Navarasa: Vibhatsa Rasa

Vibhatsa Rasa is the fifth Rasa according to the Natyashastra. The bhava it represents is Disgust or aversion, its presiding deity is: Shiva. And the color associated with it is blue.
I hadn’t noticed earlier and so was quite surprised to find that all creative arts, dance and theatre to fine arts and literature and poetry are replete with imagery that pertains to Vibhatsa right from the beginning.
A modern example can be found in Jagdish Chaturvedi’s words:
मैं तुम्हारे मुख को सी देता हूं एक कच्चे चमड़े कि डोरी से
और आंखों में मिर्ची की बारीक सिला‍ई आंच देता हूं।
तुम्हारी आंखों से बहते ख़ून को चाटते हु‍ए बहुत सुख मिलता है।
I stitch your mouth with a string of raw hide,
And draw a thin line of chilies in your eyes.
There is pleasure in licking the blood that oozes from them.
Jagdish Chaturvedi’s egregious words are truly repulsive. But the poet finds “sukh” in them.
Who then is supposed to experience the Vibhatsa or Revulsion? The poet / actor revels in pleasure. Therefore he is not doing something that he finds repulsive.
The Vibhatsa then is evoked in the reader. And so this is one Rasa, where the viewer doesn’t necessarily empathize with the actor/poet as in the case of other Rasas.
Of course what one person finds repulsive, the other may not. So that does make Vibhatsa something quite subjective. That is what makes it unique and the most fascinating of all the Rasas.
Revulsion I think is of various types – one that compels the viewer to turn away – as does this particular verse.
Then there is the revulsion that compels the viewer to shut out that which is repugnant. And numb one’s mind to it.
As we do almost every day when we see scenes of war and violence on television, or the wretched, deformed beggars at the red light. We simply shut these scenes out and they are never a part of our consciousness.
Then there is the Vibhatsa that mesmerizes us. Arushi’s murder on television. Almost everyone was glued. This is hypnotic Vibhatsa that holds us in its claw-like grip.
We find shades of Vibhatsa in all its nuances in poetry. The hard hitting, gut wrenching words that stem from strong emotions and states of mind, and from social and historical narratives.
The rage of a people victimized for centuries can be heard in the poetry of the oppressed, the downtrodden and the outcasts from all over the world.
Dalit poetry of aggression is one such example. The Marathi poet Namdeo Dhasal: As in his poem Kamatipura:
Shed your skin, shed your skin from its very roots
Skin yourself
Let these poisoned everlasting wombs become disembodied.
Let not this numbed ball of flesh sprout limbs.
These aren’t the words of a poet’s nefarious wallowing in egotistical self indulgence. These are words of exhortation – – – a call to rebellion – – Words to shake the downtrodden to action and the bourgeoisie out of their abject indifference.
This is also reflected the scorching verse of the Oriya poet, Basudev Sunani

If you can, but once,
fix a bone in your tongue,
stand firm on the ground
and ask yourself:
Which Ganges can clean
my shit-smeared body?
How many stacks
of tulsi leaves
will sanctify me?
How many tons of sandal paste
will deodorize my body?

Basudev Sunani states unequivocally that “The Dalit consciousness cannot be shared by non-Dalits. The upper caste people cannot fathom the humiliation an untouchable undergoes . . .”
And yet these poets move the most hardened reader with a sense of self loathing.
As do the poems of the Nigerian poet, Chinua Achebe. I quote a couple of lines from Vultures:
Yesterday they picked
the eyes of a swollen
corpse in a water-logged
trench and ate the
things in its bowel. Full
gorged they chose their roost
keeping the hollowed remnant
in easy range of cold
telescopic eyes…

If Vibhatsa can stem from love, or rage, it also often rises from abject personal sorrow.
April 18 by Sylvia Plath
the slime of all my yesterdays
rots in the hollow of my skull
and if my stomach would contract
because of some explicable phenomenon
such as pregnancy or constipation
I would not remember you.

These are all very strong images of Vibhatsa. But where is the Rasa? And what is it that qualifies Disgust to be a part of the exalted pantheon of Rasas? The thing about Vibhatsa is that it remains just that until it becomes a transcendental experience from the personal to the universal, for both the poet and the reader. As in the works of the Pulitzer Prize winning African American poet Gwendolyn Brooks:
The Mother
Abortions will not let you forget.
You remember the children you got that you did not get,
The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.
In the revelation and sharing of this deep personal sorrow there is a catharsis for the poet and in the experiencing of this sorrow, the Karuna Rasa arises in the reader. They have both, thus, transcended Vibhatsa to a state of Rasa.
I shared an example of Vibhatsa of love at the beginning. But love can be at its acme and still speak the language of Vibhatsa.
दाग़ दे दो निकाल कर आंखें, हमने देखी हैं आज वो आंखें।
Daag, wrench out and give your eyes,
For today you’ve seen those eyes.

Or the subliminal lament of love by Shiv Kumar Batalvi:
Maye ni maye, main ik shikra yaar banaya
Ohde sir te kalgi
Ohde pairin chanjhar
Te o chog chuginda aya
Churi kuttan ta oh kaunda naahi

Ve assan dil da maas khawaya

Maye ni main ik shikra yaar banaya

Mother I befriended a Shikra (Sparrow Hawk)

With a crest on his head

And anklets on his feet

He came in search of food.

I offered him sweetened bread, but

He would have nothing of it

So I fed him the flesh

of my heart – – –

What then is Vibhatsa Rasa? Is it in the usage of repulsive language, or in the conjuring of repugnant images that the sense of disgust lies?

What about the sheer delicacy of the poetry of Daag and Batalvi in which subliminal love is so consummate that Vibhatsa transforms into Shringar.

Vibhatsa Rasa acquires its true essence when and only when, the poet and the reader are both subsumed, by it – – then, the words, the images, the metaphors – – nothing matters and Vibhatsa Rasa becomes a thing of beauty.

All that is left is the deep yearning for the moment when all emotions merge into one Supreme Rasa.

We see this in Bhakti and Sufi poetry. The images are so deeply embedded in the subtext of our cultural subconscious and one even forgets that the imagery is one of Vibhatsa:

To quote from Baba Farid:

Kaga sab tan khaiyo chun chun khaiyo maas

Do naina mat khaiyo mohe piya milan ki aas

Since we are having this session on the Eve of Easter I cannot help but conclude with great reverence one of the most enduring images of Vibhatsa through the centuries – – The crucifixion of Jesus Christ. One of them is written by Lillian Joyce Merrill

Christ’s Death

Take a good long look at His

Bruised and battered body

See the torn, lacerated, bleeding flesh,

Cut to the bone by the scourging whip.

Feel the thorny crown being pressed deep into his brow.

Know the agony of being nailed to the stake,

And pierced by the point of a spear.

This grueling description of the Crucifixion. There aren’t many such descriptions of the crucifixion in classical poetry because most poets tend to transcend the Vibhatsa of the agonies of Christ and metamorphose it into the Rasa of adoration.

That is where the glory of Vibhatsa Rasa lies.

Vibhatsa Rasa: Jasleen Vohra


Navarasas: The Karuna Rasa

Herman Melville has said, “Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colours, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? And so, I guess with emotions and with Rasas or aesthetics of emotion.
In many countries of the far-east, when they see the colour green, they usually call it blue, because they just don’t have a name for the colour green.
It is probably because blue and green are similar in hue. Semantics may affect the definitions, but the not emotions that are evoked. And most of the times emotions do lie between the blues and greens – – and those emotions can well be red, yellow or black.
Natural emotions are painful but poetic emotions are invariably pleasurable.
“Thus, while bhaya (fear) is painful, its rasa, Bhayānaka, is pleasurable; while jugupsa (disgust) is painful, its rasa, bhibhatsa, is pleasurable, while soka (sorrow) is painful its rasa, Karuna, is pleasurable;
The nature of rasa, is ālaukika (not of this world) i.e. transcending the bounds of worldly experience.”
To me Karuna is the most alaukika of all the rasas – – for not only does it transcend the world, it transcends the self. Karuna is the bridge to one’s higher self – it is the thread that binds every human being to each other and to the mystery of creation.
This is so beautifully expressed by the great mystic, Lal Ded:
Remove from my heart’s dovecote, Father,
The ache of too far skies.
My arms hurt from building other people’s houses.
My body when they come to take you from your own house,
A thousand people will follow you, waving their arms.

I wonder if Karuna can only be acquired or received through of Divine Intervention.
As the Bard’s Portia avers,
The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,
Upon the place beneath.
It is twice blessed.
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
It is an attribute to God himself.

Perhaps that is why Compassion is considered in all philosophies and all religions as a much prized quality to be inculcated or imbibed in order to receive it.
The sage, Padmasambhava promises,
‘I am never far from those with faith, or even from those without it, though they do not see me. My children will always, always, be protected by my compassion.’
Maybe compassion is unconditional – – This soft gentle, rain from heaven that falls upon the place beneath.
Is it then a stand-alone rasa, that is unaffected by the others? That blesseth him that gives and him that takes? A state of being that that is – not achieved.
Why then is it a part of a spectrum of Rasas? After all, Bharat Muni has explained that Rasas are formed from the alchemy of natural emotions being transmuted into poetic or aesthetic emotions.
Since Rasas are not direct, but suggestive, there is obviously an interaction of the emotions. These can be true of the juxtaposition of any of the Navarasas. There is a constant pouring of one Rasa into the other.
And so Karuna is not necessarily divine or gentle. It can be incisive.
As in Eliot’s Four Quarters:
The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art

Does Karuna always beget Karuna?

There is karuna in Sahir Ludhiyanvi’s famous nazm,
हर इक जिस्म घायल, हर इक रूह प्यासी,
निगाहों में उलझन दिलों में उदासी।
यह दुनिया है या आलम-ए-बदहवासी.

It rises from rage and gives rise to rage. And ends with disgust or vibhasta:
जला दो इसे फूंक डालो यह दुनिया
मेरे सामने से हटा लो यह दुनिया
तुम्हारी है तुम ही संभालो यह दुनिया.
And what about the effect on the receiver?
Karuna while it expresses sorrow, empathy, mercy and evokes pity and maybe even tears, in both the artist and the audience, it often does and can lead to other emotions in the receiver.
Milan Kundera says, “There is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels for someone, pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echos.”

Karuna can be light as a feather, when it is Divine and rises from Bhakti. But when it rises from raudra or vibhasta it can indeed be weigh heavy on one’s shoulders. And sometimes Karuna does give rise to rage, but in Karuna lies the strength to bear the present and to look at an imagined future:
Maya Angelou: Preacher, Don’t Send Me

Preacher, don’t send me
when I die
to some big ghetto
in the sky
where rats eat cats
of the leopard type
and Sunday brunch
is grits and tripe.

I’ve known those rats
I’ve seen them kill
and grits I’ve had
would make a hill,
or maybe a mountain,
so what I need
from you on Sunday
is a different creed.

Preacher, please don’t
promise me
streets of gold
and milk for free.
I stopped all milk
at four years old
and once I’m dead
I won’t need gold.

I’d call a place
pure paradise
where families are loyal
and strangers are nice,
where the music is jazz
and the season is fall.
Promise me that
or nothing at all.

There is an idyllic warmth to fall or autumn in Maya Angelou’s poem. The hope for new beginnings.
Today Karuna or Compassion is also a lead-in to the other theme of the evening – – autumn a time of bounteous fecundity. A reminder of Keats’ poem To Autumn,
SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
Compassion, this perhaps the noblest of the emotions, that rises from the nether depths and raises one to the very heights of existence can never be really understood – – it can be only experienced – – with compassion.
Ironically, each Rasa whether it is Love, Anger, Fear, Amazement, Horror, Mirth, or Courage, seems to be only be complete when it has its roots in Karuna.

© Jasleen Vohra, 12 October 2012