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Educational Methodologies And Rasa Theory


Bharata’s Nātyashāstra laid the foundation for much of the later work on Rasa. From a pedagogy perspective, a teacher can be seen as a performer communicating with students some text or idea separated in time or space. We investigate how rasa theory (RT) can be used to inform pedagogy; for example, what could be considered as bhāva-s and rasa? Are there any equivalents to the metaphysical ideas present in the rasa theory? For example, are they analogous to ideas in current versions of “motivation theory” or “self-determination theory” applied to education? We investigate current ideas of effective teaching in engineering education (“modern theory of engineering education”, MTEE) and attempt to demarcate areas of novelty in MTEE w.r.t. RT and vice versa.


Modern engineering education is a very large economic activity, given its role in the design of innovative products that sometimes can even have large geopolitical implications. The AK-47 or the iPhone are good examples at the “retail” level while telecom switching infrastructure or aircraft manufacture by Boeing or Airbus are examples at the large enterprise level. This paper attempts to understand if rasa theory can be used in the context of engineering education (or education in general)[1].

Rasa theory (RT) has been extensively developed in India since the last two millennia. Bharata’s Nātyashāstra laid the foundation for much of the later work on Rasa. From a pedagogy perspective, a teacher can be seen as a performer communicating with students[2] some text or idea separated in time or space.

A central insight is a two level model of bhāva-s (“lower” level) and rasa-s (“higher” level); simply put, sthāyī (recurrent) bhāva-s can be equated with rasa-s which have been classified into 8 or 9 recurrent categories from the 56 or so of the bhāva-s (through some process of “dimensionality” reduction). Just as a play or poem is deemed to be successful if the right rasa is produced (in the spectator, for example), one can argue that a teacher is successful only if the right comprehension along with an enthusiasm of open-ended enquiry is produced (primarily?) in the student[3], or that there is joy in the learning. If the rasa theory is applicable in pedagogy, then when a student enjoys the learning process, a type of (joyful) rasa can be said to be generated in the student or the teacher by a process of sadhāranīkaraṇa when particularities of the teaching or other surrounding context are abstracted out[4]. Note that common everyday constraints (e.g. time, place, person’s emotional moods, etc) can limit the experience of the learning or teaching process but the sadhāranīkaraṇa abstraction allows us to go to the core of the experience itself. Note that such a joyful rasa may also be elicited in the context of both – collaborative or solitary engineering activity when difficulties slowly dissipate and the desired object of engineering design becomes closer to fruition.

Note that a rasa can be in the teacher too. A good example may be that of SN Bose, who realized, while teaching in a class at Dhaka in about 1918, that an unspoken assumption (that every elementary particle has a distinct state) may be the reason why the theory of black body problem seemed to be unsatisfactory or “ad hoc” till then; if multiple photons can have the same state (that is, they are bosons instead of fermions), the theory is much simpler. Such flashes of insights (often called Pratibha in RT) are a common story in the history of science. Many such happy instances of getting insights while teaching may finally develop into a happy rasa of teaching and as such remembered by a teacher.

The rasa can be in both too as there is an intimate connection between teacher and the taught.  Typically, a “vātsalya” rasa may be said to be experienced but other rasa-s and bhāva-s are also possible (shushrūshā, glāni, and even dvesha sometimes?). A famous shloka in Taittirīya Upanishad (the Shānti mantra in Brahmānandavalli, and also in Katha and other Upanishads) says


May our studies be enlightening/invigorating! (our=> that of teacher and student)


But may we not grow apart!

After expressing a positive emotion, it is striking that a note of caution is indicated immediately. Maybe a good education is meant to be a life changing experience; it may even change or refine one’s views to the extent that some conflict[5] between guru and shishya is not ruled out! We have examples of such conflict in Rāmānujāchārya’s life as well as many others.

Thus disappointment and other agonies are part of this process, as well as exhilarations and sublime joy. Hence, the need to search for a guru and vice versa; it is reciprocal as the guru is also looking for a worthy disciple. “According to Advaita Darshana, the Lord Himself appears as Guru and as a student, as it were. The only seeming difference is that a Guru has truly realized what IS, and the student has not. In the dawn of self-knowledge (aparoksha-anubhava), the guru-student relationship (Guru-shiShya-sambandha) completely dissolves, and Atman/Brahman, Truth Itself alone, shines forth.”[6] Note that here also some notion of sadhāranīkaraṇa is implied.

In Chandogya Upanisad IV, 14, 1, the Gods relate that, “We can give you the knowledge, even knowledge of the Atman but only the teacher can show the Way”. Thus, a function of the Guru is to intellectually and verbally explain the scripture, but he also teaches by his life, daily acts, casual words, silence, overseeing the shishya ‘s health, sleep, diet, the company he keeps, the places he visits. Note that recurrence is an important part of the experience. To be near the guru, to humbly serve and obey him, is to find, to know, and to experience the Way. What kind of rasa can this said to be? The words “sraddha” and “vātsalya” come close to the experience. There is a formal as well as an informal (or, tacit) aspect in the relationship; can rasa be said to be the recurrent affect connected with the informal part?

Much earlier, RigVeda discusses Soma, the Lord of Delight, the delight of existence[7]. “In Veda, every aspect of existence has an inherent delight, as popularised in Taittiriya U…. ‘all is born by ānanda, all is sustained in ānanda, all departs in ānanda’ ” Furthermore, “where Soma occurs in Veda, the word ‘suta’ (“pressed”) is also present. Soma is the bliss released when we do any work consciously… The bliss released is called the “joy of work” … Thus Soma is the bliss released by some effort, physical, prānic and mental. …RV (9.96.5) states Soma is the source of creation while RV(9.83.4) significantly says सुकृत्तमामधुनोभक्षमाशत“Those who are utterly perfected in works taste the enjoyment of his honey-sweetness.” The connection between delight and effort is a deep one and that is relevant to the student and teacher relationship. Kashyap further notes that “the released delight, rasa, has psychological impurities… such as the egotistic notion of the doer and possessor…we have to purify the rasa by removing our personal claims and offer the purified rasa to Indra, the lord of the Divine Mind, and other cosmic powers. Indra, in turn, increases the clarity and power of the mind in us. This leads to an increase in the quality of the work done subsequently.”

A Very Brief Account of Rasa Theory:

We first briefly give some background through a quote from Avadhāni Shankar Rajaraman[8]:

From an Indian aesthetic viewpoint, narratives can be understood in terms of the emplotment of vibhāva-s (antecedent events), anubhāva-s (consequent responses including verbal and non-verbal behaviours), and vyabhicāri-bhava-s (transient states such as garva, asūyā, śrama, vyādhi, viṣāda). Put simply, Sanskrit poets integrate vibhāva-s, anubhāva-s, and vyabhicāribhava-s in a coherent and meaningful manner within a narrative. The effect of emplotment on the reader is that his/her sthāyibhāva-s (sustained egocentric mental states such as rati, utsāha, śoka) are transformed into rasa-s – their pleasurable, aesthetic counterparts. According to the Nāṭyaśāstra of Bharatamuni (1992), dramatic narrative (nāṭya) must refer to the actual world for its depiction of antecedent events and consequent responses. Vibhāva-s and anubhāva-s thus have their real world correspondences in the form of kāraṇa-s and kārya-s. To know vibhāva-s and anubhāva-s is to know their corresponding real world kāraṇa-s and kārya-s. Vibhāva-s and anubhāva-s are therefore described by Bharatamuni (p. 153) as loka-svabhāvānugata (compatible with what holds true in the actual world), loka-prasiddha (well-established in the actual world), loka-svabhāva- saṁsiddha (determined by what holds true in the actual world), and loka-yātrānugāmi (in agreement with the world of interactions). The word loka (world) use here refers, no doubt, to a cultural world within which nāṭya is made meaningful.

Note that rasa-s have a good correspondence with reality (i.e. psychological salience).

It is well known that great teachers, researchers, artists and other creative performers or enquirers experience something “out of the ordinary” when the situation is just right and things “effortlessly” happen. This experience is called by many names, for example, by the word Zen[9] (vide, in the popular literature, “the Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance”[10]). The Indic sense of rasa in addition stresses manodharma of the artist/actor/ (teacher?) in the context of a creative impulse. For example, it is said that an expert śilpin (architect) had to know other fields of knowledge such as chandas, music, mathematics, and astronomy. “The various arts and sciences had to be known for the one and the same purpose, so that he could apply them in his work which was to be an image and reconstitution of the universe”[11]. But this is not enough though. A “perfect” śilpin/sthāpati needs to have “immediate intuition, a readiness (pratyutpanna) of judgement (prajñā) in contingencies so that, at the end of the construction, is struck with wonder and exclaims “Oh, how was it that I built it?” ”[12]. The Karkaraja II copper inscription, 812 CE found in Baroda narrates that a great edifice was built on a hill by Kṛṣṇarāja at Elapura (Ellora) and expresses this wonderment of its architect. This quote is a fine expression of the dynamics between formal structures such as chandas and manodharma that is the hallmark of the Indic sense of rasa. We can find similar examples of a musician inspired by rasika-s and/or other musicians on the stage to produce music that while embedded in a formal structure yet can experiment and produce new interesting music.

There are also neuroanatomical correlates with such states of rasa and, in the context of music, widely discussed. Music is a highly personal experience while making us also feel a part of the whole “universe” in an abstract way; Indic seers (for example, Abhinavagupta) intuited music’s capacity to help us to approach the transcendental plane. Identifying sadhāranīkaraṇa as the operation for realizing such a state (an universal across all; specifically, a rasa) close to “brahmānanda” (“transcendence”) is very relevant as, Petr Janata and others, for example, have identified the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) region as the location of self-referential activity — how we maintain our sense of self, feel, think, infer what others are thinking — in the region of the brain (based on research in a new field called social neuroscience) that is also involved in musical experience (or possibly other arts too)[13]. Note also that many talented enquirers are also deeply involved as music performers and appreciators.

One question is whether we can use the model or ideas discussed by Bharata in the context of Nātyashāstra and apply it to a “modern” area such as engineering pedagogy.

There are many emotions in education: joy, excitement, boredom, dejection, frustration, envy, … But is there a framework to understand them? Is there something beyond just listing the emotions? Can rasa theory help us? We discuss this next.

Brief Background on Some Current Theories of Education and Theories of Emotions:

If we look at modern or current education research and further confine ourselves to engineering education, we find approaches such as self-determination theory (SDT) being proposed. For our discussion here, we consider SDT here mostly as a representative example, as it has been studied in the context of newer ways of teaching in newer colleges such as Olin College. According to SDT, “positive forms of motivation arise when people experience a sense of competence, relatedness, and autonomy. In learning settings, these three basic psychological needs are satisfied when students feel a sense of efficacy and mastery; a supportive connection to others; and choice and control. Research illustrates that instructors play an important role in creating environments that support these three needs through their pedagogical choices, interactive style, and classroom culture and climate setting.”[14] Further aspects in this theory are given in the following diagram[15]:

Note that the above is a somewhat linear model. This model also discusses a self-determination continuum with i) AMOTIVATION, ii) EXTERNAL REGULATION (both with “bhāva”-s or cognitive states (but increasingly going from the first category to the second) such as anxiety; feelings of coercion, guilt; reward-focused goals; surface-level learning; lower achievement; low self-esteem; fixed ability beliefs) and iii) IDENTIFIED REGULATION and iv) INTRINSIC MOTIVATION (both with states such asself-efficacy, persistence, retention, self-regulation, critical thinking, metacognition, creativity, performance)[16]. Some of these states are in Bharata’s list of bhāva-s. It is also said that the motivational responses are shaped by the satisfaction (or not) of three basic needs: Competence, relatedness and autonomy. For example, competence can be related to raudra, relatedness to karuna or shringāra, and autonomy to vīra; we will discuss how these further.

Another current approach[17] discusses how to teach engineering in the future and discusses interventions that can be effective. For example, lectures can be online instead of being in-person as it can be paced according to the needs of the student. It is said that a student can retain information about a concept (or generally, what is taught) for about 12 minutes; unless there is an attempt to recapitulate it, it is rapidly forgotten (“retrieval effect”). Some of the interventions suggested, such as spaced repetitions and interleaving, relate to vibhāva-s while “situated learning” or “embodied cognition” seem closer to anubhāva-s; a “faded example” seems to be a combination vibhāva and anubhāva as it gives a skeletal structure with parts missing that need to be filled in by the student. Curiosity, synthesis and metacognition are other concepts in this model.

While there are many descriptions of emotions associated with successes and failures in engineering design and education (for example, consider the trajectory of many start-ups), there is still lack of a suitable terminology akin to rasa theory (essentially lack of a multi-level model) until recently. Recently, the field of affective computing (AC) has sprung up in the Western academia[18]. Many of the ideas of rasa theory show up in some form or other in AC; we discuss this below in some detail.

“Affective Computing” at the “physics” level concentrates on the mechanics of how to make emotions register through sensors (e.g., skin galvanic conduction) or how to recognize emotions. Another related area of current research in this field with practical applications is that of microexpressions: The emphasis here is the “involuntary, fleeting facial movements that reveal true emotions—[that] hold valuable information for scenarios ranging from security interviews and interrogations to media analysis” (Satya 2017). Nāṭyaśāstra has something to say here (for example, the many varieties of eye glances) but from a rasa perspective. Recent work in the area of affective computing use layered models such as appraisal-derivation (Stacy 2010) that are similar in spirit to how Bharata surmised rasa-s are produced (Fig 1).

Fig 1: The hierarchy of levels of description for emotion processes and their mapping into lower-dimensional space (annotated and adapted from Fig 1.1.2 in Scherer (2010)) Original text in italics.

Note that in the above model, recurrence is not modelled. The same high-level model (simplified) with emotion processing shown in a closed loop (Fig 2), when redrawn from Fig 1.2.2 of (Stacy 2010) with our annotations, is as follows:

Fig 2A component model view of computational appraisal models (annotated and adapted from Marsella et al. (2010)

However, there is a studious avoidance of “metaphysical” ideas in AC. Contrarily, rasa theory posits that the rajas and tamas elements of ordinary experience need to be projected out (using, say, “projection operators”) to understand the depths of rasa. When this happens, the subjective aspects also disappear and the ātman enjoys the rasa just as a yogi’s experiences the paramātman (though different qualitatively, it is said). Note that such higher level (or metaphysical) perspectives are absent in Western models as they are felt to be subjective and not amenable to measurement. Instead, surveys are carried out and patterns studied[19]. Some other researchers argue the need for measuring lower level events (skin resistance, etc) and correlate with higher level self-reporting, though agreement may be problematic.

A Rasa Theory Based Model for Education:

It is clear that current models are not satisfactory as they do not seem to capture either the core experience of teaching or being taught. There is much more emphasis on “effective” teaching than on understanding what actually happens in the process of teaching. We believe Bharata’s rasa theory can be examined carefully to get new insights[20] that can be helpful in developing a Rasa Theory Based Model for Education.

Bharata has listed 56 bhāva-s and 8 rasa-s. For example, ratibhāva and its corresponding śṛṅgārarasa; similarly utsāhabhāva/vīra rasa; śoka/karuṇa; hāsa/hāsya; vismaya/adbutha. These are kāyika or āngikabhāvas. These are of relevance, broadly speaking, in an educational setting. The other ones are examples of anaṅgi rasa-s:bhaya/bhayānaka, krodha/raudra, jugupsā/bībhatsa; interestingly, some of these are said to be implicated in psychological disorders. However, they are not necessarily undesirable rasa-s as we discuss below.

Some bhāvas are sāttvika such as romancaka, stambha, vaivarṇya; these depict the physical expression of the emotions in the mind.

Rasa is said to be a brahmānandasahodara. Hence, according to this view, even the seemingly negative rasa-s, such as bhayānaka, have some touch of the divine; this is so as we are discussing an enactment rather than the original phenomenon itself. Hence when we reenact S N Bose’s own confusion (during his teaching) in our own teaching to explain his contribution about the 2 types of atomic particles (now called bosons and fermions), the rasa-s may be in turn bhībhatsa or bhayānaka (due to the fear of the unknown), adbhuta (sense of anticipation and wonder when wandering into the unknown), shringāra and karuna (sense of harmony or unity of the opposites, or its lack; e.g. either two atomic particles can have the same state or not, which is exhaustive).

Since we are discussing rasa as brahmānandasahodara and we have many perspectives on Vedanta, such as advaita and dvaita, a rasa theory may also need to incorporate such an aspect in the discussion. In this paper, we assume an advaitic perspective in the context of the nava rasa-s[21]. A rasa then is a manifestation of the brahmānanda in its involution. A specific rasa such as karuna then has a specific aspect in the involution such as the sorrow of being not one; strangely enough, it is sometimes a joy of separation.

In education, the adbhuta, the surprise element, is the joy of creativity or innovation (vide the Ellora example given before), shānta the joy of deep contemplation (to grasp the unknown), shringāra the joy of seeing harmony in diversity (vide life forms or the interlocking beauty of the Pāṇini’s sūtra-s), vīra the joy of enforcing balance or control (vide careful experiments (or ūha) to tease out interesting aspects of reality), raudra the joy of imposing mastery over discord (vide failures in engineering and designs to counteract such failures). In engineering especially, where systems are built for specific human needs, Bhībhatsa is the joy or sense of testing a system by creating inconvenient inputs (or chaos) while Bhayānaka is the simulation of a system in a crisis; hāsya may be the sense of incongruities in the system. All the rasa-s can thus be manifested and made accessible to the student during the teaching. We leave the reader with how to fill in other details of the teaching process.

In an engineering design, the Bhayānaka rasa (a system in crisis such as security of a computer system) may induce attempts to understand a systems’s shortcomings systematically and thus induce Bhībhatsa. Hāsya may then result when woeful incongruities are exposed in the system. Raudra may then be called into play to fix the shortcomings while vīra may be in the picture to balance contending aspects in the design (for example, whether to favour one aspect of the design over another such as long jobs versus short ones or vv in a computer system w.r.t scheduling). The adbhuta element may come in when some divergent phenomena may be seen as manifestations of some cognizable pattern and thus creates the context for creativity or innovation. The design may also need to understand shringāra and karuna in the context of the diversity of reality and the sorrow that an engineering design cannot embrace the fullness of reality and has to demarcate only a portion of reality for a meaningful engineering design. A design that cannot be improved by adding something or removing something is the ultimate; we may consider the deep contemplation of such a design as inducing shānta. Such a great marvel is Pāṇini’s grammar (even if modified in minor ways by vārttika-s).

Is Rasa Theory Useful in Understanding Current Work?

Let us consider Stolk’s work. As we remarked before, there is no 2-level or m-level model in this work while concepts like context, appraisals, motivations, actions and outcomes are given. All these stages are listed in a linear order. In terms of the diagram given, we can map them to rasa theory broadly as follows:

a) CONTEXT, the environmental and personal factors may be seen as vyabhichārinbhāva;

b) APPRAISALS (How can you interpret what is going on? Is it giving me some satisfaction?) anubhāva;

c) MOTIVATIONS (Autonomous or controlled drive);

ACTIONS (cognitions, behaviours, interactions) vibhāva;

d) OUTCOMES (mastery, performance) sthāyibhāva-s.

In the context of rasa theory, even if mapped so, such structures are not necessarily in a linear order and is therefore more general. For example, c) can come before b). The current affect model is more detailed but specific human psychological states are not listed as such. Rasa theory thus can give us some insights.

Due to the focus on effective teaching, MTEE (modern theory of engineering education) has now a set of techniques but still lacks an overarching theory of how they can be integrated. Nor is ānanda, the delight in existence so central to Indic thinking, an important part. An interventionist model of effective teaching needs a deeper theory of human psychology that is currently lacking in SDT and such approaches. Rasa theory (and its modern counterpart (“affective computing”) possibly) may give some handle on the problem when combined with a rich human psychology. For example, Indic thinking has posited integral human models with notions such as sat-chit-ānanda along with multiple kosha-s[22] (anna, prāna, manas, buddhi, pratibha, vignāna, ānanda) and multiple personality types (such sattva, rajas and tamas). Teaching strategies may need to employ sāma, dāna, bheda and danda in the context of different personality types and kosha-s (whether for effectiveness or realization, for example, at the anna kosha (physical needs layer), or at the higher kosha-s or levels). Sri Aurobindo has articulated integral models (“Integral Yoga”) with a rich human psychology and interestingly has argued that RigVeda has such models of evolution and involution. RL Kashyap, expanding on Aurobindo, has described the 5th Mandala of RigVeda, for example, as that of “Divinizing Life” or of “Achieving All-sided Perfection”[23]. He discusses in detail RigVeda’s position in the 5th mandala on the nature of human work and the relationship between work and enjoyment, which are important issues that arise also in the context of teaching as we have discussed earlier. A fuller and deeper theory is needed as future work in this area and we hope that this initial exploration will be useful to those who find Indic models of rasa and human motivation attractive.


We have discussed briefly rasa theory and the current affective computing discipline. We next discussed some current views on education (esp. in the engineering domain) and discussed rasa theory as an Indic perspective to understand their current development.

Conference on Hindu Aesthetics

[1] In a review of a book on Śūlbaśāstra, SatyanadKichenassamyargues for “transcription” (make intelligible for modern readers) rather than “transposition” of an older framework to the newer one (p. 136, Aestimatio13 (2016–2018) 119–140); this is our aim too.

[2] not necessarily with only sahrdaya-s though but that is a problem for all art forms too

[3] We can ask Qns such as: Where does the rasa reside? Does it exist in the reader (student), in the teacher (performer) or in the subject’s author? Or at multiple places at the same time?

[4] a related example in Vedānta at the individual level is the removal of the “avidyā” clouding our thinking

[5] Even in the current PhD programs, conflict in an extreme manner is possible, with a famous example being that of the murder of a Stanford Math professor by his student with a hammer, after spending close to 17 years in the PhD program.


[7] RL Kashyap, “Sāma Veda, PūrvaArchika,” p. 171, SAKSI, 2008. See also his commentary p. 269 of Rig Veda Samhita 10.85.1, 10th Mandala, SAKSI 2007: “Whereas Satya is the absolute truth, ṛtam is the truth projected into the realms of time, place and circumstance. At every instant, for a particular person, there is a perfect way of doing action and a lot of imperfect alternatives. The perfect way is indicated by ṛtam”

[8] Shankar, R. (2017). “A Critical Examination of Western Indologists’ Engagement with Sanskrit Poetic Texts (in the context of Translation, Editing, and Analysis)”. In Kannan, SI-2, Infinity Foundation, 2018

[9] Note that this too is derived from the seeds of the Indic tradition (through Bodhidharma).

[10] This book, in a popular book format, investigates the joy of understanding some thing technical through both analytical and “holistic” approaches.

[11]Kramrisch, The Hindu Temple. Vol I. Calcutta: University Of Calcutta, 1976

[12]Kramrisch 1976 op cit.

[13] Janata, Petr. (2014). “In Search of neural correlates of spiritual experiences with music,”, Stanford University

[14] J. D. Stolk et al. “Learners’ Needs Satisfaction, Classroom Climate, and Situational Motivations: Evaluating Self- Determination Theory in an Engineering Context,” 2018 IEEEFrontiers in EducationConference, San Jose, CA, USA, 2018,

[15] Taken from J. D. Stolk, Understanding and supporting Intrinsic Motivation, from talk May’21

[16] Stolk op cit.

[17] Sanjay Sarma, MIT (from talk on “Learning Science” given May’21)

[18] see, for example, journal articles in IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing.

[19] eg. Stolk op cit.

[20] Some of these insights are due to Sai Susarla and his colleagues, and based on my discussions with him.

[21] Similar treatments may be possible assuming other perspectives.

[22] Many Upanishads and Bhagavad Gīta discuss these ideas while Maslow discusses some of them in the context of Western psychology in the 1950’s.

[23] See RL Kashyap, “Divinizing Life: The Path of Atri Rishi”, SAKSI, 2004

Image credit: @theatreKingdom1 (Twitter)

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