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Vimarsha & Samavesha – Cognition Through Stasis

“Cultural performances provided units of observation of a civilisation’s great tradition” said Milton Singer in his book, ‘When a great tradition modernises’. Culture encompasses science, philosophy as well as religion and all arts and is something that is embedded and embodied in the local belief systems of a region or place at a given point in time. Some traditional practices and beliefs make sense and can be understood only in that embedded environment, within a certain context. But as far as my quest and understanding goes as I attempt to analyse the religious backdrop against which my art form Bharatanatyam flourished and continues to be practiced, as handed down to us from the temple traditions, I have found deep resonance and clarity from the works of Acharya Abhinavagupta of Kashmir who lived around the tenth Century CE. Viewing the creative process and the resultant experience of cultural performances through the lens of Kashmir Saivism is not just to look back at a particular point in history, but understand and acknowledge its relevance and validity today.

From the incredibly vast literature and resources of Kashmir Saivism, it is my modest attempt to seek similarities on a few critical concepts in the two texts – the Ishwara Pratyabhijna Vimarshini and the Abhinavabharati, two remarkable works of Acharya Abhinavagupta. It is an attempt to understand in parallel the Pratyabhijna Vimarshini, through the Abhinavabharati, as paths to overcome differentiation and come to a point of totality and universality. The main focus of the paper would be to highlight some key concepts to analyse if it was an overwriting of an aesthetic theory with Saivism concepts, or is the artistic process itself a means to a spiritual apprehension of a human experience, the spiritual cognition within the aesthetic theory.

Abhinavagupta was a rare combination of poet and philosopher. He formed a new aesthetic theory from the phenomenological point of view of Saiva philosophy. He discards pluralism and holds Reality to be Absolute Unity. At the top he places Anuttara – The Absolute -of which all creations are manifestations. His conception of the Universal, The Absolute, is based on the analysis of the human mind. This reveals two aspects

  1. Mind receives reflection and is self-luminous Siva or Prakasa. There is no consciousness and represents the highest level of mystic experience.
  2. The other aspect is that the mind knows itself in all its purity. It takes out, at will, anything out of stock of memory to reproduce a former state as in the case of remembrance – this aspect is technically termed as Sakti or Vimarsha. This awareness of the self is the second category – self-consciousness.

The Trika School of Saiva philosophy is not based on ancient authority but a very acute psychological analysis of the human experience. This school gave a new point of view – that of Abhasa, the phenomenological – for understanding the problems of experience. The world of experience is real. It is a manifestation of the universal consciousness. But it is ideal because it is nothing but an experience of the Supreme Self. The system, because of its theory of Abhasavada is called as realistic idealism.

Abhasa is defined as All that is, All that exists, all the manifestations of the Supreme Consciousness, all associations of the limited self with body and all forms of knowledge.

The Pratyabhijna school of re-cognition is a branch of Kashmir Saivism and the term Trika was also used by Abhinavagupta for the Pratyabhijna sastras.

Iswara Pratyabhijna Vimarshini, the doctrine of Divine Recognition is a commentary on Iswara Pratyabhijna Sutras of Utpalacharya.

This believes that the gross elements which present the state of differentiation is the means of inferring the undifferentiated state. The gross elements mix with the other elements and take the form of determinate objects. The knowledge of this rests in the subject. Self awareness of this takes the individual to the universal. Siva is the source of tattvas. In this system the self realizes that he is essentially Siva. The gross elements (ether, wind, fire, water and earth) with the subtle (sound, touch, colour, taste and smell) through the faculties of action and the faculties of knowledge, acting on the mind, egoism and the instinct is sublimated. Kashmir Saivism states that there are three means for experiencing Universal Consciousness. Sambhavopaya is the Supreme means (the energy of the will, Iccha Shakti), Saktopaya the Medium (the energy of Knowledge, Jnana Shakti) and Anavopaya, the inferior means, of concentration and contemplation, the means found in the world of duality (concerned with the individual soul, Kriya Shakti). Beyond these three, there is another Upaya called Anupaya. Here nothing is to be done. Anupaya is attributed to Ananda Shakti.

AG pays homage to this aspect of Siva at the beginning of each chapter of the Abhinavabharati. Abhinavabharati, the commentary of the Natyashastra by Abhinavagupta, refers to the Natyashastra of Bharata as consisting of 36 chapters and refers to the 36 categories of the Pratyabhijna system, one category for each chapter. He clearly indicates through verses that he considered the experience of the self in Rasananda also as a path of self realization within the tattva scheme where the individual rises to the universal. In the first few chapters the verses refer to Shiva as ’Dharani roopam, Jalamurti, TejovpuraishwaramSameeramurti, Vyomamurti and Rasamatrmurti.’ And in the end he pays homage to ‘Anuttara’ – the inconceptualizable ParamaSiva – the ‘Unsurpassed’.

This Anuttara is the unchanging Eternal. All other categories are manifestation of this. This level was not a thing to be attained through perception but by realisation of the self.

In the Abhinavabharati the self conscious appropriately means the action being done by a tasting subject and may be thought of as a form of mental cognition consisting of direct experience, imagination, remembrance. The very same is mentioned about the self consciousness in the Ishwara Pratyabhijna Vimarshini also by Abhinavagupta. “If there not be not one great Lord, who is essentially Self luminous, holds within all the innumerable forms of the universe and possesses the Powers of Cognition, Remembrance and Differentiation.”[1] The aesthetic process starts with a direct perception of objects. After perception one identifies with that essential attribute of that object. This essential attribute is neither illusory, nor an imitation nor a reproduction. The spectator then moves to a world of imagination. The objectivity is still there, the subjective limitations are also there. In the Ishwara Pratyabhijna Vimarshini he states that “the power of imagination in all beings proves that the power of knowledge and action are there within oneself. So the ability to have the rasa experience is latent in all. The powers of the Lord are also within all. All worldly transactions depend upon the Triad of Powers. It is due to the Triad of Powers of that Glorious One that there is manifestation of limited perceivers. It is He, who directly experiences, remembers and determinately cognizes the various limited subjects.”

Sthayi – Memory Sakti

Sthayi is not mentioned by Bharata in the definition of rasa. It is the very basis, the essence of that asvada. Abhinavagupta says the sthayi is the king of bhavas. The sthayi cannot be perceived directly and is it through the vibhavas etc. It is something in the subconscious and is identified by linking it to something of the past in the spectator’s memory. “If it had been mentioned along with them (vibhavas etc.), readers would have been misled into thinking that it is an objective element like Vibhavas and Anubhavas“[2]

Saivas explain the ordinary memory as a modality of recognition – self recognition – that is, a similarity of memory with the original experience of the object. Here the residual trace of the former experience explains how remembrance though not caused by any external object, yet has that object as its object.

The remembering subject through the process of re-cognition has the power to unite or disunite the abhasas. This unification of the abhasas is the consciousness ‘that’.

In the Ishwara Pratyabhijna Vimarshini, Abhinavagupta says the following about memory – “we bow to that Siva, who strings in a regular order the multitude of gems, the objects, which lie heaped up in the treasury of His heart, on the string of remembrance”[3]

The direct perception of the aesthetic object followed by the secondary perception by the limited individual through the means of natya leads to a state of generality. All the gross manifestations right from their elemental level are cognized as one with the Ultimate. But the individual has to first be apprehended as such as this would in turn lead to the universal. It is not possible for the limited subject to apprehend the universal directly as he would not recognize its value as such. The spectator first through the vibhavas etc. on stage, identifies the sthayi and then the intensification of that leads to the rasananda.

Abhinavagupta explains this fact that the limited self cannot access the Supreme directly in the Ishwara Pratyabhijna Vimarshini also. The object which shines independently is first perceived by the limited self as separate from it for the self at this stage is limited by its individual constraints. He wrote “Similarly, though the Lord of the Universe is ever shining within as the very self. yet His shining does not make the heart full (of ananda); because the self is not realized to be transcendental”[4]

Universal experience

Aesthetic perception is a generalized perception in the minds of the spectator[5] because it is free of limitations and obstacles. In the Abhinavabharati he terms this universal nature as Sadharanikarana. In the Ishwara Pratyabhijna Vimarshini he terms this as Samanyarupatva. The Ishwara Pratyabhijna Vimarshini states the same -“an object shines as separate and also as comingled with others on account of its element of universality. Thus when the separateness or diversity of abhasas occupies a subordinate position to that of identity then there is true Universality –samanyarupatva – in so far as the identity tinges or qualifies various similar individual objects. But when the abhasa is determinately cognized in total isolation then its universality is not real but simply possible because of its fitness (to tinge a number of similar individual external objects).”[6]

This generalized perception is called Sadharanikarana in the aesthetic theory. The Pratyabhijna terms this universality as Saamanyarupatva.

It is cognized by the eye and ears and then identifying it with something of the past in the spectator’s memory. But specifically mentioning the sthayi (which is latent in the natya and in the spectator’s memory) would have created confusion and led one to believe it was something external and a different entity.

Rasa is cognition i.e., ‘re-cognition’. AG considers this succession of memory as a spiritual means. He claims that memory is the very origin and synthesizer of all experiences.

“Therefore the self luminous principle which became extrovert at the time of grasping an external object has as its introvert self luminosity intact even at a subsequent time. And this introvert self luminosity becomes aware of its having become extrovert in relation to a particular object and therefore is called the power of remembrance” For the Saivas this memory is valid (not an illusion) for their theory of self recognition.


Abhinavagupta has stated that the individual cannot apprehend the Universal directly. He needs to first become aware of the differentiation-through direct perception-and only this would make him enjoy the abstract Universal. He becomes ’unselfish’ through the process that leaves him experiencing a universal state of feeling. So it could be said that both the Natyashastra and the Abhinavabharati emphasized this unselfish state, devoid of the individual ego or consciousness of the ’I’. It ended in an experience that through its very nature has so transformed the spectator to experience a sensation that is far removed from his practical reality and is a state of equilibrium which is due to the fact that the bhavas which are the stimuli are no longer present at this level. Natya was therefore a karma reducing activity and had in it the potential to prepare an individual to understand at least to a certain extent the real nature of things. In the Abhinavabharati it is developed on the agamic lines and taken up as the medium to attain the universal state that is a realisation by the individual that he is no different from the Supreme truth.

In the Pratyabhijna Sastras, the individual ascends the Tattva ladder from gross self to the levels of Pure self-consciousness. The Vimarsha resting within Prakasha and signifying Unity is termed as Aham. The Consciousness dependent upon another is represented as Idam. Aham is Siva tattva and second is Vidyesa. In the state that comes in between the two – Siva and Vidya there arises the consciousness ‘I – This’. At this state the ‘I’ and the ‘This’ are at the same level, like the pans of an evenly held balance. These are the categories Sadasiva and Ishwara. The distinction is in the former ‘thisness’ is obscure while it is clear in the latter. This point is Sama in the Rasa experience and Samvid in the Pratyabhijna Sastras. The term he uses for the level of unity of that experience represented by Prakasa and Vimarsa is Samvid. Just as Sama is the substratum of all the sthayis, Samvid is that substratum –the point of rest/unity of all diversity. Abhinavagupta says that Sthayi in a state of Samvid is Bhoga. Bhoga is synonymous for Rasa. Therefore Samvid is that state of Rasananda – a state of equilibrium, a state of cessation of desires. In the Ishwara Pratyabhijna Vimarshini, Abhinavagupta describes this state of cessation of desires as a state of devotional attitude. He has said “Those who are rich in the wealth of devotion have nothing left to be desired”[7].

Sama is also the Sthayi of all Sthayis. Abhinavagupta introduces this as the Sthayi for the ninth Rasa – Santa. He argued for the ninth Rasa Santa for the highest Purushartha – Moksha. Rasananda in its transcendental level is the Rasa of Moksha. The transcendence of the self also has aesthetic validity like all other rasas. “This gestation is distinguished a) from perception of the ordinary sentiments of delight etc. aroused by the ordinary means of cognition; b) from cognition without active participation of the thoughts of others, which is proper to the direct perceptions of the yogins; and c) and from the compact experience of one’s own beatitude, which is proper to yogins of higher (this perception is immaculate, free from all impressions deriving from external things). Indeed, these three forms of cognition, being in due order subjected to the appearance of obstacles, lacking evidence and at the mercy of the adored object are deprived of beauty. Here on the contrary because of the absence of sensations of pleasures, pain, etc., as inhering exclusively in our own person, of an active participation in our own self (Svatmanupravesha) of the absence (of the sensations) as inhering exclusively in other persons and the immersion (Avesa) in the latent traces of our own sentiments of delight etc. reawakened by the corresponding determinant etc…..”[8]

This in the Ishwara Pratyabhijna Vimarshini is the recognition of the individual as the Highest Lord. “In order that common man may have the transcendental power (siddhi) without much effort, Utpala, the son of Udayákara has written this. The word ‘jana’ means simply ‘man’…it is for the benefit of all…its aim is great, because its purpose is to enable common man to realize the higher and lower siddhis without much effort….common man follows it because of the fame of its founder.”[9]

In the Ishwara Pratyabhijna Vimarshini he says “the word dasya means a state of the devotee to whom the Lord gives all that is desired”[10]. So in the Ishwara Pratyabhijna Vimarshini the self, devoid of duality, in a state of Unity is termed as ‘devotee’. The same could therefore be applied to the self in a state of Rasananda, at Sama. In the Abhinavabharati after listing the Vibhavas Anubhavas and Vyabhicari bhavas Abhinava says devotion and faith, bhakthi and shraddha, which are infused with recollection, reflection, steadfastness and striving and contemplation of the Lord are both in other ways supportive of the Rasa Santa and therefore not counted separately.

At the transcendental level Samvid is the very nature of Vimarsa. Free Consciousness is the chief characteristic of this Self luminous principle. This free will is termed as svatmaparaamarsa. It is that very first stir in absolute unity – Param Spandanam. At the transcendental level the unity of Prakasa and Vimarsa is termed as ‘Svatantrya Samvid Sakti’.

Maybe that is why Bhakti doesn’t find a place in the listing of the bhavas in both the Natyasastra and the Abhinavabharati. These texts laid the path that would lead to a state of Bhakti at the rasananda level. The very nature of the self leads to the highest experience.

It is state of humility and surrender of all individuality and ego-termed as dasya – which is the state of the spectator in the bliss of the rasa experience.

Shiva – the Supreme God – was an absolute necessity to validate the transcendental experience of Shanta Rasa in an aesthetic experience.

In conclusion, it could be said that art in the aesthetic theory as presented by Abhinavagupta had within it the power to lead the self to a state of devotion, of stasis and equilibrium leading to a transcendental experience and Abhinavagupta has only explained that through the correlation to the Pratyabhijna sastras of Kashmir Saivism.


  1. Doctrine of Divine recognition, (AbhinavaguptapraneetaIsvaraPratyabhijnavimarsiniBhaskareesamvalita) Sanskrit text with the commentary ‘Bhaskari’, K.A.S. Iyer, K.C.Pandey, Motilal Banarasidass Publishers,Delhi, 1986
  2. Natyasastra(NS),of Bharatamuni with the commentary Abhinavabharati of Abhinavagupta, ed.R.S Nagar, K.L.Joshi ,Parimal Publications, Delhi, 2003
  3. Pratyabhijnahrdayam, The secret of self recognition, Jaideva Singh, Motilal Banarasidass Publishers, Delhi,reprint 2006
  4. Abhinavagupta, A historical and philosophical study, K.C.Pandey,ChaukhambaAmarabharatiPrakashan,Varanasi,Fourth edition,2006
  5. Aesthetic Experience According to Abhinavagupta by R.Gnoli, Chowkamba Sanskrit Series, Varanasi, 1968
  6.  Yoga of Art, James Cousins


AB :Abhinavabharati

IPV: Ishwara Pratyabhijna Vimarshini

[1] IPV Vol III p.37

[2] Masson and Patwardhan Aesthetic Rapture Vol II p.38

[3] IPV Vol III p.40

[4] Ibid Vol III p.230

[5] AB Vol I p.29

[6] IPV Vol III p.150

[7] IPV Vol III p.6

[8]Gnoli ,The Aesthetic experience according to AG, P 82,Ab I 283

[9] IPV vol III p 231

[10] IPV Vol III p 4

Feature Image Credits:

Conference on Kashmir

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