Relishing Performance

Rasa as participatory sense-making

Authored by: Erin B. Mee

The Routledge Companion to Theatre, Performance, and Cognitive Science

Print publication date:  September  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138048898
eBook ISBN: 9781315169927
Adobe ISBN:


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‘There is no drama without rasa’ according to The Nātyashāstra (The Science of Drama), the Sanskrit aesthetic treatise attributed to Bharata (1996, 54). Rasa has been variously translated as juice, flavour, taste, extract and essence; it is the ‘aesthetic flavour or sentiment’ savoured in and through performance. Bharata tells us that when foods and spices are mixed together in different ways, they create different flavours; similarly, the mixing of different emotions and feelings arising from different situations, when expressed through the performer, gives rise to an experience or ‘taste’ in the partaker, which is rasa (55). Rasa is what is ‘tasted’ when a performance is ‘digested’ or ‘taken in’ by a partaker. The goal of Sanskrit drama was to create rasa, and rasa remains central to genres such as kutiyattam (a particular way of performing Sanskrit drama in Kerala, South India) and kathakali (a genre of classical dance-drama in Kerala). Rasa exists only as and when it is experienced: ‘the existence of rasa and the experience of rasa are identical’ (qtd Deutch 1981, 215). Similarly, rasa exists always and only as the result of an interaction between performer and partaker. For Abhinavagupta (ce 950–1025), who commented extensively on The Nātyashāstra, rasa is not a gift bestowed upon a passive spectator or a commodity bought by a consumer, but an attainment, an accomplishment; someone who wants to experience rasa has to be an active participant – or, to use the dining metaphor, partaker – in the work.

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