ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Dissent, Debate and Vegetative Existence

The tradition of debate and dissent—which was the very soul of Sanskrit poetics—made an abrupt disappearance in the colonial period.

What ensures the live continuum of any epistemo­logy—ancient or modern—is a strong, critical engagement with it. It not only prevents an intellectual tradition from becoming ossified in nature, but also keeps the tradition alive and contemporary. As far as the Indian kāvyaśāstra (poetics) tradition is concerned, attempts to step beyond the existing truth claims were its very life force. In many texts in Sanskrit literary criticism, one can clearly observe what is traditionally known as the pūrvapakṣa strategy (wherein an author explains the views of their predecessor or contemporary to refute it systematically) to register their dissent with the existing truth claims. For instance, the theories of guṇa (the theory of poetic merit) and rīti (the theory of poetic style) were the offshoots of dissent with the views of ālaṅkārikas (the literary critics who believe that the ornamentation of speech is the soul of poetry). Dhvani (theory of poetic suggestion) was the result of dissent with the views of the exponents of guṇa and rīti, and the anumāna (the theory of inference) school had considerable differences of opinion with the exponents of the dhvani school.

This strong sense of critical thinking continued to exist in kāvyaśāstra even in the medieval period, which is often wrongly dubbed as the dark age of India’s past by imperialist historiographers. To mark their intellectual departure from their predecessors, as Yigal Bronner points out in his article “What Is New and What Is Navya: Sanskrit Poetics on the Eve of Colonialism” (2002), Sanskrit literary theoreticians in the medieval phase often called themselves navyas or “neo-intellectuals.” Jagannātha, Appayya Dīkṣhita, and Siddicandra are the three major critics from the medieval phase who embo­died the spirit of debate and dissent in Sanskrit poetics. For example, Dīkṣhita’s Citramīmāṃsā (the investigation of the colourful) redefined the views of the pracīnas (ancients), such as Mammaṭa, Vidyānātha, Bhoja, and Ruyyaka. Jagannātha’s Citramīmāṃsa-khaṇḍana (the refutation of the investigation of the colourful), another seminal text in Sanskrit poetics from the medieval phase, challenged many views endorsed by his predecessor Dīkṣhita in his Citramīmāṃsā. Siddicandra’s Kāvyaprakāśa-khaṇḍana (the refutation of the light on poetry) is self-evidently a criticism of Mammaṭa’s Kāvyaprakāśa (the light on poetry) which had by then achieved the colossal status of a rulebook with numerous commentaries on it from different parts of Sanskrit cosmopolis.

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Updated On : 20th Oct, 2022
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