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CONCEPTION OF

HUMOUR
Its resonances in Sanskrit Drama, Poetry, Hindu
mythology and spirit ual practice
By
'D. Sunt haralingam '
'.
qhfSis l or
"
0/
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
IN
PHI LOSOPH Y
,
[Jnder tlte Supervision of
PROF. A. K. CHATTERJEE
DEPARTMENT OF PHILOSOPHY
BANARAS HI D UNIVERSITY
.. Yay, 1983
Enrolment No. 1153'3
.. -! # , .> "
"'1 6 ....... \.. :..," \p v ..... '"
..
/'
;'J:.;'
ABUINAVAGUPTA'S CONCEPTIOU OJ' HttMltftl RESONANCES IN
SANSKRIT DRAHA, ilOETR'.(, tUNDU AND
SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
(ABSTRACT)

ThJ.s contribution to the psycholo9Y and :3Ociology of humou.r
aDd laughter and t.o tha aesthetics of hasYa is primarily conceiwd
of as a stepping-st.one to a total understanding of the function and
significance of the who, though the prime focus of haSYa
on t.he Sa..'1skrit st.age, has alwa1s been criticized for not serving
this function aaequately His st:.ereotyped traits in all the
Classical play s and the inexplicable and seemingly unconnected
prescriptions laid down by the dramaturgists with regard to him
point insistently to some other function than th-a comic one, and
this has led Prof. F .B.J. !<Uiper in his maanum oeus to assert that
his original role was a non-comic one rooted in certain fundamental
metaPhysical ana mythological representations of Vedic cosmogony.
Though Kuiper has brought forth cogerE. arguments for identifying
him with Vax'una there ace so many other fea.tures that tn.i. idoantity
..
i3 (adrnitt.elllY) unaole to aCoount for and whiCh moreover tend to
viduaka to other real or symbolic figures (Brahma,
,. - i-,
purohita, or prallman-pr.lest, brahmacarin, Vrskapi" I? asupat a, Ganesa,
.-/..

etc.) outside the tneatre, some of whom are charact:.e.rized by comic
elements absentia VaruQ.a. The problerr. befC're me was to isolate
thE: cent.ral non-comic function that wou.ld not only explain the
imbrication of all these disparate identities in the but
I
2
, ,<
also accomrnodate his haSYA aspect so that the OD::! does not negate the
other. Abhinava' s attribu.tion of the mere semblance of hisya
(lJ.iay;l?baaa) to the yidusak., whose hA1a function he nowhere denies"

convinced me I was OIl t,he ri9ht track.
In delving into the complex symbolism of the vidusaka, more

and more of his features show themselves to refer back, directly or
indirectly, to a central function of bein9 the institutionalized
tranS9ressor of brahminical socio-reli9ious norms and taboos,

especially founded on the pure/impure opposition which sustains the
Hindu socio-reli9ioLls hierarchy. The vidusaka is a comic figure
preCisely because he re-enacts this esoteric transgressive function"
in a purely symbolic mode, before an exoteric audience in the public
SOCial setting of the Sanskrit drama, where these taboos still b:lve
all their binding force. .Further research revealed that this trans
gressive dimension, retained and elabor atea in the latez: T antric
systems (like the Kaula/rrika)J is rooted in Vedic religion where
it is integrated harmoniously into a total system that finds
expression in cosmogony, ritual (esp. the pre-classical sacrificial
system centexeo on impure gIka+ta as a basic type comprising

other figures lik.a the granm'n-gij.l\OhilK5ii, brQhmacarin, etc .. )" society.
(saturnalia) and. other planes as well, and "Chat these other aspects
of the system have deliberately retained in the symbolism of
the yiduiu\ka and determine his relati.on and interaction with the
hero a..nCi other characters. Ma't.hodologically, our approach presupposes
that Hindu culture and especially its symbolic universe forms a total
coherent system that has been oerived, tbro-.lQl1 a series of socio
religious transformations, from an coherent Vedic system of
reli.gious representations. All the Indologist.s whose work.s we have
#
reliea upon for ou.r- general (Kuiper, Durnezil, Heestennan,
Rer}C)<.l, Dumont, diarcieau), whatever their individual differences,
share this totalizin;;:,; O1lC\ synthe sizing approach. The relation
betvreen the nayaKa (hero) ana the especially seems to
reflect t.nat .between the Y.ajamana (or king) aaa Lhe brahmcill (or
2urohita), ti'1e latc.er in fact repr'e senting a.'1d COIDLJr isingt.he
of tne Y;S}iarnana' s own ,;>er sonalitj intne rit.ual drama
of tnG pre-classiCal sacr ifice. 1'1any otal<,'l ise inex...;:>licable fa aturE:: s
of ,-he yidUsar\.g, become in terms of c.nec..ransposition
.
of this monel intQtde ae St.fl.<;;; cic anu liter ary aec:.erminati.:.>us .)f the
Classical (llama a.<lai.l a socio-c<.llt'-lral governed ;:;y the
refonneci classical saC! ii:ice i:l1'l,ere <:.ilis impure ::)01<:;: had. been
All o;ltline of oU.r <,;,ederaldorJ(ing
hYi->0thesis on trl tne wanner in INhicn it is Capable
of synthesizin:J, on tne Oasis of: nis d.ibension, the
mutu.allj 2xclu.siv02 Hr..)(.<els ;>ro)oseuoJ earliel. senolar snip, bas been
given in tne Int100.Uction. Ii::. is als:) sho'.vo 1:.i1at. '':'llis theory, which
insist.s on t.he ,..mity of coace,;:>t.ion under.ly iL19 t.he and his
specificity to tne symlOlic univer..3'E:: of radian "Craai'Cion, is neve:r:
tnelBss ill i'1a:r:mony with c.ne ethLlolo-.Jj.:::>t ::.h": comic transgressive
function 0:1: ell ritu.al clovln as a u.n,iversal .;>henoJuenon (l'akarius)
1,vhich .?resupposes a t.t1F..:ory of tra.nsgression being the founuation
of t.ne original Sacred (Caillois, r3ataille, l'JaKarius).
In this thesis, Vie are only interestea in demonstrating that
there is a bisociative theory 0:1: nasia {and nasa) implicit in
Abhinavagupta' s 9r;.)I1o.J.acements on the same and exploring
how precisely this stJ:<.lctur6 ;>ermits hasYa to effectively vehicle a
non-comic function in the Y1dusalsa and how, to some extent, even

this hiSVa function itself comes to signify something that is
independent: of it. Thus, whereve.t incursions are made into various
aspects of the Vidufaka's symbolic behaviour, it is primarily with
the view of determining hoW' it has been adjusted and accommodated
to better serve his hasYa-function. One of our aims here is to
question the validity of a purely "PSYChological" approach to the
problem of humour and laughter drawing inspiration from primarily
biologiCal models based on analyses in terms of function/norm or at
most from" sociologizing" models based on analyses in terms of
conflict/rule. Our intention is to shift the emphasis to a linguis
tic mooel that, though derived from and accommodating the above
perspectives, is based primarily on analyses in terms of significa
tion/system. Laughter is the pleasurable dischaJ:ge of superfluous
energies OCCasioned by the mutual neutralization of two opposing
siml.lltaneous impressions (cognitive, emotional and/or sensory-motor)
of a single stimulUS. our method is to show how tnis basic blsoci.;!.
tive structure rooted in the physiology and functioning as a safety
valve for superflu.ous eneqjjies in the organism, inevitably lends
itself--by its very structure--to social exploitation of laughter
as a censure-meChanism against transgressions of SOCia-religious
norms. This situation is exploited in inverse by an esoteriC
perspective valorizing taboo-violation to the point that it
preseribes a generalized comic behaviour (as in the PaLpata ascetic)
even independently of sj?ecific modes of transgression. 1"i1<ew.-,
since laughter as an uncontrolled "natural" waste of energ. s is
frowned u.pon by cultu.ral norms that recommend its repression, the
5
taboo-violator laughs freely and loudly (even when there is nothing
to laugh at) because such sacred laughter (e.g. the attahaa of
..
Rudra imitated by his P ~ ~ p a t a devotee) has thereby corne to signify
his transgressive function which is greeted by society with profane
laughter. Ultimately, a signifyin9 function (worked into a rigorous.
system of representations) derived fronl the psychology and sociology
of laughter begins to react in turn upon this psychology ana
sociology. not only interfering with their regular functioning but,
under certain conditions, itself becoming primary and reorientating
the Be .. infrastructures" Not only is such an apprQach the only
adequate one to the clowning of l:".l1e lauli)hing PaJLpata (and sacred
ritual clowning in other societies) but it alone Can do full justice
to the exploitation of hasya. in the yiaUsaka

Ln order to establish the possibility of c ~ vidusaka's haSiI
,
function simultaneously, and without contradiction, vehicling a
pI:ofou,nd oon-comic one, it is not.. sufficient to o.emonstrate that
Abhinava has an implicitly bisociative concept.i,.)n of hClilCa t.hat
'WOulc. permit. it to serve both exigencies; ie nas to be further
shown tnat. this conception COl:L"esponO.s t.v reality and reflects the
basic structure of humour anti laughter as a universal phenomenon.
Here" r have restricted Iny efforts t.o t.he follolllin;a tasksl
1) To show that humour-a,nd-laughter remains an unsolved problem
of Western philosophy, psyChology, aesthetics and sociology and
that the variety of conflicting approaChes" theories and conclusions
should warn against scholars of Indian aesi;.htH.. ics and literature
especially sl;udents of the yipMfua (or of the anthropology of
-.I
laughter and clowning in cult, e.g. the Pasl.lpatas)--from mechanicall"
applying 80m3 ready-made West.9rn conceptions to the problem ~ f biaa/
6
naSla or to evaluating the comic exploitation of the yidusalsa in

the Indian context (ch. I, III-VI). What is needed is to analyse
Indian theory and practice in terms of each other and in the light
of the discussions of the problems involved by native commentators
like Abhinava (Jagannatha not hesitating to draw amply upon
parallel Western concepts wherever these axe ablll:! to clarify the
more obscure points of the treatment of t.he comic in Indian
tradition, In this way, whatever is specific to the latter and its
tacit inner unity, however complex, will not be lost in the attempt
to arrive at a universally valid definition of humour and laughter.
2) To bring together in a single work not only all of Abhinava's
more significant remarks directly tOUChing upon aA.u and haSls (ch.
IV, VII, IX) but also other relevant passages and some examples of
his practical literary criticism (eh. VIII, X) that may contribute
towards clarifying his thereon. Special care has been
taken to show, by internal criticism and by replacing it. within his
total aesthetics of kasa, the inner coherence of Abhinava' s
pronouncements from different point s of view on naSi .aw! hasla.
3) To show that coherence can be restored to Abh1nava' s
SCattered insights on incongruity, superiority, role of pain,
social-censure mechanism, identifiCation, pan-emotionalism (of hasya) I
r asAbhasa, haslbhasa, etc. only on the basis of an impliCit biso
ciative theory, whiCh can provide the framework for synthesizing
whatever is of value in the sociologiCal; psychoanalytic, behaviour
1stie etc. approaches to humour, and 1s moreover capable of aCcommo
dating recent ethnological data on the comic aspects of ritual
clowning.
7
4) Since Western theorising on hwnour and laughter is far
more explicit and offers a variety of systematically constructed
models each accounting for specific aspects of the phenomenon, we
have found it much more convenient to arrive at Abhinava' s implicit
bisociation-theory by starting off from a presentation of Gurjieff' s
model which is not only explicitly bisoCiative but finds this
structure at every level (intellectual, emotional, instinctive)
from which laughter may spring (ch. II). We then proceed t.o refine
this basic structure with the help of the conceptual tools (Qoperative
fields," "selective operators," "bisociative junction," et.c.) contri
buted by A. Koestler and show how it alone Can simultaneously
acoomnodate .Bergson' s theory of laughtel: as a social censur e-mechanism
and Freud's theory of jokes (and the laughter provoked) as vehicles
of represaed ten.dencies and pre-logical modes of thought (t'irtlO theories
which are otherwise aifficult to reconcile with each other)--ch. III.
The remainin<;j three chapters are a.evoted to showing how the re sults
of experimental psychology bear out this theory of bisociation, which
alone again accounts for the role of variable negative emotions inl1
the genesis of laughter lch. I:V), for the differing roles of sudden
ness in laughter (Hobbes, et.c.) ana in surprise (ch. V), and for the
validity of the incongru.ity principle, central to the Indian aesthe
tics of h;sva and to the comic function of the viciusMa despite the

criticisms of Bergson, Freud and some contemporary behaviourists
lch. VI).
5) The chief objection, shared by Bergson, Freud and others,
to tneories of the bis:lciatioa/incongruity type, that they leave
the of the laughter mechanism unaccounted for, is antici
pated in advance by starting from Gurdjieff I s presentation of the
8
the bisociat.ion theory in order to arrive, through successive clari
fications, at Abhinava' s understanding of the same. The convulsion
(0) consisting in the mutual neutralization of the two opposing
irreconciliable impressions of a single stimulus not only provides
the bisociative structures responsible for hUlTPur a firm rootedness
in the physiological mechanisms responsible for the pleasurable
laughter-d.ischarge but also accounts for the tacit sk.ill of recogni
zing ana. ewking humour. This phenomenological aspect is especially
important for the relishing of hasYa which, as a ua.s. (for Abhinava,
not an object of cognition but the relishable cognizing itself-
pratIti, l:?odha), is primarily the skilful exploitation of cognitive
structures for bringing about bisociative emotional effects. Whereas
in compulsive (siddha) worldly h.i.u, the bis::>ciated perception imposed
by the stimulus automatiCally provokes laughter through the passive
mediation of the convulsion 0, in the aesthetic relish of hasl
a
the
sUbject (swgaya) actively exploits 0 as a sensor for reorganizing

the given stimuli so as to heighten and diversify the bisocl ative
possibilities offered ana no more than suggested by the objective
form and content of the poem, joke etc., fo
6) Abhinava' s most original and promising insight for the
psychology of hunour is the structural definition implied itl his
d<aclaration that all the other (aesthetic) enotions are comprehended
within nisya which is generat.ed by incongruities in some of the
members of the operative field that would normally have evoked the
emotion concerned alone (ch. IX). The fact that any of the other
emotions Can be an constituent of hasY"a, clearly reveals
that Abhinava conceived the latter as a structure that includes
9
within itself any emotion whatever and also at the same time some
other element that opposes and impedes the development of this
emotion. The analysis of hasYa in love-poems (Ch. VIrI) reveals
that this opposing element is itself most often a contrary
incompatible emotion, and the "theory behind the exploitation of
this em:>tional bisociation for hasYa-effects is deduced from
Abhinava's interpretation of the maxims governing the delineation
, .
of love-in-union
(
sambho9asrnQarg,) Though privileging in this

context, and in keeping with the the emotional
components and J?Qssibilities of bisociation, Abhlnava is alive to
its cognitive aspect as well, as is evidenced by his introduction
of the incongruity principle in the genesis of rasAbhasa, and by

his appealing to the same in order to reject t".he imitation theory
of drama, for the bisociated cognition of both the and
the imitating elements can result. only in haSii (eh. VII, n. 20).
It. is on the basis of emotional bisociation again that an attempt
is made to explain Abhinava's otherwise cryptic remark. on the
component of momentary pain or distress in determinate laughter
(sAny.sandhana-!li.u), and it is further demonstrated that such an
interpretation is in harmony with Freud's insight into "humour" as
a against incipient unpleasure, and also supported
by the experimental results of behavioural and social psychology
and. by ethnographic data on ritUal clowning (ch. IV). The relevance
of these findings for contemporary humour research and theorising
are two-fold. 1) the pre sent models whiCh seek to isolate specific
laughter- (or hwnou:r-) st.imuli from those of other emotions, or
which seek. to separate the laughter from other emotional affects
10
in their examination of sl:.imuli which seem to generate bo1.h (either
simultaneously, alternately, or alternatively), could more profitably
be replaced by a struct.ural model that reveals how the stimuli of
these ot.her emotions are reorganized to produce the bisociative
effects responsible for laughter (or humour); 2) the reinterpretation
of incongruity as the object.ive correlate of bisociated perception
and response will obviate t.he more serious of t.he current objections
to incongruity theory.
7) To that f.r.om the point of view of aesthetics,
Abhinava
'
s principal contribution 't:.o moci.ern humour-theo:rising would
lie in his having provided the necessary theoretical framework for
distinguishing between as worldly self-subsisting emotional
bisociation provoked by common stimuli (and normally
immediately discharged as pleasurable lauvhte:r) ana its transformation
into the transcendental (alaukika) relish of haYa whiCh is deliCately
-I

sustained through aesthetic identification with charaCters (asraYA)
representeo as reacting in emot.ionally incompatible ways t.o stimuli
t.hat are peCUliar to them alone (ch. VII). Through a literary
critiCism of several verses, depicting mut.ual love (sambbOge) as
prime sentim::nt but yet overflowing with ha@Ye/ in terms of the
psychology of the Characters represented ana the mode of participa
tion of the connoisseur it is shown that this theoretical
aist.inction merely reflects the t.echniques for evoking hig. exploit.ed
by the poets in act.ual practice (en. VIII). It is argued moreover
that the prescript.ion of hasYa as an inevitable ancillary of (Sambho9a-)
knsara, though partlY accountea for by the pleasurable nature of
.
laughter that makes it. a natural stimulant and side-effect of kama
11
as a purusKth., is primarily intelligible only in terms of its

essentially bisociative strllcture and the aesthetic norms governing
the poetic delineation of sambhogq The analysis relies primarily
on Abhinava' s own critical comments on the aesthetic techniques
utilized and comes to the conclusion that the rasa-aesthetic
privileges above all the "epptional centre" in its treatment of
haiya.
The of this distincc.ion to Western aesthe't.ics
would require not the abandonment of the stiltUlus-organism-response
model of behaviourism (which is also basic to the
but its refinement to include processes, like tanmavThhavAP:i
(aesthetic identification) and iadhiranIk,arana (universalization),
. .
based on and cie1- iwd from this model but becoming primary and

modifying its whole functioning in certain contexts, esp. that of
aesthetics. This is wholly clear in Abhinava's third criterion that,
unlike the stimulus of hasal the vibhiva of haSYa is uncomrron
(asadhMa,na), i.e. uniquely related to a particular ilrala whose

perceived responses and the transitory emotions they sU9gest are
integral and indispensable to the relishing of hasYa. It is here
that the principle of tanmavIbhavana intervenes to make the crucial
separation between the with its
distinction and the behavioural approach of those like I.A. Richards
(cf. his" synaesthesislt) which is unable to distinguish between the
two though the neea. is acutely felt. .Nevertheless, Abhinava himself
admits that the distinction though perfectly valid in
theory and easily recognizable in privileged cases like the love-
verses above, is often blurred and difficult even in theatre
12
(QrahASana., vidU,.Mil): it. would therefore l:::le preferable to speak
in terms of degrees of aestheticization of hasa into hasYa.
It is clear moreover that the dist.inction cannot.
be applied as such and wit.hollt modification t.o Western or other
literatures which are not. organically and self-consciously dependent
on an aesthetic tradition of t.he !:.SlA-t.ype. 1'1or to a whole Cat.egory
of jokes and witticisms which, though possessed of a certain
aest.hetiC appeal, hover in a kind of limbo between art and worldly
life. Though unable to aevote special attention to such frequent.
instances of -hwrour" which do not. exploit. bisociative strategies
for primarily emotional effects
l
we nevertheless try to show (Ch. VIr)
that similar mechanisms of identification with the emotional attitudes
of others are often involved even if subordinated t.o other purposes
like satirical intent. Often again t.he humour lies rather in the
ingenuit.y and artistry with which the bisociative Clash is brought
about or t.he brilliant non-comic ideas t.hat. are vehicled by the formal
technique of the bisociated patt.ern: to achieve a st.r iking contrast
of ideas, to question t.he field operat.ors involved, t.o bridge different
planes of thought. so as to present. t.hem in an ent.irely novel light,
or to reveal their hidden connections or similarities, and so on.
An essential component of su.ch wit or humour is no doubt the separa
t.ion of thought. from the inertia of the emotions as rooted in the
biologiCal instincts (separ atien of t.he cortical layers from the
sympathetic system on the physiological level)1 so much insist.ed upon
by Koest.ler. Being a comment.ator on an existing artistic practice
based on t.he rasa-aesthetic and not a theoret.ician aiming
at a universal theory of and laught.er, Abhinava has naturally
13
COIn;;>lel:.ely neglected t:.he se aspect.s of humour-theory. Ilhat:. is
significant however is that hasYs., insofar as it is t:.he aestnetici
zation or relishing of the emotional bisociation that constit:.utes
hasa is based not on .:.he aivorce of thought from the inertia of
the constituent emotions but. x'at..I:ler on their reconciliation. t.!bre
than that, the cognitive st.rategies and idenl:.ificatory mechanisms
involved are subordinated to tne evocation of emotion and it is
t.heir ino.ispensable mediation that ensures that the emotions evoked
aXe purified of their biolo;;,ical inertia into the relishable state
vne would be justified in Claiming tnat the
including hasYa, is based not:. so much on the principle of Conscious
ness seekin'dt.o esCape its biological determinations but Iather on
l:.he quasi-tantric principle of its turning baCk to infuse t:.he
oiological tunct:.ions, in their emotional expressio(1, with its own
lightness, mobilitj and detaChment. Unless this principle is kept
in mina ... OLle is aouna t.o lose of what is specific to t:.he
exploitation of t:.he universally valid bisociaeive structure t.he
aesthetics of hisYa.
8) Another irnJ..JOIta11t contribution of Abhinava to humour-theorj
is his advocation of che exploitation ot hasYa (or hasa) as a means
of reinfolciag t.he (proper p\.lX suit. oi) the through
negative exarilple (cll. LX). dis assirnila1:.ion ;Jf incongruity (a
cognit.ive/aesthetic p:rinciple) to s0cio-religio<.ls irn.:?roprietj, despit:.e
the aCe. tnat the two, ehough of1:.en coincidin':i I are no1:. synonymous,
reflects his concern to harmonise and mutually super.:.Jose the aesi:.h.etic
(or pleasuraoly cathar1:.ic ... in t:.he Case of laughter) and the social
cenSUl-e funct:.ions of naSia and it:. is precisely t.ne bisociat.ive
structure of the latter: t.nat naturally lends itself to such eX,910ica
tio11. wherever this social fu.nction ana the enjoyment of laughtc;;r
t;iains ttle up;>erhana over the J?urely aesthet.ic dimension, L:1C
tion retvJe,,;;:n and hasia loses most of its relevance. 1'nou.'.;)h
chis anll\"3xation laughter in t.he ser vice of safe
9uaraing social nor.rns is haro.lt a.lfierent. frol" 3eI.g SO{l I s essenLial
contr.ibution to hurnour-t.i:leorj as tur 1:.11\".::1 claDor aced
L::ttQ behavi'JUlal models chat syntnesize Llco11yruitf, social-cc.:flsor
anu enhaHceo self-esteem), the vital Ciif1.:ereilCe is that Abhinava
',;lith t.he bu1:.t. as cOilstitutive vf even when ic. functiolls as a
censurc:-mecnanism, sowetning tIl. at. 3er.9SOH ;Jlimpsea bULiJaS unable
"5
'LO recOflcile wi't.h cnastzing eftec1:. of ridiculin;;; 1 augh:c.er' and
0J.r. o.issociat.ion from the laughable social lnisaemeanou.r. It
on Lne basis oi si.lch iaent.i:r:ication t!lat Mhill,:lVa reco;..uizes a
lo,;ical uisti(iction--even tempo! al sequence--betweenc.he .. semblance
vt (any) rasSl" (r.asabhasa) and. 1:.he ensi.lii.l9 hasya, chat iuterru.;>t.s
tais momt:!nt.al.Y or pal.tial iaentiiicat.l.on. .it. is his irnplicit
bisociation tneory alone tnat. Can justiiy chis simultaneous identi
ticat.ion with ana rejec1:.ion of t.ne butt, ana i't. is sug:;:;ested that,
ar irU!1l det.r actiug frol!! tile chastising ef:tect of the lau.ghwr,
it is this ia.entification t.:na1:. reilo.er s it 9ar,ticul3.rly
numiliating for the butt.. A fu.rt.her aifference is the ,,)ossibly
cm:.).tio(lal nat.ure of this partial whereas for Be:rgson
all partici;>ative emotion is uetrin,ental to SOCialized laughter.
lhou<;n tilrougn its soc.ial function haS'la b""comes ancillary to all
1:.h".; fc>i.lI. c)rimar:y puru.sartha-..:>riew::'ated it nevert.heless stands
.
in a s;:Jecially f>r ivileged. relation wit.h (sambho9a-) ni.gara and karna
.
un account ot the catnaltlc pleasure it.
..l.5
9) l"1Ost :sit;,nii:iCant anG. with far-reaChL'19 repercussions oui:.siac
tile r\:,:alnl :):;.; aE scheeics ana the social hierarchy, especially 1fJhen
le.)laced .'lithia his tot.al concepti0n of: hasYa, is his attribution
,..)1: tae rnere It semblance of hasta" to tne whose haSYa funcLion

Inte:r:j.jreteCi in t.he light ot all t.ne r it.ual
not.ations that.. hi3.Ve 10(19 been rec.:)gnized (culminating Prof. Kui;)er
'
s
recent con.t r ibution} anCl those tl1at. converye to unoerline
his c;:,;ntral :ei..l.nctlon as the tr'ansr;resso.t: oi: bIahw.L.lical SOC1.J
re 1i;iou;3 norITl5, this necessar ili irn(?lie s t.tlat, fOl Abniuava, ti'l8
dimensions ao not exnaUst the e}q?loic.ation 01 haeLd in loLL;;::
t.har. hasta coulu Silhul't:.aneousli serve the Giarnetr ic ?i.lly or?90site
function of ;.)e:r:n.ittiLl9 the exteriorizatioLl Qf an esoteric crans,::!ress

yidU:sgKil,' s c0.mic lJei1..J.vioJr, ::)uc the ir.t:'2:;t;ular mod,,::'s \ooscene,

t.e. )
Cannot De at C.! iou t8a tv lack i:Jt V8 ,in: ag inatiol.l in t.he
J?.:,)So'(. s, tor the se aonormal and inexcllicably r-e .str J.\;(.eu moues of
conV8Llt.i0l1, Llto ddri3lIi.:ltic nQill {into "lawful irre9.J.larities"i, to
the play ana the i10rms governin.; that function alrE:ady strongly
16
SUi:)':;1<:oatst:..i.lat. en.e nasia is simult:.aneouslj as tn.e vehicle
enat ate s C(;rtaill comic LJO ssibilit
S ,vhil,:,; inj:lioit.ing
elillliuatL1l::! Ot.l1,! 5. Tnat tile hasia oa t.he aesc.hG1:.ic level is
mod.el 01: t.ne orthociox .or ahmin, sc go ac. tIe atll;e nl:.,
claims \.:..0 1:.11(; sCat-us 0L.
.
5Lnul tal'le":Y-..l5ly exc>loit the haSi a fUnc'cion ,tor cnastisL1S) tn is
dut. \.:..he
C' Jl,,' ,,")' an ;, 'Ll, e, i" a1 ,"1 'la' c ,'" {'c" J": r'"'" 0'" "'1" ,-'c' vF t i -,,,,, -, ('" , "', '1'" k { '"1'" )
- _.-.. "1..... -- -, .... _, J.. '- """"'-' '--........ -.J...., "- .::>.,;. '-.I. ,- .... \;;! I
mo::;tel of ;)urusartha
-'''
I - ,
;1pl'1 d.L a):Ji. (.
'.
of its cnastisifl:J role in tile conflict brahItlLllcal soclo
'eL)C, comiC c.Jnflict Oil t,hE: :;?Oci
.al110iQuousU resolves c.hat contlic'c. scrol1;ly sug':;:iests tl1at t.he has/a
is :'3imult':1ileOu3ly v ins to dis:;u ise an int.Gntional valor. ation of
ana .)artly neut.ralizes its role as an instrument at social censure.
L1a1neS ()f ;>urE: bralll11inical "-Jeo.igree , central role in c.l1c drama
17
u (exo"Cer ie) ueva1o:r iza"Ciof1 adO (e sJtel. iC) valor izo.
..
the ae st.hetic leW:d.
L1 ra1 as a mooe of incoi.19IUOUS boh2Lvi;)Ul acting as a comic
st.in;u1us. 'l'h.oui;;n SLlcn traasg!E; ssian Can p:tvVo lJUl.e1l 0.<: i ve
kutilaka
, i '
c.ill.e au,
0ncectlis
18
centered arounu tr ansgression,both airectly and./or ii1.directly
through symbolic assimilation with other (comiC or non-comic) figures
.:.hat belong to the same sys.:.em (something which is facilicated by
the polyvalence of symbols). This would immeuiately explain the
irregularity of tl1.e !1OrmS governing his hasta function at the aesthe
tic level, for they w:Juld have simultaneouslY sel:ved to ensure the
signifying function of these ostensibly comic stimuli" Likewise,
c.he valorization of the viouiaka is only the deli:berate valorization
o .:.he symbolic W1iverse mediated by him whereas his eX91icit
o.evalorization an,a rio.iculous aspect would be a function of that
central transgressive aimension which is wnolly censurable from the
purely e}(Qteric point of view of life-in-society governed. by the
9raded hierarchy of the 2urusirthas. This tot:.al a,tJ.proach to the
.
v i a u ~ ~ that consiaers him pr imar ily as a sign, and only seconda-
r ily in te:r:ms of his social and ae sthetic function by aetermining
how these latter are reintegrated into this signifying function,
is alone capable of explaining all the otherwise impossible cont.ra
dictions in his individual "psychology" (wise fool, indis.f,'e;Dsable
but bungling helper, lewd cnastity I ueformed and monkey-like
favourite of the queen's maius, etc.), his literary Icharacteriza
tion" (stupid brahmin counselloJ: of the exemplary king, obscene
bu.t free access to harem, nonsensical jokes, Prakrit-sp:aking,
me at-eating and wine-dr inking br ahrnin, etc.) ana. social status
("boy" ~ , abused by lower cha:r: acteJ:s but honourea by the hero,

ete.)
To the esoteric gaze, that has already lealnt to accord
supreme valorization to the most. raoical modes of transgression
when replaced within their delimited context governed by a profourd
19
metaphysical and/or r itua! motivation.. the recognition of the
transgressive function invested in the s symbolism Can be
no cause for laughter. On the contrary, the recognition of the
significations hidden in the various signifiers brought together
in his comic lntex'ventions and t.he displacement of the al:.t.ention
towards restorin9 their coherence on the esoteric plane can only
detract from, 1 not largely efface I his hasXe function. M::>reover
even the instances of really incongruous behaviour, speech or
co stume, and the comic aura that surrounds them, are now rather
perceived as the tranSj;>arent symbols of a transgressive function
that has nothing intrinsically comic a.bout it. For these symbols,
despite their adaPtation and elaboration to suit the comic.r ole of
the in the drama, acquire their capacity to signify only
by virtue of their participation in a pre -oxistin3 5i9nifjin9
that encompasses the entire doma.in of Iiindu culture a.....ld reaches back
to its Vedic origins, where they recur in an arunistak.eably non-comic
<ritual, cosmogonic, ep.1c, etc.) context ,:>r at lea.st with a primarily
non-comic Irotivation (Gax.teJia'.s or Agni's enornlOus appetite, or the
former' oS DRdakas1 the contrary speech or donkey-like :::>raying of
Brahma' s fifth heach the bra.!'ynacil'.L.'11 s abl.lse of the hetaera in the
Ilahavrata, etc.). Replaced in this total system by an esoteric gaze
forearmed with the comprehension and mastery of its secret correspon
dence s .. the hasye aspect. of the vidufaka' 5 interventions-on the
aestll.::tlc literary level of the 'ploy and in the' t.;;xot.erlc soc1o
religl,;)U5 context that encompasses thE: performance of t.he drama-
is redu:=ed to a mere semblance. To just. "Ii/hat extent Abhinavagl.lpta
had assindlated the traditional symbolic u.niverse underlying the
figure of the and to what extent he effectively recognized


20
it in the latter's traits (e_g_ Varuna) and interventions can only

be matter of futile speculation for us who have ourselves only just
cOJ'l'l{(1enced the task of deciphering. What matters is that he himself
waS the crowning theoretician of the transgressive ideology of
Trika (rather Kaula) tantrism, att.ributing his hignest metaphysical
realization of the supreme all-devouring Bhairava-Consciousness to
precisely su.ch transgressive praxis, At the same tine, he clearly
recognized the dichotomy between the esoteric and the exoteric domain
I

the latter governed by rigorous socio-religious norms from which
perspective alone he comments on the Sanskrit drama. He even
insists on the continuity oatween the Vedic and the Tantric tradition
of esotericism exploiting extreme impurity and radiCal transgression
in order to transcend the pure/impure distinction and attributes
t.he reticence of t.he Vedic on this transgressive dimension of
their realizations t.o their concern with preserving the exoteric
order founded on norms of purityI avikalgena bhavena my.nayo.e.!
tathaanavan //243// lokasaruraksaoarthem tu tattvam taih
praaopitam/.../ /244. TA. IV. As such, it seems to us that Abhinava
combines in himself all the necessary conditions for recognizing a
central transgressive function in the viOuiaka that, though deeply
rooted in Vedic esotericism, would have also found manifold expression
in the symbolic universe of Hinduism. But like the Vedic Rsis
he describes, he would have been even more committed to preserving
and reinforcing the exoteric order, OOW governed by the graded
hit:!I a1chy of the Quru which it was the duty of the 1'<1a1;.1 aveda
to inculcate" And it is in the midst of this order that the
yiduialsa appears at the centre of the stage to hold us laughing,
spellbound by his own laughter. Indeed, seen in this light., what is

21
really striking is not Abhinavagupta's reticence on the true role
of the xidU,aka but, on the contrarY, the various hints he has
dropped for us-at least for those among us who are prepared to
take him wholly seriously-that the s role is not exhausted
by hisYa, i.e. his properly aesthetic ana. SOCial, aspect. He has
no hesitation in emphasizing, to explain the vidusaka's being
protected by OMkara, that he is, along with the nayaka, the principal
male character of the play. Taken together with his casual remarks
attributing not hasya but the semblance of hasya (hasy3bhasa) to
the this valorization of his otherwise inexplicable role
proves conclusively tnat not only did Abhinavagupta know a great
deal more about his role than he ever put into his AbhinayabharatI
but that he had deliberately left these clues behind for the
initiated like himself to recognize and fOllow up systematiCally.
It will be clear by now that a cOflvincll'lg exposition of
the es::>teric significatioJ.ls into the hasYa function of the
will first o all have to reconstitute the total signifying
systenl (the basic principles un6erlying it, t.he symbolic techniques
it employs, an inventory of its chief motifs and their complex
interrelations and the
and distortions it has undergone, etc.) by virtue of which the
clusters of signs that fuse to constitute even a single comic
intefvention of the yidUlaka are able to evoke an entire complex of
ideas, practices and doctrines. Though we have already deciphered
a great portion of this symbolism and at least enough to confirm
beyond any doubt the transgressive function we have only presented
some of these materials in the body of this thesis, and that too only

--
22
sporadically, wherever the possibility showed itself of demonstrating
hoW' they have been exploited for hasya effects. The reason Was not
only limitations of space but that, whereas the focuss of this
thesis is on hasya (humour and laughter) and hasyAbhasa and their
mode of superposition, such an undertaking would have lifted us
out completely from the domain of hasya and the Sanskrit drama
as an aesthetic spectacle into the vast symbolic universe of
Indian religious lie. Even the x1dUsak.. would have to be ruthlessly

dissected to systematiCally compare the individual elements of his
symbolism with the same dispersed elsewhere in the tradition, before
we reintegrate them-with all their fullness of signification-to
resuscitate his comic essence. Even then, since this symbolism is
scarcely explicitated in an overt sy stematic manner anywhere, we
'WOuld have to linger long over these va.riol.ls models to demonstrate
conclusively that these inaividual symbols which they share with
the yidu,.AA indeed do have the precise meaning we attribute to
them and are ultimately fragments or facets of a single semiotic
8Y stem. Though this is impossible within the scope of this thesis
it would suffice if we have convinced our readers that the
hASV a function also vehicles a non-comic symbolic function and
provided ample indications that the latter comprises an essential
transgressive dimension.
10) But as a preparation to this larger undertaking we have
attacked the xJ"g,iisaka' s incongruous speech as a form of poetic

humour" (kaVYallasYA) to show that it is indeed teeming with the
kind of comic riddle-o.evioes that would have served to transpose
complex symbolic equivalences, like those found in the ritual
brahmodYgs or the Rigvedic hymnology # into the aesthetic setting
23
of the drama. OUr analysis of the vrthI in terms of the at first
sight arbitrary definitions of its thirteen constituent elements,
and in the light of both their comic exploitation by the
- .
in the ritual verbal contest of the and the non

comic mechanisms., moments and roodes of the brahmod.Ya, led to the
conclusion thatl- 1) the vlthI was originally the comic exposition
of enigmas by a single pers:>n or a comic wit-combat between two
pers:>ns fully ex.ploiting a rich variety of riddle-mechan1smsl
2) these riddle-mechanisms of the vltny:af1gas }:)etray a scheme to
facilitate the deliberate transposition of the riddle-cotltests,
with their profound cosmo-ritual mot.ivations., of the brahmodYas
onto the aesthetico-literary medium of the drama; 3) despite their
progressive exploitation for purely literary effects, their original
function would have been best :tetained. in the COmic yid\iea!s.2 with his
licence to speak iocongruously I 4) the predominance of hasya in the
yItbaOgas is primarily to permit. the super:position of the exoteric
incongruity and the esoteric coherence of the hidden equivalences
that constitute the enigma. (cf. esp. and Asatpralapa, both
charaCteristic of the yidUsaka)j S) their exploitation by the
.
in both ritual trigata (prolongation of the Vedic Vivie) and the
profane plaY confirms his Itready-wit" (pratibha" prescribed by
the NS) but of a type akin to that of the Rigvedic poet-seers
his Itfoolishness" I like his comic function, is the secondary elabora
tion of the exoteriC incongruity of his interventions at the purely
literary level (WhiCh harmonizes with the explanation of the same
in terms of his transgressive function) I 6) as bearer of the
presented by Brahma (himself the projection of the branmAn)
and as the of OMkira, taken together with the monotonous



24
insistence on his brahminhood par excellence, the xkdusoka is

indeed a comic "caricature" of the brahm4n (or '!HrohitA) precisely
because he is the revelation of the esoteric dimension of the latt.er
as bearer of the brahmtn-enigma. Taken together with his primary
cooperation with the (Indra-)nAyaka of the play, this implies the
symbolic identity with the Brahma-atradhara of the
p,urYara69a-trigata and the latterts partial identity with the
(whose antithesis he reintegrates into the thesis

of the so as to arrive at
synthesis). The vidusaka of the 91ay proper, as Brahma with an

exaggerated VarUIJ.ic aspect, wou.ld represent that Mitra-VarUQa
incal-nated in the brahmAn-purghitas par excellence like the Vasisthas
..
.For it is by regressing as the (pre-classical) d1ksita, in what

amounts to a metaphysical transgression, to the embryogonic chaos
(Asat) of Varuna
t
s realm (Varuna's 2!!ingax:a-pot held by the viduOaka,

like the largE basket-ears of the Brahma-v.1dUaaka, is clearly a womb
/
symbol), that the bro!!nAl! attains to the totality of cosmic connectbns
constitut.ing the jatavidva. In this way # the vidU:,aka
'
s ku'!ilaka
would symbolize not only his mastery of the "crooked" speech of the
enigma but also signify (among other things) the "perversity of
the transgression that lies at the heart of the enigma.
Abhinava
'
s contribution to these conclusions is amb.4luous,
and necessarily so, for the very principle of esotaricism excludes
the possibility of his dwelling explicitly upon this hidden function
of the y!thYaiigas or their ritual exploitation in the yidusak.a

'iet it is relevant to note the striking discrepancies between his
(already slightly aestheticized) interpretations of these formulas
2S
and the (highly aestheticized) illustrations he provides of them.
He is clearly aware that it is the enigma and its I11E9chanisms that
holds these formulas to;ether and often provides details of context,
motivation, procedure that clarify the manner in which they could
have served as transpositions. Yet as a traditional commentat;or
faced with the double task of being faithful to the definitions
handed down by Bharata and at the same time registering and legitimi
zing the current practice of adapting them for purely aesthetiC
effects (independent of ritual notations), he also often inflects
the terms of each definition so as to justify and facilitate this
later usage. Only an independent analy sis, in terms of the symbolic
function, of the vidisAka's comic utterances in the plays can reveal
.
the precise extent and varied modes in which these formulas have
been exploited to retain his hidden role as the bearer of the
(in

But to do this we would have to leave .behind the aesthetics
and psychology of hiS1a to delve into the total symbolic universe
in which the yidusaka participates. In this thesis, we have restric

ted ourselves to drawing out the inpl1cations of Abhinava* 13 implicit
theory of haSa and to showing how, in the :v:igiifak.sh the structure
of haaya permits it to simultaneously serve and disguise a non-comic
symbolic function. This function is centered on ritual transgression
from which we have suggested that most of his attributes and behaviour
Can be derived either directly or indirectly. It is the biaociative
structure of hasYa. that in this way permits the vidU:aag to mediate
between these two opposing yet complementary domains of Indian
religious life governed respectively by the sacred of interdiction
and the sacrality of transgression. It is through the as it were
...

-
26
unconscious identificat.ory pole of the bisociated perception that
the e:xoteric vision comes to participate in spite of itself in a
symbolic universe whose coherence it does not recognize and whose
values it is as yet not prepared to accept. In the laughing
an exoteric vision wholly enmeshed in the hierarchical
order of the puru.sarthas,which he entertainingly reinforces by his

laughable negative is nevertheless forced to submit it.self
to the claims of an esoterie vision that encompasses it and is all
the more effective for the reason that it is carefully hidden