Homage to the Powers of Vāc in Abhinavagupta’s Dhvanyālokalocana and Its Possible Implications 

The paper will focus on the final ślokas of each of the four chapters of Abhinavagupta’s Dhvanyālokalocana. In those ślokas, Abhinavagupta pays homage to the four powers or stages of vāc, namely parā, paśyantī, madhyamā and vaikharī. Those little pieces of devotional poetry are themselves interesting examples of dhvani at work and will be analysed as such. However, I propose they might have even more far-reaching implications. They seem to frame the Dhvanyāloka with Locana in a way that aligns the chapters with the stages of vāc, thus implying the whole text potentially points in the direction of a further suggested meaning. As is well known, the purpose of Dhvanyāloka and Locana is the defence of dhvani as a separate category of meaning and the sole true »soul of poetry«.  In the colophon verses devoted to parā (at the end of the First Chapter of Locana), Abhinavagupta plays with double meanings, thus addressing both the cosmic creative act of the divine śakti as well as the poetic creativity of the poet. I believe this could be read as suggesting the mechanisms of poetic language described in the Dhvanyāloka and Locana importantly correspond to the metaphysical principles and thus also shed light on the relation between the immanent and the transcendent. I argue in favour of reading Abhinavagupta’s aesthetic works together with his contributions to trika and pratyabhijñā. I am also of the opinion that it is exactly due to his thorough metphysical grounding that Abhinavagupta’s creative reformulation of the dhvani theory is in many aspects more consistent than Ānandavardhana’s original basis.

Location: Bangkok, Thailand
More Info: 16th World Sanskrit Conference
Organization: International Association of Sanskrit Studies IASS
Conference date: June, 2015

Transforming the Destructive Forces Through Ritual, Philosophy and Art: The Case of Non-dual Kashmir Śaivism

In medieval Kashmir (between 8th and 13th Century) several schools of philosophy and mysticism, today known under the common denominator of non-dual Kashmir Śaivism, developed on the basis of tantric/ āgamic sources. The medieval Tantras and Āgamas were the scriptures considered as divine revelation by their followers. However, the tantric tradition boldly challenged the commonly accepted social and religious norms of the time by its autonomous iconography and liturgy of transgressive sacrality. By evoking the fierce gods and goddesses, the forces believed to be destructive and impure by the orthodox tradition, the tantrics aimed at transforming them in a ritual procedure akin to alchemy. Performing their rituals at places related to disintegration, such as cemetry grounds, and worshipping Śiva, the god of death and destruction, the tantric adepts tried to transcend human aversion towards decline, envisioning it as eqaully divine as creation and maintenance. Through the development of the non-dual Kashmir Śaivism, the rudimental external rituals were internalised in a form of  meditative mystical practices. In the philosophy of non-dual Kashmir Śaivism, the destructive forces were explained as abstract principles and included in an all-encompassing ontological vision of an integral monism. The philosophy reached its peak in the works of Abhinavagupta (c. 950 – 1020), who had synthesised it in a magnificent opus including an influential aesthetic theory. In his philosophy of art, Abhinavagupta discussed a burning issue of medieval Indian aesthetics:  how is it possible that  the impleasant feelings, such as fear, anger, sorrow and disgust, portrayed in and evoked  by a work of art, are transformed into aesthetic delight through an aesthetic experience. The non-dual Kashmir Śaivism can thus serve as a valuable example of how the forces of decline and destruction can be ascribed with a constructive and even sacred function in ritual, philosophy and art.

Location: Ljubljana, Slovenia
More Info: Decline – Metamorphosis – Rebirth: International Conference for PhD Students
Organization: Department of Art History, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia
Conference date: September, 2014

Peace In Abhinavagupta’s Poetics: The Curious Case Of Śānta Rasa

Abhinavagupta (c. 950-1020) arguably ranks among greatest minds in Indian intellectual history both for his contribution in field of poetics as well as philosophy of non-dual Kashmir Śaivism. As several scholars have already pointed out (most notably Masson, Patwardhan, Aklujkar and Gerow), ontology and aesthetics are joined elegantly in his discussion on śānta rasa in Abhinavabhāratī (commentary on Bharata’s Nāṭyaśāstra). In Śāntarasaprakaraṇa, Abhinavagupta argues vigorously in favour of śānta (peace, tranquility) as rasa, establishing peace/tranquility as the fundamental component of aesthetic experience. The sole basis of śānta rasa, in his view, is the Self which is ultimately the basis of all emotive states and hence all rasas originate as well as culminate in śānta rasa. In non-dual Kashmir Śaivism, the Self in its ultimate sense is the ubiquitous absolute Consciousness, fundamental ontological principle as well as epistemological base of any cognition. Its nature is peace, not only intuited as a transcendental concept but also palpably felt as rasa. It is a notion of peace at once metaphysical and aesthetic. Through his analysis of its function in drama, Abhinavagupta invites us to think of peace as the distinctive flavour of the all-pervasive sacred foundation in which all opposites merge.

Location: Kranjska Gora, Slovenia
More Info: “The Poesis of Peace” international conference
Organization: Institute for Philosophical Studies, University of Primorska
Conference Date: May, 2014