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“The Epistemic Significance of adbhutarasa: Aestheticized Wonder as a Virtue of Inquiry”


This analysis holds that just as wisdom is good for its own sake, the effervescent perfuming of aesthetic pleasure in rasa, camatkāra, need not be useful for a goal or purpose. However, there is an intellectual virtue in the act of aestheticizing the affective response of wonder (adbhuta). The “here and now” of the aestheticized emotion of wonder, adbhutarasa, is a moment of focus and attention regained as a logically atemporal, even timeless moment. As the carvaṇā (delectation) process unfolds, adbhutarasa invites an epistemic agent to give time through focused attention, a contemplative tarrying, or an unhurried attentional prolongation (not the scattered attention of a stunning shock that seeks resolution). Looking across Platonic, Cartesian, and Kantian traditions to answer the question of epistemic value in rasa experiences, I argue that an agent is moved, and moves into an evaluative mode through the lenses of the sublime and taste. Renewed vigor to see, feel, and contemplate how things are, thickens epistemic emotions. The agentive freedom of the rasika to affectively resonate with ideas re-cognitively makes adbhuta a vehicle of inquiry like none other.

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  1. Pace Linda Zagzebski, (2009) On Epistemology and (1996) Virtues of the Mind. The latter shifts the analysis away from propositions to intellectual virtue as the repository of epistemic worth. Value resides in the “virtues” of the epistemic agent, who gets credit for knowing since the latter results from characteristic dispositions or intellectual traits. Emotionally motivated virtues of patience, care, and honesty do not lead to demonstrative truth, yet they are valuable in shaping robust inquiry.

  2. See Schofield et al. for literary fragments that can serve to illustrate aesthetic impulses of an “emotion of wonder” which will be fleshed out below.

  3. I owe thanks for discussing this passage with Arindam Chakrabarti. I gather from him, pace Abhinavagupta, that all aesthetic enjoyment falls in the scope of self-recognition, and not just that self-recognition seen above, is aestheticized in a narrative, dance, arts, etc. on a sentimental path of wonder (adbhuta). Reflecting on the questioner, there is an intentional outward consciousness that turns back upon itself, and since it finds the self in subject/questioning mode, it is amazed, puzzled, or surprised by itself. Thus, the expression “amazing-like” (āścaryavat) is used with triple emphasis to describe the aesthetic sensibility for seeing, speaking, and hearing of the Self. It is a reflective, reverberating, emphasis on an astonishing encounter, artfully designed as Chakrabarti claims, “to indicate the puzzling logic-defying quality of the experience of the un-experience-able.” Translation II.29 Arindam Chakrabarti unpublished, 2019. See Abhinavagupta, Gītārthasaṁgraha 2.30, 2004 p 59.

  4. Nāṭyaśāstra VII.117.

  5. NS VI 75.

  6. Either about seemingly divine marvels or joyful occasions. NS VI. 82.

  7. All translations by the author, unless otherwise indicated.

  8. sarvatrānte’dbhuta ityuktaṃ lakṣayitumāha—atheti | divyā gandharvādayaḥ | īpsitaḥ śakyaprāptirarthaḥ | anyo manorathaḥ | tayoḥ prāptiḥ | upavane devakule ca gamanam | tasyādbhutavibhāvatvaṃ yena tatratyaṃ saraḥ sanniveśādi na kvacit dṛṣṭam | sabhā gṛhaviśeṣaḥ | vimānādīni divyarathāḥ | māyā rūpaparivartanādikā | indrajālaṃ mantradravyahasta yuktyādinā asambhavadvastupradarśanam | tasyetyadbhutasya | harṣaśabdenātra tadanubhāvāḥ | sādhviti vadanaṃ sādhuvādaḥ | dānaṃ dhanādeḥ | prabandhaṃ satataṃ kṛtvā hāhāśabdasya karaṇam | celasyāṅguleśca bhramaṇam |

    atiśeta ityatiśayaḥ | anyāpekṣayā yo’rtha utkuṣṭaḥ | tena vācyabhūtena yuktaṃ yadvākyaṃ yacca śilpaṃ karmarūpaṃ (praśasta) karmātmakaṃ, ‘praśaṃsāyāṃ rūpam’ | sarvamityevaṃprakāramiti yāvat | sparśagrahaśabdena tadvibhāvādayaḥ | abhinayo la(va) kṣyamāṇo lakṣyate |

    ‘kiñcidākuñcite netre kṛtvā bhrūkṣepameva ca | tathāṃsagaṇḍayoḥ sparśātsparśamivaṃ vinikṣipet ||NāSā 11.77 iti| gātrasyordhvaṃ sāhlādaṃ dhūnanamullukasanam | bahuvacanaṃ prakṛtibhedena prakāravaicitryaṃ sūcayati 73|| ityaddhutarasaprakaraṇaṃ samāptam | atha pradhānabhūtavibhāvānuguṇabhāvapratipādanaṃ bhedapradarśanavyājena karoti—śṛṅgāramityādinā | vākyaraudro hi tatra svabhāvaraudra iti vyavahariṣyate | svabhāvānusāritvādvākyasya |

  9. “The marvelous Sentiment is of two kinds, viz. celestial and joyous. Of these, the celestial is due to seeing heavenly sights, and joys due to joyful happenings.” Nāṭyaśāstra, VI 83, (Ghosh, 2016, 163).

  10. NS 7.118–119.

  11. Īśvarapraryabhijñākārikāvṛtti Its related terms are cognition (vimarśa, carvaṇa, āsvāda, rasanā, pratiīti), bliss (ānanda, nirvṛti, viśrānti, laya), and wonder (vismaya, vikāsa). Torella, p. 118–9.

  12. Abh. VI, Baroda Vol. 1 p. 273 “ajja vi harī camakkaī kahakahaviṇa maṃdareṇa daḷiāiṃ |

    caṃdakaḷākaṃdaḷasacchahāiṃ ḷacchīe aṃgāī ||”.

  13. Ibid.

  14. Ibid.

  15. Kant, CJ 2010, 68/222 in the section “A Judgment of Taste Rests on A Priori Basis”.

  16. As recounted according to Sylvana Chrysakopoulou: Here, though thauma is described as a malady, wonder is not only welcome but is also necessary to begin philosophizing (2013, 93).

  17. The paper, which appears in Studies in PhilosophyVol I, is accessible in Indian Philosophy in English, From Renaissance to Independence, (2011), Ed. Bhushan and Garfield. p 195–206.

  18. By Horace, the Stoic maxim, nil admirari—be surprised by nothing. (Fischer, 1998, 59).

  19. In Passions of the Soul, Book II, Art. 69, the six basic emotions are wonderment, love, hatred, desire, joy, and sadness.

  20. According to Descartes, all emotions are embodied. In thinking about our embodied sensations, we can have thoughts that become passions as well. “Spinoza resolves the problem differently, concluding that wonder is not an affect after all…Spinoza’s [monistic] analysis, which takes seriously the claim that wonder is provoked by complete novelty, once again underlines the connection of passion with movement, [and lingering] both from one idea to the next and within the body.” (James, 1997, 189).

  21. Prototypical aesthetic emotions include captivation, being moved, awe, enchantment, and wonder; the epistemic emotions include intellectual challenge. “Surprise is a short-lived response to something novel and unexpected but does not depend on a positive evaluation of one's potential to cope with the schema incongruity that led to the surprise. In contrast, intellectual challenge, interest, and insight depend on one’s (potential) ability to understand and thus satisfy the drive for sense-making…If a person evaluates her or his potential to understand a surprising event as insufficient, surprise turns into confusion. This ambivalent nature of surprise may explain its loading on the prototypical aesthetic emotions factor together with other mixed and potentially ambivalent emotions.” From “Measuring aesthetic emotions: A review of the literature and a new assessment tool” PLOS ONE | June 5, 2017, 30 / 45.

  22. Ibid. 128.

  23. Kant CJ, 2010 §29:271, Pluhar p 132.

  24. Pluhar trans. 133/272 General Comment on the Exposition of Aesthetic Judgments.

  25. Quoted by Vasalou 2013, 27.

  26. But unlike limited things in nature (such as a pretty waterfall) or objects of art, which are bounded, sublime natural wonders and epic literature are frustrating to visualize as purposive, precisely because the imagination cannot grasp a reason for such magnitude. (Kant, 2010, 244).

  27. Kale trans. Kumārasambhava of Kālidāsa 1.4. yaścāpsarovibhramamaṇḍanānāṃ sampādayitrīṃ shikharairbibharti | balāhakacchedavibhaktarāgāmakālasandhyāmiva dhātumattām ||

  28. kriyāyāḥ pratiṣedhe yā tatphalasya vibhāvanā | jñeyā vibhāvanaivāsau samādhau sulabhe ||77||

    Śastry trans. 46–7.

  29. From 3rd pariccheda of Viśvanātha’s Sāhityadarpaṇa: “rase sāraś camatkāraḥ sarvatrāpy anubhūyate | tac camatkāra sāratve sarvatrāpy adbhuto rasaḥ | tasmād adbhutam evāha kṛtī nārāyaṇo rasam || iti |”.


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Widdison, L. “The Epistemic Significance of adbhutarasa: Aestheticized Wonder as a Virtue of Inquiry”. DHARM 5, 1–16 (2022).

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  • Adbhuta rasa
  • Wonder
  • Epistemology
  • Intellectual virtue
  • Emotions