Book Review: A Handbook of the Indian Poetics and Aesthetics

Ami Upadhyay. A Handbook of the Indian Poetics and Aesthetics. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 2017, Pages 177, Price: Rs. 125/-. ISBN 978-81-7977-601-8

Though interest in classical Indian poetics has been live, nothing new seems to have been added or discovered over the last half-a-century or more. New books by professors of English, at best, have been repetitive. A scholar of the stature of Ananda Coomaraswamy is awaited to relate Sanskrit poetics to Western theoretical developments in the present century.

Having said this, I am happy to browse through the book in hand, a “compendium of delight,” as Ami Upadhyay says. Ami is a classical dancer and teacher of English language and comparative literature, and competent to tell us about Indian poetics and aesthetics, including theories of Rasa, Riti, Dhvani, Vakrokti, Alankaras, Aucitya, Guna-Dosa, etc. She obviously dwells on Bharata’s Natya Shashtra and briefly touches upon other Sanskrit poeticians and theorists such as Dandin, Jagannatha, Kuntaka, Abhinavagupta, Ksemendra Rajasekhara, Vishwanatha, Hemendra and others, on the one hand, and Plato, Aristotle, Ananda Coomaraswamy, and other Europeans, on the other.

Organised in three parts, the first part seeks to define aesthetics, poetry, and drama (Natya, Nataka and Kavya) with a brief description of the background of Indian poetics. The second part deals with the various schools of Indian poetics, explaining the characteristic aspects of the Rasa in the Vedas, Upanishads, and Ayurveda; rasa as Ananda (pleasure); Sringara rasa (erotic sentiments); Karuna rasa (pathetic sentiment); Raudra and Vira rasa (the terrible and the heroic); Hasya rasa and Adbhuta rasa (the comic and the marvellous); Bhayanak and Vibhatsa rasa (the terrible and the odious); and Santa rasa (the tranquil). Ami also deals with the concept and structure underlying the Natya Shashtra in ten chapters. In the remaining ten chapters of the second part, she discusses the theoretical and explanatory contributions from other prominent poeticians and aesthetes. The third part presents a list of major theorists and their works; glossary of important terms, and selected bibliography.

The short chapters on Coomaraswamy, and Indian and Western Literary criticism and poetics, along with the appendices should help new scholars pursue further study in a subject which is already part of English literature course in many universities in India and overseas.

Ami’s handbook is clearly planned and well-developed, but omission of R S Tiwary’s A Critical Approach to Classical Indian Poetics (1984) from her Bibliography is disappointing.

I am pleased to recommend it to Honour’s and M A students.

–Professor R K Singh