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A SURVEY OF INDIAN LITERARY CRITICISM

PROF. MUKKAVALLI SURYANARAYANA

[Late Sri Mukkavalli Suryanarayana who retired as Professor of English from the Presidency College, Madras, was well-known for his scholarship in Sanskrit as well as English literature. The brief survey of Indian Literary Criticism printed below is made up of extracts from the introductory chapter to an unpublished treatise of his on Indian Poetics found by his family among his notes and papers in manuscript and typescript left behind by the savant. EDITOR]

It is now beginning to be generally felt by the more thoughtful among us that the study of literature cannot bear fruit unless it be properly guided, and that however great a literature may be, it has small chance of being adequately interpreted, except by people who are fairly conversant with the true principles and methods of literary criticism. Generally speaking, our Pundits cannot lay claim to such a knowledge. We have innumerable treatises in Sanskrit on Alamkara Sastra or the Art of literature. But the use we have made of them has not been a wise one. We have forgotten that they were written by men who lived long ago, and hence were ignorant of the altered conditions of modern life and of the peculiar demands they make on both authors and their readers. Nobody can deny that some of the Alamkarikas, such as Vamana and Mammata, were great scholars and thinkers, and that their teaching was in the main sound; but unfortunately, they have been misunderstood and misinterpreted, much as Aristotle and Horace were, in England in the 18th Century. An attempt, therefore, to exhibit the significance of the Alamkara literature in the light of later scholarship should be of great interest to modern readers; the more so, because it throws a flood of light on problems with which modern criticism has busied itself.

There seems to be a general opinion among Sanskrit scholars that the history of Indian criticism begins with Bharatas Natyasastra which, according to them, was composed in the 5th century A. D. But I believe that, just as the study of Greek and Roman classics led to the development of English criticism, the study of the Vedas, long after Vedic Sanskrit had become practically unintelligible, favoured the rise of the Alamkara literature in India. Comparison, express or implied, has always been a prominent feature of literary criticism. The comparison of Vedic with post-Vedic literature must have suggested to the ancient Pundits the canons of literary judgment, much as the study of English literature along with the vernacular literatures has been able to foster the critical spirit in modern India. There are also other reasons for thinking that the art of criticism was not unknown in the four or five centuries before the Christian era. The definition of Upama, or simile, to be found in Yaskas Nirukta (5th century B. C.) and the reference to Akhyayikas, species of composition, in Vararuchis Vartikas (4th century B. C.), favour the conclusion, as Prof. Kane has pointed out, that the writers in question were aware of the existence of critical literature, though it was not able to

survive the ravages of time. At any rate, none of the writers, Bharata, Bhamaha or Dandin, can be said to be the pioneers of literary criticism in India, as their writings are all covered with the traces of previous labour. We may therefore presume that the beginnings of the Alamkara literature should be traced back to the time when the Upangas of the Vedas were composed, that is, the 5th century before the birth of Christ.

Though the conditions under which the Alamkara Sastra took its rise can only be thus conjecturally set forth, there is not the least shadow of a doubt attaching to the question as to when and by whom it was carried to that high degree of perfection which it has attained. Mammatas Kavyapracasa if far and away the best and most imposing and elaborate treatise on the subject, and all our authorities agree in saying that it was composed in the beginning of the 12th century A. D. Some of Mammatas predecessors, such as Vamana, Anandavardhana, and Abhinavagupta, were no doubt men of immense and varied erudition; but, in width of view, subtlety of discrimination, precision of statement, and above all, in critical tact and insight, Mammata was, beyond denial, superior to one and all of them. He not only systematized the speculations of the older Alamkarikas, but also endeavoured to find out a rational basis for the rules that they had more or less dogmatically laid down. In fact, he was the first to realise that such rules and counsels have no claim upon our acceptance, unless they are founded in reason and in the nature of things. Thus his investigation of the principles of the poetic art was more comprehensive and penetrating than that of any of the writers named above. And if criticism means, as it did in ancient Greece, the application of philosophy to literature, Mammata was certainly one of the greatest critics that the world has ever seen.

It would be futile to maintain that he had said the last word upon the subject. The very fact that he had only a single great literature to study and examine would suggest that his teaching required to be extended and modified in several directions, though this seems unfortunately not to be the prevalent view among our learned and well-meaning Pundits.

Nevertheless, it is to be hoped that students of Sanskrit literature will turn more generally to a study of Vamana, Mammata, Anandavardhana and Abhinavagupta, than to those writers of a later date, who have superseded them in popular favour; for, Indian criticism was at the height of its vigour between the 8th century and the 12th century A. D., the dates which scholars have assigned to the earliest and the latest of the writers named above.

The Alamkarika conception of the nature and scope of poetry is both lofty and adequate, and the essential principles of the art have been so carefully formulated by them that the business of modern criticism is only to enlarge their teaching and extend its application to later literature. By far the most important of their contributions to poetic criticism is their uncompromising recognition of the fact that a poets merits can only be duly appraised by his own Sahridayas, that is, men with similar taste and temperament. When the poets art was in its infancy, this limitation of his appeal would be hardly noticeable; but, as it became more refined and specialized, he began to feel the need of a more sympathetic and enlightened circle

of readers than could be usually found. The poet Bhavabhuti, obviously in face of such discouragement, assured himself of just approbation on the ground that time is endless and the world is wide. In proportion as a writer is distinctly individual and original, his chance of immediate appreciation becomes increasingly small. Wordsworth, than whom it is very difficult to find a more original poet, implies, all this when he says that a great writer has to create the taste by which he is to be enjoyed.

A more important question concerns the nature and significance of aesthetic enjoyment. The Indian critic Abhinavagupta, whom Mammata quotes, has grappled with this problem most successfully. He says that the emotions which the poet seeks to represent are not true emotions at all but rather moods, or sentimentsnot of bhavas (emotions) but Sthayi Bhavas (permanent emotions). Wordsworth was certainly aware of this distinction when he said that poetry takes its rise from emotion recollected in tranquility. Other chief characteristics of aesthetic enjoyment, according to the same gifted critic, are its disinterestedness and its pleasurable excitement. It is interesting to note that Abhinavaguptas analysis of the aesthetic state of mind is substantially the same as that of Kant and other modern aestheticians.

It also follows from his observations on this subject that our enjoyment of a great poet is always proportionate to the richness and variety of our own experience, and also to the ease and readiness with which we can recall them. He does not despise, for critical purposes, the knowledge we get from books, but urges that the other kind of knowledge, which we acquire by actually living in the world, is more distinctly our own, more intimate and profitable. Thus the poet and his critic have to quarry for knowledge in precisely the same place, viz., the actual world. Real appreciation of any great poet will become possible only when we can interpret his true meaning with the help of our personal experiences.

What, according to the Alamkarikas, are the constant qualities of the poetic temperament? Dharmadatta, whom Viswanadha quotes with approbation, says that the root of all poetry is to be sought in the emotion of wonder. Another virtue which the poets mind possesses is an exquisite sense of beauty or Ramaniyata which, according to Jagannatha, is the quality of being the object of knowledge productive of hyper-physical or beautific delight. Thus, what Pater and Theodore Watts Duntun say of romantic poetry, viz, that it is the result of a happy commingling of the two elements of strangeness and beauty goes only to corroborate the view of Indian critics, if we remember the remarks of Stendhal that all great art was romantic in its day, that is, at the time of its production.

Of the third and the most indispensable quality viz., imagination, Indian critics content themselves with a few remarks, and those not very illuminating either. They say in effect that, whatever be his other endowments, if a poet lacks imagination, he is no poet at all. On this point therefore we do better to consult Western criticism, especially the observations of Coleridge, Ruskin and Pater.

The question of poetic expression may now be taken up. The analysis of the threefold power of words, made by the Alamkarikas, is so profound and penetrating that it will be of the highest interest to modern readers. The words of the poet should not say things merely but should suggest them. This theory has been so well propounded and so minutely elaborated by Anandavardhana in his treatise on Suggestion that the reader, in case he wants further information, would do well to read it through and through. Suffice it here to say that the ideas which the mere sound of words raises in our minds are only a simple illustration of the principle of suggestion which plays such an important part in poetic expression.

Nor do the Indian critics stop here. The emotions to be embodied in a poem, they say, have to be suggested by means of the Vibhavas, the Anubhavas and the Vyabhicharibhavas, or the excitants, the ensuants and the accessories. Then only they become Rasas that is, objects of aesthetic enjoyment. This view, it is interesting to note, is shared by the great French philosopher Bergson, who says in his book on Time and Free Will, that every feeling experienced by us will assume an aesthetic character, provided that it has been suggested, and not caused. It may also be said in passing that the basis for the classification of poems according to the degree of excellence that they possess is also furnished by this principle of suggestion, though at first sight it may seem to be pushing matters undesirably far.

On the merits and defects of poetry will be found much that is new and stimulating in Indian treatises on Poetics. The merits enumerated by Vamana are many, but Mammata reduces them to three, viz., energy, lucidity and sweetness. One point needs to be emphasized in this connection. Vamana refers to that quality which words possess in good poetry of fitting into each other and presenting themselves to the ear as a single word, and gives it the name of Slesha. This indissoluble fusion of words is also that which Macaulay glances at when he says that we can not replace one word by another in Miltons Paradise Lost without destroying the beauty of the line in which it is embedded. Proceeding further on these lines, the Alamkarikas found out that every poem should have an atmosphere of its own, that is, the words in it should be all pitched in the same key, thus harmonising with the predominant Rasa sought to be embodied therein.

Turning next to style and its function in literature, we find in Indian critics several valuable glimpses into the true nature of the poets speech. The bewildering variety of styles to be met with in literature are reduced by the Alamkarikas to three types viz., the Gaudiya, the Panchali and the Vaidarbhi styles. In the Gaudiya, energy is the prominent quality, whereas in the Panchali, it is sweetness or mellifluousness. The Vaidarbhi steers midway between these two extremes. There must be considerable truth in this observation, for this distinction runs parallel to that which is drawn between the Donan, the Inonian, and the Attic styles by critics of Greek literature; or coming to English literature, we find the styles of writers, not yet imbued with the Italian grace and softness of sentiment, to be somewhat uncouth and fiercely or energetic. The style of Shakespeare while partaking of the sturdy strength of his English

predecessors, is also redolent of the softness and perfume which exhales from the pages of Petrarch and Boccaccio.

As important strands in the texture of poetic diction, figures of speech or Alamkaras may claim some notice. Indian Poetics as a science grew out of a close study of these devices to heighten the charm of verbal expression. Unhappily, there seems to be at the present day a deep-rooted prejudice against the study of figures of speech, as they are wrongly supposed to induce a neglect of more important an vita Issues. Every one who has studied these figures in Mammata or elsewhere, cannot but admit that such an investigation affords a useful and refreshing insight into the principles of elegant and effective expression.