The Fruitful and the Fulfilled: Looking at Adi Rasa and Shringar Rasa in the Folk Aesthetics of Bihu

Prerana Choudhury, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

This paper seeks to explore the folk aesthetics of the springtime Bihu festival of Assam. The concept of Rasa, a significant part of the classical aesthetics found in Bharatmuni’s Natyashastra, has been outlined and illustrated through the Bihu songs- the dancing, the gestures as well as the overall ethos of the festival. A major aspect of the paper is the dialectics that form between the folk and the classical canon; an effort has been made to understand the juxtaposition of the two as well as the formation of the classical from the folk. Bihu as a celebration of eros, romance and fertility forms the core of the argument; adi-rasa and shringar-rasa form the primary essence of this celebration and this paper. This folk festival is undergoing rapid modernisation which has brought the dance form onto the urban stage that has led to the metamorphosis of the otherwise agricultural nomenclature of Bihu into a more ‘sanitised’ version of the same.

[Keywords: aesthetics, folk, rasa, adi-rasa, shringar-rasa, modernity, eros, romance, Natyashastra, gamusa, Huchori.]

I. Introduction
Rasa, the essence of a work of art, literally translates to ‘taste’ or ‘savour’. Theorised by the ancient sage Bharatmuni (between 200 BC and 200 AD), rasa refers to the specialised emotion inspired by the performers in an audience, which enables the viewers to relish the performance and engage with it in a manner that is deeper and more involved than in the actions of everyday living. It is what demarcates a performance, a work of art- or even a celebration- from the mundaneness of daily existence and thereby aestheticises the emotions provoked in the viewers by the ‘spectacle’ created to inspire good thought which in turn will inspire good living. The moral injunction within a classical framework such as that of the rasa theory is undeniable- it would be largely reminiscent of the question about art’s moral responsibility in place throughout history- specially in the context that the Natyashastra itself arrived at a time when society faced decadence, and it was left to the realm of the arts to elevate man from moral downtroddenness. (It is said that the four Vedas Brahma created- Rigveda, Samaveda, Yajurveda and Atharvaveda- were not allowed to be studied by the lower castes and the women of society; so Brahma created the Natyaveda to be studied and practised by all.) Is the experience of rasa subjective or objective? Different philosophers and scholars thoughout history have provided their own perspective on it based on their philosophical stances. Although the navarasas per se are objective categories in terms of codification of the aesthetic experience through particular words themselves, Bharata stated how rasa and emotionneed to be felt in experience while words exist as the suggestions of the same. This democratic rendering of rasa stresses on the ‘experiential or subjective side of poetic meaning’ which ‘seems rather pointless, for ultimately everything is an experience, such as a colour, taste, or emotion, and can be known as it is in itself only through direct acquaintance.’

II. “The Springtime Bihu of Assam”- a Celebration of Eros
One of the seven northeastern states of India, Assam encompasses numerous ethnic communities, each with its own distinct cultural flavour, thereby negating the notion of a homogenous ‘Assamese’ identity. The contours of such a representation would be multifaceted, then; not simply as a result of diverse tribal identities but also as a consequence of the interaction between the ‘greater’ mainland Hindu influence that has seeped into the region and interacted with ‘indigenous’ tribal faiths, ensuing a process of assimilation. This can be said to have been possible because “(t)he religion described as Hinduism is a body of beliefs and customs traceable to various sources- Aryan and non-Aryan, Indian and non-Indian, modern and old. It is absorptive in character and has an attitude which has found itself expedient in dealing with people of various grades of development- from believing in a super soul to worshippers of stones and trees… Indian folklore is as much the Hindu’s as it is the tribal’s.” A melting pot, hence, Assam fuses communities that trace their origin to the Aryavarta, the Tibeto-Burmans and the Ahoms who are descendants of the Shun community from China’s Unan province, alongwith traces of Dravidian and Austric people as well….Access Full Text of the Article

‘Woman-Identified Women’: The Politics of Feminist Neo-Indigenism in Estela Portillo-Trambley’s The Day of the Swallows

Nawazish Azim, Aliah University (Kolkata)


In Sandra Cisneros’ 1984 novel The House on Mango Street, the image of the Chicana woman, who is sequestered within the confines of patriarchy in the form of normative significations of home, family and gender, is challenged. The need to create a new identity for Chicana women is emphasized, in not only society and culture, but also in fictive narratives. Continually through the novel, most of the women stare out of windows listlessly, waiting for their husbands to return or for something to happen, occasionally coaxing one of the children playing in the street to fetch a soda for them from the neighbourhood store. They have no say in their choice of spouses, being considered objects for men to control and manipulate. Oppressed, humiliated and devoid of purpose in their lives, they symbolise the unfortunate condition of women in the Latin-American community. The heroine of the novel, however, named Esperanza, is different from the major stereotype thus described. She is a strong, opinionated woman who desires a house and understands the need for a female space, whether physical or narratorial: “Not a man’s house. Not a daddy’s. A house all my own” (Cisneros, 1984, p.108) It is this deep desire for a house which signifies that women in Chicano literature in the 1970s onwards, whether female characters or female authors, had begun to articulate their “need for a space to call their own” (Martinez, 2002, p.131), which would help in the creation of their new socio-political identity independent of men. In fact, it is this articulation of feminist liberation, which becomes representative of a discourse of resistance to patriarchal traditions, and is symptomatic of the emergence of feminist indigeneity in Chicano culture and literature.

  1. Tracing Roots: Neo-Indigenism and the Rise of Feminist Chicana Literature

While Indigeneity or Indigenism, as it is more popularly called, has had wide-ranging and long-lasting effects in Mexico and Latin America for over a century now, feminist Indigenism is a new theoretical paradigm that has defined Chicana literature in recent years. The first impetus for Indigenism was provided by late 18th and early 19th century by archaeological excavations which hinted at a pre-Columbian past of Latin America. Later, the publication in the 1880s of Aves sin nido (Birds without a Nest) by Clorinda Matto de Turner brought forth the truly Indigenist work in Latin America. It was a new perspective, full of empathy for men and women belonging to the Latin American community. From this point onwards, in the last century, indigenist art and thought have generated more and more works that have “transformed the Europeanized cosmovision securely in place among the power elite and the educated circles of Latin America in the 19th Century.” (Ramirez, 1995, p.71). The result was a recognition of the influence of Indigenist thought in many realms of contemporary life, including political rhetoric and revolutionary ideology, and attempts to return to an Indigenist past that encompasses for example, land reform, collectivism in working the land, and an almost mystical attachment to the land. Yet, beyond this pro-land agenda, there are several essences which have become the ideological and philosophical pillars of the movement. At a more practical level, the Indigenist movement began in Mexico in 1904, several years before the Mexican Revolution, when Dr Atl (or Gerardo Trulillo as he was born) became a pioneer of Indgenist philosophy and ideology. After the end of the Mexican Revolution in 1920, various aspects of Indigenism moved from the realm of idealism to practical implementation. Jose Vasconcelos, author of Indology (1925) and The Cosmic Race (1927) and Diego Rivera, an artist (sometimes better known as Frida Kahlo’s husband), became the pioneers and fore-runners of the movement, transforming aesthetic thought and intellectual life in Mexico.

A generation later, in the 1960s, Chicanos referred to this earlier period of Indigenism and used it as a political and cultural tool. Jack Forbes and his book Aztecas del Norte influenced Chicano thought and life, and the concept of Aztlan, the homeland of the Aztecs to the north of the Aztec Empire as it was established in the Valley of Mexico in 1325 was revived among the Chicanos. Stories of the grandeur and dignity of the old Aztec Empire were told. Cultural nationalists such as Rodolfo ‘Corky’ Gonzales and Alurista spoke of this past and developed an indigenous perspective in art and life. In this way, Chicanos “felt empowered in the very real force of Indigenism and its continuing present day permutations and vitality” (Ramirez, 1995, p.72). It began to represent a deep-seated desire in many Chicano artists, historians and intellectuals to believe in the ideals of the origins of the indigenous past. Their faith in it could, they hoped, revive respect and self-esteem for the Chicano community, while revealing the historic past. This two-pronged tool to lift the morale of the Chicano individual as well as to supply an answer to the present condition of the Chicano community, was located in the revival of the indigenous past. And yet, in spite of this, Indigenism also carried with it several complications, such as the accusation that it involved reference to a ‘past paradise’ which never existed, as well as that it was an ‘escape route’ for those who could not face present harsh reality. The belief turned to cynicism, and Indigenism began to fade away slowly. Existing only in fragmented relative importance, it did not partake of the same vitality with which it had started, and what existed was just a shadow of the intensity of its original theoretical underpinnings. However, in recent Chicana literature, Indigenism has reappeared with a new vigour and intensity. Its original theoretical strains and philosophical ideals have re-emerged in recent years as an essential part of Chicana Renaissance, which has added to the development of Chicano Renaissance of the 1960s and its original adoption of Indigenism as a vital force in art, literature and intellectual life. Significant works such as Alurista’s Floricanto en Aztlan or Nationchild Plumaroja which had lost their relevance in time, now gained momentum again and were taken up by feminist authors who wanted to locate a sense of empowerment in Indigenism. By the mid-1970s therefore, feminist authors were taking forward the theme of Indigenism to a new space, where it was appropriated for entirely new purposes. Chicana feminism became ‘the best thing about Chicano literature’ in the words of Nicolas Kanellos, and Chicanas were re-inventing Indigenism to serve feminist ends. Authors such as Estela Portillo-Trambley, Sandra Cisneros, Denise Chavez and Lorna Dee Cervantes demonstrated subtle references to neo-Indigenism, coupled with feminist ideology. Indigenism arose again in a new and transformed way as part of resurgence in feminism, and these Chicana authors became highly significant in this process…Access Full Text of the Article

The Upside-Down Swan: Suniti Namjoshi

Akshaya K. Rath, National Institute of Technology, Rourkela, India


Diasporic, lesbian and transnational, Suniti Namjoshi—within the framework of postcolonial discourse—attempts to construct an ‘alternative universe’ in textuality. In constructing of an alternative political identity, Namjoshi undertakes a comparative approach in selecting subjects for producing a neo-textual universe, and a comparative study of cross-cultural identities remain central to the analysis of Namjoshi’s work. In this paper I argue that it is because of colonial anti-sodomy law, and because of religious and social stigma that the mission of constructing an alternative universe remains operative in Namjoshi’s work. I also suggest that in Namjoshi’s work, feminism, postcolonialism and queer theory merge but her work has been deliberately sidelined by the academia.

In 2006 Suniti Namjoshi (b. 1941) published Sycorax: New Fables and Poems. It included a section on the ‘unsung / untold’ story of Shakespeare’s Sycorax and a section on the ‘new’ life of Protea. By then, taking textual genesis from Shakespeare’s The Tempest and imitating the fashion of many postcolonial texts, in 1984 Namjoshi had published in From the Bedside Book of Nightmare a section entitled “Snapshots of Caliban”. “Sycorax”, a continuation of “Snapshots of Caliban”, of rewriting Shakespeare, attempted to reorganise the structure of the “humanist universe”—a project, rather a challenge, she attempted to undertake in The Jackass and the Lady in 1980. Rewriting Shakespeare to challenge the existing structure of the male-centred ‘humanist universe’ is part of the volumes of writing she has produced. They include rewriting of ancient and canonical fables and stories, and making new ones in the process of defining / identifying the lesbian / feminist ‘self’ amongst birds, beasts and animals. Rewriting canonical texts as a third-world lesbian feminist also includes exploring possibilities of multiple dimensions of traditional stories, fables and poems. For instance, the untold story of Sycorax portrayed in Sycorax, inclusion of an ageing sparrow as the witness of colonialism, and humanising Protea, a character from Greek mythology as a lady, are some of the instances of reorganising the world. Presently celebrated as a fabulist and a poet, Namjoshi has been constantly producing poetry and fables since the publication of her first collection of poems, Poems, in 1967.

Namjoshi’s Because of India: Selected Poems and Fables (1989) and Goja: An Autobiographical Myth (2000) are considered autobiographical and they show her development as a third world lesbian poet. Conversations of Cow (1985) and The Mothers of Maya Diip (1991) thematically remain critical of lesbian identity in a heterosexist world. The collections of work celebrating lesbianism are mostly written outside India and Namjoshi justifies the reasons behind such an exercise in the introductory sections of Because of India.

This article explores that Namjoshi maps the different facets of lesbian desire and identity within the framework of postcolonial discourse. It analyzes the representation of animal imagery with which she identifies the homosexual self. Further, it highlights in principle the way law, religion and social discourses are presented against sexual identities in Namjoshi’s work, and the way she attempts to frame an alternative universe in textuality. It argues it is because of Indian law against homosexuality and social stigma that the mission of constructing an alternative universe remains operative in Namjoshi. Further, it suggests that in Namjoshi’s work, feminism, postcolonialism and queer theory merge but her work has been deliberately sidelined by the academia…Access Full Text of the Article

War on Terror: On Re-reading Dracula and Waiting for the Barbarians


Framed by the emerging emphasis in postcolonialism on terror and narratives of terror, this paper argues that Waiting for Barbarians (1980; hereafter Barbarians) can be read as a counter-discourse of resistance to Dracula’s (1898) representation of “war on terror” which revolves around the relationship between empire and its embattled subjects. To demonstrate this the paper examines how Barbarians deconstructs Dracula’s trope of barbarian invasion, resists the techniques of liquidating Dracula, and reimagines Dracula’s the notion of the end of history and the last man. The paper concludes that Dracula and Barbarians offer us radically different conceptualisations of the war on terror and contending visions of the future that cunningly reflect contemporary attitudes since the 9/11 attacks.  

Smudge on an Illuminated Manuscript: a Postcolonial Reading of Shalimar the Clown

Javaid Bhat, University of Kashmir


This Paper begins with Timothy Brennan’s riposte to Amir Mehmud and Sara Suleri, underlining, simultaneously, the problem of Post colonialism as described by Brennan. His rather hasty definition is used to underscore the different postcolonial propensity in Pachigam, a fictional village created by Salman Rusdie in the novel Shalimar the Clown (henceforth SC). This village is posited as hybrid, fluid, and a space marked by difference. It is a typical but not an unproblematic post colonial space, one which Brennan ignores in his categorical definition of post colonialism. Finally, the essay highlights the essentially ambiguous relationship of Pachigam, a microcosm of Kashmir, with the larger ‘postcolonial’, ‘post-imperial’ entities of India and Pakistan.

The Poetics of John Ashbery

Gargi Bhattacharya, Rabindra Bharati University

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John Ashbery (1927- ) takes the postmodernist polysemy of meaning in interpreting a work of art and the polyphony of styles in composing as his forte. He questions the various linguistic codes and makes us aware of the artificiality of the language. All political, ethical and aesthetic imperatives are rhetorical constructs. The writer uses language to persuade the reader to accept the formulated truth and he intervenes in the process of perception by his/her politics of representation. Though his iconoclastic approach towards writing and individuality of style has kept him aloof from mainstream academic syllabi, yet he has now become a prominent figure in Contemporary American Literature. It is interesting to note how Ashbery’s poetry revives the Romantic sensibility while applying the digitalized methods and the postmodern syndromes of immediacy, indeterminacy, disjunctive syntax, open-ended and multiplicity of interpretations. This paper explores the aesthetics of John Ashbery’s poetry.

Towards a Postmodern Poetics: Reading Elizabeth Bishop’s Reccy of Realities

Amit Bhattacharya, University of Gour Banga

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In this paper, I have tried to analyze a few poems by Elizabeth Bishop to show how she takes up or takes in shifting identities and subject-positions in a clear dialogue with cultural norms and expectations. I have also sought to chart her poetic trajectory from alienation to alterity to show how she started by refusing to accept the ‘otherness’ about her and her various poetic personae based on such determinants as gender, sexuality, class or age, and ultimately accepted those self-same counts of ‘otherness’ in a never-ending melee with the ‘so-called’ metareality of conundrum and contingency that is provisionally called ‘life’.

TechnoMetamorphosis by Rob Harle

About the Artist 

Rob Harle is an artist, writer and researcher. His academic work involves research into the philosophy of Transhumanism, Artificial Intelligence and the nature of Embodiment. He recently abandoned a PhD in philosophy concerned with the relationship of human consciousness with an all-integrating field of matter, to instead develop his digital art work.

Charles Dickens: a Reformist or a Compromiser

Abdollah Keshavarzi, Firoozabad Branch, Islamic Azad University, Iran

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Charles Dickens’s fame as a reformer of his society has been discussed by a lot of his critics. However, his novels and letters as well as his own words point out that he tries to strengthen the dominant ideologies of his age and to be in the mainstream of the ruling middle class. Through Althusser’s notion of Ideological State Apparatuses, this paper concludes that Dickens can be considered a compromiser and a real Subject of his society who transforms the individuals of his society to docile subjects. As such, he cannot be considered a reformer of his age.