The Sanskrit language and Sanskrit literature have become an inalienable part of Hindu religion and culture. Even the earliest recorded specimens of Sanskrit literature have manifested the art of graceful speech. Several hymns of the Ṛgveda may be looked upon as genuine specimens of fine poetry. Various rhetorical devices now known as upamā (simile), rūpaka (metaphor) or atiśayokti (hyperbole) find an apt expression there in a natural way. The Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata, though they are monumental works of wisdom and imagination, are also works exhibiting rare poetical skill.
Alaṅkāraśāstra as a regular, independent, subject might not have existed in more ancient times. The first systematization started perhaps with the Nāṭya-śāstra of Bharata who might have existed some time during the period 200 B. C.—A.D. 400. Though primarily a work on dramaturgy, the origins of systematization of poetics as a science can be discovered here. However, it is Bhāmaha and Daṇḍin (6th cent. A.D.), Vāmana and Udbhaṭa (8th cent. A. D.), Rudraṭa and Ānandavardhana (9th cent. A. D.), Abhinavagupta, Kṣemendra and Mammaṭa (11th cent. A. D.) that have enriched the literature on poetics through their prolific writings of superb quality.
The subject of alaṅkāra was viewed from different angles by different authors. This gave rise to eight sampradāyas or schools: rīti, guṇa, alaṅkāra, vakrokti, rasa, dhvani, anumāna and aucitya.
Rīti is the way of writing. Though three rītis were originally recognized, they ultimately rose to six. The names given to them such as Vaidarbhī, Gauḍī or Māgadhī suggest that they were prevalent in particular regions. Daṇḍin and Vāmana were the forerunners of this school.
Guṇa or quality may concern either the śabda (word) or the artha (meaning). It is very similar to the Rīti school. Originally enumerated as three, it gradually rose to ten. However this school got merged into the Alaṅkāra school. Vāmana was the chief exponent of this Guṇa school.
Alaṅkāra is literary embellishment. It may be of śabda (word or sound) or artha (sense). The alaṅkāras rose from 38 in the early period to 200 in later days. Daṇḍin and Bhāmaha were the main propagators of this school.
Vakrokti is equivocation. It is a mode of expression so that the listener conceives of a meaning different from that intended by the speaker or writer. Bhāmaha and Kuntaka (11th cent. A. D.) were the chief advocates of this school.
Rasa is mood or sentiment, a genera-lized resultant emotion in the spectator or reader. Nine rasas, often called ‘navarasas,’ have been advocated by the writers on prosody and dramatics. Bharata was the earliest exponent of the Rasa school followed by Udbhaṭa and others.
Dhvani is suggestion. The theory of dhvani was introduced by Ānanda-vardhana.
Anumāna refers to a sentiment that has to be inferred and experienced. Śaṅkula (9th cent A. D.) was the founder of this school.
Aucitya means propriety. This school was propounded by Kṣemendra.
Bharata’s Nāṭyaśāstra, Bhāmaha’s Kāvyālaṅkāra, Daṇḍin’s Kāvyādarśa, Udbhaṭa’s Kāvyālaṅkāra-saṅgraha, Rudraṭa’s Kāvyālaṅkāra, Ānandavardhana’s Dhvanyāloka and Mammaṭa’s Kāvya-prakāśa
are some of the standard works of Alaṅkāra-śāstra.