PART I: EXPLORATION
I’ve been using rasas and rasa boxes for a long time in all my drama teaching and have recently incorporated this exciting process into my English through Drama curriculum. I am including my exercises here for those that have the opportunity and desire to dig into a multi day project that involves emotional work, physical acting and language development. There is powerful stuff in this work and I have particularly enjoyed using it with adolescent aged learners from all cultures. Students from India, Pakistan and Indonesia have had particular resonance with this work as the Sanskrit names are somewhat familiar to them, but indeed all students have loved all the exercises I will share here.
The Sanskrit word rasa can loosely be translated as “juice, taste, flavor, essence”. I first encountered rasas in a storytelling course in England with renowned Storyteller/Teacher Ben Haggarty. Ben explained rasas as an Ancient Hindu performance aesthetic. Basically, the storyteller would think about what emotion they would want their audience to experience, using the 8 performance rasas as the primary colors in which to categorize these basic emotions. Then their task was to adjust their tone, words, gestures, etc. to try and elicit that emotion— to create an indelible image with whatever tools in the storyteller’s possession that would elicit the desired effect.
A few years later, I took a full day rasa box workshop at a theatre conference. It was an entirely different experience. Here, instead of the cerebrial concept of Rasas we played with them in physical ways. I was hooked, both as a teacher and a performer. Since that time I have used them in many ways: as actor training, as a rehearsal technique and as a language development activity. I will share the core of what I do in several parts. But first:
The 8 basic rasas
Adbuta (surprise, wonder)
Sringara (love, eros)
Bhayanaka (fear, shame)
Bibhasta (disgust, revolt),
Hasya (laughter, the comedic)
Karuna (sadness, compassion)
Raudra (rage, anger)
Vira (courage, the heroic)
Ok, so what to do with them? The focus of the first exposure to rasas is to introduce them to the students. My approach is to have each Rasa written (Sanskrit word and a few English equivalents) on the top of a large poster paper. I then set the papers on the ground and provide color markers, pencils and whatever other writing material you want) and have students work alone or in teams, circulating amongst the rasas and writing, drawing, or sketching any association they might have with that particular rasa. I’ve had students draw images, write words in their L1, write poems, thoughts, questions, etc. The key here is it is about their associations, not mine, so I explain very little. I find that the conversation that students have while informally doing all of this is a gold mine of language development opportunities. Asking each other questions, asking me questions, watching each other, etc.
Depending on the size of the group and my available space I can have multiple copies of the rasas available spread all over the room. In some rooms I taped them to the wall, or had desks together to provide some surface. However, if it is possible to get them on the floor I have found this is the best: there is something about working with elemental emotions on the floor that is powerful.
After the students have had this exploration we do a “museum” walk, where we all walk around and see each other’s work. Students have the opportunity to ask questions and share their ideas. This can be done formally or informally depending on your class. Needless to say so much language is generated in this activity around emotions and feelings. You can use it to build a class record of “Language of Emotion” as well as tie it into a more traditional lesson on this topic. You will see how we build on this in the following lessons over the course of a week or longer unit. This first lesson usually takes about 90 minutes. I found that about 10 minutes of explanation, 40-50 minutes of exploration and 10-20 minutes of sharing/museum walk are about the right mix. Next posting I’ll share videos of the students talking about their observations and discoveries.
In the Articles section of this website are various sources which go deeper into rasa boxes and this website is also useful for those that want more information: