Lessons from Bhamaha, father of Indian poetics

I was walking on the Fort pavement from Bora Bazaar (the paper district in Mumbai). I was heading towards Churchgate railway station when Bhamaha’s Kavyalkankara exhorted me, “Buy me, Buy me”. I picked up a copy. For Rs 20 only.

26 Apr 2017 | By Ramu Ramanathan

I gobbled up the 400 Sanskrit verses (translated into English) that had been penned in 500 AD. By the time I reached Vile Parle station, I had read the text. But why am I telling you all this? Why is an ancient Indian literary scientist important to printers and packaging professionals hundreds of years, later?

Simply because, the five principles Bhamaha outlines for a poet – are relevant, today.

  1. Bhamaha salutes poets who are well-versed in the science of grammar. He says the poet should be aware of the rules of science as well as the ways of the world. Like the poet, a printer should be aware of the science that maketh a print job. And grasps the fact, that there are no shortcuts in science.

  2. Bhamaha discusses what is satkavya, that which is good, pleasing and enjoyable poetry. Bhamaha asks, what is a good poem? He answers, that which is constructed in accordance with the rules of language (processes and workflows), gives pleasure to the rasika (clients and buyers) and spreads fame for the poet.

  3. Bhamaha says every poet must have contempt for bad poetry. He says, every single word (print item) should be flawless and “a short sentence with no blemish is preferable than a long poem which is flawed.”

  4. Bhamaha maintains that the poem should be in tune with the lokasvabhava and lokvyavahara. That is, one must adhere to standardisations and certifications. No print job – like a poem – should be produced with disregard to the people it is created for or the laws of nature.

  5. Finally, Bhamaha suggests, a poem should be aware of kavyadosa (poetic defects). He suggests, no work can succeed if the composition has been created in violation of the process.

    Bhamaha’s success has been due to a two-fold faculty.
    One. He scrutinises every single poem and every phrase and every word in that poem, severely.

    Two. He reflects on it with an independent mind and believes in the motto, “What I think fit I will accept, what I think unfit, I will summarily reject.”

Ramu Ramanathan is editor of PrintWeek India.