Monthly Archives: April 2015

Music of India – a brief outline – Part Nine

Continued from Part Eight – Dhruva Gana in Natya

Part Nine (of 22) – Musical Instruments in Natyashastra


Role of instruments in Samgita

1.1. The term Samgita in the early Indian context meant a composite art-form comprising Gita (vocal singing), Vadya (instrumental accompaniments) and Nrtta or Nartana the limb movement or dance (Gitam, Vadyam, Nrtyam Samgita-mucchyate).

1.2. Samgita was also called Gandharva–vidya (the art of the Gandharvas) because the celestial beings, the Gandharvas, loved to sing and dance   to the accompaniment of instrumental music.  And the term Gandharva, therefore, often, meant Music in general.

1.3. Natyashastra explains the Gandharva music as that which is governed by the combination of Svara (tonal structure); Taala (time-units); and, Pada (text), in association with various musical instruments (Gaandharvam trividham vidhaat svara-tala-pada-atmakam). Thus, song, Veena, flute and drums all contributed to Gandharva.

Naradiyashiksha (1.4.12) gives the etymology of the term Gandharva by splitting it into three elements. It explains Gandharva Gana as made of: Ga – the song (giti geyam vidhuhu); Dha – playing on the Veena by skilful use of fingers (karupya vadanam); and, Va- other instruments and gestures (veti vadhyasya sanjnya); and says ‘this indicates Gandharva (ye Gandharvasya nirochanam).

1.4. Later, Someshvara (twelfth century) in his Mansollasa says that the instruments enhance the beauty and grace of dance and music performances, and for this reason, they have a pre-eminent place in both dance and music.

Vadyen rajte geetam ch nrityam vadyavarjitam!!  Tasmadvadyam pradhanam syadvitnrityakriyavidho!

1.5. Thus, Instrumental music was very much a part of the Samgita; and, it also enjoyed an important part in the play-production.  Instruments from behind the screen or on the stage were played to accompany various songs; to heighten the effect of the mood suggested by the scene; to better articulate different gestures; and, to accompany dance and dance-like movements.

Atodhya Vadya

Intruments-Inde-1 Intruments-Inde-2

2.1. Bharatha used term Atodhya Vadya to denote musical instruments. In the Natyashastra (NS: 28.1), Music instruments are classified under four broad categories based on their acoustic principles: Tata (stringed); Avanaddha (covered or percussion); Susira (hollow or wind-blown) ; and Ghana ( solid – like cymbals). This classification given by Bharatha was accepted as a standard format, in the later times, for study of instruments. And, it is valid till date.

2.2. Of these, the stringed and wind- instruments that produced flow of pleasant notes seemed to be the favoured ones; and were grouped with the singers. And in the music on the stage and behind the curtain, the string instruments were more important.

2.3. The string and wind instruments were generally played individually or in tandem. It is not clear whether the Orchestra (Vadya-vrunda) as we know it today was in place during the time of Natyashastra. However, Bharatha mentions three groups (Kutapa) of music-performers: Tata, Avanaddha and NatyakrtaThe Tata–Kutapa grouped together the vocalists, the players on string instruments, and the flutists. Avanaddha-Kutapa included players on percussion instruments such as Mrudanga, Pavana and Dardura. And, Natyakrta-Kutapa was the collection of actors and actresses who take part in the play.

[Interestingly, Panini’s Ashtadhyayi calls a of group of musicians as Turya, in which the Veena-players were prominent. There was a main Veena-player (Veena Vadaka) who was supported and followed by a secondary group of Veena players (Pari- vadaka) –  ‘Aveevdad Veena Parivadken’.  During the time of Panini, just singing a song (gayana) without the support of Veena was called Apa-veena. And, the sound of Veena (Nada) was called by many names as: Kana, Nikvan, and Nikvaan (Kvano Veenaya Ch). The sounds of the other instruments were called as Ghosha: Va Ghosha Nishra Shabdeshu.]

2.4. As Abhinavagupta said;   The Gita (song), Vadya (instruments) and Natya (enactment of play) should, ideally, coordinate and perform harmoniously – supporting and strengthening each other with great relish. And, the three Kutapa-s, in combination should suggest a seamless movement like a circle of fire (Alaata chakra); and should brighten (Ujjvalayati) the stage.



3.1. Tata –Vadya represent the class of string instruments (tantri kritam). It is said; such instruments were classified on the basis of number or kinds of strings (tantri bheda); and, the manner of playing the instruments. And, among all the string instruments (Tata-vadya) the Veena was the most prominent.

3.2. It is said; Veena was a generic term for all stringed instruments including lutes, arched harps, with or without frets and plucked with fingers or a plectrum.

(Natyashastra regards human body also as a veena, a musical instrument, since it has a rhythm of its own; and, is also capable of producing musical notes through vocal cords.)

Some say that the Veena referred to in the Natyashastra might have resembled a harp rather than a lute (as we know it now).

play_yazh Saraswati Veena

3.3. The major types of Veena-s during the time of Bharatha were said to be: Chitra (seven strings and played with fingers) and Vipanchi (nine stringed lutes played with a plectrum). The other types were Ghosha or Ghoshavati (single stringed – Ek Tari or a sort prototype Tanpura) and Kapucchi (also an Ek Tari).

Role of Veena in Music-theories and principles

4.1. The Veena was used in the texts as the basis (adhara) to explain the theoretical aspects of Music and also to illustrate the concepts of Sruti, Taana, Sthana, Dhatu etc.

For instance;  Dattilam (9) explains Sruti as the difference in sounds (dvani visesha) produced by striking on the string on the upper end of the Veena (Uttarottara-taras tu venayam) and that produced by striking on the  lower end (adharottarah) of the Veena . And, Abhinavagupta explains the term Sruti as the sound (sabda) produced (prabhavita) when struck at appropriate position (śruti-sthāna-abhighāta) on the Veena.

4.2. Even the vocal styles were defined with reference to  the relation between singing and playing the song on Veena. When one plays on the Veena ( following the vocal style) but without singing it is then known as Suska or A-gita . And, when one plays on the Veena and sings the song as he plays ,  it is known as Giti. 

Abhinavagupta explains: every type of Giti can be played on Veena. And, there are three types of Giti:   Tatva, Anugata and Ogha. When the Gana (singing)  is prominent and the Veena follows Gana completely , it is Tatva; when the Veena follows Gana in some part and then shows its own craftsmanship , it becomes Anugata; and , when the playing techniques becomes A-nibaddha and the Karanas become more prominent  and the Gana becomes secondary then the Giti becomes Ogha . Thus in the rendering of the Giti, Veena performs an important role.

4.3. Similarly, Murchana and Taana variations to provide pleasure to the listener as also to the performer were explained with reference to Veena. Dattilam (36) the techniques of improving Taana-s on the Veena (Taana-kriya). Dattila says: The Taana-kriya is twofold (Taana-kriya dvidha tantryam): Pravesika and Nigraha. Pravesika (entering) is raising the lower note or lowering the higher note. And, Nigraha (abstaining) is not touching the string (asamsparka tu nigrahat).

4.4. Bharatha describes the various strokes (karana) on the Veena and their sequences. According to Abhinavagupta, the collection of Svaras that are produced by striking (praharavishesha janyah) the strings of veena in a specific manner is called Dhatu.

The Dhatu had four elements: Vistara (high pitched), Karana  (low pitched),  Aviddha (duration of the note) and Vyanjana (different ways of employing each finger), each of which had its variations. Such variations depended on whether the stroke was made on the upper end (uttaramukha) or lower end (adhara) of the Veena; the number of strokes made on the strings; the time span (guru and laghu); and, their sequences.

Sushira Vadya


5.1. Sushira (hollow) instruments that allow passage of air to excite the various resonators have been popular from very early times. By manipulating the vibrations of air columns, varieties of sound patterns are  produced through these instruments. And, they generally did not involve mechanical parts. These instruments of all types- like conch, horns trumpets, bugles, and flutes of different types – were blown either by mouth or by bellows.

5.2. Chapter Thirty of Natyashastra talks briefly about Sushira Vadya-s in just about 13 verses. It is said; the wind instruments in use during the time of Bharatha were Vamsa, Nadi, Tudakini, Samkha and such others. Not much is known either about Nadi or Tudakini; and, Samkha the conch was scarcely used as a musical instrument in the play.

6.1. Therefore, the attention of the Natyashastra in its Chapter Thirty was mainly on Vamsa or Venu the flute which is an important musical instrument in the context of the Drama. Vamsa also provided the basic note (Sruti) to tune other musical instruments. And, that    helped to regulate the song and music of the play.

6.2. During the time of Natyashastra, Susira (hollow) musical instruments were made of Vamsa (bamboo reeds). Hence the flutes made of Vamsa were known as Vamsa –Vadya or Vamsa.   In the later times, the flutes came to be made from wood (Kadira and Sandal), ivory and different metals (gold, silver, bronze etc).

6.3. The Verse 12 of Chapter 30 says – The music of Vamsa which is steady and not very loud; and adorned with Varnas and Alamkaras is smooth and soothing. The rules regarding their notes (Svara) and the Grama were the same as that of the Veena.

6.4. Bharatha explains the manner of producing seven notes ‘according to the Sruti division of two, three and four (dvishrutika, trishrutika, and chatusshrutika). And, he says: by prolonging the blow the other Svaras may also be produced.

The notes were obtained by covering the hole with the finger, by placing a trembling finger (Kampita), by partially closing/ opening the hole (Ardha-mukta) or by fully opening the hole (Vyakta-mukta).

Bharatha then mentions the production of notes in the Madhyama Grama :

The notes produced from a flute-hole completely free from finger is of four Srutis; that produced from a hole with a shaken finger placed on it is of three Srutis; and, that produced from a hole partially free from a finger is of two Srutis. All these are the notes in the Madhyama Grama.

As regards the production of notes in Shadja Grama, Bharatha says:

Shadja, Madhyama and Panchama will arise from a hole fully open; Daivata and Rsabha from a hole covered by a shaken finger; and, from a hole partly free from finger Gandhara and Nishadha will arise.

Nishadha and Gandhara coming respectively in combination with Shadja and Madhyama and modifying themselves in characteristic Srutis will give rise to overlapping (Svara- sadharana) and the Kakili notes.

6.5. Natyashastra recommended that the Svaras (notes) on a flute should be perfected with the aid of the Veena and the human voice. The singer should sing the very notes in accompaniment of a flute. The perfect harmony of the human voice, strains of the Veena and the melody of the flute is indeed truly sublime, and fit for gods.

As advised by Bharatha, the flute was played mainly as an accompanying instrument ‘in harmony with the vocalist and the veena player’.

Avanaddha (covered or percussion)


7.1. As compared to Susira (hollow) instruments, the Avanaddha the covered instruments are discussed in great detail in the Chapter thirty-three of Natyashastra.

Avanaddha (membranophone) refers to instruments that produce sound primarily by way of a vibrating stretched membrane.  That merely means these instruments were made by covering a frame of wood or a vessel with a piece of stretched leather that is held in position by thin and long leather straps. The Avanaddha type of mentioned in Natyashastra are basically the drums and percussion instruments of various sorts. They were used for keeping rhythm, measuring Taala and also for making great sounds.

7.2. The drums were played on various occasions such as; festivals; processions; auspicious occasions and happy times as the weddings, birth of sons; during expeditionary marches; and, in  a battle where many fighters assemble .

Bharatha advises that only a small number of instruments be played during household celebrations.

During a Drama many instruments could be played to bring about harmonious blending of the different limbs (Anga) of the play. Drums could also be used to cover up faults, mishaps and delays.


8.1. Bharatha often uses the term Pushkara (drums made of wood) Vadya-s to denote the Avanaddha type of instruments that are covered with hide. Among these, the three viz. Mridanga, Panava and Dardura were the major type (Anga) of the Pushkara Vadya-s. And, Jhallarl and Pataha etc were the minor ones.

8.2. With regard to the major type of Pushkara-s (Mridanga, Panava and Dardura) Bharatha says (NS.37-39): They have no harshness of sound, produce clear notes, and are played with well regulated strokes.

8.3. As regards the rules of playing these three Pushkara-s , it is said : Pushkara instruments should have following aspects :  sixteen syllabic sounds (aksara\ four Margas, Vilepana, six  Karanas, three Yatis, three Layas, three Gatis, three  Pracsras, three Yogas, three Panis, five Pani-prahata,  three Praharas, three Marjanas, eighteen Jaatis and twenty Prakaras.

Then the text goes into explanations of each of those terms.

9.1. Bharatha elaborates various aspects related to Pushkara Vadya-s in great detail. He describes in fair detail  : the types of Pushkara-; making of Drums; their sizes; the types of wood ,the hides  and the blackish earth  from the river banks to be used; the ways of playing different varieties of Pushkara-s; the technical aspects of playing; the manners of playing drums in different situations in a play; the manner of playing Pushkara-s along with a song or string and wind instruments,  with dance or on festive occasions ;playing to suit the movements of different types of characters in a play such as hers, heroine, villain , jester , Gandharvas, Daityas, Danavas, Yaksas, Raksasas and others; the ways of playing for superior females and for the lesser female characters; the ways to celebrate joy, mirth , love, happiness  etc; ways of playing to suggest sorrow, suffering, loss of life ,killing,  death of dear ones etc; the manner of playing drums to suggest movement of elephants, horses , birds, chariots, boats ;  and so on.

He also lists of the qualities (guna) and defects (dosha) of the drum player in relation to playing each type of drum, such as :  Mrdanga, Panava, Dardara and others.

9.2. The text mentions the manner of playing Pushkara-s when accompanying a song or a dance sequence. The playing of drums should correspond with in metre of the songs. When the Mrudanga plays to a song of slow tempo (Vilamba kaala) the strokes should be mild; when the song is in middle tempo (Madhyama Kaala) the strokes should be  clear the syllables; and so on.

And when playing to a dance, the Mrudanga should follow the Laya (tempo) and Taala of the dance steps and movements. And, the strokes should be pure, uniform (Sama), pleasing (Rakta), clear (Sphuta) following the rhythm of dance and enhancing the beauty of its presentation.

9.3. Natyashastra even specifies how the Avanaddha-Kutapa (players on percussion instruments such as Mrudanga, Pavana and Dardura) be positioned on the stage along with other music-players. According to that :  The Tata –Kutapa (group of vocalists, the players on string instruments, and the flutists) should be seated on the stage between the entry and exit doors; and should face East. The Mrdanga player should face the stage; the players of Panava and the Dardara should sit to his left and right respectively.





10.1. Mridanga is perhaps the best known and more widely used percussion instrument in all types and forms of Drama, Music or ritual-celebrations. And, Mridanga seems to have remained virtually the same over the past several centuries. It is capable of producing rich, varied and complex type of beats. With the dextrous uses of hands and wrists a virtuoso Mridanga can generate successive series of rhythmic sounds.

10.2. Bharatha gives the descriptions of three kinds of Mridanga: Ankika, Alingya and Urdhavaka.

:- Ankika was a wide-bodied Mrudanga; its length being three and half Tala-s (Tala= is the length of the palm from wrist to tip of middle fingers; roughly about 7 to 8 inches).  The diameter of its   face measured twelve fingers (angula) wide ( say , about 9 inches) . And, in shape, it resembled a myrobalan fruit.

:- Alingya was slightly smaller in size. Its width, it was three Tala long (nearly 2 feet) ; and, the diameter of its face is eight fingers (angula-s) – say 6 inches . It was  tapering in appearance, resembling cows tail (Gau-puccha).

:- And, Urdhvaka was bigger than the other two. It was four Tala-s wide ( 30 to 32 inches) ; and , the diameter of its face was  fourteen fingures (angula)-  about 10 ½ inches.  Urdhvaka was shaped like barley (shaped like a large grain of rice).

10.3. The Panava like Mrudanga, had two faces covered by membranes; and  was smaller in size. It was sixteen fingers wide (12 inches); and its faces were 8 ½ fingers in diameter (8 inches) . And, its middle was hollow and thin (four fingers in diameter, 3 inches). Its rims were each half of a finger thick.

It was played at the time of worship (Stuti or Deva puja) and during the battle as battle call. Its beats were said to be very invigorating. Nanyadeva says that on hearing the sound of Panava, Lord Shiva will dance in ecstasy.

10.4. The Dardara was shaped like a bell of sixteen figure height (12 inches). Its face resembled that of a pot (Ghata) of twelve fingures in diameter ( say , 8 inches) , with fat lips (rims) on all side. Dardara was made of wooden frame over which a hide  was stretched tightly. In shape, it perhaps resembled a huge gong or a big water pot (maha-ghatakatah). The Dardara could perhaps be the forerunner of Ghatam.



[ There was  also a mention of other types of Drums with large surfaces such as Bheri, Pathana, Dundhubhi , Dindima etc known for the depth and loudness of their sounds . But, there is not much discussion in the text about these instruments in the context of Music, Dance or Drama.]

Ghana, the Solid


11.1.After the strings (Tata), the covered (Avanaddha) and the hollow (Susira) comes the Solid the Ghana. 

11.2. The most fundamental of the Ghana (solid) Vadya is said to be the human body itself. It is very common to see clapping of hands (Tala) , counting fingers, waving the hands, striking palms on the thighs or hips, stamping the feet on the dance floor etc in a rhythmic ways to keep or measure time.  Even the singers of Sama–Gana kept rhythm by clapping and waving hands. Even today one can see in Karnataka music concerts, persons (either on stage or in the audience) clapping to keep time (Taala) while   percussion instruments are played. It is said; Cymbals (classified as Ghana Vadya) – made of metal- also called as Tala are but an extension of the act of clapping to keep time.


11.3. The Ghana vadya-s (Idiophone Instruments) are instruments made of wood or metal that produce sound when they are struck. Along with the solid Cymbals made of metal, Natyashastra mentions Patah and Ghata (bell) as Ghana Vadya-s. The instruments of this group are usually played with a striker or hammer. 

1.4. Natyashastra mentions that these instruments of solid class (Ghana) help to measure time (Kaala) and to maintain the tempo (Laya) . And, those who play the Ghana Vadya-s  in a performance should know the rules of Taala and Laya.

12.1. The Ghana vadya-s made of metal, are not capable of producing definite pitches that are required for creating a melody. That, perhaps, is the reason   why they are not used in classical music concerts. But, the Cymbals, the Tala, are an essential part of the Dance music.

And, the Tala (Cymbals) is an essential ingredient of the  Bhakthi Samgita and Bhajans.

During a dance or a song on the stage, the Cymbals provided rhythm (Taala) to the flow of music and dance.



Continued in Part Ten


Sources and References

1. The Natyasastra ascribed to Bharata Muni by Monomohan Ghosh

2.  Musical Instruments in India through the agesby Chaitanya Kunte

3. Origin of Indian Instrumental Music


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Eight

lowContinued from Part Seven – Music in Natyashastra

Part Eight (of 22) – Dhruva Gana in Natya


Dhruva Gana

1.1. Drama in the ancient context was said to be a blend of four components: speech; gesture; song (or music); and emotion. Each of these was believed to correspond with a Veda: the spoken word or speech the vehicle of elemental power with Rig-Veda; acting, gestures and expressions with ritual action of Yajur Veda; songs rooted in tradition with the musical style of rendering the Sama Veda verses; and emotional elements communicated to spectators through the combination of all such means with Atharva Veda.

1.2. A play was described as a Poem (Kavya) that is to be seen and heard (Drshya-Kavya). Song and Music, therefore, did play a vital role in the enactment of a play. The songs in the play were of Dhruva Gana class.

2.1. Dhruva Gana initially meant versified stage-songs that are essential to a play. They were the type of songs that were sung by the actors on the stage as also by the singers in the wings, to the accompaniment of musical instruments, during the course of the play. These songs formed an essential ingredient of the play. And, Natyashastra says:  without songs the Drama is incapable of providing joy (NS. 32. 482). Therefore, much importance is assigned to Dhruva Gana. Natyashastra devotes one entire and a lengthy chapter (Chapter 32) for discussing the Dhruva songs.

2.2. Abhinavagupta explains that the type of these songs were called Dhruva ( = standpoint; locus of reference)  because in it,  the Vakya (sentence), Varna (syllables) , Alamkara ( grace notes), Yatis ( succession of rhythm patterns) , Panyah ( use or non-use of drums) and Laya ( beats) were  harmoniously fixed ( Dhruva) in relation to each other .(anyonya sambandha) .

Vakya –Varna–Alamkara  yatyaha -panayo-layah I   Dhruvam-anyonya sambandha yasmath smada Dhruva smrutah II

He further says, the composition (pada samuha) structured as per a rule (niyatah) and that which supports (adhara) singing could be called Dhruva (Dhruvah- Gitya-adhara niyatah pada –samuha).

At another place, Abhinavagupta explains Dhruva as the basis or the support (adhara) on which the song rests. Abhinavagupta saya: just as the painting is supported by wall, the Dhruva song is supported by Pada (word). And, Pada in turn is supported by, the Chhandas (meter) – (Abhinavagupta: NS.32.8).

Thus in the Dhruva Gana the words of the song are regulated by Chhandas. And , the words are then set to appropriate tunes and Taala-s.

Abhinavagupta explains that the Dhruva songs help to enhance the artistic sense of the important themes that occur in various situations in a play.

Earlier,  Natyashastra (NS: 32.32) had also explained  Dhruva Gana as well composed songs that are steadfast (Dhruva) in  the principles of Pada (words), Varna (syllables) and Chhandas (meter) .

When to sing and what to sing


3.1. During the play, the Dhruva–Gana songs were sung at various situations in the drama including entry or exit of a character; or for heightening the emotions; or for dance movements or steps. The type and mood of Dhruva songs varied depending upon the demands of the dramatic situation.  That would also take into  consideration  the theme, the context in  performance, the age and the nature of the character as also the moods , the seasons , the place , time (day or night) and conditions ( bright sun , moonlight , cloudy or raining) and so on.

3.2. Natyashastra says that events and emotions that either cannot be expressed or remain to be expressed in speech should be presented through songs. That is because; the songs have the tender power, flexibility and ripeness to bring out the inner content (aantharya) of the situation succulently. And, in songs the words seem to acquire greater depth of meaning.

For instance; the Avakrsta songs having long drawn out syllables were used in pathos and when the character was in misery or nearing death. Dhruva-s of Sthitha in slow tempo were sung in the case of separation, longing for the beloved, anxiety, exhaustion or dejection. Prasdiki Dhruva-s in medium tempo is for love scenes, recalling a pleasent memory, sweet speech and wonder. And, the Druta type of Dhruva-s having short or rapid notes were employed in situations where there was furious heroism, , wonder, excitement , excessive joy or anger .

3.3. At the same time, the Natyashastra also tried to maintain a sense of balance between speech and song. It therefore said: The first round of Dhruva should be without drums, because it is important for the spectators to get to know the theme of the song. And, too much music should not be used in Dhruva because the substance of the song is important to outline the context of the scene. The words (Pada) of the Dhruva are important and should be heard clearly.

And, when a character enters crying in excitement, in wonder or announcing a statement, then Dhruva songs were not to be used.

Particularly when female actors sing the music should not be so loud as to   hamper the intricacies of singing. Generally women have sweet and soft voice and they could be allowed more number of songs with mellow instrumentation. The men who have vigorous voice could use louder and intricate instrumental music.

Five types of Dhruva


4.1. Five types of Dhruva are mentioned in the context of Natya according to the situation and the desired mood to be evoked: Pravesiki Dhruva; Naiskramiki Dhruva; Aksepiki Dhruva; ; Prasadiki Dhruva; and Antara Dhruva.

Some of the Dhruva songs were sung by the musicians behind the curtain. And when it was removed the character would enter and join the singing and gesturing the mood etc indicated by the song. All those songs were played to the accompaniment of the instruments.

4.2. Pravesiki Dhruva: – these were songs heralding the entrance of a main character on to the stage for the first time. The singing of the Dhruva was generally from behind the screen (Nepathye); and when the screen was removed the character entered on to the stage. And, the actor too would join the singing. This appears to be the forerunner of the Paatra-pravesha Daru of Bhagavata Mela, Yakshagana and Kuravanji Nataka. Rajashekara (Balabharata 1-14) says, the Dhruva that announces and introduces a character, delights the hearts of the spectators helps to forge a relation between the two.

4.3. Naiskramiki Dhruva: – songs rendered during the exit of a character either at end or the middle of an act.

4.4. Aksepiki Dhruva: – songs rendered, between the acts, after a tense scene or to indicate change of mood. The change, sometimes, occurs in the character after listening to Nepathya-vakya – the speech behind the curtain. Along with the change in the mood, a change in tempo also takes place – from slow to quick or the other way. Abhinavagupta illustrates the use of Aksepiki sung in fast tempo (Druta) to indicate the change of mood of Sri Rama from that of sadness (Shoka) to that of heroics (Vira) after listening to Ravana.

4.5. Prasadiki Dhruva: – Prasadiki is described as that which gives rise to colourful delight (ranga-raga) and happiness (Prasada). This type of songs sung in Madhyama Kaala  are used to express Srinagar Rasa, as in love-scenes, the first meeting of the lovers, recalling a pleasent memory sweet speech, joy and wonder. It is also meant to clam the spectators after a stressful scene as in Aksepiki.

4.6. Antara Dhruva – is a sort of ‘filler’ that could be used to rescue the performance. It could cover up a gap due to delay or due to a mishap during the play. It could also be sung to offer relief after a disturbing scene such as violence, anger, intense grief swooning, poisoning etc. All such songs were played to the accompaniment of the instruments

Antara was always being sung from behind the curtain, while the other four types being sung on the stage and some of that the leading characters.

It is said; Antara Dhruva songs were sung even to divert audience’s attention. For instance; in the middle of one of his plays, Bharatha introduces a song and dance sequence that apparently had no relevance to the narration of the story. The learned among the audiences are promptly confused. They inquire Bharatha “We can understand about acting which conveys definite meaning. But, this dance and this music you have brought in seem to have no meaning. What use are they?”  Bharatha agrees that there is no meaning attached to those dances and songs; and goes on to explain calmly “yes, but it adds to the beauty of the presentation and common people naturally like it. And, as these are happy and auspicious songs people love it more; and they even  perform these dances and sing these songs at their homes on marriage and other happy occasions”(Natyashastra : 4.267-268)

[ Such ‘relief’ Antara Dhruva was perhaps the forerunners of the Item-songs of the Bollywood.]

Chhandas (Meter)

5.1. Bharatha says that just as the Vedic chants, the Dhruva cannot be without Chhandas (meter) _ (NS: 32.432). In the Natyashastra, Chhandas are discussed as an essential part of vācika abhinaya. And, Vac is said to be the soul of this Abhinaya (expressions with gesticulation). Bharatha considers that the words in Dhruva and Chhandas go together; they are mutually dependent.

(Chandohīno na śabdoˊsti na chanda śabdavarjitam, evam tūbhayasa¿yogo nāyasyoddyotaka smta ).

5.2. Bharatha combines the discussion on Chhandas with that on dramatic-plot with script (Pathya). The Chhandas, he says, gives a structure to the words of the Dhruva song (Chhandamsi hya nibaddha).

5.3. The Chapter 16 of the Natyashastra discusses the practical aspects of Chhandas in Dhruva Gana and gives about 116 illustrations of Dhruva-s set in various Vedic meters such as: Gayatri, Anustub, Tristub, Brihati, Jagati, Panaki etc


Laya (Tempo)

Dance Drama


Laya literally means ‘to be one with’ and binds the emotion of the song with the Tempo.  Laya signifies the speed or the Tempo of a song or dance. Chapter 29 of the Natyashastra discusses how the emotional content (Rasa) or the mood of a Dhruva song could be best presented in a certain Laya.

The measurement of time is usually in terms of the time- interval between two events. Time (that is the duration) appears as a chain that links events separated from one another by periods of rest (absence of events) . That is to say the duration between two events which becomes the basic unit of measure is known as Kaala .

The Kaala is measured in terms of the time-units called Matra. And, one Matra is the time taken to utter five short syllables (e.g. Ka-Cha-Ta-Pa). It is, of course, not precise ; because,  the time taken to utter five short syllable might vary from person to person. But, it taken as the approximate time that most, normal, persons would take. Therefore, in the Gandharva Music, Matra is not rigid.

Kaala is the basic unit in terms of which the duration of the Taala is measured (Abhinavagupta: NS: 31.06). A Taala segment is identified as a structure of so many number of  Kaala-s. (Thus, Kaala, Matra, Laya and taala are all inter related terms).

The three kinds of units of measure (Kaala) that were employed in the Gandharva Music were: Laghu (short), Guru (long) and Pluta (extended). Laghu is equal to one Matra; Guru to two Matra-s; and Pluta to three Matra-s.

Laya is understood as the time-interval between two Matra-s ( or the pause between two strokes). If the intervals are of short duration then the beats must be fast; and the Tempo would be fast. If the intervals are twice the duration of the fast tempo, the beats become slower; and the Tempo would be middle. And similarly, if the intervals are four times the duration, the beats would get slower ; and the tempo would be slow.

The text speaks of three kinds of Laya: Vilambita (slow); Madhyama (middle); and Dhruta (fast). Vilambita is the basic speed; Madhyama is double the speed of Vilambita Laya; and, Dhruta, the fast, is double the speed of Madhyama Laya.

In Druta Laya the time lag between two Kaala-s is brief; each following the other in quick succession. Thus, when the Laya is short, the tempo of the Taala would be fast. In Madhya Laya, the tempo would be medium ; and in Vilamba   the tempo would be  slow. The change from Druta to Madhyama is spoken as ‘doubling of Laya’.

There are also other ways of classifying Laya:  Sama, Srotogata and Gopuccha. This is spoken in terms of Yati which is a sort of method to indicate Laya.

In the Sama there is a uniformity of Laya in the beginning, in the middle and in the end.  In the Srotagata (like the flow of the river that expands in breadth)  Vilambita is used in the beginning, Madhyama in the middle and Druta in the end. The Goputccha (tapering like a cow’s tail) is the reverse order of Srotagata.

Laya is an integral part of music, while Taala is its physical expression through a precise time-cycle. Laya is thus said to be Prana (vital force) of Taala. And the two terms are sometimes used alternatively. Therefore, the Taala-s of Dhruva songs sometimes are referred to as Laya-s or Laya-taala.

 Bharatha   elaborated on Taala in the 29th chapter of the Natyashastra, as it performed a large role in coordinating different activities of music, drums and dance. The function of the Taala is measuring the rhythm of the song and regulating the flow of the rhythm and the melody in the song. He explained Taala saying as a definite measure of time upon which Dhruva Gana rests:  ganam talena dharyathe. Matra is the smallest unit of the Taala. A Taala does not have a fixed tempo (Laya); and, can be played at different speeds. The Taala-s used in Dhruva songs were simpler – say , like Tryasra and Chturasra. ; and , were regulated by the meter (Chhandas)  of the song text (Pathya) (Abhinavagupta :NS: 32.352)  .

In the Tryasra Dhruva the steps should follow three Kaalas. And, in Chatusra they should follow four Kaalas (Kaala = Matra that is the time required to utter five short syllables)

Natyashastra recommends songs exuding Karuna Rasa (sorrow) should in Vilamba Laya; Sringara (erotic) in Madhyama Laya; and, Veera (heroics) and Raudra (anger) in Druta Laya.

And, in relation to Dhruva Gana, in particular, Natyashastra provides number of illustrations.

:- Dhruva compositions of Avakrsta  type , full of long syllables (Avakrsta) expressing pathos (Karuna) , separation (Viraha) ; or when the character on the stage is fettered , fallen , disabled, fainted and nearing death  – should be rendered in Vilamba Kaala  (slow tempo).

– When the movement is slow (with wide steps) as during the entry of an elephant; and when songs with long syllables are sung

– Dhruva-s of Sthitha type in slow tempo depicting separation, longing for the beloved, anxiety, restlessness, exhaustion or dejection, should be rendered in Vilamba Kaala (slow tempo).

– With regard to Sthitha Dhruva songs, its twofold aspects (sthana)  are described  as Parastha and Atma-samsrita . Abhinavagupta explains these terms as referring to songs that help to clearly bring out the pathos the situation. For instance; the character of Sri Rama sings a Dhruva song in anguish pining for his separated beloved Sita it would be Atma-samsrita ( concerned with the character proper); and , the Dhruva song  that Lakshmana sings  empathising with his brother and sharing  his pain that would be Parastha  ( concerned with others’ sorrow).

:-  Madhyama Kaala is the normal or the standard (middle) Tempo. And, it is particularly recommended for Prasadiki type of Dhruva songs sung in love scenes (Sringara), first meeting of lovers (prathama samagama), recalling a pleasent memory (priya varthalapa) , sweet speech (madhouse bhashi), joy (harsha) and wonder (Adbhutam, Vismaya)).

: – Dhruta the fast Tempo is employed in varieties of occasions:

–  When the character is in confusion, wonder, sudden joy or anger.

– For Dhruva of short syllables; for quick movement during scenes that depict entry of chariots, aerial-cars (Vimana).

–  For Druta type of Dhruva-s having short or rapid notes, employed in situations where there was furious heroism, wonder, excitement, excessive joy or anger.

[A word of caution the concepts of Kaala, Matra , Laya etc as mentioned in the ancient Gandharva and Gana Music are NOT the same as they are understood in the present time.]

Drama chariot


[Natyashastra provided rules not merely for singing but also for speech delivery (Vachika) . It mentions that in order to bring out the right effects the speech should be well articulated and should respect the virtues (Dharma) of: Svara (notes), Sthana (voice registers), Varna (pitch of the vowel), Kaku (intonation), and Laya (tempo) – NS.19.43-59.

It specifies that the scenes involving humour (Hasya) and erotic or love (Srungara) the speech should be modulated by Madhyama and Panchama Svaras (notes); acute pitch (Udatta and Svarita); and , medium tempo (Madhya Laya). Where as in the scenes depicting heroics (Vira) and wonder (Adbhuta ) the speech should be in Shadja and Rishabha Svaras; acute and trembling pitch (Udatta and Kampita) ; and , quick tempo (Druta Laya). And, in the scenes of pathos (Karuna) the speech should in slow tempo (vilamba).

As regards the voice registers (Sthana), they vary according to the space (distance) on the stage between the characters.  It is said:  to call a character that is at a distance, the voice should proceed from the top register (Siras); to call one who is a short distance the voice register should emanate from chest (Uras); and, to speak to one who is standing next the voice register should be from the throat (Kanta). ]



9.1. Theatre in the Natyashastra is a huge symbolism; and , it is projected beyond the natural world.  Apart from that , Theatre in the sense of Drama functions on many levels of symbolism – through speech (Vachika-abhinaya), costume , make-up (Aharya) gestures (Mudra), exhibiting emotions (sattvika abhinaya) and in  music (Gana).

9.2. Dhruva symbolisms are dealt with great detail.  Symbols representing the moon, the fire, the sun and the wind; and these are to be used in the case of gods and kings; The night , the moon light, lotus plants, she elephants , rivers and night in the case of queens; The clouds, mountains and oceans are used in the case of demons; The elephants in the rut and royal-swans in the case of superior beings; Peacocks and lotuses in the case of middling’s; Cuckoos , bees in the case of others;  Creepers and swans in the case of other women and courtesans; The female bee and female cuckoo in the case other  women.

9.3. The entrance song (Pravesiki) is to be sung to indicate anything happening in the fore-noon; and, the exit song (Naiskramiki) to indicate anything happening by day and night. Gentle Dhruva-s are to be sung to indicate the forenoon; and, the songs with excitement to indicate the noon . And, the pathetic Dhruva-s are to be sung in case of afternoon and evenings.

The symbolisms of the Dhruva-s with their evocative suggestions, enriched by melodious music, helped to enhance the aesthetic quality of the theatrical presentation.

Languages of Dhruva Gana



10.1. The language of the Dhruva songs, which were sung either by the actors or by the musicians behind the curtain, was, usually, not Sanskrit (in contrast to Gandharva songs in Sanskrit that were sung during the Purvanga, the preliminaries), but was Prakrit, the regional languages. Natyashastra discusses the features of the Dhruva songs composed in regional dialects ; and , in that context mentions seven known dialects  (Desha-bhasha) of its time : Māgadhī,  Āvantī,  Prācyā, Śaurasenī,  Ardhamāgadhī,  Bāhlikā  and  Dākiātyā  (NŚ 5.17-48).  However, most of the Dhruva-s were composed in Suraseni or Magadhi; and some in Ardha-Samskrita (mixture of Sanskrit and the regional language). The songs addressing to heavenly beings were however in Sanskrit (NS.32.441).

10.2. As regards Śaurasenī, it was the language spoken around the region of Surasena (Mathura area). And, in the play the female characters, Vidūṣaka (jester), children, astrologers and others around the Queens court spoke in Śaurasenī. It was assigned a comparatively higher position among the Prakrita dialects.

10.3. In comparison, Magadhi , the dialect of the Magadha region in the East , was spoken in the play by lesser characters such as servants, washer -men, fishermen, , barbers , doorkeepers , black-smiths, hunters  and by the duṣṭa (wicked)  . Even otherwise, the people of Magadha as such were not regarded highly and were projected in poor light.

10.4. In some versions, there is a mention of Mahārāṣṭ also. It was a language spoken around the river Godavari and according to linguists; it is an older form of Marāṭhī. In some plays, the leading-lady and her friends speak in Śaurasenī, but sing in Mahārāṣṭ.

10.5. Natyashastra (NS.32.56-354) presents more than 116 examples of Dhruva-s in Prakrit in various meters  including Vedic meters such as Gayatri, Anustubh, and Tristubh etc.

10.6. The language of the Suraseni or Magadhi (specially the Narukta Dhruva) dialects was usually be simple. And, the songs talked about the things that one sees in nature during the different seasons (Rtu) , such as : the bright sun, the soothing moon, the  sparking stars in a cloudless dark night sky , the passing dark clouds laden with water bringing cheer to the hearts of lovers , the thunderous lightning that drives the Lady love into the arms of the lover etc.

10.7. The language of the Dhruva songs sung by women was generally Prakrit. Bharatha says the vocal music should be generally the province of the women as their voice is naturally sweet.

In the next Part let’s talk about Musical instruments mentioned in Natyashastra.

Please click on the picture below 


Continued in Next Part

Musical Instruments in Natyashastra

Sources and References

Studies in the Nāyaśāstra: With Special Reference to the Sanskrit Drama…

By Ganesh Hari Tarlekar

Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition

By Guy L. Beck

Poetics of performance by TM Krishna

Language of Sanskrit Drama Language of Sanskrit Drama by Saroja Bhate


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Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part seven

Continued from Part six – Gandharva

Part Seven ( of 22 ) – Music in Natyashastra




Gandharva and Gana

1.1. Gandharva and Gana were two major Musical genres of the ancient times.  The Gandharva, as we saw in the previous segment, was the type of songs that was sung during the worship of gods. And, the music performed in the course of play (Natya) was termed as Gana by Abhinavagupta. In the Natyashastra, the term Gana is employed to denote any song; but, in particular to Dhruva songs performed during the play. In other words, broadly, Gitikas were considered Gandharva and Dhruva as Gana.

1.2. Abhinavagupta said; Gandharva and Gana flourished side by side even during later times. And he also pointed out that during the time of Bharatha, the Gana adopted regional tunes for its Dhruva songs. In support of his argument, Abhinavagupta quotes another authority Vriddha (Senior) Kashyapa to show that changes in the Sruti scheme of Bharatha were freely made in Desi ragas.

(kiyad vā rāga-bhāā-deśī-mārgādi-gatānā svarāā śruti vaicitrya brūmah |)

1.3. In the later times, Sarangadeva (13th century) classified Parbandha and other Musical forms of Desi–samgita also under Gana. He speaks of Gana as being of two kinds: Nibaddha (structured) and A-nibaddha (unstructured). Nibaddha refers to compositions governed by rules, say as in a Prabandha. And, the A-nibaddha is free flowing improvised music, say as in Aalapti (Aalap). But, both the modes had to work within the accepted ambit of Music (Samgita).

[Let’s talk of Prabandha in the next segment of this series.]

2.1. The Gana of Natyashastra had its roots in Gandharva. And Gandharva songs were also used before the play proper. For instance; in the Purvanga, that is during the preliminaries before the commencement of the Drama per se, the Gandharva songs of the type Nirgita were sung, to the accompaniment of instruments, offering prayers to Shiva. This was followed by a song in Gitaka format; and by a Tandava dance of Shiva or a Lasya of Shiva and Devi to another Gitaka-song. Thereafter, the Sutradhara (a sort of compère) and his troupe enter the stage, move in a rhythmic dance like steps   and sing Gandharva-songs ( Gitikas)  to delight the gods; bowing to Sakra i.e. Indra (in the East), Yama in the South, Varuna in the West, and to Kubera in the North ; and  praying to gods for successful enactment and completion of the play. However, during the course of the play the Gana was used.

2.2. Though Gana owed much to the Gandharva, the two differed in a number of ways. The Gandharva was regulated Music (niyata), while Gana was relatively free, improvised or incidental Music. Gandharva songs were sung to invite the blessing of gods before the commencement of the play. And, Gana music was tailored to the various dramatic requirements of the performance. And, since Gana was meant for entertainment, it was moulded, largely, by the taste of the spectators at the play.

2.3. In his commentary on the 33rd chapter of Natyashastra, Abhinavagupta draws a four-fold distinction between Gandharva and Gana Music-s. According to Abhinavagupta , the two differ in their : in Svarupa –  structure and ways of employing Svara, Taala and Pada; in Phala –  the  benefits or the objectives ;  the one is in praise of Shiva and pleasing gods  while the other strives to gladden the hearts of  the audience in a theatrical performance;  in Kaala – the context or the occasions of their rendering , one is for worship and the other is for entertainment; and , in Dharma – in their distinctive nature and functions.

Let see this in a little more detail:

Svara, Taala, Pada and Phala


3.1. As regards the Musical aspects, in Gandharva the Svaras were employed at fixed intervals (Sruti); and the Sruti intervals were well defined. For instance; in the Shadja Grama, Ri was on the third Sruti above Sa; Ga was on the second Sruti above Ri and so on. Such rigidity was not needed in Gana (Kim ca antarāla-niyamo….gāndharve’vaśya-samvedha | na tv eva gāne).  Abhinavagupta while explaining this aspect says that he is elaborating what was in actual practice (pratita) during those times (uktam api pratītam anucitrīyate).


3.2. In Gāndharva, the Taala, which measured time through a fixed number of demarcations, was also governed by rigid rules. Its main aim was to establish Saamya or equipoise. Taala occupied a secondary position (angāngibhāva) to Svara.  In the case of Gana, the Taala enjoyed more flexibility. The Taala in a play could aesthetically be improvised to suit the dramatic situations and also to provide entertainment through colourful rhythmic play.


3.3. The importance of Pada also varied in the two types of Music. In Gandharva, the Svara and Taala had predominance over Pada. In Gana, the text of the songs, the Pada, needed much attention as its words were of importance. The role of Pada is, thus, different in Gana and Gāndharva.


3.4. The Gandharva is pleasant and it also bestows merit (punya). But Gana is used only for its effect and not for its intrinsic merit. ‘It is, therefore, unjust to identify the two.’

(anāditvād dṛṣṭādṛṣṭa-phalatvāc ca pradhāna gāndharvam… | gāna hi prīti-kārye vartate | tena tādātmya tāvad ayuktam)

3.4. As regards the context (Kaala) in which Gandharva and Gana are used , Gandharva could be used only in the Purvanga (ritual prologue to the play) . But , during the course of the play Dhruva songs were sung in Grama-jaatis .

Thus, the function or the nature (Dharma) of the Gandharva and Gana differed: Gandharva to please the gods and Gana to entertain humans.


Before we speak of its Samgita a few words about Natyashastra

4.1. Natya-Shastra is a detailed compendium of more than about five thousand verses spread over thirty-six chapters dealing with all aspects of play production. The text was meant as practical manual imparting technical instructions about the performing arts; and, for production of   successful theatrical performances. It is said that the text which we now know as Natya-Shastra was based on an earlier text that was much larger (Adi-Bharata or Dwadasha-sahasri, because it contained twelve thousand verses). There are also frequent references to the writers of the earlier time and other views.

4.2. Natya-Shastra describes itself as Natyaveda, the fifth Veda that would be accessible to all the four castes (1:12). It claims that the text imbibes in itself the articulated- spoken word or text (patya) from Rig-Veda ; the ritual and the body-language (abhinaya)  from Yajur Veda ; musical sound , the song-notes, from Sama Veda; and Sattvika (understanding of the relation between mind and body-expressions) – for conveying various bhavas through expressions exuding grace and charm – from Atharva Veda (Natya-Shastra – 1:17-19) .

4.3. The text is permeated with the Vedic symbolism and the imagery. The theatrical production is compared to Yajna; with the stage being the vedika,   the altar. The dramatic spectacle, just as Yajna, is said to have a moral and ethical purpose.  The object of the drama was to show men the proper way, a way in which one could live and behave, so that one might become a better ‘man’.

4.4. The text reveres and worships Vedic gods such as Indra, Varuna and Vayu (not the gods celebrated in Puranas); talks mainly in terms of the symbolism and imagery of the Vedic Yajna following the Vedic ethos; and it consistently projects the world-view cherished by the Rig-Veda: of the one formless or unformed (Arupa) evolving in to multiple forms (rupa prati rupa) and then on to the form beyond (Para rupa),

4.5. It is, therefore, generally believed that the text was articulated at a time when the Vedic life-style tempered by the sombre contemplative speculation of the Upanishad, was still alive.


The mention of the Buddhist Bhiksus and Jain Samanas indicate that Natya-Shastra was of post – Buddha and Mahavira period.  And, its Dhruva songs are in a form of Prakrit, which predates the great poet Ashvaghosha’s play (first century).

For these reasons, the scholars generally believe that Natya-Shastra might have been composed sometime around the first or second century BCE, but not later.

5.1. The compiler of Natya-Shastra calls it a prayoga Shastra – a framework of principles of praxis or practice. Bharata makes a significant opening statement: “I am creating a theory and text of performance; of practice and experimentation” .He also underlines the fact that the efficacy of its formulation lies in practice (prayoga).

5.2. There is a certain flexibility built in to the structure of the text. It provides for varied interpretations and readings. The author himself encourages innovations and experimentations in production and presentation of plays. He even permits modification of his injunctions; and states the rules “can be changed according to the needs of time (kaala) and place (desha)” .The text accordingly makes room for fluidity of interpretation and multiple ways of understanding it. The intellectual freedom that Bharata provided to his readers/listeners ensured both continuity and change in Indian arts over the centuries.

6.1. The term Natya is derived from the root Nat (= to act); and the one who acts is a Nata. And, Natya is the art of the Nata, which is the dramatic art. The actor re-lives the ‘life’ of the character he plays, and presents before the spectators his interpretation of that character, by means of dramatic-art.

Bharatha explains: when the nature of the world possessing pleasure and pain both is depicted by means of representations through speech, songs, gestures , music and other (such as, costume, makeup, ornaments etc ) it is called Natya. (NS 1.119)

6.2. The text employs Natya as a generic term, which broadly covers drama, dance and music. At the time the NatayaShastra was compiled, the arts of poetry, dance, music and drama; and even painting, and sculpture were not viewed as separate and individualized streams of art forms. It was an integral vision of art, which blossomed in multiplicity. All art expressions were viewed as vehicles of beauty providing both pleasure and education, through refinement of senses and sense perceptions. The reason that theatre-arts were discussed specifically was that, in the ancient Indian context, drama was considered the most comprehensive form of art-expressions.

7.1. The compiler of the Natyashastra, whoever he might be, comes across as a person of great learning, culture and rooted in good tradition (sampradaya, parampara). He was well grounded not merely in Vedic learning and its ethos  , but also  in  kavya (literature) , fine arts,  Ayurveda (medicine),  jyothisha  (astrology), ganitha  (mathematics),  vastu- shilpa (architecture) and  hathayoga,  His understanding of the human anatomy- particularly the motor and sensory systems and the joints; the relation between the physical stimulus and psychic response; as also the relation between psychic states and expressions through physical movements ; were truly remarkable.

7.2. Natya-Shastra has provided a sustainable foundation and framework for development of theory and practice of arts in India. It also touches on the related areas of cultural life of India. It is the foundation on which Indian philosophical thinking squarely rests.  Just as Panini standardized the classical form of Sanskrit, Bharata standardized the classical form of drama. He gave it status and dignity; a form and an objective; a vision and finally a technique. His brilliant intuition and intellect has inspired generations of artists over several centuries.

[The attempt to explain Bharata as an acronym for three syllables Bha (Bhava), Ra (Raga) and Ta (Taala) somehow does not seem convincing. At the time Natya-Shastra was composed, music was discussed in terms of pada (words), svara (notes) and tala (time-unit) which formed the components of Gandharva music. The term Raga (in the sense we understand it now) did not come into circulation until Matanga’s Brihaddesi,   (about sixth century).]

[For more on Natyashastra please click here.]


8.1. Natyashastra is composed in a cryptic Sutra form; and is not easy to read or to understand. As Shri Adya Rangacharya remarked, the text is rather rambling and repetitive; and the word-to-word translation would not be of much use since its terms could be interpreted in more than one way. One does, therefore, need the guidance of a commentary to wade through Natyashastra. The earliest commentary on Natyashastra that has survived and that which is most celebrated is the Abhinavabharati of Abhinavagupta (11th century).

8.2. Abhinavagupta was a visionary and a philosopher who combined in himself the experiences of a mystic and a Tantric. He was gifted with extraordinary incisive intellectual powers of a logician, as also the skills of a commentator and an art critic. He illumines and interprets the text of the Bharata at many levels: conceptual, structural and technical. In addition, he summed up the views of his predecessors (that is, the scholars who earlier commented on Natyashastra), before presenting his own arguments. Abhinavagupta brought fresh perspectives to the concepts of Bharata, particularly on aesthetic experience (Rasa) and art creation. Although Abhinavabharati is a commentary, it is for all purposes an independent treatise on aesthetics in Indian dance, poetry, music and art.

[For more on Abhinavabharati please click here.]



9.1. Natyashastra was mainly concerned with Drama. And, the role of Music in it, in conjunction with other components, was primarily to heighten the dramatic effects of the acts and scenes in the play. Music, in that context, was another beautiful, artistic, effective device to articulate the moods of various theatrical situations through appropriate thematic tunes and songs. Therefore, Natyashastra was more interested in applied-music than in Music per se (Samgita-shastra).

9.2. The ‘Music’ that the Natyashastra talks about is indeed the Samgita. The term Samgita in the early Indian context denoted a composite art-form comprising Gita (vocal singing), Vadya (instrumental accompaniments) and Nrtta or Nartana the limb movement or dance (Gitam, Vadyam, Nrtyam Samgita-mucchyate). In the latter times, the scope of the term Samgita narrowed down to what we now call ‘music’. Dance became a separate art form. And, within Music the vocal remained the more dominant aspect. The instrumental music follows what is rendered vocally.

[The third component of Samgita (that is Nrtta, the limb movement) involves: Natya which refers to its physical aspects); and, Nrtya the expressive dance movements- in contrast to pure, abstract style of dancing.  The key ingredient in these is the elaborate gesture-language Abhinaya (lit. To bring near, that is to present before the eyes) which involves pose, gesture and facial expressions, finger movements foot work etc.]

10.1. Natyashastra pays considerable importance to aspects of Music. It devotes eight of its (chapters 27-34) to Music in the play and Music in general. In fact, chapters 28-36 offer one of the earliest sources of Indian music theory.

10.2. The chapter twenty seven deals with music employed in theatre. The next five Chapters 28-33 are devoted to Gandharva Music and its applications. Of these:

:- Chapter twenty eight covers Jaati (melodic types), Sruti (micro-intervals), Svara (notes), Grama (scales), Murcchana (arrangement of the Svaras) and Sthanas (registers).

:-  Chapter twenty nine describes the techniques of plying stringed instruments like the Veena; and distinctions between vocal and instrumental music, further dividing vocal into two types, Varna (colour or syllables) and Giti (‘song’ with lyrics).

:-  Chapter thirty which has only thirteen verses describes wind instruments like the Vamsa (flute) and ways of playing it.

:-  Chapter thirty-one deals with Taala (time-units or rhythm), Laya (three types of tempo), Yati (three types of movements), Pani (three ways of beginning), Ghana (cymbals),  and Chhandas (metrical cycles).

:-  Chapter thirty two   ( which pertains directly to this  post) defines Dhruva songs, their specific employment, forms, and illustrations; definition of song form (Gana); qualities of singer (guna); defects (dosha) of a singer; qualities of a Veena player; qualities of a flute player; qualities of male and female voices; and, qualities of teacher and pupil.

: – Chapter thirty-three deals with Avanaddha – various types of rhythmic instruments – Mrdanga, Pavana and Dardura – their techniques and their application in Drama. Its next, the Chapter thirty-four relates the origin and nature of drums.

: – And, the last three chapters of the treatise, 34 to 36 (inclusive of 36) provide details regarding the different characters, varieties of costumes and popularization of the art of histrionics. The concluding two chapters lay down the principles for distributing roles and the qualifications for members of the troupe.

[Natyashastra provided rules not merely for singing but also for speech delivery (Vachika) . It mentions that in order to bring out the right effects the speech should be well articulated and should respect the virtues (Dharma) of: Svara (notes), Sthana (voice registers), Varna (pitch of the vowel), Kaku (intonation), and Laya (tempo) – NS.19.43-59.

It specifies that the scenes involving humour (Hasya) and erotic or love (Srungara) the speech should be modulated by Madhyama and Panchama Svaras (notes); acute pitch (Udatta and Svarita); and , medium tempo (Madhya Laya). Where as in the scenes depicting heroics (Vira) and wonder (Adbhuta ) the speech should be in Shadja and Rishabha Svaras; acute and trembling pitch (Udatta and Kampita) ; and , quick tempo (Druta Laya). And, in the scenes of pathos (Karuna) the speech should in slow tempo (vilamba).

As regards the voice registers (Sthana), they vary according to the space (distance) on the stage between the characters.  It is said:  to call a character that is at a distance, the voice should proceed from the top register (Siras); to call one who is a short distance the voice register should emanate from chest (Uras); and, to speak to one who is standing next the voice register should be from the throat (Kanta). ]



11.1. For the limited purpose of this article, let’s assume that Music here refers to singing and the playing of wind and stringed instruments that produce a melody; and to the percussion instruments.

11.2. Music was an essential part of the Indian dramatic art. Natyashastra mentions groups of music-makers or Kutapa-s who brighten (ujjvala-yati) the stage (ranga). These were: Tata, the singers and players of stringed instruments; Susira players of wind-blown instruments; Avadhana, players of percussion instruments such as Mrudanga, Pavana, Dardura and Ghana (cymbals); and the Natyakrta, the group of actors who took part in the play.  During the play, Dhruva songs were sung by the actors on the stage as also the singers in the wings, to the accompaniment of musical instruments.

The Gita (song), Vadya (instruments) and Natya (enactment of play) should, ideally, coordinate and perform harmoniously – supporting and strengthening each other with great relish. And, the three Kutapa-s, in combination should suggest a seamless movement like a circle of fire (Alaata chakra); and should brighten (Ujjvalayati) the stage.

Let’s talk about Dhruva Gana in the next Part.


Continued in Part Eight

— Dhruva Gana

Sources and References

Studies in the Nāyaśāstra: With Special Reference to the Sanskrit Drama…

By Ganesh Hari Tarlekar

Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition

By Guy L. Beck

Poetics of performance by TM Krishna

Language of Sanskrit Drama Language of Sanskrit Drama by Saroja Bhate

Dattilam: A Compendium of Ancient Indian Music edited by Emmie te Nijenhuis

Pictures are from Internet

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Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Six

Continued from Part Five  – Akhyana – Ramayana

 Part Six ( of 22)-  Gandharva or Marga Music


Gandharva – Svara, Taala and Pada

After Saman and Akhyana, let’s take a look at the Gandharva or Marga Music.

1.1. The term Gandharva by itself means Music in general (Gandharva-shastra) and the Gandharva form of Music in particular. Gandharva Music regarded as Marga signifies something that which is chaste or classical. Marga, by its very nature, is rather sombre and not quite flexible.  Gandharva was said to be the Music performed for worship of gods since the ancient times. It is both sacred and well regulated (Niyata).

The early Gandharva songs were in praise of Shiva (Shiva-stuti). And, Shiva himself is said to have taught this Marga Music, on his Veena, in his Sri Dakshinamurthy form, to the sages sitting around him.

1.2.  Gandharva or Marga is a sort of counterpart to Saman; and yet, the two are different types of Music. The Svaras in the early Saman were arranged in descending order (Avaroha); and, the concept of Grama –Vibagha (classification as per Gramas) was also not there. The Gandharva Music, in contrast, is based in Gramas and in the ascending and descending order of Svaras (Aroha-Avaroha). In fact, the term Gandharva, either as a class of Music or of musicians, does not appear in Rig-Veda. Similarly, plying of cymbals and marking of Taala also does not appear in conduct of Yajna or in Sama singing.   Further, while the Saman singing was in the context of a Yajna; the Gandharva, on the other hand, seemed to be the singing by trained singers on other worship-occasions (Puja).    Taittiriya Aranyaka (1.9.30) mentions a group of eleven Gandharva-singers (eti ekadasha gandharva-ganah) who sang songs in praise of gods.

1.3. Abhinavagupta, commenting on Natyashastra (36.27), strikes a reconciliatory note and remarks : Although there is no structural similarity between Saman and Gandharva , the fruit (Phala) of rendering the two is indeed the same – bestowing bliss and leading towards Moksha. Such Music is a worthy offering to gods.  And, gods would be delighted with sublime Music than with reading Puranas or lecturing on Yoga exercises.

2.1. Historically, Gandharva occupies an important position in the Music of India. It acts as a bridge between the Music of Saman and the Music of the later generations that has come down to us through series of transformations. In the Gandharva, the original descending Sama Veda scales were recast into new ascending and descending seven Svara (note) structures. These seven notes of the Gandharva – Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, and Ni –  were adopted in Natyashastra and in Dattilam  (Svara-saptaka); and ,more importantly, they  are in use even today.

Therefore, getting to know Gandharva might help to gain a historical perspective of our Music.

3.1. Bharatha explains the term Gandharva as the Music dear to gods (atyartham iṣṭa devānā), giving great pleasure to Gandharvas; and, therefore it is called Gandharva.

(atyartham iṣṭa devānā tathā prīti-kara puna | gandharvāā ca yasmād dhi tasmād gāndharvam ucyate || (NS Ch. 28, 9).

3.2. In Verse three of the Dattilam , its author  Dattila explains Gandharva as a collection of notes (Svara) which is based in words (Pada- thatha–Svara sanghtah ) ; which is  measured by  time-units (Taala) ; and, which is  performed with diligence (prayukthas savadhenena) is known by the name of Gandharva .(Gandharvam abhijayate  ) .

Pada – thatha- Svara sanghtah Talena sumitas thatha  I Prayukthas savadhenena Gandharvam  abhijayate  II

And, Naradiyashiksha (1.4.12) gives the etymology of the term Gandharva by splitting it into three parts. It explains Gandharva as made of: Ga – the song (giti geyam vidhuhu); Dha – playing on the Veena by skilful use of fingers (karupya vadanam); and , Va – other instruments and gestures (veti vadhyasya sanjnya)  ; and says ‘ this indicates Gandharva (ye Gandharvasya nirochanam).

3.3. Abhinavagupta in his Abhinava-bharathi (a commentary on Natyashastra) remarks that Gandharva which is sung from time immemorial bestows both evident or seen (Drsta) and not-evident or unseen (A-Drsta) benefits (Phala).  It is pleasant to the ears and to the mind; and, it also brings merit paving way towards liberation .

(anāditvād dṛṣṭā-adṛṣṭa-phalatvāc ca pradhāna gāndharvam… | gāna hi prīti-kārye vartate | tena tādātmya tāvad ayuktam |).

Music Dhrupad


3.4. The terms and concepts of the Gandharva musical tradition were described, mainly, in Bharatha’s Natyashastra and in the Dattilam of Dattila.  Natyashastra devotes about nine chapters to Gandharva Music – vocal and instrumental. And, a major part of 243 verses of Dattilam is about Gandharva. The Verse Six of Dattilam mentions that the text aims to discuss, mainly: Sruti (micro tone intervals), Svara (notes) , Grama (systems), Murchana (scales) consisting series of notes (Tana) , Sthana ( voice registers) , Vritti (styles) , Suska or A-gita (playing on Veena following vocal style but without singing) and Sadharana (two ways of over lapping).

Svara, Taala and Pada

4.1. Gandharva is said to be governed by the combination of Svara (tonal structure); Taala (time-units); and, Pada (text), in association with various musical instruments (Gaandharvam trividham vidhaat svara-tala-pada-atmakam). Thus, song, Veena and flute all contributed to Gandharva. Dattilam explains it in a similar manner, calling it Avadhana, conscious (samyag baddha) melodic employment of Svara, Taala and Pada. And yet, the scholars reckon the Gandharva Samgita was essentially vocal. The objective of the Gandharva songs (Stuti pada-s) was to praise of Shiva (Shiva-stutau prayojani) and to please the gods (atyartham iṣṭa devānā).

4.2. In Gandharva, the Svara, Taala and Pada had hierarchical positions (Gāndharva yan mayā prokta svara-tāla-padātmakam). Svara and Taala enjoyed prominence.  However, Svara and Taala do need the substance (vastu) or the form of Pada – the text – as their base.  Bharata, therefore, says that Pada serves as an aid to Svara and Taala (Pada tasya bhaved vastu svara-tālānubhāvakam).  Padas were, perhaps, modified to suit Svara and Taala. In other words, lyrics of a song were subject to Svara (melody) and Taala patterns.  Specific examples of modifications of Pada are listed in Dattilam: changing Agne to Ognayi; disjoining syllables – Viyate to Vo Yi to Ya Yi; stretching a syllable – Ye to Ayi; repetition of words – Ya YiYa Yi; unwarranted break in Pada – Gunano havyadataye to GunanohaVyadataye; and insertion of meaningless sounds – Au, Ho, Va, Ha, U, Eha, Aho-i, Oha-i etc. These were the practices carried forward from Saman singing.

4.3. However, between Svara and Taala, Gandharva assigned a secondary position (angāngi-bhāva) to Taala; and the prime position to Svara. Taala was governed by rigid rules measured by time-units (matra), having a fixed number of delineations, by the strikes of hand-held cymbals (Ghana).  In Gandharva, no deviation was allowed from the set pattern. The main task of Taala was to provide fixed measurement of time to the notes; and, to maintain Saamya (coming together) a point of resolution that provides a sense of balance. (It could perhaps be akin to Sam of Hindustani Music..!)

5.1. According to Matanga, Svara is the sound which has musical quality that creates melody. When the interval between the notes (Sruti) is raised or lowered, the musical quality gets altered. And, such musical sound is different from other sounds. Thus, Sruti and Svara-s are vital elements of a song. The difference between the two is that the former has no resonance, while the latter has it.

5.2. Abhinavagupta explains the term Svara as derived from the root Sva of the expression Svabhavadi-gana. And, Svara has both Sabda (sound) and Upa-taapa (warmth of feeling) – śabdopa-tāpayo. He goes on to say; the mind ordinarily grasps plain sounds. But, a Svara has the power to infuse various emotions into the sounds and to influence the mind. And, thus, the Svara has resilience to assert itself over mundane noises and stray thoughts.

5.3. Dattilam says Svaras are seven starting with Shadja (Dattilam .11) ; and they are  of four types:  Vadi (sonant); Samvadi (consonant); Anuvadi (assonant) and Vivadi (dissonant). Vadin is the note that produces the melody. As Vadin is repeated often, the other notes are used in relation to it . For instance; the two Svara-s,  with an interval of eight or twelve Sruti-s between them, are called Samvadi of each other. Ni and Ga are Vivadi (discordant) to other Svaras. The Svara following a Vadi Svara is called Anuvadi.

Dattila explains these terms:”Vadin is the king; Samvadin is the minister who follows him; Vivadin is like the enemy who disrupts, and should be sparingly employed; and, Anuvadi denotes the retinue of follower.”

Abhinavagupta adds a word of caution; and remarks that Dattila’s analogy just as any other analogy is rather brittle; and, should not be pressed very hard.



6.1. Before going into the other elements of Gandhara Music we may talk a bit about its concept of Sruti.

Bharata refers to Sruti in his statement: Jatibhih Srutibhiscaiva svara gramatva-amagatah (NS 18, 5-6) – through Jaatis and Sruti-s the Svara attains the state of Grama.

6.2. Dattilam (9) mentions that the notes in the higher register (Tara) are on the upper end of the Veena (Uttarottara-taras tu venayam); and the notes in lower register are on its lower end (adharottarah). The difference in sounds (dvani visesha) so produced is understood as Sruti (Sruti samjnitah); and, that difference can be perceived only through practiced listening (iti dvani visesas te sravanah). ‘And, with these Sruti-s one sings all the songs’ (Dattilam.10)

6.3. Prof. Dr. Ramanathan explains that Sruti, here, is the unit of measure (pramana) of Svara-s, and also the basis on which Svara-s were classified into Gramas. Thus, what is important in a Grama is the number of Sruti-s that link the Svara.

6.4. Abhinavagupta points out: In fact it is for the very purpose of classifying the Gramas that the concept of Sruti was formulated (Grama-vibhagarthm eva Sruti-kirtanam); else, it had no existence in performance .

(evam gramadvayam tadupayoge ca Sruti; sadbhave svaranam Sruti niyama pramanya bhidhaya)

6.5. Dr. Ramanathan explains: In the ancient system, Svara was conceived not merely as a sound of fixed pitch position, but also as comprehending the entire tonal range between itself and its previous svara.  The interval which separated one Svara from another was measured in terms of Sruti-s.

6.6. Sruti is, thus, a distinctly cognizable, audible sound-interval (not a precise mathematical or physical measure) that separates one Svara from its next. The listening acumen of the musician is the sole guide to measure the rise or fall in Sruti. And, this is achieved only by diligent practice (Sad-abhyasa) , as  Abhinavagupta says –  Sruteh Sabdasya Srotragr -Ahyasya utka.

Naradiyashiksha remarks: one who is not able to distinguish between the Srutis cannot be called a teacher – Srutinam yo visheshajno na sa acharya uchyate – (Nar,Shi 1.7.9) ]

6.6. According to Bharatha, Sruti is basically an interval. And, Svara is measured in terms of Sruti. When you call a Svara as Dvi-srutika, it means that two Sruti-s are separating a Svara from its previous Svara. Similarly, the terms Tri-srutika and Chatus-srutika mean that there are three and four Sruti intervals, respectively, between a Svara and the previous Svara. Let’s say; when one speaks of Tri-srutika in relation to Ri  it would mean that it is the third distinctive sound from Sa ; and also that it is three Srutis away from Sa.

Bharatha adds that the lowering or raising could be done by loosening or tightening of the strings in the case of stringed instruments.

[Dr. Ramanthan comments : While Bharatha explains Sruti as the unit of interval, Dattila (9-10) understands it as the pitch positions or sounds that can be distinguished from one another.]

6.7. Abhinavagupta explains the term Sruti, in his unique manner, as the sound (sabda) produced (prabhavita) when struck at appropriate position (śruti-sthāna-abhighāta) on the Veena. And, the note produced afterwards continuously by resonance is Svara. And says, when the Sruti is exact (anuraana) it transforms into resonant sweet flow of sound pleasing to the ears and to the heart (snigdha-madhura). Here, Anuraana is the physical aspect of Sruti; while snigdha-madhura is its aesthetic beauty.


Gandharva – Music elements – Jaati, Murchana and Grama


8.1. The Gandharva songs were rendered in melody-forms or modes called Jaatis, which perhaps, did not allow much scope for elaboration.

The Jaati-s were formed by Svaras which in turn were made of measurable units of intervals (Sruti).

8.2. Natyashastra mentions eighteen Jaati-s. Of these, seven are called Shuddha Jaati-s. These are the Jaati-s which have the Svaras (notes) after which they are named, such as: Graha, Amsa and Nyasa. To this, Dattila adds Apa-nyasa. The Nyasa of Shuddha Jaati is Mandra.

The Shuddha–Jaati had all the seven Svaras. When any one or more of these were dropped, excepting the Nyasa (final note),  the Shuddha Jaati would become Vikrta (modified). [It is also said: When a Svara leaves its own place and or the Sruti-s specified for it and assumes another place or contains other Sruti-s, it becomes Vikrta. For instance; When Rsbha assumes the four Sruti-s of Shadja it becomes Vikrta.

By the combination of the two or more Jaatis the eleven Samsargaja–Vikrta would be formed.

(In Ramayana only seven Jaatis were mentioned .They, perhaps, were derived from Ga Grama).

8.3. Natyashastra (28.74) lists ten characteristics of a Jaati:

: – Graha – It is the initial note –Adi-Svara– used at the beginning of a song;

: – Amsa – It is the prominent note (key note ) in the song ( According to some, it is another name for Vivadi Svara). The melodic expression of the song depends on it;

: – Tara – It is the high register; the upper limit of the notes to be used. It is the fourth note from Amsa which belongs to middle sthana;

:- Mandra –It is the low register; the lower limit of the note to be used;

: – Nyasa – It is the note with which the song ends;

:- Apa-nyasa– It is before the final note (penultimate) . It is note with which a section of the song ends –Vidari;

:- Alpatva – It is the use of a note or notes in small measure. It is twofold: by skipping over the particular note or notes; and by non-repetition;

:- Bahutva – It is of two kinds: by using the notes fully or by repeating it often;

:- Sadavita –Six notes are used omitting one;

:- and, Audavita -Five note are used dropping two.


[Dattilam (55) also lists the ten characteristic of Jaati as: Graha, Amsa, Tara, Mandra, Sadava, Audavita, Aplatva, Bahutva, Apa-Nyasa and Nyasa]


[Later, Sangita-ratnakara (1.7.29-53) adds three more lakshana-s : Samnyasa, Vinyasa and Antara-marga.

Samnyasa the final note of the first part (Vidari) of a song is described as ‘a note which is not dissonant (Vivadi) with the dominant note (Amsa); and, which concludes (samapti-krt) the first part (Vidari) of a song.

Vinyasa, the final note of the pada (a division of a song) is explained as a note that is not dissonant (Vivadin) with regard to the dominant note (Amsa). And, it stands at the end of the verbal-theme (Vidari-bhaga-pada-pranthe).

Antara-marga is an intermediate note which occurs in the midst of the notes practiced rarely (madhye-madhye alpatva yujam). It brings in variety (vichitratva-kariny) and is practiced without repetition and with isolated omissions. And, as a rule it occurs in the modified (Vikrta) Jaati (krta sa antara-margah syat prayo vikrta Jaatishu).]

The Amsa being the prominent (key) note in the Jaati was often used in combination with its Samvadi (consonant) and Anuvadi (assonant) Svaras.

[In the later times, the music of the Jaatis with its many varieties gave rise to the Raga system.]

Murchana and Grama

9.1. Murchana is described as the ordered or the sequential arrangement of the seven Svaras. The term Murchana is derived from Murch – to increase or to pervade. Natyashastra says that Murchanas are so called because seven notes are used in order (krama) in their fixed positions.

Later, in Gandharva, Murchana came to be understood as an arrangement having a gradual Aroha (ascent) and Avaroha (descent) of the seven Svaras (notes). Different musical expressions were derived from the Murchanas by permuting the seven Svaras in any number of ways. Of such rearrangements, the one where the seven Svaras were placed in their sequential order was called Krama. And, the one where the Svara-sequence was not in the order was called Kutatana. The logical method of computing Krama and Kutatana was called Prastara.

9.2. As said earlier; it was on the basis of Sruti-s that the intervals of the Svaras in a Jaati were measured. Abhinavagupta explains Grama as jaati-samudaya (collection of Jaatis). Jaati, again, refers to class of melodic types, which were constructed out of Murchanas.

It is also said that Grama is the resort  in which the Murchana-s reside.

9.3. In the Gandharva, the Murchana arrangement was under two parent scales or Gramas: Madhyama (Ma) and Shadja (Sa) – Jatibhih Srutibhis chaiva Svara-Gramatvam agatah- NS.28.24-26. ‘Here there are 22 Sruti intervals’.

The Jaati-s were, initially, grouped under three Grama-s (group or cluster) known as Gandhara (Ga); Madhyama (Ma) and Shadja (Sa).  The Ga Grama, it appears, went out of use quite early. And, out of the other two Gramas (Sa and Ma), fourteen Jaatis were formed.

9.4. The term Shadja means ‘giving birth to six’. And, it refers to the first defining note of the Grama – Sa. Once this note is fixed, the placement of other six notes is determined. The Shadja Grama is the collection of the seven Svara-s namely:  Shadja (Sa), Rsabha (Ri), Gandhara (Ga), Madhyama (Ma), Panchama (Pa), Dhaivata (Dh) and Nishadha (Ni).

The Madhyama Grama also has seven Svaras (Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, and Ni) ; but , the sequence or the order of the two Gramas differ.

Under each Grama, the intervals between two consecutive Svaras (measured by Sruti) also differ.  For instance ; Sa Grama has Srutis as : Sa (4), Ri (3), Ga (2) , Pa(4) , Dha (3) and Ni(2). And, the  Ma Grama has :  Sa(4) , Ri(3) , Ga (2), Ma (4) , Pa (3), Dha (4) and Ni(2).  And, therefore the Murchana obtained from one Grama differs from that of the other.

[You may notice: the Pa note of Ma Grama is one Sruti lower. Therefore, the interval between Pa and Dha of Ma-Grama becomes longer, that is four Srutis. ]

As can be seen; the interval of two Srutis is the smallest; then, there are intervals of three Srutis and four Srutis. Natyashastra gives the number of Srutis in the Grama as 22. But, they were not named. Dr. Ramanathan remarks: Though the number of Sruti-s is said to be 22; this number has no sanctity attached to it. What is important in the Grama system is the number of Sruti-s within a Svara.


10.1. As said earlier; the Svaras of the Murchanas of the Shadja Grama are seven (Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, and Ni). If the commencing Svara (initial note – Graha) is changed, but the intervals between the Svara (Sruti)  is kept unchanged, it then is called Graha–Bedha. It was through this method, it is said, Murchanas were derived from Gramas.

The Murchanas of Shadja Grama are, generally, seven (Uttaramandra; Rajani; Uttara-ayata; Shuddha-Shadja; Matsarikruta; Ashvakranta; and, Abhirudgata). The Murchanas of the Madhyama Grama were also seven (Sauviri; Harinasva; Kalopanata; Shuddha-madhyama; Margi; Pauravi; and, Hrsyaka). The Murchanas of the two Gramas add up to fourteen.

[The explanations by about the seventh century seemed to be slightly different.

Matanga (7th century), in his Brhaddeshi, described   Murcchana as  the elaboration of ‘the seed form of the raga’ (murcchamoha-samucchrayayoh) . And, he said , such elaboration is  possible when the seven Svara-s  of a Raga manifest in the processes of  ascent (aroha) and descent (avaroha).

The Murcchana-s , according to Matanga,  evolved from the Gramas as their base. And, twenty-one Murcchana-s evolved from the three main Gramas-Shadja, Madhyma and Gandharva. Each Murcchana possessed a special unit of aesthetic sentiment.

Matanga said: Murcchana were of two kinds: one, having seven Svaras and the other having fourteen Svaras (sa- Murcchana dvi-vidha;  sapta-svara-Murchanat dvadasha-svara-Murchana cheti).

The Murcchana with Seven Svaras  was divided into four parts: Purna, Shadava, Audava, and Sadharana, The Purna contained  Svaras (hexatone ) ; Shadava , six Svaras(heptatone ) ;Audava , five  Svaras (pentatonic ) ; and the Sadharana , two displaced (vikrita} Svaras :  antara-gandhara and kakali-nishada.

The Murcchana with Twelve Svaras manifest in three registers (Sthana): low, medium and high (Mandra, Madhya and Tara).]


[As regards the Gandharva Grama which went out of use quite early, Naradiyashiksha and Sangitaratnakara mention the names of its seven Murchanas as: Nandi, Visala, Sumukhi, Chitra, Chitravati, Sukha and Aalapa.

According to Shri KV Ramachandran the noted music-critic of yester years, the high pitched Ga Grama was used for gods and heavenly beings, Narada, Urvashi etc. That perhaps explains why Ga Grama came to be associated with heaven in the later works.

And, in a similar manner the Jaati, Grama, Murcchana etc system of Music based in two Gramas (Sa and Ma) came to an end by the time of Sarangadeva (13th century). Thereafter,  the scholar-composers derived the Ragas only from Sa Grama ; and discarded the Ma Grama . It was said; Ma Grama had become defunct as its Panchama was but a mere variety of Madhyama.

For instance; Ramamatya (16th century) derived all the Desi Ragas from Sa Grama.  Pundarika Vittala (16th century) also said that all Ragas are derived from Shadja-Grama . And, Venkatamakhin (17th century) who followed him said that Ma Grama does not seem to exist. And, he recognized only the Sa Grama. According to Venkatamakhin, all the Desi Ragas originate from Sa Grama.]

10.2. In the Gandharva Music, it is said, the Murchana of one Grama could be derived from the other. Thus, if the Panchama (Pa) of the Shadja Grama is lowered by one Sruti, it would result in Madhyama Grama. In a similar manner, Murchana of Madhyama Grama could be converted into Shadja Grama by lowering its Daivata (Dha) by two Srutis.[ The Daivata that is so lowered is now named Gandhara (Ga). Then Nishadha (Ni) and Shadja (Sa) would be called Madhyama (Ma) and Panchama (Pa), respectively.]

Abhinavagupta comments: In Gandharva, dropping of notes in two Gramas, as also on the basis of Amsa notes, was governed by definite rules. For instance; Daivata (Dha) was indispensible in Shadja Grama; and, in Madhyama Grama, Panchama (Pa) could never be dropped from any Jaati.

10.3. In addition, there was also the practice of using one or two Svaras more (in addition to the seven) in a Murchanas. Such additional (overlapping) Svaras were called Sadharana Svaras. [It’s too cold in winter and too hot in summer. But, there is also a comfortable season which is neither cold nor hot; it is neither summer nor winter.  It is between the two seasons. And, this is the Sadharana Kaala – the common season. And, so are the Sadharana Svaras.]

In the Murchana, the additional Svaras between two Svaras – (Sadharana Svara) are not separate individual Svaras, but are chosen from among the seven. They are resorted to only when the respective Grama-Svaras are weak. And, Sadharana-Svara is weaker than the Grama-Svara, and therefore it cannot become the commencing Svara of a Murchana. [It is said; there would also be Murchanas with Sadharana Svaras (with Antara Ga and Kakili Ni) of two scales.]


11.1. Apart from the Seven-Svara Murchanas and Murchanas with Sadharana Svaras, there were also some Murchanas which had only six Svaras (Shadava) or five Svaras (Audava). And, these were called Taanas (from the root tan = to spread out), which formed the basis for various musical forms.

For instance; Sa Grama will have four Taanas when Sa, Ri, Pa and Ni are dropped successively. Similarly, there will be three Taanasin Ma Grama when Sa, Ri and Ga are dropped successively.

As regards Audava Taanas, Sa-Pa, Ri-Pa and Ga-Ni are dropped in Sa Grama; and Ga-Mi and Ri-Dha are dropped in Ma Grama.

Matanga says that the five-note Audava Taana could be obtained generally by omitting the Samvadi (consonant) Svara; and, in some cases it may be obtained by omitting the Anuvadi (assonant) Svara also.

In all, the Murchanas of the two scales would be 35.

[Taana-s are said to be twofold: Shuddha and Kuta. when Svaras are sung in a regular order it is Shuddha; and. when sung in an irregular order it is Kuta.

Matanga explains the difference between Murchana and Taana as the difference in the order (karma): the former has an ascending order while the latter has descending order. The purpose of both the Murchanas and the Taanas are was to provide pleasure to the listener as also to the performer. Perhaps, I think, these (Murchana and Taana) variations related to Veena plying than to human voice.  ]

11.2. How the notes are to be omitted for the sake of Taana is given in Taana-kriya on the Veena (Dattilam. 36). The Taana-kriya, the technique is twofold (Taana-kriya dvidha tantryam) – Pravesika and Nigraha.  Pravesika (entering) is raising the lower note or lowering the higher note. Nigraha (abstaining) is not touching the string (asamsparka tu nigrahat) , i.e.  , not producing the middle note as the middle note would denote Murchana. The Ma-note of the Veena may never be omitted as it was essential for indication of Murchana-s of the two Grama-s.

(Taana-kriya dvidha tantryam praveshena nigrahat tatha I tatra pravesho dhvanyaikyam asamsparka tu nigrahat II)



[The scanty information posted here about Murchanas, Gramas and Jaatis was, roughly, according to Natyashastra and Dattilam. In the later centuries, just before  the time of Matanga‘s Brihad-desi ( 6th  to 8th century) , the concept and the method of deriving Murchana, as also the  connotation of Jaati and its further evolution  had changed much.

And, by the time of Brihad-desi, the concepts of Grama, Murchana and Jaati had all but gone. After this period, the Ragas came to be regarded as the melodic-base of the songs. Initially, the Ragas were treated as janya-s (derivatives) of the Jaatis. But, in due course the relation between Ragas and Jaatis tapered out, and then ceased. Similarly, the Svaras that gave form to Ragas came to be described in terms of Shuddha or Vikrta Svaras; and, the relation between Svaras and Gramas of the past was also lost.]



Gandharva – Music forms

12.1. The following were said to be the song- formats of the Gandharva Music (Giti): Gitaka; Nirgita; Jaati-gita; Kapala-gana; and, Kambala-gana. Of course, all these forms vanished long ago. And, even historically, the scholars are not sure of their origins. Each of the four forms seemed to have come from a different tradition. The relation or the link between the forms is also rather hazy or uncertain.

12.2. Among these, Gitaka and Nirgita type were said to be songs with definite structure. The Jaati-gita, on the other hand, was said to be a song-type with no specified format. Kapala-gana and Kambala-gana were said to be simpler songs.

[In another context, it is said: the relationship between the Gana and the Veena playing is called Giti (when Veena playing is not accompanied by singing, it is A-giti). Abhinavagupta explains: every type of Giti can be played on Veena, And, there are three types of Giti:   Tatva , Anugata and Ogha. When the Gana is prominent and the Veena follows Gana completely , it is Tatva; When the Veena follows Gana in some part and then shows its own craftsmanship , it becomes Anugata; and , when the playing techniques becomes A-nibaddha and the Karanas become more prominent  and the Gana becomes secondary then the Giti becomes Ogha . Thus in the rendering of the Giti, Veena performs an important role.]


13.1. As said; Gitaka is a well structured song format. There were major divisions or groups of Gitaka-s, each group having seven song-forms. The seven forms of the first Division were (Sapta-rupa): Madraka; Aparantaka; Ullopyaka; Prakari; Ovenaka; Rovindaka; and, Uttara. And, the seven forms under the second Division were: Asarita; Vardhamana; Chandaka; Panika; Rik; Gatha; and, Sama.

13.2. Every Gitaka, in turn, had two sections: Vastu and Anga. The different forms of Gitaka were classified according to the variations of their Vastu (section of the text) and Anga (styles of rendering the texts). The other distinguishing features were: Svara; Taala; and, Pada.

13.3. The ways of rendering the Gitaka had components (Anga) such as: Upavartana:– the end portion of a section of the text rendered in double speed; Prastara :- the concluding portion of one  section is repeated as the opening of the following section; and, Shakha-Pratishaka:-  certain sections are to be rendered twice – each in a different style- the first rendering is called Shakha and the other was called  Prati-shakha.

14.1. In the Gitaka, the terms such as Svara; Taala; and, Pada have their own connotation. And, they do not carry the meaning that we now associate with those terms.

For instance; Taala in a Gitaka does not mean rhythmic patterns or beats; but, it is the measure of time-span (duration) of the Gitaka. The sections of the Gitaka were divided into smaller time-units, marked by specific action by hands (kriya), either by making sound (Sa-sabda) or without sound (Ni-sabda). These were said to be four-fold, each.

Nishabda: (a) Avapa: contracting fingers with the palm turned upwards; (b) Niskrama: spreading the fingers with the palm turned downwards; (c) Viksepa: moving hands swiftly as in Niskrama; and, (d) Pravesha: taking back the hand pointing downwards.

Sa-sabda: (a) Samaya: clapping by the right hand; (b) Taala: clapping by the left hand; (c): Sannipata: clapping with both hands together; and, (d) Dhruva : movement of the hand with the snapping of the fingers according to threefold Kaala.

[It is said; cymbal plying with its neutral yet audible sound, usually, accompanied the hand gestures during Gandharva, for attainment of Saamya (the moment of precise coordination of Taala, Svara and Pada).]

14.2. Similarly, Svara was not mere notes. It is, here, related to Taala (as explained above). The melodic-lines of the song were broken into segments to match the Taala (time-units) or the duration assigned to that section..

14.3. Pada, the verbal elements of the song were also important. The object of the songs was to praise Shiva (Shiva-stutau prayojani). The duration of each section of the Gitaka and that of the meaningless syllables (jham, tum, tha, ka etc) employed were also prescribed.


15.1. Nirgita, also called Bahirgita or Shska, too had elements of Svara, Taala and Pada.  The Nirgita was a song form (Gita) suitable for dance (Nrtta) consisting vocal part (Dhruva) and instrumental part (Vadya). The instrumental part of the song (Veena- vadya-prayoga) was more prominent as compared to the verbal part (Dhruva-prayoga).The Vadya part was characterized by specific strokes (Karana) on the Veena.  According to Abhinavagupta, the Svaras that are produced by striking (praharavishesha janyah) the strings of Veena in a specific manner is called Dhatu.

15.2. The Dhatu-s had four elements: Vistara (high pitched), Karana (low pitched), Aviddha (duration of the note) and Vyanjana (different ways of employing each finger), each of which had its variations. Such variations depended on whether the stroke was made on the upper end (uttaramukha) or lower end (adhara) of the Veena; the number of strokes made on the strings; the time span (guru and laghu); and, their sequences.

Pada, here, meant both the verbal text (Dhruva-prayoga) and the passages of instrumental play (Vadya-prayoga).

15.3. As regards Taala in Nirgita, it has the same connotation as in Gitaka. The entire time-span of the verbal composition (Dhruva) is broken into smaller segments; and each is measured in time –units (kaala pramana). The instrumental part of Nirgita was, however, free from restrictions of Taala.


16.1. Jaati-gita seemed to be simple songs with no marked division or refrain ( in contrast to Gitaka) . Jaati-gita songs were based in one or the other Jaati, class of melodies. They were perhaps illustrative representation of a Jaati group.  For instance; a Gita based in Shadja-jaati represented the Shuddha variety of the Jaati.

Jaati-gita too had elements of Svara, Taala and Pada.

16.2. The Svara aspect of Jaati-gita-s exhibited the characteristics of the jaati-s to which they pertained. The Tala organisation ( time-management) of the Jaati-gita was not as complex as that of the Gitaka and Nirgita. The Pada aspect of the Jati-gita-s was also fairly simple. The text consisted of Stuti pada-s addressed to Siva.


17.1. Kapala-ganas were simple songs just as the Jaati-gitas, without any sectional organisation. They were based on melodic structures called Kapala-s. The seven Kapala-s were derived from Shuddha variety of seven Jaati-s.

The Pada of Kapala-ganas were all in praise of Shiva, particularly the Kapala adorned form of Shiva; and were interspersed with loud Hoonkara and sounds such as : Hum, Ha, Hu , Avu etc.

The Kambala–gana

18.1. The Kambala–gana, just as the Kapala-gana, was based in derivatives of Jaati known as Kambala. The Kambala-gana were said to be derived from Panchami-jaati. And, in their structure they resembled the Kapala-ganas.



19.1. The Gana of the Natyashastra had its roots in Gandharva Music. Several of the Gandharva – songs were adopted into Drama. For instance; in the Purvanga, that is during the preliminaries before the commencement of the Drama per se, the Gandharva songs of the type Nirgita were sung , to the accomniment of instruments, offering prayers to Shiva. This was flowed by a song in Gitaka format ; and by a Tandava dance of Shiva or a Lasya of Shiva and Devi to another Gitaka-song. Thereafter, the Sutradhara (Director and Stage-Manager) and his troupe enter the stage move in a rhythmic  dance like steps   and sing Gandharva-songs praying to the gods for successful enactment and completion of the play. However, during the entry and exit or at important junctures Dhruva  songs were sung.

Tandava2 lasya


Some say that Gandharva or the sacred Music Marga performed during worship, in due course, gave place to Gana, the songs that were not so rigidly bound and were meant to entertain.

But, Abhinavagupta strongly refutes such a view; and, asserts that Gandharva and Gana flourished side by side even during later times. Though Gana owed to the Gandharva, there were differences between the two. In his commentary on the 33rd chapter of Natyashastra, Abhinavagupta draws a four-fold distinction between Gandharva and Gana Music-s.

According to Abhinavagupta , the two differ in their : in Svarupa –  structure and ways of employing Svara, Taala and Pada; in Phala –  the  benefits or the objectives ;  the one is in praise of Shiva and pleasing gods  while the other strives to gladden the hearts of  the audience in a theatrical performance;  in Kaala – the context or the occasions of their rendering , one is for worship and the other is for entertainment; and , in Dharma – in their distinctive nature and functions.

[Gāndharvasya ki lakaam? uktam adhyāyacatuṣṭayeu muninā |tathāpy anusandhāna-vandhyam mahā-bhāgam bodhayitum anusandhīyate |svara- tāla-pada-viśeātmaka pravtti-nivtti-pradhāna-dṛṣṭādṛṣṭa-phala-sāma-veda-prabhavam anādi-kālavttim anyonyoparañjanā-guatā-vihīna gāndharvam iti svarūpa-phalāt kālād dharmāc ca bhidyamānam avaśyam gāna-vailakaya bhedaika-sampādanam]


In the next part of this series,

Let’s talk of Gana with particular reference to

 The Music of Natyashastra.


References and Sources:

I gratefully acknowledge the following

Wonderfully well researched works:

Grama – Murchana – Jaati by Dr. Premalatha Nagarajan

Gandharva Form by Prof. Dr. N. Ramanathan

Abhinavagupta’s contribution to the solution of some problems in Indian Musicology by Shri Jaideva Singh


Dattilam: A Compendium of Ancient Indian Music edited by Emmie te Nijenhuis

Studies in the Nāyaśāstra: With Special Reference to the Sanskrit Drama in performance By Ganesh Hari Tarlekar

Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition by Guy L. Beck

Sruti in Ancient, Medieval and Modern Contexts by Prof. Dr. N. Ramanathan

Dattilam: A Compendium of Ancient Indian Music  edited by Emmie te Nijenhuis

 Pictures are from Internet


… Music in Natyashastra

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Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Five

Continued from Part four – Music of Sama Veda

Part Five (of 22) –Music in Ramayana


Sri Rama Pattabhishekam -Shri SRajam (1) 



1.1. After the Music of Sama comes the singing of Akhyana or ballads, narrating a story in musical forms. Of all the Akhyana-s, the Ramayana of the Adi Kavi Valmiki is the most celebrated one. It is a divine ballad (Akhyanam Divyam) narrating history of ancient times (Itihasam puratanam).

1.2. It is believed; the Ramayana had its origins in folk lore; and was preserved and spread as an oral epic (Akhyana), for a very long-time. It is suggested that poet Valmiki rendered the folk lore into a very beautiful, sensitive and lyrical epic poem by about 7th century BCE. Thereafter, in age after age, the Suthas narrated and sang the glory of Rama and Sita, in divine fervour; and spread the epic to all corners of the land and beyond. Even to this day , the tradition of devote groups of listeners gathering around a Sutha to listen to the ancient story of chaste love between Rama and his beloved, and their unwavering adherence to Dharma amidst their trials and tribulations; is still very  alive. What characterize the Dharma in Ramayana are its innocence, purity and nobility. The Indian people prefer listening with joy, the rendering of Ramayana as musical discourse, to reading the epic themselves.

Ramayana recitation

1.3. Ramayana of Valmiki is a renowned Kavya, an Epic poem in classic style. It is also the Adi-Kavya, the premier Kavya; the most excellent among the Kavyas (Kavyanam uttamam); and, the best in all the three worlds (Adikavyam triloke).

The Epic of Valmiki is at the very core of Indian consciousness; and is lovingly addressed variously as: Sitayasya-charitam-mahat; Rama-charitam; Raghuvira-charitam; Rama-vrttam; Rama-katha; and Raghu-vamsa-charitam.

1.4. The Great scholar-philosopher Abhinavgupta (Ca.11th century) hailed Valmiki as Rasa Rishi one who   created an almost perfect epic poem adorned with the poetic virtues of Rasa, Soundarya (beauty of poetic imagery) and Vishadya (lucid expression and comfortable communication with the reader) ; all charged and brought to life  by Prathibha , the ever fresh intuition.




2.1. Ramayana is more closely associated with music than other epics. That might be because Ramayana is rendered in verse; and, its poetry of abiding beauty melts into music like molten gold, with grace and felicity. Further, the epic has a certain lyrical lustre to it. The epic itself mentions that the Rama tale was rendered in song by two minstrels Kusi and Lava to the accompaniment of Veena, Tantri- laya-samanvitam (I.20.10), during the Asvamedha.


2.2. There are innumerable references to Music in Ramayana. Music was played for entertainment and in celebration at the weddings and other auspicious occasions; (II.7.416-36; 48.41.69; III.3, 17; 6.8; IV 38.13; V.53.17; VI.11.9; 24.3; 75.21 etc.)  . Music was also played in palaces and liquor parlours (IV 33.21; V.6.12; X.32; 37.11.4; Vi.10.4). Soulful songs were sung to the accompaniment of instruments, at religious services and in dramas. Music was played in the festivities; to welcome and see off the guests. The warriors fighting on the battlefield were lustily cheered and enthused by stout drum beats;   and piercing blow of conches, horns and trumpets. There is also mention of those who took to music as a profession. Besides, there were court (state) sponsored musicians. Music was thus a part of social fabric of the society as described in Ramayana.

2.3. There are numerous events narrated in Ramayana where Music was sung or played. The word Samgita in Ramayana is a composite term covering Gana (vocal), Vadya (instrumental) and Nritya (dance). Samgita or Music was referred to as Gandharva-vidya. There is also a mention of Karna sung to the accompaniment of Veena (R. VII. 71.5). Samgita was also Kausika (kaisika) the art of singing and dancing (gana-nrtya-vidya), the art of singing and dancing in groups (kausika-charya) to the accompaniment of instruments.

 For instance:

: – The Apsaras danced to the songs of Gandharvas, such as Narada the king of Gandharvas (Gandharva-rajanah), Tumbura, Gopa, Gargya, Sudhama, Parvata, and Suryamandala (R.VI .92.10). Tumbura sang in divine Taana (divya-taaneshu).

: – And, in the hermitage of Rishyasrnga the girls sent by King Lomapada sang and danced (R.I .9.6).

: – Sri Rama himself is said to have been proficient in Music (Gandharve Ca bhuvi Sresthah).

: – As Lakshmana enters the inner court of the Vanara King Sugriva, he hears singing and ravishing strains of the music of the Veena and other string instruments.

: – As Hanuman flew over the sea towards Lanka he heard a group of musicians singing sons (kausika-charya).

:- Hanuman while wandering at night through the inner courts of Lanka heard songs adorned with Tristhana and Svara; and, the songs had regular Taala (sama-taala) and aksara (words) – (R.V.2.6). Hanuman sees there various musical instruments – Mridanga, Pataha, Venu, and Vipanchi and so on. He also sees a lady of the court , tired and asleep, clutching to her Veena like a cluster of lotuses entwining a boat moored  on the banks of a stream.

: – Sundara Kanda mentions that Ravana was a reputed Saman singer; and music was played in his palace. He, in fact, suggests to Sita, she could relax a bit listening to music in his palace, instead sitting tensely under the tree.

:- It is said Ravana was a well known player of Veena  called Ravana-hastaka (an instrument played with a bow).He compared the battlefield to a music stage; bow (weapon for firing arrows) to his Veena; arrow to his musical bow; and the tumultuous noise of the battle to music ( R. VI: 24:43-44).


Music terms

3.1. Ramayana is not a thesis on music; it is an epic poem rendering the story of chaste love between a husband and his wife. The music or whatever musical elements mentioned therein is incidental to the narration of the story. And, yet, Valmiki accorded importance to music and elements of music in his work. He crafted situations where music could be introduced naturally. More importantly, his verses have a very high lyrical quality; and, can be rendered into music quite easily. All these speak of Valmiki’s   love for music and his aesthetic refinement.

3.2. Many Music-terms are mentioned in Ramayana, indicating the state of Music obtaining during the time of its composition – (not necessarily during the event-period).

:-  Valmiki mentions that Kusi–Lava sang in Marga style – Marga-vidhana-sampada – (R. I.4.35); in seven melodic modes called Jatis (jatibhih saptabhir) that were pure (shuddha) – (R. I.4.8 ).

:-  Valmiki endorsed use of sweet sounding words, with simple and light syllables; and advises against harsh words loaded with heavy syllables (R. IV.33.21).

: – The music of Kusi-Lava was Baddha, structured into stanzas – with apt rhythm (Taala), tempo (Laya) and words (Pada) – (R.I.4.8).

:-  Valmiki mentions, Kusi-Lava were familiar with Murchana and Tri- Sthana; as also with the rhythmic patterns – Laya, Yati – in three-speeds. Tri-Sthana might either refer to three voice registers (Mandra, Madhyama and Tara) or three tempos (Vilamba, Madhyama and Druta).

: – Lava and Kusi were said not to fall away from Raga. Here, the term Raga is said to mean sweetness of voice (kanta-madhurya).

Here are some terms that perhaps need short explanations:

: – Marga or Gandharva is regarded the music fit for gods.  It is said to have been derived from Sama Veda; and constituted of Pada (the text), Svara (notes) and Taala (rhythm). Marga was rather sombre and not quite flexible too. Marga or Gandharva in the later centuries gave place to free flowing Desi, the Music derived from the folk and the regions.

: – Baddha is a song format that is well structured into stanzas. It contrasts with Anibaddha unstructured Music without restrictions of Taala. It is analogous to the present-day Aalap, and rendering of Ragamalika, Slokas etc. The Baddha – Anibaddha distinction is observed even today, just as in Valmiki’s time.

: – Grama (group) was the basic gamut of notes employed in the early music-tradition. The ancient tradition is said to have employed three Grama-s beginning from ShadjaMadhyama, or Gandhara note. Later, the third Grama, based on Gandhara reportedly went out of vogue as it required moving in a usually high range of notes.

: – Jaati refers to the classification of musical compositions as per the tones. Svaras and Jaati-s were seven primary notes such as Shadja, Rshabha etc of the octaves – patya-jati. Ana is said to be a drag note generally called ekasruti.

It means Kusi Lava rendered the verses in several melodies. However, since the raga concept was, then, yet to be evolved, there might not have been much depth and variation in their rendering.

:-   Murchhana was the ancient mode of extending available tonal frameworks by commencing ascents and descents, ranging over (purna) seven notes, every time from a new note. This mode gave place to the Mela system around the 15th -16th century.

Instrumental Music

4.1. Valmiki’s Ramayana mentions varieties of musical instruments. The term Atodhya denoted instrumental music. The musical instruments, of the time, were categorized, broadly, as those played by hand (hastha-vadya); and as those played by mouth (mukha- vadya) (R. II.65.2). The string and percussion instruments came under the former category; while the wind instruments were among the latter category.  Instrumental Music was primarily individualistic; not orchestrated. It appears instruments were used mainly as accompaniments (not solo) and depended on vocal music. Group music- vocal with instruments –appeared to be popular.

String instruments

4.2. Among the string instruments, Ramayana mentions two kinds of Veena: Vipanchi (fingerboard plucked ones with nine strings like the Veena as we know) ;Vana or Vallaki (a multi stringed harp); and, Kanda-Veena (made by joining reeds).   In fact, till about 19th century, string instruments  of all kinds were called Veena: harps like the Chitra; fingerboard plucked ones like  the Vipanchi,  Rudra Veena, the Saraswati Veena and the Kacchapi Veena; bowed ones such as the Ravana hastaveena and the Pinaki Veena.

Percussion instruments

4.3. As regards the percussion instruments, the Epic refers to quite a large number of them: Mrudanga; Panava (a kind of Mridanga which had a hole in the middle with strings were laid from one side to another); Aataha; Madduka ( a big drum of two faces having twelve and thirteen angula- finger lengths ); Dundubhi (Nagaara); Dindima (resembling Damaru but smaller in size); Muraja (a a bifacial drum, the left one of eight fingers and right one of seven fingers); Adambara ( a sort of kettle drum made of Udambara wood); Bheri (two faced metal drum in a conical shape , the leather kept taut by strings; the right face was struck by a Kona and the left one by hand, striking terror in the heart of the enemy ); Pataha (resembling Dholak);  and Dundubhi (drums made of hollow wood covered with hide) played during wedding ceremonies as also for welcoming the winning-warriors . Gargara was another drum used during the wars.  All these were leather or leather bound instruments. They were played with metal or wooden drum-sticks with their ends wrapped in leather.

There is also a mention of BhumiDundubhi where the lower part of a huge drum is buried in a pit while the exposed upper part covered with animal hide is beaten with big sized metal or wooden drum-sticks to produce loud booming sounds. It was played during battles to arouse the warriors; to celebrate victory; or in dire emergency. BhumiDundubhi was also played at the time of final offering (Purna-Ahuthi) at the conclusion of a Yajna.

The other instruments to keep rhythm (Taala) were: Ghatam and cymbals. Aghathi was a sort of cymbal used while dancing.

Wind instruments

4.4. The instruments played by mouth (mukha- vadya) , that is the wind instruments, mentioned in Ramayayana include : Venu or Vamsa (flute) , Shankha ( conch) blown on auspicious occasions and at the time of wars ; Tundava ( wind instrument made of wood); Singa ( a small blower made of deer horns to produce sharp and loud sounds); and, kahale or Rana-bheri (long curved war- trumpet). The flute was also used for maintaining Aadhara- Sruthi (fundamental note). [Tambura or Tanpura did not come into use till about 15th-16th century.]

State of Music

5.1. It is evident that during the period in which Ramayana was composed (say 7th century BC) , the Music was fairly well developed ; and the basic concepts were, in place. However, a full-fledged musicology and elaborate theories on music were yet to develop. Marga system was prevalent; and, Desi with its Ragas was yet centuries away.

5.2. The Singing of well known texts of poetry, in public, appeared to be the standard practice.  Instruments were used for accompaniment and not for solo performances. Group singing with instrumental support appeared to be popular. Music was very much a part of the social and personal life.

Music in Valmiki's Ramayana

Continued in Part Six

Gandharva or Marga Music


Sources and References

Ramayanadalli Sangita (Kannada)  by Prof. Dr. R Satyanarayana

Origin of Indian Instrumental Music…

Musical Instruments

Telling a Ramayana

Music of India

Glossary of music terms

The Music and Musical Instruments of North Eastern India by Dilip Ranjan Barthakur
Painting by Shri S Rajam


Posted by on April 22, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Four

Continued from Part Three – Overview (3)


Part Four ( of 22 ) – Music of Sama Veda


 Sama Veda Samhita

1.1. The earliest form of organized Music that we know about is the Music of Sama Veda or the Saman. Sama Veda is linked to music through Yajna.

The Yajna-s, were at the very heart of the Vedic way of living. During the Yajna-s, it was customary to invoke and invite devas (gods) by singing hymns dear to them or dedicated to them ; and to recite the mantras while submitting to them offerings (havish) through Agni, the carrier (havya-vahana). The group of priests who sang (Samaga or Chandoga) the Mantras, initially, compiled a text for their use by putting together selected Mantras from Rig-Veda (the oldest known text) that could be sung during the performance of a Yajna or a Soma Yaga. That collection of lyrical Mantras came to be known as Sama Veda Samhita; and was regarded as the fourth Veda.

1.2. Out of the 1,549 mantras in Sama Veda Samhita, as many as 1,474 mantras are taken from Rig Veda (mainly from the eighth and the ninth Mandalas). Most of the mantras are in Gayatri chhandas (metre), while some are in Pragatha. It is said; the term Sama is composed of: SA, which stands for Rik (Vedic Mantra); and AMA, meaning various notes (Brihad Up: 1-3-22). Sama Veda is thus, virtually, a musical rendering of the selected mantras from Rig Veda. In other words, Sama took maathu (words) from Rig Veda; and provided dhathu   the musical substance to those words. Sama Veda is perhaps the earliest known musical literature.

1.3. The Sama Veda Samhita has two segments. The first segment is called Sama – Yoni (adhara) mantra Samhita, meaning that it is the basic text. This segment contains the selected mantras as they appear in the Rig Veda .This, virtually, is the source book. The second segment called Sama–gana text. Here, the mantras are not in the order they originally appear in Rigveda. But, the selected mantras are rearranged to suit the sequence of rituals during the Yajna; or according to the meters (chhandas) or the gods to whom mantras are addressed.


2.1. While rearranging the text for the purpose of singing, the selected mantras are converted to Saman by turning, twisting, elongating its syllables; and, by inserting various modulations, rests, and other modifications.  The musical effect or the ‘floating form’ of the Sama-gana is enhanced by interpolation of Svaras and meaningless sounds called Stobha (which resemble shouts of joy) such as: Hoyi, Hoi, Hova, Hai, Haw, Oi, Ai, Ha, Ho, Uha, Tayo, etc. This is the text for singing; expanding each mantra with notations and instructing how mantras are to be sung. This is the Sama Veda as it is generally understood and sung.

2.2. Sama-singing (Sama-gana) was an integral part of a Yajna. Sama, thus, represents the earliest known instance of deep relationship between religious life and Music. There were numerous styles of singing Sama. Patanjali in his Mahabhashya remarks that there were a thousand recessions (shakhas) or ways of singing Sama – sahasra-vartma samvedah.  That perhaps was a poetic manner of suggesting there were a range of styles of rendering Sama.  [Some texts speak of thirteen Samaga-charyas – ways of singing Sama. But names of about only eleven are mentioned:  Ranayaniya; Chatyamugra; Kaleya; Kalvala; Mahakaleya; Langalayana; Mahakalvala; Sardula; Langala; Kouthuma; Jaiminiya]

2.3.  In any case, of the many, only three recessions (shakhas) Viz. Kauthumiya, Ranayaniya and Jaiminiya, have survived. The Kauthumiya and Ranayaniya carry the same set of mantras; but their internal grouping differs; and there are also variations in their svaras (accent). The Jaiminiya is said to be different from the other two, in both the aspects. Of the three shakhas, Kauthumiya is regarded the prominent one.


3.1. Throughout, Sama Veda is arranged in two streams of classification. And, the two often   interrelate. One is Arcika, the way in which Sama Veda text is structured and the way its Riks (stanzas) are grouped. The other is Gana, the musical aspect which details the manner of singing the Sama Riks.

First, Archika (group of Riks sung in adoration), is essentially the collection of the texts (yoni) of individual Riks adopted from Rigveda. Here, the selected Riks from Rigveda are put together under several chapters (prapathakas). And, under each prapathakas; the Riks are bunched into sets of ten (dasasti) or less.

3.2. The Sama Veda text is broadly made into two Arcikas. The first Arcika (Purvarchika or Shadarchika) is made of six chapters (prapathakas) together with an Appendix.  The Purvarchika consists about 650 Riks selected from Rigveda that  are grouped partly according to meters (chhandas) and partly according the gods  (devatha) that are propitiated. The first five prapathakas have about 585 Riks to be sung in honour of Agni, Indra and Soma-Pavamana.  The sixth prapathaka having 55 Riks is called Aaranya or Aranyakanda.  There is also an Appendix consisting 10 Riks attached to Purvarchika; and is called Mahanamani (or Sakravayah) to be sung in honour of Indra the Great (Mahan).

3.3. The second Arcika, Uttararcika (that which follows the first) is made up of nine prapathakas divided into number of segments (khandas). Under these Khandas, about 900 Riks are grouped into about 300 songs of three Riks each. The Riks, here, are arranged according to the sequence of events that occur in the course of the performance of the Yajna. It is presumed that the Uttararcika is, comparatively, of a later origin. And, it is regarded as an essential supplement to the Purvarchika.


4.1. As regards the Gana, the musical element of the Sama Veda, the Riks included in the first five chapters (prapathakas) of the first Arcika (Purvarchika) and those under Mahanamani are known as Grama-geya-gana – that is the songs meant to be sung in homes in the villages – praying to gods (devatha) Agni, Indra Soma and Visvedevah – during the course of domestic functions such as Brahmayajna (teaching of Vedas), Upakarma and other worships.

The Riks included under the sixth chapter (prapathaka) of the Purvarchika – that is Aaranya or Aranyakanda – are meant to be sung in the solitude of forests. Hence, they are named Aranya gana. The singing is of contemplative nature; and, it is deemed as sacred-music.

The Purvarchika way of singing (both the Grama and the Aranya gana) is deemed Prakrti-gana, the natural way of rendering a song.  And, it appears that the hymn-melodies for the Soma-yaga performed at homes in the villages (Grama) were different from those performed by the hermits living in the forests (Aranya).

4.2. As regards the singing (Gana) of the Riks included under the second Arcika (Uttararcika), it basically consisted two kinds of songs: Uha-gana (numbering 936) sung during the Soma Yajna; and Uhya-gana (numbering 209) singing within oneself. The texts (yoni Riks) of most of the songs were adopted from Purvarchika. But, here, the singing style is improvised with unusual variations; and, therefore it is named Vikrti-gana (not the straightway of singing). It is also said; the same Rik can be sung in different tunes, producing different Samas. The number of such Samas can vary from one to eighteen..!

[It is also said; Uha and Uhya were composed for the purpose of indicating the order of rituals in the Yajna. And, that Uha is related to Grama-gana, and Uhya to Aranya –gana.]

In summary; The Sama Veda Samhita, is arranged in two primary sections – the verse books (Arcika) and melody books (Gana). The Arcika is divided in two parts: Purvarchika and Uttararcika.  And, as regards melody (Gana) there are four styles of singing hymns: Grama-geya-gana; Aranya-gana; Uha –gana; and; Uhya-gana.  There is a mutual relation between the Riks contained in Arcika and the Gana books.


5.1. The priests who sing the Mantras at the Yajna are designated as Udgathru-s (derived from udgita – to sing ’high’ or loud). The Sama Veda Samhita came to be compiled, essentially, for their use and guidance.  They were usually a group of three singers (Prasthothru, Udgathru and Prathiharthra). And, the group, together, rendered the Sama in five stages.

Prasthava: The initial portion of the mantra is sung by an Udgathru designated as Prasthothru.  And, he starts with a deep Huuum sound (Hoon- Kara).

Udgita: Prasthothru is followed by the chef Ritwik (designated the chief Udgathru) who sings his portion of the Rik. He commences with an elongated Om Kara.

Prathihara: the mid-portion is sung loudly by Prathiharthra. This adulates the Devatha to whom Rik is addressed.

Upadrava: The chief Udgathru sings again;


Nidhana: the final portion is sung by all the three together, commencing with prolonged Om-kara.

When a mantra, as per the above format, is sung three times, it is then a stoma. Some texts describe the set of these five stages (Prasthava, Udgita, Prathihara, Upadrava and Nidhana) as Bhakthi. Its number is extended to seven by adding Hoon- Kara and Om Kara.

Elements of chanting

6.1. Shiksha, a branch of Veda lore (vedanga), deals with elements of chanting and phonetics. According to Taittereya Upanishad (1. 2), the elements of chanting includes six factors: Varna (syllable); Svara (accent); Maatra (duration); Balam (stress); Sama (even tone) ; and Santana (continuity) . The first four deal with correct pronunciation of individual syllables; and the last two with the recitation of the entire line or the verse.

Briefly, Varna is the correct pronunciation of every isolated syllable, combination of consonants and ovals and compound letters. Svara is how a syllable has to be pronounced in one of the three accents (udatta, anudatta and svarita). Maatra is the time duration for pronouncing a syllable. There are of four types: hrasva– a short one – duration for short ovals; dhirga –  two unit-duration for long vowels; plutam- longer than two–unit duration; and, the fourth is ardha- maatra, half unit, meant for consonants not accompanied by vowels.

Sama Svaras

6.2. In the beginning, Sama-gana employed only three notes called Udatta, Anudatta and Svarita. The lyre (Vana-Veena) accompanying the singing had only three strings, one for each note. The songs were perhaps like Ga Ga -Re Re -Sa Sa Sa. This kind of singing might have suited for chanting hymns.

The three notes were differentiated depending on whether it was produced from above or below the palate (taalu).

Udatta refers to sound produced from above the palate; and is acutely accented (uchchaih).

Anudatta was gravely accented (nichaih); produced from below the palate.

Svarita is a combination of udatta and anudatta, with udatta in the first-half. It is called a circumflexed accent.

[It is also explained that in context of Sama Veda , Udatta meant the highest Svara; Anudatta , just lower; and Svarita is the summation of the two.]

In the written/printed texts of the Rig Veda, Udatta is not indicated by any symbol; Anudatta is indicated by underlining the syllable; and Svarita is indicated by a vertical line above the syllable.

The Sama–gana texts, however, indicate Udatta by writing the Sanskrit numeral –one above the letter; Anudatta by writing the numeral–three above the letter; and Svarita by writing the numeral–two above the letter. In the Sama text, the syllables that have no symbols are called prachaya.

Please see the following example:

sama verse



Sama Svara and Venu Svara

7.1. Dr. Lalmani Misra, a noted scholar, explained the (Rig) Vedic priests used a single or two notes. The Sama singers improved on that and used at least three notes. “The singers explored further and discovered more notes. M G R S D has been determined to be the basic set of notes used in this order by Sāmik singers” , he said, “Sāmik notes were exactly those followed in Shadja grāmik tradition.”

7.2. As Sama-gana originated from the Yajna, its purpose, at least in the initial stages, was limited to chanting by the Udgathrus. Later, as the Sama Music developed, the number of notes increased from three to four, then five (which continued for a very long time), then six and finally seven. With that, the number of strings of the lyre too increased. Thus, over a period, the Sama scales expanded from three to seven notes. (It is not clear when or at what stage seven notes were introduced into Sama).

7.3. Naradiya Shiksha is a text that deals mainly with the musical notes and the pronunciation of the words in the Vedic language. Some believe it might pre-date Bharata’s Natyashastra. Narada Shiksha explaining the Sama music states that there were three Gramas (Sadja, Madhyama and Gandhara). It also mentions that each Grama has seven Murchanas (a total of 21 Murchanas). (But, it does not define Grama or Murchana). The set Murchanas related to Gandhara Grama are meant to please Devas; and the other two to please Pitris and Rishis. In addition, it mentions 49 Taanas.

[According to some other texts (Samavidhana Brahmana and Arseya Brahmana), Sama-Gana employed seven Svaras (notes): 1. Prathama; 2. Dvitiya; 3. Tritiya; 4. Chaturtha; 5. Panchama or Mandra (low); 6. Shasta or Krusts (high); and, Antya or Atiswara (very high)]

7.4. Naradiya Shiksha relates the Sama Svaras to the notes on the flute (Venu) as: Ma, Ga, Ri, Sa, Dha, Ni, and Pa.

       Sama svara                      Venu svara
01 Prathama Madhyama Ma
02 Dwithiya Gandhara Ga
03 Trithiya Rishabha Ri
04 Chathurtha Shadja Sa
05 Panchama Nishadha Ni
06 Shasta Daiwatha Dha
07 Sapthama Panchama Pa


7.5. In the later Sama texts, it became customary to write the numerals (one to seven) on top of the Sama mantras to indicate their note-delineations (Sama vikara).




Derivation of Svaras

8.1 . Naradiya Shiksha (1.5.3; 1.5.4) explains that each Sama-svara was derived from the sounds made by a bird or an animal in its appropriate season. For instance, bulls roar was Rishabha; kraunchaka’s (heron) cry was Madhyama; elephant’s trumpet was Nishadha; and koel’s (cuckoo) melodious whistle was Panchama and so on. Please see the table below.

Name in Sama Music Symbol Sama Veda Svara Bird/animal Sound associated
Madhyama Ma svarita heron
Gandhara Ga udatta goat
Rishabha Ri anudatta bull
Shadja Sa svarita peacock
Nishadha Ni udatta elephant
Daiwatha Dha anudatta horse
Panchama Pa svarita koel


Descending order of Sama Svaras

9.1. As can be seen, the Sama notes were of Nidhana prakriti (diminishing nature) or Vakragati, following Avaroha karma, a descending order (uttarottaram nicha bhavanthi).

The order of the Svaras in Sama-music was: Ma, Ga, Ri, Sa, Ni, Dha, and Pa. The order of the svaras was revised in the later texts to: Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni ; as we are familiar with it today. [Another Shiksha text, the Yajnavalkya Shiksha gives the names of the seven Svaras as SA-RI-GA-MA-PA-DA-NI; and says that the seven Svaras belonged to Aranya-gana.]

Dr. Misra says  that the ancient musical scale using notes in descending order can be translated into modern Shadja grām by considering the Madhyam  to be Shadja and moving up the scale.

9. 2. Even then, since the Sama notes were in a descending order there was not much flexibility in music. Dr. Misra remarks “In those times there were no microphones or loudspeakers. Sam was sung in large, wide, open or canopied spaces, with the intention that all present should be able to hear it. In such a condition if the song has notes M G R S D(as in Sama) it would be audible at best in a single room, but if the notes, S N D P Gstarting from Tār-saptak are sung they would be loud enough for all to hear. So, from this angle of usage too, S N D P G seems more appropriate than M G R S D. “

Further since the Raga concept was, then, yet to be evolved, there might not have been much depth and variation in the rendering of Vedic or Sama music.

As Dr. N.Ramanathan, a noted musicologist remarked, Sama music was to acquire the rhythmic-time- patterns. That is to say, the taala system was yet to evolve.

 Development of Sama music

10.1. The Sama music, in its later stages, was just ripe; and it was also eager to grow and expand both in scope and content.

Historically, the Sama chanting is recognized by all musicologists as the basis for the Indian Music. The roots of Sangita, the traditional (classic) Indian Music are firmly founded in Sama- gana.

10.2. The Saman initially gave rise to a body of devotional songs called Marga or Gandharva sung in Jati (melody). No matter who sang and in which region it was sung, the Sama and the Marga music had to follow the traditional approved format.

As a result of the disciplines evolved over the ages, a well structured system of music could be erected during the Gupta period on the foundations of the Sama–gana. It was during this period that Indian music started gaining the form with which we now are familiar.

10.3. From Marga, the devotional music (Vaidika) , was born the Art music (laukika) Desi,  the Music of Ragas. Desi, the one derived from regions, sprang from the common people; and, it varied from region to region. Desi was inspired from life, spontaneous and fluid.

10.4. Then for over a thousand years the Music scene was dominated by a structured Music (Nibaddha-samgita) format called Prabandhas (a type of Khandakavya). Since Prabandha grew rigid it had to give place, by about 17th century, to varieties of free flowing (Manodharma-samgita) such as Padas,  Kritis or Kirtanas, Varnas, Javalis etc.

9.5. Of late, the Marga and Desi; the classical folk and other improvised forms Of Music are coming together, enriching and inspiring each other. It is wonderfully delightful development.

Music and spiritual progress

11.1. Music in the Vedic times was sung and played for entertainment. Its other main use was during the performance of the Yajna; and it was here that Sama-gana was born. The concept of Nada-Brahman does not appear in Rigveda or in the early Upanishads. The metaphysical concept of Nada – Brahman is not discussed either in Sama Veda or its recitations (shakhas).  It seems to have come from Yoga or Agama.  Similarly, the notion  that music would lead to spiritual development did not seem to have existed then.

11.2. It was only in the later texts, say of 4th to 6th century AD, such as Brihaddeshi, Vayupurana and Naradiya shiksha assigned the musical taanas, names of the various Yajnas; and said that the benefits of those yajnas could be obtained by singing the relative taanas. The Yajnavalkhya Shiksha said, the music would help spiritual practices. The idea that music was a way to liberation (moksha sadhana) seems to have emerged at a later stage, perhaps during the Bhakthi period (10th -11th century and onwards).

Musical instruments

12.1 Vocal music was accompanied by lot of musical instruments in the Rig-Veda.

Some of the instruments of Rig-Veda are:  Dundubhi, Vaana, Nadi, Venu, Karkari, Gargar, Godha, Ping and Aghati. The sound of Dundubhi has been described as sound of clouds. Veena commonly denoted string instruments. The other instruments mentioned are: Venu or Vamsha (flute) and Mridanga (drums).

12.2. The string instruments such as Veena were played during a Yajna. Vana was the most popular string instrument of Vedic period. Among string instruments, frequent   references were made to the bow-shaped harp Vana. Vana (RV 1.85.10; 6.24.9 etc.) was a lyre; a plucked string instrument like a harp. Rig Veda (10.32.4) mentions the seven tones (varas0 of the Vana (vanasya saptha dhaturit janah).

Karkari (RV 2.43.3) and Tunabha were also veena – like string instruments. The other kind of string instruments mentioned in Rig-Veda is Kand-veena, which was made by combining together bamboo joints and stretching strings on it.

The other kinds of Veena mentioned are : Aghati, Ghatlika or Apghatika, Pichchola or Pichchora stambalveena, Taluk Veena, Godha Veena, Alabu, and  Kapishirshni etc.

In fact, all string instruments were called Veena.

12.3. Some others that were mentioned are:

Naali (RV 10.135.7) was a wind instrument similar to flute.

Dundhubhi (RV 1.28.51; 6.47.29 etc.) was a conical shaped drum with two faces, made by hollowing out a block of wood and stretching an ox’s hide over the mouth. It was played with a stick.

Adambarara was also a drum made from Udambara tree.

Shanka vadya blowing of conch is also mentioned.

Musical instruments were basically used as accompaniments to singing and dancing. There are no references to playing them solo; or in an orchestra





While on the subject of svaras, let me append here the wonderful explanation of the swaras in Indian music offered by Shri S Rajam the renowned artist and musician. He says:  The Seven swaras have twelve swara divisions:

Carnatic System Syllable Hindustani System Western
Shadja SA Shadj C
Suddha Ri R1 Komal Rishab D Flat Db
Chatusruti Ri R2 Thivra Rishab D
Sadarana GA G1 Komal GA E Flat Eb
Antara GA G2 Thivra GA E
Suddha MA M1 Komal MA F
Prati MA M2 Thivra MA F Sharp F+
Panchama PA Pancham G
Suddha Da D1 Komal Da A Flat Ab
Chatusruti Da D2 Thivra Da A
Kaisiki NI N1 Komal NI B Flat Bb
KakaliNI N2 Thivra NI B


 SA & PA are constant. Others have two levels (sthanas). Thus there exist twelve swara sthanas. Four more having shades of other swaras – Suddha Gandharam, Shatsruti Rishaba, and Suddha Nishada  & Shatsruti Dhaivata – make up a total of sixteen.

72 Sampoorna Ragas having all seven swaras both in ascending (arohana) & descending (avarohana) emerge as Mela ragas. Each mela has all the seven swaras but drafts varying swarasthana formulations.

Each mela raga applied to permutations & combinations of swara sthanas gives scope to 484 janya (sub) ragas. 72 mela ragas have thus a potential to give the colossal 34776 janya ragas. Of course, this is only an arithmetical projection & not a melodic feasibility.

Of 72 melas, the first 36 have M1 & the second 36 have M2.


Continued in Part Five

Gandharva Music

Sources and References Dr. Lalmani Mishra

Sama-gana :

The tradition of Indian art music (a historical sketch)   by Acharya Chintamani Rath

Sama Veda & its Music by R L Kashyap

 Vaidika sahithya Charithre by Dr, NS Anantharanga Char,%20September%29.pdf

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Posted by on April 22, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Three

Continued from Part Two – Overview (2) North – South branches


Part Three (of 22) –  Overview (3)


Karnataka samgita

1.1. The Music of South India has come to be referred to as Karnataka Sangita, perhaps, since the 12th century. The Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (1127-1139 AD) in his Manasollasa (also called Abhjilashitarta Chintamani) calls the Music of his times as Karnata Sangita . This, perhaps, is the earliest work where the name Karnataka Sangita first appears. Later, Thulaja the Nayak ruler of Tanjavuru in his ‘Sangita saramruta’ (1729 – 1735) calls the Music that was in vogue at his time as Karnataka Samgita. That was, perhaps, because the authorities and the Lakshana-granthas he quoted in his work were authored by Kannada-speaking scholars.  Later, Sri Subbarama Dikshitar in his ‘Sangita-sampradaya-pradarshini’ (1904) refers to Sri Purandaradasa as ‘Karnataka Sangita Pitamaha’ (father of Karnataka Music).

The contributions of the Kannada scholars in terms of –  the Lakshna-grathas that articulated the theoretical aspects of the Music; defining the concept of classifying the Ragas under various Mela-s; refining the elements of Music such as Taala; coining fresh Music terms; and, systemising the teaching methods , particularly in the early stages of learning  – had been truly enormous.


1.2. One of the reasons for naming the Dakshinadi as Karnataka Samgita could be that in the initial stages of its development and even in later times up to the 18th century the texts delineating the Grammar (Lakshana –grantha) of Music were authored mostly by Kannada speaking Music-scholars (Lakshanika). The texts were, however, written in Sanskrit and not in Kannada.

The notable among such texts (Lakshana–grantha) in question, mention could be made of 

: – Manasollasa ( also called Abhjilashitarta Chintamani ) ascribed to Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (12th century) ;

: – Sangita-Cudamani of Jagadekamalla (1138 to 1150 AD ) –   son of king Someshwara , author of Manasollasa;

:- Sangita-sara of  Sage Sri Vidyaranya  (1320 – 1380)  which perhaps was the first text to  group (Mela ) Ragas according to their  parent scale;

: – Sad-raga-chandrodaya of Pundarika Vittala (1583 approx);

 :- Kalanidhi of Catura Kallinatha (Ca,1430),  a reputed commentary on on Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara ; he was in the court of Immadi  Devaraya ( aka Mallikarjuna) the King of Vijayanagar (1446-65);

: – Swaramela-Kalanidhi  by Ramamatya (Ca.1550) a poet-scholar in the court of Vijayanagar ;

: – Sangita Sudha, attributed to Govindacharya (aka. Govinda Dikshita, Ca 1630) ;

: – Chaturdandi-Prakasika (a landmark text in Karnataka Sangita) by Venkatamakhin, son of Govinda Dikshita (ca. 1635);

: –  Sangraha Chudamani by Govindacharya (late 17th – early 18th century), which expanded on Venkatamakhi’s work;

:- and,

the Ragalakshanam  ( early 18th century) of Muddu Venkatamakhin (maternal grandson of Venkatamakhin) which makes a drastic shift in the concept of Mela , identifies the Raga by the position of its notes (Svara-sthana) and characterizes a Raga by its Aroha and Avaroha ( ascending and descending notes).


1.3. The practice of grouping (Mela) the Ragas according to their parent scale, it said, was initiated by Sage Vidyaranya in his Sangita-sara (14th century). Govinda Dikshita (who reverently addresses Sri Vidyarana as: Sri Charana)   confirms this in his Sangita-sudha (1614).  Sri Vidyaranya classified about 50 Ragas into 15 groups (Mela). Mela is a Kannada term meaning collection or group; and it is still in use ( eg. sammelana- is meeting or conference).Sri Vidyaranya ‘s  work on Melakarta system was followed up and improved upon in later times by other Kannada–speaking scholars. For instance; Ramamatya, following Sri Vidyaranya, in his Svara-mela-kalanidhi classified the then known Ragas into 20 Melas. His classification of Melas was based on five criteria (Lakshana): Amsa (predominant note); Graha (initial note); Nyasa (final note); Shadava (sixth note); and, Audava (pentatonic structure). Ramamatya was thereafter followed by:  Pundarika Vittala (16th century); Venkatamakhin (17th century); and his grandson Muddu Venkatamakhin (18th century).



1.4. Sri Sripadaraja (1406-1504) who presided over the Matta at Mulbagal in Kolar District, Karnataka, is credited with reorganizing the Taala system from out of the numerous Desi Taalas (rhythmic patterns) that were in use. He categorized the Taala under seven categories (Suladi sapta taala), each with a fixed number of counts: dhruva (14), matya (10), rupaka (6), jampa (10), triputa (7), ata (14), and eka (4). The counts were measured in terms of Laghu (of one matra duration- notionally to utter four short syllables) and Dhruta (half that of Laghu). He also provided scope for extending these counts (virama) by adding a quarter duration of a Laghu.

It appears; two other Taalas (jhompata, a Desi Taala and Raganamatya from folk traditions) were also in use.

Of course, today, the Taala regimen has completely been overhauled.

Music Terms

1.5 . Many of the Music-terms that are in use today were derived from Kannada. For instance: while the music-content of a song is called Dhatu, its lyrics are Mathu (meaning spoken word in Kannada). Similarly, the terms Sarale and Janti-varase are derived from Kannada. Sarale is, in fact, said to be the local (prakrta) version of the Sanskrit term Svaravali (string of Svaras). And, Varase (meaning style in Kannada) refers to ways of rendering the Svaras in high (melu-sthayi) and low (taggu-sthayi) pitch.

Further, the terms to denote ten modes of ornamentation (Dasha-vidha-Gamaka) were also said to be derived from Kannada: Hommu; Jaaru; Rave; and Orike etc.

Teaching Methods

1.6. Apart from charting the path for development of Music in South India, the teaching methods were systematized by Sri Purandaradasa through framing a series of graded lessons. Sri Purandaradasa is credited with devising a set of initial lessons starting with Maya-malava-gaula Raga and later in other Ragas. The Svaravalis, Janti varse, the Suladi Sapta taala alankaras and Gitams, composed by Sri Purandaradasa, form a part of Music-learning. He has also to his credit numerous lakshya and lakshna Gitams; Suladis, Ugabhogas, Devara Nama and kirtanas.

His compositions served as a model for Sri Tyagaraja. The other composers of the 18th century also followed the song-format devised by Sri Purandaradasa which coordinated the aspects of Raga, Bhava and Taala.


Contribution of Haridasas

2.1. As regards the Haridasas, their contributions to Karnataka Samgita, spread over six hundred years, have been immense, both in terms of the sheer volume and the varieties of their works.

Haridasas were proficient singers and composers; and, spread their message – of devotion, wisdom, ethics in life and social values- through songs and Music. They composed their songs in Kannada, the spoken language of the common people;  not in Sanskrit as was the practice until then. Their songs were accessible even to the not-so-literate masses; and, soon became hugely popular.

2.2. The range of Haridasa Music is indeed very wide. It spread from songs derived from folk traditions (lullaby (laali), koluhadu, udayaraga, suvvake, sobane, gundakriya etc) to Prabandha forms (gadya, churnika, dandaka, shukasarita, umatilaka and sudarshana), to musical opera and to the classic poetry.

But, the bulk of the Haridasa songs were in the format of: Pada; Suladi; and, Ugabhoga. When put together, their numbers run into thousands

2.3. As regards the Music, they seemed to have re-organised Ragas starting with malavagaula, malahari under 32 (battisa) Raga-groups.

[Incidentally, it is said, it was Sri Sripadaraya who first mentioned and introduced into Haridasa-music the stringed drone instrument Tamburi (Tanpura). And, later it came to be identified with the Haridasas in Karnataka music.]


3.1. Sri Naraharithirtha (13th century), a direct disciple of Sri Madhvacharya, was perhaps the first to compose Kannada songs in Pada- format. (His Ankita or Nama-mudra was Raghupathi.) The model he offered was fully developed and expanded by generations of Haridasa composers. That in turn led to evolution of other song-forms in Karnataka Samgita: Kriti, Kirtana, Javali etc.

3.2. Sri Naraharithirtha, after a considerable gap, was followed by Sri Sripadaraja (Ankita: Rangavittala) who lived for almost a hundred years from 1406-1504. He wrote a good number of Padas as also a long poem in Sanskrit (Bramara-geetha). He also introduced many innovations into Karnataka Music.

3.3. The later set of Haridasas, mostly, lived around the Vijayanagar times. The prominent among them was the most honoured Sri Vyasaraya (1447-1539), a disciple of Sri Sripadaraja. He composed many Padas (Ankita: Sri Krishna).  He enjoyed the patronage of the Vijayanagar King Sri Krishnadevaraya; and, also had a large following of disciples. During the time of Sri Vyasaraya the Haridasa movement (Daasa-kuta) reached its heights. Sri Purandaradasa and Sri Kanakadasa were prominent members of the Daasa-kuta.

3.4. During the same time, Sri Vadiraja (Ankita: Hayavadana) who had his seat in Sode (North Kanara District) composed varieties of Padas, popular songs and lengthy poems in classic style.

3.5. Among the Daasa-kuta , Sri Purandaradasa ( 1484-1564) a disciple of Sri Vyasaraya was  , of course,  the most well known of all. He composed countless Padas (Ankita: Purandara Vittala). Though he is said to have composed gita, thaya, padya-vrata (vrittanama) and prabandha (much of which is lost), he is today known mainly by his Padas, Suladis and Ugabhogas.  His songs cover a range of subjects such as: honesty and purity in ones conduct and thoughts; wholesome   family life; social consciousness and ones responsibility to society; philosophical songs; futility of fake rituals; songs preaching importance of devotion and surrender to God; prayers; narrative songs etc. He systematized the methods of teaching Music; and blended lyrics (Mathu), Music (Dhatuu) and Dance (Nrtya) delightfully. He is credited with introducing early-music lessons such as: sarale (svarali), janti (varase), tala- alankaras as well as the group of songs called pillari gitas.  These form the first lessons in learning Karnataka music even today. Sri Purandaradasa was later revered as Karnataka Samgita Pitamaha (father of Karnataka Music).



It is said; Sri Tyagaraja (1767-1847) derived inspiration from Sri Purandaradasa whom he regarded as one among his Gurus. Sri Tyagaraja, in his dance-drama Prahlada Bhakthi Vijayam pays his tribute to Sri Purandaradasa – వెలయు పురందరదాసుని మహిమలను దలచెద మదిలోన్ (I ponder, in my mind, on the greatness of Purandaradasa who shines in a state of ecstasy, always singing the virtues of Lord Hari which rescues from bad fates). Sri Tyagaraja brought into some of his Kritis the thoughts, emotions and concepts of Sri Purandaradasa.

3.6. A contemporary of Sri Purandaradasa was the equally renowned Sri Kanakadasa (1508-1606). He is remarkable for the range and depth of his works (Ankita: Nele-Adikeshava). He, like the other Haridasas, was driven by the urge to bring about reforms in personal and social lives of people around him. He wrote soulful songs full of devotion (Bhakthi), knowledge (jnana) and dispassion (Vairagya), besides composing classic epic-like poetry in chaste Kannada. His Kavyas: Mohana-tarangini (in Sangatya meter); Nalacharitre, Haribhakthisara and Ramadhyana-charite (in Saptapadi meter) are popular even today.



3.7. Following Sri Kanakadasa there were generations of Haridasas who continued to compose Padas, Devara Namas Ugabhoga, Suladi, Vruttanama, Dandaka, Tripadi and Ragale (blank verse) etc as per their tradition. Among them  the prominent were : Mahipathidasa(1611-1681) ;  Vijayadasa (1682-1755) ; Prasanna Venkatadasa  (1680-1752) ; Gopaladasa (1722-1762) ; Helavanakatte Giriyamma  (18th century) ; Venugopaladasa (18th century) ; Mohanadasa (1728-1751) ; Krishnadasa (18th century) and Jayesha Vittaladasa (1850-1932).

They all have contributed immensely to the development of Karnataka Samgita.

Pada, Suladi, and, Ugabhoga

4.1. As said earlier; the bulk of Haridasa music can broadly be grouped under three categories: Pada; Suladi; and, Ugabhoga.

4.2. The Padas are structured into Pallavi which gives the gist, followed by Anu-pallavi and Charana (stanzas) which elaborates the substance of the Pallavi. Pada is set to a Raga and a Taala. The Pada-format is closer to that of a Kriti. The term Pada is again derived from Kannada, where it stands for spoken-word or a song.

4.3. Suladi ( some say that it could suggest Sulaba-hadi , the easy way) is a delightfully enterprising  graded and a gliding succession of different Taalas (Tala-malika) and Ragas (Raga-malika). Some others  say, the name Suladi also means Su-haadi (meaning a good path, in Kannada).

The Suladi is a unique musical form that evolved from the Salaga Suda class of Prabandha . It is made up of 5 to 7 stanzas ; and does not, generally, have Pallavi or Anu-pallavi. Each stanza explains one aspect of the central theme of the song. And,   each of its stanzas is set to a different Taala (Taala–malika) chosen from among the nine Suladi Taalas (They in their modern form are: dhruva, mathya, rupaka, jhampa, triputa, atta and eka; in addition to two others   jhompata and raganamathya. ) And, at least five Taalas are to be employed in a Suladi.  Occasionally, the folk rhythm Raganmatya Taala is also used.

Therefore, in Suladi, particular attention is paid to the Taala aspect. Sometimes Ragas are not prescribed for rendering a Suladi. Towards the end of the Suladi there is a couplet called Jothe (meaning ‘a pair ‘in Kannada). 

Mahamahopadyaya Dr. R. Satyanarayana explains that the Dhruva Prabandha after which Suladi  was patterned employed nine different types of Taalas, while they were sung as a series of separate songs. Thereafter, there came into vogue a practice of treating each song as a stanza or Dhatu (or charana as it is now called) of one lengthy song. And, it was sung as one Prabandha called Suladi. Thus, the Suladi was a Taala-malika, the garland of Taalas or a multi-taala structure.

He mentions that there was also a practice of singing each stanza of a (Suladi) Prabandha in a different Raga. Thus, a Suladi type of Prabandha was a Taala-malika as also a Raga-malika.

Earlier to that,  Matanga had  mentioned  about Chaturanga Prabandha sung in four charanas (stanzas) each set to a different Raga, different Taala , different language (basha) and different metre (Chhandas) . Similarly, another type of Prabandha called Sharabha-lila had eight stanzas each sung in a separate Raga and Taala.

Sarangadeva also mentioned several types of Prabandha-s which were at once Raga- malikas and Taala-malikas such as : Sriranga, Srivilasa, Pancha-bhangi, Panchanana, Umatilaka, and Raga-kadamba.

Thus , the Raga malika, Taala malika and Raga-Taala- malika concept  which was described in the old texts was adopted and improved upon by the Haridasa (Sripadaraya, Vyasaraya, Vadiraja, Purandaradasa and others) to produce series of Suladi songs.

4.4. Ugabhoga is a piece of single stanza, sung in a Raga of performer’s choice.  They are similar to Vrittams which evolved from the Prabandhas of Desi music.  But, they are free from restrictions of meter or the length of the line. Most Ugabhogas don’t have prescribed ragas. It is a form of free rendering where Taala is absent or is not of much importance.  Ugabhoga attempts to convey a message in a nutshell. Therefore, rendering of the theme is more important here. Ugabhoga is characterised by the dominance of Raga- ‘Svara Raga Pradhana’.

Some say; the name Uga-bhoga is related to elements (Dhatu) of Prabandha Music, called Udgraha and A-bogha.  In the song set in Prabandha format, the element Udgraha consisting a pair of lines grasps (udgrahyate) the substance of poem; and, the element A-bogha completes the poem.

Baliya manege vaamana bandante | BhagIrathage sri  Gange bandante | Mucukundage shrI Mukunda bandante | Vidurana manege shrI Krishna bandante | Vibhishanana manege shrI Raama bandante | Ninna naamavu enna naaligeli nindu | Sthalnali srI Purandaravittala ||

As can be seen, there is the opening section (Udgraha) and the last line (Abogha) with the signature (Birudu, Ankita or or Mudra) of the composer. The Ugabhoga is not structured into sections.

There is no prescribed Raga; and there is no Taala either. This Ugabhoga was rendered famous by Smt. ML .Vasantha Kumari who sang the first part in Hamsanandi and the rest in Maand

4.5. The Haridasas through their Padas, Ugabhogas, Suladis and Geetas set to attractive Ragas and Taalas carried to the doors of the common people the message of Bhakthi as also of worldly wisdom.

Trinity of Music



5.1. The contributions of the celebrated Musical Trinity- Sri Tyagaraja, Sri Mutthuswami Dikshitar and Sri Shyama Shastri – are enormous. Their period could doubtless be called the golden age of Karnataka Samgita. Though the three did not meet together, they seemed to have complemented each other wonderfully well.  The approach of each was different from the other. And yet; their combined influences has bound the Music of South India into an integrated system and has given it an identity. For instance; of the three, Shyama Shastri seemed to favour tradition, as most of his compositions are in Ragas mentioned in older treatises. Sri Dikshitar was open to influences from the Music of the West (Nottu sahitya) as also that of the North (Drupad music of North India). Some of his compositions in Vilamba-kaala are set in Ragas derived from North Indian Music. Yet; Sri Dikshitar was authentically original; and was also rooted in tradition, following Mela-Ragas classification of Venkatamakhin and that of Muddu Venkatamakhin’s Ragalakshana.

5.2. Sri Tyagaraja seemed to be more innovative. He brought to life some rare Ragas that were long forgotten and had gone out of use. He also created some new ragas. He perfected the Kriti format of Musical compositions that are in vogue today; introduced the practice of Sangathi elaboration of the Pallavi; and built in Svaras into Sahitya. And, he was also  a prolific composer, having produced large numbers of Kritis/Kirtanas, Utsava-sampradaya kirtanas, Divya nama samkirtanas and Geya Natakas (dance dramas).

5.3. The post-Trinity period saw an explosion of light musical forms, such as: Varnas, Thillanas, Swarajathis, Jathiswarams, Shabdams and Javali. The composers of these musical pieces were mostly the disciples of the Trinity and their subsequent generation of disciples and their followers.

Today and tomorrow

6.1. As you look back, you find that the Music of India developed and changed, over the centuries, at multiple layers due to multiple influences. The Indian classical music as we know today is the harmonious blending of varieties of musical traditions such as sacred music, art music ,  folk music and other musical expressions of India’s extended neighbourhood.  And, yet the Music of India has a unique characteristic and an identity of its own.

6.2. The Music of India has travelled a long way. The modern day Music scene is markedly different from its earlier Avatar, in its practice and in its attitude. The traditional system of patronage vanished long back. Now, the professional musicians have to earn their livelihood by public performance, recoded discs, radio /TV channels, teaching in schools or at home. The relation between the teacher and student , the ways of teaching as also the attitudes of either teaching or learning have all  undergone a sea change; almost a complete departure from the past practices and approaches .   New technology and accessories are brought in to enhance the quality and volume of sound output. Many new instruments, starting with violin and Harmonium, are being adopted for rendering traditional music (saxophone, mandolin etc). The styles of rendering the Alap or the song or even selection of Ragas/kritis are all hugely different. Many musicians have been experimenting with fusion music of various sorts. And above all, there is the overbearing influence of film music.

6.3.  But, at the same time, I believe the fundamental basics of Indian music are not yet distorted. It is, as ever, growing with change, adapting to varying contexts and environments.  This, once again, is a period of exploration and change. It surely is the harbinger of the Music to come in the next decades.



In the coming instalments of the series, we will take a look at the various stages in the evolution of the Music of India, separately, each at a time :the  Music of Sama Veda; the  Music in Ramayana; Gandharva or Marga Music; the Music of Dhruvas in Natyashastra ; the Desi Music of Ragas; the Prabandhas along with Daru and other forms  ; various types of song- formats; the best of all formats – the Kritis also ; and at the end , the Lakshana Granthas composed over the centuries, in a bit more detail.


In the next part of the series we shall try to catch a glimpse of the Music of Sama Veda.

power of Music

Continued in Part Four

Music of Sama Veda

Sources and References

ಕರ್ನಾಟಕ ಸಂಗೀತ’ದಲ್ಲಿ  ಕನ್ನಡ’

Important Treatises on Carnatic Music by Harini Raghavan

Haridasa s’ contribution towards Music


Posted by on April 22, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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