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Plot Structure and the Development of Rasa in the Śakuntalā. Pt. I Author(s): Edwin Gerow

Plot Structure and the Development of Rasa in the Śakuntalā. Pt. I Author(s): Edwin Gerow Source: Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 99, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1979), pp.


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The Sakuntala is generally taken to be the finest example of a rasa drama in Classical Sanskrit literature. Here the relation of plot-structure to rasa is explored, and an attempt is made to show that the Indian theory of plot, often overlooked or regarded as a mechanical formula, is a carefully crafted complement to the rasa theory, of great help in the interpretation of dramatic works.


aesthetics as a philosophical or psychological

problem. While it is generally recognized that the

aesthetic doctrine par excellence, the rasa, bears

peculiar and doubtless original relations with the

dramatic literature in Sanskrit, studies of this

emotional tone have tended to follow the line

established by Abhinavagupta and Bhatta Nayaka in

the 9th and 10th centuries, in emphasizing its

intuitive, cognitive and even transcendental (or

theological) character, instead of seeking to under-

stand it in and through the plays that articulate it.'

And again, although the very same early "poetic" literature (the Natyaiastra of Bharata) provides us

with an elaborate analysis of dramatic plot-structure,

our modern critics have tended to dismiss it either as

artificial or self-evident,2 with the rather odd result

that no extant Sanskrit drama has to my knowledge been shown to demonstrate or illustrate a plot as

crucial to the realization of drama's aesthetic effect

(its "rasa")! On the other hand, the Sanskrit Drama is studied almost exclusively in its historical or cultural dimensions.3 It is remarkable that the great dramas of

the classical period: of Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Bhatta

Narayana, etc., have not been subjected to the kind of

stringent structural analysis, concentrated on the drama's action, that our own critical tradition insists

upon. Indeed, steeped in an Aristotelian poetics that

postulates first of all the autonomy of the literary product (creation) we might think it more likely that a Western indologist would follow this line than his

Indian counterpart. It is probably our tendency to

equate the Indian drama as plot with dramatic forms

in our tradition that are not serious (melodrama, etc.)

that has inhibited what would otherwise be a normal

interest in plot as such. The inevitable historical bias

of modern Indology (Western and Indian) tends to be satisfied with the discovery that plots, as such, are

rarely original, but are likely to be borrowed from

epical or Katha literature. Though most indologists


would probably deny the bald proposition, there

seems to be an unspoken agreement that what is so

clearly borrowed or adapted from other media cannot

be the key element in the drama's aesthetic achievement.

And so, it is in effect not remarkable that plot

(despite the intricate traditional analysis) has been

undervalued in our discussions of Sanskrit drama; we

find, in fact, that dramas tend to be judged (insofar as

they are judged) not as dramas at all but as kavyas:

we find treatments of Kalidasa's imagery, the

delicacy of Harsa's style, the force of Bhavabhfiti's

depiction of character.4 The writers rarely distin-

guish between Kalidasa's natakas and his kavyas.5-

Mrcchakatika and Mudraraksasa are often discussed

in terms of their realism (an unexpected quality!) or

as versions of the narrative poetry of the Brhatkatha

of the late Gupta period.6 And there is a truth

embedded in this confusion of genres, for the

Sanskrit drama has been, for the past millennium at

least, a purely literary form.7 Drama, written without

hope or possibility of performance, is accepted as

kavya, stylistically variant. And it is the plot, in Aristotle's words, the "imitation of actions," that

tends to characterize the drama among other poetic

forms-not in the sense that kavyas can have no plot

(though this is in effect true for the Indian exemplars)8

nor in the sense that poetic elements are not present in the drama (one cannot abstract the language and

verse forms of the Sanskrit drama from its aesthetic

effect anymore than one can do the same in

Shakespeare). It is rather that, in written poetry, the

verbal arts acomplish the entire aesthetic purpose, and have effectively substituted other means for the properly representational domain of the drama

(spectacle, dance, characterization)-what we sum up in the ironical term "acting." This paper hopes to

bridge the gap between these two kinds of treatment

of the drama, by showing in a dramatic work of art

the internal coherence of traditional dramatic theory,

and thereby to suggest an aesthetic insight into the

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560 Journal of the American Oriental Society 99.4 (1979)

drama that is not dependent on a mere psychology.

Inevitably, the central question will be: how and for what purpose is the drama constructed?

It is taken for granted that the consequences, and

also the purpose, of the Sanskrit drama (and every

extant Sanskrit drama) in performance is an awakening of a rasa (latent emotional state) in the

spectators or audience. Much controversy surrounds

this process of awakening, extensively dealt with

both in tradition and in modern scholarship.9 Modern

interest has tended to focus on the psychological

fact, and to inquire into the relation between rasa

and other states of consciousness (taking its cue, no doubt from Abhinava's interesting analogy between the enjoyment that is rasa, released through the play, and the enjoyment that is moksa, released through

the real [world]). The pre-Abhinavagupta critics,

however, whose writings often are not preserved

except as Abhinava and others have quoted or

characterized them, seem less interested in the

condition or state as such, and more in the question of its coming-to-be or origin-taking their cue from

the enigmatic phrase in the Natyasastra, whereby the

rasa is said to "arise" (nispatti, as noun) from a

combination (samyoga) of various elements (vibhczva,

anubhova, vyabhicdribhdva are named), all of

which characterize, in a quite technical sense,

dimensions of the play as performed."0 Hence the

focus of this older stratum of criticism might be said to be on the play itself, conceived as means (in what

precise sense, most controversial) suited (and thus

composed) to evoke a rasa.

I have written elsewhere on the character of the experience that qualifies rasa as an aesthetic

concept. It is to the other half of the question that I

wish to turn here, the question of production'2 of the

rasa; and to do so in as neutral a way as possible-

taking no position on the psychological status of the

rasa, except that it is (as we have said) an emotional

result, and that the play (in some sense) is uniquely

able to produce it. We ask the question the first critics of Bharata asked: how? While this approach

may nto lead us to any novel understanding of the rasa experience, it may heighten our appreciation of

the aesthetic instrumentality of the work itself, seen

as doing what it is most suited to do. We may even be able, in this way, to "feel ourselves into" an alien art-

form, and thus find in ourselves new predispositions to experience. I am not going to follow, however, the lead of Bhatta Lollata, and the other pre-Abhinava critics, in considering the play abstractly-already qualified in

terms of its rasa-destiny, so to speak. The grouping

of "elements" (vibhazvas, anubhazvas, etc.) is already

an analysis of the "body" of the play that is

functional, and therefore for our purposes, somewhat

circular: "character" (to take an example) (or a type

of character, the noyaka) is a vibhava (an

Olambanavibhova, to be precise) only insofar as its

relation to the bhdva (dominant expressed emotion) and thus to the rasa (latent emotional state) is granted. In this functional analysis, the "body" of

the play is immediately reflected through the emotional medium of the play's purpose. The quality

of the "body" as such, is somewhat reduced,

precipitated, made to appear evanescent- nothing

but a means, freed from any determinations not having to do with the dominant emotion of the play.

We cease to be aware of Ram-a, the individual divine

personaltiy, and instead are absorbed in his

" character" qua hero: the divine lover, the male aspect of the dharmic relationship. The process that Abhinava terms "generalization" thus applies even

at the level of determining the elements of a play. And while this analysis may be perfectly consonant with the dominant aesthetic effect of the drama, and

explains both the play's sentimentality and the appearance of improbable or random plots, it is well to keep in mind that the analysis, by its strength- which is in fact its circularity-hides from us the

body of the play, seen in and of itself. And it certainly is a legitimate question to ask whether any

constraints are put upon the construction and

organization of the plot that are not presupposed by,

and may in fat themselves condition, the ultimate

rasa-experience. Another way of phrasing the question is to ask whether there is a structure of the play that is not immediately in subordination to a

rasa; further, whether such a non-sentimental

structure is necessarily involved in the expression of

the rasa. Does the rasa (conceived of as an

architectonic medley of related but inherently

"static" moods) need a plot, a sequence of events in and for its manifestation? If so, the rasa will have a

dynamic aspect as well thatt cannot be reduced to the logic of the moods as such. Bharata appears to pose

these questions in his 19th chapter-distinguishing at

least provisionally itivrtta (sarira of the play) from

rasa (its atman or soul).

Accounts of this chapter 19, which is repeated essentially unchanged by later Scistris, notably Dhana .jaya, Vigvanatha and many of the writers on

rasa (Saradatanaya) are limited in modern scholar-

ship to inventorying the various analytical categories

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GEROW: Plot Structure in the Sakuntalh. Pt. I 561

and to illustrating them by reference to typical Sanskrit dramas. Still best is S. Levi, Theatre Indien, pp. 30-57. It is not clear from what sources Levi takes his illustrations, but they are in general

accord for the Sakuntala with its standard commen- tary (of Raghavabhatta), and also appear to be consistent with Abhinavagupta's commentary on the 19th chapter in his Bharatr (which draws its illustrations from several sources, among them the

Venisamhara), and with Dhanika on the Dasaripaka

(who illustrates the Ratnavalf). The following essay

will use these sources heavily and constantly, and the indebtedness will be acknowledged only when the

detail is of some special interest.

The Polish indologist, M. Christopher Byrski, has recently rekindled interest in this mode of interpret- ing the Sanskrit drama with his article "Sanskrit

Drama as an Aggregate of Model Situations";' 3 it is

to this work that the following essay owes its inspiration (without of course presuming to attribute its methods or conclusions to Byrski). I do not wish

to confront here his major thesis, that of parallelisms

between the ritual and the drama as models of

(fruitful) action. The distinction between "process"

and "form," drawn above, is certainly none other

than that of the Mfmamsa, which distinguishes criteria (pram ana) of principal and subordinate

relationships (adhyayas 3, 4) from criteria of sequentiality (adhyaya 5). Byrski's insight, however,

that the analysis of the action (scil., "plot") of the drama provides a wholly coherent account of "body"

of the play is accepted here without reservation.

What I will try to add to his treatment is a tentative

integration of the rasa mode into the theory of plot-

structure: the aesthetic final-cause into the aesthetic formal clause.

The "body" (sarra) of the play, given the special

technical designation "itivrtta"I 4 appears to place

the drama in the context of the epic-as different

modes of what is essentially narrative."5 The sarira

is by Bharata immediately subjected to three five-

fold distinctions, which involve a theory of action,

motivated and, particularly, successful action, and

attempt to adapt that theory to the conventions of


Noteworthy about the first of the three sets of

distinctions is that its basis lies not in any

presumption of response on the part of an audience,

but in the motives and character of the actors

represented: action at this level is in other words not

already dramatized, is ordinary, worldly action

viewed ethically, determined in its immediately

relevant context: agent, means, aim, result. The

inherent ambiguity of the term "actor" (in our dramatic language) is thus brought out; and this characterizes also the sense in which the nayaka is

the kartr (or rather the adhikartr) of the dramatic

action. Furthermore, the "ethicality" of the action defines its essential sequentiality: from "motive" to " result." Subsequent distinctions, the "artha- prakrtis" and the "samdhis" (especially) link this

"real world" more directly to the "play" as such. In this sense the drama is indeed an "imitation" of the world (Dasarupaka 1.6.). Firstly,

(1) The five "avasthas" (19.7)16 are not dramatic

at all (unless life is a drama), but count as the five

sequential aspects of any purposive undertaking

(vyapdra), namely: (19.8) the beginning (prarambha,

viz., the motive, preceding all activity); the effort

(prayatna, which is of course a consequence of the

implanted motive); the (understanding of the)

possibility of success (prapteS ca sambhavah, or

"praptyasa" in Dhanarpjaya and most later litera-

ture, "the hope of attainment"); the certainty of success (niyata ca phalapraptih, viz., "certainty"

but not yet actuality"); and success, or as it is aptly

termed, conjunction with the fruit (phalayoga).

These five stages of the action pertaining necessarily

and properly (adhikarika: 19.2) to the hero (that

character whose actions are the drama) state at the

beginning his functional significnace and "entitle- ment." His is the success, provided the action is complete. Such optimism by definition, appears to preclude even the possibility of failure, of "tragedy,"

but we would do well to go cautiously here, for it is

not clear that the five avasthas are in the drama at

all; as an analysis of "worldly" action, they do little

more than state the evident implications of the ritual

karma theory - which in no sense precludes errors, incompetence and the divine malice that may

postpone "phalayoga" well into the next life. And as

an analaysis of action relevant to the agent, it is also

unexceptionable, in the sense (even for Western

tragic man) that no one acts for a goal thought

un attainable.

According to Byrski, the five avasthas locate the

"actions" of the hero, but also of others, in relation

to the motive and the goals of an agent, and constitute a "subjective" reading of the sequence of acts that gives it unity as activity, make it possible as

a "plot."

(2) That same activity, viewed without reference to its agent or "subject," but therefore "objectively"

is divided again into five aspects, called "arthaprakgis"

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562 Journal of the American Oriental Society 99.4 (1979)

(or, "matter of action," a term well chosen from Byrski's point of view: 19.20).' The second five do

not however correspond neatly to the first, despite some efforts to make them do so (see Venkatacarya,

ibid.). The first of the five "matters" is termed

"bja," or "seed" (19.22); the second, "bindu" or

"drop(let)" (19.23), and the fifth, "karya," or'thing-

to-be-done" (19.26: yad adhikczrikam vastu


"fruit," subjectivization of which constitutes the

motive, and reference to which is implied by all five

of the avasthas; similarly, brja and bindu appear to

be implied by all the avasthas, the former as that

aspect of the eventual fruit sufficient to provoke

action (thus also the "motive" pure and simple, as

grasped in the "prarambha" avastha, and the latter

the capacity of that action to be sustained through

various sorts of circumstances, many of them hostile-prayofanana-m vicchede. The image of the

"drop" has been variously explained (as a "drop" of oil spreads out on a water surface, etc.),'8 but may be

as simple as a (rain)drop making its way down any

surface, now hesitant, now quick, never ceasing and never disappearing. Just as "karya" seems logically

(if not sequentially) to correspond to the last

avasthd, and bija to the first, so bindu appears the

"objective" doublet of the second (effort), for the

sustinant quality of the thing pursued is manifest only in our effort. But the third and fourth arthaprakrtis do not seem

to refer to the main action of the plot (the

"adhikdrika" aspect of the play). The pataka

(19.24) is defined essentially as a sub-plot furthering

the main story line (pradhdnasya upakdrakam) and

parallel to it (pradhanavac ca); the prakarr (19.25)

is simply a diversionary sub-plot (pararthayaiva

kevalam). Here the lack of correspondence, logical or sequential, to the five avasthas is clearest,

inasmuch as the patakd, and presumably the prakart

are not allowed to intrude upon the "phalayoga"

(19.29). But it is still inviting to seek a rationale for

the inclusion of these two dissonant terms among the arthaprakrtis that do apparently correspond to

avasthas. If the pataka, or "relevant sub-plot" does

logically relate to the "possibility of success" it may

be in the sense that it is precisely an aspect of the

action not related directly to the "matter" at hand,

which does nevertheless contribute to the attainment

of that matter, and thus proves "possibility of success." And the prakari, if related to the

"certainty" of success in any way at all, might be as

an irrelevant episode,19 that is by its nature


). The last seems clearly to refer to the

incompetent to arrest the movement toward the main

goal. If so the patdka and the prakart are mirror

images of each other and express possibility and necessity respectively, vis a vis the "actuality" of

phalayoga: "possession." From this point of view, it is perhaps clearer why the sub-plots cannot intrude

on the final "actualization" of the play!

(Abhinava gives the episodes of Sugriva and

Vibhfsana in the Ramayana as examples of patdkd:

the monkey sub-plot is distinctly relevant to Rama's

karyam and has a character of its own; and in the

Venmsamhdra, Krsna is an example of aprakarf sub-

plot, having no business of his own in the play to

accomplish yet being distinctly useful to the


The evident rationale for introducing the "objec-

tive" and "subjective" categorizations of "action" is certainly that they aid in defining the dimension of

action pertinent only to the play-the doctrine of the samdhis as such-but perhaps a less obvious

purpose is to underscore the difference between the "real world" and the "play," for however the

avasthds and arthaprakrtis may enter into the play,

it is only the five samdhis that immediately define it,

as a plot.

(3) How does this theory of action become dramatic? While the attainment of goals may be

intrinsically interesting, it is so chiefly to the

participants, not to any observers who may attend.

And on this level, as we know, the play differs from

the "real world" in just the sense that the "participants" are fictions-actors (as we so

ironically say), and the focus of interest shifts to the

spectators-now an audience (sahrdaya). While we

seem here to be drawn back toward the notion of

rasa, away from our theory of action as such,

Bharata (or whoever wrote this part of the text) does first attempt (before moving to questions of aesthetic

response) to understand the consequences of this

shift in focus for the theory of action itself;

"actions," though they may not be ultimate, are the

inescapable ground of the play, the play's perform-

ance, understood in some sense as an imitation of

other actions, more or differently real. The relation

of performance to this sense of reality is crucial to

our understanding of the action of the play as play, and it is this issue that the analysis of the samdhis

confronts directly. How are the actions of the play

different from those of the world? How must actions

be modified to make them suitable to the expectation

of rasa? According again to Byrski, "the samdhis are the

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GEROW: Plot Structure in the Sakuntalz. Pt. I 563

projection of the action set onto the entire manifold

nature of the subject matter." 2' By "action," he means the avasthas: action determined subjectively from the actor's point of view. Looking toward the

avasthas, the five samdhis appear to have the same

property of sequential purposiveness leading to the

attainment of a desired object, but now the "actor"

has become "character" in the play. In the mukha

samrdhi (19.39 "head") occurs the arambha; in the

pratimukha (19.40: "head [reflectedi back"), the

yatna; in the garbha (19.41: "womb" or "foetus")

occurs the prdptvysS: in the vimarsa (19.42:

"reconsideration") is the niyatdpti; and in the

nirvahana (19.43: "conclusion"), comes the phala-

gg~ma. So close is this relationship that it does not at

first seem clear why two sets of five distinctions are needed by the theory. Bharata's text in part responds

to this problem by defining the samdhis not in terms

of the avasthas, but in relation to the arthaprakrtis,

the "matters" of action of the play-or perhaps more

accurately, in relation to the , the first "matter" of action. The "seed" analogy is fully developed: in

the mukha, it is "produced" (i.e., planted), in the pratimukha, it unfolds-to the point of seeming to

disappear each time it is seen (drstanastam iva

kvacit); in the garbha (scil., "womb") it develops-

to the point where its fruition or attainment seems

possible (and therefore its non-fruition becomes an

issue: praptir apraptir eva va); in the virmarsa, the

bija thus developed is subjected to a test in the form

of anger or contrary passion, thus certifying its

viability; and of course, in the nirvahan.a, the "seed"

is resolved, has effect, becomes its fruit through the

essential contrasts of development and the tensions

of survival. Stated here is the insight that the

"matters" of action, the arthaprakrtis are not given

in a temporal sense at all,22 but "are" in the play as

the basic material worked over and given subjective

shape. That "union" is the "samdhi" (indeed, it its

literal sense). The btja, as well as the bindu, and the

karya, are in all five sam.dhis, but conceived

differently in each, as differently validated in each

other. The proper business of the play is the relation

of those matters to a subjective purpose, according to

the "map" given by the five avasthas. That relation

of the objective and subjective in all its constructive reality, is the play. The theory of action presented is

not merely subjective, not merely my action, but is

generalized and objectivized as that of a "character"

potentially universal, who thus becomes my guide (nayaka), and leads me through the intricacies of my self. The notion of subjective action determined in its

own necessity, not merely as motive, is what gives

special force to the properly dramatic notion of hte

samdhis. The relationship also accounts for the

instructive quality of drama, indeed of narrative art


In this sense the play is nothing but an ideal vision, different from the "real world" only in its perfection:

the bfja, bindu, phala, etc., are related correctly to

the subjective condition of man, not only in that the

fruit is won (for it often is in the real world too), but in the more philosophical sense that time as an

obstacle is itself overcome in the process. Time,

sequence, in the form of the samdhis have become

necessities and therfore instrumentalities in the

drama: the element of chance, of choice, that marks time as a problem, has been mediated. Our interest

realigns itself when we realize that this seed will bear

fruit, for it can no longer remain fixed on the worldly

red herring: whether it will bear fruit.

This same process of "realization" or generaliza-

tion marks the transformation of "content" into

dramatic element (vibhava, etc.), and expresses the

sense in which (in Abhinava's view) the drama

constitutes an inversion of the "real"; what are

preconditions or "causes" in reality (circumstance,

time) become in the drama effects of (predicated

upon) "causes" that in reality are only consequences.

In the "world" I need a woman, and the right set of

conditions to experience "love"; in the drama,

"love" (the rasa) becomes the ground which

determines the character and actions of us all. And

because this is an ideal action, it is not of the agents

(actors, in either of the two senses) anymore, but

may be participated in by all and all equally. This fact of participation, this broadening of 'actor" to include "audience" is the minimum

transformation necessary to involve the audience in

the play, and as such becomes the central issue of

dramatic reality. But our interest here is not in the

audience as such: we note only the conclusion that

the treatment of the plot also is crucial to the rasa.

Let us return to the drama as an action-model,

reviewing these matters in terms of a concrete drama,

the Sakuntala of Kalidasa.


Raghavabhatta's commentary, the "Arthadyotani-

ka,"23 on the Devanagarf rescension of the Sakuntala,

is remarkable for the careful attention paid (among

other things) to the question of plot-structure. In what follows, we take his analysis of the plot for

granted, and attempt to show what his explanation

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564 Journal of the American Oriental Society 99.4 (1979)

explains. The many prior questions such a procedure

raises are largely ignored, for lack of evidence, and

also for lack of relevance: it will be enough if

Raghavabhatta can be shown to have provided some

help, to have outlined a possible interpretation. Our interest in other words is not historical, and we leave

historical issues aside-recognizing fully well that

our procedure is open, from an historical point of

view, to the charge of circularity: Raghavabhatta's

vyakhyo, many centuries later than the Sakuntala,

may not be a direct explanation of the play at all, but reflect the imperiousness of the Natyasastra, which had by that time through an authoritative tradition

decreed its relevance to all dramatic literature; it may be (as some think) that the play serving as fact- model for the plot theory of the Natyagastra was

indeed the Sakuntala, and so in applying that theory

to the play, we may be demonstrating the Sakuntala- .tvam of Sakuntala. So many thorny chronological

issues are irresolvably posed that the best we can do is resolutely put them aside; not to do so condemns

us to interminable fact-bargaining that not only makes it impossible to rise to the level of aesthetic

concerns, but seems to deny even the importance of

the effort. We then take Raghavabhafta (one

commentator among many on thefour rescensions!)

as an expositor of the play, and ask: what has he


That the samdhis are the level on which the play's

existence is determined is further illustrated by the intricate analysis of each samdhi into 12, 13 or even

14 sub-samdhis (samdhy-aflgas)- an analysis not

paralleled by any similar treatment of the avasthas

or the arthaprakrtis. What these sub-divisions are

and how they function in relation both to the main

samdhi and to the play, will be questions that provide us an entree into the more general issues of

the Sakuntala's plot-construction and its relation to

relevant aesthetic purposes. For we take it as

established, again, that the samdhi analysis sums up

Raghavabhatla's (and likely his tradition's) under-

standing of Sakuntala as plot.

kAvyesu natakaramyam

tatra ramyA sakuntala

tatrApi ca caturtho'nkal

tatra sMokacatustayam

yAsyatyadyeti tatrApi padyaip ramyatamarn matam Anon.

Such traditional verses exaggerate a point that

nevertheless deserves our attention: in discussing the

Sakuntala as drama, we are also at the center of the

Indian poetic problem. By the judgment of the

tradition itself, the Sakuntala is the validating

aesthetic creation of a civilization. Form and content unite in this play to express persistent cultural

verities; the aesthetic success, the formal aspect per

se, is certainly a function of that relation of a culture

to itself. The Sakuntala is not merely a document

that provides evidence about culture, it is not just a

cultured exemplar; it defines an integral part of the

outlook and internal relationships of a civilization. Let us inquire how its form contributes to that


The Sakuntala, like all the Indian drama,

impresses the Western reader as a drama of

certitudes, emphasizing through many twists of fate

and much tension to be sure, a stable and proper

condition of life. This sense of well being is in part a

function of the style of the play-its scenes of

peaceful hermitage and royal pleasure grove, its ideal

hero and heroine and the absence of a veil between

themselves and Gods, but is even more strongly

stated by the form and structure of the play. An

interpretation based primarily on the play's content tends to exaggerate the cloying sweetness of ideal

characters and stately language (and to undervalue the moments of incipient violence, cruelty and pathos

[scil., Durvasas, the King's abjuration, his lone-

linessj-for these appear quite clearly secondary,

functions of chance or error, and ultimately are

erased in the final reintegration). From the point of view of content, the play's real drama, its dramatic

moments, seem genuinely less important, less real,

than its happy optimism-and I am sure this has much to do with the difficulty we have in taking it seriously (for in our view of "serious" existence, it is happiness that is fleeting and suffering that is real).

But if we take our standpoint on the play's form,

another view of the world emerges, one more solemn

for us, and more diagnostic of his condition for the

Indian. The Indian dramatic tradition persists in not

discussing "content" as such. Content, as we have

seen is already determined by its emotional tone-a

"vibhova"; it is not significant per se, not

representative of a world elsewhere, but only

evocative of the special world (already in principle

within us) of the drama.24 While noting that this

tendency to disvalue content in its "objective" (or

"significant") mode in favor of a subjective or

emotional construction is entirely consistent with leading Indian philosophical viewpoints (Vedanta), we do not rest our case on such intra-cultural

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GEROW: Plot Structure in the Sakuntala. Pt. I 565

analogies, but stress again the issue of dramatic form

per se, and the message it may carry precisely

because its content is revalued. Formally, the

certitude that the play conveys derives in part from the circularity of its plot, and from the harmonics that the plot's symmetrical repetitions suggest. In the

preliminaries of Act I-the hunting scene, the entry

into hermitage grounds-before Sakuntala is even

mentioned, is contained the entire play; both the result (karya) or the play and the suitability of

Dusyanta's superintendence of it: the King subordi- nates his power to the ascetic symbolism of the

hermitage, and therefore becomes a dharmic hero,

who thereby receives the gift of a son ( 1.1 1 ) as token

of his submission. Where there is certainty as to the

result,25 our interest can reside only in a demonstra-

tion of that certainty, the raising of that sense of

success to a conviction. The play thus appears as a

structure of circles extending from this kernel-result

("bija" ).26 But also, as the play makes clear, the

natural production of a son, ridiculously easy as it is, is not the mode in which the King is properly related

either to his wife or son, for the son is to be a

"cakravartin," inheritor of the King's moral quality, his ethical estate, his "dharma," as well. The tension

between these two themes, of nature (which is

expressed in loving), and of duty (which is expressed

in dharmic heroism) is the dramatic mode of the play

and only when a proper resolution between them is

found, can the play end. Still there is no tension in the sense that the two

emotional tones or "rasas" actually do battle for

supremacy; such would indeed blur the distinction between the drama and the world, where emotions

are indeed dependent and consequential. Rather it is

clear that the tension is that of "primary" and "subordinate," the very terms suggesting both the

certainty and the mode of their eventual reconcilia-

tion (Dhv. 3.20 ff.). By his act of submission the hero

states the accessory character of his dharma to the nature of the hermitage, and to the love implicit

therein for the forest-sprite Sakuntala, soon to be his


Reinforcing the impression that the play ends

where it began is the studied parallelism of incident

between the first and last acts: in both the King, virile

qualities rampant, enters, accompanied by a charioteer;

they soon discover a hermitage; the King experiences

a "nimitta"; in the first act, the King hides in bushes

to discover Sakuntala, the mother of his promised son, in the last, in bushes to discover his son, through whom the mother is found; the King is subjected to a

test of his valor, the bee (in the first), and the serpent

(in the last), passing which the King enters into a conversation that validates the relationship of the persons involved (lover, mother, son, etc.). This

parallelism, suggesting so strongly the inevitability of

the lovers' union, forces us to consider what may

have changed in their relationship between the

termini of the play. And an answer emerges in

reflecting on the major tension of the play: love and

duty. At the beginning of the play, the King, though a dharmic hero (and in this he does not change) has yet

to discover love: his respect for nature is founded only on the authority of the hermits; Sakuntala, whose affection for living things marks her immedi-

ately as a child of nature, knows nothing whatever of

the harsh world of social duties (how easy is her conquest therefore! and how certain her downfall, as

soon as she meets an irascible ascetic). At the

beginning of the play, the two characters appear to

embody (separately) the two principles of the play. But at the end, just as obviously, and without any

fundamental change in character, the two have found in the other the very abolition of their own one-

sidedness: the King has found a love consistent with

his royal duty (through rediscovery of his son!), and Sakuntala has won in her husband her rightful place in the dharmic world (without losing one whit of her

natural beauty). And of course, the rczhasya of the

play, if it has one, must lie in the growing conviction

that the two principles really are not as separate as they did appear, but in mysterious ways, must relate

to each other, involve each other, for each to be successful in itself. For they are not successful apart.

Act I, according to Raghavabhatta, is the first, or

"mukha" sam. dhi; of course Act VII is the last, the "nirvahana," together expressing the reciprocity of

the seed (bija) and the fruit (karya) therein


Other significant parallelisms of action are

observed: the second and third acts have the same

ethical structure: in the second, the King, and in the

third, Sakuntald, are shown ab initio separated,

therefore in the Indian conventions, lovelorn,

emaciated; in the course of the acts, the "central"

characters pursue their love as an alternative to an

"obligation" (the King to remain in the forest while

sending his clown to the palace with civil messages;

Sakuntala to declare her love to the King via the

Gandharva route), and the third act ends with both

principals being recalled to "duty": the King to his

"dharma" as protector of the roksasa infested

hermitage, and Sakuntala by Gautamf, the hermit's

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566 Journal of the American Oriental Society 99.4 (1979)

wife, to her forest life, seen as a duty (for the first

time?). In these acts, the opposition between duty

and love is further developed beyond its initial

statement in Act I, to a condition of active

confrontation, by which it is clear that neither

character can resolve the difficulty either by

remaining separate, or by "uniting" (if this be done

as an alternative to duty). Doubtless the ethical parallelism of the second and third acts is reflected in

Raghavabhatta's determination of them together as

the second (or pratimukha) samdhi of the play. We

have an illustration also of the sense in which the

theme or blija of the play is taken up and given new

complexity (bindu!), and also the sense in which the

"object" (karya) of the play emerges from a state of

pure potentiality (that the King and Sakuntala are

attracted to each other) to the first level of actuality,

accompanied by effort (prayatna), such that it can

now be said to be something (to disappear as soon as

it appears).

The fourth and the sixth acts are also ethically

parallel, and show the principal characters being

shorn of that which till then had been their very

"nature": in the fourth Sakuntala leaves the

hermitage and all her "natural" affections and

experiences "viraha" for the first time, compounded

by forebodings centering on the absent King. In the

sixth, the King experiences viraha for the girl he now knows he has abandoned, but even more pointedly,

has also lost all touch with his own self; his courage,

fortitude, his dharmic character are as surely

abandoned as was the hermitage by Sakuntala. In

both acts, the other (first the King, then Sakuntala) is

conspicuously absent (in his/her own place; the

city/heaven). Not surprisingly, these two characters,

having become quite other than what they were, have

also become quite incapable either of loving (each

other) or doing their duty (and this is pointedly

referred to by Matali, Indra's charioteer, who calls Dusyanta back to service at the end of Act VI). This

opposition, now developed to an open contradiction

by the playwright, is taken by Raghavabhatta as the

basis for defining the third and fourth samdhis of the

play. In the "garbha," Sakuntala, innocently, fails in

her duty to the ascetic Durvasas, and yet is made to abandon also her natural world (and her love of nature) for a social position suited to her dharma. Action has here passed beyond the vague explorings

of the two infatuated lovers to a positive hope of

attainment (praptyasM), in the sense that Sakuntala's

duty (both omission and commission) is known to be

the key to the lovers' eventual reunion. Similarly the

King's viraha is a direct manifestation of (his or the play's) "vimarda": because of Sakuntala's lapse in

duty (the curse of Durvasas is the poetic medium of

the communication) the King also "forgets him- self"-lapses from his own sworn oath, his dharma,

for indeed he is not able to have a queen of this sort.

Thus both, as lovers, disappear, Sakuntala to

heaven, the King to his despondency of spirit. But

concealed in this apparent futility and contradiction

is the solution (and thus the certainty of attainment:

niyatapti) to the problem of love and duty, for the divorce of the King and Sakuntala, inasmuch as it is

a function of having abandoned their own natures,

will be resolved as soon as their natures are found

again. But this does not mean a return to their

original condition (innocence?) for it is now recognized that love and duty are inseparable and reciprocal. Indeed Sakuntala's lapse in duty has led

directly to her failure in love, as the King's failure at recognizing his beloved had led directly to his

abandonment of duty. The fifth act, the "climax" of the play in Western

dramatic terms, in which the King and Sakuntala

confront one another and express in anger and contempt their failure of recognition, is not regarded

per se by Raghavabhatta as an integral part of the

drama, but is divided between the garbha and the vimarsa samdhis (though it is the precise point at

which Sakuntala's veil is put aside (5.18/19 p. 173)

that demarcates the two sam. dhis). In the fifth act,

the latent emotions of the characters reach such a

sharp opposition that the very texture of the play

seems on the verge of being rent asunder. Sakuntala

offers her few words of anger and the King is

uncharacteristically coarse. Yet this "climax" is a

turning point only in the sense that it ushers in the

very inversion of both characters' original naive infatuation (vimarsa samdhi); an inversion out of which is in turn born the eventual reversion to character. The "climax" in other words achieves its

impact only by being clearly derivative, unreal.

The seventh act is the "nirvahana" or samdhi of

"resolution." In one sense that "resolution" is

entirely a function of the prince Bharata (who of

course was not present in the first act): as future

cakravartin and dharmic representative of the King,

the son, by his very being, expresses the mutual

dependence of love and order, for he is also

Sakuntala's son. But the resolution is more symbolic

than emotionally integrating; the true resolution must

be sought among the rasas themselves.

How that resolution is achieved through the five

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GEROW: Plot Structure in the Sakuntala. Pt. I 567

samdhis we must deal with next, keeping in mind

Ananda's dictum that the real comes to life in its

disciplined contrasts: this is the essential contribu- tion of "plot" to dramatic pleasure.27

The division of the play into five sarhdhis that

reflect the progress of an action is also a dissection of

the basic emotional mode of the play and the thereto

subjoined interrelations of the main characters. If we

are correct in asserting that the basic theme, the

spring to action, of the play is the need to relate

dharma (or duty) and love and that the two protagonists represent that relation in its various

shapes, then each of the five samdhis, insofar as they

are unitary stages in the statement and resolution of

that relation, will reflect through the changing status

of the characters both a mode of that relation, and the

logic of its place in the sequence.

The thematic conflict of the play, viewed as

content, directly provokes a rasa-awareness or

emotional conflict, insofar as certain contexts are

suitable to the statement and evocation of a rasa.

Love of hero and heroine, of course, suggests

immediately s~rigara rasa, and its conventional

development, from vipralambha to sambhoga (separation to union) is clearly a major issue. Kalidasa, in the character of Sakuntala, has further

explored the resonance of srnggara in the wider

context of nature and unreflective affection, thus

complicating the tone of the rasa. Srngara looks here

both to the love relationship, narrowly defined, of the

hero and the heroine, and to the universal harmonies

of "pre-societal" life that are embodied in the Indian czsrama ideal. Similarly, duty, or dharma, involving renunciation for others' interest, suggests vfra rasa, the "heroic" sentiment; and it is via the character of the King that this theme is for the most part stated and developed. And of the three types of vira, the King is also the most typical, the yuddhavtra, the

hero in battle, although there are occasional

overtones of the compassionate hero (dayavira) and

the magnanimous hero (danavtra) (DR 4.73 etc.).28 As srFugara looks to the wider world of nature, so

vfra here looks not only to the individual prowess of

the King, but to dharma, in the broadest sense: for

the King truly is a protector and guarantor of the

social order.

In one sense, the two principles of the play are

embodied in its chief characters, but it is to miss the artistry of the poet (and his purpose) to consider it

only an allegory. In fact, while we have present both

Sakuntala and the King as a "natural" and a

"dharmic" hero(ine) respectively, it is in the play

only at the beginning that the two relate to each other

as contrasting externals, as "embodiments." We take it that the "subtle" progress of the hero and the

heroine towards each other must involve some

adjustment in this mode at least of external

relationship, and so severely qualify any simple

allegorical interpretation we might make of the two

figures. It is in fact the series of contrasts, defined by

the sam. dhis, that gives progressively new contents to

the principles of love and duty, and makes of the

King and Sakuntala, even in their generality (and

perhaps because of it) instructive way-farers on the

paths of human experience. If the play be seen as

action it must inevitably be impressed with a deeply

moral character.

A) In the mukha samdhi (whose avasth2 is

arambha, and whose prakrti is bija), as we have

already suggested, the principal characters are

related as externals, "wholly novel in each other's

experience." The King, a dharmic hero, engaged in

the sport of hunting life, though he respects the right

of the czsrama to forbid this activity, discovers

progressively its uncongenial nature in the innocent

but wise nymph Sakuntala. Sakuntala of course is

unacquainted with the personation of dharmic vigor

and social authority that is the King, and he must be

revealed to her only in stages, through explorations of their mutual suitability. The mode through which the two characters relate to each other, though each represents his own principle to the fullest, is external,

and their attraction is only an infatuation (which of course is both the b-ja, and as a "need to act," the arambha, of the play).

That their relation is an infatuation puts immedi-

ately the focus of the play on srngara rasa, rather

than on its other basis, vira, and we are invited to

consider the play chiefly as a love story, though in

terms of the outcome a case can be made for

understanding the play primarily in the vtra rasa.

Some of the play's lasting authority may indeed

derive from such knowing equivoque betwen princi-

ples so basic and in experience so constantly

opposed. In any case, Indian theory is unanimous

that in any serious art form one and only one rasa is

"dominant" (pradhana), that this emotional domi-

nance defines the play's basic unity, and that is

expressed or developed out of its inherent contrasts

with related emotions and their typical grounds.

Seeing the play as srrngara pradhana has several

interesting implications: the main story line becomes

that of Sakuntala, insofar as she most directly

represents the notion of love, tenderness, affection,

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568 Journal of the American Oriental Society 99.4 (1979)

etc.; but gakuntala, at the beginning at least, no more

"realizes" the full intent of love than does the King.

The poet's wise depiction of "love" in its general

mode of affection for all life (even trees and deer) not only gives greater resonance to the notion, but also

makes it possible for Sakuntala to be "in love"

without any partner whatever. Her journey of course

involves a farewell to this innocence and a discovery

of "human" love. Dusyanta, as his attitude reveals, is really interested in little but a good lay, and he too

at the outset has almost no acquaintance with the nature of love (the good lay is about what one would expect a yuddhavira to be interested in). In the

mukha samdhi (Act I) the two characters, and the

principles they "represent" are depicted in a state of "mere" contrast, as externals each having its own sphere (the King in the capital, Sakuntala in the hermitage), but still (and here the play properly begins) not able to remain apart: infatuation. The play ends, as it must, by each character withdrawing from contact into his "original" condition: the King from lover to "protector" of the hermitage, Sakuntala from beloved to her Osrama duties, etc. B) In the pratimukha samdhi, the condition of

both lovers has become that of effort (prayatna)-to

find a way to unite, despite the differences of their

estates, and the btja "spreads" (one interpretation of

the "bindu") in that the two principles (love, dharma) begin to be seen (not as externals but)

perhaps as pretexts to their respective accomplish-

ments. The King, in conversation with his clown,

seeks a way of remaining in the hermitage to pursue

his infatuation, and a pretext is found (au hasard?)

when some deities are reported in the vicinity

threatening the tranquillity of the sacrifices (Act II:

2.15/16, p. 80). Thus the King can maintain his character ("protector") in propriety while pursuing Sakuntala. But while "love" and "duty" may no

longer be related as externals, this mode, whereby

duty is demoted to the status of pretext is an amorous

game, deprives both love and duty of their essential

character: the King's "love" for Sakuntala is

explicitly recognized here as something that needs to

be concealed (is "improper"), whereas seeing

dharma as mere propriety reduces it of course to an

appearance. And so when the Devf invites the King to return to the capital for the performance of a

dharmic ritual, he not only sends the clown(!) in his

place, but has to lie about his reasons (2.18). In view

of these events, we are led to question whether the

King's dharma is anything but appearance (and his

"embodiment" of dharma any more real than

Sakuntala's embodiment of "love"-at the begin-

ning); in any case, the King's "dharma" such as it is, has not been able properly to relate to love, but has in fact already been destroyed by it (a theme that

becomes self-evident in the next samdhis), where

"dharma" itself is transferred to an 'absent' and

irascible sage, Durvasas.

Sakuntala's role in the pratimukha samdhi is

somewhat less prominent. She reappears in Act III, a

reenactment of Act I, during which the main focus of

conversational inquiry falls on the dharmic character

of the protagonists' love, instead of (the theme of) Sakuntala's suitability as a love-object. Having

determined the cause of their respective emaciation (etc.) to be love for each other, Sakuntala, as did the King, succumbs to a less than dharmic interpretation of it; receiving the King's "promise" of a respectable marriage, in effect she agrees to bed down with him

according to the "gandharva" ritual (i.e., mutual

consent) (3.20). Out of this unseemly haste spring

both the denouement and its many obstructions; but

the point we are to retain is that while love and dharma must in some sense cease to be externals to

one antoher, love is nothing but desire (longing,

preoccupation) when dharma is treated as a mere means to its physical accomplishment, bringing nothing but trouble in its wake. Thus does infatuation

grow to passion. In the "reinterpretation" of love and

duty implied by the characters' actions in the

pratimukha samdhi, we note that Sakuntala has

indeed "progressed" from her generalized state of

affection for living beings, to a definite concentration

on one of them, the King; this must be considered for

her not only change, but progress, as deepening her love; and the King, in his infatuation, seems also to

be discovering something of love's nature, though at

the cost of his own character. If it were merely a

physical attraction for the girl (as it appears to have

been in the Mahabharata original) we would not see the issue of the King's dharma so squarely posed (gandharva "marriages" as the King opines are

entirely in keeping with royal "duty"). The King is, in Kalidasa's wise revisions, experiencing that form

of true love that wreaks havoc on social arrange-

ments and the conventions of duty. The relation of love and duty, though necessary in the eyes of the poet, is not immediately to be sought in reduction of

one to the status of service to the other: a reduction

that destroys the independence of both principles (cf.

Act I), and fails to state their integral subordination. Act III ends (as did Act I) with a seduction halted

in course of accomplishment; both characters are

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GEROW: Plot Structure in the Sakuntala. Pt. I 569

recalled to "duty" (a duty abandoned by both):

Sakuntala by Gautamf, the symbol of Osrama-

dharma (3.21/22), and the King, by assembled

demons, to his rajadharma (3.24). This recall, so

unnecessary in our view of the plot's progress (for

Sakuntala is obviously seduced), restates the poet's

view that character cannot be abandoned so easily,

and if abandoned in the name of love, turns love into

its opposite.

The mode of love in the pratimukha samdhi,

focussed through the avastha of "effort" is that of longing and preoccupation with the beloved object:

passion; similarly the mode of heroism suitable to

"effort" is expressed as the King-as-protector (of the

osrama, etc.). These modes differ chiefly from those

of the mukha samdhi-love as affection for life and

the heroism of dharmic vigor-by clearly sustaining a relation to one another. That relation, though, founded on circumstantial convenience, seems to engender only effort, and cannot express the

permanence or necessity of the relation.

C) We have then, in the garbha samdhi (Act IV to V. 19) the consequences of that effort: Sakuntala's

natural love-for the forest and its denizens-must

be given up; Sakuntala experiences the pains of separation and annulment which are integral to human love. The tenderness of the parting is all the more poignant for it is precisely the generalized

tenderness of girlish adolescence that is being

abandoned, and all concerned are aware of the necessity of this going-forward into more human and

more dangerous affections.

The appositeness of the sage's curse in this context is all the more telling, for it not only represents the

forces of convention and protocol that Sakuntala

ignores, and to which she must turn from her beloved

forest, but Durvasas, the irascible muni, is themati- cally the form of vFra rasa, heroism, suitable to the expression of love-in-separation: The powers of

renunciation derive precisely from the conquest of

the self, and make a virtue of the very separation

which Sakuntala suffers. Here too, heroism as the

sub-dominant rasa, sustains relation to the dominant amorous mode that completely revalues the content

of the relation, renews it utterly. It is all the more

obvious that this relation between love and heroism,

however appropriate (and it is more appropriate than

the pretextual one of the pratimukha samdhi!), is not the final and permanent one we seek, for in effect the

principles of love and heroism (such as we saw them

in happy and self-confidnet expression at the

beginning of the play) have been reduced to

opposites, and their relation is hostile. But inasmuch

as the relation, for the first time in the play, is now

founded on an internal necessity (rather than on

pretext), it gives form to the third avastha: hope of

attainment, hope of true reconciliation.

The King reappears in Act V, again embodying the form of vira suitable to the play's progress; it is not surprising that his character has become (as far as Sakuntala is concerned) that of Durvasas: he angrily renounces his gandharva wife and the promised

issue of that union. The mode of his love, imitating

again Sakuntala, is that of renunciation (and

renunciation indeed of all that he holds dear, as we

fully realize); it is only the Sakuntala of the forest

that he refuses to acknowledge, and so, even in his

confusion, he expresses an attitude similar to

Sakuntala's in leaving the forest. Thus are the themes

of 'love' and 'dharma' even more intimately


At this point we are obliged to consider the

element of the plot that is always considered weakest

by Western or modern critics: the sage's curse (a

"deus ex machina") and Dusyanta's contrived

forgetfulness that are the very essence of this garbha samdhi. This departure from psychological realism

is enough to mark the play as a melodrama, and to remove it for us from the category of fundamentally serious art. The explanations that have been offered

have a curiously apologetic character, viz.: that one

cannot expect a dramatic representation of a self-

reflecting and responsible individual in a culture that

disvalues that kind of independence; or that the curse, etc., are effective social realities to the Indian

audience, though they may appear contrived to us; or

that the Sanskrit drama stems from religious and

cultic sources that are essentially normative and stress edification over insight, etc. Such explanations

appear chiefly to excuse the Indian forms for not

achieving ideals that are self-evidently valid (to us), and thus assert in variously subtle forms both

weakness of the Indian, and the preeminence of our

own, value systems. But in our effort to trace the

developing thematic contrasts in a rasa-content

through the five samdhis, we have come upon another kind of explanation entirely: it is the proper

structure of the play that demands the curse and the

forgetfulness because of the inherent logic of the two

emotional modes whose contrast constitute the play.

Should Dusyanta renounce Sakuntala wilfully, as in

the Mahabharata version, we should have greater

psychological realism perhaps, but his renunciation

would have a private quality that in no way expresses

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570 Journal of the American Oriental Society 99.4 (1979)

the heroic sentiment, nor, ipso facto, defines its

manifold relations with the amorous sentiment. It is

essential that the King not be privately guilty for this

would certainly distract us from contemplating the

truly frightful gulf that separates the emotions

themselves at this stage: for heroism here must be the

very denial of love. The same remark holds good of course for Sakuntala: her inattention to the sage

Durvasas is not founded on true disrespect, but is a

function of her loving distraction. Disrespect ( as in

the King's case) would imply a motived relation

between the two principles (that one in effect chooses between love and heroism) that is both at this stage of

the play passe (being in effect that of the pratimukha

samdhi) and foreign to Kalidasa's view of the nature

of things. The curse-ring-recognition theme is thus

the "pataka" or sub-plot that has interest in itself

and also is crucial in developing the main plot. Its place here in the garbha samdhi (extending into

vimarsa) is typical, and also perhaps in part explains

the designation "garbha" (womb)-for by the pataka sub-plot the elements of the main plot are being so

reconstituted as to make their proper issue certain.

D) The "hope of attainment" that is the avasthc

of garbha samdhi has meant for the characters and

the principles they represent a withdrawal from "natural" and contingent affections, and is even in its

apparently negative quality, a decided advance on the path to success, inasmuch as this last must

involve a relation between emotional modes (love

and duty) that is inherent and proper. But the

negative quality is itself a major obstacle that first

must be exhausted: in the vimarsa samdhi (5.19

through act VI) "love," refined through the hostility of asceticism, becomes its very opposite: despair

(love in separation); and heroism also (in a form

thereto apposite), in effect, disappears; the King

ceases to be a dharmic hero, withdraws from the

affairs of state into utter depression and loss of


Sakuntala is not present after 5.29/30 during this

samdhi: her assumption to heaven serves both to

express the existential bereavement of the King, and

poetically, her "non-being": as complete as is the

King's, though somewhat more metaphorical. As have all the preceding sam. dhis, this one seems to

accept the emotional consequences of the former,

and to develop them in further understanding of the

possible (and sequentially necessary) overtones of

the love-duty relationship. Here both love and duty (dharma) have become their emotional opposites:

despair and faiblesse which, curiously, are one. This

is interesting in our sequence of samdhis for one reason only: it is now clear, in effect demonstrated

(in the logic of the emotions) that love and duty have

both disappeared because of each other: love

because of a failure in dharma (both the King's and

Sakuntala's); dharma because of a failure in love

(both the King's and Sakuntala's). It is this certainty, now a reciprocity between the two emotional modes,

that marks the vimarsa an advance on the garbha,

where we had "hope" only (niyatapti/praptyasa) of

success. The only thing we must do, is make that

reciprocity positive, and the play will be over. It is

perhaps not such a token of Indian "optimism" that

this inversion can apparently take place only at the

invitation of the Gods: Indra's charioteer enters at

the end of Act VI to recall the King from his uncharacteristic despondency to reassume his dhar- mic ideality: in service to the King of Gods. (The "prakart incident.)

E) In Act VI (the nirvahana samdhi), love

assumes its fully developed human form: that of

sambhoga, or love in union; but he reunion of the King and Sakuntala is no longer a mere liaison in the

forest: it is fully authenticated, not only by dharma

(the blessings of Marfca and Kanva) and publicly

acknowledged (that Sakuntala becomes the Queen),

but also by the tiny son playing with the lion-cub,

who, as the future cakravartin, is the embodiment of love and duty's inherent interdependence. The

independent significance of the son should not be underestimated: as in certain non-European and pre-

modern cultures, we may be dealing with a view that

the love relationship is not itself validated or realized

until its fruit has issued. The King is again a dharmic

hero, but the scope of his heroism is no longer

external to the world of the hermitage: he is King

both in heaven and over nature, and this has become

possible only in his conquest of the forest nymph

Sakuntala. The characters of the King and Queen

now express positively the proper inseparability of

the principles of love and duty, and are the products

of a dramatic achievement across progressively more adequate statements of their possible tensions. The

play thus becomes in effect a model of the human

condition, insofar as two of its chief drives are

concerned. It is properly an exploration of the stages of love, in the context of love's most significant relationship. The sense of the play as a world, as a

paradigm of the psyche, is further enhanced by the

deft way the poet interweaves the other major emotional tones of human experience into the

dominant warp and woof of srngara and vtra: of the

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GEROW: Plot Structure in the Sakuntala. Pt. I 571

six remaining rasas, five appear to be extremely

important as tones complementing and therefore

communicating the "understanding" we have of love

in the various samdhis of the play. Only in the first,

the mukha samdhi, do we get no clear indication of a

sub-dominant in this sense, perhaps because the

poet's business in mukha samdhi was to introduce us

to srhga-ra and vira themselves, in their natural condition, and to clarify the fundamental tone of the

play. But inpratimukha, both the playful repartee of

the clown and the bashful play of Sakuntala serve to

characterize the King's love as "comic," or better,

"ironic," at this stage: hasya rasa. And indeed, its

lack of seriousness has been amply documented in

the foregoing. In the garbha samdhi, the twin

emotional tones of fear (bhaya) and anger (krodha)

express the nature of the separation then in course of

achievement: Sakuntala's fear of the unknown

outside the hermitage is indeed the mode of her

parting and pursuit of human love; the sage's heroism

(and the King's) is both founded on anger (at

perceived slights), and is developed to a pitch that

suitably expresses the hostility of love and dharma

(and Sakuntala and the King for that matter) in this samdhi. After anger, regret. And the mode of love in

the vimarsa samdhi, seemingly becomes its very

opposite, is pitiable (karuna rasa), the mode of

sympathy for the lost and for great enterprises

foundering. The relation between pity and love in

separation is in any case so close as not to require

great defense here. Finally, in the last samdhi, as

decreed by the critics, the appropriate sub-dominant

expression of our final and beatific love is given in adbhuta rasa, wonder: wonder at obstacles over-

come, and at the perfect symmetry of the human


It is important to stress that this notion of plot is subordinate to the emotional tone, and is not the

"chief thing," as per Aristotle. Plot is the "chief'

among the parts of the tragedy, because it expresses

best the sense in which the play (as a work) is a thing,

constituted (by an author "wrought") to accomplish

something proper to it (in the case of tragedy, the

purgation of pity and fear). Even though plot, in that

sense too is subsidiary, it is the subordination of form

to function: an analytical distinction at best within an

organically conceived whole. In the same way, the

"form" of the hammer is what it is in terms of the hammer's function and through the notion of its

function we can judge better and worse form.

But the Indian plot is itivrtta, a happening, which

bears no such relation to rasa. It accomplishes

nothing in and of itself, as a chair may be said to accomplish repose. Rather the plot is thought of in

terms of the condition of reasonable sequentiality,

just as the vibhovas, etc., represent the precondition

of content. Both represent the transformation of "real" sequentiality and "real" content, a trans- formation which itself demonstrates the rasa, and in which the rasa is evoked, sustained and intensified. But the rasa can no more be derived from plot than it can from character (a vibhova), as such. Its

constancy is in the soul of the percipient spectator,

and becomes explicit as soon as the inversion of plot

and character have been understood. Both plot and

character are instrumental, not functional, and like

instruments, we may put them aside when the job is done. The "instrument" has no "thingness" expres-

sive of the "work's" character; that is perceived

perhaps paradoxically in the rasa itself (in its mere

being) and not in the work at all. Thus the Indian plot

is necessary (as precondition) and adventitious (in its instrumentality). Yet awareness of it as such will

only distract us from the plenitude that is rasa. The

statue exists neither in the tools of the sculptor nor in the matter of the stone. This model of the play, may be compared a la

Byrski, to the model of the sacrifice: both are kriya, both produce an unseen "fruit," the "substance" of both is modality: itikartavyata. Indeed a world is

crystallized in this play, a world, like all worlds, that is a construction of basic experiences, but one that

satisfies the Indian thirst for complexity and strain contained within a perfect stillness, the adamantine life. As such we moderns may appreciate a

categorically perfect art form that gives life to a

vision of ourselves that we do not share, that lives, in

its stillness, in a region often beyond our capacity to

feel. (To be continued.)

I E.g., S. K. De, History of Sanskrit Poetics, Vol. II,

Chs. IV-VI; Sanskrit Poetics as a Study of Aesthetic, Ch.

4. Gerow, "Rasa as a Category of Literary Criticism"

(Honolulu Conference Vol.). The work of H. R. Mishra, The Theory of Rasa in Sanskrit Drama, despite its title,

treats of Rasa in one section (2), and Drama in another (1).

Nevertheless in its short third section, some of the issues developed in this paper are adumbrated (pp. 540-42 on the

Sakuntala). The perspective is still that of the theoretician,

not that of the dramatist.

I wish to express my thanks to T. G. Rosenmeyer and to

James Redfield, who have read earlier drafts of this article,

much to my benefit.

2 A. B. Keith, Sanskrit Drama, pp. 299-300; not so

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572 Journal of the American Oriental Society 99.4 (1979)

(exceptionally): S. Levi, ThPdtre Indien, passim.

3Keith, idib.; De and Dasgupta, A History of Sanskrit

Literature, Classical Period.

4 E.g., Renou, IC 1877, 1878, 1881; indeed, "Book II"

of De, Dasgupta, "Kavya," includes "Natya."!

5E.g., De, Dasgupta, op. cit., pp. 146-54. T. G.

Mainkar: see note 13.

6 E.g., De, Dasgupta, op. cit., p. 265-6.

7Exceptionally as a temple drama by the Chakyars of

Kerala, and of course much of the technique survives in the

"dance-dramas" of regional tradition, or in the resurrected


8 Cf. Renou, "Sur la Structure du Kavya," no.2.

9 See my "Rasa as a Category of Literary Criticism"

(Honolulu Conference on Sanskrit Drama in Performance)

for references.

10 NS 6.31/32 and generally adhyayas 6,7.

l l Cf. the discussion of the rasasitra in Abhinavabharati,

translated by Gnoli, Serie Oriental Roma XI.

12 "Awakening" is already psychological.

13 Also in the proceedings of the Honolulu Conference;

similarly his Concept of Ancient Indian Theatre, esp. Ch.

9. My analysis of the Sakuntala also owes much to an

unpublished paper of Sanna Deutsch: Sakuntala, An

Interpretation of Classical Indian Drama, also written in

connection with the Conference. Mrs. Deutsch carefully

evaluates the five avasthas in their dramatic significance.

Cf. also two Indian attempts, less successful. T. G.

Mainkar, On the Samdhis and the Samdhyangas and S. Chattopadhyaya The Notakalaksanaratnakosa.

14 "Thus it happened" (was performed?), in contrast

probably to "itihosa" 'thus it was said.'

15 So Aristotle, for whom drama and epic differ only in

their "manner," i.e., "acted out" as opposed to "recited"

Poetics 1449b 9, 25.

16 Cf. T. Venkatacarya, in his "Introduction" to his

Edition of the DR, pp. lix-lxiv.

17 Quotations from Honolulu Conference Proceedings (in


18 Laghutfkq ad DR 1.17.

19 In the sense that it has no independent charcter, as

does the pataka, and thus must relate to the main plot.

20 Bharati ad NS 19.25-26: GOS CXXIV, p. 15.

21 Proceedings, op. cit.

22 Apparently contra Dhanarpjaya (1.24, 30, 36, 43, 48)

for whom the theory had ossified to the extent of wanting to

link temporally the five arthaprakrtis to the five avasthas

(ipso facto the five samdhis). Cf. Keith, Sanskrit Drama,

pp. 298ff.

23 See T. G. Mainkar, "Arthadyotanika," pp. 38-54, in

Studies in Sanskrit Dramatic Criticism. On what is known of the historical R (15th century?) see P. K. Gode in

Calcutta Or. Jour., III, 1936.

24 Though the "anukarana point of view did have its

Indian representatives Srfsafikuka, Mahimabhatta, and esp.

our Dhanarpjaya. Supra p. 560

25 No other result is conceivable, once we understand the

King's character; and if the King's character is not certain,

the play will not be about him: a King is not a King unless

distinguishable from the common herd! All this is but

another way of saying that "content" does not carry our

interest as such.

26 Truistically, there can be no son without Sakuntala,

and the winning of Sakuntala is the mode of the play!

27 Sanna Deutsch (op. cit.) suggests another interpreta-

tion of the plot of the Sakuntala based on the acts (seven),

rather than the samrdhis (five). It has much to recommend it,

and certainly enables us to focus on the distinctive quality of the sam. dhi analysis. She notes particularly the parallelisms of acts 1 and 7 (not different from our analysis), 2 and 6 (penance grove/pleasure grove turned into its other), 3 and 5 (seduction and rejection; forest and

city): which parallelisms serve to highlight the centrality of

the fourth act: the transition and parting.

28 Later texts, Sahityadarpana, etc. add a fourth:

dhirodatta, even more likely to be our King.

29 Levi, p. 53.

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