Archana (2010) The Secret Garland: Andal’s Tirruppavai and Nacciya Tirmoli. New York: Oxford University Press.


Related Topics for Further Investigation


Bhu Devi





Nacciya Tirumoli




Vaisnava Temples



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Article written by: Ruth Melara (February 2017) who is solely responsible for its content.

The Kathasaritsagara

The Kathasaritsagara, also known under the title of “Ocean of the Streams of Story,” is a compilation of individual fables that, collectively, make up the whole of the Kathasaritsagara. The individual accredited with compiling the Kathasaritsagara, as the exact origins of the individual fables are unknown, was an eleventh century Kashmire Brahmin by the name of Somadeva Bhatta. (Haase 531; Franke 316). The collection falls under the category of Indian art called kavya; individuals who utilized kavya art forms “display their skill…by presenting well-known subjects in a refined and sophisticated poetical form” (Franke 316). It is noted by several sources, and within the prefaces of such translators as C.H. Tawney’s 1880 English version of the Kathasaritsagara, that the work was compiled for the entertainment of a queen by the name of Suryamati, the wife of a king named Anantadeva of Kashmir (Haase 531-532; Franke 316). It is also believed that in addition to simple entertainment, the Kathasaritsagara was compiled with the intention of providing the queen with a form of distraction and comfort from several hardships that were experienced in the family, particularly surrounding her husband and son (Franke 316). The hardships were characterized by the hatred and animosity that existed between Suryamati’s husband, Anantadeva, and their son (Franke 316). Unfortunately, the animosity between Anantadeva and Suryamati’s son eventually led to Anantadeva commiting the act of suicide (Franke 316).

Over the years since the Kathasaritsagara was first compiled, the work has been translated and edited, in whole or in part, from the original Sanskrit versions into languages such as German, English, and Persian. Each translation and editation of the Kathasaritsagara holds its own merits and backstories.

Several known editors and translators have worked versions of the Kathasaritsagara into English variations. One such translator of the work is Sir Richard Francis Burton. Specifically, Sir Richard Francis Burton worked with one of the fables in the Kathasaritsagara in order to translate that particular piece into English. The fable that Burton translated is entitled Vetalapanchavinsati, however, it is also known through its translated names of “Tales of a Vampire, Vikram and the Vampire,” as well as “Tales of Indian Devilry” (Haase 532; Burton 1868). An easily accessible version of Burton’s work can be found online (Burton 1868).

Another popular English version of the Kathasaritsagara was translated by C.H. Tawney in the year of 1880. Tawney’s translation has resulted in the entirety of the Kathasaritsagara being available to audiences in the English language. Within his version, C.H. Tawney provides an index, glossary, as well as commentary. The commentary that C.H. Tawney provides can be found at the bottom of several of the pages, some of which includes comparisons of the fables present in the Kathasaritsagara to others. C.H. Tawney’s translation of the Kathasaritsagara is available online, but it is broken into two volumes (Haase 532; Penzer 3). An edited version of Tawney’s translation by N.M Penzer contains ten volumes (Haase 532; Penzer 3).

One particular German version of the Kathasaritsagara, was translated by an individual by the name of Hermann Brechams. His version of the Kathasaritsagara is noted by Donald Haase, in his work “The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales and Fairy Tales.” The German version that has been translated by Breckhams is available online, similarly to other translated versions of the work (Breckhams 1862). A noted Sanskrit version of the text has been edited by two men, known as Pandit Durgaprasad and his son, Kashinath Pandurang Parab. Another edited version, in Sanskrit, of the Kathasaritsagara was completed by Brockhaus; The two versions are compared for their differences by Speyer (Speyer 61-75). A copy of the Sanskrit version, of the Kathasaritsagara, Pandit Durgaprasad and Kashinath Pandurang Parab’s translation is available to audiences online (Parab & Durgaprasad 1930; Speyer 61).

The Persian version of the Kathasaritsagara was translated from Sanskrit into Persian for the Mughal emperor, Akbar (Franke 313). The translation likely was inspired upon the visit of Akbar to Srinagar in the year of 1589 (Franke 313). It is suspected that during his visit to Srinagar that Akbar became introduced to the Kathasaritsagara, and then ordered its translation into the Persian language (Franke 313). One well-known version of the Kathasaritsagara that was translated for Akbar contained illustrations in addition to the translation of the collection (Franke 313). Unfortunately, one cannot find a whole copy of such a manuscript anymore, at least not of that concerning the translations that had been created for Akbar (Franke 313-315). The reason that one cannot find a whole manuscript from Akbar’s time in Persian is due to the fact that it was disassembled; what is left of the manuscript can be found in portions (Franke 313-315). Some of the illustrations that are believed to have originated from the manuscript, created for Akbar, are now in private collections and in the collections or available to be viewed through museums (Franke 313-315). Museums that currently have some of the illustrations from the manuscript in their collections includes the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Franke 313-315; The Metropolitan Museum; Los Angeles County Museum of Art). The Metropolitan Museum currently portrays two of their acquired illustrations from the Kathasaritsagara in their online collection (The Metropolitan Museum). The Los Angeles County Museum of Art displays three illustrations from the Kathasaritsagara (Los Angeles County Museum of Art).

The Kathasaritsagara, as a collection of fables, adheres to the general role that stories categorized under the term of fables follows. Fables are categorized separately from other forms of literature due to the fact that fables are meant to serve a specific purpose aside from that of providing entertainment or information. As stated by H.J. Blackham, “A fable takes or invents representative material offered to reflection.” (Blackham 224) Therefore, the overall purpose of fables can be understood as a way in which to provide readers and audiences with narratives that allow for the reader to gain insight to utilize within the context of different situations in their lives. The Kathasaritsagara begins by laying a foundation story under which many of the fables carry on in separate stories that are able to be connected, similarly to that of a series. Each individual story provides audiences with a message or lesson to be passed on for the individual to apply into the lives of the audience members.

The Kathasaritsagara is divided into eighteen separate books; the Kathapitha, Kathamukha, Lavanaka, Naravahanadattajanana, Chaturdarika, Madanamanchuka, Ratnaprabha, Suryaprabha, Alankaravati, Saktiyasas, Vela, Sasankavati, Madiravati, Pancha, Mahabhisheka, Suratamanjari, Padmavati, and Vishamasila (Tawney 1). Each of the eighteen books have their own set of chapters. Several chapters within each of the books are capable of standing alone, with the addition of the chapters also having the capability of acting as fables. Within the first book of the Kathasaritsagara, the Kathapitha, each of the individual chapters provides an independent story that is still linked to the main story of the book. The individual chapters are situated and presented to the audience in such a way that each one is capable of portraying a lesson or motif to the audience and reader. The capability of the chapters to stand as individual narratives, that are capable of portraying lessons and motifs that can be applied to one’s life as is dictated under the categorization of fables (Blackham 224), is a great characteristic of the Kathasaritsagara that one can and should analyze.

The ability for one to be able to categorize many of the stories within the work as being capable of being categorized as a collection of fables is evident as soon as the first book within the Kathasaritsagara, the Kathapitha. In the case of the first book, the primary story is told in the first chapter where the goddess Parvati harshly punishes Pushpadanta as well as a Gana Malyavan who attempted to intercede on behalf of Pushpadanta (Tawney 4-5). The punishment was that the two pramathas would be cursed to be mortals until such a time that they would be able to complete two separate, yet interceding tasks (Tawney 4-5). As time passes, Parvati comes to regret her harsh punishment that had been born out of quick anger and jealousy (Tawney 5). The first chapter of the first book acts as both an introduction to what the whole of the book’s chapters’ plots are based upon. The first book in itself is also capable of acting as a standalone story with its own motif and lesson. As a fable, the first chapter of the Kathapitha provides audiences with a story in which one can discern the disadvantages associated with several actions including quick temperament and eavesdropping. The third chapter, in the Kathapitha, as well as other chapters in the Kathapitha, share a similar function of acting as a fable, however, unlike the initial chapter of the book, it has a story that can act independently or, as it is within the Kathasaritsagara, as a continuation of the book. Pushpadanta encounters the Gana Malyavan, who had attempted to intercede on his behalf, thus allowing for the completion of half of the curse’s cure followed by the beginning of the second half through the telling of several stories (Tawney 4-5, 11-16). The main story within the chapter is centered around a character named Putraka and his family. The motif of the fable is centered around the advantages of living in virtue despite the unvirtuous, greedy, and evil acts of others. The story begins by describing how Putraka’s parents and two sets of aunts and uncles came to meet, followed by the abandonment of his mother and aunts by their husbands in the time of a famine (Tawney 11). The virtue of the three women in regards towards the care of Putraka as well as their loyalty of austerities and duty towards their husbands, despite their abandonment, led to good fortunes and blessings from the god Siva (Tawney 11-12). Putraka eventually welcomed his father and uncles back into the family, after he had become king. His uncles and father, however, were not satisfied with the wealth and power that they obtained from their relationship to Putraka – they lusted after more. The three men arranged for a group of assassins to kill Putraka upon a visitation to a temple, of which Putraka was able to dissuade by persuading the assassins to accept payment for his life. Once the deal was struck, Putraka left his kingdom. Despite the careful planning of the three men and the actions of Putraka to leave the kingdom quietly as if he had indeed been assassinated, his father and uncles were put to death for their treason against Putraka (Tawney 12-13). During his flight from the kingdom, that had been his home, Putraka came across two men fighting over a series of inheritance. The men were greedy, and so Putraka was able to trick them by proclaiming that the two men commit to a race, the winner of which would win all three items. The men agreed to the plan and left the items in Putraka’s presence, once the men were out of sight, Putraka took the pieces of inheritance the men were fighting over for himself (Tawney 13-15). In another kingdom, he fell in love with a daughter of the kingdom’s king (Tawney 15-16). The two of them escaped the kingdom after the king discovered their romance (Tawney 15-16). With the inheritance that Putraka came to possess from the two fighting men, he and his new wife created a kingdom of their own (Tawney 16).

The portrayal of the Kathasaritsagara, as a collection of fables, continues on into the third book, the Lavanaka. Within this book, some of the stories portray that although pieces of literature are capable of offering guidance in the form of a fable, it is up to the individual to apply the lesson portrayed properly within the context of their life’s situations. A great example is shown in the first chapter in the third book. A great example is shown in the first chapter in the third book. Within the chapter, the main story introduced is that two ministers of a kingdom by the names of, Yaugandharayana and Rumanvat, meet to discuss the progress of the kingdom under the rule of their king (Tawney 101). It is believed that the king does not pose enough personal involvement in the growth and development of the kingdom, but rather in personal pleasures (Tawney 101). Both provide different points of view about how to address the subject intellectually and practically. Yaugandharayana and Rumanvat each support their cases through the utilization of different stories or fables (Tawney 101-104). Yaugandharayana made the claim that they should report to the king of a neighboring kingdom that the queen of their king, Vasavadatta, as dead in order to get the neighboring king’s daughter’s hand in marriage (Tawney 101). Yaugandharayana’s hope was that through the successful implementation of the deception, the kingdom would ultimately end up gaining an ally (Tawney 101). The reasoning behind Yaugandharayanana’s hope of a new, strong ally in the opposite kingdom is that the kingdoms, as one, would be able to conquer all of the kingdoms on earth with the aid of the neighboring king’s large, strong armies (Tawney 101). With the conquering of the world’s kingdoms, Yaugandharayanana portrays that the promotion of the growth of the kingdom would be accomplished and his king would have achieved his duty (Tawney 101). Yaugandharayana claimed that his plan would act similarly to the actions and rewards of the characters in the story that he presents as evidence that his idea is a good one (Tawney 101-102). Within the story that Yaugandharayana provided, a king who submitted to a rival king after being bested had come to develop an illness (Tawney 102). The illness was determined to have been derived from the mental applications on the king’s psyche from his submission to the rival king (Tawney 102). In order to cure the king, a physician informed him that his wife had dead. Later, upon hearing that his queen was alive, the king comes to prosper once more in glory (Tawney 102). Rumanvat presents this story as an example for his argument against Yaugandharayana (Tawney 102). Rumanvat presents his example as a way to express how he believes that Yaugandharayana’s plan of deception against the two kingdoms will ultimately lead to the eventual ruin of many individuals, himself and Yaugandharayana in particular (Tawney 102). The story that Rumanvat chooses to illustrate his point against the use of deceit for gain is focused around a character identified to be a deceitful ascetic (Tawney 102-104). Within the fable, the ascetic utilized his position to trick a merchant so that he would believe that his beautiful daughter was inauspicious (Tawney 103). Specifically, the ascetic proclaimed that the daughter’s inauspicious nature would ultimately lead to the death of her entire family (Tawney 103). The ascetic further claimed that the only way that the merchant could hope to save the family was to place his daughter into a basket with a lit lamp on a river, and send her a drift in the dead of night, a request to which the merchant adhered to (Tawney 103). On the prescribed night of the merchant’s daughter’s sending off on the river, the ascetic sent his followers to retrieve the daughter’s basket (Tawney 103). The ascetic sent his followers off without informing them of the events that led up to the task, or the contents of the basket, so that he could secretly claim the daughter for himself (Tawney 103). Before the followers could retrieve the basket, however, a good prince happened upon the basket as it drifted down the river, and married the daughter that evening (Tawney 103). The prince had the basket replaced in the river, with an occupant of a vicious monkey, which mutilated the ascetic upon his gaining of the basket – marking him in shame and humiliation in light of his deceit while those around him are happy (Tawney 103-104).






References and Further Recommended Reading


Blackham, H.J. (2013) The Fable as Literature. Sydney: Bloomsbury.


Breckhamms, Hermin (1862) Kathasaritsagara: Die Marchensammlung des Somadeva. Leipzig: F.A Brochaus.


Burton, Richard (1868) “Vikram and the Vampire or Tales of Indian Devilry” Fraser’s Magazine: 407-761.


Durgaprasad, Pandit and Kashinath Pandurang Parab (1930) Kathasaritsagara (Original Text): 4th Edition of Nirnay Sugar Press. Bombay: Nirnay Sugar Press.


Franke, Heike (2010) “Akbar’s “Kathasaritsagara”: The Translator and Illustrations of An Imperial Manuscript” Muqarnas vol. 27: 313-356.


Haase, Donald (2007) The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales and Fairy Tales. London: Greenwood Publishing Group.


Los Angeles County Art Museum (2017)


Penzer, N.M. (1928) The Ocean of Story Being C.H. Tawny’s Translation of Somadeva’s Kathasaritsagara (or Ocean of Streams of Story) vol. 10. London: Chas J. Sawyer Ltd., Grafton House.


Speyer, Jacob Samuel (1908) Studies about the Kathasaritsagara. Amsterdam: Johannes Muller.


Tawny,C.H., (1880) Kathasaritsagara vol.1. Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press.


The Metropolitan Museum (2000-2017)


Related Topics for Further Investigation
























Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Victoria Jean Layton (Spring 2017), who is solely responsible for its content.







Lila: Divine Play

The definition of lila is “sport” or “play” in Sanskrit. It represents the idea of joyous and unnecessary creativity (Sax 13). The first appearance as a theological term was in the Vedanta Sutra in approximately the third century C.E. (Sax 14). Theological terms arose before mythology was written to explain it, in such texts as the Bhagavad Gita and the Harivamsa Purana composed 300 C.E. (Sax 15). The Vaisnava tradition, particularly the Krsna cult, was the leader in elaborating on lila and its doctrine (Sax 14).

In Hinduism, the gods embody the principles that teach its followers about enlightenment. These gods are believed to be complete, with no needs or desires. To resemble the gods, one must stop acting from necessity and act outside of cause and effect (Kinsley xi). They act outside of maya, or illusion and cosmic ignorance, as maya is the collection of illusive ideas which create a world that is false. The creative process and action of lila is real, and the creation is a manifestation of the true nature of God (Sax 15). Lila is associated with ananda (bliss) in freedom and spontaneity (Olson 165). For the self, this could represent support and appreciation of joy in living, or can be used as the idea to experience tragedies as part of the play of the gods (Sax 15). Maya-lila is the concept that creation is continuous, ceaseless cycles of creation and destruction. There are multiple realities, they are transformable, with blurred definitions between divine play and non-play. It permeates art and religion for the privileged upper classes who intertwine the serious, real aspects of life with creativity, such as switching male and female gender roles (Schechner 35). This cycle is permanent as the maya illusion of necessary work consistently interacts with the lila sport of divine play (Kinsley xii).

All Vedanta schools accept the Vedanta Sutra with different perspectives; by doing so, they also accept the teaching of divine sportiveness in different ways. In the Advaita Vedanta illusionist school, lila is provisional as reality does not exist, and the unenlightened must understand maya to find enlightenment. They would cease any form of creativity and commit themselves to the practice of maya. The followers against this illusionist cosmology would accept and maintain their creative skill. In the Bhagavad Gita, God acts to assist and preserve the world in a righteous way. Thinkers of the Caitanya school disagree, and believe that God acts in sport without thinking of benefiting his creation; therefore the feeling of pleasure is an effect of God’s nature. In other Vaisnava circles, sportive and supportive acts have the same motivation because they are both acts of lila not tied to any form of desire (Sax 15). Brahman must not have had a motive for creating the universe if it is all- sufficient, and since its personal desires are fulfilled, it created the universe from sport (Kinsley 2). In the bhakti cult, the saints and devotees are revered for their “uselessness” in society, acting unproductively and disorderly without the capacity to look after themselves (Kinsley xii). The devotees are not bound by social conventions and follow inclinations that are sometimes disrespectful (Olson 173). “To be an intimate associate of God able to play with him by participating in his lila is the highest possible perfection of human existence” (Bryant 115). The sakta (root sakti, divine feminine power) devotee believes the world in its confusion and fluctuations is the sport of the gods, and ascetics refuse to take part in the cosmic dance (Kinsley 18).

Dualistic schools of Sankhya or Vaisnavism often sees pleasure in worldly life as not divine (Morey 73). Sri Aurobindo Ghose, in his study of the non-dualistic Integral advaita tradition, shows his understanding of lila as the way in which Brahman creates itself in pleasure to see its followers share in the manifestations of the world (Morey 75). In a nondualist perspective of lila, nothing exists outside of the creative energies of Brahman, though many manifestation cycles of creation and destruction happen independently within Brahman (Morey 76). Sri Aurobindo does not believe Atman (the self) is Brahman (the Absolute) with only a few select humans who can glimpse the divine, but a blissful ananda Brahman would allow self-knowledge to bring people closer to the truth, a higher existence of lila. Brahman does not keep humans forcefully in a state of illusion for their lifetimes, however it gives people the ability to choose the qualities which they will further manifest in themselves (Morey 75). To Sri Aurobindo, lila is superior to maya, in this case maya is the “consciousness of Brahman,” and lila “involves the transformation of maya toward the realization of its true nature,” to liberation or moksa (Morey 77). The Being-Conciousness-Bliss, Sachchidananda, evolves through lila at every level of the divine play, the goal of realization never absent, brings humanity closer to Sachchidananda (Morey 80). In this Integral Yoga perspective, this advaita (non-dualism) has three states of being in the individual, universal and transcendental realms (Morey 75).

Multiple epics work to teach these concepts to followers using different manifestations. There is the the story of Visnu creating the world while dreaming asleep on the cosmic serpent Ananta. This dream where the lotus that grows from the navel of Visnu creates Brahma, then Brahma in turn creates the world illustrates lila. In this way, creation is a purposeless, effortless reflex in the mind that happens in the play of the Lord of the Universe with matter; Visnu with Prakrti (Kinsley 3). Lila is used as a metaphor for the appearance of Brahman, the one reality, as prakrti (matter) in the world (Butler 3). In the Mahabharata, Siva treats the universe as his marble ball, or malleable plaything. The dancing god creates the world, and then through his dancing, destroys it (Kinsley 6). Worshippers see Siva, also called Nataraja the Lord of Dancers, as a violent and dangerous deity who dances to create, sustain, and destroy the world (Sax 14). Rudra, the howler who is an avatara (incarnation) of Siva is an untamed free spirit, not bound by rules, with his madness characterized as irresponsible yet playful (Kinsley 28). This is related to his interactions with Kali. She is portrayed as a wild woman who saves severed heads for her own pleasure: a destroyer who maintains cosmic balance (Kinsley 19).

Through cosmic creation and popular devotion, the epic of Krsna combines these senses of lila into one form (Butler 6). Devotion to divine play is one method that leads to salvation (Sax 19). Krsna plays pranks by disobeying his family and stealing butter (Kinsley 64). His playful battles are imaginative when he runs sportively through the forests of Vrndavana recklessly killing demons in front of his friends. Krsna possesses beauty, relating to play as an end in itself, ornamental and existing without purpose (Kinsley 74). The beauty assists his sportive nature in myths dedicated to him seducing women, yet is not an instrumental necessity because of his playful character. It is also related to kama (desire) in its sexual overtones (Butler 6). Krsna steals the clothes of the gopis (cowherd girls) who are bathing in the river, and when they come to him naked wanting their clothes returned, he sings, plays his flute, and dances the rasa-lila (circle dance) to try and seduce them with the illusion maya of pleasure, (Olson 167).

Krsna’s incarnation has two main motives in the text, the Bhagavad Gita: the “official” motive of protecting the righteous by removing demonic military power and saving the earth. The “unofficial” motive is to attract souls lost in samsara (rebirth) to remove attachment to indulgences and the cycle of karma (actions good or bad), then search for the beauty of lila in God (Bryant 116). Bhakti-yoga involves immersing the senses and thoughts with objects connected with Krsna’s lila, as outlined by Patanjali (Bryant 117). Krsna’s avataras themselves demonstrate the playful nature of the gods in their appearances on earth (Kinsley 17). His lilaavataras (pastime –avataras, forms taken from sport) come in numerous incarnations (Knapp 504). He came in the form of Matsya (fish), Kurma (tortoise), Lord Varaha, and Lord Rama, etc. to play in an earthly form (Knapp 508).

There is also play in drama and aesthetics. There is the creative, original-maker type of lila that create new forms of art beyond the works of previous artists, and there are interpreters who are intermediaries that communicate its meaning to the audience (Butler 9). Performances in Vrndavana are a type of less regulated play; with creative characters telling stories simultaneously interpreted by professional declaimers in a way that engages the audience (Sax 17). The rasa-lila is the tradition of aesthetic religious theatre for bhakti (religious devotion) purposes (Thielemann 8). Lila as a genre of drama is a popular cultural event for celebrating Krsna, such as the performance of the ram-lila (Hawley 57).

The concept of lila, divine play, reiterates key elements in understanding the nature of the gods in Hinduism, as well as provides a place for the process of creativity in religious thought. Different schools of religion and philosophers debate the topic of lila, manifesting a modern interpretation. The epics portray the deities to be part of the teachings of lila, as passed down for many generations. Lila is practiced in performance arts to bring additional meaning to the principle of play; widely accessible with the playful integration of different concepts. The ideas and stories surrounding lila impact the beliefs and practices of Hindus and their worldview of existence.




Bryant, Edwin F. (2007) Krishna: A Sourcebook. New York: Oxford University Press.

Butler, John F. (1960) “Creation, Art and Lila.” Philosophy East and West 10#1 (April): 3-12

Hawley, John S. and Vasudha Narayanan (2006) The Life of Hinduism. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kinsley, David R. (1979) The Divine Player: A Study of Krsna Lila. Dehli: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Knapp, Steven (2005) The Heart of Hinduism: The Eastern Path to Freedom, Empowerment and Illumination. Lincoln: iUniverse Inc.

Morey, Matthew W. (2012) “Sri Aurobindo’s Lila: the Nature of Divine Play According to Integral Advaita.Integral Review, Vol. 8, No. 1 (July): 68-84.

Olson, Carl (2007) The Many Colors of Hinduism: A Thematic-historical Introduction. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Sax, William S. (1995) The Gods at Play: Lila in South Asia. New York: Oxford University Press.

Schechner, Richard (2003) The Future of Ritual: Writings on Culture and Performance. New York: Routledge.

Thielemann, Selina (2000) Singing the Praises Divine: Music in the Hindu Tradition. New Delhi: APH Publishing.


Related Topics for Further Investigation




Bhagavad Gita












Sri Aurobindo

Vedanta Sutra


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic—We_Are_The_Imagination_of_Ourselves.pdf

This article was written by: Sharra Fullersmith (Spring 2017), who is entirely responsible for its content.




Vrindavan (Vrndavana)

India is a country with a varied and rich mythology. Vrindavan (aka Vrndavana) is located in Northern India around fifteen kilometres from Mathura and is considered to be one of the seven holiest cities for Hindus (Haberman, 272). The city features many sacred land and water features such as the Yamuna River, sacred groves (vanas), ponds (kundas) and ghats (holy steps leading down to a river) (Luthy, 4). It is also referred to as Vrindavan or Vrindivana city. The name Vrindavan is derived from ‘Vrinda’ which is another name for the sacred tulsi (i.e. basil) plant. It is one of the most holy cities within the Hindu tradition and is commonly known as the “The City of Temples” with allegedly five thousand in total.

Major religious routes within the forests of Vrindavan were first established in the sixteenth century based on the Sanksrit text Vraj Bhakti Vilasa written by Narayan Bhatt (Shah, 41). Bhatt is responsible for mapping out a large portion of the religious sites that are worshipped to this day. Bhatt more specifically mapped out the place-names found within the Puranas onto the physical terrain where these sites are found (Ghosh, 193) Pilgrimages are religious and cultural phenomena that are important features the Hindu religion. In the Hindu religion, a pilgrimage is referred to as a tirtha yatra and is a liminal process that establishes participation in the spiritual realm (Singh &Haigh, 783). A pilgrimage has been defined as a journey resulting from religious causes, externally to a holy site, and internally for spiritual purposes and internal understanding (Barber, 1). Today, pilgrimage is defined differently, as a traditional religious or modern secular journey (Collins-Kreiner, 440). For example, the Krsna Balrama Madir Temple, established in 1975 by His Divine Grace Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, has now become Vrindavan’s most popular temple and has one of the highest standards of deity worship and cleanliness. It has become one of the most popular temples and Hare Krsna devotees can be found here throughout the year (Jacobsen, 143).

Vrindavan is one of the most important places of pilgrimage for devotees of Krsna as the city is well-known as the forested region where the deity Krsna grew up as a humble cowherd (go-pala). The city itself is said to be where Krsna spent his childhood and many say that he still resides within the city itself.  It is located in the Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh. The area of Vrindavan is described in the Puranas as the childhood home of the deity Krsna. This mythologized place was located geographically when the Bengali Saint Caitanya travelled there to rediscover Krsna’s childhood home where he then experienced visions of the deity in the uninhabited forest (jangala) which is now modern day Vrindavan (Ghosh, 194). Caitanya and his followers began to construct temples in the holy city that can still be found today. For example, the Madan Mohan Temple is the oldest temple in Vrndavan today and is closely associated with Caitanya.

Mathura (just outside of Vrindavan) is a little town and a major place of pilgrimage on the banks of the Yamuna River. It attracts about a half of a million pilgrims each year, especially during major festivals such as Krsna Janmastami, Holi, and Radhastami. These journeys are made to sacred places as an act of religious devotion (Nash, 101). Pilgrimage sites are places that people consider sacred and maintain their sanctity by visiting them regularly and relating them into their religious framework (Eck, 8). In India more than one hundred million people visit around two thousand major pilgrimage sites annually (Shinde, 449). During ritualized pilgrimages individuals travel to a sacred place and perform rituals considered necessary to appease the sacred object in that place. These ritual acts of worship acts by pilgrims (individual and collective) of worship and rituals are regarded as part of their normal their religious duties (Shinde, 450). Pilgrimages are crucial in the Hindu religion in order for an individual to engage all of the senses when to experiencing the sacred sites Vrindavan has to offer. The believer “sees” the sacred sights (temples, churches, relics, icons, monuments), he/she “hears” the sacred sounds (church and temple bells, drum beats, chanting, singing, the call to prayer), “touches” the sacred artifacts (icons, deities, texts), “eats” special food (such as consecrated food); and “smells” specific aromas (incense, fresh flowers) (Eck, 9). All of these experiences vary depending on the individual’s participation in the religious culture developed around the pilgrimage site itself (Shinde, 451).

Although there are thousands of temples erected within Vrindavan there are a few that stand out. Since the establishment in the fifteenth century, Vrindavan has continued to be a center for devotional pilgrimages dedicated to the deity Krsna. Vrindavan is a place for pilgrims to visit Krsna temples, participate in worship and rituals, listen to narration of stories from the religious epics of Krsna, and perform poetry, art, dance, song, and drama dedicated to Krsna’s glory (Shinde, 452). For example, these everyday rituals involve dressing the idol in finery and darshan, communal singing of hymns, and food offerings to the deity depending on the temple of worship. Today you can find a live video stream of the Sri Sri Krsna Balarama Mandir which has now become one of the most popular and visited temples in the world.

Vrindavan is also a major site for Vaisnava groups. For example, widows (mostly from Bengal) have been congregating in Vrindavan for years to live out the rest of their lives. In India, social mores inhibit women from remarrying and they are shunned because they are viewed as inauspicious. Nilakantha Braja (The Blue-necked God) written by Assamese writer Indira Goswami highlights the plights of the widows who reside in the sacred city by depicting the despicable and undignified life and death experiences of these women. Known as the Radheyshamis (widows who sing devotional songs in temples for a pittance) these widows sing bhajans (hymns) in order to accumulate money to survive (Bhushan, 138). Whether young or old, widowed women leave behind their colorful saris, jewelry, and even shave their heads if they are part of the more conservative Hindu traditions (Jamadar, Melkeri, & Holkar, 57). Although these women are not forced to die in ritual sati (burning themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre) they are still expected to mourn until their own deaths. Therefore, these women find refuge in Vrindavan where they lead miserable lives surviving by begging and singing hymns in praise of Gods (Pande, 209).

Today, the city of Vrindavan has become more of a tourist attraction than a pilgrimage site. Pilgrimages, themselves, are being transformed into mere sightseeing tours and can now be more accurately labeled as ‘religious tourism’ (Shinde, 184). Annually, Vrindavan receives more than six million visitors, who are no longer visiting strictly for religious reasons (Shinde, 448). Places that were once Hindu holy sites may be accessed with a simple search on Google where the best flight deals and top places to visit are a click away. However, some temples remain constant to modern Hindus such as the Banke-Bihari Temple which is considered to be the most popular shrine and is associated with Swami Haridas and Nimbarka. Another is Nidhi Van Temple where Krsna and Radha are said to come out after midnight and indulge in raas-leela (dance found in the Puranas) and then rest in the Rang Mahal Temple which is decorated daily for the two deities.

In conclusion, Vrindavan is gaining popularity due to its numerous temples. Construction and development are ongoing which includes temples, guest houses, and apartments. Simply wandering around Vrindavan allows one to see the vast beauty of the holy city and share vicariously in the myths of Krsna.



Barber, R. (1993) Pilgrimages. London: The Boydell Press.

Bhushan, Ravi. (2014) “Estranged Identity: The Problem of Hindu Widows in Indira Goswami’s Nilakantha Braja.” Labyrinth: An International Refereed Journal of Postmodern Studies 5 #2:138-141.

Collins-Kreiner, N. (2010) “Researching pilgrimage: Continuity and transformations.” Annals of tourism research, 37(2): 440-456.

Eck, D. L. (1981) “Darsan: Seeing the divine image in India.” Chambersberg, PA: Anima Books: 8-9.

Ghosh, P. (2002) “Tales, tanks, and temples:the creation of a sacred center in seventeenth-century Bengal,” Asian Folklore, 61 #2:193-222.

Haberman, D. (1994) Journey through the Twelve Forests: An encounter with Krsna. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Luthy, T. (2016) “Few people know that Krishna was the first environmentalist”. Political Ecology of Tourism: Community, power and the environment.

Jacobsen, K. A. (2015) “Book review: Modern Hindu Personalism: The History, Life, and Thought of Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī, written by Ferdinando Sardella.” Numen, 62(1): 143-146.

Jamadar, C., Melkeri, S. P., & Holkar, A. (2015) “Quality of Life among Widows”. #1: 57-68.

Mostafanezhad, M., Norum, R., Shelton, E. J., & Thompson-Carr, A. (2016) “Political Ecology of Tourism: Community, Power and the Environment”. Routledge: #2.

Pande, Rekha (2015) “Widows Of Vrindavan-Feminisation Of Old Age In India.” Pakistan Journal of Gender Studies Vol. 10: 209-223.

Shah, B. (2006) “The Pilgrimage of the Groves: Reconstructing the Meaning of a Sixteenth-Century Hindu Landscape”. Arnoldia: 39-41.

Shinde, K. A. (2015) “Religious tourism and religious tolerance: insights from pilgrimage sites in India.” Tourism Review, 70(3): 179-196.

Shinde, K. A. (2011) ““This is a religious environment”: Sacred space, environmental discourse, and environmental behavior at a Hindu pilgrimage site in India””. Space and Culture. 14: 448-463.

Shinde, K. A. (2008) “The environment of pilgrimage in the sacred site of Vrindavan, India.” PhD diss., Monash University: 449-451.

Shinde, K. A. (2007) “Case study 6: Visiting sacred sites in India: Religious tourism or pilgrimage.” Religious tourism and pilgrimage festivals management: An international perspective: 184-197.

Singh, R. P., & Haigh, M. J. (2015) “Hindu Pilgrimages: The Contemporary Scene.” The Changing World Religion Map: 783-801


Related Topics for Further Investigation

Banke-Bihari Temple

Bhagauata Purana






Hare Krsna





Krsna Balrama Madir Temple

Madan Mohan Temple



Nidhi Van

Nilakantha Braya




Rang Mahal


Sri Sri Krsna Balarama Madir Temple

Swami Haridas

tirtha yatra




Vraj Bhakti Vilasa

Yamuna River


Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic (Sri Vrindavan Dham, 2016). (Daily Bhaskar, 2016). (Hindu Website, 2016). (Vrindavana: The Holy Land of Lord Krsna, 2009). (, 2016).


Article written by: Lindsay Tymchyna (April 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.







Although there is no accurate date for when Bhavabhuti actually lived, as Sanskrit authors did not give away any telling information about their personal lives or the age in which they lived, there are many indicators in other Sanskrit literature giving reference to the time when Bhavabhuti flourished (Mirashi 1). The playwright is referenced multiple times in the Rajatarangini (a historical chronical of early India). These verses describe Bhavabhuti as a colleague of Vakpatiraja in the Court of Yasovarman (Mirashi 3), both of which flourished in the early 8th century. In addition, Vamana cites illustrations from Bhavabhuti’s works in 800 CE, from which historians concluded that Bhavabhuti’s work must have been famous prior to this time (Mirashi 9). Through the use of these crucial markers, most historians have approximated that Bhavabhuti lived and did the majority of his dramatic work in the first quarter of the 8th century C.E., specifically from 700 – 730 CE (Mirashi 3).

Bhavabhuti was born to a learned priestly family of Brahmins in Vidarbha, which resulted in a vast knowledge of both language and philosophy (Bhat 155). In the prologue of his play Malati-Madhava, he claimed to have been conversant in Vyakarana, Mimamsa, and Nyaya, besides having extensive expertise in the Vedas, Sankhya, and Yoga (Ramanathan 1). The fact that Bhavabhuti was well-educated was not lost on him, for he references himself as Srikanthapadalanchanah, which means “adorned with rich learning” (Ramanathan 1). Following this reference, historians believe it is unlikely that Bhavabhuti’s name was actually that which was written on his work. The manuscript for Malati-Madhava references the author as a disciple of Kumarila named Umbekacarya. Bhavabhuti’s family surname was Udumbara, so historians believe the name Umbekacarya may have been derived from there (Bhavabhuti 1967: 5).

Because Bhavabhuti was born into the Brahmin caste, he was expected to follow tradition and attempt to strengthen his family’s name. However, he chose not to carry on the rituals and traditions of his family and focused instead on drama. Being a writer in early India was in itself viewed badly as it did not focus on religious traditions set out for individuals, but Bhavabhuti’s association with actors (who were regarded as low-class citizens) as he began writing greatly upset his family (Bhat 155). Vidarbha, and Padmaputa in general, was not a prosperous area and so Bhavabhuti left Vidarbha, where he had grown up, to seek fortune in North India (Mirashi 17). He travelled to Padmavati and resided there for a few years, though he staged his plays at Kalapriya, a city north of Padmavati. Because Bhavabhuti held his plays away from the city and not in the royal court, he did not receive royal patronage there (Mirashi 18). However, King Yasovarman of Kanauj heard of Bhavabhuti’s work as his fame became widespread, resulting in Bhavabhuti becoming Poet Laureate at his court (Mirashi 19).

Although known almost exclusively for his three plays, Mahaviracarita, Malati-Madhava, and Uttara Rama Carita, it is possible that Bhavabhuti had written other pieces. Quotes in Sargadhara’s Paddhati and Gadadharabhatta’s Rasikajibana demonstrate that Bhavabhuti may have had other works that are lost or have yet to be discovered (Bhavabhuti 1967: 8). It is not possible to comment on unknown works, and thus analysts only credit Bhavabhuti for the plays that are commonly known. Though his writing does not contain any humor, he possesses a lyrical element that dominates throughout every play (Bhavabhuti 1967: 13). His mastery of multiple languages resulted in the use of very high-level speech, which, criticized by analysts as “pretentious”, was not at all suited to efficiently convey inner thought or to please audiences viewing the play (Bhavabhuti 1967: 13).

Mahaviracarita is believed to have been Bhavabhuti’s first play, though there is contention over this statement by some historians. The style, ideas, and plot conception lead many to believe that this was his first piece of work, Bhavabhuti’s outline seemed to many Sanskrit literature critics to “need finishing” (Ramanathan 2), and was the mark of an inexperienced writer. Mahaviracarita is based on the early life of Rama, from boyhood to his return to Ayodhya after the Lanka war and his wife Sita’s rescue (Bhavabhuti 1967: 10). Bhavabhuti relied heavily on Valmiki’s Ramayana for a significant portion of the theme, and even copied verses from the Ramayana into Mahaviracarita (Bhavabhuti 1967: 146). This play is known as virarastradhana, where the main sentiment evoked is bravery and/or heroism. Mahaviracarita is available in eleven northern manuscripts and seven southern, however, Viraraghava (the original commentator) wrote that the original book consisted up to only Act V. Most scholars concur that the rest of the play was written by an author that was not Bhavabhuti, but reasoning for this is unclear (Ramanathan 2).

Malati-Madhava is commonly known as Bhavabhuti’s second play, though there is minor contention as to whether this may have been the first play. The theme of love present in this play often arrives in a Sanskrit writer’s works before themes such as heroism, resulting in a theory among some historians that this Malati-Madhava could have been his first completed piece (Bhavabhuti 1967: 9). The play is based on a folktale of Brhatkatha and focuses primarily on the love story of Malati and Madhava. Malati’s love-torment for Madhava grows unbearable, for she is betrothed to Nandana by her father due to the King’s insistence. Her desire for a love marriage directly contradicts the need Malati has to please her family through an arranged marriage (Bhavabhuti 1967: 17). These conflicting desires result in Malati’s childhood friend marrying Nandana while she carries out a secret love marriage to Madhava (Bhavabhuti 1967: 20).

Malati-Madhava consists of 10 acts and multiple prakari, which are small incidents that assist with the progress of the play (Bhavabhuti 1967: 1). The earliest and, according to critics, most crucial prakari in Malati-Madhava is the conversation between Kamandaki and Malati as Madhava overhears, for this first alerts Madhava to the mutual feelings shared by the couple (Bhavabhuti 1967: 33). This play belongs to a division of dramatic compositions called prakarana; the subject matter of a prakarana must be drawn from worldly life and must be a work of pure invention.  Bhavabhuti’s theme of love throughout Malati-Madhava fulfills the requirements of a prakarana (Bhavabhuti 1967: 31).

Bhavabhuti’s Uttara Rama Carita is widely known as his “masterpiece” (Bhavabhuti 1967:10). In this piece, Bhavabhuti chose to focus on one particular incident: Sita’s banishment, and Rama’s feelings throughout the event. Bhavabhuti attempts to depict karuna (pathos) and finds more success and applause in doing so than almost any other poet of classic India (Bhavabhuti 1967: 11). The portrayal of both Rama’s ruthless heart in banishing his wife and tender heart as he weeps for her gained audience approval that had been lacking in much of his previous work (Ramanathan 3). In addition to the use of karuna, the tone of Uttara Rama Carita is lofty but without any obscenity or humor: there is not a single work in all of Sanskrit literature that is completely free of these two elements (Bhavabhuti 1895: 11). Due to a “positive rule” in Sanskrit literature prohibiting tragedy in said literature, the ending of Uttara Rama Carita was adapted so that Bhavabhuti’s work could be shared with the public. Whereas the original story concluded with tragedy, the modern ending shows a happy reunion of Rama, Sita, and their two sons, which added to critical acclaim of his final known work (Bhavabhuti 1895: 7).

Each of Bhavabhuti’s three plays has different main themes, though the concept of love maintains a constant presence in every one. In both Uttara Rama Carita and Malati-Madhava (and briefly in the beginning acts of Mahaviracarita) Bhavabhuti emphasizes the concept of love, specifically monogamous relationships. Bhavabhuti flourished in a period in which polygamy was gaining popularity but expressed monogamy in high regards (Ambardekar 80). Bhavabhuti uses the concept of “love at first sight” in both Mahaviracarita and Malati-Madhava when Rama and Sita meet, and when Malati first sees Madhava (Ambardekar 83). An expert of high-level speech, Bhavabhuti goes beyond simply portraying a couple in love by also describing the afflictions associated with love in Malati-Madhava, feelings such as despair, disappointment, and frustration (Ambardekar 83).

Despite serious events often covered in Sanskrit drama, playwrights of the time would use simple diction mixed with sections of entertainment for the sole purpose of entertaining an audience. In contrast, Bhavabhuti’s work was completely serious. Though he used themes of love, Bhavabhuti did not include lighthearted conversation or thought, but instead used a serious tone and philosophized on the concept of love itself (Bhat 154). As previously mentioned, Bhavabhuti had mastered a high-level writing style that would only be understood by well-educated classes, which, combined with a consistently solemn tone, was ill-received by audiences and critics alike. The harshest criticism, however, came from Bhavabhuti’s relatives and residents of his native Padmapura, who disapprove of Bhavabhuti’s journey into the dramatic arts and his abandonment of the prestige and tradition of his family (Bhat 156). While most early Sanskrit writers used the prologue of their plays to introduce themselves and the play itself, Bhavabhuti’s introductions (specifically Mahaviracarita and Malati-Madhava) replied to the critics themselves. It is unclear why Bhavabhuti chose to reply to negative criticism in the prologues of his first two works, but this unusual introduction did not occur in Uttara Rama Charita (Bhat 152). Despite harsh criticism of Bhavabhuti’s non-traditional style of writing, modern critics applaud his unique works and view him as one of the best playwrights of early India.


References and Further Recommended Reading:

Ambardekar, R.R. (1978) “Bhavabhuti’s Concept of Love.” Indian Literature. 21:2-16. Accessed February 1, 2016. doi:

Bhat, G.K. (1979) “The Detractors of Bhavabhuti.” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. 60. Accessed February 2, 2016. doi:

Bhavabhuti (1895) Uttara Rama Charita with Sanscrit Commentary. Translated by Vinayak Sadashiv Patvardhan. Nagpur: Nyaya Sudha Press.

Bhavabhuti (1967) Malatimadhava: With the Commentary of Jagaddha. Translated  by M.R. Kale. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Mirashi, Vasudev Vishnu (1974) Bhavabhuti. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Nandi, Tapasvi (1996) Bhavabhuti and Sanskrit Literary Criticism. Bhandarkar: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. Accessed February 21, 2016. doi:

Ramanathan, C. (1985) Bhavabhuti: a Brief Sketch of Life and Works. Bangalore: W Q Judge Press.


Related Topics for Further Investigation















Uttara Rama Carita




Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic



Article written by: Ashley Steenbergen (February 2016) who is solely responsible for its content