Rasa Theory

Rasa Theory

Rasa Theory

A depiction of “Karuna Rasa” in Indian Theatre. Image Source: https://universitypublication.in

The theory of Rasa, aka Rasa Theory, attributed to Bharata Muni and developed by Abhinavagupta, categorises human emotions into various rasas, such as delight, laughter, sorrow, and heroism, which form the basis of aesthetic experience in Indian theatre and poetry.


About Bharata Muni 

Bharata Muni, an ancient Indian scholar believed to have lived in the second century BC, is renowned as the pioneer of literary theory in Indian tradition. His seminal work, the Natyashastra, is considered the foundational text of Indian aesthetics and literary theory. In Natyashastra, Bharata expounds upon various aspects of dramatic performance, encompassing principles of acting, staging, music, and dance.


About Natyashastra 

Natyashastra, attributed to Bharata Muni, is an ancient Indian treatise on dramaturgy (the theory and practice of dramatic composition.) that serves as a cornerstone of Indian literary and philosophical tradition. Dating back to around the 2nd century BC, Natyashastra is considered the first comprehensive guide to drama as an art form. It encompasses various aspects of drama, including its nature, objectives, structure, and performance techniques. Serving as an encyclopedia of ideas and principles about drama, Natyashastra explores the integration of poetry and drama, highlighting their interconnectedness in Indian literary tradition.

Natyashastra covers four aspects of acting: Aharya (appearance), Angika (body movements), Vachik (speech), and Sattvik (inner feelings). It consists of 37 chapters, each addressing different aspects of drama. The first chapter discusses the origin and purpose of drama, including its initial performance by gods and demons. Subsequent chapters cover topics such as theater construction, stage worship, dance, and background settings.

The sixth chapter is crucial that focuses on the theory of Rasa its manifestation, its experience, it’s types and their nature. The seventh chapter discusses Bhava (emotions) and their analysis and ways of its representation. Chapters eight to eleven explore dance interpretation, and the twelfth chapter delves into character portrayal and performance techniques. The thirteenth chapter examines stage space and methods of representation.

Chapters fourteen to seventeen discuss figures of speech and language characteristics, while the nineteenth chapter covers drama writing and structure. The twentieth chapter discusses the tendencies of drama, and the twenty-first focuses on costume and stage design. Chapters twenty-two to twenty-six address various aspects of acting and character portrayal.

Musical instruments and singing are covered in chapters twenty-eight to thirty-four, with topics including song types, rhythm, and instrumental usage. The last few chapters narrate mythological stories and discuss the qualities of performers and spectators. Overall, Natyashastra provides a comprehensive guide to the art of drama, addressing various elements crucial to its performance and interpretation.

Rasa Theory

Rasa and It’s Different Meanings 

The desire to express and share emotions through literature and art is innate to humans. While ordinary statements may convey experiences, true creative literature involves imaginative expression and rich language, often in the form of poetry or drama. Through artful language and imagery, poets like Shakespeare can evoke powerful emotions and experiences. “Rasa” refers to the pleasure derived from literature and art, providing a temporary escape from daily life.  It’s closely linked to Indian culture and literature, used to describe pleasure in various aspects of life, from food to music. The literal/general meaning of Rasa is water, juice, wine, essence, relish and cherishing. Over time, the interpretation of “rasa” has evolved, with different meanings attached to it depending on the context.In the field of food and fruit the word rasa is used for sweet and tastefulness. The pleasure enjoyed through ear by listening music is called rasa. In the field of medicine and Health Sciences, the best medicine of the time is called rasa. In the field of spirituality and religion the Paramatma (inner soul of living being) is called as rasa. The word “rasa” is widely used in the context of various art forms. It’s often associated with how we perceive and engage with works of art, whether finding them interesting or boring. However, the exact meaning of “rasa” can be confusing. When people experience a good tragedy, they might feel conflicted about finding pleasure in someone else’s grief. Yet, they may still feel drawn to watch tragedies again. This suggests that the emotional experience of a play or drama goes beyond simple pleasure. To truly understand “rasa” and its theory, we need to delve deeper.

Rasa: According to Bharata Muni

In Natyashastra, Bharata says that which can be relished – like the taste of food – is rasa:

Rasyate anena iti rasaha (asvadayatva).”

According to him, “rasa” is a sentiment derived from a piece of art, typically stemming from a dominant emotion (“sthayibhav”). This emotion then transforms into aesthetic pleasure, or “rasa.” Bharata very emphatically states in the Rasadhyaya of Natyashastra that “na hi Rasad rite kaschid arthah pravartate” (no meaningful idea is conveyed if the “Rasa” is not evoked.)

He, then, emphasizes the importance of combining various emotional elements (“vibhav,” “anubhav,” and “sancharibhav/vyabicharibhav”) to create a fully satisfying experience for the audience. He writes:


(Natyashastra, VI) .

This sutra of Bharata is explained by various philosophers and rhetoricians after him till 11th century. Additionally, Bharata highlights the significance of the audience’s receptivity (“sahardya“) in experiencing “rasa.”

Rasa and Bhava

The theory of rasa suggests that the purpose of literature is to give readers pleasure through bhavas (emotions). For a work to be considered good literature, it needs to effectively convey emotions and experiences.The terms used in the rasa theory maxim given by Bharata Muni, such as sthayibhav (lasting emotions), sancharibhav (fleeting emotions), vibhav (stimulus), and anubhav (response), are crucial for understanding this theory. According to this theory, Bhavas(emotions) in literature are divided into two types: sthayibhav and sancharibhav. Sthayibhav emotions like love and disgust develop slowly and last long, while sancharibhav emotions like anger and laughter arise quickly and fade fast. These emotions are developed by Vibhav known as Karana or Cause. Vibhav are the stimulants of emotions (bhavas) whereas anubhavas are the physical responses that follow emotions.


Sthayibhav is a natural and permanent emotion inherent in every person. It’s not something we learn but something deeply ingrained in our psyche from birth. Sthayibhav serves as the centre of all other temporary feelings (sancharibhavas). There are eight main sthayibhav emotions:

  1. Rati (love)
  2. Hasya (Joy),
  3. Shoka (Sorrow) (grief),
  4. Krodha (Malice) (anger),
  5. Utsaha (enthusiasm),
  6. Bhaya (Fear),
  7. Jugupsa (Disgust),
  8. Vismaya (Surprise).

Some successor of Bharat have added three more sthayibhav i.e. nirveda (detachment from the day to day life), vatsalya (mother’s affection for child) and sneha or sahachara (desire for accompany of particular person).


Sancharibhav are not fixed or lasting emotions; they change over time and depending on the situation. The word “sanchari” means moving or fleeting, indicating their nature. They are also called Vyabhichyaribhav because they don’t last long and fade quickly. Sancharibhav are opposite to sthayibhav, being transient feelings. There are almost thirty enumerated sancharibhav, but more can be acknowledged. These emotions are not innate or permanent but arise from other emotions; for example, bashfulness comes from love and depression from sorrow.


vibhava is a stimulant of emotions. The word vibhava means “cause” or “determinant“. It’s something we can directly sense and it triggers our feelings and reactions. There are two types of vibhav:

  1. Alambana vibhav, which is the main cause of emotion (e.g., the portrayal of love in a play), and
  2. Uddipana vibhav, which enhances the emotional setting (e.g., the scenery and ambiance).


The outcome of an emotion is called anubhav, which is the resulting response or reaction to vibhav (stimuli). For example, if someone feels sadness(soka), their anubhava might include behaviours like mourning, weeping, or shedding tears.

Vibhav and anubhav aren’t directly connected to emotions and sentiments themselves but rather indicate the factors that contribute to those sentiments.


One other kind of Bhava is Sattvikbhav, which is not extensively discussed in rasa theory. It represents involuntary mental states and bodily responses alongside other emotions. Professor Ami Upadhay lists eight Sattvikbhav, including:

  1. Stambha (paralysis),
  2. Pralaya (fainting),
  3. Romanca (horripilation),
  4. Sveda (perspiration),
  5. Asru (tears),
  6. Vairarnya (change of color),
  7. Vipathu (trembling),
  8. Vaisvarya or Svarbhanga (change of the voce or breaking of the voice).

Difference between Sattvikbhav and Anubhava

  • Sattvik bhava is the internal emotional state, while anubhava is the external manifestation of that emotion.
  • Sattvik bhava is more enduring and foundational, while anubhava is transient and expressive.

Types of Rasa

The number of rasa in performing arts is a topic of debate since ancient times. Some argue there are eight rasas, while others believe there are nine. Many scholars agree that the ninth rasa was added by Abhinavgupta in his commentary on Natyashastra called Abhinavabharati.

Sringara Rasa (The Erotic):

Sringara rasa i.e. erotic one arises from the sthayibhav of love (Rati). Bharata defines Sringara rasa as “whatever is sacred, pure, placid and worth-seeing can compose to Sringara.” In everyday life, anything bright, pure, shining, or beautiful is associated with love. It is portrayed through young men and women of noble character (which is Alambana Vibhav) and is enhanced by representations of seasons, garlands, ointments, ornaments, and other things that one finds dear (which is Uddipana Vibhav). Acting out Sringara rasa involves skillful use of the eyes, frowning, side glances, graceful movements, gentle body movements, and soft speech.

Hasya rasa (The Comic):

Hasya rasa, or the sentiment of humor, is a crucial element in any literary work. It arises from the sthayibhav of Hasa (joy). It not only provides comic relief but also serves as a dominant emotion. Natyashastra explains Hasya rasa as arising primarily from laughter, triggered by various stimuli like wearing ill-fitting clothes, shamelessness, greed, tickling, fantastic tales, observing deformities, and describing faults. There are six types of Hasya described in the verses of Anubhavas: ‘smita‘ (gentle smile), ‘hasita‘ (smile), ‘vihasita‘ (gentle laughter), ‘upahasita‘ (ridicule laughter), ‘apahasita‘ (vulgar laughter) and ‘atihasita‘ (excessive laughter).

Karuna Rasa (The Pathetic):

Karuna rasa originates from the Sthayibhav of Shoka (grief). It embodies feelings of sorrow and pathos. It arises from various stimuli such as curses, separation from loved ones, downfall, loss of wealth, and calamity. Rama’s grief upon exiling Sita to the forest is a notable example of Karun rasa.

Raudra Rasa (The Furious):

Raudra rasa represents feelings of anger and fury. The Sthayibhav of Raudra Rasa is Krodh (anger). According to Natyashastra, Rudra rasa is characterized by its permanent emotion of anger. It is often depicted through characters like demons, monsters, and violent individuals, and is triggered by factors such as battles, insults, lies, and envy. The essence of Raudra rasa lies in showcasing intense wrath and fury, reflecting an arrogant and angry state of mind rooted in cruel actions and deeds.

Veera Rasa (The Heroic):

Veera Rasa represents feelings of courage, bravery, valour, and heroism. The Sthayibhav of Veer Rasa is Utsaha (enthusiasm). It encompasses qualities like discipline, power, and bravery as its stimuli. The accompanying transient emotions include patience, dignity, and remembrance. Veera rasa is further categorized into three types of heroism: Dayavira, Yudhavira, and Danvira, exemplified by characters like Karna.

Bhayanaka Rasa (The Terrible):

Bhayanaka rasa is all about fear. It arises from the Sthayibhav of Bhaya (fear). It’s the feeling you get when something scary happens. In stories or plays, it’s triggered by things like spooky sounds, encountering supernatural beings, or being in dark, eerie places. When you see or hear these things, it can make you feel afraid or uneasy. Bhayanak rasa also includes other emotions like agitation, depression, and fatigue that come along with fear.

Bibhatsa Rasa (The Odious):

Bibhatsa rasa is about disgust and revulsion, which arises from the Sthayibhav of Jugupsa (disgust). It’s that feeling of being repulsed or disgusted by something unpleasant or gross. In stories or performances, it’s triggered by things like seeing or hearing about disgusting or repulsive things, like foul smells, grotesque creatures, or disturbing sights. When you encounter these things, it can make you feel queasy or uncomfortable. Bibhatsa rasa also includes emotions like aversion, repulsion, and discomfort that come along with disgust.

Adbhuta Rasa (The Marvelous):

Adbhuta rasa is all about feeling amazed or astonished. The Sthayibhav of Adbhuta Rasa is Vismaya (surprise). When you see something extraordinary or unbelievable, like heavenly beings, magical performances, or even achieving your dreams, it triggers this emotion. It’s like when you’re watching a magic show or seeing something totally out of the ordinary, and it leaves you in awe. Your eyes might widen, you might get goosebumps, or even feel a little scared or excited. This sense of wonder and amazement is what Adbhuta rasa is all about.

Shanta Rasa ( The Peace):

Shanta rasa is all about finding inner peace and tranquility. The sthayibhav of shanta rasa is sama which leads to moksha. It’s that feeling of calmness and equilibrium that comes from understanding the truth and detaching oneself from worldly distractions. When you achieve a state of shanta rasa, you’re not bothered by the ups and downs of life. You might feel serene, focused, and compassionate towards others. This emotion arises from vibhav, like gaining knowledge, detachment, and purity of mind. It’s often depicted through anubhav, such as meditation, devotion, and wearing religious symbols. People argue about whether shanta rasa truly exists or if it’s just a part of other emotions. Some say it’s a state of complete non-attachment, while others believe it’s included in other rasas. But regardless, shanta rasa can be a powerful subject for poetry and drama, as it reflects the inner journey towards peace and enlightenment.



If you are looking forward to prepare for UGC NET/JRF, you may find this article useful.




©2024. Md. Rustam Ansari [profrustamansari@gmail.com]



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