Humour is a serious matter.
“Really?” you may ask. Is it not an antithesis?
The English word humour comes from the Latin word Humere, Humor meaning ‘fluid and juice in the body’.
Humere- Bodily fluid and juice
How the word humour, which originally represented ‘bodily fluids’, came to mean something ‘funny’ is a little hazy. Fluids in body affect physical and mental state of a person. Perhaps humour comes from this notion.
Humour, Hasya, Hasi, Laughter, Beautiful
In India, the word for humour is Hasya meaning ‘that which invokes laughter, Hasyam’. From the word Hasya is derived the Hindi word Hasi for laughter.
The word Hasi has its own significance. In Urdu, people call their children Haseen (boy), Haseena (girl) meaning, ‘one who is beautiful’, a beauty that comes with joy, happiness.
Haseen and Haseena
In Africa too, the name Hasin means good.
Laughter is beautiful. Humour makes life beautiful and a situation good.
Smile – The most tasteful ornament
In Tamil, Nagai Chuvai is the word for humour. Nagai means laughter, smile. Nagai also means ‘ornament’. Chuvai means ‘taste’. Among all the ornaments, humour and smile are one of the most “tasteful” ornaments one can wear.
Ornament – Nagai
The Significant 9
In this land, while every number has its unique feature, the number 9 has a special place.
The precious gems are 9. Ratna means gems.
Indian dance forms typically showcase 9 basic emotions of humans called Navarasa, nava for 9 and rasa for “something that is experienced, i.e. mood.”
One of the 9 Rasa is Hasya, mirth, laughter.
The word Rasa has a connotation of essence.
Mood forms the essence of one’s behaviour and behaviour forms the essence of a relationship. Rasa therefore determines the underlying flavor of a relationship.
The number of courtiers in some of the well-known kingdoms of the land has been 9. As each courtier is a gem in himself, they have been collectively referred to as Navaratna or 9 gems.
In the court of Vikramaditya, Krishna Deva Raya and in Akbar’s court, there have been these Navaratna.
Navaratna of Akbar’s Court
Navaratna of Krishnadeva Raya’s Court
One of the courtiers among these 9, is usually a Vikata Kavi, humorous poet.
Vikata Kavi – A Humorous Poet
Tenali Raman is a Vikata Kavi, court jester extraordinaire. The episode of how he got his boon of humour and poetry from the Divine Mother Kali is itself through Hasya, humour.
When the fearful Kali appeared before him with her many faces, instead of being afraid of her wrathful form, he started laughing.
A taken aback Kali asked the reason for his laughter. In humour, he responded that he was unable to handle one runny nose when he had a cold. So he was wondering how Kali would handle her many running noses when she had a bout of cold.
Tenali Raman and Goddess Kali
Tenali Raman converted a fearful situation into one of humour and thereby secured the grace of Mother Kali and got the title of Vikata Kavi, the one who could handle difficult situations through humour. He adorned the court of the Vijayanagara King, Krishna Deva Raya who ruled from Hampi between 1509 to 1529 CE.
Humour – A tool to handle situations
Like this, many kings of this land have had a Vikata Kavi, a jester in their court. The other famous Vikata Kavi was Birbal, in the court of Akbar.
There have been many famous jesters in history and literature in the courts of rulers in other lands too.
Rulers of yore had realized that all serious matters of court cannot be handled only through serious deliberations. Jest, humour was needed to handle many situations.
Humour has been used in this land in poetry, in court, in family and in many situations.
Humour in Play
In Samskrt and other Indian language plays, over the last couple of millennia, one of the essential characters has been the presence of a Vidushak, a jester, comic character.
Hasya Kavi Sammelan has been a tradition of this land. Kavi is ‘a poet’. Hasya Kavi is a humorous poet. Sammelan means ‘meeting’.
Hasya Kavi Sammelan is a meeting forum for humorous poets to show their prowess in humour.
Humour – A Rejuvenator
It is a well-known fact that actions such as laughter, sneeze, yawn etc. create a sense of rejuvenation in the body. Along with the forceful expulsion, exhaling of air during laughter or yawning, the built up stress in the body also gets released making a person feel lighter and more energetic.
So we see laughter, hasya as a rejuvenator and stress buster.
But is that all there is to humour?
Even tickling can produce laughter. Jokes or funny situations produce laughter.
Is humour, hasya just sheer laughter alone or something more?
Humour – Just Laughter or More?
If we really look at a joke or a funny situation, it usually is a case where something or somebody has been placed at a disadvantage either physically, mentally or monetarily, in an unexpected, surprising manner. However, instead of arousing compassion for the disadvantaged, it ends up invoking laughter in us.
Humour is an innate part of Human nature. It is something unique to humans. It is something that appeals to the humane side of humans.
The laughter that comes with a joke actually is coming out of a sense of a wonder, a wonder that even something like this can happen, even something like this can exist or something like this can be thought of. It is a wonder that is accompanied by a sense of empathy too for the people in the situation.
This wonder and the following empathy makes the situation special and brings it close to one’s heart.
Wonder causes respect, awe for the object of wonder.
When we look at a beautiful flower and wonder as to how it got its colours, a smile automatically lights up our face. It is the wonder at the beauty of a pup that brings a smile to our face. It evokes a sense of concern, care. This wonder and smile makes them special for us. It brings us in harmony with the flower or the pup.
Likewise, if we pause to wonder at the people we come across or interact with, it will put us in a state of empathy with them and make them special and close to us too. They become worthy of our attention. We get into a harmony with them.
As the popular English writer W. Somerset Maugham said, “You are not angry with people if you laugh at them. Humour teaches tolerance.”
W Somerset Maugham
Humour to Uplift Our Spirits
Again, when plunged into a state of despair about things that did not go right, if we reflect back with wonder at how events took their turn even beyond us or our efforts it will help us realize how insignificant we are in the whole game plan of the Universe.
It will make us smile at our own foolishness in assuming ourselves to be the controller. It will help us make light of the situation, see the humour in it and move along in harmony with the world around us and the forces beyond us.
Mahatma Gandhi once quipped, “If I had no sense of humour, I would long ago have committed suicide.”
Laughter is the best medicine as many say. A dash of humour can help the sick recover faster. Many hospitals today therefore, engage humour specialists to amuse their patients, especially the young ones. One such specialist Willace the clown had this to say from experience, “There is not much of laughter in medicine but lot of medicine in laughter.”
A happy mind helps the body heal faster. A happy and healthier body helps one get into harmony with everything around.
Wisdom in Humour
Infact humour has been used in many civilizations, across generations to impart wisdom and moral lessons to the people at large in an easy and interesting manner. One such is the example of tales of Mulla Nasruddin or Nasruddin Hodja as he is known in Turkey.
Many anecdotes have been woven around this Persian, Sufi, folk character, popular from Turkey to Punjab in India. Portrayed as a teacher who appears to be a fool, his foolish acts and quotes are meant to make people laugh and then think to learn nuggets of wisdom for leading a good life.
Harmony with Humour
Humour can thus help us stay happy under all circumstances as it brings us in harmony with ourselves, with others and with forces beyond us that lead to various situations – good and bad.
The first sign of happiness is a smile. The word for smile in Indian language is Smita.
Everyone is smitten by a Smita when it comes wholeheartedly!
Smita is the first step towards happiness.
When the step is extended to laughter, humour, Hasya it becomes the Rasa, mood, the essence, essential to flavor one’s own as well as everyone’s life with happiness and harmony.
“Humour is mankind’s greatest blessing.” – Mark Twain.
Given all that has been said about humour, all will tend to agree that humour is indeed a serious matter. Rather, the lack of humour in our day to day life is something we need to take seriously.
Humour is a serious Matter