Why Sarus Cranes epitomize Karunarasa in the Ramayana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


By correlating literary evidence, avian ethology and neurophysiology I will try to demonstrate why Valmiki chose a pair of Sarus Cranes, and not any other avian species, to epitomise grief and sorrow in the Ramayana. This choice illustrates the importance of personal experience of the living reality (behaviour of Sarus Cranes); but the grief, soka, as experienced by Valmiki, became in later critical literature, the rasa of karuna, the aesthetic appreciation of grief, as suggested by Anandavardhana and explained by Abhinavagupta. By emphasising the central importance of affective states (sthayibhavas) in life as well as in the arts (rasas) Valmiki, Abhinavagupta and Anandavardhana appear to have had a perception of the human condition that is consistent with recent developments in affective neuroscience; and thus it is the pitch and the tonal quality of the cries of grief that convey the depth and universality (sadharanatva) of the emotion.


  • Niels Hammer
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • History of Religions
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187-211
JournalJournal of the Royal Asiatic Society
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Publication categoryResearch