Sunday, March 27, 2016

Six benefits from Literature

What is Literature? Why does anyone write something? Why do others read it? What is the definition of Literature? What are the uses of Literature? These are some of the questions that are relevant for all times. It is worthwhile to spend some time on discussing these issues.

The word "Literature" is understood by all, but to give a universally acceptable definition of the word is indeed difficult. Literature is defined in many different ways. Literature is a term used to describe written or spoken material. It describes anything from creative writing to more technical and scientific works as well. It is most commonly used to refer to works of creative imagination including works of poetry, drama, fiction and non-fiction. Literature represents language or people or culture and tradition. It is universal and often beautiful and provides the readers with wonderful experiences while reading and understanding it. In the Indian context, the word often used for Literature is "Kavya", which includes stage plays (Drushya kavya) also. It has evolved over the years, starting from rock cut paintings and palm leaf preservations to modren day printing and literature on the web. 

The following definition appears to be the closest to what many consider as a good definition of "Literature":

"Literature is a documentation of life seen, known and recorded in an artistic way. It opens new horizons of imagination that leads to an entirely new world. It is also a written evidence of human achievements and failures".

What are the benefits that can derived from literature? Answering this important question has been attempted for generations all over the world. Aristotle's "Poetics" is as old as 4th century BC. "Natya Shastra" of Bharatamuni is also of around the same time. Subsequent Indian scholars have dealt on the benefits of Literature or Poetry extensively. Unfortunately, many of them are lost and not available now. The discussions of the earlier scholars appears to have taken a solid form around 10th or 11th century AD. "Kavya Prakasha" of a scholar poet by name Mammata deals with many aspects of Poetics including the benefits from Literature. Mammata was the maternal uncle of SriHarsha, whose "Naishadeeya Charitam" is reckoned as one of the five great works in Sanskrit literature.

Mammata has enumerated six direct benefits from Literature. First of them is earning name and fame. Second is for earning money and material rewards. Third benefit is to understand the world and dealing with its ways (Vyavahara Jnana). Fourth benefit is to escape from evil effects of life, by application of knowledge gained from Literature. Fifth is to obtain immediate pleasure from reading or contemplating on it. Sixth is to receive suitable advice which is similar to the one given by a loving wife.

Are these the true benefits? They really are, but the benefits may accrue to the writer or reader or both. The first benefit of earning name and fame directly belongs to the writer. Many well known and respected names in the literary world today bear testimony to this. Generations after generations have read and enjoyed the epics in many languages and their times are entirely immaterial. Many readers have also become scholars and earned their names by following the earlier writers. Many poets lived a good life due to the support they received from Kings and landlords of their times confirming the second benefit of monetary earnings. Selling copyright of yet to be written novels in the present times also indicates this. The third benefit of using the knowledge from literature for managing one's affairs from time to time is experienced by all of us.  There are many examples of escaping from evil in our lives by bringing in earlier learning from reading literature, thus reinforcing the fourth benefit.  One of the most important benefit from reading literature is obtaining immediate enjoyment or pleasure of "Rasaanubhava", which is the fifth benefit.  

The sixth benefit relates to receiving advice from literature. Mammata has mentioned that the type of advice one perceives from literature is similar to the one received from a loving wife or spouse. There are three types of advices one can receive. They are defined as Prabhusammita, Mitrasammita and Kantaasammita. Prabhusammita is the type of advice that is received from someone in authority, like a King or higher authority in an establishment. This is an advice that must be followed and there is no escape from it. Failure to do follow it results in severe punishment. Mitrasammita is the type of advice received from a good friend. it is much more acceptable to one's mind but it is still received from an external source. Kantaasammita is the advice received from a loving wife and hence the receiver does not even feel he is receiving an advice!  It is close to receiving advice from oneself and thus becomes much more acceptable to follow. The biggest advantage of literature is in generating such type of advice from within oneself. 

Mammata's summary of the six benefits of literature enumerated in his "Kavya Prakasha" is as under:

काव्यं यशसे अर्थकृते व्यवहारविदे शिवेतर क्षतये |
सद्यः परनिवृतये कान्तासंमिततया उपदेशयुजे ||

Kavyam Yashase Arthakrute Vyavaharavide shivetara kshataye,
Sadyah paranivrutaye kantaasammitataya upadeshayuje. 

Prof T N Srikantaiah (Ti Nam Sri) is a highly revered and big name in Kannada Literature circles. The South End Circle near Jayanagar, Bengaluru is named after him, though people still refer to it as South End Circle. The circle has also disappeared now as the metro line passes over the area. He was a scholar par excellence and did yeoman service to students of Literature. He is credited with suggesting the word "Rashtrapati" as equivalent of the "President of India" which was accepted unanimously and is used now. 

His celebrated work "Bharatiya Kavya Meemamse" is a trend setter in study of Poetics and Aesthetics in Literature. A study of this book brings out many valuable insights into Literature and its role in human life, including the above benefits from literature.   


  1. An excellent blog. I enjoyed reading it and also learnt from it. Thank you Sri Keshava Murthy

  2. As usual an enlightening piece of work. Thank you for sharing such wonderful information. A real eye opener .

  3. As usual an enlightening piece of work. Thank you for sharing such wonderful information. A real eye opener .

  4. Ti Nam Sri has emphasised that rasanubhava is the salient feature of good literature .for this to happen good literature with rasa and rasika who is capable of understanding and enjoying are of equal importance.useful discussion indeed especially when language skills of Indian students are dipping.

  5. Keshavamurthy,you are an erudite scholar

  6. Keshavamurthy,you are an erudite scholar

  7. Keshavamurthy,you are an erudite scholar

  8. A great piece of literature about the treasures of literature. Kudos to your literary skills.

  9. Exellent conceptualisation of Literature...

  10. I never had an idea that Literature can benefit so much. Excellent

  11. A classic piece of knowledge. Every article you write is a new learning item to the readers. Thank you for your wonderful contributions.

  12. An excellent view and Expression of Literature.

  13. Superb gained to know lot of New things

  14. sir,
    There is a better example for this article of two great Indian Literates Sri Mahakavi Pothana and Sri Srinatha.