THE DHVANI THEORY
DR. (MISS) S. S. JANAKI
Boden Scholar, Somerville College, Oxford
The literary medium of any language contains elements of learned speech. Sanskrit provides a fascinating example of a language that has developed in complete freedom as an instrument of intellectual and artistic expression. As in the other classical and modern languages, so in the field of Sanskrit, there have been many writers who analysed the poetic expressions to find out their real essence. The term olamkaara meaning ornament or decoration, refers in a restricted sense, to the figures of speech like metaphor (Ruupaka) hyperbole (Atisayokti) and naturalistic utterances (Svabhaavokti). The same term alamkaara, in a wider sense, connotes the entire field of study that probed into, and discussed in detail, the characteristics and requisites of expressions in literary masterpieces that have made lasting impression and created unforgettable experiences in the minds of great critics and lovers of art. Kashmir has made significant contributions to the Sanskrit alamkaara-saastra. Of these Kashmir writers, Aanandavardhana, patronised by Avantivarman (855-84 A. D.) and probably also by his son and successor Sankaravarman (883-902 A.D.) is the leading commentator who in his Dhvanyaaloka (the light or comprehension of Dhvani) propounded the theory that dhvani or suggestion is the main source of poetic appeal. Abhinavagupta (last quarter of 10th and first quarter of 11th Cent. A.D.) from the same Kashmir is also a distinguished commentator in this tradition. In his elaborate commentaries on Bharata’s Naatyasaastra (assigned to periods ranging from 2nd Cent. B.C. to 2nd Cent. A.D.) and Aanandavardhana’s Dhvanyaaloka, he has explained all the implications of the dhvani theory and the attendant problem of rasa, with copious illustrations culled from the whole range of Sanskrit literature and criticism.
It is a matter of common experience that an utterance may mean much more than its literal sense. Even the Vedic sages were aware of the fact that the literal meaning of an expression is only a part of its total meaning. One of the well-known hymns in the Rg Veda (X. 71.4) referring to this difference between the literal and the contextual meanings says:
Uta tvah passyan na dadarsa vaacam
Uta tvah srnvan na srnotyenaam
Uta tvamasmai tanvam visasre
Jaayeva patya usatii suvaasaah
“One sees Vaak or speech but yet does not see (that is, rightly); One hears her but does not hear her (rightly); but to another has Vaak shown her beauty as a charming, well-dressed lady to her husband.”
The same Rg Veda says in another context:
Saktum iva titaunaa punanto
yatra dhiiraa manasa vaacam akrata
atraa sakhaayah sakhyaani jaanate
bhadraisaa laksmiir nihitoadhi vaaci
“Where like men winnowing away the chaff from the grain, the wise in spirit have created language. Friends see and recognise the marks from their friends. Their speech retains the blessed sign imprinted.”
It is evident from this that great poets choose their words with great care and that only men of equal scholarship and literary taste can fully appreciate a literary work. As will be seen presently Aanandavardhana also emphasised and dealt with at great length, this rapport between the author and the critic.
Leaving aside these early ideas about poetry and poetic beauty, let us turn to the poetic language itself. The first striking quality of poetic language is its distinction from the utterances used in ordinary parlance on the one hand, and the expression in technical and canonical treatises on the other. In scientific propositions and logical discussions the meaning of a word remains the same in whatever context it is used. Exactness of the usage of words in the different contexts, to convey their ideas is to be found in this sort of literature and hence it is that the normal, literary sense of a word is mostly prevalent here. In both spoken and technical expressions there are instances of metaphoric usage. This again does not present much difficulty since the secondary signification can be easily grasped on a second consideration, when one understands the definite purpose of the speaker or author in using such an expression. For example, when one hears the sentence ‘simho vatuh’ (the student is a lion), it is obvious that the primary sense of ‘simha’ as ‘lion’ is incompatible, for, a student cannot be a real lion. Then it strikes the hearer or reader that the speaker or author wants to convey the idea that the student referred to at the moment is as courageous, dignified and undaunted as a lion. So he understands ‘simha’ not as ‘lion’ but as standing for the qualities of a lion for which it is famous and which could be applied to the student in question. So are the following other examples of this type:
1. Yastikaam bhojaya – ‘feed the stick’. Here a Brahmin is referred to as a stick (yasti) as he is always associated with the stick which he carries.
2. Annam praanaah – ‘food is life’. Here food which is the cause of life is referred to as life itself.
3. Aaadityo yuupah – ‘the sacrificial post is the sun’. This metaphor is based on the similarity of the post to the sun in brightness and height and is meant to eulogise the post.
Writers in the diverse fields of grammar (Vyaakarana) logic (nyaaya) yoga and miimaamsaa, preceding Aanandavardhana has recognised the above two significatory capacities (Vrttis) of words. The primary or denotative or literal sense is called Abhidhaa; the secondary or metaphorical or transferred behaviour is called variously Bhakti, Upacaara, Guna or Lakshana.
As distinct from colloquial utterances and technical jargon are the poetic usages that make the best possible use of the different facets of language behaviour. The poetic language is consequently indirect, wave like and dynamic. Like an object viewed through a cornered glass, or like the twinkle of a star that followed its appearance, the beauty of a poetic word like in its multicoloured looks and the flash of meaning. “It is this spreading and spraying or to vary the metaphor, resonating (dhvanana) that poetic expression lives, moves and has its being”. Aanandavardhana’s main thesis is that poetic expressions possess a literal meaning and also convey a further meaning, ‘the social cultural meaning’ of the linguists, and under the term ‘meaning’ used by him in a very wide sense, he includes the idea to be conveyed, the emotion that is created and the scenic beauty that is contextually presented. This is done by words and sentences, by every part of speech including small factors like the case-endings, and the contextual factors like intonation, stress and gesture. When he gave such a comprehension to the ‘meaning’ he was aware of the fact that this indirect capacity to convey a rich idea is the characteristic of not merely a poetic word but of all forms of fine art, like music, dance and painting, Aanandavardhana, however, confines himself to poetic compositions and deals with, in his Dhvanyaaloka, the suggestive element in poetry that is of aesthetic value. This third potency of language, that is based on, and yet different from, the primary and secondary capacities, is caned by Aanandavardhana, Dhvani, as also by its synonyms, Pratiiti, Gamyaa and Vyanjanaa. Before proceeding to the illustrations of Dhvani in literature it may be proper and useful to know the basis on which Aanandavardhana postulated this significatory capacity of poetic words and the term given to the same.
On the evidence of Aanandavardhana in the first Uddyota of Dhvanyaaloka, the Sphotaa theory of the grammarians and the use of Dhvani in that context by Bhartruhari and other writers were the guiding factors in the enunciation of the Dhvani theory in poetics and the terminology adopted for the same, Briefly stated Sphotaa is a linguistic sign in its aspect of meaning “bearer”, and is defined as an eternal, indivisible, entity which is manifested by sounds in words and sentences to convey the idea therein. While the sound-pattern or the acoustic image of a word or sentence is the external aspect of the language, “the internal aspect that is directly attached to the meaning is the Sphotaa, which is an integrated linguistic symbol”. Each word has the power to refer to itself and to the objects symbolised by it, like light and consciousness, that reveal themselves as well as other objects, How is this ‘Sphotaa’ manifested? It is manifested by the experience of the last sound of the word together with the impression left of the experience of previous sounds. ‘Sphotaa’ is thus the significative capacity and the utterance of these sounds that manifest ‘sabda’ in ‘Sphotaa’ is called ‘Dhvani’. The concept of ‘sabda’ manifested by ‘Dhvani’ is made use of by exponents of the Dhvani school to explain the psychologjcal process of the full understanding of a composition of real literary worth. They hold that a poem appeals to a man of taste only because of its suggestiveness and this is got through a peculiar capacity inherent in poetic language called suggestiveness, which is different from the ordinary significatory capacities of words, namely, the primary and transferred senses. The activity involved in getting at the suggested sense is known as suggestion (Dhvani or Vyanjanaa).
While ‘Dhvani ‘ in ordinary parlance means ‘tone’ or ‘sound’, the grammarians gave to the word a wider connotation in a technical manner. In the context of the sphotaa theory, the grammarians followed different schools of thought and referred to Dhvani as (1) that which suggests sphotaa, (2) that which is suggested by sphotaa and (3) the process of suggestion itself. The term ‘Dhvani’ used by the grammarians in a threefold sense was followed verbatim in the field of poetics also in all the senses, as evident in Aanandavardhana using the term in the senses. So the word ‘Dhvani’ can be derived in different ways:
(a) Dhvanatiiti Dhvanih, ‘that which suggests’ (both ‘word’ and ‘meaning’ can be Dhvani in this sense)
(b) Dhvanvataa iti Dhvanih, ‘that which is Suggested’ (only ‘sense’ comes under Dhvani here).
(c) Dhvanaanam Dhvanih, ‘the process of suggestion’.
(d) Dhvanisamudaayah Dhvanih Kaavyam, ‘the entire literature formed out of these elements of Dhvani.’
A few verses could be taken now to illustrate Dhvani. Firstly, the following verse found in Dandin’s Kaavyaadarsa (II. 141)
gaccha gacchasi cet kaanta
panthaanah santu te sivaah
bhuuyaad yatra gato bhavaan
“My dear, go; if you go, then may your paths be auspicious! Of me also, let there be birth (in the place) where you have gone”.
The above verse is addressed by a lady to her lover on the eve of his departure to a distant place from his home-town. The lady obviously does not like him to go on such a long journey. She really means, therefore, in the above verse, “my dear, I love you intensely; so, do not go. If you do, I will certainly commit suicide.” But these ideas, if expressly stated are vulgar and form common parlance. Hence in the above verse, although the literal sense is an express permission given by the lady to her lover, yet the idea (vastu) that the lover should not start on his journey is suggested. The intensity of love and a keen consciousness of the impending separation are suggested by a mention of the lady’s death immediately.
And the following Sanskrit chaayaa of a Prakrit verse:
Jaayeya vanoddese kubja iva paadapo ghatitaa patrah
maa maanuse loke tyaagaikaraso daridrasca
“I would be rather born as a tree, stunted and shorn of leaves, in the forest, than as a generous but poor person in this world of men.”
The expressed ideas in this example convey the uselessness of the life of a person who is generous but poor and the praise of the life of a bare, stunted tree. Suggestively, however, a comparison is intended between the above-mentioned tree and the person to bring out the idea that such a man deserves far more pity than the tree in the vegetable kingdom. This type, of distinction between two objects described is called Vyatireka or contrast and the fancied contrast between the tree and the man is suggested here.
Again the following verse from Raamaabhyudaya that suggests the sentiment (rasa) of love in separation (vipralambha sringaara):
Kritakakupitair baaspaambhobhih sadainyavilokitaih
vanam api gataa yasya priityaa dhritaapi tathaambayaa
navajaladharasyamaah pasyan diso bhavatim vinaa
kathinahridayo jivatyeva priya sa tava priyah.
“While my mother Kausalyaa’s entreaties failed with you, (O Sita) your pretended anger, tears and appealing looks prevailed (with me, Rama) and you did come, my beloved, even to the forest, for my sake; but, I, your lover, stone-hearted, still breathe without you, unmoved, even by the sight of the skies overcast by the fresh dark clouds.”
In this verse Rama, whose anguish at his separation from Sita is intensified at the advent of the rainy season, reproaches himself. In this mood Rama recollects Sita’s intense love for himself, as indicated by her accompanying him to the forest even at the expense or transgressing the entreaties of her elders. The thoughts in Rama about that self-effacing nature of Sita and of his own love for her at the moment are excited (Uddiipita) and heightened by his seeing the dark clouds at the approach of the rainy season. The degree of his mental depression is indicated by the reference to himself as ‘stone-hearted’ (kathinahridaya) and that he still pulls on life.
Aanandavardhana deals with the above-mentioned three varieties, namely, the suggestion of an idea (vastu), figure of speech (alamkaara) and emotion (rasa) as the three major dhvani varieties. Time and again, he is never tired of emphasising the importance of rasadhvani. For, it is obvious that no emotion could be delineated many common-place words, without an element of suggestion, and therefore, it is in this variety of rasadhvani that the supreme importance of suggestion can be readily realised. In fact, as Aanandavardhana has rightly pointed out, the other elements like poetic qualities (guna), diction (riiti), metres, and figures deserve consideration only in so far as they help to enhance the delineation of an emotion.
The birth of the Ramayana, called also the aadikaavya or the first poem as narrated in the Baalakaanda of the epic, is well-known. Referring to this incident, Aanandavardhana says:
Kaavyasya aatmaa sa evaarthah tathaa chadihaveh puraa
kraunchadvandvaviyogotthah sokah slokatvam aagatah
“That meaning alone is the soul of poetry; and so it was that of yore, the sorrow of the first poet (Valmiki) at the separation of the krauncha pair took the form of a metrical verse.”
In this incident, Valmiki is represented as both a poet and a critic. At the sight of the deep sorrow of the surviving bird after its separation from its partner, Valmiki’s sympathetic heart was touched so much that it identified itself (tanmayiibhaava) with the bird’s sorrow. This complete identity in the imaginative poet resulted in the transfiguration of the bird’s sorrow (soka) into a rhythmic verse (sloka).
The function of the poet and the critic is identical in their understanding and feeling for the character, their emotions, etc., Aanandavardhana significantly calls the critic a sahridaya (one with the same sort of appreciation like the poet) and Abhinavagupta describes a sahridaya as one, whose heart, like a polished mirror, reflects the various feelings delineated by the poet. It may be proper to mention here that some manuscripts of the Dhvanyaaloka go by the name of Sahridayaaloka and all this points to the importance given by the dhvani theorists to the critic also. The poet is superior to the critic in that he possesses the creative genius and the expressive power, which furnish to the critic, poetry that forces him to have the same understanding and feeling as the poet. When the formal or intellectual, imaginative and emotional elements of a composition blend into one predominant sentiment, and making a simultaneous appeal, awaken the dormant emotions of a sympathetic reader or spectator, the relish of rasa is manifested as a unity in the heart, leaving no trace of the constituent elements. And this unalloyed aesthetic pleasure that is communicated by a poet and perceived by a cultured spectator or registered by a responsive heart is, according to dhvani theorists, the essence or aatman of literary compositions.