Understanding life by understanding the navarasas


A beautiful and enchanting way of understanding life is understanding each of the rasas or emotions that characterise its many flavours and seasons. By doing this, we will understand that all emotions have their role to play in the world.

 navarasas2We must get something bitter to complete the menu for New Year,” my grandmother said, aghast that there was no karela (bitter gourd) or equivalent vegetable to provide that flavour. When I protested that anyhow nobody really relishes it in the house, she emphasised that that is exactly why it should be included, the principle being that consuming all tastes on the first day of the year is symbolic of being accepting of all flavours of emotions all through the year. What she said is principle is applicable to the NavaRasas too.

For, human life is a rich fabric that is given colour and texture by each of these rasas, every thread invokes its own flavour. The tapestry is complete only when each of its hues is present the many happenings that shape it and we internalize them, with complete acceptance.

“Rasa, “ the word itself means “flavour”, and performing art, which tries to present to the viewer a slice of human life, focuses precisely on these rasas, or emotions in order to connect to their role in human life. Let us look at some of them


When something comes to our notice that is coarse and graceless, and we feel something that revolts or sickens us, we feel Bhibatsya. This is often a catalyst for further growth. For instance, when Prince Siddhartha, as a young prince, saw for the first time sickness, old age and death, he was moved to disgust which later metamorphosed into sorrow, deep introspection and peace. This resulted in him being transformed as Gautama, the Buddha — or the Enlightened one.


Rowdra is anger and all its forms. The self-righteous wrath of kings, outrage over audacious behaviour and disobedience, disrespect and anger over injustice are all forms of Rowdra. For instance, Mahatma Gandhi’s anger for being kicked out of train in South Africa led to his leading the non-violent movement.  So, again this is usually a catalyst for something better.


The most primitive feeling known to man is bhaya. Dread, cowardice, agitation, discomposure, panic and timidity are all aspects of the emotion of fear. Conquering this emotion is essential for well being and this is why this is always shown as an interlude in a dance or drama.


Karuna is compassion. More than sympathy, this actually means empathy. Connecting and understanding what another is going through is indeed essential to our growth.


Shringara means love and beauty. There are many types of love, but the Shringara or love between a man and a woman is easily the most popular form of this rasa. The sweet anticipation of a woman as she waits for her lover, the passion she feels for her first love, a passion that heightens her sensitivity are all aspects of Shringara,


Hasya is the rasa that is used to express joy or mirth. It can be used to depict simple lightheartedness or riotous laughter and everything in between. Teasing and laughing with a friend, enjoying oneself thoroughly are all facets of hasya.)  

Where there is hasya, all is well with the world, there is joy all around and all are of good cheer.  


Adbhuta is wonder and curiosity. The awe that one feels when one comes across something divine and supernatural or even something we can never come across before is Adbhuta. It is this emotion that is the trigger of all discoveries as it represents the curiosity of man regarding the creation of the world and all its wonders. In fact, most discoveries come from this emotion.


Veera is heroism. It represents bravery and self-confidence.  Courage and intrepidity in the face of daunting odds is heroism.This inspires everyone, of all ages and is the seed of most stories in mythology and history.


Shanta is serenity and peace. Shanta is what the Buddha felt when he was enlightened, when he reached the higher spiritual plane that led him to salvation or nirvana and freed him from the cycle of life and death. It represents complete harmony between the mind, body and the universe.

There is perhaps no better way of understanding life than understanding each of them in totality, for the rasa encompasses not just the emotion, but also the various factors that were responsible for this emotion.

When we become observers of the emotion, we understand life fully. This is what Shakespeare meant when he said the “All the world’s a stage and and all the men and women merely players”.

 Let us then seek to understand the navarasas and enjoy the drama of life completely.

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