The Navarasa, a confluence  of nine emotions: Guest Post by Ashwini Pai Bahadur

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‘Rasa’ can be explained as the emotional state of mind, and has formed an important aspect of Indian aesthetic understanding for centuries. The Navarasa, a confluence of nine emotions or rasas, has often been depicted in indigenous contemporary practices over the years. Emotions are, ultimately, deeply subjective and complex human characteristics that shift and change.

Navarasa | Kerala Mural I Gopi Chevayoor
Acrylic on Canvas | 44 inches x 33 inches 2021 |

The concept of the Navarasa originates from the treatise of Bharata Muni, the Natyashastra, wherein the chapters detail the aesthetically determined practice of diverse arts recognised as part of drama, containing within it dance, music and poetics, along with general directions of form and expression.

Being deeply embedded in narrative styles of visual depiction, Navarasa lend themselves to sculptural panels, mural paintings or performative pata chitras. There are several salient and ancient histories of sacred and secular storytelling that reflect almost every aspect of human life through the nine  emotions: Shringara (love/beauty), Hasya (laughter/mirth), Karuna (sorrow/empathy), Raudra (anger), Veera (heroism/courage), Bhayanaka (terror/fear), Bibhatsya (disgust), Adbutha (surprise/wonder) and Shantha (peace or tranquillity); and all the interconnecting states of feeling.

It is this range of emotions which is showcased in the exhibition, Enduring LegacyNavarasa in indigenous contemporary practices presented by Artspeaks India Heritage and curated by Lina Vincent. Artspeaks India continues its commitment towards cultural expression, and reiterates the importance of streams of artistic practice that do not fall within the mainstream.

The curatorial standpoint as conceptualised by Curator Lina Vincent arises from an investigation into the practices of selected artists, whose oeuvres showcase both a technical expertise and ability to visualise and communicate vast amounts of ancestral knowledge through distinct styles. While they are deeply embedded in regional histories; each of them is also making an attempt to step outside the established framework of that history, either technically, aesthetically, formally and/or conceptually, allowing them to respond to these curatorial conversations and present fresh views of existing themes and formats. The framework of the show also identifies with the current times; the experience of the past two years of the pandemic and what it has taught one about life experiences, human relationships and emotions, across all layers of society.

The artists brought together for this show come from various vernacular traditions and lineages of artistic practice. While some of them have chosen to elaborate on pre-existing expressions of recognised narratives, whether mythological, or historical, others have provided altered perceptions and experimental responses to the themes from personalised experiences. Each visual language explores the rasas in different ways, creating numerous journeys into both – the artists’ imaginary worlds and the tactility of the practice. So closely connected are the expressions, that sometimes the emotional response for a viewer might be multi-layered – it is possible to feel happy but cry at the same time; it is plausible to feel disgust and empathy at hearing a particular story. Love spars with hate in the heart, and courage arises from fear. These many variations of experience and response become visible as the artists interpretations come together.

Venkat Raman Singh Shyam |  Adbutha Rasa
Tiger Tells | Gond | Acrylic on Canvas |
58 x 40 In | 2021

Each Rasa has been represented with selected artworks which combine the creations of different artists, balancing and contrasting the essence of the emotion and its depiction. For instance, Venkat Shyam’s intensely articulated narrative of the tiger in the forest pairs with Naresh Bhoye’s beautiful rendering of the Warli Tarpa dance, to share the emotion of ‘Adbhut’ or wonder. ‘Shrungar Rasa’ finds its expression through the work of miniaturist Chirag Kumavat along with Gopi Chevayur’s ode to love, both working beyond the regular frameworks of their style. Dulari Devi’s magnificent Durga figure, and Mahesh Bhatt’s photo document of a Yakshagana figure represent ‘Raudra’ rasa. ‘Veera rasa’ comes together with Janardhana Havanje’s graceful yet powerful Veera Ganapati, and Kalayan Joshi’s heroic narrative piece.

Janardhan Havanje Veera Rasa Veera Ganpati
| Kaavi | Shell Lime, herbals, redmud on VBoard and wood framed panel | 2021

Dilip Bahotha’s ode to birds, and Suresh Muthukulam’s finely constructed piece that depicts ardhanareshwara -or the balance of Shanta and Veera, come together in the depiction of ‘Shanta rasa’. The empathetic love of parents for a child resonantly portrayed by Saroj Venkat Shyam and Pratik Prabhakar, speak of ‘Karunyam’. Shaji Jaleel’s portrait of a Kathakali dancer portrays the essence of ‘Bhayanaka rasa’ along with another evocative piece by Janardhana Havanje. ‘Bibhatsa rasa’ finds visualisation in Shaji Jaleel’s portraiture and a social narrative by Bahadur Chitrakar. Gopi Chevayur presents a combination of the navarasa, in combination with Kalam Patua’s depiction of mirth for ‘Hasya rasa’.

As the art comes together, it is meaningful to see the similarities and differences that are revealed in the depiction of the same rasa by a different artist as well as a variation in the contextualisation.



Ashwini Pai Bahadur is an editorial consultant for arts, culture and heritage publications. As  an independent fine arts strategic advisor and purveyor she specialises in arts procurement for individuals and institutions with special focus on building collections. 


This blog post is part of the blog challenge ‘Blogaberry Dazzle’ hosted by Cindy D’Silva and Noor Anand Chawla.


*This is not a sponsored post.

**Copyright in pictures and content belongs to and cannot be republished or repurposed without express permission of the author. As I am a copyright lawyer by profession, infringement of any kind will invite strict legal action.


  1. I always enjoy exhibitions centered around the navarasa. As an artist, it is a treat to explore the creativity. Where was this held? I couldn’t quite get it.

  2. What a unique concept for art. navarasa in dance is common but art is totally different. Getting the emotions right on canvas is really an art. Thank you, Ashwani for sharing in detail what navarasa is and how it has been used in the paintings.

  3. There was a series on Amazon on Navrasa which I watched and I find the philosophy behind it very intriguing. The ganpati art is amazing. How the emotions intervene at times is amazing. At any given time one person cannot be having a single emotion we go through many emotions at a given moment.

  4. Interesting and super detailed. I never knew about this so was great to learn something different.

  5. I really like the way the rasa are represented in the first image. Simple but well done. Thanks for sharing about the event.

  6. Very difficult topic to comprehend. It is difficult to potrait the nine Ra’s through art. I can see the painting and it denoted one of the Ra’s among the navras. Ashwini Pai doing tremendous job.

  7. This is quite an informative post, Noor. The post was an eye opener as I have never read anything in this regards. I find it quite intriguing. to be honest.

  8. Well written article on the intricate rasa-art connection. I have personally never thought about this connection and I’m happy to have insight into this aspect of art. As one who is not a great art connoisseur, but an avid reader, I love knowing about this and will start looking for the rasa-art connection everywhere…

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