A Note on Sringara Rasa

By Donovan Roebert


Most rasikas, when speaking about sringara rasa, will strike out in the direction of the sublimation of the erotic or some such phrase. Then, when you ask them to explain what they mean, you find they hardly know, or do not know at all, because the phrase has become not much more than a convenient escape route from the threatening notion of sringara itself.


This, I surmise, is generally the case because sringara can’t with any conviction be reduced to a theorem which is ‘safe’. Insofar as a theory of sringara pretends to exist, it doesn’t exist with the mathematical inevitability that is able to dissociate it from the person. Which is to say that the reason why sringara is usually such an uncomfortable topic is precisely because it’s such a personal one. If you have a theory about it that you accept absolutely, the odds are you probably haven’t experienced it. The strange corollary to this point of view is that sringara says much more about the person experiencing it than about the bhava-abhinaya which evokes its rasa. In that sense, which is the simplest and most basic one, it stands as a path to self-knowledge as distinct from knowledge of some other kind.


In taking a view on sringara myself, I can’t of course steer clear of instigating a theory of my own. But, in doing so, and in thus inadvertently casting some light on my own body-mind continuum, I propose to allow my theory to grow out of a concrete soil. That soil self-evidently can only be the corporeal dancing body.


I don’t want to go into detail here about all the major and minor limbs put to artistic-philosophical use in the course of a classical Indian dance recital. I’ll confine myself only to muttering such truisms as that every physiological aspect of the abhinaya must be constrained to a perfect pitch of harmony – from the dancing feet to the dancing eyebrows – if the pure sensibility of the purely erotic is to be provoked into an inward manifestation leading to epiphany. But here of course, in resorting to such terminology, the old worn-out idea of sublimation raises its head concurrently – as it must, but only as a preliminary, a somewhat tedious concept to be subjunctively borne in mind until, at the end, it may perhaps be surprised into clarity.


Returning then to the more technical-experiential question of the compound dancing body-in-motion in pitch-perfect harmony, I must acknowledge at once that the only measure of this harmony that I am able to trust is the extent to which it persists as memory. Its memorableness, that is to say, is directly proportionate to its exquisiteness. If the dancing body in question doesn’t linger dancing in memory, it hasn’t the power to elicit a genuine sringara rasa any more than an unmemorable perfume is able to awaken a justly associated moment of sentiment-thought. Sringara rasa that doesn’t linger long can’t fulfil its function as a growth-inducing given, which function is neither more nor less than the provision of acute insight into its own nature.


Speaking again in a corporeal-technical vein, I note that no dancing body can ever be memorable to a sufficient degree if it is not dancing alone, if it moves through too much space, and if it dances for too long a time. Multiple dancers, spacious trajectories and rhythms too-long repeated scatter concentration and as such become obstacles to meditative retention of the mental object. The single and unified, the oneness-of-singular-parts is a necessary harbinger of the degree of serenity in which sringara rasa is awakened, because sringara and excitement are in fact incompatible. Sringara is not an arousal but an awakening.


Moreover, the single embodying body of the solo dancer points to the inward unity of the advaita dynamic of Radha and Krishna, or Shiva and Parvati, or you and your other-gendered self. I don’t want to go out on a limb here to prove again what genetics, psychology and physiognomy have already conclusively demonstrated. But I will venture the opinion that this acknowledgment, this inevitably personal recognition, provides the only authentic starting point for the true reception of sringara rasa, the receiving that is fulfilled in understanding rather than only in a vaguery of flutters – that increases self-knowledge because it holds a right preliminary view of the self in mind. I say these things too in order to make clear why the dancing duet is rather a distraction from this bi-gendered monism : it splits the nuclear whole by presenting it as two, as though having two eyes would somehow eventuate in a split experience of vision.


(To cast a rough light on what I mean, let me consider the relatedness of Krishna, Rukmini, Radha and Ayana. Now where marriage is concerned the matter of sexual union is part of a recurrent cycle of coming together and parting at intervals, but as this relationship bears on the Radhamadhavan there is no climactic instant of satisfaction followed by a return to homeostasis. There is only an infinite deferment, a ceaseless yearning whose experiential nature points to the eternally unsatisfiable because eternally unknowable, which indeed finds its completion not in knowledge but in love, whose roots are sringara-roots. The essence of bliss is the tantalus, ever incomplete because ever withholding the climax that is in itself a delusion.)


The solo dancing body also informs us that the love-tryst and its intimate delights occur within a single psychosomatic continuum. This is true even when the lovers are two. We, the rasikas, can never be convinced to encounter these love-intimations and intimacies when two or more dancers are enacting them. What we see in that case are only two lovers existing for each other in external space, which is not sringara but, in the final analysis, eroticism, no matter how subtle its flavour.


The extended use of space in balletic mode, apart from stretching the principle of unity to its tearing point, at the same time draws us away and outside of the confined inner chamber – we may call it the sanctum if we like – in which the sweet spot of the sringara-tryst is located. It removes the eyes from their focal point, which is the dancing body, dispersing their gaze across the utilized area instead, chewing at the air around the bread. It is the dancer and not the rasika-eyes that are supposed to be dancing in a sringara-orientated recital.


A dance too-long protracted, rhythms and forms too-often repeated, dull the receiving body-mind continuum which their shorter duration is designed to whet. The sringara-citta is awakened only to be lulled into slumber again, a relapse into nebulousness of the almost-illumined mind. What has been subtilized to a tenuous visceral moment of insight thickens again to mere observation.


These constraining factors together with the physical proportionality-through-control of which I have spoken above create the pressurizing dynamic by means of which sringara is compelled to enter through the rasika’s eyes and ears. But only if those eyes and ears are open.


And what then? How is one to analyze and state the purely affective which, like the tantalus itself, simultaneously shows its meanings and hides them from the deadening intrusion of discursive thinking? So that, even pondering it in the aftermath, in the effulgence cast over it in memory, the affective pain continues to elude a descriptive account. Because pinning it down would be in itself both a deceit and a factitious endpoint of the kind that belongs to the metaphor of mundane marriage.


Which is why my own allusions to sringara rasa, so far from involving a resort to the idea of ‘sublimation’, refer rather to a re-awakened innocence, a childlike eroticism (if that can ever be the phrase), abiding unspoilt by the wiles of desire, and precursive as to essential gender. But I am speaking in metaphors only.


What I am calling unspoilt is the unspoken experience of the cosmic Shiva-Parvati engine at work (as necessarily it must also be in the microcosm) in the personal psyche as principle of sustenance and decay. Its recognition unvitiated by words demonstrates inwardly the rightness and singleness of its apparently competing activities : its infinite making and undoing.


We arrive, therefore, at a stasis-in-kinesis, which is not homeostasis but another thing, a still-point of dance in the very course of dancing, which would be destroyed utterly by any climactic intervention.


This monism-in-duality is brought home to us at the heart-centre as an illuminating glow, a pulsation of warmth, an at-homeness while astray among tamaala trees.








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