Indian Aesthetics has a long history of growth and evolution. Bharatmuni (of probably 2nd Century B.C.) may be considered the father of aesthetics. Though purported to be a treatise on the captivating art of natya, dance, it is also the beginning of a nearly systematic scrutiny and analysis of the art of creative expression in poetry as well. Kavyasastra is aesthetics and exponents of theories began their discussions and exegeses having Sanskrit kavyas in their mind. This aspect of aesthetics began to take the centre stage and aestheticians came to be called laakshanikas. These great minds (mostly from Kashmir to begin with) have been expanding the horizons of poetic creativity.
Historiographers of this valuable science have divided the history of aesthetics into four ages.
First : the pre-beginnings-from 2nd Century B.C to 7th Century A.D. From Bharatamuni to Bhamaha.
Second: Creative Age – from 7th Century to the 9th Century – from Bhamaha to Anandavardhana.
Third: Crystallisation Age – from 9th Century to the 11th Century – from Anandavardhana to Mammata.
Fourth : Scholarly Age 11th Century to the 18th Century – from Mammata to Jagannadha.
The most important theories are:
rasa vaada, the summum bonum of the fruit of aesthetic creation and appreciation
alamkaravaada, the exposition of the use of embellishments, adornments of expression (in English Figures of speech)
reetivaada, the exposition of the various artistic modes of expression and
dhwani vaada, the exposition of subtle modes of expression and their preeminence in poetic creativity.
Bharatamuni put forward the concept of rasa, Anandavardhana, dhvani. Dandi and Vamana guna, Bhamaha and Udbhata alamkaras, Rudrata gunaalankaras, and Kuntaka vakrokti. These have been explained in detail and modified later as more and more texts came under study.br />
These theories are not mutually exclusive watertight compartments. Each has something of the other three in them. None of them has been propounded as such by a single exponent independently. These are products of evolution. All operate on the basis of ananda joy par excellence as the prime goal of artistic creation. Besides these theories which would give insights into the complex chemistry of created texts, there is an exposition by Kshemendra. Kavisiksha is the conceptualisation of the need for training and discipling for a poet by Kshemendra and his like-minded. He gave an exposition to a theory called Auchitya. It would be inaccurate to say that auchitya is not known to others before him, for Mahima Bhattaraka and even Anandavardhana suggested this touchstone for the assessment of success and beauty of a poetic artefact. Roughly the concept relates to propriety.
It is impossible to go into the various propositions and their ramifications at the hands of succeeding lakshanikas, but it must be said that familiarity with various concepts and crft-related devices used in imaginative writing would be useful to the aspirants.
The basics of poetry and poetic imagination and expression are stated by great minds in different definitions like these, sabdaardhau kaavyam (Bhamaha); ramaneeyapratipadaka sabdam kaavyam (Jagannadha Panditha Raya); vaakyam rasaatmakam kaavyam. (viswanqdha) and guNam padalamkrutamcha vaakyam Eva kaavya lakshanam (Rajasekhara), to cite only a few. It is very easy to dismiss these saying that these related to ancient and medieval poetry and not so much to the modern Telugu poetry as such. But literary values are almost eternal, holding good for all time, no matter the time in which the artefacts are produced. True, it may be necessary to modify the concepts to suit the modern context. An awareness of higher values and an exposure to these concepts would lend strength and conviction to poetic imagination and expression as well as to the content.
Telugu poetry in the recent years, pointedly after Independence, calls for introspection on the part of both the readers and the poets themselves. For the readers an understanding of concepts and known devices would contribute to the understanding and assessment of what they read in poetry found nowadays everywhere around. The narrow drawing room views on poetry, poetic creation and the broad guidelines (it may not be proper to say principles since they came to be anathema in every walk of life) of understanding and assessing poems. We have inherited the tradition where the kavi is accepted to an autocrat, nirankusaah. Apart from a desire to publish, while writing out poets are charged with emotion, anguish and enthusiasm for poetry. For them prose, fiction and criticism do not seem to be as urgent an engine of inspiration. Poetic expression has come to be the ninth fundamental right, as it were. This is a welcome trend and democratization in this field has thrown up wonderful avenues for impassioned poetic expression. As for poets writing in Telugu this is the golden age. The new book releases every day of one poetry collection or the other in some place in Andhra is encouraging. Newspapers have a literary page and a section for poetry, mostly free verse. Even universities have not lagged behind. Telugu University, for example, makes publication assistance available not only to the established poets but also to the up-and coming litterateurs. (Only central government institutes do not accept poetry for grants, Surprisingly, our poets keep mum!).
For budding poets, a little reading of some of the theories, devices in the art would do immense good. Those writing metrical verse, it may be generally agreed, have some basic knowledge, to say the least, of metrical composition and they must have had exposure to classical poetry, which is a source of learning some devices intuitively. It is true that hundreds of poems read very well in spite of the poet not being sufficiently exposed to the techniques of artistry. The very emotion, passion and the urgency to express, makes the artefact authentic. No denying that, but still learning to acquire the finer nuances of words and expressive devices would sharpen their ability to express themselves not only with élan but also with elegance.
I would suggest our young poets to scrutinise their output all by themselves with regard to the use of words (padas), figures of speech (alamkaaras), imagery (the metaphorical conception), and acceptability to the general reader in terms of appropriateness (auchitya). The first book that comes to my mind is Narasabhoopleeyam supposed to be written by Bhattumurthy, also known as Ramarajabhooshana. In the book various concepts like shaili, reeti vritti, paaka, sayya are explained with illustrative examples. Many books are available on prosody and related things. A nodding acquaintance with them would help, of course not writing poetry but for analysing and appreciating it. Much to my surprise I see fine poems in books new poets send me where (perhaps sometimes unknowingly) they have used wonderful collocations, images and other devices. I wish our young poets read more of devices and artistic, rhetorical, poetic values before writing more. The proof of the pudding is in the eating but in poetry the proof is in the knowledgeable, deliberate making too.