South Asian Aesthetics

University of Pennsylvania, Fall 2014

Session 05: Rasa Part II

Coordinator: Vidya

Varma, Raja Ravi. Śakuntala. Oil on canvas. 1870.

Varma, Raja Ravi. Śakuntala. Oil on canvas. 1870.

In this session we will continue our discussion of rasa and associated concepts both by using them to understand pieces of poetry and drama and by comparing the system outlined in the Nāṭyaśāstra with the poetry and dramas of the celebrated (and roughly contemporaneous) Sanskrit poet Kalidasa. The first aim will be to understand how these theories ‘work’; i.e. how they explain the manner in which poetry and drama affect a change in the emotional and cognitive state of the audience member.  The second aim will be to think more generally about the nature of the relationship between theory/criticism and art/literature: Does theory inform the practice of art?  Or is it the other way around?  Or do they have a more dialogical relationship?

Introduction to the texts:

Kalidasa, Abhijñāna Śakuntalā.  Kalidasa (?) is perhaps the most famous and beloved poet in Sanskrit, and his compositions frequently serve as models for Sanskrit theoreticians of literary aesthetics.  In Act One of the play, the hero King Duṣyanta finds himself in the hermitage of the sage Kaṇva and encounters Kaṇva’s daughter, the heroine Śakuntalā, for the first time.  Take note of how the play begins, and of the various details that Kalidasa uses to ‘set the scene’ for the lovers’ first meeting, including the characters’ physical and verbal reactions.

Gerow: “Sanskrit Dramatic Theory and Kalidasa’s Plays.” Take a look at this article to help contextualize Kalidasa’s play in the aesthetic values of the period and to think through the question of how art and theory influence each other.

Conceptual Readings:

  1. The Nāṭyaśāstra: English translation with critical notes. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 1999. Chapters 6 and 7.
  2. Gerow, Edwin. “Sanskrit Dramatic Theory and Kālidāsa’s Plays.” In Theater of Memory.  Edited by Barbara Stoler Miller. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. 42-62.

Case studies:

  1. Kalidasa, Abhijñāna Śakuntalam (Śakuntalā and the Ring of Recollection.) In Theater of Memory: The Plays of Kalidasa.  Translated by Barbara Stoler Miller.  Act One (85-101).

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