Eleven Objections To Sanskrit Literary Theory:
A debate has been on in this country for quite some time now about the role of its inherited learning that at present finds no place in the mainstream education. It has been restricted either to the traditional institutes or special institutes, ‘sanctuaries’. It is assumed, and argued by its opponents, that this inherited learning is now obsolete and no longer relevant to the living realities. This is however counter-factual — the inherited learning not only endures in the traditional institutes but also vibrates in the popular modes of performances and in the mechanisms of transmitting the tradition, such as katha, pravacana and other popular cultural and social practices. And what is more to the point, the vocabulary of this thought is now the ordinary language vocabulary of the ordinary speakers of modern Indian languages. The thought permeates the mind and language.
However, the ‘educated’ Indian has been de-intellectualized. His vocabulary has been forced into hibernation by the vocabulary of the west. For him, West is the theory and India is the data. The Indian academy has willingly entered into a receiver-donor relationship with the western academy, a relationship of intellectual subordination. This ‘de-intellectualization’ needs to be countered and corrected by re-locating the Indian mind in the Indian thought. Arguing for Sanskrit literary theory as the appropriate theory for Indian literary criticism is a part of this larger enterprise. The 5th century philosopher of language, Bhartrhari, in the penultimate karika of the second kanda of his celeberated Vakyapadiya says:
“The intellect acquires critical acumen by familiarity with different traditions. How much does one really understand by merely following one’s own reasoning only?”(Ka-484) That was the self-respecting voice of an intellectually confident India with its interactive, contending yet collaborative traditions of thought beautifully recalled and critiqued in the 13th century by Sri Madhavacarya in his Sarvadarsanasangraha. However, in today’s de-intellectualised India, we have to say:
“What does he know who does not know his own tradition?” India has powerful, attested, traditions of texts and thinkers in disciplines ranging from prosody to philosophy and these are enshrined mainly in Sanskrit. By abandoning this donor Sanskrit tradition, we have become passive, uncritical recipients of Western theories and models.
Had the classical thought enshrined in Sanskrit, Pali and Prakrit texts and some of it preserved as adaptation in Old Tamil texts been made a part of the mainstream education it would have enabled the educated Indian to interact with the west on a level ground. This tradition has attested texts and thinkers in a wide range of disciplines — philosophy, grammar, poetics, prosody, astronomy, architecture, mathematics, medicine, atmospheric sciences, sociology / ethics (dharmasastra), chemistry, physics, agriculture, economics and commerce, music, botany and zoology, weaponry and art of warfare, logic, education, metallurgy. The texts of these disciplines not only make statements about the respective domains of knowledge but also enshrine the empirical wisdom gathered by our society over centuries in these spheres. All this knowledge has been marginalised by and excluded from the mainstream education system. Efforts to incorporate it or teach it have been politically opposed and condemned as ‘revivalism’. Europe’s 13th century onwards successful venture of relocating the European mind in its classical Greek roots is lauded and expounded in the Indian universities as ‘revival of learning’ and as ‘Renaissance’. But when it comes to India, the political intellectuals dismiss exactly the same venture as ‘revivalism’ or ‘obscurantism’. The words such as ‘revivalism’ are, what I call, ‘trap words’. And there are more, for example ‘traditional’ and ‘ancient’ — the person working in Indian studies is put on the defensive by these nomenclatures. ‘Tradition’ is falsely opposed to ‘modern’ and the word ‘traditional’ is equated with oral and given an illegitimate pejorative value. And the adjective ‘ancient’ as pre-fixed — ‘Panini, the ancient grammarian’, ‘ancient Indian poetics / philosophical thought’ — makes the classical Indian thinkers and thought look antiquated. No western writer ever refers to Plato, for example, as ‘ancient’ or Greek thought as ‘ancient’. This psychic jugglery is directed at the continuity of Indian intellectual traditions suggesting as it does a break or a disjunction in the intellectual history. There is no such disjunction in India’s intellectual history but then the Indian intellectual brought up on alien food must set up a disjunction in Indian history if there is one in the western history! If at all there is a disjunction it happens with the foundation of the English education and then too it is a horizontal disjunction between the mainstream education system and the traditional institutes of learning and not a vertical temporal disjunction.
Even this disjunction is indefensible — for those who believe that this knowledge is now archaic would do well to recall that the contemporary western theories, though essentially interpretive, have evolved from Europe’s 19th century interaction with Sanskrit philosophy, grammar and poetics; they would care to remember that Roman Jakobson, Trubetzkoy and de Saussure were Sanskritists, that Saussure was in fact a professor of Sanskrit at Geneva and that his published papers include work on Sanskrit poetics. The structural, formalist thinking and the linguistic turn of contemporary theory have their pedigree in Sanskrit thought. In this, Europe’s highly fruitful interaction with the Indian thought over practically the same time-span contrasts sharply with 150 years of sterile Indian interaction with the western thought. After the founding of Sanskrit chairs in the first decade of the nineteenth century, Europe interacted with the Indian thought, particularly in philosophy, grammar, literary theory and literature, in a big way without abandoning its own powerful tradition. In the process, it created, as we have said a new discipline, Historical-Comparative Linguistics, produced a galaxy of thinkers — Schiller, Schelling, Schopenhauer, Nietszche, Jakobson, Trubetzkoy and above all Saussure — and founded a revolutionary conceptual framework which was to influence the European thought for the next century, Structuralism. Alienated from the roots, caught in the web of conflicting schemas, unable to interact with western scholarship on a level ground, we have failed to produce in the last 150 years any thinker or thought. The possible exceptions, Swami Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Mahatma Gandhi, are interestingly those who consciously located themselves in the Indian tradition and are oriented towards its metaphysical thought. Awareness of this sterility, and its cause, has slowly grown. There is an increasing assertion in the country of the need to remedy this state, to reverse this data-theory relationship between the Indian academy and the western academy by relocating the Indian mind in its multiple, classical traditions of thought, in what has always been a donor tradition. This is how we follow up the political and economic freedoms by the freedom of the mind. In this perspective, in literary studies, we must re-activate Indian frameworks in the university syllabi.
It is easy to see why one must prefer Indian conceptual frameworks. Apart from the general instrumentality of freeing the mind by activating the innate Indian habits of mind, we have noted elsewhere their superior explanatory adequacy. Theories are culture specific — they are codes of a community’s expectations from the art form / forms and therefore more adequately account for that community’s response to the artifacts.
Cultural specificity of theories can therefore be problematic if the theories of one culture are applied uncritically to the empirical reality of another culture. There are the Indian habits of mind and there are the western habits of mind nurtured over time by the specificity of the community’s experience and these may differ crucially. It is these habits of mind that are imbricated deeply in the respective conceptual frameworks. The western linearity of time and thought with its in-built evolutionary imperative that is implicit in such structures as ‘pre-X-post A’ (pre-colonial, colonial, post-colonial) contrasts sharply with the Indian schema of cyclicity and simultaneity. Similarly, the western binarism and the search for certainty differs from the either-or-or both schema and the uncertainty schema of the Indian mind. The list is long — the teleological anxiety, the apocalyptic vision, the wait for the millennium, the redeemer expectation, the anthropological centrism, the conception of man as a sinner, a vengeful God, an ethics contingent on a personal God — all these western constructs offer conceptual opposition to the Indian habits of mind, at least to the non-Hebraic habits of mind.
This applies among others to poetics, literary theory. Indian literary theories are empirical responses to what still is an oral culture — even the term for verbal compositions, vangmaya, literally means ‘that which has existence in / which is permeated by speech’. Literary theories that are applied to Indian compositions must take into account their orality and what flows from this dimension — the anonymity or serial authorship of the texts, and hence the non-pertinence of authorial meaning, the need to designate the author as ‘composer’ (rather than writer) and the receiver of the text as ‘auditor’ rather than ‘reader’ (Johnson used the term ‘auditor’ in his Preface to Shakespeare). There are foundational differences as well. The concepts of creativity and the creative process are found to be completely different. The paradigm artist in Indian thought, for example, is the potter as against the carpenter in Western (Greek) thought. The carpenter cuts, segments and re-arranges his material reality (the wood) and is therefore a ‘maker’. The potter’s material reality (the clay) is like water in the ocean not measurable or segmentable and the potter therefore does not ‘make’ — he merely makes manifest a form that inheres in the material and is present to him in his mind. The potter is not the ‘master’ but a sadhaka, a devotee, a Yogi who yokes his mind to the object and gives form to the substance.
Preferred forms also differ. In Indian literatures, the dominant form is an aural-visual verse narrative and the highest excellence has been achieved in the epics. In English literature the highest excellence has been achieved in drama and in Russian literature in the novel. Theories should investigate such cultural specificities if they are to ask relevant questions about the compositions.
In the absence of such an appropriate theory, Indian literary criticism — both in English and in Indian languages, both about literature in English and about literatures in Indian languages — hasn’t asked these culturally specific questions.
The Indian literary criticism has in fact been marked by severe limitations. It has, all in all, been derivative and backward. Before PL-480, it was Anglo — and after PL 480 it is a footnote to the Anglo-American school — even the European frameworks filter through English translations, commentaries and Anglo-American practices. Besides, it has always been backward — there is always a time lag between its enunciation in the west and its emulation here. Hence, the derisive comment about Indian literary criticism quoted by Prof. CDNarasimhaiah ji — “You mean those carbon copies of Mathiessen, Blackmur and Leavis?” And it has been seasonal. Every successive passing fashion in the Anglo-American school has been dutifully applied to the Indian literary reality — Leavisian Moral, New Criticism, Structuralism, Post-structuralism, Semiotics and Deconstruction, Postmodernism, Psychoanalytic, Feminist, Marxist, New Historicism, Cultural Materialism, Stylistics. Each successive framework has been found to be a perfect fit for the malleable Indian reality, without any modification or adaptation! What is the character of this criticism? It is only as much Indian as the word ‘India’ itself. Its theoretical framework is, as we noted above, derivative. The body of literature it addresses is Metro. There is metro literature written under the influence of, and often imitating, both the western (Anglo-American) societal problematic as themes and there is the metro theory that both explains it and is validated by this body of literature. Its audience is urban (English) educated elite. There are no western readers for this as the West is not interested in Indian language literatures or in the Indian paraphrase or redaction of their theories. (Whatever limited but profitable western audience is there is of readers interested in being told by India’s ‘colonized’ minds about India’s colonized mind!) What is excluded in the process?
(i) Theoretical thinking. Indian literary criticism is by and large applicational — there is hardly any theoretical thinking which is how in any case it would be in a derivative framework — there are no attempts to critique or even localize the theory (to use a term from computational software technology). Theoretical thinking is excluded by the very enterprise.
(ii) The whole oral / folk (aural — visual) literature, performances and compositions are out of its range as this construes literature as writing. This activity is therefore strictly restricted to the literate context. More importantly, it is in complete disjunction with the long tradition of
literary thinking, with the tradition of continuous and cumulative texts from the Natyasastra to Rasagangadhara via Bhamaha, Vamana, Mahima Bhatta, Anandavardhana, Kuntaka, Abhinavagupta, Mammata and Viswanatha.
It is not surprising therefore that the need for ‘Indianness’ of critical practices, of ‘nativising’ the critical discourse has been voiced/ talked about (though not always rigorously argued). Prof. C.D. Narasimhaiah ji has been saying this since 1965 when he had organised a national seminar on “Literary Criticism: European and Indian Tradition”. Not that there has been no change in the scene. After the initial, well-known expositions of Indian poetics such as those by Hiriyanna, Krishna Chaitanya, since the late eighties Indian professors of English have publicly discussed different Indian theories. Prof. M.S. Kushwaha’s 1988 Indian Poetics and Western Thought is a landmark in this trend. Secondly, some of these professors produced tracts/articles outlining the applicational models based on different Indian schools. Professor R.S. Pathak of Sagar is to be noted for his contribution in modifying the climate — his introduction to in English to Kuntaka’s vakrokti theory is an important example of the kind of textual exposition that is needed. Then, some departments of English initiated research in Indian English literature using the Indian models. And at least in one department (Centre of Linguistics and English, JNU, New Delhi) research applying Indian frameworks to western texts and objects has been consciously adopted as research agenda since at least 1990. Finally, now, some universities teach Indian poetics a part of the English syllabus.
But these are sporadic changes as there has been no policy change at the national disciplinary level, no ‘mind change’, so to say — not even a formal discussion at the national level about ‘appropriate theory’ nor a systemic addressing of this issue in the U.G.C. panel for English. Indian theoretical texts continue to be marginalised in the university syllabi and most of the effort outlined above has been either in the form of an argument in defense of or an exposition of parts and portions of classical Indian poetics. There is not yet much applicational research needed badly to validate the classical frameworks by establishing their adequacy. As this has not happened on the desired scale, the Indian theoretical frameworks have not been evaluated in terms of contemporary literatures. However, these efforts and this movement have evoked definite critical opposition. In the course of this relatively limited expositional and applied effort, during and after the eighties, questions have been raised about what is ‘Indian’, what is ‘Indian aesthetics’ and what is the ‘appropriate’ Indian aesthetics? What is ‘Native’ aesthetics or theory? Is it the classical Indian (Sanskrit) poetics or is it ‘some’ aesthetics that lies embedded in the literatures of the modern Indian languages, the vernaculars or is it some tribal aesthetics?
Sanskrit poetics is the natural answer to both the questions — it is ‘Indian’ Aesthetics and it is culturally, linguistically and historically ‘appropriate’.
But this position, as we pointed out above, is strongly contested. The Indian educated elite has been brought up on an anti-self — more than true to Macaulay’s cheerful submission to his sister, the educated Indian, particularly the Hindu, suffers from such a deep loss of self respect that he is unwilling to be recognised as such. He feels, in fact, deeply threatened by any surfacing or manifestation of the identity that he has worked so hard to, and has been trained to reject. But it lies somewhere in his psyche as ‘an unhappy tale’, as something that is best forgotten. It is these people wearing various garbs — liberal, left, secular, modern — who oppose, more often than not from sheer ignorance, any attempt to introduce Indian traditions of thought in the mainstream education system — a classic case of self-hate taking the form of mother-hate! That things are changing and are bound to change is a testimony to the sheer vigour of an intellectual tradition that has seen, in its attested history of thousands of years, many cycles of recession and renewal. Arguments against Sanskrit poetics are a part of this larger political argument against the Indian — and to drop the euphemism — what may be generally described as the Hindu intellectual traditions. Many arguments have been put forward against Sanskrit poetics. All these many arguments put forth so far against Sanskrit poetics “as an applicable system for present-day Indian criticism” have been painstakingly put together in his review of the 1998 book, Literary Theory: Indian Conceptual Framework by Mr. John Oliver Perry, whose sheer enthusiasm for opposing classical Indian thought is unrivalled. One would normally desist from joining an argument with what is a statement abounding in so many areas of darkness. But as this statement, in its consolidation of objections, is an ideal purva-paksha that makes our task that much easier, we will build our siddhanta, our arguments for Sanskrit poetics, by offering rejoinders to all the many objections to Sanskrit literary theory listed/articulated by our kind friend. In Mr. John Oliver Perry’s otherwise complimentary review, eleven objections to Sanskrit poetics have been formulated. It is said that Sanskrit poetics:
1. is archaic, “of mainly archaeological interest”;
2. is ‘unacceptable’, for a variety of reasons, ‘will not be widely adopted in India or elsewhere’;
3. trivialises literature by holding ‘enjoyment’, ‘tranquil pleasure, ananda’ (and not analysis/meaning) as the goal of literature;
4. is merely theoretical and has no models for ‘analytical application’.
5. characteristically unstable terminology, much more than in ‘western criticism’;
6. lacks an ‘authoritative sastra’;
7. is epistemologically limited, relying heavily as it does on analogy and authority;
8. is based in a ‘metaphysically based aesthetics’ which allows little room for ‘unmediated sense of things’;
9. claims comprehensiveness, a ‘universalizing’ belied by the theory itself;
10. makes an untenable ‘historiographical claim to represent the totality of Indian culture’; and’
11. excludes ‘non-Sanskritic oral literatures... the visible ethnography... cultural diversity’.
We take up these objections one by one:
1. To say that Indian literary theory is now only ‘of archaeological interest’ is to commit oneself to a major erroneous assumption: that there is an attested break in India’s intellectual history and cultural practices — such as the one that afflicted Europe after the sack of Rome — making room for a renaissance.
This is just not true of India. There has been no break in the continuous and cumulative intellectual traditions in different domains of knowledge. Evidence comes from the ordinary language of the people. The technical terms of various disciplines continue not only to exist but have become common words of ordinary use in almost all the languages of India. Witness for example the first two technical terms of Panini’s Astadhyayi — vridhi and guna — 7th century B.C. grammatical terms, that are today words of daily use in a shared sense in all the Indian languages. The whole terminology of Indian literary theories — rasa, dhvani, alamkara, vakrokti, etc. — is the living vocabulary of Indian languages. It is not just a question of continuity of words — it means that the concepts are alive and they continue to be understood and are, therefore, relevant.
There has been, on the other hand, actual break in the western intellectual tradition, necessitating a Renaissance. We have already noted (footnote16) what Gilbert Murray says in his introduction to Byford’s translation of Aristotle’s Poetics that to understand that text one has to read it in original Greek as “the first nine nouns have no equivalents in the modern European languages.” This is a conceptual break requiring elaborate reconstruction / translation of texts followed by reconstruction of concepts. In India, the opposite holds true — the technical terms have acquired through continuous use so many overlaid meanings that the exegete has to remove these layers to reach the core concept. When people talk of continuity of Indian civilization, it is this continuity of thought.
Also, there is no break in the cultural practices. India’s folk and oral art forms attest the same continuity and as the Indian theoretical frames followed, arose in response to cultural practices, including, even if not principally, folk/oral forms, they continue to be adequate explanatory constructs for contemporary practices as well.
And then, the Indian frames continue to be used to evaluate and explain music and dance compositions and performances. One has to see art (music, dance) reviews in journals and newspapers (particularly Indian language newspapers) to see how ‘living’ these constructs are. This applies to verbal compositions in regional languages as well.
It may be of interest for us to know that after Pt. Jagannatha (17-18th. Century) there have been almost 200 original compositions in Sanskrit literary theory coming right down to modern times. Also, Sanskrit poetics after Panditraja Jagannatha has been assimilated into the Indian languages. There is evidence of this in Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Bangla and so on.
Thus, this is a questionable assumption, the assumption of a break or a rupture in the Indian cultural / intellectual tradition between the ‘Sanskrit’ period and the ‘vernacular’ period, something that actually does not exist but is postulated on the false analogy of the western history of ideas. From Vedic Sanskrit to Classical Sanskrit to Pali to Prakrit to Apabhramshas to the modern Indian languages, it is one story of linguistic-cultural-intellectual continuity.
There are in fact two ‘Indias’ — the ‘English-knowing India’ and the ‘non-English knowing India’. If one may venture one may say that the Indian theoretical frameworks are of ‘archaeological interest’ only for those English educated Indians who are in complete disjunction with their own culture and thought, suffering from, to adapt Durkheim’s category, intellectual anomie.
2. The charge — Sanskrit intellectual frameworks are unacceptable for a variety of reasons: ‘The basic reason is that it is Brahminical...derives its authority from those castes...elitist cultural baggage’.
This charge, falling in the paradigm of the familiar Liberal-Marxist attack on the Hindu traditions, like other charges, stems from a deep ignorance of things Indian. Only a person who has not read the primary texts and has only read about the texts can make this kind of statement. Indian literary theories are structural analyses of how meaning is constituted in literature. Each theory posits unambiguous categories to exhaustively analyse and describe its object. The objects examined by different theories are: lexis for Riti school, suggestion or verbal symbolism for Dhvani theory, possible states of being (human psychological conditions) for Rasa theory, deviations in the language of literature for Vakrokti theory and and the whole range of possible figures of speech for the Alamkara theory. Even interpretation assumes the possibility of determining from among a range of possible meanings and sets up a category bound system of interpretation that explains how a particular meaning gets constituted. The categories are analytical and descriptive and there is nothing in them that is even remotely suggestive of or bound by ‘caste’ or an exclusive philosophic system. The onus is on these critics to show which of the sthayi or sancari bhava or the dhvani categories or the lexical categories or the figures of speech or the methods of interpretation are ‘caste-bound’ and in what manner? They are invited to take for example the 50 sancari bhavas of Bharata and examine them. In the absence of a concrete demonstration, I am afraid the criticism ceases to be honest and becomes merely a political gesture treading the familiar paradigm of ‘caste — elephant — snake charmer — rope trick ’ India. Just as we cannot characterise Plato’s ontological categories as ‘pagan’, just as we cannot characterise Derrida’s epistemic categories as ‘Jewish’, we cannot characterise any of the Indian literary theoretic categories as ‘Brahminical’.
A more fundamental error is probably responsible for this thinking. The tradition talks of three contending schools of thought (sampradaya) in almost all domains — the Brahman, the Bauddha and the Jaina. The ‘Brahman’(often wrongly spelled as ‘Brahmin’) does not stand for the caste — it denotes ‘the school of thought that upholds the category of Brahman (of Vedanta)’ as against those, the Buddhists and the Jains, for example who don’t. This Brahman sampradaya is also known in the tradition as ‘the vaiyakaranas’, the grammarians who are often referred to as ‘the first among the philosophers’. It is a grave error to confuse this appellation with the caste name. The intellectual frameworks could not be ‘exclusionary’ as alleged. A culture that allows thought systems ranging from downright materialist Carvakas to subjective idealist systems such as Vallabha dualism as recorded and critiqued by Sri Madhavacarya and attests the continued presence of a strong popular, vernacular tradition of interpretation besides the learned, could not be and never was uni-polar. No serious Indian text has ever argued uni-culturalism. The creed is best summed up by the famous statement, ekam satya vipra bahudha vadanti’ (‘there is a truth out there and the wise talk of it in different ways’). Bhartrhari in the first Kanda of his unrivalled Vakyapadiya expressly describes and supports the principle of nanatva (multiplicity). The world-view / philosophy of a culture cannot be ignored in any discussion of an appropriate aesthetic. The Indian world-view therefore has to be taken into account. The critics of an Indian aesthetics rooted in Indian philosophy reduce Indian philosophy to simple ‘idealism’ and ignore the tremendous inner differentiation and range of Indian philosophical thinking from the Carvaka materialism to the Visista Advaita of Ramanuja or the Dvaita of Madhava. A reference to the 13th century Sarvadarsanasamgraha of Madhavacarya is a necessary starting point for this understanding Further, as the categories are not caste or one-system bound — are in fact properly ‘structural’ — one does not see the point of the statement that they are “uncongenial to this age”. What is ‘uncongenial’ about them? This must be articulated. To the best of my knowledge no one has called Plato’s categories ‘uncongenial’. One may critique them for their adequacy, show them to be inadequate or inappropriate for whatever be their object and that will be a fruitful exercise but you do not prove any thing by using ungrounded adjectives such as ‘uncongenial’. Are they ‘uncongenial’ because a person brought up on the western disciplinary diet has to ‘learn’ them all over from a scratch and to, in fact, ‘re-programme’ his mind?
3. The charge that Indian poetics trivialises literature by holding ‘enjoyment’, ‘tranquil joy, ‘ananda’ (and not analysis/meaning/knowledge) as the goal of literature.
This charge assumes, with respect to literary experience, an opposition between knowledge and joy. It is understandable why western and western-minded scholars should hold to this opposition. Plato was the first to separate emotion and reason and right down to Eliot ‘the dissociation of sensibility’ and the requirement on art to integrate the two have been the subjects of serious debate. The opposition is not posited by the Indian mind. According to the Samkhya panch-kosa theory (theory of the five-layered knowing self), Ananda or joy is the end product of a well-recognised process of intellection — annamaya kosa, pranamaya kosa, manomaya kosa, vijnanamaya kosa, and finally anandamaya kosa. All experience filters inwards from either the outermost layers of passive and active physical sensory responses or from the senses of knowledge. It is then ‘judged’/’evaluated’ in terms of how it relates to one’s self and is thus ‘sieved’ through the intellect and imprinted on the ‘recording’ or ‘cognising’ self, the citta of the Indian theory of cognition. It is this imprinted knowledge which is the source of joy which is extraordinary and not to be compared with ordinary worldly pleasures as it is produced by a certain ‘elevation’ of the self modified by the experience, the transformed self, a self liberated from its normal narrow boundaries by the ‘knowledge’ given rise to by the experience. In the context of literature, Abhinavagupta describes this experience by the phrase sattva-udreka, ‘the rise of sattva, (knowledge of true essence)’. Our self is permeated by equanimity born of knowledge and this equanimity is ananda. This explanation makes complete sense to an average Indian. A western student has to make effort to comprehend this and in the process study Indian philosophy as well, just as the Indian student of western literature has to make extra effort to educate himself in western culture and philosophy before he can truly ‘enjoy’ western literature. This has reference to Mr. Perry’s complaint that “ ‘we’ the interpreting community, need to be imbued with Indian philosophy” to enjoy Indian texts. Ironically, this itself acknowledges the knowledge base of literary enjoyment.
It must be noted that India has a long and powerful interpretive tradition, sastra-paddhati. However this tika-parampara is restricted to sastras/sutra-texts which are composed, in aphoristic, sutraic, form necessitated by the exigencies of the tradition of mind-internal, oral maintenance of texts. These commentaries perform the dual function of re-contextualising the text and of re-integrating it with other, often competing texts in the same domain of knowledge. However, the absence of commentaries, tika, on Mahabharata, an epic and not a sastra, does not take away from the fact that this epic is by common consent a knowledge text, an encyclopaedic text and is almost always accessed in various modes for the profound wisdom it offers in almost all spheres of life and thought.
One has to read Bhamaha (6th century) to see what strict requirements some theorists place on literature as a rational discourse, how a composer (author) is expected to be a master of the sastras, of the texts of the tradition of literary practices, and of worldly life (loka). Again one has to read Mahimabhatta to get an idea of how for some theorists literature is experienced through a process of reasoning (inference). Again one has to read Abhinavagupta to know how readers’ epistemology is closely analysed by three major theorists who preceded him. How can all this make sense if literature is only for pleasure and involves no intellection. The conclusion is inescapable that those who argue against Sanskrit poetics do not in fact know what they are arguing against and their criticism is totally uninformed criticism.
4. The fourth charge is that Indian poetics is ‘merely theoretical’ and has no models for ‘analytical application’, that successive models merely enrich the theory without enabling analysis. One does not understand this charge. Read the primary texts of any of the seven major theories (listed in the order of development) — Alamkara, Rasa, Riti, Guna-Dosa, Dhvani, Vakrokti, Aucitya. Each of them is an analytical theory — each is a system of structurally organised, well-defined categories (a hierarchy of inter-, intra-related categories) in terms of which any literary composition can be analysed. In fact they are very elaborate taxonomies and as such had come in for some criticism on that count. As such they are descriptive — analytical models. They do not share the speculative character of contemporary western theory, which is notorious for not specifying/yielding categories for actual analysis of texts. Each Indian theory makes a monistic claim about the principal of literariness, alamkara, dhvani, etc., and then proceeds to lay down a system of categories that articulates the principal. The Indian discourse, including technical discourse, conditioned by orality, is injunctive (sutraic), not expository. The foundational theory is not expounded — it is asserted and then manifested in a categorial structure that assumes a theoretical framework. It makes no sense therefore to talk of ‘an applicational model’ as something separate from ‘theory’. Read any primary text and see for yourself. Bhamaha (5th-6th century AD) is a good text to start with for (i) theory of literature, (ii) figurative mode, (iii) language of literature, and (iv) logical requirements on literature as a discourse of knowledge.
It is also said that progressive elaborations of theories are instances of ‘means enhancement’ that defer ‘means use’. Thus this concept from contemporary social sciences is used to turn into a disadvantage what is in fact a distinct merit of the tradition — its continuity and cumulativeness.
Where are we looking for the applications? In English journals only? Let us look also in the Indian language magazines and newspapers. Let us also hear the teacher teaching an Indian language, literature classroom in the towns and cities away from the metropolis.
As far as Indian English criticism is concerned, it is not true that Indian theories are not employed at all — it is one of the frameworks outnumbered no doubt by the contemporary theories. One has to look at the journals of English studies produced by various university departments of English to see that such writing is indeed there. However, the quality of such criticism leaves much to be desired but then the criticism using contemporary frameworks does not fare much better either. The required sophistication will come when the theories are studied seriously in the first case in the university departments and that goes for western theories as well.
5. The fifth charge must surprise the scholars of Indian literary theory in particular and Indian thought in general — that the terminology of Sanskrit theories is ‘characteristically unstable’ more than that of western criticism. Those who know the Sanskrit language know that that Sanskrit vocabulary is a structured vocabulary derived mostly from 1957 verb roots with fixed meaning so that the meaning of almost any Sanskrit word can be almost uniquely determined by the etymological method. We have defined, in our book mentioned above, bhava, a category in Rasa Theory in that manner as ‘that which brings about a state of being’ derived as bhava is from the verb root bhu, the first root in Panini’s Dhatupatha which means ‘to be’. The problem, I think is that all this involves enormous amount of learning, and is quite daunting for those who are not in touch with this tradition. Interestingly, these concepts are quite familiar to our young students coming from all parts of the country and this is something that the sceptics can verify. Not only that — these concepts/words are widely and frequently used by the people to express their responses to life experiences, including art experience. It may be noted that Rasa theory has been universally accepted by all schools of thought and the term is a very high frequency word.
The western critical vocabulary is relatively very limited and very amorphous — what are the stable analytical tools of Deconstruction, for example? Of the three analytical categories of New Criticism, only metaphor is strictly definable, with irony and paradox yieding themselves to any number of interpretations. Aristotle’s Poetics is the only comparable sastra in the western tradition with a rich categorial framework, which may still be employed, is indeed employed, to analyse and evaluate literary compositions.
General western teachers and critics of literature do not have the necessary embedding in Indian thought nor are they expected to have that. When out of curiosity or desire for novelty, they begin meddling with Indian literary theories they find its categories ‘indeterminate’ because these categories make sense only to those who have the necessary background in India’ philosophical systems and linguistic thought.
6. The sixth charge is that Indian literary theory lacks ‘an authoritative sastra’. This charge, it appears stems from a misreading of the statement made in the book on poetics mentioned above that poetics, unlike grammar, is not counted among sastras, i.e. technical disciplines. This is so because the Indian literary tradition lays down very rigorous requirements for a discipline to qualify as a sastra, one of them being the existence of an authoritative primary texts such as Panini’s Astadhyayi in the discipline of grammar. Such a primary text must be an ideal text from the point of view of its exhaustiveness, its authenticity, its retainability in the mind, therefore, its pedagogical value. Above all, it must be composed in the sutraic style so that it can be effectively stored in the mind. The absence of such a text in the area of the literary theory perhaps discounted the possibility of poetics being counted among the sastras. We must remember that only a part of this study, the part dealing with figurativeness is recognized as a technical discipline and designated as alamkara sastra. The rest of the study is considered as vidya, sahitya vidya. This is from within the tradition but if we compare literary theory texts of the western tradition, each and every text of the Indian tradition is strictly a technical composition composed in a very rigorous style and structured to focus on very well defined issues. Refer, for example, to Bharata’s Natyasastra at the beginning of the tradition or Bhamah’s Alankarsutra, the 5th/6th-century text with their well-defined subject matter. Refer also to Mahima Bhatta’s Vyaktiviveka, a text dealing with the inferential process of auditing a literary composition, or Kuntaka’s Vakroktvivita (11th century) or Pt. Jagannatha’s Rasgangadhara, the 17th/18th-century text that employs the terminology of navya nyaya to analyse literary compositions and aesthetic experience. Going by these parameters, Aristotle’s Poetics is the only sastra in the western tradition. The statement that there is no sastra in poetics, in the strict sense of the tradition, does not mean that there is no discipline or that there are no texts or no history of disputation or that the texts or discussion is trivial.
7. The seventh charge is that Indian literary theory is epistemologically limited, relying as it does on analogy and authority. This is difficult to understand whose epistemology are we talking of? The poet’s, the critic’s or the reader’s? The author’s epistemology is the epistemology of an experiencer including in its range all the modes from perception to intuition. However, the critic’s or the reader’s epistemology is limited to sabda, words on the page, unless a text is performed or enacted in which case perception becomes a major epistemological mode. Analogy is a very important mode of both constituting and interpreting knowledge and has been an important mode in the Indian philosophical as well as other traditions. But as every student of Indian philosophy knows, analogy is not the dominant epistemology in any system. Even in literary theory when the poeticians Sankuka, Bhatta Lolatta, Abhinavagupta are talking of how literary experience is audited, their analyses range over perception, inference, verbal cognition and self-realisation (atmasakshatkar). The question of authority similarly has to be first located. Whose authority and for whom? The authority of the primary thinkers of a School for the followers of that School or the authority of the author/composer for the critic/reader or the authority of the critical texts for lay critics and readers? As the Indian literary theory is marked by a number of contending Schools and a continuous debate among them, it is difficult to understand this charge of verbal authority as the only epistemology.
8. The eighth charge is that Indian literary theory is a ‘metaphysically based Aesthetics … that concept requires language, that there are no unmediated senses of things’. This is a very confusing statement. This charge picks up a major strand in Indian philosophy of language, that of Bhartrhari, who argues that all this jagat, universe, is a linguistic construct. It is a conception based in the physics of speech as enunciated in the Upanishads — specifically the claim that vak (speech) is rooted in prana (breadth) and mana (mind). There are logical gaps in calling Indian literary theory ‘a metaphysically based aesthetics’ because the literary theory assumes the truth of this conception of language. First of all the Upanisadic claims that language is routed in breadth and mind is a statement of physical, empirical fact and not a metaphysical construct. Second, in the long tradition of thinking about the nature of language, this concept along with the Rgvedic statement that ‘language cuts forms in the ocean of reality’ (1-164-45) serves as the seed thought which is gradually elaborated into a whole philosophy of linguistic constructivism by Bhartrhari in opposition to the Buddhist philosophy of non-linguistic/non-determinate cognition. The third position is that of the Nyayikas who argue that cognition is both determinate and non-determinate. Thus, powerful systems of thought elaborately argued by the respective exponents in texts continue to be available. The literary theorists belong to the tradition of grammarians and subscribe to the view that language constructs reality including the so-called ‘unmediated senses of things’. The real experience in life is structured and cognized through the conceptual framework in the mind, which is not different from the linguistic framework and what a literary report involves, is an explicit verbalization of this real experience, including ‘the sense of things’. Finally, the aesthetics of poeticians such as Bharata, Bhamaha and Mahima Bhatta can by no stretch of imagination be described as a metaphysically based aesthetics. In the same way to describe a rasa experience as a metaphysical experience amounts to using words loosely. There is no agreement among the Indian theorists about the nature of rasa experience — for Bharata it is an objective experience of the auditor, of the receiver as a preksaka, i.e. observer. For Mahima Bhatta it is an intellectual experience gained through reasoning. For Abhinavgupta it is something that is experienced and attested within one’s owned self, a process that for Abhinavgupta is not different from direct perception. That all experience, including literary experience is subjective in a sense does not render it metaphysical. It is a pity that such substantial issues are discussed at merely surface levels.
9. There is the ninth charge that Indian literary theory particularly the rasa theory claims a comprehensiveness, universalizing that is contradicted by ‘subjective reception and transformation of selective emotions into modes of self-realization’.
There is no doubt that Bharata’s rasa theory aims at taxonomy of states of being bhava likely to be encountered by a human being. Fifty such states of being have been listed and a structure of causation, nature and effect of each one of them has been rigorously analyzed. This by itself is an extraordinary achievement. Over more than two thousand years only one more state of being could be added to this list and that by another intellectual giant Abhinavgupta of Kashmir who argued from the foundations of Kashmir’s Saivism and Advaita and posited santa rasa, a state of equilibrium/tranquility, as the ninth rasa. If its comprehensiveness, which incidentally has never been claimed by Bharata, is questioned it is open for us to identify and posit other states of being. If is often argued that the Absurd, for example, is not accounted for by this theory. There are two responses to this — one the rasa theory is an open-ended theory and therefore it is for some critic/thinker to steadily analyze the Absurd and add as the 52nd state of being. If it is perceived as a recurring/immanent experience of modern times, add it as the 10th rasa. The second response is that it is possible to show that the theory as it exists can account for the state of the Absurd provided we apply the rasa — categorical framework with a certain degree of sophistication.
In any case, a tradition, which has competing theories and a debate cannot be accused of monism or ‘universalizing’.
10. The tenth charge is that the Indian literary theory makes an untenable historiographical claim to represent the totality of Indian cultures and histories. There is politics in this charge. Every Indian knows that wherever he goes or travels in this vast land, he feels and thinks that he is in the same desa, country, that even when he does not share the language of fellow Indians, he shares the outlook, the worldview and the language of the mind. In the same way there is a pan-Indian ‘culture’ i.e. a set of codes for language, dance, music, poetry etc. The pan-Indianness does not at all apply with uniformity or absoluteness. Indians are not monistic people unlike the members of western Christian civilization whose monism expresses itself in all domains of knowledge from philosophy to cartography. Indian thinkers have a model and, what may be best described as, a type existing in and realised as so many tokens. Brahma existing in everything and in all but not in any one unit. This is the Advaita model and it is this model that informs Indian thinking across disciplines. Thus, in literary theory, Rajasekhara in his familiar legendary mode describes how particular form or style or theme of composers originate at ‘X’ and then spreads and proliferates in different parts of this geographic entity called (cakravarti ksetra, a territory bounded like a wheel but internally differentiated) and takes local habitation and name, from the local cultures. This is a very valid model of the combination of the global and the local and this is in fact the defining characteristic of a good theory.
India’s visible ethnography contradicts the European one-language-one-nation-one-state model and thus enables west and western inspired political thinkers to say that India is not a nation but a combination of nationalities. This theory is negated by Indian experience — you stand in a queue in any one of the four major dhama, places of pilgrimage on the four corners of the country — Badrinath, Rameshwaram, Dwarka, Jagannathpuri — and you find that you are among people who are ethnically different and speak different languages, who dress themselves differently, who eat different kinds of food and yet their language of the mind is one and the same. In a text as old as the Atharva Veda, prthvi sukta, the word rastra is used in a hymn that reads like this — “O Mother Earth, destroy those who want to subjugate my rastra by sastra (weapons) or sastra (ideas)”. It may be argued that this concept excludes the religious minorities. Not at all. If you leave the political sphere all Indians live and think the Indian culture. Moreover, the Christian culture and character of western countries, the UK and the USA, for example, is not supposed to exclude or function to the detriment of their sizeable minorities. The House of Commons shall always start with a reading from the Psalms and the President of the US shall always be a Christian. This rhetoric may be excused — it is inspired by rhetoric.
11. Finally, there is the assertion that Indian literary theory as enshrined in texts composed in Sanskrit excludes ‘non-Sanskrit oral literatures…’. This is another example of an argument that is constructed because you have something to prove. Oppositions are set up because we wish to prove not just diversity but irreconcilable diversity of various strands in the mosaic of Indian socio-cultural reality. Thus we set up oppositions such as between Sanskrit as the language of the elite and the speech of common people of the times, opposition between Sanskrit and modern Indian languages and opposition between Sanskrit as an expression of the literate culture and the oral literatures. None of these is tenable. Sanskrit literary theory, as Professor AK Warder pointed out long time back, is empirical — it follows widespread practice; it does not prescribe; it describes. Bharata’s Natyasastra continues to be the text of sravya-preksa (aural-visual) performances such as yaksa-gana of Karnataka, kathakali of Kerala, baul performances of Bengal and the folk dances of Punjab, Gujarat and Rajasthan, etc. To understand the relationship between the learned tradition and the popular tradition in India, all we have to do is to examine the relationship between Valmiki’s Ramayana as the archetypal texts and the innumerable Ramlilas performed in towns and villages of north India. There is the same type — token relationship that we have talked about in one of the earlier sections — a construct is articulated and realized in a number of ways but all of them are recognizable as expressions of the given construct. It is no different from what happens in speech. Every sound such as ‘P’ that we hear is a realization of an abstract sound, the abstract ‘P’, a unit in the phonological system. The actually heard ‘P’ is not the same as the abstract ‘P’ and yet, at the same time, it is not different from the abstract ‘P’. And all the actually heard ‘P’s’ are different from each other phonetically and yet are individual realizations of the same abstract ‘P’. All unities are founded on this type of structure, a structure identifiable in the classical Indian conceptual framework broadly as Advaita.
At the end, I would like to report what Professor Namwar Singhji once said in his presidential remarks in an Indian International Centre seminar. He talked of the global versus the local and of the need to critically evaluate both our own literary traditions and the western theories and to find ways of reconciling them. The situation today as he saw it was much more complex with the English language becoming a global language and the English texts assuming the status of hyper-canonical texts. Identities and living traditions enter into an argument with the global and in this argument we need theories to resist theory. What one has to strive for is a proper interaction and disputation for the simple reason that the vast Indian reality particularly non-metropolitan, literary or any other, will continue to be explicable adequately only in terms of Indian theoretical constructs. That must be the base and other constructs must come in as modifiers. There is no disjunction or break in the Indian history of ideas and the effort to set up the vernacular in opposition to the Sanskrit and other such efforts are good political acts but intellectually poor, if not dishonest. The tradition of literary thinking cannot be wished away. Its intellectual strength is unquestionable. And it lives — it lives in folk practices, popular compositions, much of vernacular literatures and in the vernacular classrooms. That it does not live vibrantly in the academic discourse of mainstream education is a commentary on the education system itself.
To sum up :
As we said elsewhere, a theory is a code of a cultural community’s expectations from its art forms, rooted as is in the community’s literary practices. As such it is more sufficient and adequate explanatory construct for the native responses to literary texts and the preferred forms such as the verse narratives of love and death. Having originated in oral compositions, it is very much equipped to handle even folk, oral literatures. It is culturally determined questions that the western literary theory quite legitimately asks and that raise the questions of their validity for us. For example, the focus on interpretation, the determination of meaning as the goal of theory begs the question of the status of literature as a discourse of knowledge and of its place in the verbal discourse of the community. Both the Indian and western traditions began with certain ambivalence on this question but then with Aristotle, the western tradition diverged and accorded literature a pre-eminent epistemological status as a discourse of knowledge. This is also accounted for by the absence of a continuous and cumulative philosophical tradition in the western history of ideas which otherwise too is marked by a break with, a rupture from its classical past during what is known as the Middle Ages. No such thing happened here as we have argued above — and it is erroneous to conceptualize ‘after amnesia’ — and continued to make a distinction between sastra and kavya while according an intermediate status to itihasa-purana. On this count only that part of poetics is given the status of sastra that deals with rhetoric, the figural mode. We can not go into the details of the whole debate here and seek only to note an important stage in its development. As the validity of literature as a discourse of knowledge is crucially contingent on the fact that it is a verbal discourse, its epistemic validity depends on how far language is itself an adequate representational system, on the nature of relationship that holds between language and reality. And if language is a constructivist system, as the Indian linguistic tradition — and now Deconstruction — holds, then it is completely problematic to construct and evaluate social and other forms of reality from verbal representations. Abhinavagupta in the 11th century discusses this question, this point of view that literary knowledge is the knowledge of the non-present, paroksa-jnana, and argues, in the mode of Jain epistemology, that since pratyaksa, perception, is what is atma-pratyaksa, present to the inner self, and as sabdika-jnana, verbally evoked knowledge is also atma-pratyaksa, literary / verbal knowledge has also the same status / validity as pratyaksa-jnana. This makes the meaning in literature a linguistic construct.
Those who are familiar with contemporary theories will accept the relevance and significance of this foundational view that informs Indian philosophy of language and Indian poetics. As for literary interpretation, the current obsession, while the epics have been commented upon and explicated, the purely imaginative compositions have not come in for interpretation for the strong reasons cited above. But the framework for interpretation is available in the philosophical tradition and if now we assign a different value to metropolitan literature and have to interpret it, the Indian theory is rich enough to be extended to this body of texts as well. What is often forgotten is that for interpretation one needs a rich theory of meaning in the absence of which interpretation becomes a whimsical free-wheeling speculation which is what most of contemporary exercises amount to. We have a long attested tradition of thinking about meaning — by the Buddhists, the Jains and the Grammarians (Brahmins) — beginning with the concept of symbolic meaning in the Sruti texts and culminating in Bhartrhari that meaning is in application. There are wide ranging theories dealing with the language of literature, its figural mode, the verbal symbolism, the markedness of literary discourse, the principle of appropriateness, the relationship of literature to logic and to life, theories of genre, structure and types of narratives and the nature of literary experience. Finally, a theory as rich as Bhartrhari’s in terms of its lexical analysis, its sentential / propositional analysis, its analysis of figurativeness, its speech-act and situational contexts and conditions of use (cf. Vakyapadiya, II 315-316), will allow a whole range of interpretations from the sociological to the abstract. Mammata demonstrates its applicability in his 13th century text Kavya Prakasa.
We must also reject the view that Indian literary theory has a metaphysical goal and is reducible to just rasa-dhvani principle. Ananda as a characterization of literary experience must be recognised as a cognitive and not an emotive construct.
The problem with the critics is that they believe in all their innocence, that what they do not know, or do not care to know, does not exist!
The tasks that emerge from this statement are self evident:
A. (i) we should expound meticulously the different Indian theories by writing commentaries on them;
(ii) we should develop applicational models from different theories.( of the kind developed from Rajashekhara by self and reported in Odyssey. Journal of Philosophy and Literature, GNDU, Amritsar, 1995);
(iii) we should promote application of these models to a wide variety of Indian and western texts, an exercise that will in the process refine the models and may also extend the theory;
B. (i) we should build philosophy into literary studies and prepare simple translations of primary texts of Indian philosophy and write simple introductions to Indian philosophical systems;
(ii) we should research the relationship between philosophy and aesthetics and prepare a contextualised history of Indian aesthetics upto modern times;
(iii) we should research the rise and development of Indian languages and literatures — prepare authentic histories to show the continuities.
C. (i) such histories will undoubtedly show a remarkable continuity of concerns and thought that is unique to the Indian intellectual traditions and would establish the invalidity of the ‘rupture’ or ‘amnesia’ hypotheses.
(ii) we should engage the question whether India is one cultural entity or not and discuss this not just in the context of Western political cultural parameters but also, and mainly, in terms of our own attested thinking in this regard;
(iii) we have to reargue the validity and relevance of the principle of transcendence for Indian multiple reality;
(iv) we should research the nature of Indian philosophy specifically in relation to India’s multilingualism and the so-called multi-culturalism, specifically the Great Tradition in relation to the Minor Traditions; Finally,
(v) we should re-investigate ‘nativism’ by asking whether there really is an opposition or a radical divide between the vernaculars and Sanskrit, whether we cannot see an unbroken growth or development from the classical period to the modern period in the history of ideas and in the rise and formation of Indian languages.
To enable the fulfillment of such an agenda, systemic changes in the syllabi and course work are of course crucial to cultivate a generation of young scholars who are familiar with Indian thought. Relevant Indian thought must be made a part of the syllabi of various disciplines. However, our effort cannot wait on that and as individuals we can set our own goals towards a common end.
© Kapil Kapoor, JNU, New Delhi, 2001