The definition of rasa, part II

Continuing our discussion of rasa, we now examine vyabhicāri bhāva, which is also called sañcari bhāva. The word vyabhicāri = vi+abhi+car (car is a verbal root or dhātu meaning ‘move’). The definition of this bhāva is as follows:

viśeṣeṇa abhimukhena caritam śilam yasya sa vyabhicāri: [that bhāva] which specifically moves all over the body [i.e. manifests all over the body] is called vyabhicāri.

As a reminder from the previous article, rasa is defined as the experience which results from the combination of vibhāva, anubhāva and vyabhicārī bhāva. This then completes the definition of rasa.

Nāṭya Śāstra

We now examine the meaning of rasa. Basically, the above terms are derived from Bharat Muni’s Nāṭya Śāstra which was composed more than 2000 years ago. For those who are interested, there is a fairly detailed article wikipedia article on this at

Bharat muni compiled this book to explain the experience of a person in the audience of a drama or a play. In Nāṭya Śāstra, the term rasa (which we will refer to here as material rasa) refers to a state of rapture that the person in the audience goes into upon watching the play. A common misconception is that all emotions experienced while we watch a movie, or a drama constitute material rasa. However, material rasa is only experienced by very few people, because according to Bharat muni’s theory, it is only experienced by someone who has a high state of sattva guṇa. The muni likens this state of material rasa, or intense absorption, to a state of samādhi. Such a state is not achieved by all, and in fact, requires saṁskāras from a previous life.

The Nāṭya Śāstra is the theory of rasa, and it analyzes the causes and assisting causes that give rise to rasa. The person acting in the drama is called anukartā, and acts out emotions of the character who is called anukārya. The person who experiences the emotions (called sāmājika) is the person in the audience, who has a high state of sattva. Bharat muni’s theory has been analyzed by other thinkers like Abhinava Gupta in detail. Pertinent to our discussion is that the material rasa is categorically different from bhakti rasa.

Bhakti rasa

The third verse of the first chapter of the Srimad Bhagavatam instructs: pibata bhāgavatam rasam ālayam muhuraho rasikāḥ: O rasikās (relisher of rasas), drink this bhāgavatam, which is rasa, again and again, and even after liberation.

There is much to say about bhakti rasa that cannot be encapsulated in a short article. It is an esoteric topic, but here are a few main points:

  1. It is completely different from material rasa. Where material rasa is an emotion experienced by a sattvik heart, bhakti rasa is a transformation of sthāyi bhāva (something we have examined in detail on this site), that is, it is a transformation of Krṣṇa’s own svarūpa-śakti.
  2. Sri Babaji explains that Jiva Goswami denies that there is such a thing as material rasa; only bhakti rasa is real.
  3. Rasa can only be experienced at the stage of bhāva. Therefore, the word ‘rasika’ in the Bhāgavatam verse refers to someone already on the bhāva platform. The words ‘rasika bhakta’ are casually used nowadays, but they have a specific meaning as used by Rupa Goswami and Vyāsa. A ‘rasika bhakta’ means a siddha who has attained bhāva.
  4. While vibhāva, anubhāva and vyabhicārī bhāva are assisting causes, it is actually the sthāyi bhāva that takes on the appearance of rasa. Rasa is not different from the sthāyi bhāva. We can compare the sthāyi bhāva to an ocean, and the waves in the ocean, or agitation of the sthāyi bhāva, is what is relished by the devotee.
  5. Bhakti rasa theory is the special contribution of Sri Rupa Goswami, and it is what Sri Caitanya experienced all the time. Many people think that Rupa Goswami merely adapted Bharat muni’s theory to bhakti, but Sri Rupa departs substantially from Bharat muni in terms of foundational concepts.

We will examine specific examples of bhakti rasa in an upcoming article.

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