A theoretical formulation from Sanskrit aesthetics, bhava is an emotive state expressed in the arts to evoke rasa. Bhavas are presented through the process of abhinaya, wherein the artist or performer interprets the various bhavas through movement, speech or representation. Since bhava are emotional states, they cannot be perceived materially; rather, they are suggested through the performance or making of art in order to bring forth an aesthetic experience.
The Natyashastra presents the earliest known theorization of rasa and bhava, dating to the early centuries CE. It delineates three types of emotive states – sthayi bhava (a static or dominant mood), vyabhichari bhava (transitory emotions) and sattvika bhava (unconscious or involuntary emotions). These types are dependent on each other and need to be combined, expressed, interpreted, and invoked by the artist to bring forth a rasa. In order to do so, the artist uses vibhava (an overarching category of emotive states, expressed through physical and environmental stimuli) bringing forth the anubhava (the mental expression of an emotive state). A successful elicitation of the anubhava leads to the invocation of sthayi bhava among the audience.
Each sthayi bhava is directly connected to the eight rasas as follows. Rati (love) corresponds to sringara (erotic); hasa (laughter) with hasya (comedic); shoka (sorrow) with karuna (pathetic); krodha (anger) with raudra (terrible); bhaya (fear) with bhayanaka (horrific); jugupsa (disgust) with bibhatsa (odious); utsaha (energetic) with vira (heroic); and vismaya (amazement) with adbhuta (marvellous). According to rasa theory, each sthayi bhava brings forth the corresponding rasa in the spectator or reader if the techniques outlined by the aesthetic principles are executed successfully.
There are thirty-three vyabhichari bhavas that have been outlined in Sanskrit aesthetics. These transitory states may accompany each sthayi bhava for a few moments. Vyabhichari bhavas include avega (agitation), dainya (misery), drama (fatigue), mada (intoxication), vobodha (awakening), garva (pride), nidra (sleep), garva (pride) shanka (apprehension) and harsha (joy) among others.
Sattvika bhavas are involuntary states of being that are associated with the psyche, thus requiring physiological reactions that are enacted by the performer or represented in the arts. Some sattvika bhavas include sveda (perspiration), svarabhanga (speech disturbance), asru (tears), vaivarnya (trembling), pralaya (fainting) and romancha (dread).
Bhava is also discussed in influential commentaries on the Natyashastra compiled by the medieval aesthetician Abhinavagupta. These develop on the formulations of the Natyashastra, arguing that alambana vibhava (characters, objects or stimuli that elicit a particular emotion) as well as uddipana vibhava (the circumstances that generate the stimulus) are needed to elicit the corresponding anubhava. These processes contribute to the manifestation of rasa through the overarching sthayi bhava. The experience of rasa for the spectator is therefore a summation of the anubhavas and vibhavas they perceive.
Lidova, Natlia R. “Rasa in the Natyasastra: Aesthetic and Ritual.” Indologica Taurinensia 39 (2013): 187–212.
Pandey, K.C. “History of Indian Aesthetics.” Comparative Aesthetics: Indian Aesthetics Volume II. Varanasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 1974.
Tripathi, Kamlesh Datta. “Bhava.” The Oxford Companion to Indian Theatre, edited by Ananda Lal. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004: 61–63.
Vatsyayan, Kapila. “Indian Aesthetics.” Classical Indian Dance in Literature and the Arts. New Delhi: Sangeet Natak Akademi, 1977: 1–63.