RASA in the 21st Century

Last year around this time I did 45 Days Art Stories for The Nirula Family Company. This year I thought I’d take inspiration from a field of personal practice where music, beat, song, rhythm, movement, expression and emotion all are incorporated to create a performance that all of us know as “Dance”. So these 45 days will be a Dance Countdown, grooving us over to 2015.

Starting today with an aspect of classical Indian performance that has always intrigued me, and that is the concept and manifestation of Rasa (Flavour). What got me thinking of Rasa today was its placement as well as displacement within Indian creative practices.

In contemporary Indian creative manifestations, be it, the performing, written and/or visual arts, aspects of the Divine are being appropriated and housed within mortal characters. No longer does the majority viewer find his/her senses being engaged with protagonists that are one of many divinities, as was ever-present on the Vedic Stage. He/She – the viewer- is presented with a new product, one that is largely divorced from ritual practices and mythology. Thereby allowing the Indian viewer to move away from prayer and sacrifice, and move towards the consumption of the old in new packaging. A new avatar (pun intended) that is finite, mortal and open to our judgemental gaze.

The greatest example of this transformation in representation of our creative heritage is the expression of the nine Rasas, or the nine flavours.  The first eight Rasas found a home in Bharata’s treatise to the Performing Arts, in the Natya-Shastra. Their original context has always been within the framework of the relationship between us mortals and the Divine. With each Rasa being ascribed a colour, an emotion and a presiding deity/god/goddess, the Natyashastra in Bharata’s voice is very clear and precise. The text clearly defines the components of each Rasa.

Precise and Unchangeable

They are :

Sringaram ( Beauty/Love/Devotion)

Hasyam ( Laughter/Joy/Humour/Sarcasm)

Raudram (Anger/Devastation/Destruction)

Karunyam (Compassion/Sadness/Empathy)

Bhibhatsam (Helpless/Depressed/Lost/Pitiful)

Bhayanakam ( Heavy with Malice/Fear/Danger)

Viram (Brave/Courageous/Victorious)

Adbhutam ( Wonder/Curiosity/Unique/Awe)

The ninth Rasa –  is the Bhakti Rasa (Complete and utter Surrender/Devoted action and Glorification) 

How we relate to these Rasas as modern Indians in a global context is largely dependent on the creators of the creative content out there. However, I feel that as these Rasas cover the gamut of human emotion and expression, I am constantly on the lookout on how they are displayed or manifested in creative works, and the question of why this Rasa, in this particular way is never far from my mind. As an end note, I feel that whether you know these Rasas by name is purely an academic question, as well as an academic space. Experiencing them however, is a universal one.




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