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Sunthar Visuvalingam

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Background Information

Ph.D. in Sanskrit/Philosophy, B.H.U. (1983)
Senior Visiting Fellow, Harvard Univ. 1991-93
Director of Research & Development at Pearson Education till April 30, 2001 


Towards an Integral Appreciation of Abhinava's aesthetics of Rasa

The draft of my abstract for a proposed overview of Abhinava's aesthetics. I've attempted to maintain a balance between opposing constraints: * focus on making the core insights accessible to educated laymen interested in aesthetics even while judiciously introducing technical Sanskrit terminology that has no equivalent in non-Indian languages (also to satisfy the trained Indologist intent on recognizing what's being 'translated'). * provide sufficient historico-cultural context to clarify the specific expression they found in rasa doctrine even while highlighting the universal constants in human experience which the Indian formulations are derived from and seek to address in consonance with a particular ethos. * enable the reader to 'problematize' Indian aesthetics through an account that remains faithful to Abhinava's explicit theorizing even while resituating his diverse pronouncements (and person) as a whole within our evolving understanding of the tradition in relation to other cultures. * avoid making explicit comparisons (favorable or otherwise) privileging any particular non-Indian mode of artistic expression even while facilitating such dialogue with readers predisposed to thinking about aesthetics in terms of a particular thinker or school. So doing, I've formulated this overview entirely from long-term memory without consulting any primary or secondary materials (not even my own Ph.D. thesis here at hand) on the assumption that what would take shape in this way would be rather a crystallization of thoughts that are as much Abhinava's as they are those of a contemporary mind that has been impacted by his way of thinking in its perception of the world today.

Abhinavagupta's aesthetics is the culmination, in Kashmir by around the late 10th century, of convergent developments in Indian dramaturgy, rhetoric, linguistics, epistemology, psychology and spirituality. Drama had long been accepted as the 'total' art form that united plot, acting, dance, poetry, music, architecture, fine arts, human values and practically all other concerns of life in order to sustain and nourish an 'other-worldly' emotional enjoyment (rasa). Though rasa was also evoked by separate art forms such as (the râgas of Indian) music, only in theater was the full range of human feelings expressible in all their infinite variety and subtlety, with each emotion rendered with recognizable distinctiveness. While Bharata's theater claimed to be modeled on the 'originary' unifying principle of the solemn Vedic sacrifice but offered instead as a delightful spectacle to amuse all strata of Indian society, by this time the dramatic art had largely outgrown its ritual framework, narrowly defined, to carve out for itself in both theory and practice a specifically aesthetic domain, epitomized by rasa , that could be wholly endorsed by 'heterodox' ideologies and even by a purely 'secular' temperament. The challenge then, as it still remains now for Western thought, was to clarify the distinct nature of such 'dramatized' emotion (rasa) in terms of its rootedness in the psychology of everyday life even while accounting for its radical transformation in art. Moreover, what is the role of language in the evocation of the aesthetic response, particularly in the imaginative context of poetry? Anandavardhana's theory of 'suggestion' (dhvani), even while developing and exploring the communication of factual (vastu) and figurative (alankâra) meanings, revolves around rasa (-dhvani) as the ultimate meaning of poetic speech. However, if rasa is simply a 'subjective' psychological response on the part of the connoisseur to the 'objective' meaning of a verse, surely the former cannot be rightfully said to be the 'meaning' of the linguistic utterance. If you get upset with me for not making sense here, surely your anger can't be the meaning of what I said!

Emotions in real life are largely within the sway of the laws of psychological causation: certain events or actions by others provoke a specific emotional response that I express through characteristic, often visibly recognizable, physiological reactions, effects that can in no way be construed as the 'meaning' of the original actions. Moreover, my emotional state, if sustained, would also be modulated by a succession of concomitant transitory states of mind; for example, sexual attraction might express itself as kaleidoscopic pattern of longing, trepidation, joy, jealousy, and so on. What's represented on the stage are not just the 'causes' ( vibhâva = determinants) of the intended emotion but also the 'effects' (anubhâva = consequents) that they evoke in another responsive dramatic personage (âzraya), who displays the appropriate 'transitory states of mind' (vyabhicârin= concomitant). And what evokes rasa is the (connoisseur's attempt to restore meaning to this) configuration as a coherent whole as perceived by the mind's eye. As we 'infer' the emotion in the âzraya , the accumulated traces (samskâra) of the same predisposition are awakened from our own subconscious and our hearts begin to resonate (hrdaya-samvâda) with their fluctuations depicted by the dramatis personae . Instead of 'responding' behaviorally to the transposed psychological causes, the focus is instead on understanding the interactions on stage by supplying the relevant emotional motivations from our own store of latent memories. This 'identification' (tanmayî-bhavana) is so complete that we seem to be experiencing the same emotion without any distinction of self and other. This is precisely why our whole-hearted enjoyment of Sîtâ's beauty through the eyes of Lord Râma is no stigma to Indian aesthetics.

Through aesthetic identification, an emotional stimulus that was originally unique (asâdhârana) to a particular âzraya becomes in this way 'generalized' (sâdhâranî-karaNa) into an object of relish for the spectators at large, who experience the corresponding rasa (e.g., zrngâra = love) in an 'impersonal' mode in the sense of its being not conditioned by an ascertainment of the form "I am in love" (which would result in a purposive attitude) or "he/she is in love" (which would leave one indifferent). Worldly (laukika) emotion immediately engenders a stream of cogitation, impelled by purposivity towards the external stimulus, which sustains the feeling of self as distinct from other. The choice is between a 'personal' interest and the withdrawal of attention due to indifference or other more insistent matters. In the aesthetic context, the emotion, even while being nourished and intensified by the evolution of the artistic configuration, is arrested at the initial (i.e., pre-discursive) stage of development because the sustenance (and not just the 'production') of rasa depends on focusing the attention (avadhâna) on restoring coherence to the 'conjunction of determinants, consequents and concomitants' (Bharata's famous axiom on rasa). Though Bharata states that the 'basic emotion' (sthâyi-bhâva) 'becomes' the rasa through the action of these three elements, Abhinava clarifies that what is really experienced is only the rasa, and it is only by analogy that it's appropriate to identify it with the corresponding worldly emotion. As darkness envelops the galleries of our mundane day-to-day consciousness, such rapt attention is rendered possible by our voluntary suspension of purposive attitudes (artha-kriyâ-kâritva) in favor of an intentness to enjoy whatever the spotlight of a receptive consciousness reveals before us. This 'catharsis' that' purifies the emotions from their biological inertia and self-centeredness is also, paradoxically, what renders the experience of rasa all the more intense and enjoyable. The spectacle thus also creates and reinforces a psychic bond among the 'participating' community even as had Greek tragedy or the sacrificial ritual. Whereas our mundane psychology is characterized by a flow of ideation driven and buffeted by instinctual needs that are often below the surface and corresponding efforts of reason to negotiate and escape their thralldom, rasa is willingly evoked and sustained by the combined faculties of the discriminating intellect, thereby achieving the reconciliation of thought and emotion that constitutes culture.

Rasa is hence not the psychological 'effect' that the artistry 'produces' in us but rather the (source and) inner organizing principle of the aesthetic creation, its very meaning. We do not particularly relish the emotions of others inferred in real life, so the aesthetic emotion cannot be reduced to the rasa merely deduced in the âzraya (it's irrelevant whether the actor is really feeling that or any emotion). The dramatic spectacle does not simply 'intensify' our worldly emotions, for we would otherwise never lose an opportunity to fall into a fit of psychopathic anger or wallow in suicidal depression. Nor is theater an illusion for we do not mistake the objective configuration for something else, but rather reorganize the sensory data through an active apperception (anuvyavasâya) focused on the enjoyment of rasa. For the same reason, it's not an imitation, as the simultaneous (bisociated) perception of the imitated and the imitating element can only amount to caricature provoking laughter. Rasa is ultimately not even an emotional object presented to consciousness but rather a specific non-mundane (alaukika) mode of cognition (bodha, pratîti) that is indistinguishable from an active relishing (âsvâdana, rasanâ). Since emotions--not even love, the basis for that most delectable rasa, the erotic sentiment (zrngâra)--are not relishable per se, what is really enjoyed is the reflexivity (vimarza) of consciousness as mediated by a particular emotional state. This is why Abhinavagupta repeatedly equates rasa with a more fundamental and universal 'aesthetic rapture' (camatkâra ) that reveals itself in a variety of circumstances that are not artistic in the conventional sense, particularly in modes of 'spiritualizing' otherwise 'worldly' experience. Though evoked or, rather, mirrored by the emotions in the typical aesthetic context, rasa is ultimately an inalienable property of consciousness itself.

The burden of conveying the sensory effects of the aesthetic configuration (plot, etc.) is borne in poetry (kâvya) by language alone. What is lost in terms of the vivid but relatively passive overpowering of the eye (gesture, costume, props, etc.), and the ear (music, song, dialogue, etc.) must be compensated for by a more subtle, discriminating and rarefied use of words that demands a correspondingly greater (re-) creative effort on the part of the hearer. The direct expression of feelings (e.g., "I love you") is in bad poetic taste because it fails to evoke the corresponding emotion in the connoisseur. Rasa can only be 'suggested' (vyangya) through the presentation of determinants, consequents and concomitants that may themselves be merely suggested (e.g., the mutual glances of estranged lovers through averted eyes). The highest form of 'suggestion' (dhvani) is where the poem is 'dramatized' (nâTyâyita) by the imagination so that all the signifying elements of sound, syntax, rhythm, rhyme, fact, figure, context, association and composite sense converge on the evocation of rasa as the 'primary meaning' (mukhyârtha). There are also other possibilities: the suggested meanings may be subordinated (guNî-bhûta-vyangya) to the directly expressed sense to enrich and beautify the latter; there might be an interplay of figures of speech, some literal and others merely suggested so that they resonate together with tantalizing hints of unexpressed thoughts; the emotion itself may serve only to provide texture to a strikingly apt description or idea - there are no bounds to language! What is more, the sparing yet strategic deployment of (often carefully half-defined) poetic speech can capture, highlight and immortalize fleeting and otherwise ineffable moods, as exemplified by the erotic verses of Amaru that Abhinava delights in dissecting to make his theoretical points. Though the theory of suggestion (dhvani ) as an additional third power of language, over and above direct and figurative meaning, was propounded only in the 10th century, the illustrations cataloguing its diverse possibilities were largely drawn from the classical poets (like Kâlidâsa). Though this 'theorizing' of prior implicit criteria and techniques was largely to counter the inordinate (and often flamboyant) resort to the mechanical aspects of the poet's craft such as figures of speech to the detriment of good taste, it has thereby enabled the explicit articulation and application of such hitherto 'tacit' principles to practical literary criticism.

Though aesthetic relish is intrinsically amoral, the objective configurations that evoke rasa must be grounded in our shared experiences and memories of the real world. Since our pursuit of various life goals (puruSârtha)--(sexual) pleasure (kâma), wealth-security-power (artha), socio-religious obligations (dharma) and salvation (mokSa)--are translations of our basic emotional dispositions into rationalized personal and cultural values, the various opportunities, challenges and circumstances that are presented on the stage to evoke rasa inevitably bring into play the questions of ethics. Powerful emotions are engendered through the conflict of values and their resolution; the personal values of the spectator unavoidably color one's perception, impeding or facilitating identification with the protagonists so crucial to the evocation of the intended rasa. Hence Indian dramaturgy aligns the four basic emotions of love (rati --> zrngâra), aggression (krodha --> raudra), enterprise (utsâha --> vîra) and quiescence (zama --> zânta) with the ascending cultural hierarchy of the life-goals. Though in itself transcending all (purposivity and hence) value-judgments, rasa is sustained by a dramatic representation that embraces the whole spectrum of cultural values. Abhinava hence enjoins that these primary emotions should be depicted on stage so as to inculcate the proper pursuit of their corresponding life-goals. Even the subsidiary emotions indirectly contribute to this schema: for example, humor (hâsya), though enhancing especially the enjoyment of the erotic sentiment, can also be employed to depict and censure the improper pursuit of any of these legitimate life-goals. Since we are able to enjoy the rasa only by participating in the values projected by the (idealized) protagonists, the underlying moral injunctions are subliminally implanted and reinforced as through the tender ministrations of a loving wife. Classical Sanskrit theater thus reflects a convergence of aesthetics and ethics, a traditional Indian exposed to such cultural pedagogy would often act appropriately because this was not just morally right but also a matter of good taste.

The enjoyment of rasa is not a 'spiritual' experience in the regular sense, for some of its choice expressions are in love-poetry with absolutely no religious overtones, so much so that it's been possible to claim (with king Bhoja) that the erotic sentiment (zrngâra) is indeed the rasa par excellence permeating all the other emotions. At the same time, the ability to discriminate the nuances merely suggested by the poem and to identify aesthetically with its emotional 'texture' presupposes not just an inner detachment on the part of the connoisseur (sa-hrdaya) but also a certain 'purity' of heart (hrdaya), so much so that for Abhinava the fundamental rasa is that of tranquility ( zânta) which all the other rasas emerge from and disappear into, just as the phenomenal world itself may be understood as waves 'ruffling' the calm mirror of the enlightened state. Rasa is thus characterized by a peculiar state of awareness that simultaneously 'transcends' (lokottara) both the 'objective' configuration and also the corresponding 'subjective' emotion, but is nevertheless, unlike the introversion of a yogin, receptive to and intent on enjoying the sensory impressions. In this respect, it is both a fore-taste and after-taste of the sort of 'mystical' experience privileged by Abhinavagupta that dissolves the distinction between the sacred and the profane. When rooted in and illuminated by spiritual insight (bolstered by intellectual discrimination), this 'aesthetic stance' may be generalized to the world at large, such that the experience of rasa is no longer (evoked and) conditioned by a specifically 'artistic' artifact but is also revealed even in biological pleasures (such as eating, drinking and sex) or ritual activities (such as the religious devotion of an Utpaladeva) as an inherent and inalienable property of reflexivity (vimarza) within consciousness. Such 'aesthetic rapture' (camatkâra), even independently of the play of emotions in the mirror of art, is the original referent of the term 'rasa' in the UpaniSads (rasovai sah).

Historically, the emergence and consolidation of Indian aesthetics may be replaced within the larger matrix of the parallel evolution of other semi-autonomous domains such as philosophy, law, 'sectarian' religion and so on, from the mythico-ritual roots of the Vedic tradition, wherein these disciplines are not clearly distinguished. Neither the Rig-Vedic 'poems' nor even classical epic poetry, with its long stretches of descriptive verse and didactic intent, can be satisfactorily accounted for in terms of rasa-theory, whereas one discovers abundant use of figures of speech and sound-effects. Of the ten forms of drama (daza-rûpaka) enunciated by Bharata, many seem to have been of ritual orientation and have as such been lost (so that we may only guess their nature), whereas others seem to have survived only at the cost of profound transformations that reflected socio-cultural change. Thus the vîthî appears, in the light of the definitions of its various elements, to have been a riddle-play, drawing inspiration from the verbal jousts of the assembly hall (sabhâ) and eventually going back to the Vedic enigma-contests (brahmodya). The only way Abhinava is able to vindicate this category is to 'aestheticize' our understanding of these elements by finding illustrations of such verbal wit and linguistic ambiguity in the sentimental (often humorous) repartees of the love-dramas (nâtikâ). An earlier commentator had surmised that Bharata had more or less synthesized two pre-existing schools of drama, namely the brahmanical and the Shaiva, a thesis that Abhinava refutes not so much on historical grounds but because such composite origins with undermine the authority of the Nâtya Shâstra. It seems wholly plausible that the brahmanical genres and practice would have been highly ritualistic and modeled on the Vedic sacrifice (as exemplified by the theatrical preliminaries), whereas the Shaiva current would have remained closely linked to the 'shamanistic' possibilities of dance and the tantric transmutation of the emotions. The transgressive Pâshupata ascetics not only worshipped Shiva-Rudra as the Lord of Dance but were also expected to be familiar with the theatrical art. Bharata's school might have recast the interiority of rasa within the authoritative Vedic framework but with the focus now on entertaining a much larger 'lay' public through epic. legendary, and profane themes. Restoring the authority of tradition for the contemporary mind would consist rather in demonstrating the coherence of the synthesis around a unified vision that in the past was affirmed through (the fiction of) single (often 'eponymous') authorship (whether to Bharata, Vyâsa or other 'compiler').

Significantly, the earliest fragments of Indian drama date (1st C. A.D.) from the brahminAzvaghoSa, the prodigious Buddhist critic of Vedic tradition. Having long resisted theater for being an even more evanescent replica of the ephemeral world, the 'heterodox' faith gradually came around to appropriating its powers for the propagation among laymen of the Buddha's world-negating message. Paradoxically, this resulted in the 'secularization' of the Sanskrit theater that we may recognize even in the surviving 'Hindu' plays with a 'worldly' (prakarana), legendary (nâTaka) or erotic (nâtikâ) theme. The rasa-problematic presupposes this opposition between the world and its transcendence, that Abhinava has simply inherited and attempts to resolve at various levels.

Partaking in both the spiritual and the sensuous poles of human experience, the enjoyment of art is something less than either pole though potentially capable of embracing and surpassing both. Not only may any transcendental underpinnings be denied by the modern artistic sensibility, the overflowing experience of rasa that sometimes spontaneously emerges in the course of the 'ascending' modes of Indian spirituality, such as the wholly introspective yogic discipline, is canonically recognized as much, if not more, as an obstacle to full illumination than as a sure sign of progress. Both the Vedic brahmin intent on sacrifice and the early Buddhist monks intent on liberation were averse to the temptations of the senses even, and perhaps especially, when they were disguised as art. On the other hand, the aesthetic experience may be said to be derivative in the sense that this imaginative 're-creation' presupposes and depends on (our prior experience of) the real world of practical pursuits. Whereas the modern artist may trespass on the territory of the philosopher, mystic, politician, linguist, etc., in seeking to create his/her own values, the traditional kavi (poet) simply endorsed, illustrated, propagated and humanized the existing order of things and inherited value system that had required a long period of apprenticeship to assimilate and master. Aesthetics comes into its own particularly in those domains of endeavor where the spirit casts its shadow upon the world of the senses that in turn reach out towards their own hidden unifying principle. Here's where cultural 'choices' have been made: where ethical imperatives have been articulated around the life of the emotions, where the details of human scientia are transmitted in context, where an experiential feel of proportion and balance is shared with a younger generation that's been exposed only to the theory, where creative energies are awakened, challenged and offered models worthy of emulation. The aesthetics of rasa has flowered in the thought of Abhinavagupta, precisely because his philosophical endeavor has been to conceptualize a (for him) supreme mode of 'mystical' experience that dissolves the opposition between transcendence and immanence, sacred and profane, the spiritual and the sensuous.

Abhinava stretches the transcendental possibilities of the aesthetic experience in two ways. Firstly, the rasa of tranquility (zânta) is given the supreme place as corresponding to the pursuit of the highest human goal of spiritual emancipation and presided over as such by the Buddha. His defense of zânta consists largely of demonstrating the possibility of its practical implementation on the stage in terms of motivation, plot, recognition, identification, etc. Why would a liberated soul pursue a consistent course of action? By what external consequents would we recognize his inner peace? How could worldly spectators empathize with his (lack of) behavior? Secondly, zânta is shown to underlie the other eight 'orthodox' rasas constituting as it were the indispensable 'rasa-ness' of what would otherwise be merely mundane emotions. So much so that he is now obliged to turn around and clarify that the canonical distinction between the basic emotion (sthâyin) and its corresponding rasa still holds good even for the 'cessation' (zama) / 'tranquility' (zânta) pair. Yet, Abhinava's own privileged (Tantric) mode of spiritual experience was one where the barrier between the transcendent and the immanent was completely dissolved such that the world of the senses was not just reflected within but a mere phenomenal projection (âbhâsa) of the supreme Consciousness. He also affirms that any of the emotions, not just zânta, could serve as the springboard for emancipation: for example, a consistent attitude of laughing at the whole world as incongruous! Such dispassionate ubiquitous laughter did characterize the Pâzupataascetic. Emotion binds only because it is directed at particular objects as opposed to others, when universalized, love, for example, liberates rather than enslaves us to the object of attachment. This latter possibility was developed in subsequent centuries, particularly in Bengal, into a full-fledged aesthetics of 'devotion' (bhakti ) to a supreme personal God who transcends the objects of the senses that are nevertheless offered up in worship as manifestations of his/her glory. Bhakti too serves as an emotional bridge between the world and its transcendence, and as such it's possible to rework the entire sensuous framework of rasa-aesthetics around the attitude of personal devotion. Infused with such aesthetic sensibility, the nectar of bhakti-rasa overflows the confines of both (secular) art and (religious) ritual to outpour already into the hymns of Utpaladeva, who promulgated the new non-dualist doctrine of the 'Recognition of the Lord' (îsvara-pratyabhijñâ): 'become' God to worship God (or, if you prefer, realize your own Godhood by worshipping God).

Like aesthetics, bhakti may be approached in two ways: as hovering between the transcendental and the immanent, as seems to be the stance of the (qualified) dualism of some, especially VaiSnava, philosophical schools; or fully embracing the opposing poles, as with the Trika, which claims to be an inclusive supreme non-dualism (parâdvaita) that integrates the dualist perspective. Though a valid and desirable emotion, Abhinava himself rejects bhakti as a separate rasafor the same reason that he refuses other propositions such as 'affection for a child' (vâtsalya), etc., that they would result in an uncontrollable multiplication of entities whereas Bharata offered a still workable scheme of eight rasas. Instead, he treats bhakti (etc.)as a particular mode of 'love' ( rati) that is best known and universally enjoyed in its expression as the erotic sentiment (zrngâra). His tantric writings, as opposed to those on aesthetics proper, would rather suggest that zrngâra might be the ultimate rasa. The spiritualization of the 'libido' (kâma) in the (often transgressive) context of sexual enjoyment is indeed the occasion for the most exuberant and even 'somatic' descriptions of the effervescence of rasa, for example, as an 'interiorized emission' (vîrya-vikSobha) that powerfully vitalizes the 'heart' overflowing with indescribable emotions. Through the 'primordial sacrifice' (kula-yâga), 'physiological' pleasure and even objects of disgust become transmuted into an 'aesthetic' experience that reveals the ultimate (anuttara ) nature of Reality. The independence of the aesthetic domain, vis-à-vis the moral, the religious, the profane, is brought into relief when these 'underground' writings are juxtaposed to his public commentaries on formal art. After all, Amaru's love-poems celebrate the erotic as such without moral edification nor religious intent. Some of the persistent motifs of Indian poetry, such as the celebration of the adulterous woman (abhisârikâ), would be even construed as 'immoral' were they to spill over into real life as worthy of enactment, as they do in certain 'tantricized' modes of (even VaiSnava) devotion (such as the Sahajîya). While exploring 'devotion' in all its human possibilities (between friends, towards child, husband, parents, king, suicide, etc.), bhakti too has not just countenanced such transgressive attitudes but even encouraged them as the supreme manifestation of surrender.

With the right mix of cultural orientations, aesthetic sensibility can permeate the 'ordinary' life of the masses well beyond those restricted circles where it is nourished, cultivated and refined through the formal techniques of the fine arts. The day-to-day ethos (banarasi-pan) of Banaras, the holy city of the Hindus, had long been characterized by a feeling of gentle 'intoxication' (mauj, masti) that takes an eccentric delight in simple pleasures such as the chewing of betel-leaves ( pan), bathing in the Gangâ, going on an outing (bahrî alang) on an unpredictable whim, consumption of marijuana (bhang), etc., that extended to all age groups, castes and religious denominations. The cultural justification for such carefree behavior in this center of Hindu orthodoxy, was that such a life-style was modeled on the patron deity of the city, namely the ascetic Shiva. Spirituality is not confined to places of worship but permeates the entire public space as calls to prayer, devotional songs, murmuring of pilgrims thronging the streets. Inner detachment was also fostered by the omni-presence of death that constantly walks the alleys with piercing cries of "Ram's name (alone) Is!" Moreover, under the watchful eyes of Bhairava, Banaras was earlier the center of transgressive Shaiva currents such as the Kâpâlikas and Pâzupatas, who sought spiritual autonomy by deliberately and publicly violating social conventions. These attitudes seem to have filtered over the centuries into the down-to-earth sensibilities of the local populace, including merchants, so as to shape their sensibilities. An attitude of inner autonomy (svâtantrya) especially characterized the (mostly poor) Muslim artisans who would stop working at their looms to take a boat to the other side of the Gangâ whenever they felt like it even if this meant a diminution of income. This ethos is what made traditional Banaras such a hospitable place during the seventies for hordes of Western hippies who felt crushed by the 'heartlessness' of their own industrialized societies. Gradually over the years, many of them weaned themselves of their (drug and other) addictions, mastered some art-form such as dance, music, painting, etc., studied a branch of traditional knowledge, and/or assimilated a spiritual discipline of their preference, and eventually returned home to reintegrate as productive and even creative members of their countries of origin. My own teacher of 'Kashmir Shaivism', an extremely orthodox Mithila brahmin and a very learned (not only) Advaita Vedântin, would proceed after our sessions to the banks of the Gangâ where, intoxicated with bhang, he would become immersed in spiritual contemplation (samâdhi). His daily words of parting was the benediction: "remain wholly intoxicated" (khûb mast raho)! Aesthetic sensibility opens doors to experience beyond the narrower confines of art.

In Abhinava's aesthetics, we thus discover a supple conceptual and experiential synthesis that exhibits apparent 'inconsistencies' only because it pushes the envelope of human possibilities simultaneously in several contrary directions. Such a unifying framework was possible largely because the surrounding traditional culture shared a common discourse whatever one's particular position or choices within its available range of values. Contemporary ('western') culture is defined instead by a fragmentation of not just theory but also of the corresponding practice and the resulting experience. Unlike the carefully delimited 'transgressive sacrality' that hid behind and inspired Abhinava's experience of aesthetic rapture, artistic expression today seems to leap forward through a perpetual movement of trespassing its own unstable norms. What has been problematized is not just the content and technique of art but also the boundaries between aesthetics and everything else. Not only does the artist express his 'personal' (as opposed to received social) values but the medium also becomes the vehicle of contestation and subserves non-aesthetic purposes. Conversely, other modes of life, like the religious or the commercial, likewise cultivate, in good taste or bad, only specific possibilities of art to further their own agendas. Artists have also responded by barricading themselves into an 'aestheticism' that's supposedly immune to all other considerations, whether moral, political, religious, pedagogic, or even that of simply affording delight. New media have emerged such as cinema, television, (multimedia on) the Internet, which challenge some of the basic presuppositions of traditional art (for example, that of a localized as opposed to virtual community) and offer tantalizing (for example, remote interactive) possibilities yet to be adequately explored. Fuelling all these cross-currents of innovation are large doses of theory and practice being injected through the exposure to non-Western cultures, with their own indigenous forms of aesthetic sensibility, which likewise cannot be reduced to rasa or even dhvani in its canonical formulations. While various classical Indian art-forms, such as music and dance, find an increasingly receptive audience world-wide, they are also being rethought, extended and transformed even in India itself through the experiments of (some of the foremost) indigenous artists often in collaboration with representatives of such contemporary trends. So long as the language of art depends on the powers of signification and especially in their ability evoke and fathom human emotions, the Indian legacy remains an incomparable resource for the aesthetics of the future. Abhinavagupta himself lives in our consciousness not so much as an artist stricto sensubut as a discriminating commentator and connoisseur. The deepening crisis of values further exacerbated by the 'clash of civilizations' is perhaps in need not so much of even more art-forms with their conflicting rules, theories and subjectivities, but of a shared aesthetic sensibility that extends to the whole of life. Here, it seems to me, is Abhinava's greatest contribution.