Monthly Archives: June 2015

Music of India – a brief outline – Part Twenty-two

Continued from Part Twenty one – Dhrupad Part One

Part Twenty two (of 22) – Dhrupad – Part Two



Dhrupad flourished as the principal  music format during the 16th century in the Mughal Courts.  During its affluent times, Dhrupad developed into four distinct melodic forms known as Vani or Bani. It might be rather incorrect to call them as ‘styles’.  Because, apart from the ways of rendering the songs many other  complex elements were associated with each Bani, such as :  the ideology ( spiritual or otherwise) , the intent, devotion, melodic types, nature of compositions, repertory , ways of transmitting orally from generation to generation, how they viewed their own Music and how they like the world to view their Music  etc. And, above all there was the question of tradition; because, for a Dhrupad performer Tradition is of prime importance. According to their traditions, Dhrupad is a body of spiritual and mystical knowledge to be practiced with devotion (Bhakthi) and dedication (Shraddha). It is primarily an act of submission to ones indweller; not a tool for entertainment.

During the time of Akbar four classes of Bani-s seem to have gained prominence. Though they might have been distinct in their initial stages, later each assimilated some aspects of the other Bani-s.  Therefore, by about the 17-18th century they almost had merged into one ancient tradition.

A Dhrupad singer of Akbar’s time was addressed as Kalawant. The Kalawants identified themselves with a  Bani, which they came to regard as their tradition.

The four Bani-s of Akbar’s time were: Govarhar, Khandahar, Nauhar and Daguar, each named after the place of its origin or its originator.

[ Giti-Bani

Giti meant the way of singing (Gita), giving a form to the Ragas. During the early Mughal times five types of Gitis were recognized; and, each type of Giti was associated with a group of Ragas. It is said; Shuddha Giti (the pure) used straight and soft notes; Bhinna Giti (innovative) with articulated, fast and charming Gamaka phrases (Alamkara); Gaudi Giti (Eastern) sonorous with soft , unbroken mellow stream of singing in all the three tempos (Kala) Mandara (slow), Madhya ( middle) and Tara ( upper) with appropriate Gamaka Alamkaras; Vesara or Vegasvara  Giti (fast notes) suited  for speed or fastness in rendering the notes (Svaras) ; and, Sadharani or Sadharan Giti  (General) combined in itself the virtues and merits of the other four Gitis.

Each type of Giti came to be associated with a particular Dhrupad Bani in its rendering of Alaap. In that process, Shuddha Giti corresponded with Daagar Bani; Binna Giti with Khandar Bani; Gaudi Giti with Gaudhara or Gobarahara Bani; and Sadharani Giti with Nauhar Bani. As regards the Vesara Giti, it corresponded with songs of any type of Bani that need to be rendered with speed.

Source :The Dictionary of Hindustani Classical Music by Bimalakanta Roychaudhuri ]

Govarhar or Shuddha Bani:

Tansen is said to be the originator of this Bani. It is said; he was originally a Gauda Brahmin (Ramtanu Pandey). And therefore, his style came to be known as Gaudiya or Govarhari Bani. This Bani was characterized by its smooth glides, almost linier in character. Its gait was slow and contemplative; spreding a feeling of repose and peace.

Gauhar Bani was described as Shuddha Bani that is chaste and pure. Its rendering was straight and simple with the gaps between the words and between the stanzas , bridged by aans or meands. It iwas    ideally suited for compositions in slow tempo (Vilamba kala) portraying Shantha, Gambhira and Bhakthi Rasas.

Khandahar Bani:

Raja Samokhan Singh was a famous Beenkar. He belonged to Kandahar region. Thus, his style of singing came to be known as Kandahar Bani. This Bani was rich in its variety. Its gait was majestic and robust, using heavy and vigorous Gamakas, expressive of valor. In contrast to Gaudiya or Govarhari Bani , it usually was not sung in slow tempo.

Khandar Bani was prominent in Jor Alaap of the Rudra Bina.  Along with bewildering pattern of vigorous Gamakas, it could also bring out soft and delicate notes. The Dhrupad compositions of this Bani were set mostly in Madhya and Dhrut laya, with the singer innovating series of Bol-tans in rhythmic patterns along with the Pakhawaj. The Bani was  best  suited for expressing   the fast and furious Vira Rasa.

Nauhar Bani:

Its founder was Rajput Shri Chand who belonged to Nauhar. It style was characterized by quick, jerky passages employing a variety of Gamakas. It usually moved in quick successions, moving as it were in slow deliberate curves from the first to its third or fourth note, and then changing course . Thus, the Nauhar Bani with its jumpy chhoots (short, quick musical run) surprised the listeners at each of its movements.

Nauhar Bani was  technically called Chhoot style with predominance of Madhya laya , spacious Dhrupad  compositions .It  was ideally suited for depicting the joy and wonder of Adbhuta  Rasa of songs set to smaller beats.  This style of rendering is very popular with wandering minstrels singing songs of love and war.

Daguar Bani:

It said to have been founded by Braj Chand who belonged to a place called Daguar. Hence his style came to be known as Daguar Bani. It was characterized by its delicately executed meends (glides) with Gamakas. It was marked by correct intonation, purity of design, simplicity of execution and a massive structure. It adopted the contemplative elaboration of Govarhar.

 The rendering of the songs and Dhrupad in  Daagar Bani  was  mostly in Vilambit and Madhya laya, providing greater scope for portraying various Rasas in different Taalas .It was well suited for Dhamar songs. And, in its medium tempo it judiciously blended in the Kandahar Bani to add color to its performance.

(Source : Bimal Mukherjee in his Indian Classical Music – Changing Profiles outlining the characteristics of the Banis )

The following stanza pithily captures the salient features of each of the four Bani-s.

Jor Jor se Kandhar gave,

Madhu bole se Nauhar leve,

Saans badi hai gauhar ki,

Alaapchari hai Dagur ki.

The poem indicates that Kandahar Bani became famous due to its voice culture; broad and high pitched tones , forceful expression   and the smoothness of its style.

The Nauhar Bani was famous for its sweet and delicate expression. Its attention was on the bol-bant.  The Bol-banav must have developed , here ,  in Layakari.

The Govarhar Bani was known for its deep and sustained breath control.

And, the Daguar Bani developed great expertise in Alapchari, with much attention on the treatment of the Svaras.

During the later centuries when the Gharanas came into being, each Gharana adopted into its own style one or more features from among the four Bani-s. The Bani-s gradually lost their distinctive qualities. For instance; the Gayaki of Ustad Alladiya Khan of Jaipur – Atrauli Gharana was influenced by Govarhar Bani through its contemplative elaboration , deep breath and smooth glides; the Agra Gharana derived from Nauhar Gharana adopted most of its features, specially the sweetness in its essence;  And, the family of Daguar singers and the Beenkars, of course, adopted the Daguar Bani with its insistence on purity and delicately executed meends;   The Kirana Gharana seems to be influenced by Daguar Bani.   The voice culture of the Kandahar Bani is , of course ,  a desired virtue of all Gharanas. Thus, in Dhrupad the concept of Gharanas seemed to operate as crystallization of ideas about the ways of combining musical styles and features of the bygone Bani-s.

Mughal Shamsa, smallest


With the disintegration of the Mughal Empire, the political structure of North India fragmented into numbers of small states ruled by Nawabs and Maharajas. With that, the historical tradition of Music of India was rudely disrupted, as the Musicians denied of patronage had to move from Court to Court in search of a livelihood. And, the Musicians were forced to leave behind the theoretical aspects of their  Music, but to practice Music as a craft to please their new–found patrons.

Raja Aniruddh Sing

Interesting fallout of the political re-arrangement was that each ruler of a small state competed with his rival in studding his court with famed musicians. It is said, rulers of some states borrowed heavily to get hold of top-notch performers. Each ruler was keen to establish the superiority of the Music of his court over that of others. Each would goad his musicians to come up with specialized styles and techniques of singing. The Music across North India, thus, came to be stratified into styles of various court-music. Each was known as a Gharana (‘family’ or ‘house’), named after its patron-state (such as: Gwalior Gharana, Patiala Gharana, Jaipur Gharana and so on). Each ruler desired to have his very own personalized Gharana of music.  And if no particular geographical region can be identified then a Gharana would take the name of the founder; as for instance: Imdadkhani Gharānā named after the great Imdad Khan (1848 -1920) who served in the Royal Courts of Mysore and Indore.

A  Gharana, in due course,   turned into a symbol of social standing, affluence and power among the rulers.

[ A noted musician Ustad Hameed khan explained that, ‘In order for a Gharānā to come into existence, the same style of musical esthetic ideology and collection of musical knowledge should be maintained by a family of musicians at least for three generations. The musical knowledge passed to members of the family and blood relatives under strict manners’. The necessary criteria to recognize a Gharānā is that, the musical knowledge should preserve and only transformed to family members. But it is also accepted that in such cases where the continuity of generations lacks, in that cases Gharānās were continued through the lineage of prime disciples who has complete knowledge particular Gharānā.

 Chapter iii.pdf – Shodhganga]

The Musicians who suffered most under the changed circumstances were the Dhrupad singers. All along their history they were sheltered by the patronage of Royal Courts.  And, their Classic Music of contemplative devotional nature was not favored by the new breed of Nawabs   who were looking for entertainment. And, Dhrupad, rigid and somber as it was, they said, surely was not entertainment. Dhrupad was hard put to survive in a Music world that was dominated by the attractive Khyal, Thumri, Tappa and such other popular styles. The Been and Pakhawaj which were closely associated with the Dhrupad also found it hard to secure patronage.

If Dhrupad as a class of pristine pure Music has survived to this day it is primarily due to the dedication, faith , steadfastness and sacrifices of certain families who selflessly dedicated their lives , generation after generation, in protecting , preserving and propagating the ancient Music they inherited from their ancestors in its pure and traditional form. We all owe these families a deep debt of gratitude.

The Classical Dhrupad is today represented by descendents of five major families, each preserving its stylistic music tradition. These have come to be known as the Gharanas of Dhrupad.

Daguar Gharana


The most well known among the Dhrupad traditions or Gharanas is the Daguar Gharana , which is said to have been initiated by the sixteenth century musician Nayak Haridasa Daguar.  And , it was preserved and continued since the eighteenth century by  a Pandeya Brahmin from Rajasthan,  who converted to Islam  under the influence of the Sufi Saints.  The Dhrupad of the Daguars’ is said to represent the Daguar Bani of the 16th century. Its performance is characterized by very restrained, contemplative Raga elaboration. It pays much attention to the purity of its music and voice production. The primary emphasis is on accurate, exhaustive and meditative exploration of Raga in  the Alap. The composition (Bandish) is often given a lesser amount of time. The overall ambiance of Daguars’ Dhrupad is contemplation, grandeur and a deep sense of devotion.

The singers of the Daguar Gharana are renowned for their high standard of voice culture and purity of vocal delivery. Their   presentation   is  governed by theoretical rules and norms.  Most of its singers are well acquainted with music-theories (Shastra).

In the modern times , the Dhrupad of Daguar Gharana is represented the four senior  exponents : Ustad Nasir Aminuddin Daguar of Calcutta, Ustad Rahim Fahimuddin Daguar of Delhi, Ustad Zia Fariduddin Daguar of Bhopal and Ustad Hussein Sayeeduddin Daguar of Pune.

Dharbhanga Gharana

The Dharbhanga Gharana is said to have been founded by two brothers Radhakrsna and Kartarama, Gauda Brahmins from Vraja, who later found patronage in the Court of Dharbhanga, in North Bihar.

Dharbhanga Gharana is said to have adopted the Gaurahara Bani as its basic style. But , it also combines in its tradition the  robust voice culture of Kandahar Vani and the swiftness of the Nauhar Bani.  The distinctive feature of the Dharbhanga Gharana is, therefore, powerful and expressive vocal delivery, combined with very lively, joyful style of performance, skilful Layakari improvisation. There is not much emphasis on restrained, meditative slow movements or on voice culture and such other technical aspects.

The senior musician of the Dharbhanga tradition is Pandit Vidur Mallik of Vrindaban who succeeded the legendry Pandit Ram Chatur Mallik (1906-1990).

Talvandi Gharana

Talvandi Gharana from North-West India is purely a Muslim tradition founded by Chanda Khan and Suraja Khan from Punjab; and, it appears, it is continued in Pakistan.

Since the Talvandi Gharana descended from Muslim tradition, the conventional designations of the various stages of the Alap elaboration and the names denoting Dhrupada performance are in Urdu terms. The entire performance is regarded as an offering to Allah. Yet, the repertoire includes some Hindu devotional songs along with the majority Muslim religious themes. In the Talvandi Gharana, there is full-length Raga Alap ;but  , the improvisation in the rendering of the pre-composed Bandish is rather restricted.

Its leading exponent is Ustad Hafiz Khan Talvandivale of Lahore.

Betiya Gharana

The Betiya Gharana of Dhrupad is from Eastern India ; and , it is associated with Royal Court of Betiya in Bihar.  It flourished mainly during the nineteenth century, after it was founded by Kathakas (story-tells or bards)   from Varanasi (Banaras). A Muslim teacher from Kapi, a disciple of Ustad Haidar Khan of Lucknow, is also associated with the Betiya Gharana.

The Betiya Gharana gathered strength in Eastern India because of its association with the Vishnupur Gharana, a tradition of Dhrupad and Khyal that emerged from the Court at Vishnupur in West Bengal. The Dhrupada of Betiya and Vishnupur Gharana influenced the devotional music that developed in Bengal during 19th century (e.g. Brahma-samgit).

Because of the congregational nature of its rendering, the emphasis of the Dhrupad of the Betiya Gharana is on the composition and the clarity in its presentation. The Alap is kept to a minimum, while the improvisation (Layakari, Bola-bamta) is hardly attempted.

Mathura Gharana

The Mathura Gharana originates from the Dhrupad music of the Vaishnava temples in the Vraja region. The originators of this branch of Dhrupad are said to be Chaturvedi Brahmins from Mathura who having been trained in the temple-music lore and tradition entered the mainstream of classical music.

The Mathura Gharana, similar to the Dharbhanga Gharana, focuses on the composition and on its presentation in powerful, vigorous manner. And, just as in Betiya Gharana, here too the Alap is very short. But, it allows for improvisation though in a limited, straightforward manner. Because of its primary association with temple-rituals, there is a strong emphasis on the clarity in the presentation of the text; the words take preference over musical features.

Over the centuries, the ancient Dhrupad as a musical genre and a structural model has inspired generations of traditions as a classic art -Music and also as a sublime devotional over pouring. If Dhrupad has survived its misfortunes and re-emerged as a form of chaste Music despite the encircling callousness and neglect verging on destitution, it is mainly because of three factors.  One; it is the intrinsic merit, power, the purity of form and intent of the pristine Dhrupad.  The other is commitment, dedication and sacrifice of generations of families that have protected preserved Dhrupad in its purity; and ensured its propagation as a living tradition. The parallel, Vaishnava temple – rituals have  also helped Dhrupad  to continue as a  strong tradition.

Rendering of Dhrupad


The musical objects in singing Dhrupad are the exposition and development of Raga;  the expressive rendering of the composed text with its  melody; and , the demonstration of the melodic sensitivity, rhythmic dexterity and the vocal technique of the singer.

Dhrupad is therefore normally performed by a soloist or by two singers who improvise alternately and combine in performance of the composed song. A solo melodic instrument (traditionally Veena, but now a Sarangi or harmonium may also accompany, in a subdued manner.

The essential accompaniment is the  Tanpura or Tambura which provides the Sruti drone throughout the performance. Then there is the Pakhawaj which plays a very significant role in performance

The rendering of Dhrupad which is bound by tradition follows a certain prescribed format in its  performince- sequence.

The broad pattern of Dhrupad performance consists two phases. The opening and the major phase is Alap which elaborately explores the chosen Raga in great detail, developing each note with purity and clarity and unfolding the Raga in slow, medium, and fast tempos. Alap usually occupies over two-thirds of the entire performance.  In the second phase, a Dhrupad composition is sung to the accompaniment of the Pakhawaj.

The Raga development begins in slow (Vilambit) contemplative elaboration of the Svaras (notes) of the Raga in meditative tones, leading to expansion in the medium (Madhyama) tempo and finally cascading in fast (Dhrut)  role of notes. The Alap is the soul and substance of a Dhrupad performance. Alap is performed in stages, with each stage developing the notes in progressively higher notes; but, it is difficult to demarcate the stages.

Ragalipita According to Sarangadeva


Sarangadeva  ( 13th century)  in  the Third Chapter (Prakirnaka Adhyaya)  of his Sangitaratnakara  describes two forms of Raga elaborations: Ragalapti  which is Anibaddha –  unstructured , not bound either by meaningful words (pada)  or by Taala (time units) – free-flowing improvised development and exploration of the Raga ( similar to Alap of the present-day) ; and . Rupakalapti  , which is Nibaddha , where melodic improvisation is done with the aid of the words of the song and the Taala ( similar to Bandish of Dhrupad).

Sangitaratnakara (3.189-196) gives the earliest known descriptions of the formal structure of Alap (Ragalapti). According to Sarangadeva, Ragalapti or Ragalapana is the demonstration of the Raga , with  emphasis on  the important notes and ornamentation  of the Raga.  And, it has to be developed in four stages. Then he goes on to provide the technical details of Ragalapti. Here,  some of the terms he employs  have either since  gone out of use  or have acquired different meanings or connotations.

He says, the Svara (note) on which the Raga is established is known as Sthayi (yatro-praveshyate ragah Svare). This note functions as the initial (Adi-Svara), sectional final (Apa-nyasa, note with which a section of the song ends –Vidari); and final (Nyasa)-  (SSR 3.191). 

[Here, the term Sthayi term should not be confused with modern Sthayi or the first section of the Dhrupad composition.]

Then he says, the fourth note from this (Sthayi) should be called Dvayardha. There should be a phrase (chalanam – movement) called the opening phase (mukha-chala) about a note lower than the fourth. This is the first section. (SSR.3. 192)

Having made the movement (chalanam) about the fourth (Dvayardha) ,  there should be an increase in tempo (gati)  . This is the second section. The eighth note from the Sthayi is called the Dvi-guna (octave) – (SSR.3.1.193).

The Svaras (notes) occurring between the fourth (Dvayardha) and the eighth (Dvi-guna) are called Ardha-sthita (intervening notes).  After having made movements (Chalanam) about the Ardha-sthita, there should be an increase in the tempo (gati). This is the third section. (SSR.3. 194)

Progressing further,  there should be an another increase in the tempo   . This is the fourth section. Thus, Ragalapti is held by the learned as having these four sections- (SSR.1.195).

Thus, the establishment of the Raga should be made by means of very gradual, clear, circuitous ornamentations (Gamaka or Sthaya) ; and should be pervaded by the vital notes (jivasvara) of the Raga- (SSR.1.196).

In the four sections of Ragalapti as described by Sarangadeva, the Raga development takes place through  Sthayi, i.e. from below the fourth (Dvayardha) , around the fourth in the Purvanga  and proceeds on to    Dvi-guna the eighth note in the Uttaranga.

It is clear from Sarangadeva’s descriptions that the gradual extension of the range from the region of Sthayi the initial note   to the eighth note (Dvi-guna) , in a number of stages , with increase in tempo at stage [ moving from the slow tempo (Vilambit)  of Sthayi  to the fast tempo (Druta)  of Dvi-guna] , was the most prominent feature of Ragalapti .

This was, perhaps, the format over which the Alap of the Dhrupad was developed in later times.

Present Practice

The Classical Dhrupad of the present times is usually rendered in three segments :Alap. nom-tom and Bandish (composition).



Alap is often the most extended part of the Dhrupad performance. Because, it is here that the performer enjoys full freedom to develop and improvise the various facets of the musical elements of the Raga. Alaap is developed in three stages, in three tempos (Laya) : Vilambit (slow) , Madhya (medium) and Drut (brisk) .

The Alap in Vilambit Laya (slow tempo) begins in contemplative, meditative elaboration of the notes (Svara) from the lower octave (Purvanga).

The basis of the North Indian Raga is the scale of five or more notes of which Shadja (Sa) is the Adhara Svara (ground note). The melodic expression of the Raga depends on it. Since the Alap is the exposition of the characteristics of the Raga, Shadja is sustained throughout the performance as a drone (together with the fourth or the fifth note). The singer begins each stage by first singing the note Shadja from the middle octave and then proceeds to establish the mood of the Raga by singing the various notes forming that particular Raga. Thus, the development of the Raga proceeds in several phrases each of which returns to the Shadja.  Therefore Shadja plays an important part in the structure of the Alap.

The absorbing resonant peaceful musical sounds suggest to the listener the essential nature of the Raga; and then gradually the complete picture is uncovered. The Alap is a free floating pure rendition of the Raga, not fettered by words or time-units. The performer, however, takes the aid of meaning-less musical sounding syllables (om, num, re, ri, na, ta, tom) as a prop to support his elaboration of the Raga and to lend it a personality.

The second stage of Alap would be in Madhya Laya (medium tempo) . Its melodic span and structure are similar to the Vilambit Alap.  The singer , here,  embarks  on the notes of the middle octave.  And, the melody will now acquire a faster tempo- Dugun (twice)

The third stage of Alap would be in Drut Laya (brisk tempo).

This is called the Drut  Alap. Its melodic structure can be similar to the Alap in medium tempo. but the melody is rendered to a distinct fast tempo-  Tigun (thrice) and Chaugun ( four times).; and it escalates into a crescendo as it nears the conclusion.

In the second and third stage the singer may not , however , use  the notes of the lower octave ,but keep to the middle and higher octaves. But,  this would depend on the nature of the Raga whether it is  Uttaranga or Purvanga  Pradhana   (oriented) Raga.

To sum up ; in the Dhrupad performance, the tempo changes a number of times. As said earlier; initially, the singer begins in slow tempo, which is then quickened as the performance progresses. This is done in stages. The initial tempo is called Thah-Laya; and it is increased in multiples.  That tempo, when it escalates   is known as Dugun (twice) , Tigun (thrice) and Chaugun ( four times). Sometimes this increase can also be in fractions such as ½ (Adi) or even 1/1-4 (Khud).

Nom tom

The Alap then slides into the more rhythmic nom-tom section, where the Raga develops with a steady pulse employing meaningless syllables such as nom tom dir tana etc, but without the binding of the Taala.

Nom tom of Dhrupad is derived from Tena, mentioned as one of the Six Angas (limbs or elements)  of Prabandha: Svara, Birudu, Pada, Tena, Paata, and Taala.

Tena or Tenaka was described as vocal syllables, meaningless and musical in sound with many repetitions of   the syllables or sounds like tenna-tena-tom, conveying a sense of auspiciousness (mangala-artha-prakashaka). It was sung after Ragalapti; but, before the main section of the Prabandha i.e. the Dhruva , which was set in meaningful words (pada) and meter (Chhandas) with appropriate Taala cycles. A similar practice of singing nom tom after rendering the Alap but before the Bandish   came into vogue in Dhrupad.

In the instrumental music, Tena was meant to be played on the Veena in the Nanda type of songs of the Viprakirna class of Prabandha. It gained prominence as Taanam (played soon after the latter part of the Alapana) in the Veena play of the Karnataka Sangita. The equivalent of Tena in Hindustani instrumental music (particularly Sitar) is the Jor.

The Jor in instrumental music and   the of Nom tom of Dhrupad both have a simple pulse, but with no well-defined rhythmic cycle.

The melodic outline of non tom usually echoes the rising and falling arches of the Alap although less attention is paid to development of individual notes. The individuality of nom tom rests mainly on style and vocal technique , rather on form.


Prabandha is defined by Matanga as a type of composition that is well structured (Prabhadyate iti Prabandhah).  The term Bandish is the re-formed name for Bandha of the Prabandha Music. Bandish in Dhrupad refers to a well structured composition where the words (Pada), music (Raga) and rhythm (Taala) are fixed (Dhruva or Sthayi) in relation to each other, with an even stress on all the three components.

The ancient Salaga Suda class of Prabandha compositions usually had four divisions or sections (Dhatu): Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva and Abhoga. And Antara was an additional optional section.

Udgraha is the commencing section of the song. Here the song is first grasped (udgrahyate), hence the name Udgraha; Dhruva is the main body of the song and that which is repeated. Dhruva is so called because it is rendered again and again (refrain); Melapaka is the bridge, the uniting link between the two Udgraha and Dhruva; and, Abhoga is the conclusion of the song. Abhoga gets its name because it completes (Abhoga) the Dhruva. Once the Abhoga has been sung, Dhruva should be repeated.

Since the Dhruva-Prabandha originated from the Salaga Suda class of Prabandha, the two have similar structure. The Dhruva-Prabandha was cyclic song with the formal structure of Udgraha, Dhruva and Abhoga and an additional section Antara, if needed. Here, Antara was in a high register; the first phase of Dhruva served as refrain, repeated at the end of the song and also at the end of the first and the second sections.  In all these aspects, the Dhruva Prabandha somewhat resembles the modern Dhrupad.

The Dhrupad (Dhruva-pada) which evolved from the Dhruva Prabandha of the Salaga Suda Prabandha split Abhoga, which was quite lengthy,   into two sub parts the Sanchari and the Abhoga. The opening Udgraha and Melapaka were combined into one section called as Sthayi. Thus, the present-day Dhrupad composition usually consists four sections (Dhatu): Sthayi, Antara, Sanchari and Abhoga.

Sarangadeva’s descriptions of Dhruva Prabandha illustrate the remarkable continuity in the musical form over a period of six to seven hundred years, a period during which many changes took place in North Indian Music.

The four Dhatus (sections) of a Dhrupad composition are, briefly:

: – Sthayi – The initial or the opening section of the composition; and, that which establishes the Raga in Madhya and Mandra octaves (Saptaka). Sthayi is often repeated during the performance.

: – Antara–follows immediately after the Sthayi and explores the Raga more extensively, especially accentuating the upper half of  the Madhyama ( middle octave) and in the upper half of  the octave (Uttaranga) , which is then repeated

: – Sanchari- Allows free movement to explore the Raga fully.

: – Abhoga – Gives a sense of completion to the elaboration ; and rounds off the development stage of the composition.


The percussion accompaniment, the Pakhawaj joins the performance at the commencement of the composition-rendering. Dhrupad compositions are usually set in Chautaal (12 beats cycle) generally performed in slow or medium tempo; those set to Sultaal (10 beats cycle) are performed at a lively  brisk tempo ; Tivrataal (7 beats cycle) ; Dhamar (14 beats cycle) or Aditaal (16 beats cycle). A composition in Dhamar Taal is called Dhamar; and the one set also set in Dhamar Taal, performed in medium tempo, describe the Krishna-Gopis enactment of Holi festival is known as Holi Dhamar. And, the composition set to Jhap Taal is known as Sadra


After going through the structured sequential rendering of the composition, the performer delves into series of variations and rhythmic improvisations. this section of the performance is marked by  a lively interplay between the vocalist and the Pakhawaj player, weaving out patterns of rhythmic improvisations. The playful rivalry  or lively dialogue (sawal –javab)  between the singer and the instrument player, one kindling and inspiring  the other to do one better, is a very entertaining part of the performance.

Improvisations are executed mainly through playing on the words of the text by breaking it up , but keeping intact  the group of words   so formed . This division of words  that synchronize  with the beats and cross rhythms is called Bol- Bant. In addition, melodic ornamentations, such as meend and Gamaka are also employed for improvisation and adornment .

Both non tom and Bamt have counterparts in Karnataka Sangita. Nom tom which is derived from the jor and Jhala style of plucked string instruments and from the use of meaningless nom-tom syllables, is analogous to Tanam , a delightful  idiom of the Veena  which features prominently in the performance of the Ragam-tanam-pallavi and in the instrumental  (veena  in particular) rendering of Kriti ( but not often in vocal music).

The strict diminution of Laya-bamt has its counterpart in the South Indian Anuloma which may also involve augmentation. The Neraval technique, in which the melody is varied while the rhythm and words of the song remain intact, perhaps bears some resemblance to Bol-bamt of Dhrupad.

The sonorous Pakhawaj contributes brilliantly to the final effect. But, all variations and improvisations must end and come together at the Mukhda, the initial melodic phase ends on the sum.

The Dhrupad concert concludes with auspicious sonorous long drawn out Hari Omkara in a prayerful mood of submission and fulfillment.



Generally, the Classic Dhrupad is distinguished by strict adherence to a performing sequence.

[But in the present times the formats are adopted depending on the performance – duration, class of audience and for other reasons. Following are some of the format options:

(a) A 3-tier Alap, followed by a Chautala composition.

(b) A 3-tier Alap, followed by a Chautala composition, and then by a Dhamara composition in the same Raga.

(c) A 3-tier, or even a single-tier (Tier 1) Alap, followed by a Dhamara composition.

(d) A 3-tier or a single-tier (Tier 1) Alap, followed by a Dhamar composition, and then by a Sula Taal composition in the same Raga.

(e) A 3-tier Alap, followed by a Chautala composition, and then a Sula Taal composition in the same Raga. ]

Shamsa with name of Shah Jahan, Mughal, 17th c, India

Gharanas of Instrumental Music

The instrumental music of Sarod, Sitar and Surbahar developed their own system of Gharanas. And, almost all of them flowed from the line of Tansen, his sons and daughter. The more well known of such instrumental-music Gharanas were :

(i)  Gulam Ali Sarod Gharānā founded by Gulam Ali (1775?-1850) – disciple of Pyar Khan of Tansen’s son line;

(ii)  Jaipur sitar Gharānā of  Amrit  Sen (1813-1893) , great grandson of Masid Khan of Tansen’s son line;

(iii)  Indore Beenkār Gharānā of  Bande Ali Khan (1826-1890)  , disciple of Nirmal Shah of Tansen’s daughter line;

(iv)  Vishnupur Gharānā of Gadhadar Chakravarti (18-19th century ),  disciple of Bahadur Khan of Tansen’s son line;

(v)  Imdadkhani sitar, surbahār Gharana of  Imdad Khan (1848-1920) , disciple of Amrit Sen of Tansen’s son line;

and (vi) the  Senia Maihar Gharānā of Ustad  Allauddin Khan(1881-1972), disciple of Wazir Khan of Tansen’s daughter’s line (Chapter iii.pdf – Shodhganga)

However during the later times ( say from late 19th  century) the separating walls have melted down.   The playing of each instrument searched for and adopted the best possible techniques suited to that instrument. And, across instruments each has influenced other instruments.  Senia musicians, in particular, spread all over India encouraged inter-mingled experiments with other musicians- Indian and Western. They were more open to various aspects of rendering music as well as new musical instruments and their performance methods.



I cannot resist talking about Beenkars despite the length of this post. Let me put it briefly.

Though Dhrupad is basically a vocal tradition, many musical instruments, particularly the Veena, are closely associated with its music. The Rudra Veena players, generally called as Beenkar Kalawant, made the Dhrupad way of rendering as completely their own style of playing. They took up to elaborate expansion of Raga – Alap- in slow, resonant, long drawn out pure (Shuddha) notes in a grand manner. The Jor – Jhala on Been was developed wonderfully well with improvised and exhilarating rhythmic patterns. The rendering of the structured composition was systematically executed with enterprising variations to synch with contrasting Taala-s to the accompaniment of Pakhawaj.

The Been was associated with the Gwalior singers who came to Akbar’s court. Tansen (1520-1589), the most celebrated of them all, was initially in the service of Raja Man Sing Tomar of Gwalior.  Along with the Dhrupad-singing, Tansen had learnt to play on Veena from his Guru Swami Haridas of Vrindaban. Dhrupad was said to be at its peak while Tansen was in the Court of Akbar. It is said; the Dhrupad performers of those times sang as they played on the Veena.

It is said; Tansen’s daughter Saraswathi became a leading player of the Veena, which was her father’s favourite instrument.  Her husband, Prince Misri Singh of Rajasthan, a pupil of Swami Haridas, was also an eminent Veena player.

Their descendants were Beenkars as well as Dhrupadiyas. And, they carried forward and developed the traditions of instrumental music (particularly of Veena and Sitar) as well as Dhrupad singing. They came to be known as Seniya Beenkars; and, established what is now known as Seni Beenkar Gharana, the most important musical family in North Indian Classical Music.

The descendents of Bilas Khan (Tansen’s son) were Rababiyas (players of Rabab) and also Dhrupadiyas. The Sarod tradition originated from the Rababiyas.

These two branches, together, constitute the Seni Gharana. All their members are Beenkars (Veena Player) and Dhrupadiyas.

Apart from Seniyas and their disciples, there were other streams of the Been tradition in different courts of North India. The prominent among them were the Courts at Lucknow, Gwalior and Jaipur. But, all that ended abruptly in 1856 when the British deposed the princely rulers and annexed their states. By the end of the 19th century, Rampur was the only state that supported Musicians; and, was considered – the most important seat of Hindustani classical music.

[Been and Rabāb , playing Dhrupad music, were the prime instruments in Indian music about two centuries after Tansen ; and that lasted  until 18 century,. But with the change s in the socio-cultural scenery, Been and Rabab which were based in serious and difficult Dhrupad music lost their   position to Sitar and Sarod which were amenable to experimentation.

Sarod seems to have appeared in mid-eighteenth century, which is later than Sitar. But, it quickly it acquired the place of the traditional Rabāb which had many limitations for performing khayāl based music.]

With the loss of patronage, change in life-styles and tastes in music, the Beenkars and their art lost their relevance. Been was considered cumbersome, and its music ‘old-fashioned and unattractive’. Its Music had no ‘demand’. The agony was exacerbated with the Beenkars, coming from traditional background, were hopelessly ill-equipped to adapt to the strange new world outside of the Royal Courts.

In modern times, only a few of the most dedicated Beenkars have been able to survive and preserve their traditions.

Given the long and rigorous training required to gain mastery over the instrument; and, bleak prospects   of making a living as a Dhrupad singer or Beenkar, few would venture to take a leap into the unknown.

Even though there has been a revival of sorts in listening to Dhrupad and Dhammars over the past few years, the appreciation for this music remains rather tepid. Many therefore feel the future of the Been does not seem particularly bright, unless a Chamatkar occurs.

[For more on Beenkars , please check Peter Weismiller’s very informative article at: ]


References and Sources

  1. Singing the praises of the Divine by Selina Thielemann
  2. Music and Tradition: Essays on Asian and Other Musicsby D. R. Widdess, R. F. Wolpert
  3. Tradition of Hindustani Music by Manorma Sharma
  4. Social Mobilisation And Modern Society by Jayanti Barua
  5. Music Contexts: A Concise Dictionary of Hindustani Musicby Ashok Damodar Ranade
  6. Sagītaśiromai: A Medieval Handbook of Indian Musicedited by Emmie Te Nijenhuis

Posted by on June 21, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Twenty-one

Continued from Part Twenty – Lakshana Granthas – Sri Subbarama Dikshitar and Sangita –Sampradaya-Pradarshini

Part Twenty one (of 22) – Dhrupad – Part One

 A Musical Anthology of the Orient - India IV - front

Prabandha to Dhruva-pada

As discussed elsewhere in the series, in the early Indian systems of music, there were two broad categories of musical rendering: Anibaddha Gita and Nibaddha Gita. The terms Anibaddha and Nibaddha could roughly be translated as un-structured (un-bound) and structured (bound).

Natyashastra explains: one that is governed by Chhandas and Taala signifies Nibaddha. And similarly, the absence of these is Anibaddha (NS. 32.28-29).

Sarangadeva (13th century) in the fourth Canto of his Sangita-ratnakara says: the Gayana (singing) is twofold – Nibaddha and Anibadda. That which is composed of Anga-s (limbs or parts) and Dhatu-s (elements or sections) is Nibaddha Samgita. He clarifies Anibaddha as Aalapi which is free from such structures, which is not bound or which lacks rules (bandha-hinatva) – Alapir bandha-hinatvad Anibaddham itirita (Sangitaratnakara: 4.5).

Thus, Anibaddha Gita  is free flowing music that is not  restricted  by Taala; it is also   free from disciplines of Chhandas (meter) and Matra (syllables) ;  and, it does not also need the support of compositions woven with  meaningful words (Pada or Sahitya) . In fact, none of these – neither Taala, nor Grammar, nor lyrics – has a role to play in the Anibaddha Samgita.

The Nibaddha Gita, in comparison, is rendering of a pre-composed structured musical composition that is governed by Chhandas and Taala; and has words (meaningful or otherwise); as also has a definite beginning and an end. In short; it is a composition (like Prabandha, Giti, and Kriti etc)

Sarangadeva says that Nibaddha has three names: Prabandha, Vastu and Rupaka.

The best and the most well established form of Nibaddha Samgita is Prabandha. During the 5-7th centuries they were described as a form of Desi composition of varied nature and forms (Desikara- Prabandho yam), such as: kanda, vritta, gadya, dandaka, varnaka, karshita-gatha, dvipathaka, vardhati, kaivata, dvipadi, vardhani, dhenki, ekatali, etc

However, in the context of Music, Prabandha is a comprehensive term which refers to a well-knit composition. And, within in the gamut of Music itself, the Prabandha stands for a particular, specified form of songs constructed according to a prescribed format.

Prabandha as a class of Music was, perhaps, first mentioned in the final Canto of Matanga’s Brihad-deshi (Ca.5th century). Here, he described Prabandha simply as Prabhadyate iti Prabandhah (that which is composed is a Prabandha); and, classified it under Desi Samgita (a collection of many song types then popular in various regions). Matanga explains Desi Samgita with the aid of about forty-eight Prabandha songs. However, Matanga remarks that the Prabandha-s are indeed countless; and ‘their complexities are beyond the understanding of weaker minds’.

Prabandha received a detailed treatment in the fourth Chapter Prabandha-adhyaya of Sarangadeva’s Samgita-Ratnakara. Sarangadeva explained Prabandha as that which is pleasant; and that which is governed by rules regarding Raga, Taala, Chhandas, Vritta (Sanskrit verses) and Anga. In his work, Sarangadeva described about 260 types of Prabandha-s with their variations.

Prabandha was the dominant song-form for about thousand years or a little more till about the 17-18th century.

Parshvadeva (Ca.10-11th century), a Jain-musicologist- Acharya, in his Sangita-samaya-sara divided the Prabandha into three classes: Suda, Alikrama and Viprakirna. And, later in the 13th century, Sarangadeva split the Suda into Shuddha Suda and Chayalaga (the Apabhramsa or colloquial form of Chayalaga is Salaga Suda). With this, the major types of Prabandha were counted as four: Shuddha Suda, Salaga Suda, Alikrama and Viprakirna.

Among these, the Shuddha Suda was considered pure but rather rigid.  It had to contain by six Anga-s or limbs   (Svara, Birudu, Pada, Tena, Paata and, Taala) and four sections, Dhatu-s (Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva and Abhoga).

In contrast, Salaga Suda set to Desi Ragas (Desi-ragadi-samabandat Salagatvam api smrtam) was a more popular form of Prabandha. It was simpler in structure. It belonged to Taravali Jaati (class) of Prabandha and needed only two Angas  : Pada and Taala. It also had only three Dhatus:  Udgraha, Dhruva and Abhoga (but not Melapaka), and an Antara if needed. Hence, the Salaga Suda came to be known as Tri-dhatuka Prabandha; and, was considered pseudo-classical. Yet, the Salaga Suda ranks high among the ancient type of refined songs.


Before we go further, let’s get familiar with the constituents of the Anga and Dhatu.

Among the six Angas ( limbs or elements ) of Prabandha : Svara signifies the notes (sol-fa passages); Birudu stands for  words of praise, extolling the subject of the song and also including the name of the singer or the patron;  Pada the meaningful  words; Tena or Tenaka are vocal syllables , meaningless and musical in sound with many repetitions of   the syllables like Te and Tna conveying a sense of  auspiciousness (mangala-artha-prakashaka); Pata vocalized drum syllables  or beats of the percussion and other musical instruments; and,  Taala is musical meter or the cyclic time units.


Dhatus are the sections (divisions) of a song. Four Dhatus are described.

: – Udgraha is the commencing section of the song. Here the song is first grasped (udgrahyate), hence the name Udgraha.

Udgraha is said to consist a pair of rhymed lines, followed by an ornamental passage; and, then by a passage of text describing the subject of the song. Thus there should be pair of lines in the Udgraha and also in the third section.

: – Melapaka is the bridge, the uniting link between the two Udgraha and Dhruva.

The Melapaka should be rendered adorned with ornamentation (Alamkara).

: – Dhruva is the main body of the song and that which is repeated. Dhruva is so called because it is rendered again and again(refrain); and, because it is obligatory or constant (dhruvatvat).  [It is also said ’the Dhruva is in the Udgraha itself – Udgraha eva yatra syad Dhruvah]

: – and, Abogha is the conclusion of the song. Abogha gets its name because it completes (Abogha) the Dhruva. It should mention the name of the singer.

Once the Abogha has been sung, Dhruva should be repeated (refrain).

[Note: Here, If there is no Antara, Dhruva is followed by the Abogha, sung once. This is followed by the Dhruva on which the song rests.

If there is an Antara, it is sung in any order at the pleasure of the singer; but, it should be followed by Dhruva, Abogha and Dhruva each rendered once in the same order.]

Seven types of Salaga Suda songs are mentioned by Sarangadeva in his Sangita –ratnakara: Dhruva, Mantha, Prati-mantha, Nihsaru, Addatala, Rasaka and Ekatali. A similar classification is mentioned in Sangita-siromani and in Kumbha’s Sangita-raja.

Here, excepting Dhruva, all the other song-types are named after their Taala.

Of these seven varieties of the Salaga Suda compositions, the Dhruva type was the prominent one.  And, the Dhruva was different from the others in its construction.




Some explanation on the term Dhruva:

Dhruva, in the context of Natyashastra, initially meant stage-songs, which formed an important ingredient of the play. And, Natyashastra says:  without songs the Drama is incapable of providing joy (NS. 32. 482). Therefore, much importance was assigned to Dhruva Gana. Natyashastra devotes one entire and a lengthy chapter (Chapter 32) for discussing the Dhruva songs.It is said; these were called Dhruva-s because they are steadfast (Dhruva) in the principles of Pada (words), Varna (syllables) and Chhandas (meter); and, are all regularly (Dhruvam) connected with one another. Dhruva is explained as Nityatva and Nischalatva having a character of stability.

Abhinavagupta explains that the type of these songs was 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 soya: 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.


[Srimad Bhagavatha (Canto 5, Chapter 31) provides rare examples of the Rasaka songs (of both the Shuddha Suda and Salaga Suda Prabandha). They celebrate the celestial dance and songs of Krishna and the Gopis.

Another instance cited in Srimad Bhagavata Purana (Chapter 33 of the Tenth Book) mentions of Gopis of the Vraja singing in chorus, but in a way that ‘the notes did not harmonize’. Yet Krishna showed his appreciation. And, when another Gopi sang the melody measured to a beat (Dhruva) Krishna was much pleased (Tad eva Dhruvam unninye tasyai maanam ca bahvadat– SBP.10.33.10). This reference is taken to mean that Gopi sang a melody set (Dhruva) to Chhandas. ]


But, in Prabandha, the Dhruva Prabandha refers to a rigid and tightly knit structure consisting three sections or Dhatus (Udgraha, Dhruva and Abogha) and an additional section Antara, if needed.

Although, Prabandha, as a genre, has disappeared, its influence has been long-lasting, pervading most parts, elements and idioms of Indian Music – both of the North and of the South. The structures, internal divisions, the elements of Meter (Chhandas), Raga, Taala and Rasa , as also the musical terms that are prevalent in the Music of today are all derived from Prabandha and its traditions. Many well-known musical forms have emerged from Prabandha.  Thus, Prabandha is, truly, the ancestor of the entire gamut of varieties of patterns of sacred-songs, art-songs, Dance-songs and other musical forms created since 17-18th century till this day.

For instance; the Dhrupad (Dhruva-pada) of the Hindustani Sangita Paddathi, which insists on maintaining purity of the Ragas and the Svaras, evolved from Salaga Suda Prabandha, which had four Dhatus namely Udgraha, Dhruva, and Abhoga; and an Antara (optional). [Here, Udgraha and Melapaka ( of Shuddha Suda) were combined into one division called the Sthayi.]

Of the three Dhatus that resulted (Sthayi, Dhruva and Abhoga), the Abhoga, being very long was split into two sub parts the Sanchari and the Abhoga. The Dhruva was also dropped. Thus the modern Dhrupad, rooted in Prabandha, has four divisions: Sthayi, Antara, and Sanchari Abhoga. And the entire song was named Dhruva-Pada (Dhrupad).

Dhrupad retained the essential nature of the Prabandha tradition of deep introspection in elaboration of the Raga and in expanding the rhythmic patterns. To put it simply, the essential nature of Dhrupad is its somber atmosphere and emphasis on rhythm.  Accordingly, the Dhrupad has continued to maintain the distinctions of Anibaddha (un-structured) and Nibaddha (structured) Gana through its Aalap and Bandish sections.

Here, the term Bandish meaning the structure of the song is the re-formed name for Bandha of the Prabandha Music.  And, similarly, Vastu of Sangita-ratnakara took on the Persian name Chiz to denote either a text, or a text and its melodic setting.

Thus, Dhrupad, which is derived from Salaga Suda class of Prabandha, has a long and a distinguished history. And, it is among the most ancient forms of Music that are in practice.


Dhrupad in Royal Courts

Though Prabandha has been in existence even prior to 5th century AD, it seems to have come into prominence in North India during the fifteenth century. Legendry figures such as Swami Haridas, his Guru, Vyasa Das, and Nayak Baiju, popularly known as Baiju Bawra are considered its main exponents. The pupil of Swami Haridas, Tansen emerged as the most famous performer of his times.  Tansen (born at Behat, Gwalior,  in 1493 or 1506 as Ramtanu Pandey – died in 1586 or 1589 as Tansen) gained  renown as the chief musician of Akbar’s court . During those times, Dhrupad was the principal type of Music in the Mughal Courts.

But, the initial driving force behind the preservation and consolidation of Dhrupad Gayan indeed came from Raja Man Singh Tomar of Gwalior (1486-1516). He rejuvenated the ancient form of Dhrupad and brought it into the main stream of Music by replacing traditional Sanskrit verses by songs in the language of  his region (Madhya-Desha). The language of the Madhya-Desha (Madhya-deshiya-bhasha) which was later termed as Braj Bhasha developed into the main the language of Dhrupad songs.  Tansen was initially in the Court of Gwalior, before he migrated to the Mughal Court of Akbar. It was mainly the support and patronage lent by Raja Man Singh that gained a pride of place to this genre of Music.

Raja_Man_Singh (1)

Raja Man Singh, a generous patron of the arts, is also credited with composing three volumes of songs: (i) Vishnu-pada (songs in praise of lord Vishnu), (ii) Dhruva-pada, and (iii) Hori and Dhamar songs associated with the color festival of Holi. He is also said to have caused the compilation of a comprehensive treatise on music in Hindi, Man-kutuhal.  Later, Fakir Allah is said to have translated it into Persian during the time of Aurangzeb. Man-kutuhal was the basis of the Raga-mala concept. Some of its songs are included at the end of the Adi Granth Sahib, the 1604 revision of the Holy Guru Granth Sahib.

During the Mughal period, and especially under Akbar’s reign, the traditional devotional music took a back seat; and Darbar Sangeet (Court Music) came into limelight. Abul Fazl (1551- 1602 AD) a courtier in Akbar’s Court mentions that there were numerous musicians in the court, Hindus, Iranians, Kashmiris and Turks; both men and women.  With that, the fusion of the Persian and Indian music gained encouragement.  It is said; at the initiative of Tansen the Rabab (a plucked instrument from Central Asia) was fused with the traditional Indian stringed instrument, Veena to create Sarod which does not have frets ; and, the  sounds of which are  very close to the vocal style .

Abul Fazl reports that nineteen singers were divided into seven groups; each for day of the week.  There were also instrumental players. And the entire team headed by Tansen.

Tansen_of_Gwalior._(11.8x6.7cm)_Mughal._1585-90._National_Museum,_New_Delhi. (1)

And, Tansen apart from being a great singer was a well accomplished musicologist (Lakshanika) and a composer. He is credited with Music texts such as Sangeeta Sara, Ragamala;  as also Shri Ganesha Stotra , and many Dohas (couplets) outlining the Lakshana (characteristics) of several Ragas. According to some scholars, Tansen is said to have reduced about 4000 Ragas and Raginis of his time into a system of 400. He is also said to have reduced the number of Taalas to 12. Many well-known and popular Ragas with the prefix Mian or Mian ki   owe their origin to Tansen.  Just to name a few :  Miyan Malhar, Miyan ki Todi, Mian ki Mand, Mian ka Sarang etc. in addition he is said to have created  major Ragas like , Darbari-Kanada, Darbari-Todi, and Rageshwari. 

Tansen’s School of Music, Senia later branched into two: one under his elder son Bilas Khan who headed the Rabab-players; and the other, under his second son Suratsen who headed the Sitar-players. His daughter Saraswathi and her husband Misri Singh are said to have initiated the tradition of Beenkars.

Texts and traditions


One of the earlier texts of the Dhrupad tradition is Anupa Sangita-ratnakara written in Sanskrit by Bhavabhatta, a musician-scholar in the court of Raja Anup Singh of Bikaner. It deals with various aspects of Dhrupad Music; the language, melodic structure, Raga improvisation, Taala, the intent and ethos of Dhrupad singing etc. Three other similar works credited to Bhavabhatta are Anupa Sangita Vilasa, Dhruva-pada Tilaka and Anupankusha (Bhava-manjari). The latter work refers to Dhrupad songs related to Dance.

There is of course a large collection of Dhrupad songs (Pada-sangrah and Padavali)  in the Braj Bhasha most of which are devotional songs as also songs related  to Krishna and Gopis . In addition there were Dhrupad songs compiled by various Court musicians during the 16-17th centuries.  Among these were, the Hazar Dhrupad or Sahasra a compilation of 1004 Dhrupad songs by Nayak Bakshu at the instance of Shah Jahan (mid 17th century); and, an anthology titled Kitab-i-Nauras attributed to Ibrahim Adil Shah are notable.

Another type of collection of Dhrupad songs relates to the devotional songs of the Vaishnavas in and around Mathura and Brindavan region.  These are the Dhrupad songs in the Vaishnava temples both in performance of congregational worship (Samaja-Gayana) and as solo songs (Haveli Dhrupada) accompanying the daily worship. The temple songs have to follow a strict regimen (there is not much freedom as is allowed in classical Dhrupad). For instance: the early morning song for awakening the deity (Suprabatha) has to be in Raga Bhairava; the forenoon songs have to be in Bhilaval, Ramkali etc  ; during the mid-day offering of the Rajabhoga , Dhrupad songs in Todi, Sarang and Dhanasri are to be sung; in the afternoon when the deity wakes up from  siesta (Uttapana)  songs  are to be in Puriya or Purvi; the evening songs are to be in Hamira and Yaman; and , at the conclusion of the day’s worship sequences the deity is put to sleep after Sayana-Arati with a song in Raga Bihag.


There are also large numbers of seasonal songs, religious dramas of the Vraja region on themes related to Krishna’s childhood games, Rasalila group-dance songs, Holi color festival (Hori-Dhamar) etc. There are also Dhrupad songs related to the life-events of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (Chaitanya-Lila).

The difference between the art music of Classical Dhrupad and the Dhrupad-Dhamar tradition of the Vaishnava temple appears to be that: the former was performed mainly for entertainment within the ambiance of the Royal Court under the patronage of a Ruler, with the devotional content of the traditional Dhrupad mostly taken out. And, when the Royalty and its patronage vanished the performers were left adrift, rootless seeking a livelihood elsewhere. And therefore, Dhrupad did suffer, particularly after the advent of the more popular Khyal.  Whereas in the case of the temple oriented Dhrupad, it has been continuing, without a break, as a matter of tradition with religious flavor.

That does not mean the two forms are disconnected. There is a living interaction between the two classes of performers. And, the descendents of the Court Musicians such the Dagar and the Mallik families as also those coming from the Haveli Samgit tradition of the temples are  both responsible for the survival of the Dhrupad traditions, even during these times.


Continued in Part Two

References and Sources

  1. Singing the praises of the Divine by Selina Thielemann
  2. Music and Tradition: Essays on Asian and Other Musicsby D. R. Widdess, R. F. Wolpert
  3. Tradition of Hindustani Music by Manorma Sharma
  4. Social Mobilisation And Modern Society by Jayanti Barua
  5. Music Contexts: A Concise Dictionary of Hindustani Musicby Ashok Damodar Ranade
  6. Sagītaśiromai: A Medieval Handbook of Indian Musicedited by Emmie Te Nijenhuis
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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Twenty

Continued from Part Nineteen – Lakshana Granthas– Continued

Part Twenty (of 22 ) – Lakshana Granthas – Continued

15 . Sri Subbarama Dikshitar and Sangita –Sampradaya-Pradarshini


 subbarama Dikshitar

Sri Subbarama Dikshitar

Sri Subbarama Dikshitar is the last of the Great Musician-Composer-Musicologist-Scholars of the Karnataka Sangita.  His towering personality and scholarship stands far above any of his contemporaries. And, there is none equal to him even during the present times. He was the culmination of a long, historic and a chaste tradition of Indian Music that evolved over the centuries.   The whole world of Karnataka Sangita lovers, musicians, musicologist, scholars and everyone associated with Indian Music are greatly indebted to Sri Subbarama Dikshitar for his monumental Sangita –Sampradaya-Pradarshini and its associated works. But for his Great works into which he poured all his learning and knowledge, the accumulated wisdom of the centuries would have been lost to the modern age.  Dr. V. Raghavan compares Sri Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita –Sampradaya-Pradarshini to a huge and permanent dam which impounded and preserved the music of the golden age of Karnataka music; and from which practicing musicians, theorists, editors and publishers of recent times have been continuously drawing inspiration and sustenance from it.

Sri Subbarama Dikshitar was the inheritor of a distinguished and glorious tradition- Dikshitar Parampara – of Musician-Composer-Scholars. The three successive generations of the great composer-musicians of the Dikshitar Parampara are indeed like the pillars of Karnataka Sangita.

The crest jewel in this Sarasvathi-kanta-abharana – that is the Dikshitar Parampara, was Sri Mutthuswamy Dikshitar (1775‑1835), one of the Trinities of Karnataka Sangita. He was the son of Sri Ramaswamy Dikshitar (1735 – 1817 A.D) who was proficient in the Lakshana (theory) and Lakshya (practice) of Karnataka Sangita. The popular Raga Hamsadhwani with which the concerts invariably takeoff (after the Varna) and which has also become a    regular part of repertoire of Hindustani Music is said to be the creation of Sri Ramaswamy Dikshitar. He is also credited with large number of Tana-varnas, Pada-varnas, Darus, Raga-malikas and Kirtanas. His Raga-malika in 108 ragas and Taalas (Ashtottara Satha Raga Taala Malika) is an icon of his versatility and creative genius.

After Mutthuswamy, two sons – Chinnaswamy and Baluswamy–and a daughter Balambika were born to Sri Ramaswamy Dikshitar. All were accomplished musicians.

Chinnaswamy Dikshitar (1778-1823) the second son of Sri Ramaswamy Dikshitar was, in his own right, a gifted musician and composer. His two Kritis composed in honor of Sage Narada: Ganalola karunalavala (in Todi) and Narayanananti (in Kalyani) are well known. The first line of the Pallavi Ganalola karunalavala, and the Anupallavi manita guna sujnana dhurina were popularly sung in Raga-Tana-Pallavi rendering during the early parts of the 20th century. Chinnaswamy is said to have created Sanchari phrases for many Ragas; and also used diverse Taalas like Dhruva, Triputa, Adi, Matya and Ragana Matya in his compositions. Sadly; Chinnaswamy died quite young at the age of 45 while on a pilgrimage to Madurai.

The youngest of the three brothers was Baluswamy Dikshitar (1786‑1858). He was younger to Sri Mutthuswamy Dikshitar by nearly about ten years. Since his illustrious elder brothers had taken to Veena, Vocal music and composing, Baluswamy decided to try something different and new. At the suggestion of the Dubash Venkatakrishna Mudaliar who was their family friend and patron, Baluswamy started learning to play on the western instrument – Violin – that was just getting popular in Madras. Venkatakrishna Mudaliar appointed a European tutor to teach Baluswamy. Within about three years, Baluswamy became an accomplished violinist. It was his genius that adopted the western instrument Violin to Karnataka Sangita. He soon started accompanying, on violin, his elder brother Mutthuswamy who played Veena. Thus, what started as a jest or an experiment, in due time, became a regular feature of the Karnataka Sangita. Now, it is hard to imagine a Karnataka Music concert without its most visible and audible element, the violin , accompanying the main singer.

Sri Subbarama Dikshitar (1839-1906) comes in as the fruit or the culmination of the distinguished Dikshitar Parampara. He was born in Tiruvarur in 1839 (i.e. four years after the demise of Sri Mutthuswamy Dikshitar) as the second son of   Shivarama Iyer and Annapurni who was Baluswamy Dikshitar’s youngest daughter. [Though he gained fame as Subbarama, the initial name accorded to him after birth was Balasbrahmanya Sarma]

[ Sri Subbarama Dikshitar in his Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini writes a brief note about himself in the Chapter Vaggeyakara Caritam under the Paragraph 72 Subbarama Dıksita :

With the name’ Balasubrahmanya Sarma ´, I am the son of Balasvami Dıksiita, the youngest brother of Muddusvami Dıksita. Balasvami Dıksita’s youngest daughter’s name was Annapurniamma. Her husband was Sivaramayya who belonged to Bharadvaja Gotra, and Drahyayana Sutra. Ramaswami Ayya, who was his first son, was very talented in music and Veena was felicitated by kings and attained heavenly abode at the age of 45. And, Ramasvami Ayya had two sons, Veena Cinnasvami; and, the other was the third principal of the Maharaja’s High School and musical connoisseur, Venkatarama.

I was born as the second son (of Sivaramayya and Annapurniamma) in Tiruvarur in the Saka year 1761 (1839 A.D.) during the year of Vilambi, Tula Rasi, and Hasta Nakshatra.

When I was five years old, Balasvami Dıksita took me to Ettayapuram, and got me tutored in Sanskrit, Telugu, and music. At that time, Jagadvıra Rama Kumara Ettappa Maharaja, who was very well versed in astrology, summoned the great astrologers, and studied my horoscope. He looked at Balasvami Dıksita, and told him, “The bearer of this horoscope is the son to all the three of you. So, adopt him. He will be famous like Dıksita.” Just as his command, my maternal grandfather, Balasvami Dıksita adopted me during Plavanga ˙ year, Makara Rasi; and , initiated me into Brahmopadesa and Srı Vidya-upadesa. I learnt the sciences of epics and drama, great epics like Manu Caritra and Vasu Caritram, Grammar, and poetic meters from Vilattikolam Krsnayamatya, who was a great Sanskrit and Telugu scholar. I not only learnt Veena from my father, but also learnt in detail the secrets (intricacies) of laksya and laksana of music.]

dist23 crop

None of the three brothers – Mutthuswamy, Chinnaswamy nor Baluswamy – had a male child. On the advice of Kumara Ettappa Maharaja of Ettayapuram, who was their patron, Baluswamy adopted Subbarama the second son of his daughter Annapurni as his son. When Subbarama was adopted and brought to Ettayapuram he was just a lad of five years. Baluswamy, under the patronage of the Maharaja, arranged for the education of Subbarama in Sanskrit (Vyakarana, kavya, Alamkara), Telugu, Music and Veena. Subbarama was a bright young boy eager to learn; and, by the age of 17 he was just flowering into a talented musician and composer.

Sri Subbarama Dikshitar later in his life fondly recalled his teen-years in Ettayapuram, his education and the patronage of the Maharaja. He said:

  “When I was only seventeen, I composed a Tana Varna in Darbar and when it was presented before the King, some in the assembly thought that my father had actually composed it. The King, therefore, told me, ‘I am going out and shall come back in one hour; by that time you should sit here, compose and keep ready for me a Jati-svara in Yamuna Kalyani. and , the King specified that in the Jati-svara, after Pallavi and Anu-pallavi, there should be a Svara-passage starting on Dha, and the next Svara-passage should be set in three tempos fast (druta), medium (madhyama)  and slow (Vilamba) , and again in the same three in reverse order, and then the Muttayisvara. The King, to test my ability ordered that I should not, while composing the piece, leave the spot;  and , he also set two guards to watch me.

I finished the Jati-svara in the given format before the scheduled time. And , the King, after listening to it, himself took me to my father, announced the new composition, made me sing my new composition and rewarded me with a pair of shawls and ten sovereigns’’.

EttayapuramPalace remains

Sri Subbarama Dikshitar also speaks of his experiences as a musician in the Court of Ettayapuram:

 “For Jagadvira Rama Eddappa Maharajah, I composed two Chowka -varnas for dance in Anandabhairavi and Surati; and a Raga-malika in nine Ragas. And, in the distinguished Sadsas (gathering) that included His Holiness Sri Sankaracharya of Kamakoti Pitha, Veena Subbukutti Iyer, Tirumalarayampattanam Ramudu Bhagavatar, Tirukkadayur Bharati (a direct pupil of Mutthuswamy Dikshitar) and Vidvans in different Shastras, I sang a Tana-varna in Ramakriya and the Kriti Sankaracharyam in Sankarabharana*”.

[* The Kriti Sankaracharyam celebrating the many faceted genius of Sri Sankara was made popular by Smt.MS Subbulakshmi in her concerts. Please check the link for her rendering of the Kriti:  ]

In his nineteenth year (1858), Subbarama Dikshita was appointed Asthana Vidwan of Ettayapuram, succeeding his foster-father Baluswamy Dikshitar who just had passed away.

Sri Subbarama Dikshitar led a busy and academically rich life at Ettayapuram. Sri Subbarama Dikshitar gained fame as a musician and a composer (Vak-geya-kara).

Though later in his life Sri Subbarama Dikshitar gained fame as a Lakshanakara, his contributions as a Vaggeyakara are also significant. While basically adhering to the style of Sri Mutthuswamy Dikshitar , Sri Subbarama Dikshitar displayed a great versatility , and produced not only kritis but also many Tanas, Chowka and Pada Varnas, Svarajatis, Raga-malikas and Darus with liberal Svarakshara passages and alliterations. He composed the music for some of Krishnasamayya’s (another artist attached to the Court) lyrics. In his description of one of Krishnasamayya’s kritis, Devi divya nama in the Raga Mechabauli, he mentions that the music for it was composed by him.

Sri Subbarama Dikshitar also set to music, the Valli-Bharatam, a Tamil composition by Kadigai Namassivaya Pulavar of the Ettayapuram Court. And, he set another composition, Ma -moha -lahiri in Khamas by the same Tamil scholar to dance-music, similar to famous Useni Svarajati. It is printed in the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini. He also did a Tamil translation of the Telugu Mahabharata.

His writings and compositions were generally in Telugu language.

The body of his known Musical creations include Eight Kritis ( two in Bhairavi, two in Shankarabharanam; and one each in Sriranjani ,Yadukula kambodhi , Natakuranji , and Kalyani ); Seven  Raga-malikas ( of these four are in praise of the King ); Twelve Varnams (four Tana-varnams, three Chowka Varnams and five Pada varnams ); and two Darus.

Most of his compositions are set in Rupaka Taala or Tisra Eka Taala.

Poetic excellence and musical prowess are the hallmark of his compositions. Some of his exquisite Varnams gained popularity. For instance; his Chowka Varnam in Raga Surati beautifully portrays the Raga-bhava with its delicate prayogas and Gamakas. In this Varnam, the Sahitya (meaningful words) succeeds   the Charana; and the Varnam concludes with the Pallavi.

[Pada Varnams used for dance choreography are also called as Chowka Varnams or Ata Varnams. They usually are set in slower tempo (Chowka kalam) ; and, have longer lines and pauses, enabling  apportrayal of the Bhava of the Varnam . All its Svaras are accompanied by Sahitya (lyrics) and Sollukattus which are made up of rhythmic syllables. The dancer performs the Sahitya in Abhinaya and the Sollukattus in Nritta. Chowka Varnams, are, thus, well suited to dance. 

Further, learning to sing Chowka Varnams is considered a part of developing a good voice culture. The Chowka kalam rendering helps one to explore the Raga, in depth. It also helps the learner to balance the Tala; to adjust the Gamakas; and, to pay greater attention to pauses.]

As regards his Kritis, Sri Subbarama Dikshitar followed the Mela- classification according to Govindacharya, though in his Raga-Lakshana Grantham Sangita-Sampradaya – Pradarshini he  adopted the Venkatamakhin classification of Melas,

Somehow very few of his Kritis are rendered in the concerts. V. Subramanyam (in Shanmuka Jan-Mar 2008) wonders that might be because his compositions are tightly knit and sophisticated; their musical content is hard to assimilate and to bring out the nuances and Sancharas effectively; and, they do demand Sangita jnana.

Sri Subbarama Dikshitar in his Sangita-prachina-paddathi outlines the Guna–Dosha (merits and shortcomings) of a Vak-geya-kara, the composer who sets his lyrics to music. According to him, the composer of a traditional Karnataka Sangita Kritis that satisfy the norms and requirements as laid out in the Lakshana Granthas: should be endowed with sharp intellect; should possess thorough knowledge of Vyakarana, use of various types Vibhakthis and Chhandas; should have the gift of dexterous use of words , the ability to bring out various shades of their meaning picturesquely ; should have an insight into dance and other art forms;  and, necessary have the  sense  and understanding of the Rasas.

At the same time, he cautions that a Composer should keep aside professional jealousy, prejudices and rivalry while working. He should have a sense of balance and keep his mind open to alternate views and opinions. And yet; he should have the ability to establish his stand in the gathering of the learned (Sadas).

Sri Subbarama Dikshitar was indeed a repository of all such virtues and merits.

Unlike in the case of Sri Tygaraja, the main line of disciples (Shishya-parampara) in the Dikshitar tradition (Dikshitar-parampara) is represented by its family members. Sri Ramaswamy Dikshitar was followed by his famous son Sri Mutthuswamy Dikshitar. And, Sri Mutthuswamy Dikshitar was followed by his brother Baluswamy Dikshitar who in turn was followed by his son Subbarama Dikshitar.

Sri Subbarama Dikshitar was followed by his son whom he named him as Mutthuswamy Dikshitar (who later gained fame as Ambi Dikshitar). And, Ambi Dikshitar was followed by his son Tiruvarur Baluswami Dikshitar.

[  As said; Sri Dikshitar’s line was  carried on , mainly,  by his family members.  Apart from his descendants and the Tanjavur Quartet, Sri Subbarama Dikshitar mentions the following  few as Muddusvami Dıksita’s disciples:

1. Tirukkadayur Bharati, an expert in Tamil and music; 2. Avudayargudi (koil) Veena Venkataramayya; 3. Tevur Subrahmanyayya; 4. Tiruvarur suddha mrdangam Tambiyappa, well versed in mrdangam, laksya and laksana; 5. Koranadu Ramasvami, an exponent of laksya and laksana of Bharata ; 6. Tiruvalandur Bilvavanam, an expert Nagasvaram player;   7. Tiruvaur Ayyasvami, composer of many tana varnas;  8. Tiruvarur Kamalam, famed in the arts of music and dance; and, 9. Vallalargudi (koil) Ammani well versed in music.]

Ambi Dikshitar

Ambi Dikshitar (1863-1936) who succeeded Sri Subbarama Dikshitar as the Asthana Vidwan (court musician) at Ettayapuram, stayed there for a long time. Later, he migrated to Madras where he lived for the rest of his life. While in Madras, Ambi Dikshitar gathered around him a circle of disciples, scholars and admirers. Ambi Dikshitar made his life mission to preserve and propagate the Kritis of Sri Mutthuswamy Dikshitar in their pristine purity. In his efforts, he was ably aided by Justice T. L. Venkatrama Iyer; brothers Tirunelveli, Anatakrishrna Iyer and Sundaram Iyer; and others.

Ambi Dikshitar initiated and guided Smt. D. K. Pattammal in singing Dikshitar’s Kritis.  He was also the teacher of the renowned musician- Artist of Shri S. Rajam who popularized rendering of Dikshitar’s Kritis over All India radio Madras. Shri Rajam also presented pictorial representations of many of Dikshitar’s Kritis.



The making of Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini

Dr. V Raghavan describes in detail the course of events that led to Sri Subbarama Dikshitar writing the major work of his life [Collected Writings on Indian Music by Dr. V. Raghavan, Vol.III.  P.87-95]. Here is a summary of that.

Sri Chinnaswami Mudaliar, a Superintendent at that time in the Madras Government Secretariat, a Roman Catholic Christian with a consuming passion for Karnataka music, having started on his gigantic project of presenting Oriental Music in European Notation, sought out representatives of the direct Shishya-parampara of Tyagaraja like Walajahpet Krishnaswami Bhagavatar and wrote out 800 pieces of Tyagaraja and other composers in Staff Notation, checking his scripts with the aid of violinists trained in Western music who were asked to play them by sight.

Though this journal was praised by many, the response was meager and Chinnaswamy Mudaliar had to discontinue its publication.


During this period (1895) , Chinnaswamy Mudaliar , with his eyesight failing after years of notating and casting types,  began corresponding with Sri  Subbarama Dikshitar , who was then serving as the Asthana Vidwan at the Court of Ettayapuram , known for its patronage of arts.  He also came into contact with Sri Subbarama Dikshitar and the Rajah of Ettayapuram.  This relationship proved very significant, as it culminated in the publication of the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini in the year 1904, with the patronage of the Rajah of Ettayapuram.

[ Sri Subbarama Dikshitar , explaining the context, writes:

With the intention of making music as language, A. M. Cinnasami Mudaliyar , M.A. started writing a book called ‘Pracına Gana ‘, in English notation, in the year 1895; and, was trying to publish it. At that time, he came to know about me, brought me to him, stopped his projects and for three years, learnt the intricacies of Gamakas and the traditions of Venkatamakhin from me. Later he came to Ettayapuram, visited the Maharaja, and requested him that he should order Subbarama Dıksita to complete this ‘Sangıta Sampradaya Pradarsini’ in Telugu, which would prevent the loss of Venkatamakhin’s rules of laksya and laksana; and, also include the symbols for the Gamaka, tala kala pramanas (time scale), and have it printed in the music printing press ‘Vidya Vilasini’, belonging to the Court. As per the command of the Maharaja to me, I started on the 21st December 1901, and not only completed the ‘Purva vaggeyakara caritramu’; but also the information that is contained in this book, ‘Sangıta laksana sangraha ‘ that supports the symbols of Gamakas and Talas, which was started on 17th December, 1903, and is being continued.]

Between the years 1895 and 1899 , Sri Subbarama Dikshitar made several trips to Madras to stay with Chinnaswamy Mudaliar and teach him the compositions of Sri Mutthuswamy Dikshitar and confirming the corrections of Chinnaswamy Mudaliar’s staff notations.

By about 1899, Chinnaswamy Mudaliar was finding it very difficult to carry out the printing and publication of these works, because of his failing eyesight. He therefore visited Ettayapuram and personally appealed to all those who mattered, including the Rajah himself, and convinced them the need for the Ettayapuram Samsthanam to take up the task of completing his mission and to ensure publication of  his compilation. He also urged that Subbarama Dikshitar should be allowed to help in finalizing the notations for the entire music of the Dikshitar School.

Sri Subbarama Dikshitar himself records that he would not have undertaken the huge task but for the appeals and insistence of Sri Chinnaswami Mudaliar. In the year 1901, Subbarama Dikshitar at the age of 60 began working on the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini. It is truly a work of great love and intense dedication for the subject of Music. It reflects the depth of learning and artistic wisdom of Sri Dikshitar. Besides the original musical works  (Varnas, Kritis, Raga-malikas, Darus  etc)   which Sri Subbarama Dikshitar himself composed , the explanatory notes  he offers on the Raga-lakshanas, that illustrate the  unique characteristic Svara phrases of each Raga, he adds elaborate Sanchari phrases that help in understanding the structure of the Raga.

An important aspect of this Book is the use of Gamaka signs in the notation that help in defining minute details in the musical structure of the composition. The explanations on how the Gamaka signs are to be interpreted and rendered in vocal and instrumental music are also given. This method of notation, aimed at reflecting the form of the song as it would be sung, has helped to retain the compositions in their original form, ensuring some uniformity and authenticity in the way they are rendered.  

And, it is through his monumental work that we know about many compositions of Vaggeyakaras before and during his time.  His Book, an encyclopedia of musicology, is indeed a treasure house.

Before the task got underway, Sri Chinnaswami Mudaliar made an appeal to Sri Subbarama Dikshitar that he should put down in writing notations and everything that he knew without holding back anything for any reason. Sri Dikshitar agreed to that. True to his word, he unselfishly poured out his entire learning and knowledge into the Great Book the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini.

Sri Subbarama Dikshitar worked on Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini for more than four years. Its printing began towards the end of December 1901 and just as the work was in progress, Sri Chinnaswamy Mudaliar sadly passed away in 1901.

Thanks to the continued patronage of the Rajah, the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini was completed in the middle of 1904, after four years of hard work. Its types for Telugu and for the Gamaka-signs were ordered and specially made.  The credit for having printed this very difficult material at a time when printing in this country was in its infancy goes to Sri T. Ramachandra Iyengar and the Vidya Vilasini Press at Ettayapuram. The book was published under the authority of Rao Bahadur K. Jagannathan Chettiar, Secretary of the Ettayapuram Samsthanam. It was doubtless one of the most authentic documenters of Indian music and musicology.

-Ettaiyapuram_raja Jagannathan Chettiar

In his work, Sri Subbarama Dikshitar acknowledged the assistance he got from the Principal of Maharaja’s College in Pudukottai, Sri S. Radhakrishna Iyer, for his research on the Lakshanas, drawing material from various early works on musicology.

The Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini was published in 1906, in two volumes running into 1770 pages. In 1905, his book Prathama-abhyasa Pustakamu was published. This included early lessons in music as well as some Kritis. It contains both theoretical and practical aspects of elementary teaching methods; and is relevant to the music field even to this day. In this book Sri Subbarama Dikshitar included thirty-two compositions, under the title Nottaswara Sahithyamu with Svara notation, as technical compositions for beginners (Abhyasagana).

In 1906, the book Samskritantara Dravida Keertana with tunes he composed for Krishnasamayya’s sahitya was brought out.

Later, Sri Subbarama Dikshitar intended to bring out the Collected Edition of the compositions of Sri Tyagaraja, the Kritis of Syama Shastry and the Padams of Kshetrayya. But, before his dream could be realised, death snatched him in the year 1906, when he was just about 67 years of age.


Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini

The monumental work contains the biographies of 77 musicologists and musicians right from the time of Sarangadeva to those of Subbarama Dikshitar himself, as also the biographies of some Ettayapuram rulers. There is also  a an exhaustive tabular statement of Raganga, Upanga and Bhashanga Ragas with their Murchanas; 170 Gitas of Venkatamakhin ; 10 Prabandhas ; 41 Chittai-tanas of Venkatamakhin;  some Raga-malikas,   Suladis,  SvarajatisVarnasDarus,  and Padas — all numbering about one hundred. The 72 Melas and their Janyas, with Raga-lakshanas, explanations, illustrative Lakshana-Gitas and Sancharas are also given.

Sri Subbarama Dikshitar introduced symbols for the15 Gamakas of Karnataka Sangita, perhaps based on his discussions with Sri Chinnaswamy Mudaliar.

Some compositions of Sri Tyagaraja and Shyama Sastri, besides 229 of Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar also find place.  In addition to two volumes of the main work Subbarama Dikshitar also brought out Prathama Abhyasa Pustakam of 230 pages meant for the beginners. .

Thus, the Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini is a singularly valuable resource for understanding the traditions of Karnataka Sangita and of Sri Muttuswami Dikshitar in particular.

In order to celebrate the 100 years of its publication in 1904, an English translation was undertaken by Dr.P.P.Narayanaswami and Dr. Vidya S Jayaraman along with a team of volunteer proofreaders.  An English Web-edition has also been brought out. The English Web-edition is based on the original Telugu version and includes all the Gamaka symbols (ornamentations) and Svara notations as given in the original Edition. The Vaggeyakara Caritamu, the biographical accounts of Composers, is also given.

For the Web-edition of Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini, please check the following link.

We all owe a great debt of gratitude to Sri Subbarama Dikshitar, Sri Chinnaswamy Mudaliar, The Samsthanam of Ettiyapuram and its printers for this magnificent work.  The efforts of the translators (into English) and their teams are truly commendable.


Continued in

Next Part

Sources and References

  1. Collected Writings on Indian Music (Vol.III. P.87-95 ) by Dr. V. Raghavan
  2. Dikshitar Parampara by Dr. R. Vedavalli

  1. V Subramanian, Shanmuka Jan-Mar 2008 Subbarama Dikshitar Vaggeyakara.

  1. Sangita Sampradaya Pradarsini (English Web Edition)

The pictures are taken from Internet.

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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Nineteen

Continued from Part Eighteen – Lakshana Granthas– Continued

Part Nineteen (of 22 ) – Lakshana Granthas – Continued

 14. Venkatamakhin – Chatur-dandi-prakashika – Mela and Melakarta

 Note venkat

Venkatamakhin also referred to as Venkateshwara Dikshita and Venkatadhvari was the son of Govinda Dikshita, the author of Sangita Sudha and the minister of the Nayak Kings at Thanjavuru.

Venkatamakhin was said to be a distinguished Mimamsa scholar; and, is credited with Karmāntha Mimamsa, a work on the Mimamsa and Vrittikabharana, a commentary on Kumarila Bhatta’s work. Venkatamakhin is also said to have composed twenty four Ashtapadis on Lord Tyagaraja, the presiding deity at Tiruvarur temple.

Venkatamakhin shows enormous respect towards his father Govinda Dikshita, mother Nagamba and his elder brother Yajnanarayana Dikshita. He mentions that his elder brother Yajnanarayana Dikshita taught him Tarka (Logic), Vyakarana (Grammar) and Mimamsa Shastra, as also Music.  Yajnanarayana Dikshita, who also was in the service of Raghunatha Nayaka, was a renowned scholar of his times. He is said to have written a play Raghunatha-Vilasa and a Champu-kavya Raghunatha Bhupa Vijaya in honor of the King. Apart from that, Yajnanarayana Dikshita is credited with Shitya-Ratnakara a treatise on Sanskrit literature and Grammar.

Neelakantha Dikshita a minister in the Court of Nayak Kings was a disciple of Venkatamakhin. Neelakantha Dikshita was also a well known poet of his times; and is said to have written a Kavya Siva Leelarnava, which describes the Leelas of Lord Sri Meenakshi Sundareswara of Madura.

[The picture at the top of this post  is taken from a painting  made by Sri S Rajam. There is an interesting anecdote connected with it.  When Sri Rajam intended to provide an illustration of Venkatamakhin as an introductory painting for the Apr 2008-March 2009 calendar brought out by L&T, he had no earlier pictures of Venkatamakhin to guide him. His research into the archives of Sri Kanci Mutt led him to an interesting detail showing that Venkatamakhin who was also a skillful vainika wore his long hair in a coil such that it did not touch his body; he coiled it atop his head. Shri S Rajam then pictured Venkatamakhin with coiled locks of hair, rudraksha-mala; and surrounded by musical instruments such as Veena, Tambura etc. as also scrolls of ancient manuscripts, lending the picture an air scholarship and a spiritual aura.]


Venkatamakhin fame rests mainly on his work Chatur-dandi-prakashika, which he wrote (perhaps around the year 1650) under the patronage of the Fourth Nayaka King Vijaya Raghava who succeeded Raghunatha Nayaka and ruled up to 1672. Chatur-dandi-prakashika is a treatise on Music that illumines four forms of song-formats: Gita, Prabandha, Thaya and Aalapa (Gita-prabandha-sthaya-alapa-rupa-chatur –dandi) which seemed to have formed the pattern (or profile) for concert performances during 14-15th centuries. In that context, he makes frequent references to Gopala Nayaka (1205-1315) and to Tanappa-charya whom he calls Parama-guru ( Guru’s Guru) . Both of these were, perhaps, renowned performers of Charurdandi.Along with the text, Venkatamakhin is said to have composed Lakshana-gitas on a large number of Ragas.

The text of the Chatur-dandi-prakashika was said to contain ten Chapters (Prakarana), each dealing with: Veena, Sruti, Svara, Mela, Raga, Alapa, Thaya, Gita, Prabandha and Taala. Among these, portions of Prabandha-prakarana and the entire Taala-prakarana are lost. But, interestingly, it is the Appendix (Anubandha) to the main text that brought focus on Venkatamakhin.

The Veena-prakarana generally follows the concepts and techniques described in Somanatha’s Raga-vibodha and Ramamatya’s Svara-mela-kalanidhi ; and,  discusses about two kinds of fret-arrangements and tuning of the Veena-strings. Venkatamakhin mentions three types of Veena: Shuddha-mela-veena; Madhyama-mela-veena; and, Raghunathendra-mela-veena.

While describing the arrangement of the frets on each of the three types of Veena, Venkatamakhin follows the illustrations provided by Ahobala Pandita.  According to that, arrangement of frets could be done in two ways: One with fixed frets on which all Ragas could be played (Sarva-raga-mela-veena); and the other with frets specially placed to suit playing of a particular Raga (Eka-raga-mela-veena) .

Venkatamakhin informs that during those days, besides the common Shuddha and Madhya-mela Veena described by Ramamatya, there was also a Veena with a higher tuning, i.e. in this tuning the first three strings are ignored and the fourth one tuned to Shadja has frets for three Sthanas. It was named by Govinda Dikshita as Raghunathendra-mela-veena, in honour of the King.

In the Second Chapter dealing with Srutis, Venkatamakhin ,in the traditional manner,  talks about 22 Srutis and their distribution over Seven Svaras. He explains that the 22 Srutis are not placed at equal intervals, but are placed at specific intervals depending upon the  Svara structure in the Raga. For instance, he says, the Shadja and Shuddha Rishabha on the Veena should be divided equally into three parts ; and two frets be introduced and thus three Srutis of `ri’ are seen (Sa – – ri).

The third Chapter on Svaras explains the nature of Shuddha and Vikrita Svaras. He explains the Shuddha Svaras with the illustration of Mukhari Raga having Sa, Ma and Pa having 4 Srutis; Ga and Ni having 2 Srutis; and, Ri and Dha having 3 Srutis.

As regards Vikrita Svaras, Venkatamakhin asserts that in practice there are only five in number and not 7 or 12 as mentioned in the texts of Ramamatya and Sarangadeva.  The five Vikrita Svaras according to him are: Sadharana Gandhara; Antara Gandhara; Varali Madhyama; Kaishiki Nishadha; and, Kakili Nishadha.

Dr. N. Ramanathan explains: the one interesting feature of Venkatamakhin’s descriptions of Shuddha and Vikrita Svaras is that he considers the same Svara to be different if its interval from its previous Svara is altered.

Then, Venkatamakhin goes back to the ancient Gramas – Shadja, Madhyama and Gandhara; as also to the Murchana and the Tana. He also talks about Alamkara, Gamaka and Vadi-Samvadi Svaras. In all these, he refers to the descriptions as given in the older texts. As regards Vadi-Samvadi, he applies the ancient system to his contemporary practices and gives illustrations.

The Fourth Chapter is about his exposition of Mela scheme. He tried forming as many number of Melas as possible by permuting Shuddha and Vikrita Svaras. With this, he comes up with 72 Melas. Venkatamakhin asserts that his scheme of 72 Melas comprehends all the Melas that may have existed in the past and those that might be created in future.  Out of the 72 Melas, Venkatamakhin was able to identify the Ragas of only 19 Melas. Therefore, he could name only 19 Melas; the rest were not assigned any names. These (53) he considered as theoretical possibilities, but (then, at that time) non-functional since no known Ragas could fit in to his scheme of these Melas.

While describing the 19 Melas, he also gives the Svaras and the 22 Srutis in each case. And , while naming the 19 Melas he also indicates each one’s position  (number) in his Grand scheme of 72 Melas. He starts with Mukhari which is his first Mela and also the first among the 72; 2. Samavarali (3); 3.Bhupala (8); 4.Hejjuli (13); 5.Vasanthabhiravi (14); 6. Gaula (15);  7. Bhiravi Raga (20); 8.Ahiri (21); 9.Sri Raga (22); 10. Kambhoji (28); 11. Shankarabharanam (29); 12.Samantha (30); 13. Desaki (35); 14. Naata (36); 15.  Shuddha Varali (39); 16. Pantuvarali (45); 17. Shuddha Ramakriya (51); 18. Simharava Raga (58) – an invention of Venkatamakhin; and, 19. Kalyani (65).

[The numbers mentioned in the brackets indicate the number assigned to the Mela in the overall scheme of 72 Melas.]

Venkatamakhin went by recognizing a Mela Raga if all the seven Svaras occurred in it, either in the Aroha or in the Avaroha. He did not insist that a Mela Raga should be a Sampurna Raga, with all the seven Svaras in both the Aroha and Avaroha. Further, during the time of Venkatamakhin the concept of Mela-karta had not yet evolved. All his discussions are in terms of the Melas.

While talking about his scheme of 72 Melas, Venkatamakhin makes very interesting remarks :

I have no doubt worked out the 72 Melas , but it might be said that this permutation is a waste , since, of these 72, only a few are known and found in practice; my reply is that I have devised a scheme which would comprehend all Ragas of all times and of all countries , Ragas now known and Ragas which might be created in future, Ragas which we do not know  at all and Ragas which are only in text books , Ragas that are Desiya Ragas and the already generally accepted Melas of those  Desi Ragas , such Ragas like Pantuvarali and Kalyani  and their generally accepted Melas – it is to comprehended all these that I have devised this scheme of 72 Melas . Wherefore should one fear that it will be futile?

[Source: Collected writings on Indian Music .Vol 2 .p.264-5 by Dr. V. Raghavan]

Yes, indeed; it was not a futile exercise at all , but a path breaking pioneering work that led to improvements and refinements of the entire theory and scheme of the Melas and their derivatives.

[Venkatamakhin’s Mela scheme was thoroughly revised later. (We shall talk about these in a little while). The concept of Mela-karta (Janaka) from which other ragas may be derived and of Raganga Ragas also came about after Venkatamakhin’s time. Following that, the rest 53 Melas which Venkatamakhin could not name were duly recognized and assigned names. And, finally 72 Mela-karta Ragas were identified and named. Along with coining names, a system of hashing (Ka-ta-pa-yadi) for identifying the Raga-number with the aid of the first two syllables of its name was also introduced.]

In the Fifth Chapter – Raga prakarana – Venkatamakhin recalls the ancient system of identifying a Ragas with ten characteristics (Lakshanas) – Graha, Amsa, Tara, Mandra, Sadava, Audavita, Aplatva, Bahutva, Apa-Nyasa and Nyasa. He again talks of the earlier classification of Ragas as Grama raga, Bhasha Raga etc.  He describes 55 Ragas picked on the basis Graha Svaras (the initial note – Adi-Svara).  He starts with Ragas having Shadja as Graha Svara, then the Ragas with Rishabha as Graha Svara and so on. In case of each Raga, he mentions the Mela to which it belongs  as also their Lakshana and Lakshya.

He gives a classified list (according to Graha, Nyasa etc) of 54 Ragas with their descriptions, their Svara structure and their Mela.

The Sixth Chapter, Alapa-prakarana talks of various stages in developing a Raga Aalapa.

The Seventh Chapter Thaya-prakarana is the briefest with only seven verses. Venkatamakhin describes Thaya (Sthaya) as a melodic phase with rich musical potential that forms the main ingredient in Raga elaboration.  AS Dr. Ramanathan explains : In the Raga-alapana , Thaya is that in which a particular Svara is taken as the stationary point from which phrases are built up encompassing four Svaras in the ascending direction and later in the descending direction and finally conclude on mandra -sa.

The Eighth Chapter Gita-prakarana is about the Gita (the song); and also about the Shuddha Suda and Salaga Suda class of Prabandha. The latter, the Salaga Suda, in particular is treated a Gita. Venkatamakhin describes seven forms of Prabandhas under Salaga Suda: Dhruva, Mattha, Pratimattha, Nisharuka, Attatala, Rasa, and Ekatali

The Ninth Chapter Prabandha–prakarana is the extension of its previous Chapter; but , it is incomplete.  Here, Venkatamakhin describes Prabandha in terms of Six Angas (limbs or elements): Svara, Birudu, Pada, Tena, Paata, and Taala;   and Four Dhatus (sections in a song): Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva and Abogha. Then, he goes into to the classification of Prabandha depending upon the (a) number of Angas and (b) number Dhatus of which they are composed.  He also provides number of illustrations.

The Tenth and the Last Chapter on Taala is lost.

When you look back you find that Chatur-dandi prakashika, basically, recalls the Music practise as they existed during 14th to 17th centuries.  It throws light on the history of those times and clarifies some issues. But, by the time Venkatamakhin wrote this text, many of the subjects he discussed, particularly the Prabandha, were fading away giving place to newer forms of song-formats and improvised ways of rendering the Raga and the song.

Venkatamakhin was criticized for making uncalled for remarks such as: Ramamatya could not even understand what a Sheppard could easily understand; and, that not even Lord Shiva can improve upon his Mela scheme. (He, of course, was proved wrong as his Mela scheme was revised and improved upon). During the early 20th century controversies raged over the Melas of Venkatamakhin. Some critics argued that the Kanakambari -Phenadyuti nomenclatures – the Mela names –  found in the Appendix to Chatur-dandi – prakashika though ascribed to Venkatamakhin are not actually his own .It was also pointed out that Venkatamakhin’s Mela was already marked with Ka-ta-pa-yadi prefixes. And they said, it is not known who invented this ingenious system ; but, it could not be Venkatamakhin. Most of such controversies have now been put to rest.

Chatur-dandi-prakashika is known and recognized today mainly because of the 72 Mela Scheme that he introduced. And, this exercised great influence in reorganizing the Ragas and the Music structure in Karnataka Sangita.  In that regard, Chatur-dandi-prakashika is a very important text.



Mela is a Kannada word that is still in use; and, it signifies ‘group’ or ‘gathering’. There have been many attempts, at various stages in the history of Karnataka Sangita, to organize the then known Ragas by groping them into categories. The earliest known such attempt was by the sage Sri Vidyaranya (1320-1380) who in his Sangita-sara   grouped about 50 Ragas into 15 Melas.

Following Sri Vidyaranya, Ramamatya in the Fourth Chapter – Mela-Prakarana– of his Svara-mela-kalanidhi (1550 AD) introduced the theoretical framework for classifying then known Ragas into 20 Melas, the notes and names of which were taken from the prominent Ragas of that time.  This was an improvement over the system initiated by Sri Vidyaranya.

Ramamatya lists 20 Melas: 1.Mukhari; 2.SriRaga; 3. Malavagaula; 4. Saranganata; 5. Hindola ; 6. Shuddha-ramakriya; 7. Desaki; 8.Kannadagaula; 9. Shuddanti; 10.Ahari; 11.Nada-ramakriya; 12.Shuddhavarjati; 13. Ritigaula; 14. Vasantha-bhairavi; 15.Kedaragaula; 16.Hejujji; 17.Samavarali; 18.Revagupti; 19. Samantha; and 20. Kambhoji.

Ramamatya gives details of Shuddha-Svaras and Vikŗta-Svara-s occurring in each of the Mela, a list of sixty-four Janya Raga-s classified under each Mela, and the Sruti positions of Svaras in the Melas. Mukhari is established as the Shuddha-Svara Saptaka in this treatise

Later scholars, that is after Ramamatya, started computing the maximum number of seven Svara combinations they could derive (melaprasthara) based on the number of Svara positions. Here, each author computed a different number of Melas based on the number of Svarasthanas he had theorised.

For example, during the second half of the 16th century Pundarika Vittala (in his Raga-manjari) introduced Ramamatya’s 19-Mela system in North India. But, he changed the names and scales of several Melas. But, in his Sad-Raga-chandrodaya Pundarika Vittala mentions the possibility of 90 Melas. Another South Indian musicologist who migrated to North was Srikantha who wrote his Rasa-kaumudi at about the same time. In classifying 37 important Ragas, he reduced Ramamatya’s 19 Melas to 11 or in fact to 10 as his scales of Malhara and Saranga were actually the same. His system resembled the contemporary Arabic system of 12 predominant modes (Maqam).

Then, following Ramamatya and Pundarika Vittala, Ahobala Pandita classified 122 Ragas under six Mela categories and three subdivisions: Audava (pentatonic), Shadava (hexa-tonic) and Sampurna (hepta-tonic). Hridayanarayana Deva who followed Ahobala Pandita, arrived at 12 Melas composed of two sets of six Melas depending on the number of Vikrita Svaras. Lochana Kavi also came up with 12 Melas. And, in Samantha’s Raga Vibhodha there are 960 possible Melas. Even though they came up with this computation they found that only a limited number of these were actually used in the form of a Raga.  Therefore, Somanatha felt that 23 Melas would suffice to classify the 67 Ragas then in practice.

Thus, right from 14th century, Musician-scholars have been classifying and re-classifying Ragas into different sets of Melas, each according to his pet theory.

One of the most important texts in that context was Chatur-dandi-prakashika of Venkatamakhin (1650), which brought the Mela system on a rational basis. It classified the Ragas according to the system of 72 basic scales (Mela). The basics of system still prevail, though with modifications.

In 1620, Venkatamakhin also corrected Ramamatya’s system by reducing it to 19 from the original 20 Melas, because he found that the notes of the two Melas were similar.

But, in the Appendix (Anubandha) to his Chatur-dandi-prakashika, Venkatamakhin mentions the possibility of classifying Ragas (Kanakangi to Rasikapriya) built on 12 Svara-Sthanas under a 72 Mela-scheme made into two groups of 36 each (Shuddha Madhyama and Prathi Madhyama). It was, at this time, only a theoretical possibility, since all those 72 Melas were yet unknown. Out of such 72 Melas, Venkatamakhin was able to identify the Ragas of only 19 Melas. The rest (53) he considered as mere theoretical possibilities; and, non-functional since no known Ragas could fit in to his scheme of these Melas.  Therefore, he could name only 19 Melas; the rest (53) were not assigned any names.

It is said that it was Venkatamakhin’s grandson Muddu Venkatamakhin, who gave the nomenclature for the Mela Ragas, (Kanakambari, and Phenadhyuti etc) in his Gitam called Raganga Raga Anukramanika Gitam (found in Sri Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (1904). In Muddu Venkatamakhin’s Ragalakshana a drastic shift takes place in the Mela-concept. He synthetically creates Janya Ragas for the remaining 53 Melas that were earlier considered non-functional. Here for the first time the Raga-description is based purely on its Svara-sthanas. It is also at this stage that the Raga Grammar or its characteristic is described in terms of its   Aroha and Avaroha Svaras.

Some say, it is likely that Muddu Venkatamakhin’s scheme grew in two stages. In the second stage the Katapayadi prefixes were added to suit the Raga-names; or the other way. The Gitas in the Raganga (Mela-kartha) Ragas bear the names with their Katapayadi prefixes.

Shri TM Krishna observes: ‘The Muddu Venkatamakhin tradition, which uses the terms Raganga Raga (equivalent term to Mela-kartha) and Janya Raga, adopts the opinion that the Raganga Raga needs to be Sampurna in either Aroha or Avaroha but non-linear (A-sampurna). It is believed that Muddu Venkatamakhin wrote Lakshanas for the Raganga (Mela) ragas and their Janyas.

Sri Muthusvami Dikshitar gave form to most of these Ragas through his compositions. As regards the A-sampura (not-sampurna) Ragas, Sri Muthusvami Dikshitar chose to change their structure in order to mitigate the ill-effects of direct Vivadi Svaras in their scale.

[Sri Subbarama Dikshitar while writing about the life of Sri Ramaswamy Dikshitar (father of Sri Mutthuswamy Dikshitar) says he learnt Mela system from Venkata Vaidyanatha Dikshitulu who was the maternal-grandson of Venkatamakhin (Vaggeyakara Caritramu, pg.25, SSP English Translation Vol.1). This Venkata Vaidyanatha Dikshitulu is identified by some as Muddu Venkatamakhi.

However, Dr. R. Sathyanarayana differs. According to the dates given by Dr. Sathyanarayana (Rāgalakaam of Śrī Muddu Venkatamakhin; Introduction, pg.9) Muddu Venkatamakhin may have been born around 1650 A.D and Venkata Vaidyanatha was a younger contemporary who taught Ramaswamy Dīkṣhitar at around 1750 A.D.]

Again, during late 17th – early 18th century, Govindacharya the author of Samgraha-chudamani changed the names of some Melas of VenkatamakhinHe expanded on Venkatamakhin’s Mela concept   by introducing the Sampoorna Meladhikara (equivalent term to Melakarta) scheme which has a complete (sampoorna) Saptaka both in the Arohana and the Avaroha structure; and importantly the Svaras are to be in linear order. In this scheme, the Mela-kartas arise out of systematic permutation of the seven Svaras into the twelve Svara-sthanas.  Govindacharya is also said to written lakshana-gitas and lakshana-slokas for 294 Janya RagasAnd, it is believed, he refined the Katyapadi prefixes by linking the Mela Ragas to their first two syllables of their names. This system of 72 Mela is the Karnataka Mela system of the present day.

Govindacharya’s insistence on a Sampurna Arohana–Avarohana profile lent the Mela-karta a sort of elegance. And, seen from another view, the Mela-karta scheme appears as a product of mathematical abstraction. And, naming of the Mela, the ragas, the Svaras (and introduction of Vivadi Svaras) seem rather incidental to its technical process.

Sri Mutthuswamy Dikshitar followed Venkatamahin’s scheme (Kanakambari-Phenadyuti); while, Sri Tyagaraja gave forms to most of the Ragas in the other scheme (Kanakangi-Rantnangi).   The subtle but main difference between the two schemes appears to be the importance given to the linearity and non-linearity of the Svaras in Arohana and Avarohana.

As per Shri TM Krishna: ‘Mela started out as a way to organize existing Ragas but moved to creating scales as Ragas using the Mela structure. Probably for the first time in musical history theory influenced practice. This is probably why many Ragas in performance even today are only Svara structures sans features that give a Raga an organic form’.

The voluminous  Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini by  Sri Subbarama Dikshitar (1839-1906) , the grandson of Sri Mutthuswami Dikshitar , running into about 1700 pages is a source-book on Music of India , tracing the history of Music from Sarangadeva to the 20th century through a series of biographies of noteworthy musicians and music-scholars .It  also provides  exhaustive details on 72 Melas  as also tables of Ragas, Ragangas, Upanga-s, Bhashangas with their Murcchanas, Gamakas, in addition to details of the  Taalas.

 The Mela system also travelled North.  Pandit  Shri Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande (1860-1936), a scholar and a musicologist, in his colossal work ‘Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati’ reorganized the Uttaradi or North Indian Music, mainly,  by adopting the concept of Mela system as expanded by Venkatamakhin (1660) and others  .

Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande Stamp

Bhatkhande also adopted the idea of Lakshana-geetas that Venkatamakhin and other scholars employed to describe the characteristics of a Raga. Bhatkhande arranged all the Ragas of the Uttaradi Sangita into ten basic groups called ‘Thaat’, based on their musical scales.  The Thaat arrangement, which is an important contribution to Indian musical theory, broadly corresponds with the Mela-karta system of Karnataka Sangita.

The ten basic Thaats (or musical scales or frameworks) according to the System evolved by Pandit VN Bhatkhande are (From Wikipedia):



[ It is said;Pundit Bhatkhande composed a Dhrupad (in Raga Purvi ; set to jhap tala)  in praise of Venkatamakhin and his  Chaturdandi Prakasika.

ab chatura dandi mata venkata sunave ||
dvadasa suran ke khata chakra banave || (ab chatura)
ra ga ra gi ra gu ri gi ri gu ru gu rachave ||
dha na dhi ni dha nu dhi ni dhi nu dhu nu manave || (ab chatura)
dva saptati mela prati madhyama so janita
raganga saba janaka ade kahave ||
aroha avaroha ke bheda ko sadha
bhashanga rupanga chatura upa jave || (ab chatura)

 Pundit Bhatkhande states in this composition that Venkatamakhin authored the work Chaturdandi Prakasika; and, that he modelled 12 chakras with the 12 tonal scale. He then goes on to state that Venkatamakhin  conceived of the different flavours of each of these positions (to constitute 16 swaras); he specifies three varieties of ‘ri’, ‘ga’, ‘dha’ and ‘ni’ and calls them out by name (ra, ri, ru, ga, gi, gu, dha, dhi, dhu, na, ni and nu). Bhatkhande then states that Venkatamakhin also explains the various combinatorial possibilities of ‘ra ga’, ‘ra gi’, ‘ra gu’, ‘ri gi’, ‘dha na’, ‘dha ni’, ‘dha nu’, ‘dhi ni’, ‘dhi nu’, ‘dhu nu’. In the sanchari, he states that Venkatamakhi conceived of the mathematical possibility of 72 families (melas) of ragangas (the janaka) raga-s taking into account the two madhyama possibilities (and the invariant Sa and Pa – not mentioned in the composition). Bhatkhande then states that Venkatamakhi spelled out (with authority and clarity) the murchanas (aroha-s and avaroha-s) of the various bhashanga-s and upanga-s that belonged to each family (raganga). The first and the last phrases of the composition contain the composer’s mudra (chapa) ‘chatura’. Bhatkhande adopted the pseudonym ‘Chatura pandit’ and all his compositions have the mudra ‘chatura’ built into them. This composition thus features two occurrences of the chapa. The dhatu and the matu of the composition blend extremely well and this dhrupad makes a powerful musical tribute to Venkatamakhin.

(Source  acknowledged with thanks :

When you look back the long and interesting history of Raga in Karnataka Sangita stretching from Matanga to the present-day, you find that the system has evolved through several stages. If Matanga defined the Raga and lent it a sense of identity, it was Ramamatya that activated the process of binding the Ragas into structured groups.  This was improved upon by Venkatamahin; and later perfected by Muddu Venkatamahin and Govindacharya. These series of concepts and their refinements have provided Karnataka Sangita a unique and a thorough theoretical foundation.


The 72 Mela-kartas

Emmie Te Nijenhuis in her Indian Music: History and Structure explains the 72 Mela-kartas.

The 72 Mela-kartas are arranged in 12 series (Chakras) each having 6 Ragas. All are having the same tonic (Shuddha Sa) and fifth (Shuddha Pa). All the Mela-kartas in the Chakras from 1 to 6 have a perfect fourth (Shuddha Madhyama; abbreviated as Ma). And, the Mela-kartas in the Chakras numbering 7 to 12 have augmented fourth (Prati Madhyama; abbreviated as Mi). With respect to the other notes in the scale Chakras 7 to 12 duplicate Chakras 1 to 6 respectively.

The name of each of the 12 chakra suggests its ordinal number as well.

  • Indu  stands for the moon, of which we have only one – hence it is the first chakra.
  • Nētra  means eyes, of which we have two – hence it is the second.
  • Agni is the third chakra as it denotes the three divyagnis (fire, lightning and Sun).They could be the three gnis viz. Aahavaneeyam, Anvwaaharyam & Gaarhapathyam.
  • Vēda  denoting four Vedas is the name of the fourth chakra.
  • a  comes fifth as it stands for the five bāṇaa of Manmatha.
  • Rutu  is the sixth chakra standing for the 6 seasons of Hindu calendar.
  • Rishi, meaning sage, is the seventh chakrarepresenting the seven sages.
  • Vasu  stands for the eight vasus of Hinduism.
  • Brahma  comes next of which there are 9.
  • Dishi The 10 directions, including akasha (sky) and patala (nether region), are represented by the tenth chakraDisi.
  •  Rudra  Eleventh chakra  is Rudra of which there are eleven.
  • Aditya Twelfth comes Aditya  of which there are twelve.

[Please do read Sri S Rajam’s most wonderful illustrations of the 12 Chakras and their 72 Melakarta-s.]

Each Chakra is determined by the lowest, middle or highest variety of the second (abr, Ra, Ri Ru) and third note (abr. Ga, Gi, Gu).

The six Ragas of each series are individually determined according to the lowest , middle and the highest variety of the sixth (abr. Dha, Dhi, Dhu) and seventh note (abr. Na, Ni, Nu).

In order to make a clear diction between the three varieties of notes –Ga, Dha and Ni, the vowels of these tone syllables are changed, a- indicating the lowest;  –i indicating the middle; and –u indicating the highest variety.

In short, the structure of the first (that is lower) tetrachord (purvanga) of a Raga is determined by its serial (chakra) number, while the structure of the second (the higher) tetrachord (uttaranga) is determined by the number of scale within the particular series (chakra) . Multiplying the serial (chakra) number (after having subtracted 1) by the number 6 and adding the number of the scale within the series, one arrives at the exact Mela (karta) number.


The schemes of 72 Mela and Mela-karta employed a system of deriving the Mela-number by referring to the first two syllables of its name. This helped in easy tracking of a Mela from among the 72. The system of assigning a prefix number to each Mela was adopted from the ancient Katapayadi formula which classifies the letters of the Sanskrit alphabets in a specified manner. It is not known who invented the ingenious Katapayadi formula. But, the system seems to have been in use at least since 7th century.

It is also not clear who introduced the practice of numbering the Melas by means of the Katapayadi prefixes. In the earlier references to Mela system (either by Sri Vidyaranya or Ramamatya or Pundarika Vittala) the prefixes were not mentioned. But, in the Appendix (Anubandha) to the Chatur-dandi-prakashika the Melas were already marked by Katapayadi prefixes.


According to the scheme, the consonants have numerals assigned as per the above table. All stand-alone vowels like a (अ) and  (ऋ) are assigned to zero. In case of a conjunct, consonants attached to a non-vowel will not be valueless. The only consonant standing with a vowel is ya (य). So the corresponding numeral for kya (क्या) will be 1. There is no way of representing Decimal separator in the system.

Under this naming scheme, the number of a Mela-karta (Janaka) Raga is obtained by decoding the first two letters using the Katapaya scheme; and reversing it. For instance; For Divyamani – Di=8; and Va=4, giving 84. And reversing that you get 48, which is its Mela number. Once you get the Mela number you get its notes too

[ For more on that please check :]

Melakarta  File by courtesy of Sri Basavarjtalwar at ]



 Please click on the figure for an enlarged view.


Please do read the scholarly work  A Karnatik Music Primer by Dr. Parthasarathy Sriram at



References and Sources:

I gratefully acknowledge

  1. Caturdandiprakasika of Venkatamakhi by Dr. N.Ramanathan
  2. The Anukramaikā Gīta in the SSP by Sumithra Vasudev
  3. Indian Music: History and Structure by Emmie Te Nijenhuis
  4. The “ka-Ta-pa-ya” scheme
  5. A Brief Overview of the Evolution of Indian Music

6. Collected writings on Indian Music .Vol 2  by Dr. V. Raghavan



Posted by on June 12, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Eighteen

Continued from Part Seventeen – Lakshana Granthas– Continued

Part Eighteen (of 22 ) – Lakshana Granthas – Continued

12 . Samgita Parijata pravashika by Ahobala Pandita  

Ahobala Pandita’s   Samgita Parijata pravashika (17th century) that follows the works of Pundarika Vittala is the other significant text that introduces the elements of South Indian music in the North. And, it is regarded by some as the earliest text of the North Indian Music. Pandita Ahobala who described himself as a Dravida Brahmana, the son of Samskrita Vidwamsa Sri Krishna Pandita, provides valuable information on the classification of North Indian Ragas. The Sangita Parijata is regarded as one of the source-books of Hindustani Music.

Ahobala derives his music theories and principles from Raga-tarangini of Lochana Kavi (15th century) and Raga vibodha of Somanatha (1609). The Raga-tarangini written by Lochana Kavi of Mithila discusses in detail several songs in Maithili dialect, set to Ragas and Raginis prevalent during that time. Lochana Kavi in the traditional manner lists 22 Sruti positions.

Following Lochana Kavi, Ahobala mentions 22 Srutis and 122 Ragas. According to Emmie te Nijenhuis; Ahobala listed 11340 Ragas. Following Ramamatya and Pundarika Vittala, Ahobala classified 122 Ragas under six Mela categories and three subdivisions: Audava (pentatonic), Shadava (hexa-tonic) and Sampurna (hepta -tonic). His scale of Shuddha notes corresponds to the current Kafi thath.

And, he describes 122 Ragas in detail mentioning the Svara structure, number of their Svaras, their time of performance and their characteristic melodic phrases. In his descriptions of the Ragas he emphasized the importance of understanding the nature and structure of the Raga. According to him, the movement of different Svaras (Svara-sanchara), as also the different places (Sthana) of the same Svara give each Raga its unique flavour.

[ Prof. O C Ganguly in his Raga and Ragini (Nalanda Books, 1935) remarks:

The most important feature of Sangita-Parijata by Ahobala Pandlta  is the fixing of the exact places of the Shuddha and Vikrta notes in terms of the lengths of the sounding string of the Veena, in the same manner as that of Hrdaya-kautuka of Hrdaya Narayana Deva.

Ahobala does not appeal to give any classification of the Ragas under any types of parent-scale (That) or otherwise, although he claims to describe the ragas according to the characteristics laid down by Hanuman- Laksanani vurve tesam sammatya ca Hantimatah.

But occasional references to Thats seem to indicate, that in his time, classification of Ragas under Thats had become current in the North. He gives a list of 122 ragas, which he describes with accurate notations – Dvavimsatya satam te ca prokta loka-sukhaya ca.

Ahobala Pandlta groups them according to the time and hours (prahara) assigned to their appropriate periods for singmg, dividing them into three groups, for the first, second or third watches, while a string of 19 ragas are grouped together as suitable for all hours (sarvada ca. sukha-prada).]

In his work , he  does not use particular names for the scales , but indicates the alterations (Vikrta Svaras) , flat (Komal) and sharp (Tivra or Tivratara) to be used in particular Ragas. And, the Shuddha scale he refers to is the same as the one in Raga-tarangini of Lochana Kavi. However, Ahobala’s Shuddha (unaltered) notes do not correspond with the notes of the Karnataka Mukhari Mela, but with those of the Hindustani Kafi That.  Ahobala treats Kafi as the principal scale.

[The modern Raga Kafi of the North is equivalent to Kharahara-priya]

[For several centuries the Saptaka that defined by the Svaras of Kafi Raga– and not that of Bilawal – was the Shuddha scale of the Hindustani system.    And, therefore,  Pandit Bhatkhande expresses surprise that post-Lochana, occurrences of Raga Kafi and its Lakshanas are found more in the works of Karnataka Shastras including Venkatamakhin‘s Chatur-Dandi-Prakashika  (17th century ) and Tulaja‘s  Sangeeta Saramrta (18th C), than in their northern counterparts.]



As regards Vikrit Svaras ( the Svaras which when displaced to higher or lower positions from their original positions cause either decrease or increase in the number of Srutis between them and their neighboring Svaras) , Ahobala identifies eight Vikrit Svaras : (1). Purva – Ra – at 5; (2) .Komal –Re- at 6; (3). Purva – Ga- at 7 ; (4). Komal – Ga- at 8; (5) . Purva – Dha- at 18; (6). Komal – Dha- at 19;  (7). Purva – Ni – at 20; and (8). Komal – Ni – at 21.

Ahobala reproduces the ancient theory of 22 Srutis. He states that all these Srutis could be used as notes (Svara) in various Ragas.

Shri TR Srinivasa Ayyangar in his scholarly critical introduction to Samgraha-Chudamani of Govinda remarks that Ahobala Pandita did not divide the 22 Srutis into equal intervals. Instead he recommended application of Shadja-panchama-bhava in fixing the intervals.

Shri Ayyangar quotes Ahobala Pandita:  “Kesagra-vyvadhanena bahvyo pi srytayah Srithah ; Veenayam ca tatha gatre samgita-jnani-nam mate. Madhya purvottara-bhaddha-Vinayam gatra eva va; Shadja-panchama-bhavena srutir dva-vimsatim jaguh”;

And says, with this Ahobala determined the length –value of Svaras on the strings of the Veena. He then names the 22 Sruti positions :  : Chandovathi 1; Dayavathi  256/243; Ranjani 16/15/; Ratika 10/9 ; Raudri 9/8 ; Krodha 32/27; Vajrika 6/5 ; Prasarini 5/4 ; Priti 81/64 ; Marjani 4/3 ; Keiti 45/32 ; Raktha 64/45 ; Samdipani 40/27 ; Alapini 3/2 ; Madanti 128/81 ; Rohini 8/5 ; Ramya 5/3 ; Ugra 27/16 ; Kshobini 16/9; Tivra 9/5; Kumadvathi 15/8 ; Manda 243/128 ; and Chandovathi 2.

[The Shuddha Svaras mentioned above belong to Shadja-Grama]

Although Ahobala recognizes 22 Srutis in the octave, he limits his discussion to 12 in order to describe his Ragas or to illustrate his examples.  He identified the 12 Svaras in terms of the length of the string of the Veena. Ahobala minimized the importance assigned to Srutis or to their numbers by comparing Svaras and Srutis with the snake and its coils, which truly are one but appear distinct only in their outward forms.

In order to determine the exact position on the string of each of these 12 Svaras, he mentions the ratios representing the divisions of the string. Pandit V N Bhatkhande writes:

There is another point on which Ahobala puts the whole musical world of India under his obligation and it is this. Ahobala was the first musician who distinctly saw the absolute necessity of calibrating the value of 12 Svaras in terms of the lengths of the speaking wire of the Veena. It should be noted here that Ahobala thus set an important precedent: not long afterwards, a South Indian  musicologist named Govinda Dikshita fixed the frets of the southern Indian Veena so that all ragas could be played . . . before this, the frets were movable, and their number varied.

Further, Pandit V N Bhatkhande writes: Ahobala Pandita described the octave relation as well as the seven notes and their inter relations, in terms of the string divisions and position of nodes

“The places (nodes) for each note are described on the Veena , which generates the note and which can be seen with the eyes. The nodes for upper Sa  or octave stands at the mid-point of the open wire, and that for Ma ( the fourth) should be taken mid-way between the two – the fundamental and the octave. Dividing the wire-length into three equal parts the Panchama (the fifth ) is obtained at the first division, near the top. The Gandhara (the third) is obtained mid-way between fundamental and its Fifth. The Re (second) is to be placed at the first (of three divisions) between Sa and Pa, while the Dha (the sixth) is to be placed between the Fifth and the octave. In turn , Nishadha is at the end of the second ( of the three divisions) between the Fifth and the Octave “ (In Ranade 1951 :p .177-178)

Ahobala’s descriptions of 68 types of Alamkaras or Vadana-bedha is said to be an improvement over Somanatha’s Raga-vibodha.

There are some often quoted passages of Ahobala Pandita.

: – Samgita in the ancient context was a composite art comprising Gita (singing), Vadya (instruments) and Nrtya (limb movements). It was only much later that Nrtya began to develop independently. And, in Music, Gita (singing) had importance over Vadya (instrumental music); and, instrumental music generally follows the vocal styles and nuances. . Ahobala Pandita   in his Samgita Parijata pravashika (17th century) says it is because of that reason the singing itself came to be known as Samgita (Samgita, Gita-vadhittra nrityanama trayam samgitam uccyate; Ganasytra pradhanatvat samgita mitiriyam).

: – Ahobala describes Mela as a combination of Svaras, and it has a power to create the Ragas. Therefore every Raga has a Mela for its basis or ground of origin – : “Mela svara-samuha syad raga-vyanjana-shaktim

: – His description of Kafi Raga: – arohe ridha-hinanyet pumasuddha svaratyukta gandharasvara purvasyat dhanairui madhyamantak

: – The distinguishing feature, the Lakshana of a Raga is its uniqueness: Asadharana- Dharmita.


Ahobala Pandita work not only influenced the music-practice of his times, but also had a great impact on other music-scholars. They all accepted the theory of Ahobala, his measure of 12 Svaras and Kafi Mela as the Shuddha Mela. For instance; following Ahobala Pandita, Hridayanarayana Deva wrote two books on theory (Hridaya Kautuka and Hridaya Prakasha); Bhavabhatta wrote three books (Anupa Sangita Vilasa; Anupankusha; and Anupa Sangita ratnakara); and Srinivasa in 18th century wrote his Raga-tattva-vibodha where both Vikrit and Shuddha Svaras were placed by measuring the length of the wire on the Veena, following the method of Ahobala Pandita. He accepted the 12 notes of Ahobala and Kafi Mela as the Shuddha Mela.

As can be seen; the 16th and 17th centuries were of great importance for Music-texts of India. Several important texts touching upon the Music of North India were also written during this period. Of these, the Raga-tarangini of Lochana Kavi; Sad-raga-chandrodaya and other works of Pundarika Vittala; Hrdaya-kautaka and Hrdaya-prakasha of Hrdaya–Narayana Deva (Ca.1660) and Sangita-parijata of Ahobala (Ca.1665) are considered important for their bearing on the present day music.

Ahobala Pandita‘s work Samgita Parijata pravashika earned great fame as a landmark text in the North Indian Music history.   Pandit Bhatkhande writes: While considering the history of music in the time of this Emperor – Shahjahan – (1627-1658 A.D.) it will be most convenient to take notice of that most popular Sanskrit work of Northern India which is known as Sangita-Parijata. It was written by Pandit Ahobala the son of Shri Krishna.

It is not therefore surprising that Samgita Parijata pravashika was translated into Persian and other Northern languages. The more notable ones are its Persian translations; one by Mirza Raushan Zamir (1666) as Tarjuma -i- parijatak, with his own comments ; and the other by Pandit Dinanatha ( son of Pandit Vasudeva) in 1724. The translation bearing the seal of the librarian of Emperor Mohamed Shah (1719-1724) is  said to be still in the collection of the Rampur State Library. 

[ Ref  and sources : Semiosis in Hindustani Music by José Luiz Martinez ;  A Short Historical Survey of the Music of Upper India by Pandit v. N. Bhatkhande ;  Bhatkhande’s  Contribution to Music: A Historical Perspective by Sobhana Nayar; Musicological Literature by Emmie te Nijenhui ]


13. Govinda Dikshita – Sangita-sudha

Govinda Dikshita, a musician and a Kannada speaking scholar hailing from Mysore, served as a Minister of three successive  Kings of Thanjavuru, Achyutappa Nayaka (1560 AD-1614 AD) , Raghunatha Nayaka (1600 AD-1645 AD) and Vijayaraghava Nayaka (1634 AD-1673 AD) , all of whom patronized Karnataka  Samgita . Govinda Dikshita’s two sons Yagnanarayana Dikshita and Venkatershwara Dikshita or Venkatamakhin were both scholar- musicians.  All the three were in the service of the Kings of Tanjore.

Govinda Dikshita’s fame rests on the treatise on music and dance named Sangita-sudha which he wrote in 1614. The work may originally have had seven chapters (1.Svara; 2.Raga; 3 .Prakirna; 4.Prabandha; 5. Taala;  6. Vadya; and, 7. Nartana). But, all available manuscripts contain only the first four Chapters. Govinda Dikshita in his work generally followed the model of Sarangadeva’s Sangita Ratnakara.

The colophon of the text implicitly states that it was written by Raghunatha Bhupa – Raghunatha bhupa viracita Sangeetha Sudha“.  But, Venkatamakhin asserts that the text was in fact written by his father Govinda Dikshita and submitted to his patron Raghunatha Nayaka.  In any case, the text is of great value to students of Karnataka Sangita; and, the introductory part of the text is an authentic source of the history of art and architecture of the age.

Sangita-sudha is an elaborate treatise, and treats of the Raga systems quite fully. The descriptions of the jati-ragas, including the composite jati-melodies, are illustrated with actual songs, with notations. Govinda Dikshita gives to the Suddha-jatis a picturesque name, viz Kapalani (skulls), associating their origin with Shiva, as he went about in his begging role (Bhiksatana vesa) with the skull as his begging bowl.

Improving on Matanga , he also takes for detailed elaboration ten main types of Ragas, classifying under them thirty Grama-ragas, eight Upa-ragas, twenty Upanga-ragas, ninety six Bhasha-ragas,   twenty Vibhasha-ragas, four Antarbhasha-ragas, twenty one Raganga-ragas, twenty Bhashanga-ragas, thirty Upanga-ragas, and fifteen Kriyanga-ragas. He also explains the concept of Alapana, the ways of elaborating a Raga.

[ Prof. O C Ganguly in his Raga and Ragini (Nalanda Books, 1935) remarks:

 While Svara-kala-nidhi cites 20 melas, (generic melodies which unify the derivatives under a genus-species system), Raga-vibodha cites 23 mela-karta ragas; by the time of Govinda Dikshita, 72 melas had been evolved. Though the system of Melakartas had been in existence before, Dikshiat gives it an emphatic status, and appears to have codified it, and given it a proper name, calling it, after the name of his patron, as ‘Raghuniitha-mela’. The author is said to have introduced some new ragas, e.g., Jayanta-sena and others.]

Govinda Dikshita in his Sangita-sudha confirms that the method grouping the Ragas into Mela was initiated by Sage Sri Vidyaranya in his Sangita-sara (14th century). Govinda Dikshita reverently addresses Sri Vidyaranya as: Sri Charana. According to Govinda Dikshita, Sri Vidyaranya classified about 50 Ragas into 15 groups (Mela). The intention was to organize then known Ragas that were in practice.

Apart from writing, Govinda Dikshita improved upon the techniques of Veena tuning initiated by Somanatha and Ramamatya. He followed the illustrations given by Ahobala Pandita in fixing the position of the frets on the Veena so that all the Ragas could be played. (Before that, it appears, the frets were movable and their numbers varied).It is said; that his sons Venkatamakhin and Yajnanarayana Dikshita were also involved in his work.

Venkatamakhin informs that during those days, besides the common Shuddha and Madhya-mela Veena described by Ramamatya, there was also a Veena with a higher tuning, i.e. a fourth higher than the Madhya-mela Veena and comparable to the Madhyama Sruti tuning of the modern Karnataka Veena. It was named by Govinda Dikshita as Raghunatha Mela Veena, in honor of the King.

In the beginning of 17th Century, Somanatha’s Raga Vibodha, Ramamatya’s Svara-mela-kalanidhi and Govinda Dikshita’s Sangita-sudha were regarded as standard theoretical texts (Lakshana granthas) on Music. Some, therefore, look upon Somanatha, Ramamatya, and Govinda Dikshita as the Trio of Lakshanakara-s (theoreticians) of Karnataka Sangita theory (Sangita Shastra).

In the latter half of 17th Century, Govinda Dikshita’s son Venkatamakhin appeared on the scene with his monumental work Chatur-Dandi-Prakashika suggesting the possibilities of the 72 Mela scheme, footing the Mela- Janya system on a rational basis. One could say that Govinda Dikshita and Venkatamakhin are to musicology what Ramaswamy Dikshitar and Muthuswamy Dikshitar are to musical compositions.

Coin of the Nayak period With Govinda Dikshita's name on it.  Photo From the collection of T.M. Krishna

During his lifetime and even after, Govinda Dikshita was a highly respected person. He was affectionately called ‘Ayyan’. He is believed to have lived at Patteeswaram where he re caused the renovation of the Devi temple. The sculptural images of Govinda Dikshita and his wife Nagamba standing in front of the deity with folded hands can be seen in the Mantap of the temple. The presiding deity of the temple at Patteeswaram, the Lingam, is called ‘Govinda Dikshita Lingam’. The villages around the town he lived were named; Govindapuram, Ayyampettai etc in his honor.


[Ref: Musicological Literature by Emmie te Nijenhui; Wikipedia]

All pictures are gratefully  taken from internet


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Posted by on June 10, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Seventeen

Continued from Part Sixteen – Lakshana Granthas– Continued

Part Seventeen (of 22 ) – Lakshana Granthas – Continued

10. Pundarika Vittala

Perhaps the first Musicologist who applied Ramamatya’s system of 19 Mela (basic scales) to North Indian Music was Pundarika Vittala (16th century).

Till about the late 16th century both the South and North traditions followed the same set of texts.  Then, Pundarika Vittala a musician-scholar from Karnataka  , Karnata Desiya , (from Satanur , around Shivaganga Hills about 50 KMs from Bangalore), of Jamadagni gotra, who settled down in the North under the patronage of Muslim King Burhan Khan  in Anandavalli  (near Nasik) in the district of Khandesh, wrote a series of books concerning Music of North India.

(Karnate Shivaganga abhidana giri nikate, Satanur-hrudaye yo gramasta janma pravarasunikarath Jamadagni yo asmita vamsa)

While in Anandavalli during 1560-1570, Pundarika Vittala wrote his famous Sad-raga-chandodaya having three Chapters: Svara-prasada, Svara-mela prasada, and Aalapi-prasada.  In this text, he introduced Ramamatya’s Mela system to the North Indian Music. He almost adopted Ramamatya’s 19 Mela (as in Svara-mela-kalanidhi)   . But, he changed the names and scales of several Melas.

Of the 19 Melas listed by Pundarika Vittala, 11 are identical with those mentioned by Ramamatya:  Mukhari, Malavagaula, Sri, Shuddhanata, Desaksi, Karnatagaula, Kedaragaula, Abhiri, Shuddhavarali, Shuddharamakri and Nadanamakri.

AS regards the other eight Melas either their notes are different or their names as well as their names are different (few of them have only one note different).  For instance; Ramamatya‘s Hejuri becomes Pundarika’s Hijeja; Similarly Vasanthabhairavi becomes Todi, and Saranganata becomes Saranga.

The Hindola Mela is entirely different in both the systems.

In his Sad-raga-chandodaya, Pundarika Vittala says that due to different application of a Svara in different Ragas, different Sthana (positions) of the same Svara in different ragas occurs. He further says that it is important to know the exact structure of Raga,

Later, when he moved to the court of the Prince Madhavasimha and Manasimha who ruled from Jaipur as the feudatory of Akbar, Pundarika Vittala wrote Raga Manjari. In his writings, Pundarika Vittala carried forward the work of Gopala Nayaka (14th century) of grafting Karnataka music on to the newly evolving North Indian music.  Raga Manjari shows a further leaning towards North Indian Music, although the set of twenty Melas is the same as in his earlier Sad-raga-chandrodaya. He adopts the typical North Indian classification of Ragas as: Male (Purusha), female (Stri) and infant (Putra) Ragas. However, in both these works as well as in the third treatise named Ragamala written in 1576 ( which he says was written for one Kapila muni- Srimath Kapilamuniyarthe  kriyate Raga –maalikah) , Pundarika Vittala uses for his Shuddha scales, the notes of the South Indian Mela Mukhari 0r Kanakangi scale .

According to the great  Scholar Pandit VN Bhatkhande, : The Ragamala distinctly shows that Pundarika Vittala had come into contact with the music and musicians of North India ,perhaps   in  Delhi or Agra, because the names of Ragas  he mentions , like Chaiiri, Gowdi, Musali, Iraq, Bakharej, Yemen, Husaini, and Tirban distinctly belong to that region.

[Prof. O C Ganguly in his Raga and Ragini (Nalanda Books, 1935; pages 54-57) mentions of the three works that Pundarika Vittala wrote under the auspices of three successive royal patrons: (1) Sadraga-candrodaya written under the service of the Faroqi Prince Burhan Khan of Khandesh; (2) Ragamala, written probably under the patronage of the Jaipur prmces, Madho Singh and Man Singh Kacchwas; and, (3) Ragamanjari, probably composed under the patronage of Raja Mansingh Kacchwa


The first one Sadraga-candrodaya was written some time between 1562 and 1599 under the service of the Faroqi Prince Burhan Khan of Khandesh which was incorporated in the Mughal empire after the seige of Asirgarh in 1599. In this work, he deals with both the Southern and Northern systems of ragas and classifies them under nineteen Thats or parentscale, viz.: Mukhari, Malava-gaula, Sri, Suddha-natta, Desaki, Karnata-gauda, Kedara, Hijeja, Hamir, Kamode, Todi, Abhiri, Suddha-varati, Suddha-ramakri, Devakri, Saranga, Kalyana, Hindola and Nada-Ramakri. Out of these nineteen original (Mela) ragas, he attrIbutes to five of them their respective derivative forms (janya-raga).

As Prof. Bhatkhande remarks, “the Hindusthani musician will find this classification very interesting. He wIll find many of his own ragas in the list. Some of these latter seem to have retained their original svaras (notes) to this day.”

The work, is, therefore, of great significance for the data provided for the hIstory of the ragas. It is noteworthy, that when the author composed his works, the recognized melodies in the north far exceeded the limits of an exhaustive enumeration as is evident from the author’s remark: “Owing to the ragas being innumerable it is impossible to describe each individual one, I am reciting, here, some of them, following a particular school.”

Anantatvattu raganam pratyekam vaktumakrmah / Kesaacin-matam ashritya kati ragan vadamyaham //


In his next treatise Ragamala, written probably under the patronage of the Jaipur prmces, Madho Singh and Man Singh Kacchwas, Pundarika Vittala classifies the Ragas under six male ragas, and attributes to each, five ‘spouses’ (bharyyas) and five ‘sons’ .

The 66 ragas tabulated in the list probably represented the current melodies as Pundarika Vittala found them in Northern India when he sat down to compose his work. But the Ragamala, from our point of view, is the most important document, as it is in this work that we come across for the first-time descriptive verses, actually giving the visual pictures, along with the component notes of the melodies, and also an indication of the time allocated to the singing of the ragas.


The third treatise, Ragamanjari, was probably composed by Pundarika Vittala under the patronage of Raja Mansingh Kacchwa and after he was introduced to the Imperial Court at Delhi. In this work, he cites twenty melodies as parents of the derivatives. They are as follows: Mukhari, Soma-raga, Todi, Gaudi, Varati, Kedara, suddha-niata, Desaki, Desi-kara, Saranga, Aheri, Kalyana, Kamoda, Hijeja, Rama-kri, Hindola, Karnata, Hamira, Malav-kaisika, and Sri-raga.

But the most important feature of this work is the recognition of the place of as many as sixteen Persian melodies and relating them to the Indian melodies by their nearest equivalents. Most probably, these imported melodies had already obtained a place in current Indian music of the North; and, the author only confirmed the practice by including them in his work and by indicating their characters by assigning them to their places in relation to the Indian models.

As Professor Bhatkhande remarks that the use of the locative case termination of the Indian ragas named “is intended to show that the Persian melody is not exactly the same as the Indian but that the two are founded on the same scale.” He accepts them as part of the Hindusthani system though he characterized them as “Persian” and recognized that they are “the gift from others” (parada). They are sixteen in number and are known as: Rahayi, Nisavar, Mahura, Jangula, Mahang(?), Vara, Sunhath, Iraya, Huseni, Yaman, Sarpharada, Vakhreja, Hijejaka, and Musak.

It is significant that Turuska Todi, which must have received an earlier affiliation is not mentioned in this list. On the other hand, Sarparda, which is ascribed by tradition to Amir Khusrau, is here enumerated as a new-comer… By this time, the melodies had too far exceeded in number to be confined within the limits of the six ragas and their wives.]

Together with Ramamatya’s tuning of Shuddha Mela Veena, which corresponds to the Hindustani Been (Rudra Veena), Pundarika Vittala adopted Ramamatya’s 12 semi tones (Sruti). However, in his description of the Melas, he uses more than 12 Svaras. In his works Ragamala and Ragamanjari (a small work in two Chapters : Svara and Raga)  he develops a system of 18 micro intervals, the application of which was however restricted to middle octave (madhyama saptaka).

While discussing the 18 Sruti positions, he says that the octave contains 22 theoretical Sruti positions. However, 4 of which (that is: between Shuddha Sa and Shuddha Ri , and between the notes Shuddha Pa and Shuddha Dha) should not be used in practice.  Later, Somanatha in his Raga-vibodha adopted this system of 18 notes, omitting only one note (ekagatika Madhyama) and changing the name the Vikrta notes.

[Even as late as in the 16th century, the texts usually began with the traditional description of the scales in terms of the 22 Srutis. But, in actual practice (application), the octaves seemed to have been composed of 12 basic Srutis. In Sad-raga-chandrodaya, for instance, the octave is said to contain 14 notes. But, in his description of the fretting of the Veena, Pundarika Vittala locates only 12 frets, because, he says, the other two notes would be too close to their adjacent frets on the finger board. He adds, if these two frets should be needed in any Raga, the adjacent higher fret would be acceptable, as the difference of one Sruti will not make much difference in the general effect on the Raga.]

Pundarika’s system was later adopted by the North Indian musicologists. It is likely that Somanatha’s Ragas which reflect Pundarika’s theories mostly correspond to modern Hindustani Ragas, while the Karnataka Ragas of the same name developed along different lines.

Besides the above mentioned works, Pundarika Vittala may have written the following treatises the chapters of which are available in the Tanjore Sarasvathi Mahal Library: Nartana-nirnaya (written to please Akbar – Akbar-nrupa-ruchyartha krutamidam); Sangita-vrtta-ratnakara; and Vittaliya.

Apart from Music, Pundarika Vittala was well versed in Sanskrit literature. He is credited with compiling two lexicons: Shigara-bodhini Namamala and Dutikarma Prakasha.

[Ref: Musicological Literature by Emmie te Nijenhuis]



11 . Raga-vibodha of Somanatha

Raga-vibodha of Somanatha (1609 A.D) is an important text in many ways. It is also an interesting link between the Karnataka Sangita of the South and Hindustani Music of the North.

Apart from discussing theories (Lakshana) of Music, the text pays special attention to practical (Lakshya) aspects of music performance. It deals elaborately with the Gamakas and Alamkaras (graces and ornamentation) that adorn and enhance the beauty of music-presentation. Though his exposition is based on the vocal styles of Gamakas and Sthaya (a characteristic phase of a song) , Somanatha excels in offering varieties of  left and right-finger-techniques for  playing on stringed instruments (Veena) –Vadana bedha –  such as, deflections , slides  and others that help to explore the limits of the subtleties that the instrument is capable of.  Veena occupies an exalted position in Raga- vibohda.

Raga-vibodha of Somanatha closely follows the Svara-mela-kala-nidhi of Ramamtya. The author himself has written a detailed commentary (titled Viveka) on his work.

The Raga-vibodha is made of five Chapters.  The first chapter deals with Sruti and Svara-s; the second with Veena; the third with Mela; the fourth with Raga; and, the fifth with Raga-rupa (structure of the raga). There are 83 verses in the First chapter; 53 in the Second; 61 in the Third; 48 in the Fourth; and, 225 in the Fifth.

 Somanatha mentions that, in his work, he has adopted the Arya Chhandas (meter) throughout, as it is the only meter that  provides the facility to express short syllables  like Sa, Ri, Ga and Ma in quick succession.

 [For a complete text of Raga-vobodha of Somanatha along with his own commentary thereupon (Viveka) as edited and translated by Pandit M Subrahmanya Sastry (Adyar Library; 1945), please click here.

 Please also do read the scholarly explanations provided by Dr. C . Kunhan Raja in his introduction to Pandit Subrahmanya sastri‘s edition of Raga-vobodha. He covers a number of technical aspects such as Sruti-s- Svara-s; Shuddha Svara; Vikrta Svara-s; their respective positions; Murchana-s; varieties of Alamkara-s etc. He also discusses the differences in the treatment of these concepts by Sarangadeva and Somanatha .]

While discussing the technical aspects of music and particularly Veena, Somanatha, in his commentary, offers lucid explanations and also quotes many previous authorities. He quotes mainly from Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara together with its commentary by Kallinatha. The other authorities, ‘sources’ mentioned by Somanatha include ancient Masters such as Kohala, Matanga, Hanuman and others.

 In the process, Somanatha presents the details of Art as it was practiced during his time, in comparison with what was in vogue in the earlier periods. Thus, Raga-vibodha, apart from its own merit, also serves as a valuable source-book on the history of Indian Music. Further, its Chapter Four would be of particular interest to those studying   the history of musical instruments in India.

The Raga-vibodha, a distinctive text, serves as a bridge between the music of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and that of the present-day. Somanatha is, therefore, regarded by many as the most important and the most original of all the sixteenth and seventeenth century Musicologists.

Somanatha makes a very valid observation that the Shastra-s (texts on technical subjects) should present and explain the facts as they really are; and, should never twist the facts to suit it’s own views and pet opinions.

Shastranam laksha-anugruhaya pravrutvat yatra tayo viruddhah tatra shastrasya niryamitasyapi arthasya upa-lakshana-tvadina  prakarantarenaapi gatihi kartavya  I  Na tu lakshyam upekshyam I

Raga-vibodha deals with the Marga and the Desi streams of classical Indian Music. Following the earlier tradition, Somanatha describes Marga Music as that which was sought for (from the root Mrg, to search) by the gods; And, as the pristine Music that was practiced by Bharata and other sages  in the presence of Shiva . Marga, therefore, he says, is worthy of veneration.

 Margaha sa yo viricchadyoh   anvistau Bharatadi Shambhor-agre pratyukto-acharyah II 1.6 II

[  Somanatha brings in the concepts of the Tantra School to explain how the sound is produced within the body-mind complex; and , is put out ( 1.10-13) : ‘ The urge to speak excites the mind; the mind strikes fire in the body ; this , in turn , sets in motion the air that resides in Brahma-granthi. This air raises up through the navel, the chest , the throat , the head and the mouth producing sound. It is only the sound which passes beyond the chest, the throat and the head that can be used for singing.

 About the organs of speech; and, the differences in the pitch of the sound: the twenty-two Naadi-s in the chest , produce twenty-two Sruti-s; each successive Sruti being higher in pitch than its preceding one. A similar arrangement exists in the head and the throat.]


Somanatha (1609 A.D – Ku-dahana-tithi-ganita-Sake 1531)) a musician scholar hailing from Andhra Desha, son of Mudgala Suri a versatile scholar in all arts (sakala kala) , was perhaps the earliest musician-scholars to introduce the system writing notation (Raga-sanchara) to music passages in a systematic manner. Some say that Raga-vibodha is perhaps the only example before the modern times of any Indian Music using Notations. That may not be entirely correct.

[Examples of early Indian Melody in Notation occur in the 7th century Kudumiyamalai Inscriptions, the Brihaddesi of Matanga, and Sarasvathi-hrdaya-alamkara-hara of Nanyadeva of 10-11th century. Nanyadeva the ruler of Tirhut in Nepal is cited as an authority by Sarangadeva . His text not only includes descriptions of several Ragas but also about 15 examples of compositions ( called Panikas, which are of lighter nature might have been used for dancing as also for singing in groups)  with notations  for vocal rendering. The Panikas belong to a genre of music forms called Gitakas or Prakaranas of varying rhythmic patterns ( as opposed to the modern compositions set to a particular Taala). These are no longer in use. Each rhythmic suit is identified by the number of  matras (time units) , by claps and gestures to measure the time of the beats.

The Notation used by Nanyadeva are simple pitch notations by numbering the Svaras (Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni). However no distinction is made between Shuddha Ga and Antara Ga; or between the standard Shuddha Ni and Kakili Ni. Some notations are indicated by placing dots as superscripts. In some cases it is not clear; as it appears the copyists might have got confused.

For more on Nanyadeva and notations on Panika songs please the remarkable study made by D.R .Widdess in his paper :Tāla and Melody in Early Indian Music: A Study of … – jstor]

Somanatha also scripted Dhyanas the pictorial or iconographical descriptions of certain Ragas. He also outlined the norms regarding the preferred time of performance, the special characters (Raga-lakshana) or the atmosphere in regard to some 27 Ragas. Somanatha improved upon the traditional themes associated with Ragas as in the Dhyanas of Sudhakalasha and Kumbha and of the later scholars Damodara, Shubhankara and Srikantha; and, he diversified Dhyanas by relating Ragas to deities, human characters, seasons etc.

It is sad; Raga-vibodha did not get the level attention it deserved from merited composers and musicians of Karnataka Sangita. Further, the system of musical notations that Somanatha introduced was not followed upon; and it is now almost completely lost. Similarly, the Dhyanas, the ancient system of aesthetics that characterized the Ragas, were totally by  passed in Karnataka Sangita, though some norms regarding the time of performance or the special character or atmosphere of some Raga still lingers on in the Hindustani Sangita.

Somanatha largely adopted  Ramamatya’s Mela system and his Veena techniques, as also the theoretical aspects of Music as in the works of Pundarika Vittala.  His Raga-vibodha, spread over five Chapters, also follows the general plan of Ramamatya’s Svara-mela-kalanidhi and Pundarika Vittala’s Ragamanjari.

The first Chapter of Raga Vibodha closely resembles the first Chapter of Pundarika Vittala’s Ragamanjari. It summarizes the ancient terminologies in the same order. Somanatha starts in Chapter Two a discussion on tuning of the Shuddha and Madhya-mela Veena, which resembled Hindustani Bin (Rudra Veena). This Chapter corresponds to Chapter 3 of Svara-mela-kalanidhi of Ramamatya.

In Chapter Three, Somanatha mentions eleven Persian modes, just as Pundarika Vittala did at the end of his Ragamanjari. The seven out of Somanatha’s eleven names for Persian Maqamat are mentioned: Irakha, Huseni, Musali, Vakhareja, Hijeja, Puska ( or Muska) and Saraparda.

The Chapter Three of Raga-vibodha again corresponds to Chapter Four of Svara-mela- kalanidhi; of Ramamatya; and, it deals with Melas. Here, Somanatha added five  more Melas  (Bhairava, Malhara, Kalyana, Suddha-vasanta and Hammira ) to the 20 listed by Ramamatya  and deleted two Melas  ( Hindola, and Hejujji ) to bring up the net number of Melas to 23. (In this list ,  Malava-gauda  is sometimes accepted in place of Bhairava).

Somanatha’s  arrangement of 23 Mela (scales) is based on the division of the Octave (Saptaka) of 17 notes, some of which bear two names. Therefore, the 22 (theoretical) names of the notes cover only 17 actual Srutis.

Out of these, thirteen Melas are identical with Ramamatya’s Melas; and, three (Shuddhavarati, Sriraga and Karnatagaula) are slightly different from their equivalents in Ramamatya’s system.

Out of the remaining Seven Melas, three (Todi, Hammira and Saranga) corresponds to the Melas of the same name which Pundarika Vittala describes in his Ragamanjari.  Of the other four, Somanatha’s Kalyana has its equivalent in Srikantha’s system. And, Somanatha’s Mallari, Bhairavi and Vasantha Melas are not found in any of the works of his predecessors.

In Chapter Four, which corresponds to Chapter Five of Somanatha’s Svara-mela-kalanidhi, describes the individual characteristics (Lakshanas) of the Ragas. Here, after giving the division of the Ragas according to the different standards, their structure in terms of Graha, Amsa and Nyasa are presented.

Somanatha in his Raga-vibodha mentions 51 Ragas, of which 29 are used in the Music of the present-day: 17 in Karnataka Music, 8 in Hindustani and 4 in both the systemsSome scholars surmise Somanatha’s Ragas mostly correspond to modern Hindustani Ragas; and, though the names of some his Ragas resemble those in Karnataka system it is likely they developed along different lines.

Chapter 5 which is the last Chapter is the most valuable part of Raga Vibodha. Following his processor Srikantha, Somanatha gives the pictorial descriptions (Dhyana) of the Ragas and specifies their appropriate times of performance.  But, in Somanatha’s opinion a mere abstract, aesthetic picture (Devamaya rupa = Divine form) of the Ragas would not suffice. He therefore presents their sound-pictures (Nadatmaka rupa) as well through musical notations.

Thus, Somanatha has presented most interesting music examples of the history of Indian Music.  In contrast to the ancient and almost forgotten music-examples of Jati and Gramas as in the older treatise, Somanatha’s music-pictures give an insight into contemporary music practices. The notations he provides indicate various musical ornaments (Gamakas) that were played on the Veena.

The notations

Somanatha’s work is unique because right from the older times Music compositions have come down to us through Oral traditions; and,   no composition could have had musical notations. And, where their lyrics (Sahitya) were written down, they were, sometimes, marked at the top with only the names of the Ragas and Taalas in which the song was set.  Even in the case of  the Music-texts (Lakshana granthas) that described various concepts and  theories and provided illustrations ,  they  merely discussed   the Lakshanas, Svaras, of the basic scale.

However, Somanatha’s music illustrations offer more details. They not only illustrate the scale (Mela) and the modal character (Lakshana) of the Ragas but also indicate the musical ornamentation (Gamaka) and special ways of playing Veena, the left and right hand techniques, by means of particular notational symbols or signs. Since no Taala is involved in these examples, Somanatha’s explanations virtually represent written guidelines outlining    Raga Alapana and other modes of elaborations i.e. a map for improvised explorations in freestyle.

Although Somanatha’s system of notations was not generally accepted and did not lead to a common system of Gamaka-notations, his explanations and his application of various types of ornamentation (Alamkara) to Veena playing (Vadana-bheda) are indeed highly interesting. Somanatha has described twenty Vadana-bhedas plus three other terms to indicate (1) specific registrar positions (Sthana) of the Svaras and (2) phrase endings. His Vadana-bheda techniques roughly fall into four categories: (1) fingering, (2) deflection, (3) slides and (4) others.

Gamakas and Notations

Saraswati Veena

The Veena techniques (Vadana-bheda) expounded in Somanatha’s work generally follows the traditional pattern. Some of Somanatha’s terms referring to the techniques have equivalents in the ancient Gamakas mentioned in Matanga’s Brhaddeshi and Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara.

Matanga, in his Brhaddeshi, while discussing about Raga-giti , one of the seven charming song-forms, he mentions that Ragagitis should be rendered with varied delicate Gamakas (lalithau–Gamakau-vichitrau); and should be adorned with Svara pronunciations, lucid, powerful and even (300); and that the Vibhasha–giti should be sung blending in the Gamakas that are pleasant on the ears (Gamakau–srotra-sukhadai-lalithairasthu) and are also delicate , according to the will of the singer (yadrucchaya samyojya)   to the delight of the people (lokan-ranjathe)- (308).

 Gamaka is any graceful turn, curve or cornering touch given to a single note or a group of notes, which adds emphasis to each Raga’s unique character. Gamaka, in short, is the movement of Svaras which bounce, slide, glide, shivers, rapidly oscillates or skips. It provides movement and animates Svaras to bring out the melodic character and expression (bhava) of a Raga. Each Raga has specific rules on the types of Gamakas that might be applied to specific notes, and the types that may not. Every Raga has, therefore, to be necessarily rendered with the appropriate Gamakas. They depend on the manner of quivering, oscillations or shaking that the Svaras can be endowed with.

Gamaka-rendering is a highly individualistic and a specialized skill. Not merely that the Gamakas are designed specifically for vocal music and for instrumental music, but also that each performer would, in due course, develop her/his own Gamaka-improvisations. And therefore, two Ragas with identical ascending (Aroha) and descending (Avaroha) Svaras and born out of the same parent (Janaka) Raga might sound totally different in character and expression, mainly because of the Gamakas that are employed. [In Hindustani Music, Meend and Andolan are similar to Gamakas.]

Sarangadeva in Chapter three: Prakīrņaka-adhyāya of his Sangita-ratnakara treats Gamaka in greater detail. He lists fifteen types of Gamakas (Panchadasha Gamaka): the various kinds of shake or oscillations that Svaras can be endowed with.


Prof. Ranganayaki Veeraswamy Ayyangar, University of Pennsylvania , (who has studied, edited and translated the manuscripts, lithograph versions and printed versions of Raga-vibodha),   in her Gamaka and Vadanabheda: a study of Somanatha’s Ragav- ibodha in historical and practical context, mentions:

among the many music treatises that describe the Gamakas, Somanatha’s Raga-vibodha is the most important because it is the only text that has an entire chapter on ornaments. Somanatha has called these ornaments vadana-bheda; and, has created notational symbols for them after having described, in detail, their realizations on the contemporaneous fretted instrument, the Rudra Veena. Further, he has exemplified the vadana-bhedas by incorporating them in his extensive music examples. Somanatha has acknowledged that his vadana-bhedas were based on the Gamakas and Sthayas (components of a raga) encountered in the Sangita-ratnakara (13thc. A.D) and  other earlier texts.

Somanatha has described twenty vadana-bhedas plus three other terms to indicate specific registral positions of the scale degrees and (phrase endings. A study of the vadana-bheda techniques indicates that most of them fall roughly into four categories, namely, (1) fingering, (2) deflection, (3) slides and (4) others… An analysis of the distribution of the various types of the vadana-bhedas in the musical illustrations in Raga-vibodha indicates that there are in each of the first three categories, at least one type that is widely distributed either singly or in combination and some that occur rarely, again either singly or in combination. Further, it also indicates that some combinations are widely distributed, whereas some others are narrowly restricted….

It is important to reiterate that Somanatha was the first theorist, in the descriptive tradition, to attempt to describe in his Raga-vibodha, instrumental vadana-bhedas based on vocal Gamakas. He was also the first to describe, with adequate notation using these vadana-bhedas, actual music of his time through extensive music examples.


Somanatha while describing the Veena techniques employs terms that are equivalents to the Gamakas mentioned by Sarangadeva   (Spurita – Pratihati; Kampa-Kampita; Kurulu-Parata; Uchata- Ahati; Ahota- Ahuti; Ulhasita-ghasana; Plavita-Gamaka ).

Dr. Ramanathan the noted Musician-scholar explains Somanatha’s Pratihati as equivalent to the present day Spurita. Similarly Somanatha’s Vikarsa, Dolana, Gamaka and Kampana , he says, are comparable to four types of modern Kampita: (1) Vikarsa : single deflection of the string , pulling it away from Veena fret; (2) Dolana : deflection and release allowing the string to assume its original position; (3)  Gamaka: number of slow oscillations – prolonged Kampita; and (4)  Kampa: small number of fast oscillations .

Somanatha’s Garshana is equivalent to Hindustani Ghasit and Karnataka’s ekku or erra and downward (digu) slide (jaru). Pida, heavily stressed (pressure by left hand) is Khandimpu. And, Naimnya, a heavy pluck of the string, is periya-mittu.

Dr. E. Te Nijenhuis, in her the Ragas of Somanatha, observes that Somanatha was well conversant with both the Karnataka and Hindustani systems of Music. And, eight of the twenty-nine Ragas that he dealt with in his work, are exclusively Hindustani Ragas that are still current. She also mentions that the notation systems adopted by Somanatha are admittedly more precise than most of the others in vogue; and, definitions and signs for various types of ornamentation are indeed distinctive.

Dr. Ramanathan , however, observes: It is doubtful if the Notations of Somanatha were ever used by the practicing Musicians. That is perhaps because; the Musicians of India had not felt it necessary to develop an elaborate system of notations as in the West. Up to the present day in Indian Music a great freedom is left to the performing artist in the form of Raga improvisation. In the South it might be Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi; and in the North Aalap, Jor and Gath. Even in the pre composed forms of the South (Kriti, Varnam and Padam) and of North (Drupad, Khyal and Tumri) are always rendered with improvised and elaborate ornamentation and figurative variations adorned with Gamaka (grace notes), Sangathi or Tans ( melodic variations) , Svara vistara or Sargam (sol-fa) and improvised preludes (Alapana) .

And, even in modern times, the Notation system did not come into use until the end of 19th century when the first printed books on Music of South India appeared. But at that time there was no uniformity, with each composer or editor developing his own system.

The Dhyanas

As regards the Dhyanas, although the earlier musicologists like Damodara, Shunamkara and Srikantha had presented Dhyanas, their descriptions seemed to have bypassed the traditional themes associated with Ragas. They switched on to Nayaka-Nayaki dramatic situations, personifying the Rasas (aesthetic experiences) particularly of Srngara (erotic) Rasa.

Somanatha obviously considered Rasa personification an important aspect of pictorial Raga description since he himself refers to eight types Nayaka-Nayaki situations or eight different states (avastha)of  Nayika in Nayaka-Nayaki relationship. Somanatha relates Abhisarika Nayika (eager to meet her lover) with Raga Bahuli; Vasakasajja Nayika (dressed up for the meet) with Raga Bhupali; and Proshitabhartruka Nayika (proceeding to meet the lover) with Raga Dhanasri. Similarly, he relates Khandita Nayika ( angry with the lover) with Raga Lalitha ; and Abhisarika ,Vasakasajja and  Uktha Nayika  with the Ragas Saurasri. He relates Dakshina Nayaka with the Ragas Hindola;  and the Proshitabhartruka  Nayika  (sojourning with lover)  with Raga  Kamodi .

Some of Somanatha’s Dhyanas resemble the ancient iconographical Raga descriptions which relate to gods. The Dhyanas of Raga s Bhairava, Kedara and Shankarabharana, for instance, refer to Shiva; the Dhyanas Natanarayana to Vishnu; the Dhyanas of Hindola and Pavaka to Krishna; the Dhyanas of Mallari to Vishnu-Krishna; the Dhyanas of Ragas Adana, Paraja and Vibhangada to Kamadeva; and the Dhyana of Vasantha to god of spring Vasantha.

Besides, Somanatha presents some very vague descriptions which do not refer to any particular deity, human character or state of mind. For instance; in the Dhyanas of the Ragas Dhavala, Gauda , Gaudi, Hammira and Pauravi.

There is an interesting Dhyana which refers neither to a deity nor to a human character. It is the Raga Chaity which personifies the month of Chaitra. This perhaps was the forerunner of the Barahmasa poetry and paintings.

One of the illustrations provided  in Chapter Four of Raga-vibodha describes Raga Abhiri (equivalent to Abheri as it is known now) as a woman (Abhira) , dark in complexion , wearing a black dress adorned with a garland of fresh flowers around her neck, attractive ear ornaments. She has a soft and a tender voice; and, wears her hair in beautiful strands. Abira is idealized as a pretty looking Gopi of the Abhira tribe of Mathura region. She is an attractive looking dark complexioned tribal girl.  In the traditional Indian Music , dark complexion of the Ragini and her  dark clothes correspond to the predominant note (Amsa) Pa

As Emmie te Nijenhuis remarks: Apparently, the ancient Indian aesthetics had already fallen into disuse. The ancient Dhyanas which associates Svaras with particular deity deities, social class, animals, sentiments, colors etc – the system reflecting the ancient Indian mystical view of life – became rather irrelevant, when in the course of time, musicians changed the modal characteristics of Raga.

After Somanatha, the ancient system of aesthetics which was already on decline was completely forgotten in the South. Modern Hindustani Music however has preserved something of this ancient system. Its rules regarding the time of performance or the special character or atmosphere of some its Raga still remind us of the ancient Indian aesthetics.

[Ref: The Rāgas of Somanātha: Musical examples. Part 2 by Emmie te Nijenhuis; Musicological Literature by Emmie te Nijenhuis; DR. S Ramanathan on Raga-vobodha

For a complete text of Raga-vobodha of Somanatha along with his own commentary thereupon (Viveka) as edited  by Pandit M Subrahmanya Sastry (Adyar Library; 1945), please click here ]


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part sixteen

Continued from Part Fifteen – Lakshana Granthas– Continued

Part Sixteen (of 22 ) – Lakshana Granthas – Continued

8. Sangita-ratnakara by Sarangadeva


Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara (first half of 13th century) is of particular importance, because it was written just before influence of the Muslim conquest began to assert itself on Indian culture.  The Music discussed in Sangita-ratnakara is free from Persian influence. Sangita-ratnakara therefore marks the stage at which the ‘integrated’ Music of India was before it branched into North-South Music traditions.

It is clear that by the time of Sarangadeva, the Music of India had moved far away from Marga or Gandharva, as also from the system based on Jatis (class of melodies) and two parent scales.  By his time, many new conventions had entered into the main stream; and   the concept of Ragas that had taken firm roots was wielding considerable authority.  Sarangadeva brought together various strands of the past music traditions, defined almost 267 Ragas, established a sound theoretical basis for music and provided a model for the later musicology (Samgita Shastra).

Sarangadeva’s emphasis was on the ever changing nature of music, the expanding role of regional (Desi) influences on it, and the increasing complexity of musical material that needed to be systemised time and again. Yet; Sarangadeva was rooted in the prevalent musical practices of his time. His stress was consistently on the Lakshya the music as practiced than on ancient theories which though he respects them highly

Sarangadeva gives some information about himself in the beginning of the work. Sarangadeva introduces himself as belonging to a family which hailed from Kashmir. His grandfather Bhaskara, an Ayurveda physician, moved Kashmir into the newly found Yadava capital Devagiri (Maharashtra) in the Deccan region at the invitation of King Bhillanna V (1173-1192). After the death of Bhillanna, his son Jaitrapala or Jaitugi ascended the throne and ruled for a short period. He was succeeded in 1200 by Singhana (1200-1247). He was a very powerful king and also a great patron of arts, literature, and science. It is during his reign that Sarangadeva was appointed in his father’s (Sodhala’s) post as the Royal Accountant (Sri-karana-agrani). Along with his work at the King’s offices, Sarangadeva continued to practice the family profession of Ayurveda. He is also said to have written an Vedanta work entitled Adhyatma-viveka. That work is not available now.

During his spare hours Sarangadeva was busy composing his monumental work on Indian music the Sangita Ratnakara, the Ocean of Music. It turned out to be one of the important and comprehensive Sanskrit texts on Music of India.

The Samgita Ratnakara of Sarangadeva is a great compilation,  not an original work, that ably brings together various strands of the past music tradition found in earlier works like Nāţyashastra, Dattilam, Bŗhaddēśī, Sarasvatī-hŗdayālańkāra-hāra and one that is greatly influenced by the commentary of Abhinavagupta  the Abhinavabharathi . But for Samgita Ratnakara, it may have been more difficult to understand Natyasastra and Brhaddesi and other ancient texts.   And, Samgita Ratnakara also established a sound theoretical basis for music related issues and practices. It also provided a model for the subsequent treatises to elaborate on music-theories and practices (Samgita Shastra).

By the time of Samgita-ratnakara, three divisions of Samgita (vocal, instrumental and imitative art) were well developed. Of these, the Vocal music was regarded as the essential, fundamental music through which all other forms of music were to be understood and interpreted.

Samgita Shastra as envisaged by Sarangadeva was a composite art consisting Gita (melodic forms), Vadya (instruments) and Nrtta (dance or limb movements). By the time of Samgita-ratnakara, three Angas (limbs) of Samgita were well developed. Of these, the Vocal music was regarded as the essential, fundamental music through which all other forms of music were to be understood and interpreted. Here again, Sarangadeva focuses on Desi Sangita, though he comments on aspects of Marga Sangita. On Dance (Nrttya) he offers clear picture of both Marga and Desi traditions, although in a concise manner.

Sangita Ratnakara is a standard and an authoritative text; and it hugely impacted  almost all the writers in the subsequent period. It is also a reliable source book on ancient music traditions and their authors. Sarangadeva, gives an elaborate resume of the general system of Indian music in theory and practice as had been developed in the centuries previous to the thirteenth. He gives detailed exposition of th jatis, and the grama-ragas, accompanied by actual notations.

But the most valuable information that this text conveys to us is as to the ancestry of several of the ragas, whose names occur for the first time in the Sangita Makaranda and which ragas must have acquired those names some time before, say about the eighth century. The text of Sarangadeva affords the only evidences as to the sources from which these well-known ragas derive their character and existence. But for Samgita Ratnakara, it may have been more difficult to understand Natyasastra, Brhaddesi and the other texts .

The text of Sangita Ratnakara has 1678 verses spread over seven chapters (Sapta-adhyayi) covering the aspects Gita, Vadya and Nritta: Svaragat-adhyayaRagavivek-adhyaya; Prakirnaka-adhyaya; Prabandh-adhyayaTaala-adhyaya; Vadya-adhyaya and   Nartana-adhyaya. The first six chapters deal with various facets of music and music-instruments; and the last chapter deals with Dance.

The first chapter deals with Nada (the sound); the second with Raga; the third with Prakirna (miscellaneous topics relating to music); the fourth with Prabandha class of Music ; the fifth with Marga and Desi Taala systems; the sixth with Vadya (musical instruments); and the seventh chapter  on Nartana dance.

In general, Sarangadeva follows Abhinavagupta very closely.

Chapter One – Nada: What seems rather unusual for a formal text on music is that Samgita-ratnakara opens with a lengthy chapter (Svara-gathadhyaya), divided into eight Prakaranas or Sections running into more than 170 verses purportedly dealing with Svara. It does not talk much about music.  But, it goes into elaborate details of human anatomy (according to the Ayurvēda) , the centers (Sthanas) in the body associated with  origin, development and articulation of sound  – heart (Hrid), throat (Kantha) and head region (Murdha) – in three varieties of pitches – Mandara, Madhya and Tara.

The third Prakarana of the first chapter is Nada-Sthana-Sruti-Svara-Jati-Kula-Daivata-Risi-Chanda-Rasa-prakarana. It also goes into the philosophical aspects of Nada, sound, which it regards as the manifestation of the undifferentiated, absolute principle Nada Brahman. Then it talks about two forms of Nada the un-struck or un-manifest (anahata) and the struck or the manifest (ahata). The sound in the human initially commences as an impulse or an idea in the mind with an urge to express itself. That idea is individualized and activated by the mind. It takes the aid of breath (Prana), the medium, to act as the vehicle to carry that idea. When the intention (idea or impulse) strikes (ahata) a bond with breath (Prana), the un-manifest turns into manifest Nada.

The, ahata, like its prior form (anahata) is neutral Svara, sound. It is only after passing through series of processes; the Svara is differentiated into Sruti (pitch) modulations.

Srutis are units of tonal interval with which the interval of a Svara is measured. Hence the Svaras are described next. After describing the intervals of the Suddha-Svaras those of the Vikrita-svaras are given. Suddha-svaras are those which conform to the arrangements of the seven Svaras of the Shadja-murcchana of Shadjagrama. Those which differ from this arrangement are the Vikrita-svara-s. There are 7 Suddha and 12 Vikrita-svaras.

The Sruti-s (pitch) are said to be of 22 kinds of time-intervals.  When certain of these are located along the chosen octave-continuum   , modified (sharp or flattened) from their normal and highlighted, a recognizable pattern of Svaras emerge.  Here, the Prana and certain body parts play vital roles to transform Sruti into Svaras. Body is considered as an arched harp with 22 strings activated by Prana (vital breath).

Three Gramas are described – Sahdja-grama, Madhyama-grama and Gandharva-grama. The names of the Seven Murcchanas in each Grama are also given.

The sixth Prakarana is on Varna and Alankara. Varnas denote the different kinds of movements that a melodic line can take.  Four Varnas are described:  Sthayi, Arohi, Avarohi and Sanchari. Alankara-s are ornamental patterns of Svaras that decorate a melodic line. Alankaras are classified under the four Varnas.

The seventh Prakarana is Jati-prakarana in which the lakshana (characteristics) of eighteen Jatis are given. The first seven are classified into Suddha and Vikrita; and the remaining eleven  as Samsaragaja. The characteristics or the laksana-s that are used for a describing a Jati are the same ten as mentioned in Brihaddesi.

The last Prakaraņa is called the Gīti-prakaraņa. Although it is named thus it takes up the treatment of certain musical forms called Kapāla and Kambala first and then goes on to Gīti-s. The Kapāla songs are based on some derivatives of Jāti-s and they are made up of words describing the fierce form of Lord Shiva.

Chapter Two – Raga viveka: is about the descriptions of the Ragas which are treated under two broad heads of Marga and Desi. He mentions six varieties of Marga Ragas: Gramaraga, Uparaga, Raga, Bhasha, Vibhasha and Antarbhasha. He also gives a list of purva-prasiddha (well established) and adhuna-prasiddha (recently established) Ragas. Many Ragas are illustrated in notation. There are also Sanskrit compositions in notation.

But, Sarangadeva’s focus is primarily on the Desi Ragas. He describes and discusses four types of Desi Ragas: Raganga, Bhasanga, Upanga and Kriyanga.

The Gramaragas resemble the Jāti-s closely and they are further classified on the basis of the different melodic styles. These styles are called Gīti. In this chapter, the five Giti-s, namely, Suddha, Bhinna, Vesara, Gaudi and Sadharini are described.

In this chapter Raga-viveka-adhyaya, Sarangdeva laid special emphasis on the specific times and seasons for the performance of ragas. He also makes mention of the allotted times and seasons for the rendition of the ancient Gram-ragas. For e.g. he says Shadjagrama raga is to be performed in Varsha ritu; Bhinna Kaishik in Shishira ritu ; Gaud Pancham in  Grishma ritu ; Bhinna Shadja in Hemanta ritu ; Hindol in Vasanta ritu ; and, Raganti in  Sharad ritu.

As described Prof. O C Ganguly in his monumental work Raga and Ragini (Nalanda Books, 1935)

Sarangadeva devotes a large section of his chapter on Ragas (raga-vivekadhyaya) to the Desi Ragas famous in ancient times (prak-prasiddha desi-ragah). He gives an historical survey of Ragas according to theancient scholars Yastika and Matanga. He then gives a preliminary list of eight Uparagas: Tilaka, Saka, Takka-saindhava, Kokila, Pancama, Revagupta, and Paficama-sadava. Next, he gives a general list of twenty Ragas , namely : Bhavana-pancama, Nagagandhara, Naga-pancama, Sri-raga, Natta, Vangala, Bbasa, Madhyama-sadava, Raktahamsa, Kollahasa, Prasava, Bhairava·dhvani, Megha-raga, Somaraga, Kamoda, Abhra-paficama, Kandarpa-desakhya, Kakuba, Kaisika, Natta-narayana.

He then enumerates, on the authority of Yastika, fifteen melodies-which are asserted as generic ragas from which the minor melodies bhasha (raginis) are derived- (Bhasanam Janakah panca-dasaite Yiastikoditah). These are: Sauvira, Kakubha, Takka, Pancama, Bhinna-pancama, Takka-Kaisika, Hindolaka, Vhotta, Malava-kaisika, Gandhiira-pancama, Bhinna-sadja, Vesara-sadava, Malava-pancama, Tana, Pancama- sadava.

Then he proceeds to enumerate the different bashas or derivative melodies affiliated to these ragas. In the next section, he describes the further subdivisions of the melodies into Ragangas, Bhashangas and Kriyangas on the authority of Kasyapa, son of Sodhala and enumerates thirtyfour melodies. “These 34 ragas are said to have been famous in early times.” Catus-trimladime ragah prak-prasiddhah prakirtiah.

 “Now,” says Sarangadeva, “I am proceeding to enumerate those which are famous in modern times.” (Athadhuna prasiddha namuddesah pratipadyate) “The aggregate numbers of these ragas amount to 264”. Kallinatha, commenting on this list explains Desaval as equivalent to Kedaragauda, and Tauruska as equivalent to Malavagauda

Chapter Three: Prakirnaka: deals with varieties of topics such as: Guna –Dosha (merit and de-merits) of Vak-geya-kara (composers who set their songs to music) ; Guna –Dosha  in voice culture of male (Gayaka) and female (Gayani) singers, articulation (Sabda) and resonance in voice (Sarira); improvisations in song-rendering  by application of  ornamentations (Gamaka) of fifteen kinds*;  expressions that manifest the feelings or effects associated with Raga phrases (Sthaya) , which are of ninety-six kinds; and, Alapi  free and improvised rendering of Raga and the song  of two sorts Raga-Alapi that is not bound (Anibaddha)  or  restricted by Taala ; Rupaka-Alapi , melodic improvisation done while rendering the text of the song.

[*He recognized fifteen varieties of Gamakas- Tiripa, Sphurita, Kampita, Leena, Andolita, Vali, Tribhinna, Kurula, Ahata, Ullasita, Humpita, Plavita, Mudrita, Namita and Misrita; and, three kinds of Yatis – Sama, Srotogata or Shrotovaha and Gopuccha.]

Chapter Four –Prabandha: is a detailed discussion on Prabandha class of Music that was dominant during the days of Sarangadeva.  He says: the Gayana (singing) is twofold – Nibaddha and Anibadda. That which is composed of Anga-s (limbs or elements) and Dhathu-s (sections) is Nibaddha Samgita. And Alapita which is free from such structures is known as Anibadda Samgita. Then he goes on to say that Nibaddha has three names: Prabandha, Vastu and Rupaka.

By the time of Samgita-Ratnakara, Prabandha had grown into thousands. Sarangadeva explained Prabandha as that which is pleasant; and that which is governed by rules regarding Raga, Taala, Chhandas, Vritta (Sanskrit verses) and Anga. Sarangadeva described about 260 types of Prabandha-s with their variations.  Sarangadeva generally followed Manasollasa and Sangita-Samayasara.

He describes the four sections (Dhathu) of a Prabandha song (Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva, and Abogha) along with Antara the intermediary; and its six elements (Anga) or limbs (Svara, Birudu, Tenaka, Pata, Pada and Taala) . These comprehensively cover the three aspects of a song: the text, the Raga (melody) and Taala (rhythm).

Then he takes up the discussion on class of Prabandhas: Shuddha Suda, Salaga Suda, Alikrama and Viprakirna. Of these , Sarangadeva selects Salaga Suda for detailed treatment. Sarangadeva was the first to present the class of Suda systematically, lending it a theoretical base. For about 300 years thereafter, the terms and descriptions provided by Sarangadeva were adopted by all the later authors.

He discusses seven types of Salaga Suda songs: Dhruva, Mantha, Prati-mantha, Nihsaru, Addatala, Rasaka and Ekatali.

Chapter Five – Taala: deals with time units or rhythmic patterns Taala. Sarangadeva deals with Marga Taala and Desi Taala separately.  Under Marga Taala , Sarangadeva mentions five varieties : Caccatpuţa ;  Cācapuţa ; Şaţpitāputraka ; Sampakvēşţāka ; and Udghaţţa. Under these he discusses the different aspects of the Taala such as the time-units Laghu, Guru and Pluta; the Kriyā-s; the different forms of a Taala like Ēkakala, Dvikala and Catuşkala.

After the Marga Taala, 120 varieties of Desi Taala employed in Prabandha songs are discussed.

Chapter Six- Vadya: generally follows the discussions on Music instruments (Vadya) as elaborated in Natyashastra. Sarangadeva also describes various class of instruments in terms of : Tata (stringed) Susira (hollow) , Avadhana (Drum type) and Ghana ( solid like cymbals).

Under these, he names some specific types: Tata (Ekatantrī, Citrā, Vipañcī, Mattakōkilā, Ālāpinī, Kinnari); Susira (Vamśa, Kāhala, Şańkha); Avadhana (Huḍukka, Paţaha) ; and, Ghana(Kāmsyatāla, Ghaņţā).

He also talks about the construction of these instruments and ways of playing them.

Chapter Seven– Nartana: The seventh and the last chapter is in two parts.  The first one deals with Nartana. The term Nartana is a common term representing the arts of Nŗtta, Nŗtya and Nāţya. In describing the Marga tradition of Dance, Sarangadeva follows Natyashastra. As regards the Desi class of Dance he improves upon the explanations offered in Manasollasa of King Someshwara and Sangita Samayasara of Parsvadeva

Although he follows Bharatha in describing the movements of the body, he differs from Bharatha in dividing the limbs into three categories, Anga, Upanga and Pratyanga. he follows the Manasollasa in using the term Nartana for dance; dividing Nartana into three categories : Natya, Nrtya and Nrtta (SR. 7. 3).

He also differs from Natyashastra which identifies Tandava as Shiva’s dance and Lasya as Parvati’s. According to Sarngadeva, Nrtta and Nrtya can both be of two kinds, Tandava and Lasya (SR. 7. 28). Tandava requires uddhata (forceful) and Lasya requires lalita (delicate) movements (SR. 7. 29- 30).

Sarangadeva’s description of Cari, Sthana, Karana and Angaharas of the Marga type are as in the Natyasastra. But the Desi Caris, Sthanas and Utplutikaranas are the same as those in the Manasollasa of Someshwara.

Next described are Gaundali and Perani, the two dances commonly performed in  in the Desi tradition. Here he follows Sangita-Samayasara.

Sarngadeva explains the importance of aesthetic beauty, lays down the rules of exercise, and describes the qualities and faults of a performer (including a description of her make-up and costume), and those of the teacher and the group of supporting performers. Then he describes the sequential process of a performance, including the musical accompaniment, in the pure mode or suddha-paddhati.

After describing these two dance pieces, Sarngadeva deals with the qualifications of the Acharya (the teacher), the Nata (the actor), the Nartaka (the dancer), the Vaitalika (a general entertainer), the Charana (an expert in understanding gharghara) and the Kohlatika (a performer who specializes in Bhramari, rope-walking and dancing with a dagger). Next, he describes the audience and the sitting arrangements.

In the second part of this chapter, the author describes Rasas (nine in number), Sthayibhavas (thirty-three in number) and the definition of Sattva (the essence) and Sattvikabhavas (eight in number). Sarangadeva largely follows the explanations offered by Abhinavagupta on the theories of Rasa. The chapter concludes with final prayers

The significant commentaries on the text include the Sangitasudhakara of Simhabhupala (c.1330) and the Kalanidhi of Kallinatha (c.1430).

[ Ref : 1. Sangitaratnakara of Sarngadeva by Dr.N. Ramanathan ; 2. Sangitaratnakara  of Saringadeva  translated into English with detailed notes by Dr. C. Kunhan Raja, the Adyar Library, 1945. 3. Sangitaratnakara of Saringadeva by Natalie Savelyeva.  4. The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition by Mandakranta Bose ]



9. Swaramelakalanidhi of Ramamatya (1550AD)


Ramamatya who described himself as the maternal grandson of the learned scholar Kallappa Desika (Vidyanidhih Kallappa Desikaste matamaho) was a noted scholar and musician in the court of the Vijayanagar King Sadashiva Raya (1542-1570). It is said; that Ramamatya was requested by Venkadri, the brother of Rama Raja the Minister of King Sadashiva Raya, to write a book on Music, particularly to reconcile the tradition and the current practices. The result of his efforts was Swaramelakalanidhi having four Chapters Swaraprakarana, Veenaprakarana, Melaprakarana and Ragaprakarana with a total of about 328 couplets in Sanskrit. The text systematically deals with Svara, Veena, Mela system and Ragas.

Swaramelakalanidhi is a fitting introduction to the post-Sangita Ratnakara period in the history of South Indian Music. Ramamatya’s work   makes it evident that the Sangita of his time (1550) was yet to be influenced by the Muslim music. The Raga-vibodha of Somanatha (1609) supports this view, although Somanatha himself seemed to be getting familiar with Muslim music.

As desired by his patron, Ramamatya brings the theory up to his times, rationalizes music principles and practices). He speaks of two kinds of Music: the ancient Marga or Gandharva which was Lakshya oriented (pradhana) and the Desi Sangita which is in practice (Lakshya pradhana). He seemed to favor the practice of Music over the theory (Lakshya pradhanam khalu Gita-shastram).

Ramamatya describes various types of Veenas used in his day as well as their tuning. He distinguishes two main types: Veena with fixed frets which that allows all the Ragas to be played (Sarva-raga-mela-veena); and, Veena on which only one Raga could be played at a time (Eka-raga-mela-veena) and for playing another Raga the frets had to be moved and re-arranged.

Besides these he mentions three other types of Veena differing in in the tuning of their main strings : Shuddha-mela-veena (Sa, Pa, sa, ma); Madhya-mela-veena (Pa, sa, pa, sa) ;   and , Achutharaya-mela-veena (Sa, Pa, sa, pa) .

An interesting aspect of Ramamatya‘s description is the method of placing the frets. Ramamatya bases his technique in the principle of Samvadi Svaras as described in in ancient texts.

Applying this principle,  he  introduced the concepts of Svayambhu-Svara (self-generating note, which some say is the equivalent of the ancient Samvadi- perfect consonant)  to all other notes . Based on this he determines the positions of all the frets on the Veena. He explains that the different Shuddha and Vikrtasvaras can be derived as the Samvadi-s of one another, starting with the basic Svaras viz. Sa, Pa and Ma to which the strings of the Veena are tuned, are termed Svayambhu-Svara. And in turn, he says, the other Svaras derived through Samvadi relationship are also called Svayambhu-Svaras.

He also brought certain improvements into the technical aspects of Music. For instance; the ancient music-theories mentioned 22 Srutis, although only 14 were used as Svaras (notes). Ramamatya reduced the number of Srutis to 12, because, he said, the difference in pitch between Antara Ga and Cyuta Ma (prefix cyuta means lowered) and the notes were negligible. He specified the implementation of this tuning by describing the location of six frets on his Veena


The most important contribution of Ramamatya was in the formulation of a logical principle of classifiation of the ragas, on the basis of the common elements of their characteristic note structures. Following the precedent of Yastika (Bhasanam janaka panchca-dasaite Yastikoditah), whom he cites, he enumerates the fifteen major Ragas ; and, also indicates that these fifteen Ragas  are the father (janaka), that is to say, the genus of the minor melodies (bhasas).

This old janya-janaka system (corresponding to the raga-ragini-putra system of the North) is replaced by Ramamatya by an independent analysis of the Ragas; and, by a systematic classification based on a study of the common elements of the Svara compositions of the different varieties of Ragas, grouped (mela) according to their basic structural unity.

He clarified the distinction between abstract Mela ragas, Janaka ragas  and Janya ragas. He then combined these three concepts to identify 20 Melas under which he classified about 64 Janya Ragas.


Ramamatya’s Swaramelakalanidhi , thus , marked the revival or a new  beginning of an era of classifying Ragas on purely music principles; and, methodically grouping them under what came to be known as Mela system. After Swaramelakalanidhi, numerous other works were written following Ramamatya‘s theories of classifying Ragas into Mela system. Thereafter, the 16th and 17th centuries grew into periods of great importance for production of Lakshna-granthas. Bringing to fore the method of classifying Ragas into Melas could be said to be the major contribution of Ramamatya.

It appears that by the time of Ramamatya, the method of deriving tunes from the complicated arrangement of Grama-Murchana-Jaati was no longer in use. Similarly, the ancient model essentials (lakshanas) for identifying a Raga based on ten criteria was no longer in practice. The ten ancient criteria (lakshanas) had then been reduced to five.

Ramamatya, in his Svara-mela-kalanidhi classified the then known Ragas into 20 Melas. His classification of Melas was based on five criteria (Lakshana). That is, Amsa (predominant note); Graha (initial note); Nyasa (final note); Shadava (sixth note); and, Audava (pentatonic structure) were no longer considered necessary.  This meant that the ancient modal system was replaced by a scalar system. Nevertheless, individual Raga continued to preserve some of their ancient modal essentials (Lakshna), in certain case even until today.


The germ of the idea of the genus-species system was perhaps present long before Ramamatya. But, he was the first to introduce a chapter on Mela called Mela-prakarana. In this chapter, he enumerates, the Melakas (unifiers) and then explains their characteristics.

Even prior to Ramamatya the method grouping the Ragas into Mela was in vogue. Mela is a Kannada word meaning gathering or grouping.  The practice of grouping (Mela) the Ragas according to their parent scale, it said, was initiated by Sage Sri 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). The intention of the Mela system was to organize then known Ragas that were in practice. Sri Vidyaranya’s work on Melakarta system was followed up and improved upon in later times by other scholars.

Following Sri Vidyaranya, Ramamatya in the fourth Chapter – Mela-Prakarana– of his Svara-mela-kalanidhi introduced the theoretical framework for classifying then known Ragas under 20 Melas (parent scale), the notes and names of which were taken from the prominent Ragas of that time.  This was an improvement over the system initiated by Sri Vidyaranya.

Treating Ragas in terms of a Mela was possibly the most significant approach and development in musical history. Mela refers to a collection of seven Svarasthanas (Svara postions). All Ragas are Janya Ragas, and janya Ragas that have a common set of Svarasthanas are placed in the same Mela. The name of the Mela was given to the Raga among the group that was most significant or popular. At this stage, the Raga that held the title for the Mela did not need to possess all the seven Svaras; and though the Mela was referred by its name, it was still a janya Raga.

Following an older precedent, Ramamatya takes the Mukhari Mela, as the Shuddha scale and gives it the place of precedence. He said “Of all the Melas, Mukhari is the first. Other Melas are  followers” .

Ramamatya gives details of Shuddha-svara-s and Vikŗta-svara-s occurring in each of the Mela, a list of sixty-four Janya Raga-s classified under each Mela, and the Sruti positions of Svaras in the Melas. Mukhari is established as the Shuddha-svara saptaka in this treatise (For more, please see Swaramelakalanidhi of Ramamatya by Dr. N. Ramanathan)  According to Tulaja , the Karnataka Raga Mukhari (Raga as well as Mela) is the same as the ancient Suddha-sadharita.

Ramamatya lists 20 Melas : 1. Mukhari; 2. SriRaga; 3. Malavagaula; 4. Saranganata; 5. Hindola ; 6.Shuddha-ramakriya; 7. Desaki; 8.Kannadagaula; 9. Shuddanti; 10.Ahari; 11.Nada-ramakriya; 12.Shuddhavarjati; 13. Ritigaula; 14. Vasantha-bhairavi; 15.Kedaragaula; 16.Hejujji; 17.Samavarali; 18. Revagupti; 19. Samantha; and 20. Kambhoji.

[Later, Venkatamakhin pointed out that two of Ramamatya’s Melas – Saranganata and Kedaragaula – do not differ in their structure.]

In this scheme,  ten ancient model essentials (lakshanas) which had been reduced to 5 (the predominant note (Amsa); the initial note (Graha); the final note (Nyasa), the hexatonic structure (Shadava) and the pentanotic structure (Audava)) were no longer considered to be the criteria for classifying the Ragas. That meant that the ancient modal system was replaced by a scalar system. Nevertheless, individual Raga continued to preserve some of their ancient modal essentials (Lakshna) , in certain case even until today.

Such continuity in the Ragas is illustrated by the following Ragas: 1. The Karnataka Raga Mukhari (a Raga as well as a Mela) , which according to Tulaja is the same Raga as the ancient Suddha-sadharita; 2. Karnataka Raga Varali or Varati that is both Samavarali and Jhalavarali; 3.Hindustani Varari or Barai – Varati; 4.Hindustani Bhairava; 5.Karnataka Lalita; 6.Karnataka and Hindustani Dhanasri; and, 7.Hidustani Sindhubhairavi.

Ramamatya’s exposition of Mela, Raga and his technique of ‘Madya Mela Veena’ was a pioneering work in the systematic classification of Ragas. After his work, numerous others on Raga, Mela, Janya, etc were published.  Ramamatya was followed by:  Pundarika Vittala (16th century); Venkatamakhin (17thcentury); and his grandson Muddu Venkatamakhin (18th century).

Ramamatya’s work also enormously influenced Somanatha’s Raga Vibodha and Govinda Dikshitar’s Sangita Chudamani, two important works which deal with Ragas current at their time. Some regard Ramamatya, Somanatha and Govinda Dikshitar as the Trinity of Karnataka Sangita theory (Sangita Shastra).

Later scholars, that is after Ramamatya, started computing the maximum number of seven Svara combinations they could derive (melaprasthara) based on the number of Svara positions. Here, each author computed a different number of Melas based on the number of Svarasthanas he had theorised. For example, the Sad-Raga-chandrodaya Pundarika Vittala mentions a possible 90 Melas, while in Somanatha’s Raga Vibhodha there are 960 possible Melas. Even though they came up with this computation they found that only a limited number of these were actually used in the form of a Raga.  Therefore, Somanatha felt that 23 Melas would suffice to classify the 67 Ragas then in practice.

During the second half of the 16th century Pundarika Vittala (in his Raga-manjari) introduced Ramamatya’s Mela system in North India. But, he changed the names and scales of several Melas. Another South Indian musicologist who migrated North was Srikantha who wrote his Rasa-kaumudi at about the same time. He reduced Ramamatya’s 19 Melas (as Saranganata and Kedaragaula) were actually the same scale. This system resembled the contemporary Arabic system of 12 predominant modes (Maqam).

One of the most important texts in music of South India was Chatur-dandi-prakashika of Venkatamakhin (1660), which brought the Mela- Janya system on a rational basis. It classified the Ragas according to the system of 72 basic scales (Mela). This system still prevails in South Indian music, though with modifications.

In 1620, Venkatamakhin, son of Govinda Dikshitar, corrected Ramamatya’s Mela system by reducing the number of Melas from 20 to 19, because he said the notes of the two Melas Kedaragaula and Saranganata were the same. More importantly, in the Appendix (Anubandha) to his Chatur-dandi-prakashika, Venkatamakhin mentions the  possibility of classifying Ragas (Kanakangi to Rasikapriya) built on 12 Svara-Sthanas  under a  72 Mela-karta scheme made into two groups of 36 each (Shuddha Madhyama and Prathi Madhyama) . (It was at this time a theoretical possibility, since all those Melas were yet unknown.) The 72 Melas bear the names of prominent contemporary Ragas; and each of which is considered the basic scale of one or more Ragas.

It is believed that it was Venkatamakhin’s grandson Muddu Venkatamakhin, who gave the nomenclature for the Mela Ragas, (Kanakambari, and Phenadhyuti etc) in his Gitam called Raganga Raga Anukramanika Gitam (found in Sri Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (1904).  Shri TM Krishna observes:

‘The Muddu Venkatamakhin tradition, which uses the terms Raganga Raga (equivalent term to Mela-kartha) and Janya Raga, adopts the opinion that the Raganga Raga needs to be Sampurna in either Arohana or Avarohana but non-linear. Sri Muthusvami Dikshitar gave form to most of these Ragas through his compositions.’

Again, during late 17th – early 18th century, Govindacharya the author of Samgraha-chudamani changed the names of some Melas of Venkatamakhin. He expanded on Venkatamakhi’s Chatur-Dandi-Prakashika  by introducing the Sampoorna Melakarta scheme which has a complete (sampoorna) arohana – avaroha structure. as well as delineating Lakshanas for 294 Janya Ragas, many of which were till then unknown, with their Arohana and Avarohana. In this scheme, the Melakartas arise out of systematic permutation of the seven Svaras into the twelve svara sthanas.  

Govindacharya also gave lakshana gitas and lakshana slokas for 294 Janya Ragas. And, he also refined the Katyapadi prefixes by linking the Mela Ragas to their first two syllables of their names. This system of 72 Mela is the Karanataka Mela system of the present day.

As per Shri TM Krishna: ‘Mela started out as a way to organize existing Ragas but moved to creating scales as Ragas using the Mela structure. Probably for the first time in musical history theory influenced practice. This is probably why many Ragas in performance even today are only svara structures sans features that give a Raga an organic form’.

The voluminous  Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini by  Sri Subbarama Dikshitar (1839-1906) , the grandson of Sri Mutthuswami Dikshitar , running into about 1700 pages is a source-book on Music of India , tracing the history of Music from Sarangadeva to the 20th century through a series of biographies of noteworthy musicians and music-scholars . It  also provides  exhaustive details on 72 Melas  as also tables of Ragas, Ragangas, Upanga-s, Bhashangas with their Murcchanas, Gamakas, in addition to details of the  Taalas.

 Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande (1860-1936), a scholar and a musicologist, in his colossal work ‘Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati’ reorganized the Uttaradi or North Indian Music, mainly,  by adopting the concept of Mela system as expanded by Venkatamakhin (1660) in the Appendix to his Chatur-dandi-prakashika.

Bhatkhande also adopted the idea of Lakshana-geetas that Venkatamakhin employed to describe the characteristics of a Raga. Bhatkhande arranged all the Ragas of the Uttaradi Sangita into ten basic groups called ‘Thaat’, based on their musical scales.  The Thaat arrangement, which is an important contribution to Indian musical theory, broadly corresponds with the Mela-karta system of Karnataka Sangita.


When you look back the long and interesting history of Raga in Karnataka Sangita stretching from Matanga to the present-day , you find that the system has evolved through several stages. If Matanga defined the Raga and lent it a sense of identity, it was Ramamatya that activated the process of binding the Ragas into structured groups. This has provided Karnataka Sangita a unique and a thorough theoretical foundation.

Thus, Swaramelakalanidhi of Ramamatya occupies a significant position in the history of the development of Karnataka Sangita. And, as Dr. N. Ramanathan remarks: Swaramelakalanidhi is an important work as the information contained in it is more relevant and related to the modern practice than the books written prior to it.

[ At the end of his work , Ramamatya says he does not treat the subjects of Taala and Prabandha because these had already been treated exhaustively by Sarangadeva .]

[Ref: 1. Swaramelakalanidhi of Ramamatya by Dr. N . Ramanathan;2. 3.;4.Indian Music: History and Structure by Emmie Te Nijenhuis]


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Posted by on June 5, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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