Indian Kavya Literature (8 Volumes in 9 Parts)

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Indian Kavya Literature (8 Volumes in 9 Parts)
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Indian Kavya Literature is planned in eight volumes as a comprehensive study of literature (Kavya) in the literary criticism of that same tradition. Surprising as it may seem, Indian literature has not till now been presented from this- obvious, natural, and necessary point of view in any modern language, except in a limited and primarily bibliographical manner by Krishnamachariar in his History of Classical Sanskrit Literature (1937). Instead, Indian literature has been misrepresented and misjudged from a narrowly European, and therefore quite alien and unhelpful, standpoint in the modern works on it widely accepted as ‘standard’. It is exceedingly odd that even several modern Indian writers have performed the feat of adopting this alienated and distant view, diminishing Indian culture in the midst of the struggle for Indian freedom from colonialism. The present work is intended to restore Indian literature to independence and to India, as a step towards that freedom from spiritual colonialism which India has yet to attain. But the method of presentation here involves no political discussions and is very simple and straightforward: the aim is the enjoyment of the literature as it was meant to be enjoyed.

The first volume prepares the way for the enjoyment of Indian literature by presenting Indian literary criticism, thus clarifying the techniques and aims of Indian writers. This criticism includes the various aesthetic theories as to the nature of the enjoyment of literature by readers and audiences, the techniques of dramaturgy and poetics whereby this enjoyment is created, the nature of the literary genres (drama, epic, the novel, etc.) and a sketch of the milieu of the writers and critics.

The author, A.K. Warder, Professor Emeritus of Sanskrit at the University of Toronto, is an old-fashioned philologist who reads the primary sources in Sanskrit and the Prakrits.


Volume-1: Literary Criticism
Volume-2: Origins and Formation of the Classical Kavya
Volume-3: The Early Medieval Period (Sudraka To Visakhadatta)
Volume-4: The Ways of Originality - Bana To Damodaragupta
Volume-5: The Bold Style - Saktibhadra to Dhanapala
Volume-6: The Art of Storytelling
Volume-7: The Wheel of Time
Volume-8: The Performance of Kavya in The +14


The main purpose of this work is literary criticism, evaluating a great tradition of literature that recently has remained practically unknown to all but a few specialists in Sanskrit.

Previous publications on Indian literature in Western languages have at best sketched its history (i.e. attempted to clarify the chronology) and at worst given extremely misleading judgments on its nature. That such judgments have held the field should not be blamed on the incompetence of the scholars who invented them, or even simply on the prejudices which they shared with the B fashionable thinkers of their times and countries. The scholars were most competent in their own field, which was philology, but literary criticism was not their profession. Western literary critics on the other hand had no access to original sources and left Indian literature to the ‘specialists’. The scholars who tried to supply information on Indian literature applied whatever critical ideas they had picked up from their environment, accordingly Western (Greek, etc.) models as the only possible standard of good literature; unluckily they had picked up the Western tradition of criticism at its narrowest, as formulated during the +19. To them, it appeared obvious that if Indian literature differed to any extent from the Greek or English models it must be inferior to precisely that extent. This cultural arrogance, accepted from their environment by scholars often most modest as individuals, was in some cases, especially in British writers, inflated to the most overweening proportions by the hot wind of colonialist and imperialist propaganda, this also docilely and dutifully accepted from their environment. It was an article of faith in British public opinion that Britain must rule India, hence anything that appeared to strengthen that faith, for example, that the Indians were not competent to rule themselves or that Sanskrit literature was decadent, was readily believed.

The systematic disparagement of Indian culture during the + 19 and +20 became a mighty industry with countless ramifications. It produced an impressive array of anti-textbooks, scholarly in an outward manner and bearing the imprints of academic publishers. Its momentum has not yet entirely abated, although its political purpose disappeared in + 1947, and on account of its influence it deserves detailed study and the publication of monographs making known its nature and extent. In our study of the literature here we shall ignore it, but it is necessary for a preface to warn the reader of the existence of these tenacious misrepresentations and of their continuing influence persisting among the secondary sources he may come across in libraries and bookshops (there are many reprints of older publications still in circulation, not yet superseded by more accurate and objective studies). It is particularly unfortunate that some recent Indian writers in English have followed their former British ‘masters’ and disparaged their own country’s finest achievements, believing just this to be a ‘modern’, objective, and broad-minded approach.

A new evaluation of Indian literature is long overdue. We may leave any anti-colonialist counterblast, and the criticism of prejudiced secondary sources, to those who are fond of polemic and political analysis. Our purpose here is the direct and positive enjoyment of literature. We shall regard it as axiomatic that the literature studied should be presented on its own terms, therefore we shall seek guidance from its creators and from the long and ancient Indian tradition of literary criticism which developed with it. No literature, least of all a highly sophisticated movement such as kavya, can be understood unless we know what its creators were trying to achieve and what sort of contemporary criticism they may have hoped to satisfy.

If we are aiming to get closer to this literature and to understand its works in relation to contemporary influences, especially other works, we must try to improve our knowledge of its chronology. In preparing this book, a great deal of time has been spent on chronological problems, though their discussion has here been kept to the minimum in order not to interfere with the main purpose. Some of the problems have been studied in other publications (Pali Metre; Indian Buddhism; ‘The Date of Bhamaha’; ‘The Possible Dates of Parsva.’) and the discussions need not be repeated, others must be treated briefly as they come up and the reasons for adopting a particular hypothesis indicated. Since our plan is to present the literature in chronological order, after preliminary chapters on Criticism, some working hypotheses had to be adopted for each author. As the study proceeded and the works thought to belong to a given period were compared, various more or less subjective impressions grew in the present writer confirming or revising his ideas on chronological relationships. Where no other evidence seemed to be available he fell back on these impressions and makes no apology for doing so. Now that the fabric of his tentative chronological edifice is completed and each part can be surveyed in relation to the others, it will be easier for minute comparisons to be made of the details, which should lead to further constructive research and improvements in our knowledge. The day has not yet dawned when stylistic analysis by computer will illuminate the chronology of Indian literature.

It has been an important part of the critical purpose, here proposed, to study the positions of kavya composers in the social and cultural history of India, a form of literary criticism which has not been seriously attempted before in the case of India. Besides having in mind the social milieu of each Indian author when reading his works, and visualizing him as a real person in real situations of life, the present writer has set his literary panorama in his vision of Indian history as a whole. Here again, one could not within the limits of a work such as this outline the political and social history of India, still less enter into full discussions of this highly controversial subject. This has been attempted in another work (see An Introduction to Indian Historiography). Suffice it to say here that the writer believes, having studied a mass of evidence, that India does indeed have a complex history of social change, development and conflict contrary to widely received opinion. This view has been propounded in an article (‘Desiderata in Indian Historiography’) and as specific occasions arise below the evidence will be indicated for some of the social trends believed significant for the history of literature.

With the growing popularity of ‘comparative literature’, it should be useful to attempt to transpose into English the technical analysis, and its terminology, of the Indian critics. Indian literature ought to be available to students of world literature, as well as to specialists in Indian studies, on its own terms, moreover the critical theories of the Indians, such as those on the nature of the experience of the audience in the theatre, should be of wide interest. They are generally remarkable for their scientific, rather than subjective, character. Though Indian terminology is sometimes retained below, mainly for the sake of precision and for ease of reference to original sources by those who wish to make it, it is always explained in English.

The term kavya means literature as a form of art. It excludes scriptures or religious writing (is therefore essentially secular), histories (except when history is made the subject of art, aiming at aesthetic rather than historical ‘truth’) and all technical writings on philosophy, science, the arts, and so on. It includes poetry,’ drama and the novel, and history and biography when presented aesthetically. The term thus corresponds fairly well to ‘literature’ as used in the expressions ‘English literature’ or ‘French literature’, but it seemed preferable not to translate it in order to keep in mind that we are using it in its precise Indian sense. The West in fact seems to have no word for ‘literature’ in this strict sense. Thus the poetry of the Veda is excluded from our book, except in the discussion of origins, as ‘scripture’ agama; and so is the ancient Epic (or ‘Great Epic’), the Mahabharata, since it is regarded as ‘history’ or ‘tradition’ itihasa,-as a rich source of stories suitable for kavya treatment, e. g. in dramas, but as not itself kavya. Only the later ‘epics’, the artificial epics, of individual poets are properly kavya, not the true traditional Epic, which we may conveniently distinguish with a capital letter in English. The Ramayana, on the other hand, is regarded as kavya, though in later times it has sometimes been invested with the authority of ‘tradition’. In principle, kavya may be written in any language, but it is associated especially with Sanskrit as the ‘classical’ language of India.

Our first eight chapters (Volume One) are introductory, presenting the Indian aesthetic and critical analysis and also the social milieu of the literature. This should provide a general idea of what Indian writers were aiming to achieve and may suggest to readers, especially, Western or Westernised readers, how the literature was meant to be enjoyed. The next eleven chapters (Volume Two) study the origins and formation of the style (or styles} and standard Which came to be known as kavya, with a survey of the early masterpieces which became classical models for many later writers (-400 to +200)

There follow `ten chapters (Volume Three) on the next period (+200 to 600), when a ‘feudal’ type of social organization was consolidated in India, suggesting or pursuing new ideals superimposed on Tradition and expressed in art. Most of our critics belong to the feudal period and seem more at home in this period than in early kavya, which they neglected.

In principle all statements in our text are based on the original sources, i. e. the literary works in their original Indian languages. The editions used are shown in the Bibliography. Secondary sources and translations have been utilized as rapid preliminary guides through the literature as well as consulted for their opinions on chronology. It has been a rule, however, not to rely on them but to follow up their indications to the original sources and base our own statements only on these. There have been very few exceptions to this rule in the case of unpublished manuscript kavya which are as yet inaccessible. All translations which appear in this book are original, in accordance with the above principle.

The author must here acknowledge his great debt to all the predecessors—editors of the original texts, translators, and historians-who have pioneered the way, however frequently. He may have disagreed with their views. Above all, he was inspired as well as led by the History of Classical Sanskrit Literature of Dr. M. Krishnamachariar, in which for once he found a sympathetic pioneer and an extraordinarily persistent and devoted one. Operating in the Indian manuscript libraries over many years, Dr. Krishnamachariar succeeded in treating the unprinted literature on an equal basis with that in print and is therefore still up to date thirty years after publication, though happily many works known to him only in manuscript have since been printed. At times we could not follow his chronology, though his massive collection of chronological statements from original sources has continually guided us. In a sense our work is simply a commentary on his, using the rich materials he has assembled as a basis for an exercise in literary criticism on the originals. It is this History which first opened the eyes of the present writer, in +1949, to the unsuspected richness of kavya and to the possibility of gleaning a far more complete history of the literature, from the numerous quotations of bibliographical and historical statements he had collected, than had seemed possible from the assertions made in other secondary sources.

The present book began simultaneously with Pali Metre, as a small card index of early kavis in chronological order, frequently rearranged, for reference while research for that study proceeded. After the completion of that work, which offered a basis for the chronology of the earliest period of kavya, the card index grew into lecture notes for a course given first in +1955 to 56 at the University of Edinburgh. The idea of a book developed through the pursuit of the original sources to authenticate the lectures, along with the application to the literature of the appropriate analysis, which had meanwhile been studied from Bharata, Bhamaha, Sagaranandin, Saradatanaya, Soddhala, Rajasekhara, and the other old critics as they were gradually discovered.

It is to be hoped that readers of this book will be moved to learn Sanskrit and tackle the originals of whatever here promises to be interesting. This book also is a secondary source, though the writer has done his best to make it as authentic as possible and to embody his subject in his book without interposing his own personality.

In the development of human consciousness India has played no small part. The student who has ventured into this vast field is indeed tempted to say that India’s intellectual creation is to those of other lands as the Himalayas is to other mountains. It is because kavya literature- brings us, in the form of art, a great and characteristic part of this epic of human consciousness, that it should be read. Indian religion in its splendid variety can be studied through its proper texts, the scriptures agamas, and more systematic treatises sastras. Philosophy also, of whatever kind, is systematically presented in its own treatises. Kavya is distinguished from most scripture in that it is humanist, centered on man. As compared with philosophy, which also may be humanist in outlook, kavya is an art, presenting its truths and its comments through images and individual characters. The humanism of kavya differs from that of the critical and analytical schools of philosophy in its endless richness of concrete detail, which aims to present by examples the infinite variety of particular times, places, persons, situations, and actions. Its subject matter is the human experience of life, accumulated over thousands of years, an epic of humanity that is not available to us in any other form. This experience is presented in terms of human emotions: the reactions of people to the situations of life.

In practice, it was observed that the emotions could be grouped as a small number of basic ones, namely love, humor, energy, anger, fear, grief, disgust, and astonishment (others, such as ‘calm’, seemed controversial), and a larger number of transient ones such as depression, envy, anxiety, bewilderment, shame, rashness, joy, pride, despair, indignation, reflection and so on. A theory was consequently worked out that a drama, and by extension any kavya and even any work of art, will be most effective if it portrays one of the basic emotions as predominant in its subject matter, with other basic emotions in subordination to it and the appropriate transient emotions in the particular situations which occur. Thus the experience of life is reproduced in the form of a work of literary art.

But this effective presentation, which, we see from the Natyasastra, was arrived at through the practical experience of actors in the ancient Indian theatre, which led to the further consideration of the question of why it was effective, in other words of the nature of the effect on the audience. Clearly, the practical aim was to delight them, perhaps also to instruct them, but what was this delight? It seems to be especially characteristic of the Indian theatre, and following it of kavya generally, that the audience was found to ‘taste’ the emotions portrayed rather than to participate in them directly. This assumption that the spectator should remain separate from the hero he imagines to be present on the stage, that the experience of the spectator is different in kind from the emotions of the participant, may be essentially Indian. The true connoisseur of literature in India was by most critics taken to be engaged in a kind of Contemplation of life as there presented, perhaps not unlike the meditation or reflection of a philosopher or even of a withdrawn ascetic. He adopted a higher and more objective standpoint, free from personal involvement, and in that relative detachment found a special delight and also the instruction of a wide view of the world extending far beyond his everyday experience. The ‘taste’ rata he enjoyed, this aesthetic experience, was consequently described in terms other than those of direct emotion.

We may perhaps accurately explain the difference by distinguishing two ‘levels’ of experience (as suggested in a review in the JRAS, 1961) : (1) The ‘aesthetic’ level of the experience of the audience or readers; (2) the everyday ‘psychological’ level of the emotions portrayed in the characters on the stage or in the book. Thus when the basic emotion portrayed is love, the ‘taste’ enjoyed by the spectator, the aesthetic experience, is called the ‘sensitive’ (on this translation of srngara see Chapter II [55]). When the emotion is grief, the aesthetic experience is the ‘compassionate’. When the emotion is energy, the aesthetic experience is the ‘heroic’. In this way the audience or readers are to be enriched in their experience through the portrayal, analysis, magnification, and criticism of human emotions, presented through their aesthetic understanding or appreciation. This enrichment is at the same time a form of education. On srngara see Appendix to § 53.

The emotions appear through the actions of the subjects of Kavya. Human activity had been classified in India under four heads as directed towards either pleasure, wealth, and power, or moral ends (‘virtue’, ‘justice’, ‘duty’), or renunciation of all- worldly ends and seeking ‘liberation’ makya or Nirvana. Kavyas were sometimes classified accordingly, but, if they incidentally provide instruction in these ‘ends’ of life (which should more properly be sought in the appropriate scientific, philosophical, or religious treatises), their main educational function is to teach us humanity. Though we meet the gods in kavya, and demons, as well as men, they are all human in their actions and emotions. By contemplating the strivings and passions of humanity we increase our sensitivity, our compassion, our sense of the comic and the marvelous, perhaps our ‘heroism’, even our fury at unjust acts and our apprehension (sense of danger) or abhorrence where appropriate. Here perhaps the purely aesthetic delight fuses with the practical educational expansion of aesthetic understanding.

Man is still poor in humanity, a mere beginner as a social being. We have too little and too uncertain guidance. Let us then add to our common inheritance the experience of India, bequeathed to us by the several thousand poets, dramatists, and storytellers who have reproduced it in their kavya.

Indian Kavya Literature (8 Volumes) A.K. Warder

A new evaluation of Indian literature is long due. The author observes that there has been a “systematic disparagement of Indian culture during the 19th and 20th centuries”. Further, he argues that literature should be presented on its own terms without any “colonial bias” or “anti-colonial outbursts”. He also adds, “in the development of human consciousness India has played no small parts” and “Indian Kavya Literature brings us, in the form of art, a great and characteristic part of the epic of human consciousness, that it becomes worth reading.”

The chief interest of this work lies in its literary criticism to evaluate “the great tradition of the Indian literature, which up to now has remained practically unknown to all but a few Sanskritists” [or Indologists]. With the growing popularity of ‘comparative literature’, this work becomes highly useful as it presents a kaleidoscopic view of the features of Indian poetics, portraying the characteristics of the style of every composer in the real situation of life; in his/her own socio-cultural milieu as viewed in the literary panorama set by the author himself with his vision of Indian cultural history as a whole.

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