Sri Shyama Shastry ( 1763-1827) – Part One



Across the centuries, the long and hoary tradition of the Indian Music, at each phase of its development, was enlivened by a series of significant modifications and creative innovations.

To start with, the Sama Svaras (notes) of Nidhana prakriti (diminishing nature) or Vakragati, following Avaroha karma, a descending order (uttarottaram nicha bhavanthi) , which did not have much flexibility, were modified , re-arranged and re-structured as the seven Svaras in  an ascending and descending  order (Aaroha-Avaroha-karma) . The order of the Svaras in Sama-music was: Ma, Ga, Ri, Sa, Ni, Dha, and Pa. This order of the Svaras was revised in the later texts like Naradiya Shiksha to: Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni; as we are familiar with it today.

The evolution of the musical scales the Sapta-svaras, distributed in a Svarakshara-srenisaptaka (Octave), was indeed a very highly significant step enabling the growth and vitality of Indian Music in all its forms. And, it ultimately resulted in the identification and development of the Ragas.

Thereafter, the theoretical principles of Music (Lakshanas) were regularly and methodically rewritten, from time to time, in order to suit the changing trends in music. There was a continuous process of assimilation and adoption of new features, within the framework of tradition.


The Sama-gana or the Saman, the musical way of rendering Sama Veda, the earliest form of singing that we know was followed by Gandharva or Marga or Margi, an ancient type of sacred music making a pleasant appeal to the gods. The Marga tended to be rather intellectual; leaving little room for flexibility and imagination. These limitations had to necessarily bring in several changes. Gandharva, therefore, underwent considerable transformation. And, more importantly, it gave place to Gana, a form of art-music (laukika) that aimed to entertain the spectators at the theatre.


Gana was the Music of the songs – Dhruva Gana – sung during the course of play by the actors on the stage as also by the musicians behind the curtain, to the accompaniment of instrumental music. The Natyashastra deals elaborately with the theoretical and practical aspects of the Dhruva Gana – its various types, structures, grammar, as also the type of songs to be sung in various contexts in a play. Bharata also experimented with his Dhruva Veena and Chala Veena; and enumerated the 22 Srutis (micro tones).


The  Desi category of music that flourished from around 5th century onwards , in contrast to the devotional  Margi (Vaidika), was essentially a music springing from out of the inspiration derived  from various regional musical forms and tones;  each having a unique flavour of the sub-culture in which it was rooted. Desi, the Art music (laukika), which is enjoyed by all, is said to be the music of the people;   relatively free from strict adherence to rules. Desi Music, inspired from life, spontaneous and fluid, flowered in various ways. It initiated or refined the concept of Raga; developed it further; classified Ragas according to the system of Melas (basic Raga class / group) and its derivatives (Janya); and, it introduced new sets of instruments into musical performances.


For about a thousand years, which is till about the 17th century, the musical scene of India as also the dance-drama (geya-nataka) were dominated by a class of regulated (Nibaddha) Music called Prabandha, in its myriad forms.

Prabandha as a form of Music, Dance and other variety of poetical works, such as Khanda-kavya, was bound by certain specified elements (Dhatu and Anga). It is a tightly structured (Nibaddha-Samgita) song format having specific characteristics that are governed by an approved body of rules.

The structure of a Prabandha, by its very nature, had to adhere to a prescribed format. In general, the emphasis appeared to be more on the text than on the musical content. The faithfulness to the form was, at times, carried to its limits. And, the Prabandha form, in due course, grew rather rigid; and, had to give place to improvised, easier and innovative (manodharma-samgita) forms of music’ each having distinctive features of their own.

Kirtana, Padas and other forms

With the steady decline of Prabandha and with the rise of regional languages, a range of musical compositions and rhythmic variations began to take place. Those with lighter and attractive musical content, set in simpler words, easy to understand, gained popularity as Kirtana-s or Padas.

The Kirtana form of Music that began to flourish towards the end of fourteenth century was basically devotional Music aiming to invoke Bhakthi in the hearts of common folk. Its Sahitya (lyrics), clothed in simple music, abounds in Bhakthi-bhava. It usually is a prayer or a Namavali (stringing together various names and epithets of the deity) or is a song ideally suited for group singing (Samuha-gana or Bhajana).

With the onset of Bhakthi movement, a flood of Kirtanas, Padas, Suladis, Ugabhogas etc., were composed by saint-singers such as Sri Purandara Dasa, Kshetrayya, Bhadrachala Ramadasa, Annamacharya and others. In addition, Tevarams and Divya Prabhandas gained popular appeal in the Tamil region.

Annamacharya (15th-century) classified the Sankirtanas into Adhyatma-Kirtana and Sringara Kirtana. Later, Kshetrayya (17th Century) transformed such Kirtanas into Padas expressing Madhura-bhakti, by building in verities of rhythms (Laya)  and Taala into the melody of the verse, as in Yaksha-gana.

In these songs, composed in the spoken language of the common people, set to simple rhythms and appealing tunes, the lyrics (Mathu), conveying the message of virtuous living with social values, faith in god and love towards all beings, carried greater importance than the music-element (Dathu). These songs were meant to benefit and reform the attitude and conduct of all the cross-sections of the society for a better way of living.  

The bulk of the Haridasa songs were in the format of: Pada; Suladi; and, Ugabhoga. When put together, their numbers run into thousands. In their structure, they resembled the Prabandhas in their simpler format of Pallavi, Anupallavi / Charana.

Such song-compositions were usually set to one traditional and melodious Raga in simple Taala; meant to be rendered in Madhyama-kaala.   The Music per se, here, is neither explored nor interpreted; but, it serves as a charming, delightful vehicle to convey the devotional content of the song.

Vajra 2

Contribution of Haridasa movement

Having said that , let me add that in terms of Music, one of the important outcomes of the Haridasa Movement was the reorganization of the Taala system from out of the numerous Desi Taalas (rhythmic patterns) that were then in use.

Sri Sripadaraja (1406-1504) who presided over the Matta at Mulbagal in Kolar District, Karnataka, is credited with categorizing the Taala system under seven categories (Suladi-sapta-taala), each with a fixed number of counts: Dhruva (14), Matya (10), Rupaka (6), Jampa (10), Triputa (7), Ata (14), and Eka (4). The counts were measured in terms of Laghu (of one matra duration – notionally to utter four short syllables) and Dhruta (half that of Laghu). He also provided scope for extending these counts (virama) by adding a quarter duration of a Laghu.

And, Chapu Taala, which originated from folk music, was brought into the main-stream-music under three classifications: Khanda Chapu Taala (5 beats); Mishra Chapu Taala (7 beats); and, Sankeerna Chapu Taala (9 beats).

And, the other important contribution of the Haridasa-movement was to standardize the methods for teaching Music (Abhyasa-gana); and blending the elements of lyrics (Mathu), Music (Dhatu) and Dance (Nrtya) delightfully.

Sri Purandaradasa (1484-1564), revered as ‘Karnataka-Sangita-Pitamaha’, is credited with introducing early-music lessons such as: Sarale (Svaravali), Janti (Varase-series), Taala-alankaras as well as the group of songs called Pillari-gitas.  These Gitas, composed in praise of Ganesha, Maheshwara and Vishnu, collectively referred to as Pillari-gitas, form the very first set of lessons – Gitas, taught to the students of Karnataka music, even today.

 [Following the Pillari-gitas (also known as Lakshya-gitas or Samanya-gitas) a set of Lakshana-gitas, illustrating the characteristic features of Janaka and Janya-ragas were composed by Sri Paidala Gurumurti Sastry, highly regarded for his technical knowledge of the Ragas – Sastrajna and Raga-bheda-dureena. He was a student of Sonti Venkatasubbayya and a younger contemporary of Ramaswamy Dikshitar (seventeenth-century). Venkatamakhin too has composed  many Lakshana-gitas.]

Sri Purandaradasa also seemed to have re-organised Ragas starting with  Malavagaula and Malahari under 32 (Battisa) Raga-groups. These efforts were perhaps based on the classification of 15 Melas made by Sri Vidyaranya (reverentially addressed as Sree Charana), in his treatise Sangita-sara (14thcentury).

This was followed by 20 Melas identified by Ramamatya (16th century), a minister in the court of Rama Raja of Vijayanagar, in his treatise Swara-mela-Kalanidhi Ca.1550).

These treatises had specified the Raga-lakshanas, with Gamaka-alankaras, decorating the particular note for each Raga.


When you look back over the long and highly enterprising history of Raga in Karnataka Sangita stretching from Bharata, Matanga and Narada 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; and Narada re-arranged the Svaras in an ascending order and defined the characteristics of each; it was Ramamatya that activated the process of binding the Ragas into structured groups (Mela). This has provided Karnataka Samgita a unique and a thorough theoretical foundation. It is not, therefore, surprising that Emmie Te Nijenhuis lauds Svara-mela-kalanidhi as a landmark in the history of Indian Music.

Vajra 2


By about the seventeenth century, the churning of the Prabandhas, Kirtanas and the Padas gave rise to a music-format called Kriti, a well knit composition. The term Kriti, which is explained as that which is constructed (yat krtam tat kritih), is primarily a pre-composed music (kalpitha-Samgita), comprising the essential elements (Angas) of: Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and Charanas, set to Taala/s.

The Pallavi is rendered first. Pallavi the opening passage of two lines is followed by Anu-pallavi, with the Pallavi as refrain. Raga is introduced with the cyclical rendition and improvisation of Pallavi and Anu-pallavi. The body of the kriti is its Charanas. Each Charana usually has four lines. The final Charana, linked with the Pallavi before conclusion, contains the Mudra or the signature of the composer (Birudu).

Having said that let me also add there are varieties of Kriti-structures. There is no prescribed number of sections or a pre-determined length to define a Kriti. Some are short as in the case of some of Sri Dikshitar’s Kritis, where the Anu-pallavi and Charana are fused into one Samasti-charanam. Sri Thyagaraja, on the other hand, at times, adds extra Charanas. And at the same time, in some of his Kritis the last two lines of the Charana are rendered just like the Anu-pallavi.

Kritis can also be set in different  speeds (tempo), rhythms (Laya), Ragas, Taalas, lengths and levels of proficiency. Some Kritis allow scope for elaboration, while others are crisp. Some are scholarly, while some others just project sweet melody with simple words of devotion (Madhura-Bhakthi).

While the Kritis in Karnataka Sangita are generally rendered in Madhyama Kaala, some of Sri Dikshitar’s Kritis commence in Vilamba-Kaala; but, brisk and enlivening passages are built into the Kriti towards the end.

Similarly, in the case of Kritis of Sri Shyama Shastry, a performer can do justice only if she/he capably renders the intricate play of Svara-sahitya; and, also grasps the delicacy of Gamakas of his Ragas renders in slow, contemplative tempo.


Kriti, a highly evolved musical form, is the ultimate test of a composer. Kriti is conceived as a well chiseled work of art; an ideal harmony of Mathu (words) and Dhatu (music-element). It is a well structured (Nibaddha-Samgita) song format having specific characteristics that are governed by a well accepted set of rules. In an excellently well composed Kriti, the Raga (the melodic foundation) of the Kriti should be in harmony with its structure, its lyrics and its musical content.

Generally, a Kriti should strike a good balance between its words, its structure and its music (Mathu and Dhathu). A good Kriti should succeed in not only capturing the essence of its Raga, but also in aptly bringing out the inner meaning, the Bhava, of its lyrics (Sahitya). The Bhava of the words has to fuse with the Bhava of the Raga; and the two have to become one. 

The performer is not expected to deviate from the structure laid down by the composer. And yet; a Kriti provides ample scope to the performer to draw out her/his creative (Mano-dharma), innovative expressions in Raga and Laya. A gifted performer transforms a Kriti into one’s own inspired self-expression, investing it with her/his creative skill, well crafted Gamakas and Alamkaras.

Sangathis, a set of variations on the shades of a theme, gradually unfolding the melodic (Raga) potential of a phrase (Sahitya) in combination with Svaras; and the Neraval (Sahitya-vinyasa) are two other modes of elaboration. Here,  the Sahitya and its melody is spread out in various ways while keeping intact the original structure of the Pallavi or Charana – together with Kalpana Svaras, which provide depth and expansiveness to Karnataka Samgita.

And, Sri Thyagaraja-kritis, in particular, provide ample scope not only for elaboration on various phases and aspects of Raga (manodharma-samgita), but also for improvising fascinating sequences of Sangathi-s, Neraval and Kalpana –Svaras.

[A Kriti can also be sung with or without Neraval or Svara Kalpana. Because, it is said, a Kriti should essentially be beautiful by itself; and, should sound sweet even without elaborations and ornamentation (nirabharana-saundarya).]

The elaboration of a Kriti is complex for other reasons too. It might involve many Kaala-pramanas (tempos). And, quite often, a Kriti may be composed in rare or untested Ragas, perhaps because the composer either strives to demonstrate his technical virtuosity or to match the subject and the text of the Kriti with a Raga of an equally aesthetic quality.

Many times, a Kriti assigns the Raga greater importance than to its words. It might be trying to employ the Raga with its Gamakas to express the intent (Bhava) of its Sahitya more effectively. Further, Kritis are also often structured in complex Taala patterns. For instance; in some of the compositions of Sri Shyama Shastry a Kriti employs more than one Taala; and, he also employs the unusual Viloma-Chapu-taala, where the sequence of the beats is reversed.

And, it is up to the genius of the performer to bring out the various facets of the Kriti as deftly as she/he can achieve.  Therefore, a Kriti can be more effectively rendered as a solo rather than as group-song (in contrast to the Kirtana).

For these and many other reasons, in Karnataka Samgita, creating a Kriti comprising Pallavi; Anu-pallavi; and, Charana/s, set to appropriate Taala is regarded as the most advanced form of musical composition. And, to render a Kriti competently and skillfully in all its beauty, harmony and grace is indeed the fulfillment of long years of dedicated practice of a well-trained erudite artist.

Vajra 2

To sum up

As you can see, the evolution of the rich and varied Musical tradition of India , in all its forms, could symbolically said to have commenced from the Riks of the Sama Veda associated with conduct of Yajnas; which then was improved upon by the Shiksha branch of the Vedas (Vedanga). And that gave place to the pure and chaste form of rather inflexible sombre Music Marga or Gandharva, submitting prayers to the gods; and which, in turn, was followed thereafter by the Gana of the Natyashastra with its several song-forms to suit various sequences that occur during the course of a Drama; and, also intended for the enjoyment of the spectators.

Marga gave place to a comparatively relaxed art-music-Desi-derived from different regions of the country, aiming to delight the hearts of men and women. The Desi in its wake established the concept of Raga, which in due time revolutionized the theories and practices of Indian Music. And, Raga became the central and predominant melodic concept in Indian music.  Over a period and with the proliferation of the Ragas, the systems of classifying the various Ragas into clusters (Mela) based on the technical traits of their scales (Svaras) came into vogue.

At the same time, there arose various theories for characterizing the Ragas according to the sentiment, emotion, mood or the season they seemed to represent, and the ideal time (day, evening or night) to sing the Ragas.

And, the Ragas even came to be personified, treating them as male or female, each endowed with its own individual traits and appearance. A large number of music-treatises were concerned primarily with the iconography of the Raga; and, were eager to connect the Raga with a deity or a season or a mood or even an environment.

Much before the theories and concepts of Raga were fully developed, one of the major forms of Desi Sangita that came to fore was the Prabandha, which in its varied forms dominated the Music scene of India for more than about thousand years till the end of the seventeenth century.

By about the Tenth Century, the Music of India had gathered almost all the basic features needed to set the Kriti format on its way to progress further; and, attain near perfection..

[In between, the Persian influence remodeled the forms and the ways of singing classical Music in North India. The ancient Dhruva-pada (Dhrupad) a Desi form of Prabandha gave place to the improvised lyrical Khyal and other popular modes of singing.]


The Prabandha which was getting rather rigid gave place, by about the end of seventeen century, to varieties of musical forms that were free flowing and not unduly constrained by rules of Grammar and meter. Though the form and the presentation of the songs took new shapes, they still retained, in one way or the other, the basic elements of the ancient Prabandha. This has helped to keep alive the ancient traditions.

Thereafter, in a long process of evolution spread over many centuries, several forms of Music including the Prabandhas, Kirtanas, Padas, Kritis, dance music, opera, instrumental music and other recognized forms   followed . Along with the Kriti, several other song formats with special reference to dance (Varna, Svarajit and Javali etc) also came into being. It took a long time for music to come to its present-day form. What we have today is the result of a long unbroken tradition and the fruit of accumulated heritage of centuries, stretching from the notes (Svara) of Sama-gana to the Mela-kartas of Govindacarya.


What is remarkable about the Music of India is its systematic way of developing musical thinking that aimed to organize and arrive at a golden mean between melody (Raga), the structure of the compositions (Sahitya) and the rhythm (Taala). These had to be in harmony with the emotional content (Bhava) of the song as well. Such carefully planned ingenious structuring has lent our music an inner-strength and an identity of its own.

Though the several forms of Music generated over the long periods differ in their form, content and intent, they do, in fact, represent a continued progression of a hoary tradition, each inspiring its next format. The Music of India, just as its philosophies and branches of art-forms, follows the path of continuity blending in the changes, without compromising its fundamentals.

sarasvathi tanjore

Continued in Part Two

Sources and References

All images are taken from Internet


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Yaska and Panini – Part Four

Continued from Part Three


As its very name indicates, the Astadhyayi comprises Eight (Asta) Chapters (Adhyaya); and each Adhyaya is divided into four quarters (Paada-s). Thus, there are in all thirty- two Paadas.  Each Paada consists of a series of grammatical statement, called Sutras, related to each other. The number of Sutras in each Paada varies according to the topics, functions and organizational constraints.

The Sutra-patha of the Astadhyayi   has come down to us through oral tradition. It is remarkable that the text, except for few variations and interpolations, has remained virtually intact. That is mainly because of the enormous amount of work that has gone into its study. And, also because of the three major texts, namely the Vyākaraa-mahābhāya of Patañjali, the Kāśikā-vtti of Vāmana-Jayāditya and the Vaiyākaraa-siddhānta-kaumudī of Bhaṭṭoji Dīkita, which have thoroughly vetted Panini’s text. And, therefore, the text of the Aṣṭādhāyī which is available today can be taken as fairly established.

 The total number of Sutras in the Astadhyayi is said to be about 4,000. But, there is a slight variation across the different editions.

 As per the text edited by the noted scholar Srisa Chandra Vasu (1891), based on the statement made by Jinendrabuddhi , the total number of Sutras in Astadhyayi is 3,996 (trini sutra sahasrani tatha nava-satani va sannavatim ca sutranam Paninh krtavan svayam).

However, as per    Kaisika of Jayaditya and Vamana (7th century), which is said to have addressed the full text of the Astadhyayi, the number of Sutras is 3,981.

It is explained that the difference of fifteen Sutras between the two Editions, is because of accepting the initial statement of the Astadhyayi (Atha Sabdanusasanam); and, the fourteen Sutras of Shiva-sutra (Maheshvara-sutra) as being the part of the text per se.

As per Bhattoji Diksita (Siddantha kaumudi- 17th century CE) the total number of Astadhyayi-Sutras is 3,976.

The difference of five from the Kaisika is said to be due to the omission of four Sutras from the fourth quarter (Paada) of the fourth Chapter; and, one Sutra from the fourth quarter of the Sixth chapter.

Therefore, the exact number of Sutras varies between 3,976   and 3,996.

The number of Sutras in each Paada of each of the eight Adhyayas of Astadhyayi, as per Kaisika is as under

Astadhyayi 30002


Auxiliary texts

As mentioned earlier, the Astadhyayi consists of about 4000 sutras arranged in eight Chapters (Adhyaya) each made of four quarters (Paada).

In addition there are three associated texts, which, at times, are treated as separate from the main text. These are: Shiva-sutra (Maheshvara-sutra); Dhatu-patha; Gana-patha;


The Shiva-sutras are a set of fourteen Sutras; brief, but highly well organized list of phonemes (Varna-s).  It precedes the Astadhyayi, proper. It enumerates fourteen sound segments (Varna-samamnaya) of the Sanskrit language, in the order that is most conducive for forming the abbreviated terms (Pratyahara) used in the Grammar.

Panini’s grammar opens with an arrangement of the alphabhets not in their natural order known to us.  The simple vowels are given first; then the combination of two vowels in a single syllable;  then the semi-vowels;  then the nasals ; then the consonants proper- where the Alpa-prana  and the Maha-prana are kept distinct. And then  the Samvara, Nada and Ghosha  are given , followed by  the Vivara,shavsha and Ghosha (these being the first two letters of each varga and Sha, Sa, Ha.

shivasutra to post

Here, in the  table given above  the Sutras 1 to 4 are vowels; and 5 to 14 are consonants. The order of elements listed in the Śhiva-sutra is as follows:

 (1) Vowels (1-4):

 (a) Simple (1-2); (b) complex (3-4)


(2) Consonants (5-14)

(a) Semivowels (5-6); (b) Nasals (7)

(c) stops (8-12)-(i) voiced aspirates (8-9); (ii) voiced non-aspirates (Śs 10); (iii) voiceless aspirates (Śs 11); (iv) voiceless non-aspirates (12)

 (d) Spirants (13-14)


The Shiva-sutra is termed by the western scholars as phonology (notational system for phonemes specified in 14 lines). This notational system introduces different clusters of phonemes that serve special roles in the structure of Sanskrit language; and, are referred to throughout the text.   It is said; each cluster, called a Pratyāhara, ends with a dummy sound called an Anubandha, which acts as a symbolic referent for the list. Within the main text, these clusters, referred through the Anubandhas, are related to various grammatical functions.


 Other Rules

As it has often been said, Astadhyayi is not Grammar per se; but, is a system of rules which generates all correct forms of Sanskrit. The the body of rules is accompanied by lists of linguistic basic elements. These are: the Dhätupätha and the Ganapatha.


The texts which enumerate roots of the Sanskrit language are generally referred to as Dhātupāha. It is not clearly known who its original authors were.  Scholars generally agree that Pāini used the Dhatupatha in formulating his Aṣṭādhyāyī. The Dhatupatha is the list of 1,943 verb roots (Dhātu) arranged into ten classes, according to stem-formations, which determine conjugation (Samdhi).  The roots are grouped by the form of their stem in the present tense; and, are  provided with a short meaning.

[Please click here  for : Paniniya-Dhatu Patha , without pronunciation marks; and for the version with pronunciation marks click here.

Please click here for Paniniya-Shiksha ; and here for the meaning ]


The Ganapatha lists nominal stems grouped by common properties, each of which comes under a particular rule of Sutra-patha. The Ganapatha listing is said to be of two kinds: the closed-list; and the open-ended list. The authorship of the Ganapatha is again debatable. Pāini makes frequent references in his Aṣṭādhyāyi to the lists of Ganapatha.


Other auxiliary rules

In addition, three other auxiliary texts are associated with the Astadhyayi. The authorship of these texts is much debated. Panini does, however, refer to the rules of these texts in his work.


The Uādi-sūtras are affixes used to derive nominal stems. Pāini mentions the Uādi in two of his rules: uādayo bahulam (3.3.1); and, tābhyām anyatroādaya (3.4.75). The first rule introduces the Uādi affixes after verbal roots variously (bahulam).And, the second rule states that the Uādi affixes can also be introduced to denote a Kāraka (case), other than Sampradāna (dative) and Apādāna (ablative).


The Phisūtras is a small treatise that deals with accentuation of linguistic forms not developed through any process of derivation. This treatise gets its name from its first Sūtra, phia which assigns a final high pitch accent.


The Ligānuśāsana is a treatise, which deals with assignment of gender, based on structure and meaning of nominals. The text of this treatise consists of nearly 200 Sutras enumerating items under the headings of feminine (Strīliga); masculine (Puliga); neuter (Napusaka); feminine-masculine (strīpusaka); and variable (aviśiṣṭaliga). Finally, there is also a set of nominals which can be used in all three genders.

[ Please click here for the Linganusasanam on genders]


The structure of Astadhyayi, its organization and functions

The noted scholar Sumitra M. Katre observes: The Astadhyayi, for all its brevity, follows a well-defined format. Panini’s rules though enumerated in a definite order (purva-parya); are classified into segments and Chapters, according to the topics and their functions (Adhikarana).

 The following is the broad indicators of the topics discussed in the Astadhyayi :

Book One:

(i) Major rules for definitions and interpretations – Samjnas (technical terms); Paribashas (grammatical conventions);

(ii) Rules dealing with extensions

(iii) Rules dealing with Atmaneyapada-parasmaipada

(iv)  Rules dealing with Karakas

Book Two

(i) Rules dealing with compounds (Upapada

(ii) Rules dealing with nominal functions

(iii) Rules dealing with number and gender of compounds

(iv) Rules dealing with replacements and relative to roots (Anubandhas)

(v) Rules dealing with deletion by LUK , with reference to compostion derivation, etc

Book Three

(i) Rules dealing with the derivation of roots ending in affixes saN etc.,

(ii) Rules dealing with derivation of items ending in a Kri

(iii) Rules dealing with derivation of items ending in a tiN

Books Four and Five

(i) Rules dealing with derivation of a pada Samasanta-pratyayas ending in a sUP

(ii) Rules dealing with feminine affixes – Strlpratyayas – Krt

(iii) Rules dealing with derivation of nominal stems ending in an affix named Taddhita

(iv) Rules regarding loss, addition, alteration, and constancy of the letters (Samsmra)

Books Six and Seven

(i) Rules dealing with doubling

(ii) Rules dealing with Sam-prasanna

(Iii) Rules dealing with Samhita

(iv)  Rules dealing with augment (Agama)

(v) Rules dealing with accents; processes in the Purvapada

(vi) Rules dealing with phonological operations relative to pre-suffixes (Anga)

(vii) Rules dealing with operations relative to affixes, augments etc.

Book Eight

(i) Rules dealing with doubling (Dvitva) relative to Paada

(ii) Rules dealing with accents relative to Paada ; Samhita processes

(Iii) Rules dealing with phonological operations relative to Paada

(iv) Rules dealing with miscellaneous operations relative to Non-Paada


There is also another way of classifying the Astadhyayi into organizational units. The first is Saptadasapt-adhyayi (the first seven books and one quarter); and, the second is Tripadi (the last three quarters).  It is said; the rules in the Tripadi stand suspended (A-siddha) by the rules of the preceding (Purva) first seven books and one quarter.

And, again, Tripadi is also constrained within itself (Atra). Its subsequent rules are, in turn, treated as suspended in view of its earlier rules.


The rules of the Asādhyāyī 

The Aṣṭādhyāyī is a system (śāstra) of rules. Since its rules are structured with utmost brevity and clarity, Pāini chose to present them within the frame-work of a set of meta-rules conducive to interpretation and to application. Grammar, here, is a system (śāstra) of rules (lakaa) whose goal is to fully understand correct usage (lakya) of the words in a given context.

 The rules of the Asādhyāyī are of various types.

Starting with about 1700 basic elements like nouns, verbs, vowels, consonants, Panini puts them into classes. The construction of sentences, compound nouns etc. is explained as ordered rules, operating on a fundamental structures, in a manner similar to that of a modern theory.

 As MacDonell explained: This arrangement  of rules is not, however, stringently adhered to; Panini inserts unrelated rules which typically do follow a related train of thought, or which can be more effectively explained outside the context of the book to which they truly belong.

: – Samñjā, technical rules; rules which assign a particular term to a given entity. These form basic rules. Pāini assigns nearly one hundred technical terms (Sajñā), either to a linguistic form (śabda-rūpa), its meaning (artha), or to a sound quality (dhvani-gua).

 : – Paribhāā, interpretive rules or meta-rules; rules which regulate proper interpretation of a given rule or its application. This sort of rule doesn’t address other rules: it addresses the person reading them. Such a rule tells us how we should read and understand the other rules in the Ashtadhyayi.

 : – Adhikāra, heading rules; rules which introduce a domain of rules sharing a common topic, operation, input, physical arrangement, etc. This sort of rule specifies an idea that extends to the rules that follow it. Such a rule sometimes specifies how far it extends; but,  usually its extension is clear from context. The range of rules over which an adhikāra rule applies is called its anuvṛtti.

 : – Vidhi, operational rules; rules which directs how a given operation is to be performed on a given input. This sort of rule describes the way that Sanskrit actually behaves. It can describe such things as word formation, the application of sandhi, and so on. Most rules are like this.

: – Niyama, conditioning or restriction rules; rules which restrict the scope of a given rule. This sort of rule contradicts an earlier vidhi rule. Essentially, it contains an exception  (Apavada)to an earlier rule.

 : – Atideśa, extension rules; rules which expand the scope of a given rule, usually by allowing the transfer of certain properties which were otherwise not available. An Atideśa rule specifies that some feature has the properties of another. An Atideśa rule generally widens the scope of application of the definition or the operation of a rule. This is useful because the Ashtadhyayi contains complex rules that act on very specific terms. This rule changes the properties of ī within the system.

 : – Pratisedha, negation rules; rules which counter an otherwise positive provision of a given rule. There are two kinds of negations: prasajya-pratiedha, where the negative is construed with the verb, yielding absolute negation; and, paryudāsa where the negative is construed with the noun, yielding a negation with the meaning of similar to but different from (tadbhinna-tatsadśa).

 : – Vibhāsā, A rule which offers options is termed Vibhāā ‘option’ (Na veti vibhāā). Three kinds of options are mentioned: Prāpta ‘that which is made available; Aprāpta ‘that which is not made available;  and,  Prāptā-prāpta that which is made available, and not made available, both.

 : – NipātanaAd hoc rules; rules which provide forms to be treated as derived, even though the derivational details are missing – svarādi-nipātam avyayam. The   Nipātana rules are said to accomplish three goals: Aprāptiprāpaa – providing something not made available by any other rule; Prāpti-vāraa – blocking something which is made available; and, Adhikārtha-vivakā, indicating something additional.

 [Source: Indian Tradition Of Linguistics And Pāṇini  by Prof. Rama Nath Sharma]

Among the rules of the Astädhyäyi, one may distinguish rules prescribing a grammatical operation (vidhi-sütra); rules defining a technical term (samjnä-sütra); meta-rules guiding the interpretation and application of the other rules (paribhäsä-sütra); and, headings (adhikära-süträ).

[Panini’s rules of grammar rely on two simple concepts: that all nouns are derived from verbs and that all word derivation takes place through suffixes. However, Panini does depart from these guidelines in some instances.]

The paribhāā or meta-rules aid in the interpretation of Sūtras, while the Adhikāra rules define the boundaries of domains. The Vidhi Vūtras or operational rules –  aided by the conditioning rules and the extension rules – transform linguistic units and grammatical entities through affixation, augmentation, modification, and replacement (including deletion, because replacement by Lopa or zero-element is possible). Some rules are universal; while others are context sensitive; the sequence of rule application is clearly defined. Some specific rules can override other more general ones.

The scholar Katre observes: ” Panini has attempted to arrange his Sutras under two major headings:  the first; a general rule, which encompasses the largest number of linguistic items; and, the second, an exception (Apavada), which covers a smaller group not subject to the general rule. These organizational systems, presumably intended to ease memorization. ” The later editors of the Astadhyayi did try to reorganize Panini’s arrangements.

Prof. Rama Nath Sharma writes, “Since Pāini formulated his rules based on his efforts to capture certain generalizations reflected in usage, he framed some rules with a general (sāmānya) scope of application. These rules are termed general (utsarga).  These rules are generally operational (Vidhi) in nature.

He also formulated other rules, relative to utsarga rules (vikalpa); and, these commonly are termed specific (Viśeşa).  There are also the relevant negative (niedha), restrictive (niyama) or extensional (atideśa) provisions. These rules define their scope within the scope of a general rule and often are treated as exceptions (Apavāda) to that rule.

Other types of specific rules in relation to sāmānya are negations (pratisedha) and options (Vibhāşā), etc. This clearly establishes a hierarchical relationship among rules.

From the point of view of the various strategies employed in the application of rules, one may also find rule types such as  Nitya  ‘obligatory’ , Para ‘ subsequent’ ,  Antaranga ‘ internally  conditioned’ and Bahirahga  ‘externally  conditioned’.

These sets of rules (lakshana) with their application to a network of utterances lead to the derivation of correct words (lakya).



Majority of the Sūtras deal with a well ordered procedure, in order to derive word forms from the postulated root and a suffix; and, new roots from the old ones.  These procedures are all modular, creating one or more sub-procedures to perform specific tasks.

Panini formulates his rules in three classes: General (Samanya); Particular (Visesha); and, the residual (Sesha). The basic purpose of Grammar, as Patanjali says, is to govern the words in a language; not by listing them out, but by formulating a set of General (Samanya) and Particular (Viseha) rules with their related exceptions (Apavada).


A Sutra is brief in form and precise in its function. Here, for the proper understanding of the Sutra, its context is a key-factor.

Almost every Sūtra in the Aṣṭādhyāyī is an elliptical sentence, which borrows meaning from the Sūtra or Sūtras before it. And, Pānini does not repeat a word common to several successive Sūtras; after using it once (this first mention is called Adhikāra, the beginning), he will omit the word thereafter. The implicit presence of the word is known as Anuvtti, recurrence.

 A Sutra has to be comprehensive, objective, brief and precise. Panini chose the technique of context-sharing (eka-vakyata). Panini’s rules are interdependent. It is because of two reasons – physical nearness or the placement in a particular place; and, the other is functional through the criteria of Anuvrtti, which is now termed as ‘recurrence’.

The Anuvrtti controls the reading of a Sutra in conjunction with its preceding and subsequent Sutra. While a Sutra is governed by the General rule; it is also controlled by the exceptions (Apavada). The exceptions are more powerful that the General-rules. 

And, within a domain, a prior rule is less powerful than its subsequent one (Vipratisedhe param karyam). Further, an exception (Apavada) is more powerful than its subsequent rule. And, the Residual rule (Sesha) covers whatever that was not covered by the General rule (Samanya) and the exceptions (Apavada) .

Prof. Rama Nath observes: The higher-level rules within the domain are brought close or within the context of the lower-level rule. This helps to reconstruct the shared-context of a given rule, within a domain; and, better interpretation of the lower-level rule.

The purpose of every rule is its application.

Thus, a Sutra, when fully equipped with all the information required for its application, becomes a statement; and, serves as a means (Upaya) towards the proper understanding of a sentence.


We must understand , the Ashtadhyayi is  basically a list of rules. But these rules, too, are lists: of verbs, of suffixes, and so on. These lists have different headings, and these headings describe the behaviour of the items they contain. But the Ashtadhyayi is more complicated than this: ideas in one rule can carry over to the next, or to the next twenty; basic words have specialized meanings; and rules in one chapter may control rules in another. In this way, Panini created a brief and immensely dense work. Thus, we have a large arrangement of different rules that we must try to understand.

Panini ‘s work , obviously,  is  difficult. His work is not something you can read through from beginning to end. Rather, it essentially assumes that you’ve read it critically and  cyclically,  checking the Sutras back and forth with caution. By doing so, we’ll  stand to gain the true understanding  of Panini’s system;  and , the abstract framework that supports it.


To the extent that the Astadhyayi addresses word meanings, Panini also chooses to accept the dictates of common usage over those of strict derivation. It is said; that  in Grammar ” the authority of the popular usage of words … must supersede the authority of the meaning dependent on derivation. The meanings of words (the relations between word and meaning) are also to be established by popular usage.”

One of the aims of Grammar is to formulate rules having a well defined scope of application, so that they can capture usage in its reality.

Accordingly, Panini gives  preference to the language as it was actually spoken by the educated ; instead of adhering completely to the intellectually defined rules. This  exemplifies the innovative feature of his work.


Unlike the Nirukta and Mimämsä, Panini is not overtly interested in the language of the Vedic texts; but, he  also gives importance to the language in use among the well-educated (Sista) of his time. He  gives preference to common usage over those of strict derivation (etymology)

The Astadhyayi is the first major work on grammar in any language; and , has been the guiding principle for generations of  Indian grammarians;  and,  it is still studied by both Eastern and Western linguists today. Incidentally, it also enhanced Sanskrit’s potential for its scientific use.

As Katre observed, “In a work of such magnitude which covers every aspect of the author’s speech community … there is indeed much scope to find some overstatements as well as understatements. But none of this takes away from the credit which is due to Panini who, in this astounding work, has set up a model which is fully adequate to cover every aspect of the language described.”

The preeminence of the Astadhyayi in the development of not only Sanskrit, but of the grammar of all languages, cannot be denied. Predating even the early Greek’s examination of language, Panini’s work continues to exert influence in the realm of linguistics even 2,000 years after its composition.


Sources and References

  1. The Ashtadhyayi of Panini. Translated into English by Srisa Chandra Vasu
    Published by Sindhu Charan Bose at The Panini Office, Benares – 1897
  2. Panini
  3. Panini –His place in Sanskrit Literature  by   Theodor Goldstucker, A.Trubner & Co., London – 1861
  4. Simulating the Paninian System of Sanskrit Grammar by  Anand Mishra
  5. India as Known to Pānini by V. S. Agrawala, Lucknow University of Lucknow, 1953
  6. Computing Science in Ancient India by Professor T.R.N. Rao and Professor Subhash Kak
  7. Panini’s Grammar and Computer Science by Saroja Bhate and Subhash Kak
  8. How Sanskrit Led To The Creation Of Mendeleev’s Periodic Table
  9. Indian Tradition of Linguistics and Pānini by Prof. Rama Nath Sharma
  10. Pāṇini: Catching the Ocean in a Cow’s Hoofprint by Vikram Chandra
  11. Panini: His Work and Its Traditions by George Cardona
  12. A Brief History of Sanskrit Grammar  by James Rang
  13. Introductionto Prakrit by  Alfr ed C . Woolner
  14. Chandah Sutra of Pingala Acharya, Edited by Pandita Visvanatha Sastri , Printed at the Ganesha Press, Calcutta – 1874

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Yaska and Panini – Part Three

Continued from Part Two


Before we go into the details of the Ashtadhyayi; such as: its structure, Its definitions, its classification of rules etc., let’s talk about Panini the person; his period; and, his associates and so on.

Panini S Rajam

Maha Mahopadyaya Pundit  Harprasad Sastri  (1853-1931) the famous orientalist and Sanskrit scholar of great repute, in his Magadhan Literature (a series of six lectures he delivered at the Patna University during December 1920 and April 1921) talks about Takshashila, a prominent city of the Gandhara region, a part of the ancient Indian polity included under the Greater Uttara-patha in the North-West.

[In his First lecture, the Pundit talks about Takshashila and its association with the Vedic literature. And, in the second lecture, he talks about the five great scholars who hailed from the region of Takshashila: Upavarsha, Varaha, Panini, Pingala, and Vyadi; in addition to Katyayana (Vararuchi) and Patanjali.]

Pundit Harprasad Sastri says:  It was at Takshashila, the city named after Taksha the son of Bharatha of Ramayana, many of the highly-admired works in classical Sanskrit had their origin. The earliest grammarian-scholars known to us also belonged to that city.

The city gained fame in the later periods, stretching up to the time of the Buddha, as the centre of trade, art, literature and politics. Takshashila  was  also a distinguished centre for learning,  to where scholars and students  from various parts of India , even as far as from Varanasi at a distance of  more than 1,500 KMs, came  to pursue  higher studies in  medicine, art , literature, grammar, philosophy etc .

But, the glory of Takshashila came to an abrupt end when Darius (518 BCE), the Persian monarch who destroyed the dynasty founded by Cyrus, overpowered the North-West region of India; and, annexed it into the Achaemenid Empire.

The long periods of lawlessness, anarchy and chaos totally destroyed the cultural, academic and commercial life of Taxila. And, by about the time of the Buddha, Taxila was losing its high position as a centre of learning.   And, that compelled its eminent scholars like Panini the Great Grammarian, and scholars like Varsha, Upavarsha, Pingala and Vyadi to leave Taxila to seek their fortune and patronage, elsewhere. They were, perhaps, among the early wave of migrant intellectuals to move out of the Northwest towards East.


By then, Pataliputra, situated amidst the fertile plains on the banks of the river Sona, at its confluence with the Ganga, was fast rising into fame as the capital of the most powerful kingdom in the East. It was the First Imperial Capital of ancient India. By the time of the Greek ambassador Megasthenes (322 to 301 BCE.), the city had grown in to a vast sprawling metropolis, spread over an area of 80 stadia (little more than 9 miles long) and 15 stadia (about 1,3 miles), adorned with magnificent mansions and palaces, studded with beautiful sculptures.

The scholars drifting from Taxila, all reached the intellectual capital of India, the Great city of Pataliputra (Maha-nagareshu); and, there they were honored by the King in his assemblies ‘in a manner befitting their learning and their position’. And, thus began the literature of Magadha.

That also marked the birth of a new tradition.

Pataliputra 1

Source: British Museum

On to Pataliputra

Rajasekhara (10th century) a distinguished poet, dramatist, and scholar who wrote extensively on poetics – Alamkara shastra (the literary or philosophical study of the basic principles, forms, and techniques of Sanskrit poetry; treatise on the nature or principles of poetry); and who adorned the court of King Mahipala (913-944 AD) of the Gurjara-Prathihara dynasty, refers to a tradition (sruyate) that was followed by the Kings of Pataliputra (Kavya Mimamsa – chapter 10).

In the last passage of the Chapter Ten Kavi charya, Raja charya ca ‘:Maha-nagareshu ca Kavya-shashtra pariksharthai brahma-sabah kareyet / tatra parikshe uttirnanam brahma-ratha-yanam pattabandascha  // –  Rajasekhara speaks about the tradition that prevailed in the Royal Court of Magadha, just as in the manner of the Royal courts  of other great City-states (Janapada) like Varanasi.

According to that tradition, the King ,  at the Great City of Pataliputra, occasionally , used to call for assemblies where men of  learning; poets ; scholars ; founders and exponents of various systems; and ,  Sutrakaras hailing from different parts of the country, participated enthusiastically ; and,  willingly let themselves be examined.

[According to Rajasekhara, in the assemblies at Pataliputra the Shastra-karas (Grammarians) were the main participants. It was in Ujjain, the poets and politicians debated (Sruyate co Ujjaininam kavya-kara pariksha).]

The eminent Sutrakaras during their examinations (Sastrakara-Pariksha) exhibited the range of their knowledge as also of their creative genius. Thereafter, the King honored the participants with gifts, rewards and suitable titles.

In that context, Rajasekhara mentions: in Pataliputra such famous Shastrakāras as Upavarsha;  Varsha; Panini;  Pingala ; Vyadī;  Vararuci; and  Patañjali;  were examined ; and were properly honored  :—

Here in Pataliputra, Upavarsha and Varsha; here Panini and Pingala; here Vyadi and Vararuci; and Patanjali, having been examined rose to fame.

Sruyate cha Pataliputre shastra-kara-parikshasa I atro Upavarsha, Varshao iha Panini Pingalav iha Vyadih I Vararuchi, Patanjali iha parikshita kyathim upajagmuh II Ityam Sabhapathirbhutva yah kavyani parikshate I yashasthaya jagadyapi sa sukhi tatra tatra ca II- (Kavya Mimamsa – chapter 10)


It is highly unlikely that all the seven eminent scholars cited by Rajasekhara arrived at the King’s Court at Pataliputra at the same. According to Pundit Harprasad Sastri, among these, the earliest to reach the Royal Court of Magadha and to be honoured there were Varsha, Upavarsha and Panini; together with Pingala and Vyadi.

And, Panini distinguished himself in a scholarly assembly at Pataliputra.

Then, there was Vararuchi also called as Katyayana, one of the earliest commentators of Panini. He was some generations away from Panini. 

And, the seventh and the last in this group was Patanjali who came about two centuries after Panini; and, he wrote an elaborate commentary on Panini’s work with reference to its earlier commentary by Katyayana.

 The last two particularly (Vararuchi and Patanjali) were separated from the first five scholars by a couple of centuries or more. 

 And, perhaps only the first five among the seven originated from the Takshashila region; while Katyayana and Patanjali came from the East.

Katyayana, according to Katha Sarit Sagara, was born at Kaushambi which was about 30 miles to the west of the confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna (According to another version, he was from South India). His time is estimated to be around third century BCE.

As regards Patanjali, it is said, that he was the son of Gonika; and, he belonged to the country of Gonarda in the region of Chedi (said to be a country that lay near the Yamuna; identified with the present-day Bundelkhand).His time is estimated to be about 150 BCE.  It is said; Patanjali participated in a great Yajna performed at Pataliputra by the King Pushyamitra Sunga (185 BCE – 149 BCE).

[This Patanjali may not be the same as the one who put together in a Sutra- text based on the then available knowledge on the system of Yoga.]


By any standards, the seven sages (saptha-munih) formed a most eminent galaxy of extraordinarily brilliant scholars.   Each was an absolute Master in his chosen field of study.

The Maha Mahopadyaya asserts that the seven Shastra-kara- names cited by Rajasekhara are mentioned in their chronological order, with Upavarsha being the senior most and the foremost of them all.


Further, all the seven learned men were related to each other, in one way or the other.

Of these, the first five were contemporaries coming from Takshashila or near about; and, were closely related.

: – Upavarsha, the eldest, regarded as the most venerable (Abhijarhita); revered as Bhagavan; and, as ‘shastra-sampradaya-pravarttaka’, is described both as Shastrakara and Vrittikara.  However, in the later centuries, his name gathered fame as that of a Vrittikara, the commentator par excellence , on the Mimamsa ( a system of investigation, inquiry into or discussion on the proper interpretation of the Vedic texts).

: – Varsha the brother of Upavarsha’s brother, was also renowned as a teacher of great repute.

 : –  Panini the Grammarian, who gained fame as the author of  Astadhyayi , was an inhabitant  of Salatura – a suburb of Takshashila , was the student of Varsha.

: – Pingala, the younger brother of Panini, was also a student of Varsha; he was a brilliant mathematician and a master of prosody,

: – Vyadi also called Dakshayana, the fifth in the list, was the maternal uncle (mother’s brother) of Panini. It is said; Vyadi, the Dakshayana, was also a student of Varsha. He was called Dakshayana because:  Panini’s mother was Dakshi, the daughter of Daksha. And, Daksha’s son was Dakshaputra or Dakshayana, the descendent of Daksha.

[According to another version, Dakshayana might have been the great-grandson of Panini’s maternal uncle].


And, the last two of the seven (Katyayana and Patanjali), coming centuries after Panini were the celebrated commentators on Panini’s Astadhyayi.

The trio (Trimurti) – Panini, Katyayana and Patanjali – are revered as the three sages (Muni-traya) of Sanskrit Vyakarana Shastra. Here, in their reverse order, the later ones enjoy greater authority (yato uttaram muninaam pramaanyam); making Patanjali the best authority on Panini.

Bhartrhari in his Vakyapadia (VP: 2.482), therefore, says: the seeds of all the basic principles are to be found in the Mahabhashya Sarvesam nyaya-bijanam Mahabhashye nibandane. Bhattoji Diksita also generally gives more importance to the views of Patanjali.



As per the traditional accounts, Panini was born in Shalātura in North-West India. Panini also mentions: tūdī-śalātura-varmatī-kūcavārā hak-chahañ-yaka / PS_4, 3.94/.

A copper plate inscription dated the 7th century CE refers to Pāini as Śālāturiya, ‘the man from Śālātura’. This place is identified with a site near modern-day Lahur, a village now in North-west Pakistan, situated on the banks of the River Indus, a few miles away from the ancient university at Takaśhilā (called Taxila by the Greeks).

The Chinese Buddhist monk Xuánzàng (Hsüan-tsang), who travelled and studied in India during the 7th century CE, writes that when he reached a place called So-lo-tu-lu , at a distance of twenty Li to the North-west of  Udabhanda, in the Gandhara region  of the country, he was told that it was the birthplace of the famous sage Pāini, who had been ‘from his birth extensively well informed about  all things’ .

[Udabhanda is said to be the Prakrit version of the Sanskrit name Udhabhandapura  (Udha-banda= water-pot) mentioned in Kalhana’s Raja-tarangini ]

Xuánzàng , another Buddhist traveller who had arrived in this town long-ago , about  five hundred years after the death of the Buddha, was then told by a local Brahmin that “The children of this town, who are his [Pāini’s] disciples, revere his eminent qualities, and a statue erected to his memory still exists.”.

Sir Alexander Cunningham, the founder of the Archaeological Survey of India, and a renowned expert on Buddhist stupas, identified Salatura as Panini’s birthplace.


Panini **, it is said, was the son of Shalanka and Dakshi (meaning the daughter of Daksha). And, Panini was often referred to by his mother’s name as Dākshīputra Pānini (Panini the son of Dakshi) . He had a younger brother Pingala, who later flowered into a brilliant mathematician.

[The Dakshas were said to be a northern clan organized into republican political entities called Janapadas]

[ **However, MM Pundit Shivadutta Sharma held the view that the person whom we call Panini was the son of Salanku; and, the proper name given to the boy  by his parents was Ahika. Panini was his Gotra name. In his support, he quotes Kaiyaa (11th century) a learned commentator on the Mahābhāya of Patanjali.  The etymology of the term Panini, according to Kaiyata, is: Panino pathyam, Paninaha, tasyapathyam yuvam Panini (Panini means a descendent of Pani)]


All the three: Vyadi, Panini and Pingala studied under Varsha, who perhaps resided in or near Takshashila.

Panani must have been  very diligent in his studies ; and, learnt quickly the fundamentals   and all the rules of the ever developing language of Sanskrit.

Patañjali, who lived maybe three centuries after Pāini, describes him as analpamateh , as one  gifted with great intelligence; and quick in grasping :  dhruvaceṣṭitayuktiu ca api ague tat analpamate vacanam smarata (P_1,4.51.2)

Patanjali presents a very impressive picture of Pāini as teacher, while also paying homage to the Master; commending and acclaiming the authenticity of every single Sutra in the Aṣṭādhyāyī:

There is none equal to my Master (Acharya) Panini (apāinīyam tu bhavati. Yathānyāsam eva astu); let alone in the field of Vyakarana; but, in the whole world as well (Na yathā Loke tathā Vyākarae)

The respected preceptor Panini, the Supreme authority in Vyakarana, having taken his seat on a clean place; facing the East (prānmukhah upaviśya); and, holding the purifying bunch of Darbha grass in his hands (pramāna-bhūtah Acāryah darbha pavitra pānih śucau avakāśe), used to formulate Sūtras with great effort (mahata yatnena Sūtrani praayati). This being so; it is impossible (asakyam) to find even a single sound or letter (Varna) in any rule (Sutra) that serves no purpose.  (Tatra aśakyam varena api anarthakena bhavitum kim puna iyatā sūtrea)

 A-Pāninīyam tu bhavati. yathānyāsam eva astu . Nanu ca uktam sañjñā-dhikārah sañjñā sampratyaya   arthan itarathā hi asampratyayah yathā loke iti. Na yathā loke tathā vyākarane. pramāna-bhūtah ācāryah darbha pavitra pānih śucau avakāśe  prānmukhah upaviśya  mahatā yatnena sūtram praayati tatra aśakyam varena api anarthakena bhavitum kim puna iyatā sūtrea – (P_1,1.1.3)


It is said; while at the Royal Court of Pataliputra, Panini was a much-admired Sutrakara who won many awards at the debating-assemblies. And, he was a favourite of the Shishnaga Kings.

After moving from Takshashila, Panini seemed to have settled down at Pataliputra. He refers often to the Eastern parts of India, the janapada, villages(Grama), cities (Nagara), its dialects (Praktau), its people, social and economic life , images (Pratiktau) etc.( jana-dhana-daridrā-jāgarā pratyayāt pūrva ).

Panini mentions that the Empire was composed of independent communities Janapadins either ruled by a Kshatriya King or his kinsmen and groups of citizens (Sangha)

Janapadinām janapadavat sarva janapadena samānaśabdānā bahuvacane || PS_4,3.100 |

In that manner, Panini’s work provides rare glimpses of the life and society of Sixth century BCE India.


There are numerous legends associated with Panini.

And, according to one of such legends, Panini’s life ends in a rather bizarre way.  It is said, while the great sage was teaching, sitting with his pupils, a lion roared nearby. Instead of running away, Pāini started contemplating the tonal qualities of the lion’s roar. Then, as the Pacatantra tale   puts it- Sihō vyākaraasya karturaharat prāan munē: painē  – The lion carried away the life of Sage Pāini, the author of grammar”.

He was deeply engrossed in the subject of his study unmindful of the surroundings and the dangers it posed. Such was the devotion and dedication of Panini to Vyakarana.


There is a belief that the Great Master Maha-Acharya Panini passed away on the Trayodaśī-Tithī (त्रयोदशी तिथी), the thirteenth day.  I understand that the traditional scholars , in Eastern India , observe the Trayodaśī-Tithī that occurs in each half (Paksha) of a month  as a day of Anadhyayana (अनध्ययन),  when studies in Vyakarana are suspended for  that dayin honour of the departed Guru.

lotus offering

Panini – his period

Protracted debates were carried out, over a long period of time, to assign a date to Panini.

Western scholars, mainly Max Muller, put Panini in the fourth century BCE; making him almost the contemporary of Katyayana, the author of the Vartikas.  And, the Indian scholars, on the other hand, hold the view that Panini cannot be placed later than 2, 800 years before the Vikram era, which  starts from 57 BCE. That virtually puts Panini in or around Eighth- Ninth century BCE.

Dr. Goldstiicker, Dr. R. G. Bhandarkar and Prof. K. V. Abhyankar proved that Panini cannot be placed later than 500 B.C. This view is generally accepted by almost all scholars of to-day; and, even late 6th century BCE is also not ruled out with certainty.


Yavana (यवनानी)

An important hint for the dating of Pāini is the occurrence of the words Yava-Yavana (यवनानी) (in PS: 4.1.49), which term might mean either a Greek woman or a foreigner or Greek script.

Indra-varua-bhava-śarva-rudra-mṛḍa-hima-araya-yava-yavana-mātula-ācāryāāmānuk || PS_4, 1.49 ||

 It needs to be mentioned here…

King Cyrus, the founder of Persian Empire and of the Achaemenid dynasty (559-530 B.C.), added to his territories the region of Gandhara, located mainly in the valley of Peshawar. By about 516 BCE, Darius, the son of Hystaspes, annexed the Indus valley; and, formed the twentieth Satrapy of the Persian Empire. The annexed areas included parts of the present-day Punjab.

The Naqsh-eRustam inscription, on the tombofDariusI, mentions all the three Indian territories – Sattagydia (Thataguš), Gandara (Gadāra) and India (Hidūš) – as parts of the Achaemenid Empire

Behistun inscription King Darius I (circa 510 BCE) also mentions Gandhara (Gadāra) and the adjacent territory of Sattagydia (Thataguš) as part of the Achaemenid Empire.


Many Greek Ionians (Yavanas), Scythians (Sakas) and Bactrians (Bahlikas) served as soldiers of the Achaemenid army; also as officials or mercenaries in the various Achaemenid provinces. And, Indian troops too formed a contingent of the Persian army that invaded Greece in 480 B.C. The Greek historian, Herodotus (c484-425 BCE), describes them : The Indians wore garments made of tree-wool [cotton], and they had bows of reed and arrows of reed with iron points. (Histories 7.65).

Thus the Greeks and Indians were together thrown into the vast Persian machinery for a very long period of time. Thus, Persia, in the ancient times, was the vital link between India and the Greeks of Asia Minor.

The first Greeks to set foot in India were probably servants of the Persian Achaemenid Empire (550-330 B.C.E); and, that vast polity which touched upon Greek city-states at its Western extremity and India on the East. The first Greek who is supposed to have actually visited India; and, to have written an account of it was Skylax of Karyanda in Karia.

Some Greeks, such as the Persian admiral Skylax of Karyanda, were present in Gandhara as co-citizens of the Persian Empire, well before the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 330s BC.

Skylax of Karyanda (late 6th and early 5th century BCE),  a sea-captain from Ionia , lived before Herodotus, who tells that Darius Hystargus (512–486) led a naval expedition to prove the feasibility of a sea passage from the mouth of Indus to Persia. Under the command of Skylax, a fleet sailed from Punjab in the Gandhara country to the Ocean.

 Scylax is presumed to have started by sailing east along the KabulRiver and turned south after its confluence with the IndusRiver near Attock. Herodotus mentions that once the voyage was completed and proved feasible, Darius conquered the Indians; and, made use of the sea in those parts. Darius seems to have thereafter added to his Empire the lands explored by Scylax as a new province called Hinduš; which the Greek writers termed as India.


Thus, even long before the invasion of Alexander the Great in the 330 BCE, there were cultural contacts between the Indians and the Greeks, through the median of Persia. And, parts of North-West India had already come under the occupation of Achaemenian Empire.

The term Yavana, is, essentially, an Achaemenian (Old-Persian) term. And, it occurs in the Achaemenian Naqsh-e Rustam inscriptions (545 BCE) as Yauna and Ia-ma-nu, referring to the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor.

[The Hebrew word Yawān (Javan) originally referred to the Ionians, but later was applied to the Greeks as an ethnic or political entity.]

At that date (say 519 BCE, i.e. the time of Darius the Great’s  Behistun inscription), the name Yavana probably referred to communities of Greeks settled in the Eastern Achaemenian provinces, which included the Gandhara region in North-West India. All this goes to show that Panini cannot be placed later than 500 BCE.


ini was born in Śālātura to the North-West of Taxila, which was then a Satrapy of the Achaemenid Empire following the Achaemenid conquest of the Indus Valley. Thus, Panini   lived in an Achaemenid environment of 6th or 5th Century BCE. And, that technically made Panini a Persian subject.

Achaemenid Empire Eastern territories

And, therefore, it is very likely that Panini was familiar with the  the languages spoken in the area by the officials, traders  etc. While Pāini’s work is purely grammatical and lexicographic; certain cultural and geographical inferences can be drawn from the vocabulary he uses in his examples, and from his references to fellow grammarians, and new deities such as Vasudeva.


The word Yauna was probably adopted by the Indians of the North-Western provinces from the Old Persian; and the administrative languages of the Persian Empire – Elamite or Aramaic. And, its earliest attested use in India, as known to us, was said to be by the Grammarian Pāini in the form Yavanānī (यवनानी), which is taken by the commentators to mean Greek script.

During those times and up to the period of Mauryas, Greek was one of the official-languages of the North and North-west India.

Phraotes, the Indo-Parthian King of Taxila received a Greek education at the court of his father ; and spoke Greek fluently. According to the Life of Apollonius Tyana written by Philostratus, the Greek philosopher Apollonius Tyana around 46 CE recounts a talk on this:

“Tell me, O King, how you acquired such a command of the Greek tongue, and whence you derived all your philosophical attainments in this place?”

 The king replies, “My father, after a Greek education, brought me to the sages at an age somewhat too early perhaps, for I was only twelve at the time, but they brought me up like their own son; for any that they admit knowing the Greek tongue they are especially fond of, because they consider that in virtue of the similarity of his disposition he already belongs to themselves.”


The Buddhist text Milinda Panha (The Questions of King Milinda) dated between second and first century BCE (150 to 110 BCE) is said to be a record of the conversations that took place between the Indo-Greek king Menander I Soter  (who is said to have ruled over the regions of Kabul and Punjab);  and , the Buddhist monk Bhante Nagasena.

It is believed that debate that took place between the King and the Bhikku was conducted in the Bactrian Greek language; but , it was later rendered into Pali and Sanskrit.

There are several references to the term Yonaka, the Bactrian Greeks in the Milinda Panha. Apart from that, there are other instances. For instance; an inscription in caves at Nasik, near Bombay refers to nine Yonaka who were donors.  And the Mahàvamsa also mentions about the Bactrian Greek bhikkhu from Yona; one such monk was named Yona-dhamma-rakkhita.

kushan coins 512c coins from the Mauryan empire

And, Greek was still in official use during  the time of Kanishka (120 CE) . As per Prof. Nicholas Sims-Williams (University of London), Kanishka issued an edict  in Greek; and then he put it into the Bactrian.  The numismatic evidence shows that the  coins in Kanishka’s reign carried Greek script.


And , of course, the Gandhara Art was very much a reflection  or a recreation  in the mode of Greek Sculptures. Many of the Greek-art features and deities were incorporated in the representations of the Buddha. The figure of the Buddha was set within Greek architectural designs, such as Corinthian pillars and friezes.

In Gandharan Art, scenes of the life of the Buddha are typically depicted in a Greek environment, with the Buddha wearing heavier toga-like  robes. The Buddha images here , are were clearly Greco-Roman in inspiration ; sculpted as in the mode of deities from Greek mythological panthon, displaying wavy locks tucked up into a chignon atop his head .

And, often the Buddha is shown under the protection of the Greek god Herakles, standing with his club resting over his arm. This unusual representation of Herakles is the same as the one on the back of Demetrius’ coins.

Buddha with hercules Procter

Till about the seventh century , Greek was very much a part of the cultural, academic and administrative life of  North and North-West regions of India

The Greek script was used not only in manuscripts; but also on coins and stone inscriptions, as late as the period of Islamic invasions in the 7th-8th century CE.

Both the languages-Greek and Sanskrit- seemed to have shared common terms to indicate certain things. For instance :

  • Ink  (Sanskrit: melā, Greek: μέλαν melan“)
  • pen (Sanskrit: kalamo, Greek:κάλαμος “kalamos“)
  • book  (Sanskrit: pustaka, Greek: πύξινον “puksinon“)
  • bridle, a horse’s bit (Sanskrit: khalina, Greek: χαλινός “khalinos“)
  • center (Sanskrit: kendram, Greek: κενδρον “kendron“)
  • tunnel  or underground passage (Sanskrit: surungā, Greek: σύριγγα “suringa”)
  • Barbarian, blockhead, stupid” (Sanskrit: barbara, Greek:βάρβαρος “barbaros“)

(Source:–the-greco-roman-worl/ )


 Assalayana Sutta of Majjima Nikaya

The fact that Greeks (Yonas or Yavanas) were familiar figures in the North-West-India even as early as in Ca.6th century BCE is supported by a reference in the Assalayana Sutta of Majjima Nikaya.

The Majjhima Nikaya is a Buddhist scripture, the second of the five Nikayas or collections, in the Sutta Pitaka, which is one of the Tipitakas (three baskets) of the Pali Sthavira-vada (Theravada) Buddhism. Composed between 3rd century BCE and 2nd century, this collection is among the oldest records of the historical Buddha’s original teachings.

The Pali Cannon is considered to be the earliest collection of the original teachings of the Buddha; and, it is said to have been composed following the resolution taken at the First Council , which took place at Rajagrha, soon after the Parinirvana of the Buddha. It was transmitted orally for many centuries, before it was reduced to writing in Asoka-vihara, Ceylon during the reign of Vattagamani (first century BCE).

In the Assalayana Sutta (93.5-7 at page 766/1420) , the discussion that took place between an young Brahmana named Assvalayana (Skt. Ashvalayana) and the Buddha , refers to countries of Yona and Kambhoja , beyond the borders (Yona,Kambujesu aññesu ca paccantimesu Janapadesu) which did not follow the four-fold caste division; but, recognized only two classes – viz., slaves and free men. And, in these countries, a master could become a slave; and, likewise, a slave could become a master.

The Buddha says: “What do you think about this, Assalayana? Have you heard in the countries of Yona (Yonarattam; Skt. Yavana-rastram) and Kambhoja (Kambhojarattam; Skt. Kambhoja-rastram) and other districts beyond, there are only two castes: the master (Ayya) and the slave (Dasa)? And, having been a master, one becomes a slave; having been a slave, one becomes the master?” (A-S. 6.2)

Assalayana agrees; and replies: “Yes Master, so have I heard this, in Yona and Kambhoja … having been a slave, one becomes a master.”

Here, Yona is probably the Pali equivalent of Ionia; the reference being to the Bactrian (Skt. Bahlika) Greeks. And, Kambhoja refers to one of the Mahā-janapadas or a district in the Gandhara region of Uttara-patha, to the North of the Madhya-desha (Middle Country).


All these go to support the view that Panini’s date cannot possibly be later than 519 BCE.

elepphant carriage


In the Next Part ,  let’s take a look at

the Chapter-wise structure of Ashtadhyayi,

 and some of its  definitions and rules

Sources and References

  1. The Magadhan Literature by MM Pundit Harprasad Sastri
  2. The Ashtadhyayi of Panini. Translated into English by Srisa Chandra Vasu
    Published by Sindhu Charan Bose at The Panini Office, Benares – 1897
  3. Panini
  4. Panini –His place in Sanskrit Literature  by   Theodor Goldstucker, A.Trubner & Co., London – 1861
  5. Simulating the Paninian System of Sanskrit Grammar by  Anand Mishra
  6. India as Known to Pānini by V. S. Agrawala, Lucknow University of Lucknow, 1953
  7. Computing Science in Ancient India by Professor T.R.N. Rao and Professor Subhash Kak
  8. Panini’s Grammar and Computer Science by Saroja Bhate and Subhash Kak
  9. How Sanskrit Led To The Creation Of Mendeleev’s Periodic Table
  10. Indian Tradition of Linguistics and Pānini by Prof. Rama Nath Sharma
  11. Pāṇini: Catching the Ocean in a Cow’s Hoofprint by Vikram Chandra
  12. Panini: His Work and Its Traditions by George Cardona
  13. A Brief History of Sanskrit Grammar  by James Rang
  14. Introductionto Prakrit by  Alfr ed C . Woolner
  15. Chandah Sutra of Pingala Acharya, Edited by Pandita Visvanatha Sastri , Printed at the Ganesha Press, Calcutta – 1874

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Yaska and Panini – Part Two

Continued from Part One

 The Astadhyayi of Panini

panini sanskrit 2


Grammar (Vyakarana) was recognized  in India,  even from the earliest times,  as a distinct science; a field of study  with its own parameters, which distinguished it from other branches of learning / persuasions. That was  because, it was beleived,  Grammar helps to safeguard the correct  transmission of the scriptural knowledge; and , to assist the aspirant in comprehending  the true message  of the revealed texts (Sruti). And, therefore Vyakarana was regarded as the means to secure release from the bondage of ignorance, cluttered or muddled thinking.

The term Vyakarana is defined as vyakriyate anena iti vyakarana: Grammar is that which enables us to form and examine words and sentences.

Prof. Rama Nath Sharma summarizes the traditional view of Grammar

: – Grammar is a set of rules formulated based upon generalizations abstracted from usage.

: – The Astadhyayi accepts the language of the Sista as the norm for usage.

: – The function of Grammar is to account for the utterances of a language in such a way that fewer rules are employed to characterize the infinite number of utterances.

: – The Astadhyayi accounts for the utterances of the language by first abstracting sentences and then by conceptualizing the components of these sentences as consisting of bases and affixes.


In the linguistic traditions of ancient India, Vyakarana, also known as Vag-yoga; Sabda-yoga; or Sabdapurva-yoga; Pada-Shastra (the science of words) which treats the word as the basic unit (Shabda-anushasanam) occupied a preeminent position. It was/is regarded as one of the most important Vedanga (disciplines or branches of knowledge, which are designed to preserve the Vedas in their purity) – pradanam cha satsva agreshu Vyakaranam.

[But, at the same time, there existed a parallel system of linguistic analysis- Nighatu, Nirvachana shastra or Nirukta and Pratishakyas (considered to be the earliest formulations of Sanskrit grammar) – which served a different purpose.]

The primary object of Vyakarana, in that context, was to study the structure of the Vedic language in order to preserve its purity; its correct usage (sadhutva); and, to ensure its longevity (nitya). Panini asserted that the Grammar should be studied in order to preserve the Vedas in their pristine form (rakshatam Vedanam adhyeyam vyakaranam). 

Later, Bhartrhari (Ca. 450-510 C.E) also asserted that the role of Vyakarana (Grammaris very important; in safeguarding the correct transmission of the scriptural knowledge, and in assisting the aspirant in grasping the truth of the revealed knowledge (Sruti).

Bhartrhari compared Grammar to the medical science; and, said that just as the medicines remove the impurities of the body, so does Grammar removes the impurities of speech (chikitsitam van-malaanam) and of the mind.  Bhartrhari who inherited the traditional attitude towards Grammar, regarded it as the holiest branch of learning; and, elevated Grammar to the status of Agama and Sruti, leading the way to liberation (dvāram apavargasya). He believed the use of correct forms of language enables one to think clearly; and, makes it possible to gain philosophic wisdom or to pursue other branches of valid knowledge.

Tad dvāram apavargasya vāmalānā cikitsitam / pavitra sarva-vidyānām adhividya prakāśate – BVaky. 1.14

Prajñā- viveka labhate-bhinnair-āgama-darśanai / kiyad vā śakyam unnetusvatarkam anudhāvatā- BVaky. 2.489

Sādhutva jñāna viayā seya vyākaraa-smti / avicchedena śiṣṭānām ida smti –nibandhanam – BVaky. 1.158


Thus, the study of Grammar, which facilitates our understanding of the nature of words, meanings and the relationship between them and their variances, enables   us to construct correct sentences by use of appropriate words in order to precisely convey the intended meaning.

Therefore, the philosophy of language, in varied traditions, have always taken an important position in Indian thought. It was said:  “the foremost among the learned are the Grammarians, because Grammar lies at the root of all learning” (prathame hi vidvamso vaiyyakarabah, vyakarana mulatvat sarva vidyanam – Anandavardhana) 

design star

Schools of Grammar prior to Panini

The origin of Grammar cannot, of course, be pinpointed. Yaska and Panini are the two known great writers of the earliest times whose works have come down to us. They were perhaps before fifth century BCE; and, Yaska is generally considered to be earlier to Panini. Yaska’s work Nirukta is classified as etymology; and Panini’s work  Astadhyayi as Grammar (Vyakarana).

Though Panini is recognized as the earliest known Grammarian, it is evident that he was preceded by a long line of distinguished Grammarians. There, surely, were many treatises on Grammar and Etymology; but now, all of those are lost forever. And, Panini refers to a number of Grammarians previous to his time.  But, very little is known about those ancient Masters.

It is reasonable to acknowledge that Panini inherited a rich and vibrant tradition of Sanskrit Grammar. And, it was on the basis of the works of his predecessors that Panini could develop a grand system that is now universally accepted; and, hailed as the perfect and profound exposition of linguistic science. But, one cannot say, with certainty, to what extent Panini was indebted to each of his predecessors.

Regardless of how much or how little Panini derived his work from earlier sources, his Astadhyayi is indeed a remarkable work.


The history of Sanskrit grammar is generally classified into three broad segments: the Grammars that were in use prior to the time of Panini (Pre-Panian) – Pracheena-vyakarana; the Grammars that follow the system devised by Panini (Panian); and, those Grammars whose systems and methods vary from that of Panini (Non- Panian) or Navya-vyakarana – post Panini.

Later age Grammarians recognize the eight Grammarians of merit, Vyakarana-shastra-pravartakas:

Indra (इन्द्रः), Chandra (चन्द्रः), Kasha (काशः), Krtsnapishali (कृत्स्नापिशली), Shakatayana (शाकटायनः), Panini (पाणिनिः), Amarajainendra (अमरजैनेन्द्रः), Jayanti (जयन्तिः) are the eight Masters of Shabda (word) or Grammar

 इन्द्रश्चन्द्रः काशकृत्स्नापिशली शाकटायनः । पाणिन्यमरजैनेन्द्राः जयन्त्यष्टौ च शाब्दिकाः


Among all the traditional systems of Grammar (compiled by Indra, Chandra, Kasakritsna, Kumara, Sakatayana, Sarasvati Anubhuti Svarupa acharya, Apisali and Panini),  it is only the system of Panini that is acknowledged as being complete, comprehensive and thoroughly logical; and, that which has survived to this day, in its entirety.

And, therefore, whatever be the type or the School  of Sanskrit Grammar that is discussed, it, invariably,  is  carried out with reference to the  classic tradition promulgated by Panini;  and, enriched by three  celebrated works : Astadhyayi (of Panini);  Vrttikas (of Katyayana) ; and, Mahabhashya  (of Patanjali).  The three authors, the Trinity (Muni traya), are revered as the Sages of Sanskrit Grammar.

The system devised by Panini is, therefore, looked upon as a Great Science (Paniniyam-Mahashastram) concerning words : Paniniyam-mahashastram-pada-sadhu-yukta – lakshanam) ; and, is always at the centre of vast and varied traditions of Sanskrit Grammar.

The term Vyakarana, literally means analysis; and, it broadly stands for linguistic analysis, in general.  But, in practice, when one refers to Sanskrit Grammar, it very often signifies Panini’s Grammar.

design star

The Astadhyayi

The Aṣṭādhyāyī of Panini is indeed a seminal work in the whole of linguistic sciences across all the regions of the world. And, it holds an unrivalled position in the history of Sanskrit Grammar.  Because of its overwhelming importance, all the earlier works of different Grammatical Schools gradually disappeared. Panini’s Astadhyayi, in its turn, became the most influential school of Sanskrit grammar; and, has been the focal point of much critical and descriptive work over the last two millennia.

The arrival of the Aṣṭādhyāyī was nodoubt  a significant  event within the already-rich tradition of Indian linguistics. But , it had to wait  a couple of centuries or more  to gain any sort of recognition.

Pundit Harprasad Sastri mentions that the author of Arthashastra (350-275 BCE) was not aware of Panini’s Grammar, although it was written much before the time of Chanakya. There are many expressions in Arthashastra that are not in conformity with the rules of the Astadhyayi. It obviously means that even by the time of Chanakya, Panini’s work had not acquired recognition; and, was not in common use, even among the well-read.  

And, it was only after Patanjali (about 150 BCE); Panini’s work gained universal recognition.

The Aṣṭādhyāyī consists of almost about 4,000 Sutras (Sūtrāi) or rules, distributed among eight (Asta) chapters (Adhyäyäh). Hence, the text, the  Sūtrapāha of Pāini, is titled as AstädhyäyiEach of its eight Chapters is subdivided into four sections or Padas (pādāḥ) – a total of 32 subsections.

Starting with about 1700 basic elements like nouns, verbs, vowels, consonants Panini  puts  them into classes. The construction of sentences, compound nouns etc. is explained as ordered rules operating on stated principles.

Panini , the student of Varsha, gained fame as a Great Grammarian based on his work Astadhyayi (the eight chapters) , which comprises about four thousand concise rules or Sutras, preceded by a list of sounds divided into fourteen groups. The Sutra Patha, the basic text of Astadhyayi has come down to us in the oral traditions; and has remained remarkably intact except for a few variant readings and plausible interpolations.


The Astadhyayi of Panini- also called Pāṇinīya-sūtra-patha; Astaka; Sabda-anushasana; and, Vritti-sutra – is not a Grammar in its strict sense. Astadhyayi was not composed for teaching Sanskrit, though it is a foundational text that   can be used for understanding the language, speaking it correctly and using it precisely It is a system of rules (Sūtrāi),   which generates and regulates all the right forms of Sanskrit. Hence, Patanjali calls it Siṣṭa-jñānārthā Aṣṭādhyāyī. (M. Bh.  VI. 3.109).

Panini aimed (lakshya)  to ensure the correct usage of the words in order to discipline and to regulate the behaviour of the language of his time (Bhasha)- the literary and spoken (vaidika- laukika) – by purifying (Samskruta)  both the forms, so that the inner meaning of the expressed words could shine forth unhindered.


For Panini, Grammar is a way of synthesis. His Grammar does not divide the words into stems and suffixes (as in the Nirukta of Yaska). On the contrary, it combines the constituent elements with a view to form words. Therefore, the Grammar here, is understood as ‘the word formation ‘or as an ‘instrument by which forms are created in various ways’ (vividhena prakarena akrtayah kriyante yena).

Panini’s Grammar, as per its working-scheme, attempts to build up Sanskrit words (pada) from their root forms (dhatu-prakara), suffixes (pratyaya), verbal roots; pre-verbs (upasarga); primary and secondary suffixes; nominal and verbal terminations; and , define their function (karya) in a sentence. These constituent elements are invested with meaning. Derived from these elements, in their various combinations, words and sentences are formed to cogently express collection of meanings as held by these elements.

Towards this end , Panini formulated  different sets of rules , such as : the rules regulating  a grammatical operation {vidhi-sütra); the rules  defining  a technical term  {samjnä-sütra); and, the set of Meta-rules,  guiding the interpretation and  application  of  the  other rules (paribhäsä-sütra), and headings (adhikära-süträ). The underlying principle of Panini’s work is that nouns are derived from verbs.

Thus, Astadhyayi could said to be a precise and logical system to form declinations, conjugations, composed words and derivatives, which enable one to understand the precise meaning of the words.


Thus, Panini defined the terms (samjna) employed in the grammar, set the rules for interpretation (paribhasha), and outlined, as guideline, the convention he followed.

Patanjali explains that Panini did not attempt to list out all the terms and words in the Sanskrit language (pratipada-pāṭha); because, such a method would surely have been futile and endless. Instead, he created a set of general (sāmānya) and particular (viśea) rules that encapsulate all the salient features of the language, in a concise form, in a manner that one can understand and memorize with little effort (tat yathā ekena gopadaprea). Thus, Panini could capture a vast and mighty ocean (Varidhi) within the mark of a cow’s foot (गोष्पद) Goshpadi kruta vaareesham.

 In other words, Panini created a system having finite number of rules that can be used to regulate a potentially infinite number of arrangements of utterances (sentences, vakya). He transformed the infinite into finite. His was indeed a pioneering task in any language.  With his system it became possible to say whether or not a sequence of sounds represented a correct utterance in the Bhasha (Sanskrit).

Panini  was also interested in the synthetic problems involved in formation of compound words; and the relationship of the nouns in a sentence with the action (kriya)  indicated by the verb. With this, he sought to systematically analyze the correct sentences (vakya).

Panini’s grammar is distinguished above all similar works of other countries, partly by its thoroughly exhaustive investigation of the roots of the language and the formation of words; partly by its sharp precision of expression, which indicates with brevity whether forms come under the same or different rules.

According to Abhik Ghosh and Paul Kiparsk; the Astadhyayi provided comprehensive rules governing other aspects of the Sanskrit language, such as the phonological patterning of Sanskrit sounds.  One could use these rules to generate new words as well as novel expressions and sentences.

Panini’s Astadhyayi has thus served, over the centuries, as the basic means (upaya) to analyze and understand Sanskrit sentences.

Ashtadhyayi (Adhya7)

Vyāghramukhī gau, a tiger-faced cow

All said and done; Astadhyayi is by no means an easy text. It presents many difficulties. It takes much effort, patience and time to wade through its tight-knit structure and its unique terminology. Every student finds it difficult to surmount Panini’s varied types of rules and exceptions. Apart from its  overriding concern for economy , its every Sutra is affected by its neighbours. And, therefore, each time, one has to keep going back and forth; and, keep checking.

Despite its elegant structure, the Astadhyayi is hard to understand. Some called it Vyāghramukhī gau, a tiger-faced cow.


Panini’s Ashtadhyayi is composed in Sutra form – terse and tightly knit; rather highly abbreviated. The text, therefore, does need a companion volume to explain it. And, over a period of time several commentaries were produced explaining and interpreting the Ashtadhyayi.

The earliest known explanatory note on the text was provided by Katyayana who wrote a Vartika, a brief explanation of Ashtadhyayi. Katyayana is assigned to third century BCE. Because of the considerable time-gap between Panini and Katyayana, their language and mode of expressions vary considerably.

About a hundred years later, Katyayana’s Vartika was followed by Vyakarana- Mahabhashya of Patanjali (Ca. Second century BCE), a detailed commentary on Panini’s work; together with his observations of the Vartika of Katyayana.

Thereafter, the tradition of Prakriya texts took over. Such Prakriya or applied texts focused more on derivations and rule-applications; and, claimed to be relatively easier to comprehend. That was brought about by rearranging the rules of the Aṣṭādhyāyī; limiting their corpus to varying lengths with placement of blocks of rules following a certain functional hierarchy, conducive to practical-grammar. The Prakriya texts were more interested in facilitating rule-application; than in providing theoretical concepts for guidance in interpretation. Many a times, these texts ended up compromising the precise interpretation of Panini’s rules

Dharmakīrti began the tradition of prakriyā or derivation texts, which do not follow the Aṣṭādhyāyī’s sequence of Sūtras;  but rearranges them thematically around various grammatical topics, with suitable well considered comments (sāṃśodhya pariṣkr̥tya ca prakāśitaḥ). The other more notable of such Prakriya texts are , the Prakriyā-kaumudi of Rāmacandra and the Vyakarana-Siddhānta-kaumudi of Bhațţoji Dīkşhita.  And, Bhattoji Dikshita’s work, in turn, was followed by   Sāra-siddhānta-kaumudī; a middle-length Madhya-siddhānta-kaumudī; and, shorter version Laghu-kaumudī all by Varadarāja a student of Bhattoji Dikshita.


Dharmakīrti (Eleventh Century), was the first to produce a Prakriya  text titled the Rūpāvatāra (rūpāņām avatāra rūpāvatāra -Upacārād rūpā-avatāram-adhikstya krto granthopi),  which rearranged Pāini’s Sūtras in functional blocks as per the theoretical concepts and  accepted practices of Grammar.

Rūpāvatāra discusses only 2,664 rules (out of about 4,000 of Panini), where its focus shifts from details of interpretation to rule-application and types of derivation. The notion of Prakaraa (context) which Pāini developed, and which guided him in placement of his rules their application and interpretation, especially as it related to context sharing (ekavākyatā), in the Aṣṭādhyāyī, was modified.

As Prof. Rama Nath Sharma explains in his Indian Tradition of Linguistics and Pāṇini, the Rūpāvatāra consists of two parts. The First part divided into ten Avatāras (manifestations): Sajñā (technical terms); Sahitā (close proximity between sounds); Vibhakti (inflectional endings); Avyaya (indeclinable); Strīpratyaya (feminine affixes) Kāraka, Samāsa (compounds); and , Taddhita (secondary suffixes).

The second part of Rūpāvatāra has three major divisions (Paricchedas): Sārvadhātuka; Ardhadhātuka; and, Kt. Each division is further classified into sections (Prakaraas). The entire second part is presented under the general title of Dhātu-pratyaya-pañcikā.


Ramachandra (Ca. 14th Century) in his Prakriyā-kaumudī, just as Dharmakīrti, focused primarily on Sūtras dealing with the classical language. And, he also re-arranged the Sutras. But, he was more influenced by Kāśikā-vtti, the other School of Grammar. He did not discuss Panini’s Sutras in detail; but only gave a summary treatment; making it easier for the learners (ānantyāt sarvaśabdā hi na śakyante’ nuśāsitum / bālavyutpattaye’ smābhi sakipyoktā yathāmati)


Bhaṭṭoji Dīkita, Kauṇḍa Bhaṭṭa and Nāgeśa Bhatta are three important authors in the development of the Siddhānta literature. The Siddhānta texts focused more on topics of theoretical interest and presented them in such an in-depth analytical manner that set standards of grammar in the tradition of Pāini.

Prof. Rama Nath Sharma describes the Vaiyākaraṇa Siddhānta Kaumudi  written by Bhaṭṭoji Dīkita during the 17th century CE.  as ‘a theoretical marvel’ that rooted out all competition and brought the Pāinian tradition to a full circle. His text re-arranges the Sūtras of Pāini under appropriate heads; and, renders it easier to follow. His treatment of the Sūtras is very brief, but very insightful, precise and thorough and comprehensive.

Bhattoji Diksita’s work was later edited into  three (Madhya, Laghu and Sara) abridged versions (Laghu-kaumudi) by his student Varadarāja, reducing the number of rules to 723 (from 3,959 of Pāini). This is said to be very useful to students of Sanskrit grammar who are not capable of studying the Ashtadhyayi or Siddhanta Kaumudi with its Sanskrit commentaries

design star

Panini and Yaska

Both the scholars -Yaska and Panini – composed their works at the time, when certain Vedic words had become obsolete ; and, a number of new forms were coming into usage.

While Yaska’s focus was mainly on the  etymology and the interpretation of certain obsolete Vedic terms and words; Panini had in view both Vedic and the spoken language at the time.

The main object of Panini’s  Sutras  is to deal with  the Bhasha, living speech of the day. He had the advantage of consulting many earlier treatises on Grammar composed by his predecessors.  He developed a system of Grammar, which bears the stamp of accuracy and thoroughness.

Though Panini distinguishes between the language of sacred texts and the usual language of communication , he covers both the forms of language.

Panini’s general rules , which generates all correct forms of Sanskrit, are applicable to both of the domains of Sanskritthe language of his time (Bhasha); and, the archaic language of the Vedic hymns (Chhandas).

But, those  rules which applied only  to the  language of the Vedic texts  are treated separately   by stating the specific Vedic sub-domains.

And, the domain of the contemporary spoken standard Sanskrit was also then sub-divided into as those of scholastic usage and regional dialects. 

Thus, unlike the Nirukta of Yaska and the Pratisakhya texts, Panini gave importance to the language in use among the well-educated (Sista) of his time; as also to the language of the Vedas (Chhandas).

The Aṣṭādhyāyi marks the beginning of what is sometimes called ‘Classical Sanskrit’ – in contrast with  Chhandas,  the language of the Vedic texts – and the Sanskrit of the Kavyas of the medeival periods.

design star

Panini’s contribution to Sanskrit language

Regarding Panini’s contribution to Sanskrit language, Prof. A L Basham writes (The Wonder That Was India):

After the composition of the Rig Veda, Sanskrit developed considerably. New words, mostly borrowed from non Aryan sources, were introduced, while old words were forgotten, or lost their original meanings. In these circumstances doubts arose as to the true pronunciation and meaning of the older Vedic texts, though it was generally thought that unless they were recited with complete accuracy they would have no magical effectiveness, but bring ruin on the reciter.  Out of the need to preserve the purity of the Vedas India developed the sciences of phonetics and grammar. The oldest Indian linguistic text, Yaska’s Nirukta, explaining obsolete Vedic words, dates from the 5th century B.C., and followed much earlier works in the linguistic field.

Panini’s great grammar, the Astadhyayi (Eight Chapters) was probably composed towards the end of the 5-th century BCE (?). With Panini, the language had virtually reached its classical form, and it developed little thenceforward, except in its vocabulary.

By this time, the sounds of Sanskrit had been analysed with an accuracy never again reached in linguistic study until the 19th Century. One of ancient India’s greatest achievements is her remarkable alphabet, commencing with the vowels and followed by the consonants, all classified very scientifically according to their mode of production, in sharp contrast to the haphazard and inadequate Roman alphabet, which has developed organically for three millennia. It was only on the discovery of Sanskrit by the West that a science of phonetics arose in Europe.

The great grammar of Panini, which effectively stabilized the Sanskrit language, presupposes the work of many earlier grammarians. These had succeeded in recognizing the root as the basic element of a word, and had classified some 2,000 monosyllabic roots which, with the addition of prefixes, suffixes and inflexions, were thought to provide all the words of the language. Though the early etymologists were correct in principle, they made many errors and false derivations, and started a precedent which produced interesting results in many branches of Indian thought

There is no doubt that Panini’s grammar is one of the greatest intellectual achievements of any ancient civilization, and the most detailed and scientific grammar composed before the 19th century in any part of the world. The work consists of over 4000 grammatical rules, couched in a sort of shorthand, which employs single letters or syllables for the names of the cases, moods, persons, tenses, etc. In which linguistic phenomena arc classified.

Some later grammarians disagreed with Panini on minor points, but his grammar was so widely accepted that no writer or speaker of Sanskrit in courtly circles dared seriously infringe it. With Panini the language was fixed, and could only develop within the framework of his rules. It was from the time of Panini onwards that the language began to be called Samskruta, “perfected” or “refined”, as opposed to the Prakrta  (unrefined), the popular dialects which had developed naturally.

Paninian Sanskrit, though simpler than Vedic, is still a very complicated language. Every beginner finds great difficulty in surmounting Panini’s rules of euphonic combination (Sandhi), the elaboration of tendencies present in the language even in Vedic times. Every word of a sentence is affected by its neighbours. Thus na- avadat (he did not say) becomes navadat.  But, na-uvaca (with the same meaning) becomes novaca. There are many rules of this kind, which were even artificially imposed on the Rig Veda, so that the reader must often disentangle the original words to find the correct meter.

Panini, in standardizing Sanskrit, probably based his work on the language as it was spoken in the North-West. Already the lingua franca of the priestly class, it gradually became that of the governing class also. The Mauryas, and most Indian dynasties until the Guptas, used Prakrit for their official pronouncements.

As long as it is spoken and written a language tends to develop, and its development is generally in the direction of simplicity. Owing to the authority of Panini, Sanskrit could not develop freely in this way. Some of his minor rules, such as those relating to the use of tenses indicating past time, were quietly ignored, and writers took to using imperfect, perfect and aorist indiscriminately; but Panini’s rules of inflexion had to be maintained. The only way in which Sanskrit could develop away from inflexion was by building up compound nouns to take the place of the clauses of the sentence.

With the growth of long compounds Sanskrit also developed a taste for long sentences. The prose works of Bana and Subandhu, written in the 7th century, and the writings of many of their successors, contain single sentences covering two or three pages of type. To add to these difficulties writers adopted every conceivable verbal trick, until Sanskrit literature became one of the most ornate and artificial in the world.

Indian interest in language spread to philosophy, and there was considerable speculation about the relations of a word and the thing it represented. The Mimamsa School, reviving the verbal mysticism of the later Vedic period, maintained that every word was the reflexion of an eternal prototype, and that its meaning was eternal and inherent in it. Its opponents, especially the logical school of Nyaya , supported the view that the relation of word and meaning was purely conventional. Thus the controversy was similar to that between the Realists and Nominalists in medieval Europe.

Classical Sanskrit was probably never spoken by the masses, but it was never wholly a dead language. It served as a lingua franca for the whole of India, and even today learned Brahmans from the opposite ends of the land, meeting at a place of pilgrimage, will converse in Sanskrit and understands each other perfectly.

design star

The Astadhyayi in modern times

As mentioned earlier; the Astadhyayi of Panini is one of the most remarkable works that the world has ever seen. It is primarily a much trusted reference-source concerning Sanskrit Grammar. As for Pāini, he came to be regarded as the ideal or the icon for scholarship in classical India.

But, what is amazing is the type and extent of attention that Astadhyayi attracted in the Nineteenth  and twentieth centuries, from the scholars of linguistic sciences in the West; the community of scientists; and, the developers of the computer virtual languages.



Panini’s Astadhyayi is composed in Sutra form – terse and tightly knit; rather highly abbreviated. Brevity was one of his main concerns. Panini used a concise logical system of notations that allowed him to describe Sanskrit in as little space or in as fewer words as possible.

It is generally agreed that the Panini’s system is based on a principle of economy. This makes its structure of special interest to cognitive scientists.

In that, the modern linguistic analysts recognized what they called as the minimum description length principle. That principle states that the best model is that which efficiently achieves the best compression of grammatical rules. It is designed to express the set of rules in briefest possible manner.

As the Indologist Johan Frederik (Frits) Staal pointed out; “Panini’s linguistic rules can live on in daughter languages even after historical changes have disrupted their phonetic basis”.

According to the legendary linguist Noam Chomsky, of   Massachusetts Institute of Technology : the Aṣṭādhyāyī provided the first ‘generative grammar’ in the modern sense of the word;  meaning a complete set of rules for combining morphemes,  (the smallest meaningful units of language, such as word roots and stems, prefixes and suffixes),  into grammatical sentences. 


A Sutra has to be comprehensive, objective, brief and precise. Panini chose the technique of context-sharing (eka-vakyata). Panini’s rules are interdependent. It is because of two reasons – physical nearness; and, the other is because of Anuvrtti, which is now termed as ‘recurrence’. The Anuvrtti controls the reading of a Sutra in conjunction with its preceding and subsequent Sutra .The higher-level rules within the domain are brought close or within the context of the lower-level rule. This helps to reconstruct the shared-context of a given rule, within a domain; and, better interpretation of the lower-level rule.

Thus, a Sutra, when fully equipped with all the information required for its application , becomes a statement.


Converting letters based on its position in alphabet to numbers

Some scholars believe that Panini was the first to come up with the idea of using letters of the alphabet to represent numbers. And, that the Brahmi numerals were developed by using letters or syllables as numerals.

Hashing 1


Astadhyayi and western linguistics

ini’s work became known in 19th century Europe, where it influenced the linguistics of that period.

The Historian Prof. A. L. Basham opined that It was only on the discovery of Sanskrit by the West that a science of phonetics arose in Europe

It is said; Pāini’s work was of much help in the development of modern linguistics through the efforts of scholars such as Franz Bopp, Ferdinand de Saussure, Leonard Bloomfield, and Roman Jakobson. Bopp was a pioneering scholar of the comparative grammars of Sanskrit and other Indo-European languages.

During 1839-40, Otto Böhtlingk published Pânini’s acht Bücher grammatischer Regein, a two-volume translation of the Aṣṭadhyāyī. And again, towards the end of the Nineteenth Century, he brought out Pânini’s Grammatik, a commentary on Panini’s work.

 Ferdinand de Saussure, in his most influential work, Course in General Linguistics (Cours de linguistique générale)  that was published posthumously (1916), took the idea of the use of formal rules of Sanskrit grammar and applied them to general linguistic phenomena.

Modern linguists like Ferdinand de Saussure and Noam Chomsky said Panini’s style of notation is similar to Backus-Naur form, which is used to define both human languages and programming languages.

Ferdinand de Saussure cited Indian Grammar as an influence on some of his ideas. In his De l’emploi du genitif absolu en sanscrit (On the Use of the Genitive Absolute in Sanskrit) published in 1881, a monograph on the genitive absolute, he specifically mentions Panini as an influence on the work.

 In Noam Chomsky’s Optimality Theory, the hypothesis about the relation between specific and general constraints is known as “Panini’s Theorem on Constraint Ranking”.

Earlier, the founding father of American structuralism, Leonard Bloomfield,had also written a paper ‘ On some rules of Panini’.

Prem Singh, in his foreword to the reprint edition of the German translation of Pāini’s Grammar in 1998, concluded that the “effect Panini’s work had on Indo-European linguistics shows itself in various studies” and that a “number of seminal works come to mind,” including Saussure’s works and the analysis that “gave rise to the laryngeal theory,” further stating: “This type of structural analysis suggests influence from Panini’s analytical teaching.

Panini’s grammar has been evaluated from various points of view. After all these different evaluations, I think that the grammar merits asserting … that it is one of the greatest monuments of human intelligence.

: J J O’Connor and E F Robertson


Astadhyayi and Mendeleev’s periodic tables

According to Professor Paul Kiparsky of Stanford University, there are striking similarities between the Periodic Tables of Mendeleev; and, the introductory Śhiva Sūtras (Maheshvara Sutra) in Panini’s Grammar.

 It is said; Mendeleev gained familiarity with the Grammar of Panini through his friend, the Sanskrit scholar , Böhtlingk, who was preparing the second edition of his book on Panini (Acht Bücher grammatischer Regein ), at about this time

And, Mendeleev was much impressed by Panini’s logic; and, wished to honour Pānini with his nomenclature.

Mendeleev, presumably, saw Panini’s approach as analogous to his own quest for a Grammar of nature. One of the most iconic symbols of modern science, as it arose in the latter part of the 19th century in Europe, may thus owe a significant debt to an ancient Eastern language and culture.

The noted scholar Subhash Kak in his paper How Sanskrit Led To The Creation Of Mendeleev’s Periodic Table ; observes:

 Convinced that the analogy was fundamental, Mendeleev theorized that the gaps that lay in his table must correspond to undiscovered elements. For his predicted eight elements, he used the prefixes of eka, dvi, and tri (Sanskrit one, two, three) in their naming.

panini periodic tables

Mendeleev’s use of the Sanskrit numerals eka, dvi-, and tri – in naming the as yet undiscovered elements are indeed homage to Pāini.

Professor Paul Kiparsky of Stanford University writes:

The analogies between the two systems are striking. Just as Panini found that the phonological patterning of sounds in the language is a function of their articulatory properties, so Mendeleev found that the chemical properties of elements are a function of their atomic weights.

Like Panini, Mendeleev arrived at his discovery through a search for the “grammar” of the elements (using what he called the principle of isomorphism, and looking for general formulas to generate the possible chemical compounds).

Just as Panini arranged the sounds in order of increasing phonetic complexity (e.g. with the simple stops k,p… preceding the other stops, and representing all of them in expressions like kU, pU) so Mendeleev arranged the elements in order of increasing atomic weights, and called the first row (oxygen, nitrogen, carbon etc.) “Typical (or representative) elements”.

Just as Panini broke the phonetic parallelism of sounds when the simplicity of the system required it, e.g. putting the velar to the right of the labial in the nasal row, so Mendeleev gave priority to isomorphism over atomic weights when they conflicted, e.g. putting beryllium in the magnesium family because it patterns with it even though by atomic weight it seemed to belong with nitrogen and phosphorus. In both cases, the periodicities they discovered would later be explained by a theory of the internal structure of the elements.


According to Abhik Ghosh and Paul Kiparsk; the Astadhyayi also provided comprehensive rules governing other aspects of the Sanskrit language, such as the phonological patterning of Sanskrit sounds.  One could use these rules to generate new words as well as novel expressions and sentences. In our view, what Pāini did for Sanskrit, Mendeleev tried to do for chemistry.

Panini computer

The Astadhyayi and Computer language

Much has been written and discussed about the plausible relation between the Computer Science and the concepts, rules of Panini’s Astadhyayi. Needleless to say, it is very fascinating.

The Western scholars describe Ashtadhyayi as a generative as well as descriptive text. With its complex use of Meta-rules, transformations, and recursions, the grammar in Ashtadhyayi is compared to the Turing machine, an idealized mathematical model that reduces the logical structure of any computing device to its essentials.

In fact, Panini’s work is context-sensitive; it addresses only Sanskrit; and, is not a ‘universal Grammar’. But, a most amazing thing happened in the twentieth century with the development of computer languages. The writers of these virtual languages discovered that Panini’s rules can be used for describing perhaps all human languages; and, it can be used for programming the first high level programming language, such as ALGOL60. It is said; by applying Panini’s rules it is possible to check whether or not a given sequence of statement forms a correct expression in a particular programming language.

The Backus-Normal-Form-(BNF), a meta-linguistic-formula, was discovered independently  by John Backus in 1959; but , Panini’s notation is beleived to be equivalent in its power to that of Backus;  and, has many similar properties. Interestingly, at one time,  the name ini Backus Form was also suggested,  in view of the fact that Pāini had  also independently developed a similar notation earlier.

The structure of Pāini‘s work contains a meta-language, meta-rules, and other technical devices that make this system effectively equivalent to the computing machine. Although it didn’t directly contribute to the development of computer languages, it influenced linguistics and mathematical logic, which, in turn, had earlier given birth to computer science.


The specific feature of the Astadhyayi that is of interest to the computer science is the system that is based on the principle of economy. The striking feature of the Sutra format which is employed in Astadhyayi is the use of abbreviated expressions by way of several algebraic devices.

The other is the arrangement of the rules and the logic that governs it. The Sutras are arranged, topic wise, in such a manner that a given rule borrows an item from the preceding context. That ensures continuity and economy of expression to a large extent

Panini employs a device called Anubandha, a coded-letter, which indicates a grammatical function, comparable to elision and reduplication. Panini made use of almost all vowels and consonants as symbols for various functions. And, Anubandhas are added to various grammatical units such as suffix, an augment and a root.

Another aspect of Panini’s descriptive technique is the law of Utsarga (general rules) and Apavada (exceptions) that relates exceptions and individual rules. Here, the exception (Apavada) is more powerful that the general-rule (Utsarga). Therefore, before applying the Utsarga one has to check for its Apavada(s). Further, once an Utsarga is barred from entering in to the area of its exception, it can never enter the area again.

Panini did not use all Padas in each Sutra to complete the meaning of the each Sutra; instead, he took some Padas from previous Sutras to achieve completeness. And, this process is analogous to Recursion.

It is said; the shades of some of the modern-day theories of programming languages can be found in Panini’s work; for instance: Recursion; Inheritance; and, Polymorphism. For more on that, please check here ; and here.

There are also dissenting views which say: while Sanskrit may be a good language for knowledge representation, It certainly is not the best language for programming

Please do read a very scholarly research paper: Panini’s Grammar and Computer Science by Saroja Bhate and Subhash Kak

This paper concludes with the statement:

One great virtue of the Paninian  system is that it operates at the level of roots and suffixes defining a deeper level of analysis than afforded by recent approaches like generalized phrase structure grammars that have been inspired by development of computer parsing techniques. This allows for one to include parts of the lexicon in the definition of the grammatical structure. Closeness between languages that share a great deal of a lexicon will thus be represented better using a Paninian structure.

These fundamental investigations that have bearing on linguistics, knowledge representation, and natural language processing by computer require collaboration between computer scientists and Sanskrit scholars. Computer oriented studies on Astadhyayi  would also help to introduce AI (artificial intelligence), logic, and cognitive science as additional areas of study in the Sanskrit departments of universities. This would allow the Sanskrit departments to complement the programme of the computer science departments. With the incorporation of these additional areas, a graduate of Sanskrit could hope to make useful contributions to the computer software industry as well, particularly in the fields of natural language processing and artificial intelligence.


Mr. Anand Mishra, Ruprecht Karls University, Heidelberg, Germany, has attempted a model for computer representation of the Panini’s system of Sanskrit grammar. Based on this model, he has rendered the grammatical data and simulated the rules of Astadhyayi on computer.  Thereafter, he employed these rules for generation of morpho-syntactical components of the language. He says, these generated components are used develop a lexicon based on the principles of Panini.

Please check: Simulating the Paninian System of Sanskrit Grammar

lotus with leaves


In the next part

Let us get to know of Panini as a person

Sources and References

  1. The Ashtadhyayi of Panini. Translated into English by Srisa Chandra Vasu
    Published by Sindhu Charan Bose at The Panini Office, Benares – 1897
  2. Panini
  3. Panini –His place in Sanskrit Literature  by   Theodor Goldstucker, A.Trubner & Co., London – 1861
  4. Simulating the Paninian System of Sanskrit Grammar by  Anand Mishra
  5. India as Known to Pānini by V. S. Agrawala, Lucknow University of Lucknow, 1953
  6. Computing Science in Ancient India by Professor T.R.N. Rao and Professor Subhash Kak
  7. Panini’s Grammar and Computer Science by Saroja Bhate and Subhash Kak
  8. How Sanskrit Led To The Creation Of Mendeleev’s Periodic Table
  9. Indian Tradition of Linguistics and Pānini by Prof. Rama Nath Sharma
  10. Pāṇini: Catching the Ocean in a Cow’s Hoofprint by Vikram Chandra
  11. Panini: His Work and Its Traditions by George Cardona
  12. A Brief History of Sanskrit Grammar  by James Rang
  13. Introductionto Prakrit by  Alfr ed C . Woolner
  14. Chandah Sutra of Pingala Acharya, Edited by Pandita Visvanatha Sastri , Printed at the Ganesha Press, Calcutta – 1874

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Yaska and Panini – Part One


Yaska and Panini – Part One


Yaska and Panini are two of the most celebrated scholars of the Sanskrit linguistic sciences.  Yaskacharya is renowned as a Great Etymologist (Niruktakara), whose work, the Nirukta, is looked upon as the oldest available authoritative treatise concerning derivation of certain selected Vedic words. And, Panini, the Grammarian par excellence (Maha-Vaiyakaranah), is reverently addressed as Bhagavata  Pāine Acārya. And, his Grammar Aṣṭādhyāyī (inīktaSūtrapāham), the most distinguished treatise that set the linguistic standards for Classical Sanskrit, is referred to as Paniniyam Maha-shastram.

There is often a tendency to compare the approach and the methods adopted by the two Greats to their respective fields of study.


It is said; Yaska preceded Panini (Ca.5th century B C E) by about a century or, perhaps, more. This is based, rather tentatively, upon the Sutra: Yaska-adibhyo gotre (PS_2.4.63) in Panini’s Astadhyayi. Further, Patanjali, the author of Mahabhashya on Panini’s Astadhyayi, suggests that Yaska hailed from the Paraskara Country – (pāraskara deśa P_6, 1.157) – (?*), on the basis of Panini’s Sutra – Pāraskara-prabhtīni ca sajñāyām (PS. 6.1.157). And often, salutations are submitted to Yaska with the mantra: Namo Paraskaraya, Namo Yaskaya.

 [*According to some,Paraskara corresponds to Tharaparkar in the Sindh region]

It appears during the time of Yaska, the then contemporary Sanskrit, though not the same, was yet somewhat near to the Sanskrit of the ancient Vedas (Chhandas). In fact, Yaska, in his Nirukta (1.1; 1.15), remarks: the Vedic stanzas are still meaningful; because, their words are almost close to the currently spoken Sanskrit. However, understanding certain obscure terms of Vedic Mantras had become rather difficult.

samāmnāyaḥ samāmnātaḥ sa vyākhyātavyaḥ /1.1/.. Atha api idam antareṇa mantreṣv artha pratyayona vidyate / Nir.1.15 /

The Sanskrit, when it was a living language, was evolving and changing from period to period. For instance; the language of the Upanishads is not, in every respect, the same as the language of the Rig-Veda. And again, the language of Classical period differed, substantially, from that of the Upanishads.

Accordingly, by the time of Yaska, the Sanskrit language had changed a great deal since the period of the Vedas; and, was more or less bereft of the characteristic Vedic phonetic and semantic forms.  But, at the same time, the link between the Vedic idioms and the contemporary language had not entirely worn-out.

Nevertheless, in the process, over a period, say by the First millennium BCE, interpretation of certain Vedic terms had indeed become rather vague and imprecise. The tradition had apparently broken down; and, by the time of Yaska, the meaning of some archaic words in the   Vedic Riks could no longer be grasped clearly.

Yaska points out the differences between the Vedic Sanskrit (which Panini calls as Chhandas) and the contemporary language (Bhasha) – Na iti pratiedha arthīyo bhāāyām ubhayam anvadhyāyam (Nir.1, 4)

Yaska described the position then obtaining (Nir.1.20); and, remarked: the Rishis, who envisioned, had direct perception (dṛṣṭayo bhavanti) of the meaning of the Vedic hymns (evam ucca avacair abhiprāyair sīnām mantra dṛṣṭayo bhavantiNir.7.3). But, the later generations had lost that faculty; and, did not fully understand the meaning of certain mantras. Therefore, with a view to helping the future learners in comprehending the meaning of certain difficult passages of the Vedas, the texts like Nighantu and Nirukta were composed.

Upadeśāya glāyanto avare bilma grahanāya imam grantham samāmnāsiur vedaś ca veda agāni ca- // Nir.1.20 //


Yaskacharya believed that every Vedic word has an expressive power to denote a certain sense. And, as a signifier (vacaka), every word is eternal (vyaptimattvat tu sabdasya – Nir.I.2); and, it performs a critical function in helping to arrive at an unerring, definitive meaning of a statement.

Yaska, therefore, remarks that it is essential that one should realize this truth.  And,  in the absence of such realization, a person, who merely recites the Vedas, without comprehending its meaning, would be like a pillar (sthaanu) or a mere load-bearer (bhara-haara). And, it is only he, who fully grasps and appreciates the meaning of what he is reciting (arthajña), that will attain the good – both here and hereafter (sakalam bhadram-aśnute-nākam); having been purged of all impurities by the power of knowledge (jñāna vidhūta pāpmā).

sthāur ayam bhāra-hāra kila abhūd adhītya vedam na vijānāti yo artham / yo arthajña it sakalam bhadram aśnute nākam eti jñāna vidhūta pāpmā (Nir.1. 18)

Yaska goes further; and tenders a sage-like counsel (Nir.1.18): what is taken from teacher’s mouth, but not understood and, is merely repeated, never flares up. It is like dry firewood flung on something that is not fire.

Don’t memorize, seek the meaning / What has been taken [from the teacher’s mouth] but not understood/ Is uttered by mere memory recitation /  It never flares up, like dry firewood without fire  / Many a one, although seeing, do not see her  / Many a one, although hearing, do not hear her/ And for many a one, she spreads out [Her] body, like a wife desiring her husband. / The meaning of Speech (Vac) is its fruit and flower. (Translation by Eivind Kahrs)

Yad ghītam avijñāta nigadena eva śabdyate/  anagnāv iva śuka edho na taj jvalatikarhicit/  sthāus tiṣṭhater artho arter araastho vā / Nir. 1.18 /




As mentioned earlier, in order to instruct , to guide and to help such of those who were ill at ease with the Vedic language; and, those who did not fully comprehend the meaning of the mantras, the texts such as Nighantu  (joined together or  strung together  words) and others were compiled; its plural being Nighantava.  Yaska calls these texts as Samāmnāyam Nighaṇṭava  (enumerations)Nir. 1, 1

 [Albrecht Weber (The History of Indian Literature (1892) on page 25) points out that correct name of such texts should be Nigranthu (strung together); and, not Nighantu, as it is generally called]

The Nighantu could briefly be described as a glossary of certain Vedic words – in the exact form in which they appear in the Vedic texts; and, as the earliest known systematic work, clearly dividing the words of the Sanskrit language into the groups of nouns, verbs , prepositions and particles.

[However, Nighantu is not an exhaustive list of all Vedic words. It includes only such words as were considered ambiguous, obscure, or synonymous.]

Durga , the commentator, therefore, calls Nighantu  an example (Udaharana); and, he explains its  purpose  by saying : In order that we get the knowledge of  the meaning of the Vedic verses (mantra-artha-parijnana), the Rishis have composed (sam-amnaya) this text, which in its five parts (pancha-adhyayayi), could serve as an example for  forming  a more exhaustive compendium of the Shastras.

Sa Ca Rsibhir mantra-artha-parijnanayo udaharana bhutah, pancha-adhyayayi shastra samgraha bhaven ekasmin amnaye granthikrta ity arthah (1.30;3-4)


The Nighantus, as a class of texts, consist five chapters, which are again divided into three sections.

The first section, comprising the first three chapters, deals mainly with synonyms (Nighantuka-kanda), which, perhaps, is the earliest.

The second section covering the fourth chapter (Naigama or Aikapadika-kanda) dealing with homonyms, contains a list of ambiguous and particularly difficult words of the Veda.

The third section, covering the fifth chapter (Daivata-kanda), gives the names of deities; and, their classification under the three regions, earth, sky and the intermediate space.

The Nighantus, upon which Yaska offers his comments, are the most ancient in a long and hoary tradition of lexicography. Besides the Nighantus and the Nirukta there are the Koshas (vocabularies) and Anukramanika (indexes).

The Nighantu, which mostly lists the archaic words occurring in the Rig-Veda, is also meant to functions as a compliment to the Vyakarana (Grammar).

In addition, it also serves a practical purpose; which is to help and guide the Yajnaka (the one who performs the Yajnas), in unerringly identifying the Devata of a mantra, so that the Yajna is performed well, without a blemish; and, its objective is achieved successfully.



Further, with a view to comprehend and to restore the correct meaning of certain antiquated words appearing in the Vedas, the method of Nirvachana (Nir+Vac = clear explanation of words) was applied to the glossary of Nighantu.

The term Nirvachana, which embodies the principles of etymology, is understood as the study which enables the analysis of a word; its formation; the different senses it  conveys (yathartham), in accordance with its derivation (vyutpattih) (Nirvachanam nama sabdasya yathartham vyutpattih); and, by taking into account the contextual factors (samsarga) , as well.

Such a field of analytical study had  perhaps become necessary; because, almost a quarter of words in the Vedic texts, composed in the Second millennium BCE, appeared just once; and, their meaning and intent had become imprecise.


Nighantu -Nirukta

The related field of learning, which deals with the derivation and semantic explanation of words, came to be known as Nirvachana Shastra or Nirukti, (‘interpretation’ or derivation and semantic explanation of words) a branch of etymology.

It attempted to systematically put forward theories on how words are formed; and, how their meanings are to be determined in the context of the Vedas.  Its related subsidiary texts were known as Nirukta (Nir + Ukta or Nir-Vac = to explain clearly).

And, Nirukta developed into a branch of etymology; offering explanations about the derivation of certain chosen words of the Vedas , in order to comprehend; to determine; and,  to restore their proper meaning. In the process, the Nirukta systematically discussed how to understand the significance of archaic, uncommon words used, mainly, in the Rig-Veda.

Nirukta is very closely connected with the Vedas. The body of Yäska’s work is a commentary on most of the words of the Nighantu; which again is a glossary of certain Vedic words. The main task of the Nirukta of Yaska is to explain most of the rare and obscure Vedic words by resorting to various possible etymologies.

[Sri Sayanacharya , in the preface to his Rig-bhashya, extols the approach of Yaska for explaining the uncommon aspects (Tattvas) of the Vedas; while other Vedangas are engaged in secular subjects – arthāvabodhe nirapekatayā padajāta yatrokta tan Niruktam  

Sri Sayana concluded his exposition of the Nirvachana-shastra with the remark: the Nirukta is useful for grasping the meaning (Artha) of the Vedas – tasmat Veda-rtha ava bodha- upayuktam Niruktam ]


The Brahmana texts

It is said; the Brahmana texts were indeed the earliest attempts made in the study of etymology (Nirukta) of Vedic words.

The etymologies in the Bråhmanas were believed to bring to light the connections that underlie between the explicit and the implicit ideas that are normally concealed. Such revelations also helped to emphasize the fact that words could, often, have multiple etymologies. 

And, with that, it was realized that  certain  words  may possibly  have the potential to function as the  network of ideas; not being confined to merely suggesting the possibility of having a set of synonyms’. 

It is said; the Brahmana texts explain the mantra-passages in ten different ways –Nirvachana; and Vyava-dharana-kalpa.

The advantages of analysing a word or a technical term; and studying it from the point of view of more than one etymology, are said to be, that one gains access to the realities that were till then latent or hidden.  Which is to say; one becomes aware of   the unknown through the known. The knowledge, so acquired through such revelation – the texts emphasize repeatedly – are of great importance: as, it helps to widen the awareness of one who is fired with zeal to learn.

And, Yaska’s work, as also the works of those other Nairuktas, who   preceded him, such as Sakapuni, Aupamanyava, et al, were all said to be based upon the derivations and explanations as provided in the Brahmana literature. That is evidenced by the fact that all the characteristic features of the etymologies in the Nirukta are said to be based in the Bråhmanas. And, the Brähmanas many times provide the narrative background for an etymology given in the Nirukta. Further, Yaska also frequently quotes passages from Brahmana-texts, in support of his etymologies.

Some scholars regard Yaska’s Nirukta as a methodical extension of the   explanations of words, as in the Brähmanas.


Yaska’s Nirukta

Yaska’s Nirukta brings together and presents, with comments, in a cohesive form those matters that were already discussed in other earlier texts. And, the selected Verses of the Rig-Veda, of course, are the main substance that is commented upon and made explicit, by using illustrative passages and the explanations as given in the Nighantu and in the Brahmanas. And, this forms the important part of Yaska’s Nirukta.

Nirukta as a distinct branch of etymology is primarily concerned with the meaning of a word or of a term – Artha pradhana; and, determines the meaning it conveys or is intending to convey, by tracing the roots of its formation.

Sri Sayana gives an analysis of the name of Yaska’s Nirukta: that which fully (nihsesha) provides (ucyante) the various possible (sambhavitah) meanings of the constituent elements (avayava-artha) of each individual word (ekaikasya padasya) by tracing its root (vyutpatti), is called Nirukta.

Tad api Niruktam ity ucyate / ekaikasya padasya sambhavita avayav-arthas tarta nihseseno ucyante iti vyutpatteh /

Here, the context in which the word appears, as well as the function it serves therein, assumes much importance, in order to understand the real significance of a word. Because, the Nirvachana principle, which is adopted in the Nirukta   is , essentially, concerned with  the formation of a word , and meaning in a given context; and , in a different context, the word could give forth a different meaning;  then, the  Nirvacana would also differ.

evam.anyesām.api.sattvānām.sadehā.vidyante/tāni.cet.samāna.karmāi.samāna. NirvacanāniNir. 2, 7

It is therefore, said; a Niruktakara would never handle a word, torn out of its context (Na ekapadani Nirbhuyat- Nir.2.3); because, it would otherwise lead to a mere speculation about  its probable intended meaning.

[Similarly, Bhartrhari clarifies (VP.1.59): all the elements extracted from the word in the course of linguistic analysis are valid in their own context. The elements that are relevant in the context of one activity may not be valid in the context of another. That is to say; each kind of activity, i.e. each kind of communicative situation, has its own reality , which in some ways might differ from the realities of other situations.

bhedenāvagṛhītau dvau śabdadharmāv apoddhṛtau/ bhedakāryeṣu hetutvam avirodhena gacchataḥ  (VP.1.59)  ]


Yaska’s Nirukta is not a ‘basic text’ of a Nirvacana-shastra from which a certain tradition of interpretation distinct from Vyakarana develops. It is, initially, a commentary on the Nighantu texts, which, again is a glossary of Vedic words; and, subsequently, it is an explanation of certain selected passages from the Rig-Veda. Thus, the two traditions – Vedic and Nighantu- are intertwined in Yaska’s work.

According to Yaska, every Vedic word has a meaning; and, denotes an appropriate sense. A mantra, for the Nirukta, suggests the activity of the mind (mantro-mananath).  Here, speech is regarded as the vehicle of thought; and, whatever that comes within the purview of thought also comes within the purview of speech.  In other words; Nirukta belongs to class of texts that are designed to intellectually explore and present the precise meaning of the Vedic mantras.

The aim of Yaska’s etymology is to understand the real significance of a word. It is not a subject of antiquarian interest; but, is of great importance to the study of meaning of Vedic mantras by countless generations that succeeded Yaska.

Besides that, the etymology featured in the Nirukta is of great importance for the study of Sanskrit language, in general. Patanjali, in his Mahabhashya, very frequently  refers to Yaska’s Nirukta; and,  so does  Sri Sayanacharya , in the later times.

Nirukta is important for several other reasons, as well. Firstly, it presents the type of the earliest classical style that was used in the Rig-Veda; and, secondly, it is the oldest known attempt in the field of Vedic etymology.

As regards the importance of the etymology, the Nirukta, Yaska asserts , right at the commencement of his work : without this science, one cannot gain the precise meaning of certain Vedic terms; and , therefore, one cannot clearly understand and grasp of the import of Vedic mantras, as well.

Samāmnāyah samāmnāta sa vyākhyātavya/ idam antarea mantre vra artha pratyayo na vidyate iti Nir. 1,1

[ Please do not fail to read the remarkable study on the Language of the Nirukta by Dr. Mantrini Prasad (DK Publishing House – 1975). It is very thorough, detailed and authoritative; and, is imperative for anyone earnestly undertaking the study of Yaska’s Nirukta.]


Word (Sabda) and Meaning (Artha)

Yaska uses the term Sabda to denote ’the word’ as also ‘the sound’. The sound could either be (a) inarticulate (various natural sounds) – dhvanya-tmaka; or (b) articulate – varnat-maka

The articulate sounds (varnat-maka sabda) can be comprehended by the listeners without much effort – (Vyāptimattvāt tu śabdasya aīyastvāc ca śabdena sañjñā karaa vyavahāra artham loke – Nir.I.2) .

And, it again, has two forms (i) Sarthaka (meaningful); and (ii) Anarthaka (meaningless). Here, Yaska mentions about the meaningless particles (Nipata) used as expletives; such as:  kam, im, id and u (Nir.I.9) – nipātā ucca avaceṣv artheṣu nipatanti (Nir.1.4). Yaska’s list contains 23 Nipatas; and, an additional two Nipatas (total being 25)

Atha ye pravrtte arthe amita aksaresu granthesu vākya pūranā āgacchanti pada pūranās te mita akarev anarthakāh kam īm id v iti (Nir.I.9).

He has discussed, at length, about the words which are formed from the articulate (varnat-maka), natural, meaningful sounds, (Sarthaka).

It is said; the word (Pada) is the signifier (Vacaka); and, the meaning (Padartha) that is signified is (Vachya). That relation – Vacya-vacaka bhava – is determined by the primary function or Abhidha of a word. And, the essence of a word lies in its denotative or expressive power (Shakti).


Nirukta –Vedanga-Vyakarana

In the linguistic traditions of ancient India, Vyakarana, of course, occupied a preeminent position. But, at the same time, the value of a parallel system of linguistic analysis – Nirvachana shastra or Nirukta – which served a different purpose – was also well recognized.

Both these traditions are classed among the six Vedangas, the disciplines or branches of knowledge, which are auxiliary to the study of Vedas; and, which are designed to preserve and to carry forward the Vedas to the succeeding generations, in their pristine purity.

As said earlier; the Nirukta is reckoned as one among the six Vedangas, the ancillary Vedic sciences or disciplines related to the study of Vedas; the other five being: Vyakarana, Shiksha, Chhandas, Kalpa and Jyotisha.

Of these, the study of Nirukta is closely related to Vyakarana (Grammar). The Nirukta and Vyakarana are unique to each Veda; whereas, the other VedangasShiksha, Chhandas, Kalpa and Jyotisha – are common for all Vedas.

Though, the study of Nirukta is associated with one of the Vedangas viz., Vyakarana (Grammar), each of the two has its own focus. And, though they are divergent, they also overlap in certain areas.


As mentioned, the main task of the Nirukta of Yaska is to explain most of the rare and obscure Vedic words, by way of pointing out various possible etymologies.

Here, his Nirukta focuses on linguistic analysis to help establish the proper meaning of the words, given the context they are used in the Vedic texts. In such etymological explanations, Yaska has stressed on the meaning of the word (Artha nitya parīketa kenacid vtti sāmānyena- Nir.2.1), than its grammatical modifications.

Further, Yaska’s work is, culturally and intellectually, closer to the Samhitäs and Brähmanas, as compared to the Astadhyayi of Pänini.

The scope of Vyakarana, the Grammar, is much wider than that of the Nirukta; and, it covers all formats of the language. For instance; Panini discusses both the Vedic language (Chhandas) as also the bhäsä, the contemporary language, in general, spoken by the well-educated.

The term Vyakarana is defined as: Vyakriyate anena iti Vyakarana – Grammar is that which enables us to form and to examine words and sentences; and, it is both that which is to be described (lakshya) and the means of description (lakshana).

Patanjali explains; that which is to be described is the word (sabda); and the means of description is the rule (Sutra),consisting of general and specific statements .

A Grammarian determines the meaning of a word by tracing the process of its formation.

An etymologist determines the formation of a word by tracing the meaning it conveys or desires to convey.

Durga, the commentator, remarks: the Grammar (Vyakaranam) is an independent (svatantram) precise and logical system of knowledge (vidyasthanam). It deals with linguistic analysis – Lakshana pradhana – to establish the exact form of words to properly express ideas. For that purpose, it lays down the general and specific rules, which enable us to understand the exact meaning of the words (artha-nirvacanam).

Svatantram e vedam vidyasthanam artha-nirvacanam Vyakaranam tu laksana-pradhanam

And, Nirukta is the explanation of the meanings; it focuses on linguistic analysis in order to help establishing the proper meaning of the words, given the context they are used in the Vedic texts.


And yet, the Nirukta complements the study of Vyakarana; since, it explains the words that are not analyzed by the Vykarana.  And at the same time, it accomplishes its own purpose, which is to provide a clear understanding of the portions of the Rig-Veda text it commented upon.

Yaska asserts that the prerequisite to the study of Nirukta is the proper learning of Vyakarana. (Grammar) * .

 [*But, at the same time, Yaska remarks: while deriving the meaning of a word, in its own context, one should try to stick to the rules of the Grammar (Vyakarana) as far as possible; but, if this is of no avail in bringing out the hidden meaning of the term in question, then one should abandon such rules – na saskāram ādriyeta  / viśaya-hi vttayo bhavanti (Nir.2.1)]


Thus, the Nirukta, as a class of texts, is intimately related to several branches of studies, such as:  the Vedas; the Brahmanas; the Nighantu; as also to the Grammar (Vyakarana) in general.


Niruktas of the pre-Yaska period

Yaska recounts the several  Schools of Grammar or the  Grammarians who flourished before his time : Agrayana; Aindra; Apisali; Aupamanyava; Aurnabhava ; Chakravarmaa;  Galava ; Gargya;  Kashyapa ;Kaaktsna ; Katthakya ; Kautsa Kraustuki; Kuaravaava ; Sakalya; Sakaayana; Senaka ;Shakapuni; Sphoayana and others.

And, it appears; by about seventh or sixth century BCE, many of these Grammarians had compiled Nirukta texts. But, sadly, all those earlier versions of Niruktas disappeared gradually in the course of time.  It is only the Nirukta that was composed by Yaska that has survived; and, has come down to us.

Yaska, in his own Nirukta, refers to the views (either in his support or to show their divergence)  that were offered by as many as sixteen compilers (Nirukta-karas) of the Nirukta class of texts that were in existence and in circulation prior to his time (Ca. 6th century BCE) .

[Hartmut Scharfe in his  Grammatical Literature remarks : one of the interesting parts of the Nirukta is that it gives us more information on early Grammarians than any other source. And, it is all the more valuable, since almost all other information on Pre-Paninian Grammarians in the later literature is rather suspect.

In course of his work, Yaska mentions twenty four great teachers and seven different schools by name; in addition to referring to some others in a general way]

      • (1)Agrayana (1.9; 6.13;10.8);
      • (2) Audumbarayana (1.1);
      • (3) Aupamanyava (1.1; 2.2; 2.5; 2.11; 3.8; 3.11; 2.19; 5.7; 6.30; and, 10.8);
      • (4) Aurnavabha (2.26; 6.13; 7.1; 12.1; and, 12.19) ;
      • (5) Katthayaka (8.5; 8.6; 8.17; 8.10; 9.41; and, 9.42);
      • (6) Kusta (1.15);
      • (7) Kraustuki (8.2);
      • (8) Gargya (1.3; 1.12; and,1.25);
      • (9) Galava (4.3);
      • (10) Karmasiras (3.15);
      • (11) Taitiki ( 4.3 ; 5.27 );
      • (12) Varshyayani (1.2);
      • (13) Satabalaksa Maudgalya (9.6);
      • (14) Sakatayana (1.12; 1.13);
      • (15) Sakapuni (Nir.3.11 ;3.13 ;3.19; 8;  4.15;  5.3 ; 5.28; 7.14; 7.28; 8.5; 8.6; 8.10; 8.12; 8.14; 8.17; and, 12.40); and,
      • (16) Sthaulashtivi (7.14; 10.1).

Source: (pages 62 to 90) , of Sri Bishnupada Bhattacharya  ‘s scholarly work Yaska’s Nirukta  and the science of etymology  (1958)]

Of the many such Nirukta-karas; Yaska, in his Nirukta, frequently cites the explanations provided by Aupamanyava; Aurnavabha; and, Katthayaka. But, Sakapuni Rathitara is the most frequently quoted Nirukta- teacher. His views are cited by Yaska as many as about twenty times. 

It is believed; each of the Nirukta-karas, who preceded Yaska, had his own Nighantu text. And, perhaps, Yaska too had his own Nighantu.

But, such works – Nighantus as also Niruktas – of all those savants, who preceded Yaska, are lost. And, it is only the Nirukta of Yascacharya that has stood the test of time for over two thousand seven hundred years; and, is acclaimed, for its excellence, as the most authoritative text in its class.


Manifold approaches to the study of Vedas

There are several approaches or methods that are generally applied for the systematic study, analysis and interpretations of the Samhita texts (the Vedas). Yaska also recognized that the Vedic texts presented multiple aspects; and could be studied and interpreted in various different ways.

Accordingly, the Samhitas were analyzed and interpreted, in varied ways, by earlier authors adhering to different sets of  disciplines , such as: Yajnika (ritualists); Nairuktas (etymologists); Aithihasika (those who traced the historical traditions); Naidana (mix of history and etymology); Parivrajaka (ascetics); the Dharma-shastrika (those who interpreted books of moral code and conduct); and, the Vaiyakaranas (Grammarians)

Aitihasikah, Nairuktah, Naidanah, Parivrajakah, Yajnikah, Dharma-shastrika and Vaiyakaranah.

The Yajnika-s, whose primary interest was the performance of the Yajna, were more concerned the sequence of the rituals to be conducted during the course of the Yajna, and the proper utterance of the related Vedic mantras; than with the meaning of the mantras that were recited by them.

tatra etad yājñikā vedayante triśad uktha pātrāni mādhyandine savana eka devatāni tāny etasmin kāla ekena pratidhānena pibanti tāny atra sara  ucyante/ 5.1/

 The Aithihasikas, on the other hand, try to relate a hymn or a Vedic passage to an event or an account concerning a deity, as narrated in a mythical story. (This, of course, is totally different from the historical analysis of the present-day.) – tvāstro.asura.ity.aitihāsikā / 2,16 /

The Naidanas’ (said to be specialists on the theory of causation) approach was similar to that of Aithihasikas – ṛcā samaṃ menaḥ iti naidānāḥ । 

The Parivrajaka, the wandering philosophers, Adhyatma-pravada, try to interpret almost every aspect of a Samhita text in terms of spiritual or mystical context-  bahu.prajā.kcchram.āpadyata.iti.parivrājakā  2,8

The Dharma-shastrikas search for points of Law or precedence in the accounts narrated in the Vedas – sākṣāt.kṛta.dharmāṇa.ṛṣayo.babhūvuḥ / te. avarebhyo. asākṣāt. kṛta. dharmabhya. upadeśena.mantrānt.samprāduḥ /1,20 /

The Vaiyakaranah, the Grammarians are mostly interested in the linguistic analysis of the Vedic texts – mandayater.iti.vaiyākaraāh / 9,5 /

But, Gargya remarks : Not all , only some Grammarians — Na sarvani iti Gargyah vaiyyakarananam ca eke syath


In contrast, Yaska chose to adopt the method of Nirukta, which analyzes the words used in the Vedic mantras; and determines their precise meaning (Nirvachana) in their proper context.

Some scholars regard  Yaska’s Nirukta as not only a work on etymology; but, also as a work on the most fascinating branches of philology, the study of language in oral and written historical sources.

But, the type of etymologies that Yaska adopted, does not typically establish a link with the mythological or historical realm; nor does it, as a rule,  reveal hidden layers of language.

It is explained; such a semantic etymology is to be distinguished from a historical etymology.

A historical etymology presents the origin or the early history of a word in question. It tells us; for example, how a word in a modern language is derived from another word belonging to an earlier language, or to an earlier stage of the same language.

A Semantic etymology does something quite different. It attempts to connect one word with one or more others which are believed to elucidate its meaning. The semantic etymologies tell us nothing about the history of a word, but something about its meaning in a particular context.

[Dr.Saroja Bhate remarks: though some scholars interpret the term Nirvachana to mean Etymology, it is, in fact, different from the modern concept of Etymology. Yaska’s etymologies do not attempt historical analysis of words.]

In his remarkable work Nirukta,  which also serves as a commentary on the Nighantu, Yaska attempts to establish the proper meaning of certain selected Vedic words, in the context of ‘how, where, when and why’ it is stated in the text .

Thus, the essential feature of Yaska’s commentary is the semantic interpretation of words based on their derivation (Nirvachana).

[As Peter M. Scharf explains in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Linguistics (11,2) : at times; Yaska provides a familiar synonym for an obscure word, in addition to its etymological derivation. For instance; in vayāḥ śākhā veteḥ (Nirukta 1.4) – the obscure word Vayāis explained through a familiar word śākhā  (the branches) ; and, Yaska says that vayā  is derived from the root vī  (to move).

But, some etymologies in the Nirukta are less explicit; they utilize semantic statements from which a phonetic analysis is easily inferred. For instance; Nirukta 2.14 explains the six words contained in Nighaṇṭu 1.4.

svar ādityo bhavati. su araṇaḥ. su īraṇaḥ. svṛtaḥ rasān. svṛtaḥ bhāsam jyotiṣām. svṛtaḥ bhāseti vā.

The first, svar, is explained as follows by Sarup (1920–27: part II, p. 30):

Svar means the sun; it is very distant, it  disperses (the darkness); it penetrates the fluids;  it is luminary; its light penetrates or pierces through the objects. It is said; the  term Svar can be derived from the pre-verb su plus the word araṇa ‘distant,’ īr ‘set in motion,’ or the root ṛ ‘go.’ The word araṇa is itself a derivation from the verb ‘go.’ ]


As Johannes Bronkhorst observes in his Etymology and magic: Yāska’s Nirukta, Plato’s Cratylus, and the riddle of semantic etymologies 

One way to account for the validity of such semantic etymologies based on the similarity between words (for those who accept this validity) would be to claim that there are ultimate meaning bearers, such as individual sounds or small groups of them, each with its own specific meaning

[For instance; as per its etymology, the term Indra denotes the one who, by his power (Indriya), energises or kindles the vital airs (prana). The Satapatha Bråhmana  says, since he kindled (indh), he is the kindler (indha ). But, cryptically, he is called Indra

sa yo yam madhye prāa | ea evendrastānea prāānmaindra ityācakate paro
am paro ‘kakāmā hi devāsta iddhā sapta nānā puruānasjanta –

Besides the etymology of Indra, as above (from Indh), the Taittiriya Bråhmana ( offers an altogether different explanation: “No one can withstand this power (idam indriyam) in him; and, that is why he is called ‘Indra’.”

Different etymologies of one and the same word (often a name) are frequently met with, sometimes even in one and the same text. For instance;

The two different etymologies of the word Indra occur in one and the same passage at Satapatha Bråhmana

So’rcañcrāmyaścacāra prajākāma sa ātmanyeva prajātimadhatta sa āsyenaiva
jata te devā divamabhipadyā sjyanta taddevānā devatvayad divamabhipadyā sjyanta tasmai sasjānāya divevāsa tadveva devānā devatvayadasmai sasjānāya divevāsa
1.1.6.[7] ]


[According to Prof. Jan E.M. Houben, this is what Yaska said about the methodology that he adopted in the Second Chapter of his Nirukta, commencing with – Atha Nirvachanam, which states the characteristic features of Nirvachana.


With reference to this, the words, the accent and the  grammatical  form of which are regular and accompanied by a radical modification which gives a hint, should be derived in the ordinary manner.

But, If the meaning is not perspicuous; and, if there is no radical modification which gives a hint, one should investigate [the word to be explained], taking one’s stand on the meaning, according to a similarity (of a verbal root with a suitable meaning) – (Sama-artha-svara-samskara)- to the derived from (i.e., to the word to be explained). 

Even If no similar [verbal root] is found, one should explain [the word] according to a similarity in syllable or phoneme – (Arthanityah parkseta kenchid vrtti samanyena)

But, never should one abstain from explaining [by deriving it from some root], one should not be attached to the grammatical form [too much], for the derived forms (i.e., the words to be explained) are full of uncertainties

Nir.2,1:atha.nirvacanam : tad.yeu.padeu.svara.saskārau.samarthau.prādeśikena.vikārea(guena.Bh).anvitau.syātām.tathā.tāni.nirbrūyād;atha.ananvite.arthe.aprādeśike.vikāre.artha.nityaparīketa.kenacid.vtti.sāmānyena;avidyamāne.sāmānye.apy.akara.vara.sāmānyān.nirbrūyāūyāt;na.saskāram.ādriyeta.viśayavatyo.(hi.Bh).vttayo.bhavanti ]


Yaska’s Nirukta -structure

As mentioned earlier, Nirukta is the systematic creation of a glossary; written in archaic Sanskrit prose, which discusses how to understand antiquated, uncommon words used mainly in the Rig-Veda.

For the purpose of his study, Yaska chose about 600 stanzas from the Rig-Veda; and, created a well organized vocabulary to understand the meaning; and, to interpret, particularly, the archaic, uncommon words used in the Vedic texts (artha nitya parīketa kenacid vtti sāmānyenaNir.2.1).

But, all the Mantras that he quotes are not fully explained by him. Often, Yaska passes past some mantras by saying: this mantra is self-explanatory – iti.sā.nigada.vyākhyātā (Nir.6.5). It is said; there are about 13-14 such mantras.

[Although, Yaska’s Nirukta hardly needs a commentary, in the later times, many commentaries came to be written. Of these, the commentaries that are very well known are: (a) Skandaswamin’s Nirukta-bhashyatika (14th century), supplemented by Maheshwara’s Vivarana (15thcentury); and, (b) Durga-simha’s Rjvarta (14th century). Durga’s comments are more frequently cited by the later scholars.]


Yaska’s Nirukta comprises twelve Chapters (Parishishta) divided into two broad sections: Purva-shatka (the first six Chapters); and, Uttara-shtka (the latter six Chapters).

These again are grouped into three Kandas (Cantos):  Naighantuka Kanda; Naigama Kanda; and, Daivata Kanda.

A. Under the Purva-shatka, which has six Chapters:-

(1) The Naighantuka Kanda, comprises three Chapters (1 t0 3) – Kanda-trayatmaka; and, it comments on the Fourth Chapter of the Nighantu (Naigama Kanda), treating of the words used in the Rig-Veda – commencing with the Gau and ending with Apara.

In this section, Yäska discusses the aims and methods of the Nirukta, as a branch of learning; and, refers to different teachers and contemporary disputes concerning the language and the  meaning/s.

Chapter 1 (and part of chapter 2) of Yaska’s Nirukta deals with some important theoretical aspects which gives an insight into Yaska’s overall philosophical and linguistic approach;  such as :

: – importance of knowing the meaning   of the Vedic mantras;

:- Parts of speech (Padas) classified into four groups  (Jatis) (Bheda-chatushtaya)- (1)Nama (noun); (2) Akhyata (verb); (3) Upasarga  (preposition);  and, (4) Nipata  (particles) – (Catvari padajatani Nama-Akhyate cha  Upsarga Nipata-shcha)

: – Verb-root principle – asserting that the nouns are derived from verbs (dhatuja / akhyataja).

: – Language variation, its causes, forms, and effects

: – Principles of Nirvachana (etymology)

(2) The second Kanda, Naigama Kanda : while the first three Chapters dealt with synonyms (Ekartham-aneka-sabdam); the three Chapters (4 to 6), here, explain the homonyms (Aneka-arthani-ekasabdani); and the Vedic words whose derivation is obscure (Anavagata-samskaran -nigaman). This is called Aikapadikam. This Kanda covers the selected words of the Rig-veda beginning with Jahā and ending with Ulbam  bīsam.

agni purana cropped

(B) Under the Uttara-shatka or the Second Section of Nirukta:-

The Daivata Kanda, in its six Chapters, comments on the Fifth Chapter of Nighantu (Daivata Kanda). It is a systematic exposition of the nature; the symbolism; the forms’ interpretation etc., of the prominent Deities (Devata) of the three regions, of the Earth (Prithvi-sthana), of the Sky (Dyu-sthana); and, of the intermediate space (Madhyama-sthana). It commences with Agni and ends with Deva-patnyah (consorts of gods).

Of those three regions; the Prithvi-sthana covers the deities from Agni to Urjahuti; the Madhyama-sthana covers from Vayu to Bhaga; and, the Dyu-sthana, from Surya to Deva-patnyah.

[Yaska_charya defines a Deva as one who gives gifts (devo daanad), who is effulgent (devo dipanaat), who illumines (devo dyotanad), and who resides in heaven or the celestial world (dyusthane bhavati  iti).


After discussing the three different views (namely, they have form, they do not have form, and a combination of these two views), the Nirukta concludes that, in reality, there is only one Devata who can be addressed in various ways depending upon the temperament of the aspirant. Yaska_charya confirms by saying Eka atma Bahudha Stuyate (Nir.7,4meaning there is only One God and many praise by different names.

ekam.sad.viprā.bahudhā.vadanty.agnim.yamam.mātariśvānam.āhuh/”(RV.1,164,46) imam.eva.agnim.mahāntam.ātmānam.ekam.ātmānam.bahudhā.medhāvino.vadanti/ Nir.7.18 /

He further says ; the many forms of gods are manifestation of the atman, One Reality – Ekasya atmanah anye devah pratyangani bhavanti . He emphasizes that the Sat Vastu  includes in itself different deities. 

māhābhāgyād.devatāyā.eka.ātmā.bahudhā.stūyate,.ekasya.ātmano.anye.devāḥ.pratyaṅgāni.bhavanti- Nir.7.4

Sri Sayanacharya in his Rig_bashya_bhumika  says praise of any god  leads to the same tat (entity) – Tasmat sarvairapi parameshvara eve huyate .]

Nighantu-Nirukta chart

[ Devaraja (15th-16thcentury) , a commentator, in the introduction to his work says : Yaska, in his Nirukta, explained, individually , and in their entirety, only the words of which a list is given in the Fourth and Fifth Section of the Nighantu (Naigama and the Daivata Kandas)]

Yaska deals with the etymology proper (Nirukta), with commentary on the related portions of the Nighantu; starting from Chapter 2, Section 2 of Naighantuka Kanda.

Yaska’s commentary (bhasya) commences with a discussion on synonyms (Ekartham-aneka-shabdam). But, later, he devotes more space to elucidating the Nighantu words of obscure nature (Anavagata-samskaran -nigaman), which suggest more than one meaning.

The most interesting portion of the Nirukta is the discussion which covers the whole of the First book and a part of the Second, as well as the Seventh book of the Nighantu, which was as an admirable introduction to the study of the Veda

Yaska’s study included a system of rules for forming words starting from roots and affixes. According to Yaska, every word is derived from a root (Dhatu); and, by analyzing the root, its tendency and the suffix, it is possible to establish the relation between word and meaning.

For Yaska, every term is embedded with meaning (Artha); and, Nirvachana provides the device for doing so. In other words; the meaning is secured by the term itself by Nirvachana analysis, which indeed is the objective way of determining what meaning is ascribed to each word.


As Johannes Bronkhorst   writes in Etymology and magic: Yāska’s Nirukta, Plato’s Cratylus, and the riddle of semantic etymologies

A number of rules are formulated in the Second chapter of the Nirukta that should help the student to find etymologies on his own. The most important among these rules is, no doubt, the one that etymologizing should, first of all, be guided by the meaning of the word concerned; phonetic considerations play a less important role:

One should examine a word, being intent upon its meaning, with the help of some similarity in function with other words. When not even such a similarity is present one should explain on the basis of similarity (lakshana) in a syllable or in a single sound.” (Nirukta 2.1).

Tad yeu padeu svara saskārau samarthau prādeśikena vikārea  guena  anvitau syātām tathā tāni nirbrūyād / atha ananvite arthe aprādeśike vikāre artha nitya parīketa kenacid vtti sāmānyena / Nir.2,1/

 In the case of unknown words, therefore, one looks at the context in which they occur (usually a Vedic hymn), so as to get a first impression as to their meaning. Subsequently one looks for other words (they have to be verbal forms, according to the Nirukta) which are more or less similar to the word under study

Semantic considerations, however, come first. Therefore, a verbal form which is less similar but closer to the expected meaning is to be preferred to a more similar verbal form which does not support the desired meaning. And words which are known to have several meanings have also several etymologies

An example is the word gau “The word go is a synonym for ‘earth’; because, it goes (gata) far; and, because living beings go (gacchanti) on it. Or else, it could be a name of something which moves (gåti). The syllable ‘au’, in the word gau , is a nominal suffix. Moreover, the word gau is the name of an animal (the cow) for this same reason. 

Also a bowstring is called gauh; because it sets arrows in motion (gamayati) Gavyā cet tādhitam,  atha cet na gavyā gamayati isūn iti (Nirukta 2.5).


As a part of his exposition, Yaska makes a clear distinction between the Vedic and the spoken language. But, he also observes that sometimes a word used in one is derived from a root belonging to the other. He makes a similar observation with regard to the dialects of regional language (Prakrita)

Atha-apy.bhāikebhyo dhātubhyo naigamā kto bhāyante damūnā ketrasādhā iti –Nir.2.2…Atha-api praktaya eva ekeu bhāyante viktaya ekeu –Nir.2.2


The Nirukta, as a discipline , which attempts to determine the essential significance of a Vedic passage (mantrartha), recognizes five kinds of changes that a word in common usage [with Noun (Nama), Verb (Akhyata), Preposition (Upasarga) and Particle (Nipata) ] could undergo to become a Vedic word ; and, to be included in the Nighantu:  (1) A letter may be freshly added on to the word (Varna-agama); (2) A letter may be altered (Varna-viparitya); the form of the letter may be distorted (Varna-vikara); (4) A letter may be omitted (Akshara-lopa); and, (5) the root of may get over stressed (Yoga).


Catvari padajatani

In his Nirukta, Yaska tried to explain (Nirvacanam) such Vedic words from the perspective of various linguistic aspects like Noun, Verb, preposition, particle, general definition, special definition, synonyms, homonyms (words that share the same pronunciation but convey different meanings), common and obscure grammatical forms, words and their meanings, and the etymology of these words. Yaska terms such analytical method as samaskara (treatment) or sastrakrto yogah (grammatical combination)

In that context, Yaska mentions about the classification of the four groups of parts of speech (Catvari padajatani) such as:  Noun (Naman), Verb (Akhyata), Preposition (Upasarga), and Particle (Nipata). Of these, the first two are established by definition; and, the remaining two by enumeration.

Catvāri pada jātāni nāma ākhyāte ca upasarga nipātāś ca tāni imāni bhavanti ...Nir .l.l iti imāni catvāri pada jātāni anukrāntāni  nāma ākhyāte ca upasarga nipātāś ca tatra nāmāny ākhyātajāni iti śākaāyano nairukta samayaś ca – Nir. 1, 12/

It appears that Audumbarayana, another ancient authority, had not agreed with such four-fold classification of parts of speech

(indriyanityam vacanam Audumbarayanah tatra chatustam Na papayate Nir.1.1-2). 

Yaska opposes the stand taken by Audumbarayana; but then, he goes on to talk about a totally different concept, Bhava – the being and becoming (Bhu) of verbs from their roots. Yaska, in that context, mentions six modes or forms of transformations (Sad bhava vikarah) of Bhava-s from the indistinct (A-vyakta) to explicit (Vyakta) and then to disappearance (vinasa). These phases are: coming into existence (jayate); existence (Asti); transformation (viparinamate); growth (vardate); decay or wane (apaksiyate); and, ceasing to exist (vinasyati).

These are the six phases of changes (parinama) that do occur in all forms of life or of any entity.

life cycle

Between the Noun and the Verb, Yaska treats the Verb as the nucleus of a sentence. 

Here, though the Noun is named first, it is the Verb that is evidently more important. The Verb expresses action (Kim karoti?), the becoming (Bhava); while Noun, fundamentally, denotes the existing thing – (Sattva – ‘being’).

Here, Sattva is the static aspect of the meaning (as it exists); and, Bhava, the dynamic aspect, is action (Kriya) as it takes place in temporal sequence – (bhavah karma kriya dhatvartha ity anarthantaram).

In other words; a Verb (AkhyataBhava pradhana) – is mainly concerned with Bhava (action). Whereas, the Nouns (Naman) have Sattva (substance or existence of an object – Asti- Satva pradhana) as the chief element in their meaning (Bhava-pradhanam akhyatam; sattva-pradhanani namani Nir. l.l).  

According to Yaska, Verb (Akhyata) is the vital unit of language through which we express our intentions and actions; and, a sentence without a verb serves no purpose (tad.yatra.ubhe.bhāva.pradhāne.bhavata– Nir. l. l

bhāvapradhānam ākhyātam/ sattvapradhānāni nāmāni/ tad yatrobhe bhāvapradhāne bhavata pūrvāparībhūta bhāvam ākhyātenācaṣṭe/ vrajati pacatīti/ upakramaprabhtyapavargaparyanta mūrta sattvabhūta sattvanāmabhi/ vrajyā paktir iti/ ada iti sattvānām upadeśa/ gaur aśva puruo hastīti/ bhavatīti bhāvasya/ āste śete vrajati tiṣṭhatīti –  Nir. l.l 


Of the four parts of speech (Catvari padajatani) , Yaska gives greater importance to Nouns and Verbs (Naman, Akyata) – which are employed independently – than to the Prefix or Prepositions  (Upasarga – Nanavidha vishesha artha pradhana) and the Particles (Nipata – Upamarthe pada puranartha – for the purpose of drawing comparisons),  which cannot present a clear meaning when detached from Nouns or Verbs – na nirbaddha upasarga arthannirahuriti Sakatayanah –Nir.I.3.

According to Yaska; Sakatayana held the view that the prepositions are indicative (dyotaka) rather than denotative (vacaka) — (nama-akahyatayostu karmopa-samyoga-dyotaka bhavanti~ Nir.I.3)

With regard to pre-verbs, Yaska refers to the views of Sakatayana and Gärgya: According to the former, the prepositions do not have a meaning of their own; and, when detached from a Noun or a Verb, they do not distinctly express a meaning. But, they do help in highlighting a secondary relation with the object of the Noun or Verb. 

But, according to Gärgya, prepositions do have various meanings (even when they are detached from a Noun or a Verb). Their meaning implies a modification in the meaning of Noun and Verb. For instance; Upasarga which is described as Nanavidha vishesha artha pradhana – can provide a special meaning to a word as in A-hara, Vi-hara and Sam-hara.

And, even in its isolated condition, a prefix is capable of modifying the sense of a Verb or a Noun. For instance; the preposition  ’A ’ can express the sense of limit , say as in,  Apara ( limitless)  as opposed to  Para (limited). The prepositions Ati and Su indicate excellence, while Nir and Dur are the reverse of the two; Ni  and Ava indicate downward-ness, while Ud is the reverse of the two ; and, similarly , Sam indicates junction or togetherness , while Vi and Apa are the reverse of Sam.

Yaska seems to have gone along with Gargya’s view . he enumerates twenty Upasargas. 

nāma.ākhyātayos.tu.karma.upasamyoga.dyotakā.bhavanty / ucca. avacā. Pada . arthā.  bhavanti iti Gārgyas /āhur.ime. tam. Nāma. Ākhyātayor artha vikaraam/ ā.ity.arvāg.arthe.pra.parā.ity.etasya.prātilomyam – Nir.1.3 .

When that logic is extended, it leads to say:  the phonemes and syllables are not independent entities conveying their own meaning.  Nevertheless, they are the essential parts of the word. But, the meaning of the word does not solely arise out of them. The Meaning is the function of the word as a whole.

[Patanjali, in his Mahabhashya puts forward a similar argument.

For the purpose of illustration; he cites the three words Kupa (well); Supa (soup); and, Yupa (sacrificial post).

Here, Patanjali points out; the first letter of each of those three words differs; but, the other letters that follow are identical. These are, in fact, three separate words that are distinguished by the substitution of one phoneme, for another phoneme

 However, the object signified by each one is distinct from the objects signified by the other two words. Each of the three words signifies a different object.

Patanjali says; each of the phonemes – K; S; and Y- does not by itself carry a meaning. Similarly, the set of other letters in the three words (- upa) also, by itself, does not make any sense. It is only when they combine, a word carrying a meaning, is put forth.

Patanjali compares this fact to a chariot made of several parts; where, each of its parts, by itself, is incapable of moving.  It is only when all the parts combine systematically and form a single entity that the chariot can move.

Thus, Patanjali argues that phonemes have a differentiating significance within the units which bear the meaning. Such a unit, he considers it as saghāta, a single entity which is ‘indivisible and one’. A phoneme, thus, plays a significant role in distinguishing one word from the other, each pointing to a different object.]

 In Yaska’s Nirukta, the Upasargas were used with the nouns and also with Verbs nāma.ākhyātayos.tu.karma.upasamyoga.dyotakā.bhavanty (Nir.1.3).

[Yaska enumerates twenty prepositions, along with their meanings: ati-;adhi-;anu-;apa-;api-;abhi-;ava-;aa-;ut-;upa-;dus-;nis-;nir-;paraa-;pari-;pra-;prati-;v; sam-;and su-. And, to that list, Sakatayana adds three more Upasargas: accha-; srad-; and antar-. Later marut-; and dur- were added; thus making it to 25.]


One of the main features of Nirukta is that Yaska agrees with Sakatayana that all nouns are derived from a verbal stem (mula); and, all nouns are regarded as related to an activity expressed in language by a verbal form – tatra nāmāny ākhyātajāni iti śākaāyano nairukta samayaś ca / na sarvāi iti Gārgyo vaiyākaraā-nāś ca eke – Nir. 1, 12/

Yaska says:  any Noun can be traced back to a root (Dhatu), similar in form and meaning – samāna karmāo dhātavo dhātur dadhāte. And with that, all words come under the purview of the Nirukta.

[As compared to that, Panini left aside the irregular formations. Further, Nirukta also comments on those Vedic passages, words and their forms , which were not analyzed in the texts of Grammar.  And, therefore,  Saroja Bhate remarks, the function of Nirukta starts when that of the Grammar ends. And, therefore, Yaska aptly describes his work as ‘the completion of Grammar’- vyākaraasya kārtsnyam- [tad idam vidyasthanam vyakaranasya kartsnyam svartha-sadhakam ca . (Nir. 1,15) ]

Yaska considers the verbal roots (Dhātu) to be the bases (prakṛti), and their  noun-forms to be the modifications of them (vikṛti); and, he calls the latter as ‘born’ from the former.

As the nouns, often, have verbal roots (Dhatu), they attempt to explain ‘Why something is called what it is called ‘, by linking it to some activity; thereby establishing its relation to a verb or verbal-root. In fact, Yaska treats every noun as an information-invoking singular term.

 For instance; the Nirukta states that the noun Cittam (mind) is derived from (the root) its activity cit (to know) – cittaṃ cetateḥ (Nirukta 1.6)

The logic behind Yaska’s assertion appears to be: man keeps creating more new words to conceptualize and to describe verities of actions; which is to say, both the meaning and the etymology of words are always context-sensitive.

Thus, His main view is that the name of an object is to be determined by its actions, as also by the contextual factors (samsarga etc.)


The proposition that the Nouns are derived from Verbs (dhatuja/akhyataja) was opposed by many grammarians, including Gargya. They argued that if all nouns were derived from verbs, every person who performs a particular action should have the same name. [Kartri (a doer) from Kri (to do); Pachaka (cook) from Pach (to cook), and so on]

Yaska rebutted such criticisms by pointing out: Not everyone gets the same name by performing the same action.  For instance; a carpenter performs many other actions (takati karoti karmā), besides cutting the wood. The term ‘Carpenter’, here, signifies a person, who possesses a distinctive skill; and, perhaps follows a particular profession for his living. It does not, however, refer to any one particular person. It could refer to a whole class of such persons, in general.

 But, anyone or everyone who cuts wood cannot be called a carpenter (takā).  

Thus, though one is involved in many different activities, one gets his name from a particular action in which he is engaged. Therefore, objects are named depending upon the specific actions they perform.

yaḥ kaś ca tat karma kuryāt sarvam tat attvam tathā ācakṣīran /  yaḥ kaś ca adhvānam aśnuvīta aśvaḥ sa vacanīyaḥ syāt / atha api cet sarvāṇy ākhyātajāni nāmāni syuḥ  / Nir.1,12


It is said; the Grammarians classify the meanings of a word under three categories:   Yaugika; Yogarudha; and, Rudha.

When a word expresses its etymological sense, it is called Yaugika (derivative);

When its etymological meaning and its conventional meaning are the same, it is called Yogarudha (derivative and conventional) ; and,

When the conventional meaning, the one that is used in day-to-day affairs, is either not directly connected with its etymological derivation or it is different, then it is called Rudha (conventional).

But, as rule, the conventional meaning is regarded as stronger as and more acceptable than the etymological meaning (yogad rudhir baliyasi sighravrttitvat).

For instance; the etymological meaning of the term Asva is that which pervades or occupies; but, Asva in common usage denotes a horse. Similarly, Pankaja etymologically means that which is born in slush; but, it is commonly used to indicate a lotus flower.

The other is the Ashva-karna a type of leaf; but literally, the ears of a horse. In all such cases, it is the meaning in common usage that is generally accepted; and, the literal meaning is treated as faded metaphor.

Following the same principle, and citing the same instances, Matanga, in his Brhaddeshi,   explains: whatever might be its other meanings, the word Raga (derived from the root ranj = to please), effectively suggests, here, as that which generates delight: Ranjana-jjayate ragau.

Ithevam raga-shabdasya utpatthir abhidiyate I Ranjana-jjayate ragau utpatthih samudahrutah II283II Ashva-karnadi vidha rude yaugikau vaapi vachakah I Yogarudosthva raage jneyam pankaja-shabdavat II 284II

[Panini also said that the meanings of the words were bound to change with the passage of time, as also in varying contexts. He recognized the fact the people who spoke the language and used it in their day-to-day lives were better judges in deriving, meaning from the words.

Strangely, that came true in the case of Panini himself. For instance; in the Astadhyayi (6.1.147), the word ‘Ascharya’ is explained as that which is not-permanent (Anitya) or rare: āścaryam-anitye. And, Katyayana, a couple of centuries later, corrected that meaning to imply ‘Adbhuta’ – something that is wondrous, miraculous or unprecedented. The meaning of the term ‘Ascharya’, as interpreted by Katyayana has, of course, prevailed; and , is in common use now.

The term Aranyaka is interpreted by Panini to mean ’a forest dweller, a man who lives in the forest’- arayān-manuye (P S 4.2.129).  And, Katyayana expanded its  meaning to include a class of Vedic texts. But, somehow, it is not applied for referring to forest elephants, jackals and other wild animals that also live in the forests.

Bhartrhari, in his Vakyapadiya, therefore, emphasizes the importance of contextual factors in the determination of the meaning of expressions. Etymology is without doubt important in its own context; but, in the day-to-day conversations (rudi) the conventional meaning (Vyvaharica-artha) takes precedence over the etymologically derived sense

It is often said; a Grammarian may have control over the Lakshana (the rules); but, not always over the Lakshya, the way the language is used in the outside world. The quality of such language is almost excellent, when it is immediately close to the grammatical rules. But, many a times, the Lakshana becomes subservient to Lakshya. ].

[The American Dialect Society, which studies the evolution of language, has voted
the neutral pronoun “they” as the word of the present decade. “They” is used in English by a growing number of non-binary individuals, people who do not identify as either male or female. They prefer the plural neutral pronoun to bypass the traditionally male “he” or female “she”. Thus, it is said “they” has become an indication of “how the personal expression of gender identity employed by an increasing part of our shared discourse.”]


After explaining the evolution of speech; and, the fourfold stages of speech, Yaska takes up the question:  — ‘whether the words are eternal or ephemeral, merely created for the time being’.

Besides the issue of the eternity of words, Yaska also talks about the infallibility of Vedic words, the impermanence of human knowledge etc., – karmasampattir mantro Vede– Nir.I.2.; Purusa vidya nityatvat Nir.I.2

Yaska asserts that the word, the meaning and their mutual relations are eternal (nityam vacanam)

Yaska brushes aside the prima facie view (Purva-paksha) or the objections raised by Audumbarayana and such others; and, argues: If we admit the impermanence of words, then the mutual relation and the grammatical relation of words are not possible. Therefore, the functions of words are possible only if we admit they are everlasting, in their nature.

Following the Mimamsakas, Yaska also supported the doctrine of the eternal nature of the words – ‘vyaptimattvat tu sabdasya’ (Nir.I.2)

In this way, Yaska believed in the idea of the eternity of words; and, then he engaged in the Sphota theory.  This Doctrine (Sphota-vada) puts forward the view:  When a word is uttered, it reaches the mind of the listener through her/his ears; and, on its acceptance, the mind absorbs and understands the sense of verbal-sounds it received. Thus, the uttered words, which travel through the air, perish. Yet, the meaning conveyed by them resides permanently in the mind of the listener.

Yaska was, perhaps, one among the earliest authorities to make a reference to Sphota-vada.  Bharthari (11th century) in his celebrated work Vakyapadiya acknowledges Yaska’s reference to the Sphota concept.  Bhartrhari explains the Sphota as: a spontaneous process where a latent idea or thought arising out of the consciousness or the mind of the speaker is manifested by the sounds (Dhvani) of the spoken words employed in the sentence; and, it is directly grasped, through intuition (Prathibha), by the mind (Buddhi) of the listener.

In this context, Yaska mentions that the words, obviously, carry a meaning; but, in the course of time, a word might acquire a meaning that is different or even quite opposite to the one it had earlier. Such a change of meaning possibly comes about due to various reasons. That might be because, in the later times, it may to have to indicate a different type of action, object or an usage. And, that often happens; because the name of an object is to be determined by its actions. Therefore, the contextual factors (Samsarga) , in their current time, become important in arriving at the new meaning of a term.

Answering the question –  how an object could be called by a certain name, when it is performing a different action than that is indicated by its  name, Durga, commenting on the Nirukta, says: šabda-niyama svabhāvata eva loke – “in spoken language, in the world , the usage of  the word (Sabda-vrtti) follows its own nature”.

According to Durga , this svabhāva is an inherent characteristic of the word, as a meaningful entity. It has its own existence; and , can  ,therefore, be applied to any object at will by a speaker, thus creating a new contextual meaning; because, the word in its semantic aspect, continues to carry its own significance .

Durga remarks: the use of words, their role and the intended effect are context sensitive. The same word could be employed in any number of ways; each performing its role its own context. Therefore even on the purely communication level, the word acts as a meaningful entity, influencing and creating the society of man, which is nothing but a product of this communication.

The Scholarly Paper Yaska’s discussion of the meaning of a word in relation to objective reality, explains:

A word persists in its own reality beyond the reality of time and space. Since we live, act, see, understand the world using our linguistic reality, the name once given to the object, whether it was relevant or seemed to be relevant for a particular speaker, could remain for a longer time, even if it had very little to do with the current  action of the object. The reason why this or that name was given to the object was not in order to satisfy an objective reality. But, rather, it was a subjective one; for, it was named by a speaker imposing his wish, opinion, knowledge or will on the object. Once the name has been used, it would persist in memory until a new name effaces or changes it; or even, it might perhaps, last longer.


Finally, as Eivind Kahrs in his Indian Semantic Analysis: The Nirvacana Tradition  sums up his review of Yaska’s work, says:

What is really important about the Nirukta is that it is the single text we possess which applies a certain method designated to give semantic analysis of nouns, in the widest sense of the term. Moreover, Nirukta contains lengthy discussions of linguistic and philosophic import.  As compared to Panini’s formal grammatical attitude, keeping out the philosophical notions; Yaska’s interest in philosophy is remarkable.

Though the  main task of the Nirukta of Yaska is to explain most of the rare and obscure Vedic words by pointing out various possible etymologies , there are also discussions of general nature, on the concept of eternity and infallibility of Vedic words, (karma-sampattir mantro Vede Nir.I.2);  the impermanence of human knowledge (purusa-vidya-anityatvatNir.I.2) and so on. Thus, Yaska’s commentary is not restricted to derivation of Vedic words, but covers a much wider field.


Before go proceed to talk about Panini, let us briefly, in a capsule form, jot down the significant differences between the Nirukta of Yaska and the Astadhyayi of Panini.

(1) Nirukta is a glossary commenting and explaining the meaning of certain chosen mantras of the Rigveda, based mainly on the Nighantu and the Brahmana texts. Its focus is on the Vedic language.

Astadhyayi is an independent and an original treatise, seeking to construct a systematic analysis of all speech forms.

(2) The main task of the Nirukta is to provide the exact meaning of antiquated terms of the Rigveda that were no longer in use. It, basically, is rooted in the past.

The Astadhyayi is, principally, concerned with the language that is alive and is evolving. It deals with the then present status of the language; refining its form and usage. It strives to ensure the correct treatment of the words by purifying (Samskrita) the language (bhasha) – literary and spoken (vaidika and laukika) – that was in use during its days.

It also serves as authoritative guidelines, for the future generations, for understanding the language, speaking it correctly and using it, as it should be.

The content and the scope of Astadhyayi is much wider, as compared to that of the Nirukta.

(3) Yaska’s Nirukta is written in easy flowing prose. It hardly needs a commentary, to explain or to interpret its content.

Panini’s Ashtadhyayi is composed in Sutra form-terse and tightly knit; rather highly abbreviated. The text does need a companion volume to explain it. Therefore, generations of Grammarians and scholars were engaged (and continue to be engaged) in commenting upon and in elucidating Panini’s text.

Yaskapranitam.2 jpg

References and Sources

  1. The Nighantu and the Nirukta by Sri Lakshman Sarup
  2. Text of the Nirukta – Based on the edition by Sri Lakshman Sarup
  3. Ashtadhyayi or Sutrapatha of Panini
  4.  A critical study of some aspects of Nirukta by Tarapada Chakrabarti
  5. Etymology and magic: Yaska’s Nirukta, Plato’s Cratylus, and the riddle of semantic etymologies by Johannes Bronkhorst
  6. Grammatical Literature by Hartmut Scharfe
  7. Indian Semantic Analysis: The Nirvacana Tradition  by Eivind Kahrs
  8. Yaska’s discussion of the meaning of a word in relation to objective reality
  9. Pānini and Yāska : Principles of derivation  by Saroja Bhate
  10. Yaska’s Nirukta and his reflections on language
  11. The Nirukta and the Aitareya Brahmana by Prof. Viman Ch. Bhattacharya
  12. The History of Indian Literature (1892) by Albrecht Weber
  13. Introduction to the Nirukta and the literature related to it by Rudolph Roth
  14. Panini and his place in Sanskrit by  Theodor Goldstücker
  15. Yaska’s Nirukta by Prof. S. K. Ramachandra Rao
  16. All images are from Internet


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sri Yamunacharya

For my friend  Shri Kannan Rangachar


In the Vaishanava tradition (Sampradaya); Sri Nathamuni (Ca.823-951?), Sri Yamunacharya (917-1042), and Sri Ramanuja (1017 to 1137) are highly revered as Munitrayam – the Grand Trinity of Acharyas – of their Guru Parampara

Sri Kuresa (Kurathazhwan) reverently submits his homage to the Guru Parampara, the hierarchy of the Acharyas, commencing from Lakshminatha (Supreme Lord Narayana, the consort of Sri Lakshmi) and ending with his preceptor Sri Ramanuja; with the sages Sri Nathamuni and Sri Yamuna in-between. (This verse is devotedly recited as part of Sri Vaishnava Nithya-anu-sandhanam)

Lakshminatha samarambham / Natha-Yamuna madhyamam / Asmad Acharya paryantam / Vande Guru-paramparam //

Sri Nathamuni is regarded as the Prathama Acharya with whom the distinguished line of Alagiyas or the Acharyas of the Vishistadvaita tradition begins.  He set the Vishishtadvaita Vedanta on a new and a glorious phase of its progression. But, sadly, none his works is now available.

Sri Nathamuni is said to have lived to a very ripe old age. He was succeeded at Srirangam by Pundarikaksha Uyyakkondar; and, then by Rama Misra Manakkal-nambi.

Sri Yamuna strengthened the Vaishnava tradition and philosophy considerably by proving its validity through the authority of the Upanishads, Brahma-sutras, Bhagavad-Gita and other ancient scriptures. While Sri Nathamuni recovered, compiled and codified the treasure of devotional hymns, which were almost fading into oblivion – the ‘Nalayira Divya Prabhandam’; and, brought those Tamil hymns within the fold of temple worship at Srirangam; it was Sri Yamuna, the grandson and the spiritual heir of Sri Nathamuni, who had the unique privilege of inheriting the spiritual wealth of the past generations; and, who established the principles of Vaishnava Siddantha within the framework of the pristine Vedanta tradition (Aupanishada). Thus, the works of Sri Nathamuni and Sri Yamuna complement each other; enormously enhancing the scope, content and authority of the Vaishnava Vedanta scriptures.

[The disappearance of the earlier texts on the Vaishnava doctrine, within the framework of Vedanta, makes Sri Yamuna the first Vaishnava Vedantin, whose views are well informed and authoritative.]

Thus, Sri Nathamuni and Sri Yamuna occupy a central position (Natha-Yamuna madhyamam) among the illustrious Acharyas, who reformed and revitalized this ancient system of thought and faith – Vishitadvaita Siddantha.


Sri Ramanuja inherited that rich heritage; and enhanced it further.  It was on the basis of the works of his Grand Acharya (Pracharya*) i. e., Sri Yamunacharya, that Sri Ramanuja, later, established, fortified and perfected the Vishistadvaita Siddantha. [*Sri Yāmunācārya was said to be the preceptor of Mahāpūra who initiated Sri Rāmānuja.]

And, about two centuries later, Sri Vedanta Desika (1269–1369) edited the works of Sri Ramanuja.

flower design

Sri Yamuna is described as the grandson of Sri Nathamuni; and, as the son of Iswara Bhatta Aazhvaan and Ranganayaki

It is said; even as a boy of twelve, Yamuna was learned, scholarly, and highly eloquent. In a prestigious and a much publicized debate of his times, the bright young Yamuna defeated the haughty Akkialvan, of the Pandya royal Court, feared as the terror of all debaters (Prati-vadi-bhayankara). And, in recognition of his victory over a much feared adversary, the grateful  Chola  Queen  (perhaps the queen of Parantaka I 907 – 955 AD ?) conferred on Sri Yamuna the title of Alavandar (the saviour or the one who came to the rescue ); and, also granted him rights over a sizable tract of  land within  the King’s territory . Thus, while still in his adolescence, Sri Yamuna, apart from affluence, achieved great distinction; and, fame for his intellect and debating skills.

Thereafter, initially, the young Yamuna, for a short time, led a life of luxury and pomp; almost forgetting the legacy of wisdom that he had inherited.

It was the influence of Rama Misra also known as Manakkal-nambi, the chosen disciple of the scholar Pundarikaksha (who himself was the foremost among the disciples of Sri Nathamuni) that awakened the young Yamuna; made him realize the futility of the wayward life that he was then leading.  It was Rama Misra, who talked sense to the young man; sparked in him the awareness of his preeminent lineage; prompted him to recognize his spiritual obligations; and, eventually led him to tread the path of virtuousness.

Rama Misra became the teacher of the young Yamuna; and, taught Vedic texts, Mimamsa and other scriptures as also Divya Prabandam. Thereafter; Rama Misra handed over to Sri Yamuna his grandfather’s legacy of the shrine at Srirangam. Soon thereafter, Sri Yamuna became a Sanyasin, settled down at the holy city of Srirangam; and, devoted the rest of his life to the propagation of the Vaishnava faith; and, to spreading the spiritual wisdom he inherited from his teacher Rama Misra  and from  his Parama Guru Sri Nathamuni.

Swami Desika in Sloka 7 of his Yathiraja Saptadhi pays homage to Yamuna thus: 

Vighaahe Yaamunam Theertham Saadhu Brindaavane Stitham |   Nirasthajih Magha Sparse Yatra Krishnah Kritaa Dharah || 

Sri Yamuna, not only by name, was like the one who resided at Brindavana on the banks the Yamuna; but, was also like the one (Sri Krishna) who cleansed the waters of Yamuna. He purified the tainted interpretations of the Vedic texts; and, established the true Vedanta Siddantha

 Like his Grandfather Sri Nathamuni and his distinguished successor Sri Ramanuja, Sri Yamuna is said to have lived for a very ripe old age of about 120 years.

[Please also see The Stotraratnam or Alavandar-astotram ascribed to śrīmadyāmunamuni; submitted to Sri Yamuna with deep reverence.]

flower design

Sri Yamuna was renowned for his sharp intellect and unerring logic. He could see through sophistry and crooked arguments (Jalpa and Vitanda). He could present his arguments with precision and clarity, in a manner that it could hardly be refuted.

In his exposition of the Vishitadvaita thought, Sri Yamuna closely follows the ancient masters (Purva-charyas) like Bodhayana, Tanaka, Bharuchi and Dramida. And, of course, he was greatly influenced by the works of Sri Nathamuni, particularly by his Nyaya-tattva. Sri Yamuna’s following of Sri Nathamuni was so implicit that the scholar of the later period  Sri Vedanta Desika described Yamuna’s Atma-siddhi as a condensed version Nyaya-tattva ( Nyayatattva prakaranam hi Atmasiddhi).

Sri Yamuna also turned into a prolific writer. The works of Sri Yamuna are of special importance to the students of Vedanta; not only because they are the earliest available Vishitadvaita texts, but also because they present a system of thought and faith that was inspired and nurtured by his Purva-charyas, including Sri Nathamuni ; and, transmitted through an unbroken tradition.

Sri Yamuna is said to have authored at least eight valuable works:  Atma-siddhi; Isvara-siddhi; Samvit-siddhi; Gitartha-samgraha; Purusa-nirnaya; Stotra-ratna; Chatus-sloki; and, Agama-pramanya .


[References to the texts of Sri Yamunacharya:

Agamapramanyam –Sanskrit text   :

Works of Sri Yamunacharya (English) :

Agamapramanyam (pages 1 to 145); Siddhi-trayam (pages 147 to 360); Gitartha Sangraha (pages 341 to 343); Stotra-ratna (pages 344 to 356); Chatus-sloki  (pages 357 to 359)

There is often a mention of Kashmira-agama-pramanya; but, that text now appears to be lost]

flower design

: – Siddhi-traya

The first three are collectively referred to Siddhi-traya (Siddhi trilogy), which describes the relation that exists between the soul, god and the universe : Maha Purusha Nirnayam ; and,  declares that the ultimate reality is the union of Sri and Narayana

But, sadly, much of these texts are lost; and,  Atma-siddhi , which is the most extensive of the three,  is incomplete.  And, it is mainly through the quoted fragments that one gets to know Sri Yamuna’s thoughts on certain important philosophical issues as discussed in these texts. Sri Ramanuja, in his Sri Bhashya, quoted profusely from these splendid texts.

: – Gitartha-samgraha

The Gitartha-samgraha is an excellent epitome of the Bhagavad-Gita. In about thirty-two stanzas, Sri Yamuna very ably sums up the essential teachings of the Bhagavad-Gita, as per the tenets of the Vaishnava tradition. It logically demonstrates how it is only Bhakthi – the loving devotion tempered with Jnana- knowledge and Vairagya – detachment that   can lead the devotee to the presence of the Lord (Svadharma jnana vairagya sadhya bhakyaka gocharah). It is said; the inspiration for this work came from Rama Misra, who had initiated Sri Yamuna into the secrets of the Bhagavad-Gita.  Later, this work served as the foundation for Sri Ramanuja to develop his luminous exposition of the Bhagavad-Gita

: – Purusha-nirnaya

Purusha-nirnaya was said to be an acclamation, upholding the supremacy of Lord Vishnu. But, sadly, this work is lost; and, is no longer available.

: – Stotra-ratna

Stotra-ratna and Chatus-sloki are hymns singing the glory and splendour of Lord Vishnu and Devi Lakshmi. They are the fervent outpouring of Sri Yamuna’s intense devotion towards Vishnu and Lakshmi; and, his deep rooted longing for communion with his favorite deities.

Traditionally, the rendering of the Stotra-ratna, commences with paying respects to Sri Nathamuni

Salutations to Sri Nathamuni, the unfathomable ocean of Bhakthi, the divine Love; the very embodiment of the marvellous virtues of Jnana (knowledge), Vairagya (detachment) and Bhakthi (Loving devotion) that is beyond our comprehension

Namoh Achintaya-athbhutha Aaklishta Jnana Vairagya Rasaye |   Naathaaya Munaye Ekaantha Bhagavad Bhakti Sindhave |


lotus offering

The Stotra-ratna is a garland of sixty-two -verse hymns submitted to the lotus feet of   Lord Vishnu in the spirit of Sharanagati or complete surrender seeking Moksha. These hymns, in delightfully lucid verses, present the central philosophical theme and outlook of Vishistadvaita doctrine, elucidating its essential principles of Tattva (the intricate relation between god, nature and human); Hita (the excellent path that leads to ones emancipation); and, Purushartha (the attainment of the supreme goal).

Ullanghita trividha-sıma-samati sayi sambhavanam / tava parivradhima-svabhavam/

Maya-balena bhavatapi niguhyamanam / pasyanti kecid anisam tvad ananya-bhavah //

Oh My Lord, everything within this material nature is limited by time, space and thought. We are aware that your attributes, which truly are countless, unequaled and unsurpassed, are ever beyond such limitations. Yet; you sometimes disguise your limitless virtues; however, your guileless devotees, pure in heart, are always able to see through your play.


Sri Vedanta Desika (Vekaanātha), in his Rahasya-raksha (Secret-Protector), comments that in these lyrical poems of Stotra-ratna, Sri Yamuna has given expression   to the spontaneous overflow of his divine ecstasy. Sri Desika observes that in these hymns one can experience the fragrance of the Divya Prabandhas; especially the Tiruvoimozhi of Saint Satakopa (Nammazhwar), which eulogizes the unfailing efficacy of Saranagati,  the precious secret (Rahasya). And, some of the Stotras seem to be the Sanskrit rendering of the Tamil hymns.

For instance; he says: the following Stotra (2nd sloka of the Stotra-ratna) is replete with the ideas adopted from the Tiruvoimozhi, which worshiped the  Sri Nammalwar as the Father, Mother, Consort, Child and wealth of every sort.

Mata-pita yuvatayah tanaya vibhuti / sarvam yadeva niyamena matanvyanam/ adhyasa nah kulapateh vakula-bhiramanam / Srimad tadangrhri yugalam pranamami murdhana //

vedanta desika

It is said; Sri Vedanta Desika was deeply  moved and highly inspired by the 28th Sloka of the Stotra-ratna, which extols the virtues of submitting to the Lord, in intense devotion, enormous reverence and deep humility, with folded hands (anjali mudra).

thvad-angrim uddhisya kadapi kenacid  / yathaa tathaa vaapi skrit-krito anjali  / tathaiva mushnathi asubhany aseshatha  / subhani pushnathi na jaatu heeyathe // 28 //

Oh Lord! When one submits to your sacred feet , with devotion and humility, as Upayam (means) and Phalam (fruit, result) with folded hands (anjali mudra), even once, his past ill-fated  Karmas would soon be destroyed ; it would secure freedom from every sort of fear ; and, he would enjoy the blessed joy of residing in your supreme abode of Sri Vaikunta. Such submissions to you with folded hands will surely bring all auspiciousness into one’s life.

 It  is said; when Sri Desika pondered over the essence of this verse of the Stotra-ratna, he was struck by the awe-inspiring significance and the immense auspiciousness of this simple gesture of submitting to the Lord with folded hands (Anjali) in a spirit of absolute surrender (Saranagati, Prapatti). And, that   inspired him to annotate its verse 28  ; to give a detailed exposition of its essence;  and, to compose his, now famous, garland of verses under the title Anjali-vaibhavam (the glory and splendor of Anjali).


Further, it is also said; that Sri Ramanuja was much moved by recitation of the Stotra-ratna; and, that inspired him to compose the Vaikunta-gadyam, a pure expression of Bhakti immersed in the spirit of Atma-nivedana.

: – Catussloki

Catussloki is a brief poem composed of four stanzas. It sings the glory, splendor and the beauty of the Goddess Lakshmi; and, it attributes to her the qualities of the Brahman as mentioned in the Brahma sutras.

The First stanza refers to the Vibuthis of Goddess Lakshmi that are beyond praise. The Second stanza eulogise Her incomparable glory. The Third stanza sings about Her infinite Grace. And, the last stanza describes Her resplendent forms-Vibuthi, which are inseparable from those of the Lord.

: – Agama-pramanyam

The main theme and the purpose of the Agama-pramanyam is the vindication of the Pancharatra doctrine (Agama), its texts (Samhita) and its practices (Tantra). In this Prakarana, Sri Yamuna sets out to prove by reference to ancient scriptures and valid logic that the texts of the Pancharatra Agama have an authority, equal to that of the Vedas.

The motivation for Sri Yamuna to script this text was to rescue, to defend (raksha) and to establish the Pancharatra as the pristine, flawless and sublime doctrine that unerringly leads the ardent devotee to the presence of the Supreme Lord. It was necessitated to defend the Pancharatra, which was under attacks from the rival Schools, such as: Mimamsa, Nyaya and Advaita. By employing varied means of valid knowledge (Pramana), textual authority (Sabda-pramana) and reasoning (Tarka, Yukti), Sri Yamuna establishes that the Pancharatra Tantra is uplifting, beyond any reproach, and is the most authoritative.

Agama-pramanyam promoted the Pancharatra Agama in preference to the already existing Vaikhanasa Agama for worship in the temples. This was an ideological shift from an exclusive, metaphysical approach of the Vaikhanasa Agama towards a more popular and inclusive form of worship. Thereafter, the Pancharatra, with emphasis  on devotional idol worship ; and, with greater scope for festivals , celebrations and processions where all sections of the society,  including ascetics,  can participate  soon spread to most of the Vishnu temples in South India.

The Agama-pramanyam – composed in a mixture of prose and Karikas (verses) – is regarded as the best among the works of Sri Yamuna. It establishes him as a highly learned scholar; and a master dialectician. Further, during the course of his exposition, he discusses and offers his opinion on wide ranging issues including those related to linguistics, psychology, the study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behavior in a given context ; the theories of valid knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion (Pramanya); and, critical explanation and  interpretation of the scriptures, especially the Brahma sutras.

The Agama-pramanyam, the superb treatise which establishes the scriptural validity of the Pancharatra, forms a significant chapter in the Vedanta – mimamsa;   not only because of its excellence, but also because of the influence it excreted on his successor Sri Ramanuja, who perfected the doctrine of Vishitadvaita. Further, it establishes the Pancharatra on the basis of the Upanishads (Agama); and, brings it under the Aupanishada tradition; thus giving a completely new scope for the theistic Vedanta.

At the conclusion of the Agama-pramanyam, Sri Yamuna devotes a stanza, which extols the greatness of his predecessor Sri Nathamunindra, who enhanced the eminence of the past scriptures. It says: May, up to the end of the Aeon (Aakalpam vilasantu) the teachings and the writings of the glorious Sri Nathamunindra guide and protect all those who have implicit faith in the pious Sattvata doctrine.

yamunacharya conclusion


lotus twin


Sources and references

  1. Yamuna’s Agama Pramanyam – Edited and Translated by J.A.B. Van Buitenen (Ramanuja Research Society; 1971)

Images are from Internet



Posted by on September 19, 2019 in Agama, Yamunacharya


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Eighteen

Lakshana Granthas Continued

Continued from Part Seventeen

12. Nartana-nirnaya of Pundarika Vittala – Part Two




The central theme or the focal point of the Nartana-nirnaya is the Nartaka, the Dancer and his performance (Nartana); and, all the other participants – the Taladhari (Cymbal player), Mrudangi (Drummer) and the Gayaka (Singer) – are ancillary to that. And, even the Nataka (Drama) is said to be a mere device to showcase his excellence.

The efficacy of the Nartana , the dance, is determined (Nirnaya) by the performances, the combined excellence and coordination  of  the Dancer (Nartaka) and his troupe (Vrnda), consisting the Singer (Gayaka), the Cymbalist (Tala-dhari), the Mrdangam-player (Mrdangi), flute-player (Mukhari), and the Dance-composer (Nattuva). These components, together, are the determinants (Nirnaya-kari) of the Dance (Nartana); hence the title of the text is Nartana-nirnaya.


The text Nartana-nirnaya is, at times , called as Nartaka-nirnaya , which some scholars opine is also quite appropriate; because , its principal  subject is the Nartaka (dancer); while the Taladhari (cymbal player); the Mrdangi (Mrdangam player), and the Gayaka (singer)  merely support  the Nartaka  as ancillaries.


Thus, in a Dance performance, the Nartaka is the most important performer. The next to him, in importance, is the Gayaka, the singer. He is followed, in the diminishing order of importance, by the Mrdangam player and the Taladhari.

Bharatnatyam Music Player

The Nartana-nirnaya comprises four Chapters (Prakarana) each devoted to a type of participant, Viz., Taladhari (Cymbal player); Mrudangi (Mrdangam player); Gayaka (Singer); and, the Nartaka (Dancer). Thus the treatise focuses on the role of the artists involved in presentation of a Dance performance.

But, the very heart of a dance performance is the Nartaka, the Dancer. The other supporting artists supplement the Dance performance, by way of rhythm (Nattuvanga, Taala and Mrudanga); Melody (Raga); and Lyrics (Prabandha). The final Chapter is the very heart of the text; while the earlier three Chapters are about the infrastructural or ancillary support to the Dancer.


At the beginning of the first Chapter, the author declares his plan to write on five topics:  Taala (rhythm); Vadya (instrumental music); Gita (vocal music); Nartana (Dance), and Natya (Drama) – NN. 1.3.


However, for some reason, he did not write the fifth Chapter, relating to Natya. The text of the Nartana-nirnaya, as it has come down to us, has only four Chapters, ending with the Prakarana on Nartana, the Dance.


The text begins with a set of 34 verses, written in a variety of metres, in praise of the Moughal Emperor Akbar and his ancestors.

Nartana-nirnaya is characteristically different from other works on performing Arts, in regard to the arrangement of the subject-wise chapters; the Divisions and Sub-divisions; organization of the supporting material and exposition.

The Nartana –nirnaya adopts a logical, coherent and a consistent approach in the arrangement and depiction of its subject.

Each Chapter contains considerable, original, conceptual and descriptive matter. Even where it is largely indebted to earlier authorities, it achieves a remarkable degree of ingenuity, clarity by judicious aesthetic arrangement of its topics.



The four Chapters of the text are arranged in what is known as Sopana-marga (or arohana-krama), in the ascending order of importance of the subject matter, like climbing up the stairs. Such a method of exposition; and, the arrangement of its subjects is said to be unique to Nartana-nirnaya.

Accordingly, the Chapter on Taladhari (the Cymbal-player), the one who keeps time and beats (Tala and Jati), appears first; and, is prior to the one on the Mrdangin (Mrdamgam player). And, Chapter on Mrdanga precedes the one on Gayaka.  Finally the performance of the Nartaka (the Nartana) ; and, the Dance, in general (Nrtta) are discussed in the Fourth Chapter.

Following such scheme of arrangement, each chapter (beginning with that of the Cymbal-player) leads on to the next Chapter, which deals with the more important aspect of Dance.  Here, the first two Chapters are concerned with the auxiliary of Dancing, viz., the rhythmic content (Nattuvanga, Tala and Mrdanga); the next (third) Chapter deals with the melodic content (Raga) and the lyrics of the song (Prabandha). The final and the most important Chapter is about Nartaka and Nartana.

The first Chapter, consisting of 260 verses, is on Taladhari, the Cymbal player, who provides rhythm; and, the second Chapter, in 116 verses, is on Mrdangam, the drums.

The Mrdangam and the Tala (Cymbal) provide the rhythm and time-units in terms of Tala and Laya. Of these two, the former is more important; because, his performance is more visible to the spectators – prekshitamukha (NN.2.7a). The Mrdangam player, in a sense, is the leader of the percussion instruments; and, the other percussion instruments look up to him for the lead. He is assigned 116 Slokas. The Chapter on Mrdangam follows that on the Tala.

But, the size of the Chapter on Taladhari is more than twice that on Mrdanga. That is merely because; the former includes about 144 slokas on Marga and Desi Talas and Tala-pratyayas.  Otherwise, both the chapters are almost equal in extant – 127 and 118 Slokas respectively

The next in importance of the  dance performance, is devoted to the Gayaka, who provides the textual and melodic framework for the Dance, in the form of the words, their content and the music (He is assigned 578 Slokas , in two segments concerning Raga , the melody (234 Slokas) and the Prabandha , the text (344 Slokas).

flute player

The role of the flute-player (Mukhari), who just follows the singer and provides the ambiance; but, has no independent function in the dance recital; is described in just 38 Slokas in the Chapter on Dance.


Eventually, following the hierarchical arrangement of the components of Dance , proceeding in the successive stages of importance, the earlier three Chapters lead to the Fourth and Final Chapter which deals with the most important component of Dance, the Dancer, the Nartaka, himself, the central figure of the performance.

The fourth Chapter, the largest one, having 913 verses, is devoted to Nartaka and his performance. This Chapter starts by defining Nartana, a term used by the author to mean Dance, in general. The Dancer’s (Nartaka) performance is presented in its two aspects: Nartana (dance in general combined with Abhinaya-237 Slokas); and, the Nrtta (pure dance- 676 Slokas).

Here again, the Nartana is said to comprise three kinds: Natya, Nrtya and Nrtta (Natyam Nrtyam Nrttam iti trividham tat prakirtitam); of which, the last is again divided into three types: Visama (difficult, acrobatic), Vikata (hideous) and Laghu (light).

Natya, as the wise explain, is adorned with a narration, teaching, Vritti, Bhava and Rasa; and, is complete with four kinds of Abhinayas (NN.4.3-4)

Nrtya is Dance that is beautiful in all its four components and delighting the hearts of the spectators.

Nrtta is that which provides aesthetic pleasure enjoyed by the people; it is resplendent and spectacular in all its aspects (Angas) through the display of the movements (Vikshepa) of the hands, feet etc., although it is bereft of the Abhinaya –element (NN.4.5-6)

All the types are defined; and, the author reproduces in the first ten verses of the Nartana-Adhikarana, the Sangita-ratnakara’s view that Nrtya and Nrtta may both have varieties of Tandava and Lasya.

Nartananirnaya contents


Each Prakarana (Chapter) of Nartana-Nirnaya gives, at its commencement, a summary of its content. Further, Each Prakarana begins with a definition of the respective performer, in terms of his function, merits and defects.  It then proceeds to describe and discuss the materials of the performance medium; the techniques; and, the forms of compositional repertoire.

[The exception to this rule is the Chapter Nartana-adhikarana (4.1). Its summary is given at the beginning of Chapter Three at 3.1 and 3.2, thus treating both the Adhikaranas as a single Chapter. ]

Separate lists of the contents for the Tala, Raga, Prabandha, Pratyanga-abhinaya, compositional structural elements etc., are given in the respective Adhikaranas, before taking up their definitions, descriptions or discussions


The contents of treatise

Taladhari Prakarana


Pundarika Vittala commences his treatise with a prayer to his favorite deity (Ista-Devata) Sri Krishna, the most sublime of the Dancers, sporting the divine Rasa Dance (NN. 1.1.-3. Mangala charanam):

big1.1957997.1 crop

I bow to that my Lord Sri Krishna, who is the final recourse (Upetu) of all devotees (Yati) for bestowing liberation (Moksha) ; one who is the abode of all classes of mortals; and, one who is immersed in the Rasa Dance  . With that Lord residing in my heart, I shall proceed to narrate the Nartana-nirnaya.



At the commencement of his treatise – Chapter One – Taladhari Prakarana – Pundarika Vittala states that the roles assigned to the Taladhari (Cymbal player); the Mrudangi (Mrdamgam player); the Gayaka (singer), the Nartaka (Dancer); as also the substance of the play, form the components of Nartana-nirnaya (NN.1.3)

Then, he says: I shall describes these five elements of Nartana, in an ascending order, starting with the Cymbal player.

nartananirnaya cnotent sloka

The opening Chapter on Taladhari is divided into the following thematic clusters:  the player; his instrument, which is the Cymbal; his stance; performing techniques, varities of the instrumental compositions (Tala- Tala pratyaya tala sadhana) etc. It also lists:

  • The desired qualities of the Cymbal bearer;
  • Paatas (sound syllables) of percussion instruments;
  • Desi Talas
  • Alamkaras, Kavita , likewise the ten sancharas ; performing postures; the method of performing on the Cymbals –Stuti-sabda
  • The composition named Gajara; then Ota; Vakya-sruti bhushana, patachali ; then rudrabhushana , panchadathu
  • Sudakarma (compositions) ; Yati and other Prabandhas , Prahelicas (percussive conundrums), Talas, and other devices ( exact knowledge of them)

As regards the merits (Guna) of the Taladhari, it is said:

  • He should be handsome; having pleasant contours; and, assume an attractive posture while playing.
  • He should be an expert in percussive –instrumental syllables, skilful in string the Cymbals,
  • He should be well conversant with Yati, Prasa, Tala and tempo (Laya). He should have sound knowledge of Graha , such as Sama , specialized in performing soft and harsh ( percussive) syllables; light of hands ( dextrous in playing the Cymbals)
  • He should have adequate skill in picking up in picking up (Graha), in resting (Moksha) during Nattuvanga, corresponding to the vocalized syllables. Similarly, he should be an expert in ten Sancaras, having adequate stamina, and intense attentiveness
  • He should be skilled in Desi Talas; have the capacity to create aesthetic appeal, ability to please and win over the spectators.


Mrdangi Prakarana

mrdanga Siva

And, the Chapter on Mrdangam is also similarly treated. It enumerates the merits (Guna) and defects (Dosha) of the Mrdangam player; his appropriate stance; techniques in use of fingers, palms; varieties of instrumental compositions; repertoire for accompanying Dance performances ; the merits and defects of his own  performance etc.

The topics described here cover:

  • Varieties of Mrudanga –players called Bharika;
  • Merits and defects of the Mrdangam player;
  • Descriptions of the Mrdanga;
  • Hasta-paatas ; drum syllables;
  • Mrudanga vadana karma – methods of playing the Mrdanga ( concert repertoire); and,
  • performing stance and style of the Mrdangam player


Gayaka Prakarana


The Chapter on Gayaka, the singer, has two segments (Adhikaranas) : one dealing with the melodic aspects (Raga-adhikarana); and, the other with the lyrics and varieties of its compositions (Prabandha-adhikarana).

Gayaka Prakarana – Raga-adhikarana

The first segment (Raga-adhikarana) commences with the definition of the singer;  the role and the importance of the singer in a Dance performance ; his merits and defects; modes of singing; ways of rendering melodic elements in a song – Ragalapa; establishing a Raga.

Here, it is said; the true singer is one who is proficient in Shudda and Chayalaga (Ragas and Prabandhas); one who understands the Murchana, Grama and Tana; and, one who possess profound knowledge of Tala; and , sings with aesthetic delight   – Ranjaka Gitam (NN.2.1).


Pundarika lists the merits (Guna) of a singer

  • He should be an expert in Graha and Moksha – competently following and managing  the beginning and end of  the song in Laya and Tala
  • Conversant (Alapti-kovida) is various kinds of Alapti, Sravaka (melodious and heard even from a distance), Sampradayika (traditional);
  • Specialist in bringing out the delicate nuances (Dhvani) of Ragas and Prabandhas , in pleasing and well cultured (Ayatta-kanthavan) sweet and rich voice (Susarira) even while rendering in high( loud) or low ( soft) tone –Savadhanaka; with inflexion curvature  in tone (Kaku); and, skilled in employing
  • Understands and follows closely the Dancer’s movements and the appropriate vocal support the situation needs.
  • Thorough familiarity with both the Marga and Desi Music


As regards the merits of a song (Gita-guna), they are said to be ten : Vyakta (clarity in the combination of syllables); Purna (complete in all its limbs and Gamaka); Prasanna (readily intelligible); Sukumara (tender , soft); Alamkritam ( endowed with poetic beauty); Sama (evenness in the distribution of the rhythm and pitch); Surakta ( in harmony with the sounds of the Veena); Slakhna (smoothness in the movement from low, middle and high pitches ; and slow and fast tempo);  Vikrasta ( high , distinctly audible); and , Madhura ( sweet, graceful and highly pleasing) – (NN.2.229-230)



The desired qualities of a composer are said to be: through knowledge of Grammar (Vyakarana), figures of speech (Alamkara); prosody (Chhandas); diction, style and a vast and rich vocabulary.

He should have the capacity to compose different varieties of songs; and, have the skill to set the words to match with the music.(NN.2.338)



Then, the text moves on to lay down the framework or the structure of the melodic content, the tone-curvatures (Kaku) of the Raga-alapa. That is followed by the varieties of the Alapti, establishing the nature and the mood of the Raga; the lists of the Raga and the descriptions of the Raga, and the descriptions of the Raga-raginis and Ragaputras that are commonly used; their descriptions; appropriate tones and curvatures while rendering the words of the song bringing out its delicate nuances etc.

In this section, Pundarika Vittala largely follows Sarangadeva while enumerating the merits and defects of a Singer , in the matter of presenting various elements  of music and their  facets such as : Nada- Sthana; Sruti; Svara, Grama, Murchana; Tana ; Prastara, Varna; Alamkara; Gamaka; Alapti etc.  That is followed by an exposition on the Ragas; their descriptions and classifications. Here, Pundarika discusses in detail the characteristics of the Raga-families such as: Shudda-bhiravi; Hindola; Desikara; Sriraga; Shuddha-nata; and Nata-narayana;

floral design

Gayaka Prakarana –Prabandha-adhikarana

The segment on Prabandha (Prabandha-adhikarana) – musical compositions following the definitions prescribed for Desi Ragas – deals with two aspects of the song: word (Mathu) and the Music (Dhathu). It is also called as Gana. (NN.3.1)

The segment on Prabandha (Prabandha-adhikarana) – musical compositions following the definitions prescribed for Desi Ragas – deals with two aspects of the song: word (Mathu) and the Music (Dhathu). It is also called as Gana. (NN.3.1)

dhatu matu

Its word-content (Vasthu or Mathu) is analysed into syllabic structures. There is also a mention of the fruits that may accrue to the performer and the patron form their use.

And, the musical content (Dhatu) consists of Raga and Tala. The former is treated in the preceding Raga-Adhikarana; and the latter in the very first Chapter (Taladhari Prakarana); because, it is essential to dance, music and also to song.

That is why Prabandha follows Raga and Tala; and, precedes Nartana


The Prabandha, here, is first analyzed into melodic and structural elements; and, is classified through them. Pundarika discusses the Six Angas (components) of a Prabandha: Svara (seven musical notes); Birudu (laudatory phrases); Pada (one that expresses meaning); Tenaka (tena-tena sounds); Paata (instrumental sounds); and, Tala (time-units).  It is explained; among these Angas; Tena and Pada are the eyes; Paata and Birudu are the hands; and, Tala and Svara constitute the feet of a Prabandha. The Tena (tena-tena) sounds are the manifestations of auspiciousness (Mangala-kara)- (NN.3.10)


Here, Pundarika Vittala, supplements his explanations with illustrations from the contemporary materials derived from various regions/provinces.

Then, the ancient Prabandhas – textually and orally transmitted – are listed and described. As with the Tala, the Raga, and the Dance forms; the author concludes the topic with the description of the contemporary material taken from different parts of the country. The Chapter concludes with an account of the merits and defects of the song rendering and the music composition.

Here, again, Pundarika Vittala follows Sarangadeva and Kallinatha, while describing the varieties of Prabandhas and their characteristics, in terms of their structure and textual elements. He cites with illustrations, 75 types of Prabandhas spread over:  8 of Shuddha Suda class, 24 of Alikrama, 36 of Viprakirna, and 7 of Salaga Suda variety. Pundarika Vittala provides explanations for their applications in different parts of song –composition.

In the process, he describes eleven Prabandhas that were unique to the traditions of Karnataka:  Chandraprakasha; Suryaprakasha; Navaratna; Vira-srngara; Rudraprakasha; Ranaranga; Dasavatara; Sarabhalila; Caturanga; Rtuprakasha; and, Srngarahara.



adavu harini

The Chapter titled Nartana-prakarana is highly relevant to Dancing. And, it is the most important Chapter of the text; and, it is, in fact, the prime factor of the treatise, as it provides the very basis or the cause of its title Nartana-nirnaya.

This Chapter accounts for almost half the size of the text.  And, it is devoted to Nartana, which is presented in two Adhikaranas:  one, dealing with Nartana, the dance form endowed with emotive content, the representational art of dancing, giving expression to emotions through Abhinaya ; and other, with Nrtta which provides aesthetic experience derived from pure form of Dance through disposition, movement and configuration of the various parts of the human body,  employed as a communicative instrument to give a form to its expressions. Here also, Pundarika, largely, follows the explanations provided by previous authorities; such as   Bharata, Abhinavagupta, Kallinatha and Sarangadeva.

Nartaka Prakarana – Nartana_ Adhikarana

This Adhikarana relating to performance of dance – Nartana-prakarana – also deals with the persons involved in the presentation of Dance, such as: Nartaka, Patra, Nartaki, the supporting instrumentalists, the Patron, the audience (Sabha-sada) etc., their merits and defects.

Next, the orchestra in which only the flutist and the flute are discussed, since the other members , viz., Taladhari, Mrdangin, and Gayaka are already discussed in the previous Chapters

Also in the list are the dance-hall, the characteristics of a good dancer, Rekha or the lines created by the movements of the body, the Lasyangas or features of Lasya, Sausthava or standing without any movement, Citrakalasa or concluding movement, Mudra or natural grace, Pramana or harmony, the audience, the person presiding, sitting arrangements, the troupe of musicians, the flute, the entrance of a dancer and various dance-sequences. The actual discussions of these topics are in verses 245 to 656.  Most of the material comes either from the Natyashastra or the Sangita-ratnakara.

While enumerating the desired qualities (Guna) of a Nartaka (Dancer), it is said; he should have a thorough knowledge of all the four forms of Abhinaya;  the requisite skill in maintaining Laya, Tala and Yati; the knowledge of Graha and Moksha; and, above all should have humility, the keen desire to learn and the attractive grace to win the hearts of the spectators.. Besides these, a Dancer of merit should have the capacity to follow vocal and instrumental music; ability to express Rasa and Bhava articulately. (NN.3.325-327)

Then the text goes on to enumerate the items of the dance recital: the opening dance item, entry of the dancer (Mukhacali, including Pushpanjali and various Gatis-strides); Nanadi Slokas invoking the blessings of the gods; the kinds of Urupa, Dhavada, Kvada, Laaga and Bhramari.

Finally the contemporary dance forms from various regions (Desi) are enumerated. These include the dance forms originating from various regions: Sabda, Svarabhinaya, Svaramantha, Gita, Cindu, Dharu, Dhruvapada, Jakkadi and Raasa.

Some of these are classified under Bandhanrtta, the group dances with complex configurations and formations.

These are also of the Anibaddha type, the graceful, simple dances, not restricted by the regimen of the rules etc.

Under Bandha-nrtta, Pundarika includes Mukhacali; Urupa; Dhuvada; Vidulagava; Sabdacali; (also discussed as Sabda-nrtta); Sabda-prabandha; Svara-mantha; Gitapra-bandha; Cindu; Dharu and Dhruv-apada. Their descriptions in verses 668 to 874 show them to be highly structured dance pieces. A group of five Bhramaris is also discussed (in Verses 794 to 98) inserted between the discussions on Vidulagava and Sabda-nrtta.

Next, Anibandha dance is discussed in verses 875 to 898 with its forms given, namely, Namavall; Yati; different Neris; kaivartana; Rnuru, Talariipaka; Gundala; Kamala; Natajanuka; Mandi; Mudupa; Murandari; Kudupa; Tiryakarana; Lavani and Vatu. These have fewer details compared to the discussion of the Bandh-anrttas.

At the end of these descriptions the author refers to these sequences as Anibandha – Urupas, evidently using the term Urupa to denote a broad category of dance. The term Urupa is described in only two works:  in this text; and, in a later work, the Sangita-makaranda of the scholar Vedasuri.



Like most works before it, the Nartana-nirnaya also discusses the various types of Abhinaya (that which carries the intent or meaning of the performance to the spectator), namely, Angika-abhinaya, Sattvika-abhinaya and Aharya-abhinaya; and in doing so it follows the Natyashastra as interpreted in the Sangita-ratnakara.

Generally, the representation of meaning – descriptive and representational – is called Abhinaya; and, it is accomplished in four modes: verbal (Vacika), body-movements (Angika), emotional (Sattvika), and costumes as well as make up (Aharya). But in the Nartana-nirnaya, the Vacika, is not discussed; because, it is not much employed in Nartana.  Similarly, there is not much discussion on Aharya.

In verses 11 to 206, Abhinaya is discussed, with the Sattvika, and Angika types of Abhinaya described in detail. The Citrabhinaya is then described in verses 207 to 238.

The Dance is presented through idealistic and dramatized mode of communication (Natya-dharmi) following the theatrical conventions, in preference to the realistic, day-to-day expressions (Loka-dharmi). These two Dharmis together constitute Chitrabhinaya (special representation).

The external objects are suggested through appropriate gestures (Bahya-vastu-anukarani). And, the implicit and symbolic representations are presented through Chitta-vrtti-arpika.

Krishna Holding a Flute and Dancing on a Lotus

Nartaka Prakarana – Nrtta _adhikarana

The segment (Adhikarana) on Nrtta deals with the abstract aesthetic movements and configuration of various body parts. It is virtually about the Grammar of Dance. . It describes the Nrtta element of Dancing with reference to the special configuration of the static and moving elements of the Dance, such as: Sthanaka, Karana, Angahara, Cari, Hasta, Angri, Recaka, Vartana etc., with reference to the appropriate Anga or Pratyanga.


According to Natyashastra, for the purpose of Dance, the human body may be divided into six major members or Angas: the head; the trunk; the Arms and the legs together with their respective subdivisions or minor members (Pratyangas). For instance; the Pratyangas of the head are: eyebrows, eyes (eyelashes and eyeballs); nose (nostrils); cheeks, chin, teeth, as also facial colour. Similarly, the Pratyangas of the Arms are: the shoulders; elbows; forearm; wrists; palms (back of the hand); and fingers.

The Nrtta-adhikarana may be treated as the Grammar portion of Nartana-nirnaya where the various movements of the Angas and Pratyangas are comparable to the alphabets, the word formations, phrases, clauses and sentences (in which the conjunctions, prepositions and syntactical rules or conventions are invoked).

However, Pundarika Vittala does not classify the movements of the limbs as those specifically pertaining either to Anga, Upanga or Pratyanga.  But, in verses 239 to 244, where he lists his topics of discussion, he mentions the movements of the parts of the body which, in his view, are of importance. These include the movements of the head, the eyes, the eyebrows, the arms, the hand-gestures and other actions of the hands, the waist and the feet. He also discusses the function of the colour of the face. The list further includes more complicated movements generated from the combination of the movements of the parts of the body, such as the Sthanas or postures; Caris or the movements of one leg; Karanas or dance-units ; and, the  Recakas or oscillating movements.

However, instead of following the usual practice of reproducing the descriptions of the 108 Karanas and the 32 Angaharas details as given in the Natyashastra and the Sangita-ratnakara, the Nartana-nirnaya selects only 16 of the Karanas as those needed in Bandh-anrtya, of which it describes several varieties. The text then proceeds to describe the distinctive features of the various kinds of Anibandha-nrtya. From these descriptions of dance compositions there emerge striking similarities with the classical dance styles of the present time, such as Kathak and Odissi.  Thus, Nartana-nirnaya may thus be regarded as the link between the older and present day traditions of classical Indian dancing

The Nartana-nirnaya is therefore regarded as a major work that throws light on the origins of some of the dance forms – particularly Kathak and Odissi – that are prevalent today.


Nartana-nirnaya describes in Pratyanga-abhinaya, 19 movements of the head (Shiro-bedha); 36 of eyes (Akshi-bedha); 7 of eyebrows (Bhru-bedha); 4 complexions (Mukha-raga); 16 movements of the arms (Bahu-bedha); 6 of the hips (Kati-bedha); and, 13 of the feet (Anghri-bedha).

These correspond, in name and number, to the enumerations made in Sangita-ratnakara.  But, Pundarika Vittala offers a slightly different set of applications of these Pratyangas.

This is also true of Recaka; Karakarana; Calaka; Hasta-pracara; and, Karakarma.

Nartana-nirnaya has adopted from the Sangita-ratnakara all of the 6 Purusha Sthanakas; but, only 3 of the 7 Stri Sthanakas (excepting the Gatagata, Valita, Motita and Vinivartita)

As regards the Desi-sthanakas, except the Parsni-parsvagata; Eka-prasvagata; Eka-janugata; and, Pravarta are included.

Among the 9 Upavista- sthanakas, the Utkata-sthana has been omitted. It has also omitted all the Supta-stanakas.  Thus, in all, Pundarika selects only 27 among the 51 Sthanakas enumerated in the Sangita-ratnakara.

Again, Sangita-ratnakara describes 86 Caris, classified into 16 Bhumya (touching the ground); 16 Akasha (Aerial); and, 35 Desi Bhumya and 19 Desi Akasha Caris.

But, Nartana-nirnaya gives only 84 of these under Bhumya and Akasha divisions; but , not classified as Marga or Desi Caris.

As regards the Hasthas ( the hands) , as against the 24 single Hasthas (Asamyukta), 13 combined Hasthas (Samyukta) and 30 Nrtta Hasthas ( 67) of Sangita-ratnakara, the Nartana-nirnaya adds 38 more single Hasthas; 17 combined Hasthas; and 32 Nrtta Hasthas

Pundarika Vittala describes only 16 Karanas among the 108 given by Sarangadeva. According to Pundarika, it is only these 16 Karanas that are useful in performing Bhanda-nrtya, structured Dance forms.

Generally, Pundarika follows the descriptions given in the Natyashastra and the Sangita-ratnakara, in regard to the depictions of the Sthanakas, Caris, Hasthas and the Karanas. But, his treatment of these subjects differs, considerably, from that of the others.

Finally, Pundarika Vittala ends the work with two more dance sequences, Jakkadi and Rasa, which he includes under Anibandha dance (875 to 912).

Throughout these descriptions the terms Nrtta and Nrtya are used interchangeably.



krishna dance

Pundarika Vittala had commenced his treatise Nartana-nirnaya with an invocation to his Lord Sri Krishna; and, appropriately, he ends his treatise submitting his prayers to Sri Krishna, the very heart and essence of Rasa Dance.


And; he concludes the Nartana-nirnaya with a description of Rasa Dance – Rasa-nrtya (NN. verses 664 -672)  that Sri Krishna performed with the Goips amidst the mango and Kadamba groves along the banks of the gentle flowing Yamuna under resplendent full moon of the spring season, celebrating the Vasantha festival.

As the Muraja and other musical instruments play, the pairs of four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two or sixteen pairs of players (Patra) of men young men and women dance in rhythm ; following the Tala and Laya; ; holding in their hand coloured sticks of sixteen Angulas in length, bound with gold and other metals at both ends; perform delightful Caris and Bhramaris; moving around in circles; weaving amazing geometric patterns (mandalibhuya); singing delightfully; then it is called as the most fascinating Dandarasa

And, the same dance performed without sticks is Rasa-nrtya.



The last four verses of the Fourth Chapter contain Pundarika’s concluding remarks (Upasamhara) ; his observations on the general state of Dance; his efforts to bring clarity into a rather muddled practices; and, a final prayer. He says:

The theory and practices (Lakshya-Lakshana) Dance which had become ambiguous (Sandignam) and had shrunk (Sangata) because of the blind traditions has been rescued and rendered simpler by the efforts of Pundarika Vittala.

I have composed this treatise (Sangita), which is much varied in both the aspects of theory and practice of Dance; and is much simpler and easy to follow; in order to please (ruchyartham) Emperor Akbar. May this bring great joy to the hearts of you all, my friends (Suhadam Hrdaye Sukham Bhuyath).

By studying (Drstva) this excellent (Lokottara), varied (Bahutara-bhedam) , beautiful (Sundara)  Nartana-nirnaya, composed by Pandari Vitthala; as also by judicious use of the Art of Sangita as prevailing, may the learned scholars (Pandita) become the Gurus of the new-age and guide along the right path the aspirants desirous of learning and become experts  (Chatura, Agrinam)  in the Arts of Tala, Mrdanga, Singing (Gana), flute playing (Vamsa), and Dancing (Nrtya).

Thus ends the Fourth Chapter entitled Nartaka-Prakarana in Nartana-nirnaya composed by Pandarika Vittala of the auspicious Karnataka region (Karnata-jatiya).




Sources and References

The primary source on which I have depended upon is Nartana-nirnaya (in three volumes) edited and commented upon by the renowned scholar Prof. Dr. R. Satyanarayana. For Volume Three ; please click here

 For Volume One :please click here

For more on Nartana- nirnaya and other texts on Dance forms ; as also  for the details of the few mentioned here , please do read  Dr. Mandakranta Bose’s research  paper ( The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition

Also refer to Pundarika Vittala by Dr. Padma Rajagopal


And to Musicological Literature by Emmie te Nijenhuis


Leave a comment

Posted by on May 5, 2019 in Art, Natya


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Seventeen

Lakshana Granthas Continued

Continued from Part Sixteen

12. Nartana-nirnaya of Pundarika Vittala – Part One

dance posedance


In the textual traditions of the Indian Dancing, the Natyashastra; the Brihad-desi and the Sangita-ratnakara are regarded as seminal works; both in regard to the theory and to the practice of Dance, in its various forms. The Nartana-nirnaya of Pundarika Vittala, coming almost four hundred years after Sangita-ratnakara, is another major work

The Nartana-nirnaya is considered a highly significant and an influential text of its period (sixteen-seventeenth century); and, is classed along with the Sangita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva in regard to the quality, the range and the depth of its discussion; and, also in regard to the extent of influence it exerted on the theory and practice of Dancing of the later periods.

The Sangita-ratnakara, in a concise form, had earlier summarized the changes that took place in the field of Sangita (Gita, Vadya and Nrtta) between the time of Bharata and the thirteenth century. In the process, it provided a theoretical basis and a textual authority for further discussions on the theories and practice (Lakshana-Lakshya) of Music and Dance.

The Nartana-nirnaya, following the Sangita-ratnakara, laid the foundation for further several interesting and radical changes that later took place in the practice of the Art forms, especially the Dance.  At the same time, it set aside, many theories and practices that had become obsolete. Thus, the Nartana-nirnaya went beyond the Sangita-ratnakara.

In a similar manner, the Nartana-nirnaya went beyond the Natyashastra.  Like most of the works prior to its time, the Nartana-nirnaya too discusses various types of Abhinaya (Angika-abhinaya, Sattvika-abhinaya and, Aharya-abhinaya) according to Natyashastra, as interpreted in the Sangitaratnakara. However, instead of merely following or reproducing the Natyashastra‘s descriptions of the 108 karanas and the 32 Angaharas, the Nartana-nirnaya selects only 16 of the karanas as representing the essential characteristics of a Bandha-nrtya, a well regulated Dance-form.

 In contrast to that, the text then goes on to describe the distinctive features of the various kinds of Anibandha-nrtya , the free flowing , innovative dance sequences. The Nartana-nirnaya thus covers both the pristine (Marga) as also the improvised, spontaneous regional (Desi) dances, which are now a part of the ’classical dances’ of today.

All the types are defined; and, the author reproduces in the first ten verses, the Sangita-ratnakara’s view that Nrtya and Nrtta may both have varieties of Tandava and Lasya.

To sum up; apart from its deep concern for preserving the past traditions, Nartana-nirnaya presents a clear picture of the state of Arts during the contemporary times. It also introduces many new elements, components, techniques and terms into the theory and practice of Dancing. Thus, the Nartana-nirnaya not only encapsulates its past and its contemporary scene; but also serves as a guide and an inspiration for the Dance forms to follow. Therefore, the Nartana-nirnaya could be said to  a path –finder; and a golden link (svarna-setu) that brings together the older and present day traditions of classical Indian dancing.



The Nartana-nirnaya comes about four hundred years after Sangita-ratnakara. This period between these two texts was marked by several interesting and rather radical changes and transformations that were taking place in India, in the field of Arts.

The Nartana-nirnaya was composed in the sixteenth century, while Pundarika Vitthala (or Pandari Vitthala) was in the service of the Mughal Court.   Pundarika Vitthala, a versatile artist, scholar and an author, had the opportunity to witness and experience the diverse regional traditions of India as also the newer practices derived from Persia. Pundarika Vittala mentions that he wrote the Nartana-nirnaya, concerning music and dance, at the suggestion of Emperor Akbar, to cater to his taste – Akbara-nrupa rucyartham idam krutam (NN.4.2.675)

Akbar nrupae icchartha bhuloke sangitam / krutamidam bahu tara bhedam sah-hrudam hrdaye sukam bhuyath // N N 53 b //.

In the world, this simple Sangita is created with a lot of varieties in order to please the king Akbar. May it please the heart of the goodhearted ones.

Dancers at Akbar's court. (c.1565)

The Royal Courts of Raja Man Singh, Raja Madhav Singh and Akbar provided the forum for interaction between the North and South Indian traditions on one hand; and, between Indian and Persian practices on the other. This surely was an interesting period when diverse streams of Art came together and fused into enterprising new forms; and, therefore, it is aptly termed as the watershed period of Indian Music and Dancing.

life and customs from the sixteenth century.

This was a vibrant period in the development of Music and Dance, in general. It was during this period that the standardization of Ragas, their classification into major groups (Melas) based on the structure of their notes (Svras); theoretical principles interpreted in terms of the position of the frets on the Vina (Vina-mela); ten types of Tala ( time-units)

Thus, the Nartana-nirnaya came into being in a fascinating, invigorating and an altogether different ambiance, providing opportunities and a forum for interaction between the different Schools of the North and the South; as also between the Indian (Desi) and Persian (Yavana) practices.  Each of its Chapters reveals flashes of originality, innovation and ingenuity in adopting the newer, contemporary trends and practices into the traditional formats.

Though it is primarily based in the Natyashastra and the commentaries of Sarangadeva and Kallinatha, it, in essence, is an original treatise on Indian Music and Dancing. The Nartana-nirnaya is, therefore, regarded as an authoritative and a creative text. As regards Music, it set new trends into motion by bringing together the best in the Karnataka Sangita, Hindustani Music and the Persian Music.  And in dance, it brought into the fold of what could be called Classical Dance, the techniques of Persian Dance as also the idioms of folk dancing.



The subject matter central to Nartana-nirnaya is Dancing. The technical details of Dance as detailed in the Nartana-nirnaya are an important source for reconstructing the history of Indian music and dance during the middle period. This was also the time when the old practices were fading out and new concepts were stepping in. For instance, by the time of Pundarika Vittala, the 108 Karanas were reduced to sixteen. At the same time, dance formats such as Jakkini, Raasa nrtya were finding place among traditional type of Dances.

dance shakthidance rasasdance yamini

In his work, Pundarika Vitthala does not confine only to the traditional dances of India and Persia; but, he also describes the various dance traditions of the different regions of India that were practiced during his time. The information he provides on regional dance forms is quite specific, in the sense that he points to the part/s of India from where the particular style originated, the language of the accompanying songs and the modes its presentation. The Nartana-nirnaya is, therefore, an invaluable treasure house on the state of regional dance forms as they existed in the sixteenth century India

dance forms333

NatyaNrtya and Nrtta

While explaining the title of his work (Nartana-nirnaya); and, the use of the term Nartana, generally, to mean ‘Dance’, Pundarika said that by Nartana he meant it to be a general class name for Dance. And, that the term Natrana would cover the three forms of Dance: NatyaNrtya and Nrtta. The last (Nrtta) would again be subdivided into three other types:  visama (acrobatic), vikata (ludicrous) and laghu (light and graceful), identified respectively as rope-dancing, a comic dance, and a dance based on easy karanas.

Thus, it seems, while Nartana stood for the general class name; the other three were its sub-divisions.

As regards the definition of these terms, Pundarika said he would be adopting those offered by Sarangadeva (11th century).

And, Sarangadeva had, in turn, followed the explanations given by the earlier writers like Somesvara, Dhananjaya and such others (perhaps Nadikesvara too?)

According to those explanations, generally (although there were some slight variations among them):

Natya: refers to an Art form that gives forth Rasa (ultimate aesthetic enjoyment); and, is based in Rasa – Natyam rasam-ashrayam (DR.I. 9). It gives expressions to the inner or true meaning of the lyrics through dance gestures – vakyartha-abhinayatmaka.

Nrtya:  is a means of putting forth different aesthetic moods or Bhava (bhavahetu orbhavashraya) or giving expression to individual words of the song through appropriate gestures and/or facial expressions  – pada –artha-abhinayatmaka

Nrtta: is the display of smart looking (shobhahetu) limb movementsin tune with attractive and catchy Taala (rhythm) and Laya (tempo) – Nrttam Taala Laya ashrayam (DR.I. 9). But, in itself, it is devoid of meaningful content; and, is valued for its mere visual beauty of body movements (gatrasya viksepaha).


Nandikeshvara (Abhinayadarpana-1. 15-16) had earlier distinguished Nrtya from Nrtta, thus:

Bhavabhinaya-hinam tu nrittamitya-abhidhyate | Rasabhava-vyanjana adi yuktam nrityam ity uchyate

And, Sarangadeva said that Nrtya and Nrtta can both be of two kinds –Tandava and Lasya (SR. 7. 28); and, while Tandava is uddhata (vigorous), the Lasya is of Lalita (delicate) movements (SR. 7. 29- 30).

But, Pundarika, in his Nartana-nirnaya, throughout, uses the terms Nrtta and Nrtya interchangeably, perhaps, because, both those dance forms involved, in some measure, the elements of abhinaya or interpretative movements.

Nrtta Nrtya Natya

Marga-Desi  / BhaddhaAnibhaddha 

But, the more significant theoretical aspect of Nartana-nirnaya is the adoption of the two sets of concepts to classify the Dance forms.

Pundarika adopts Marga and Desi class concepts into the Lakshana and Lakshya   (theory and practice) of Dance, for classifying its forms.  

And then, he introduces a novel feature (hitherto not tried by anyone else); which is the principles of Bhaddha (structured) and Anibhaddha (neither bound nor structured) for stratifying the dance forms into two separate classes.

(1) Marga and Desi

Pundarika carried forward the practice of the earlier scholar-writers who distinguished the dance forms along the lines of Marga and Desi. The term Marga (literally ‘of the way’ or ‘path’) refers to those arts that adhere to codified rules; while Desi is understood as the unregulated regional variations.   

The concepts of Marga and Desi were originally introduced into Music by Matanga in his Brhaddeshi (around seventh or eighth century) to distinguish the pure and well-structured Music (Marga) from the innovative regional melodies (Desi).

As regards the dance forms; by about the eleventh century, Somesvara adopted the Marga-Desi classification to categorize the then existing Dance forms. Later, around the same time, Sarangadeva, in his Sangita-ratnakara, systematically presented the Marga and Desi forms as distinct styles of dance. 

Here, in these texts, the classical style, that is the one codified by Bharata in the Natyashastra; and, acknowledged by tradition   as the core of classical art, was regarded as the Marga.  The Nrtya, for instance, was classified under Marga form of dance.

The regional and popular dance styles, with easy movements, that allowed more freedom, greater improvisation, within the given framework, were classified under Desi. The Nrtta, for instance, was treated as a Desi form of dance.

Pundarika Vitthala, in his Nartana-nirnaya, also adopted the Marga-Desi classification to categorize the different dance forms. Nartana-nirnaya describes several entirely new dance forms that were popular during its time.


(2) Bhaddha  and Anibhaddha

The Nartana-nirnaya marks a major conceptual departure, primarily by following the structural principle of classifying Dance forms into two divisions: namely, Bandha, or styles that rigidly adhered to set rules of composition; and Anibandha, styles that did not do so and allowed innovations by the dancer. The texts of the earlier period, including Sangita-ratnakara, followed the approach of the Natyashastra. But, in the post-Nartananirnaya period, the classification of Dance forms along the lines of Bandha and Anibandha became part of their conceptual framework.


Matanga had earlier classified Music  into two classes –Nibhadda and Anibhadda –  the one that is regulated and structured with Dhatus (elements) ; and , the other  that is not structured (un-bound).

According to Matanga’s classification:  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, neither Taala, nor Grammar, nor lyrics – has a role to play in the Anibaddha Samgita. Sarangadeva explains Anibaddha as Aalapa, which is not bound or which lacks rules (bandha-hinatva) – Alapir bandha-hinatvad Anibaddham itirita (Sangitaratnakara: 4.5).

And the Nibaddha Gita, in comparison, is a 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.)


Pundarika was the first scholar to apply the Nibaddha – Anibhaddha type of classification to Dance forms. That is to say; almost 1500 years after these terms came into use in music, Pundarika Vitthala’s work applied them to Dance forms, in order to segregate well-structured dance forms from rather free flowing regional dances.

While both parts followed certain rules of structure and of exposition, Anibaddha was comparatively loose in its construction since it was free of the regimen of Taala.  The Anibandha-nrttas are, thus, flexible in both form and content, within the broadly specified aesthetic frameworks.

Dr. Mandakranta Bose observes:

It would seem that the Anibandha-nrttas were unlike any other dance pieces described in the literature before the Nartana-nirnaya.   The Anibandha-nrttas seemed to be short dance-sequences, using which a dancer could choreograph her own piece. Thus, they have the same function in the dancer’s choreographic design as the karanas of the Marga tradition. But, their structural principle is entirely different from that of karanas, in that they are entirely flexible as to their components and structure while karanas are of course rigidly set structures.


Roughly, it would seem the Bandha-nrttas denoted dances for which there already were prescribed formats and rules ; while, the Anibandha-nrttas denoted dances for which there were none or minimal.

A traditional Bhaddha-nrtta was more rigorously constructed, bound as it was by the constraining patterns of Taala; and, was performed by dancers who were appropriately trained; and, who could interpret a composition perfectlyexecuting all the movements in detail and precisely as per the prescribed sequence.

Pundarika grouped under the Bandha-nrtta class, those dances that were characterized by yati, tala, laya, sthana, Cari and hasta etc. as prescribed in the ShastrasHe enumerated twelve varieties; and, described in detail their specific movements, their structured sequences, including karanas (N2V.43a-45b)


All the other dance forms were drought under Anibandha Dance form. The principle of Anibaddha allowed the dancer a considerable degree of freedom, encouraging her to search for and to create, through her ingenuity, novel aesthetic expressions. This was a major departure from the regimen that required the dancer to rigorously follow the prescriptions of the texts. The opportunities to come up with artistic innovations, within the framework of the tradition, helped to infuse enterprise and vitality into dance performances. The dance became more alive.

In the Nartana- nirnaya, the Anibandha dances are described in two parts; the first consisting of twenty-one Anibandha-urupas (denoting a broad category of dance sequences formed with the karanas); and, the second, consisting two Anibandha-nrtyas. Of the two, some of the Anibandha-nrtyas come from Persia. And the other is Raasa, which includes the form called Dandarasa, the group dances associated with Lord Krishna and the Gopis (NN. 53a-b). Raasa is the only dance recorded by Pundarika which seems to have continued over centuries and is found even today in at least two regions of India, Gujarat and Manipur.

rasa mandal


Fresh perspective

Though the Natyashastra continued to be the authoritative source book, which lays down the basic principles of the performing arts; and, identifies the range of body movements that constitute dancing, in the later times, many works on dancing followed the Nartana-nirnaya’s approach to the categories of dance; and, that eventually became part of their conceptual framework.

The emphasis of the later texts tended to shift away from the Marga of the Natyashastra; but, lean towards the newer forms of Desi Dances with their improvised techniques and structural principles. Apart from increase in the varieties of regional dance forms, a number of manuals in regional languages began to appear. These regional texts provide a glimpse of the state of Dance as was practiced in different regions.

Dr. Mandakranta Bose observes:

Bharata’s account represented only a small part of the total body of dance styles of the time. When new styles became prominent in the medieval period they had to be included in the descriptions of dancing. Such a widening of frontiers meant a great increment of technical description in the texts.

The distinction between the Natyashastra and the later texts is not merely one of detail. Of greater significance is the fact that unlike the Natyashastra, the later texts recognize different styles. These are distinct from the one described by Bharata, the main path or Marga tradition of dancing. The later texts concern themselves more and more with other styles, known, generically, as Desi, whose technique and structural principles are sufficiently different from the style described by Bharata…

Thus, the evolution of Indian Dance system is a dynamic process that absorbed new elements and techniques without compromising its basic tenets. It, thus, demonstrates the time-honored Indian principle of growth: continuity along with change.


Historical significance

Now, as regards the historical significance of Nartana-nirnaya; many scholars, after a deep study of the text, have observed that there is enough evidence to conclude that the text marks the origin of two major styles of India today, namely, Kathak and Odissi. 

Dr. Mandakranta Bose, in her very well researched paper (The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition )  stresses the historical importance and relevance of Nartana-nirnaya; and , states   :  This text  offers us a major breakthrough in understanding both the evolution and the continuity of the art of dance;  because , it enables us to reconstruct the styles prevalent at a transitional period in the cultural history of India.

Thus, Nartana-nirnaya serves as a bridge that spans between the older and present-day traditions of classical Indian dancing.


It was during this period, the Persian influence, through the Mughal Court , entered into Indian dancing, giving rise to a new style of  Dance form, the Kathak.  This period was also marked by the emergence of the Dance forms that were not specifically mentioned in the Natyashastra – the Uparupakas. This genre of musical dance dramas not only came to be admitted into the mainstream of dancing, but also eventually became the dominant type of performing art, giving rise dance forms such as Odissi, Kuchipudi etc.

Dr. Bose also concurs that such connection seems highly plausible. The text, according to her, was part of the cultural world of the Mughal court that nurtured Kathak. She points out that several technical terms used in Nartana-nirnaya match those used in Kathak today. And she goes on to say:

One important contribution of the Nartana-nirnaya is the evidence we may draw from it to establish firmly the time of the origin of two major styles of India today, namely, Kathak and Odissi. There has always been some controversy about the evolution of these two styles. Dance historians in general are agreed that while the roots of Kathak go back to ancient Hindu culture, its present form is derived from dancing styles imported by Mughal rulers. There is no doubt that Kathak did absorb some Persian influence, but the case for that influence is overstated. This can be easily seen by comparing the detailed descriptions found in the Nartana-nirnaya with the movements of Kathak. The style described in the Nartana-nirnaya is, of course, not termed Kathak, a name that came into use much later, but the descriptions clearly show it to be the same as what we know today as Kathak.

Karya tatra dvidha nrttam bhandakam ca nibhandakam / gatyadi niyamayur yuktam bhankam nrtta mucchyate ; anibhaddam tvaniyamaad..


When we look closely at the technique of the dance described under the Anibandha category, we begin to see certain striking similarities with the technique of Kathak. One cannot say that the style described in the Nartana-nirnaya matches Kathak in every detail.  But, one may certainly view that style as the precursor to Kathak; because, the descriptions and the similarities in their techniques clearly show it to be the same as what we know today as Kathak.

The Nartana-nirnaya seems, thus, to be the proper textual source for Kathak. This claim becomes stronger still on examining points of technique….

[The renowned Dancer Smt. Maya Rao in her article “The Hastas in Kathak”, observes

In Kathak, the body as a whole is visualized as the prime medium of expression. For instance; if the dancer intends to represent the moon, not only will his hands show the Ardha-chandra Hasta, but his body will also bend in an arch to suggest the idea of a crescent moon.

The same approach to elaborating and dramatizing basic movements is found in the Nartana-nirnaya. The description of a dance called Lavani includes an almost identical movement in which the dancer bends her body from her waist in Ardha-chandra.


Two of the most distinctive movements of Kathak are Chakkars and Tatkars. A Chakkar is a rapidly spinning movement while a Tatkar means to stamp on the ground with one foot or both; and, marking the rhythm with ankle bells. Chakkar can be identified as the Chakra-bhramari mentioned in the Nartana-nirnaya, which describes it as a spinning movement (NN. 47b).

It is true that the Bhramaris were known long before the time of the Nartana-nirnaya.  Bharata referred to them; but did not give them the prominence that they later received in the Nartana-nirnaya. The revolving movements are of course integral to all dance styles; but, in classical styles, other than Kathak, the movements are never fast enough, nor sustained enough to achieve the aesthetic form that a Chakkar creates in Kathak. It is the speed of revolution that sets it apart and it is precisely this element of fast spinning, comparable to that of the pirouette that we find in the description of Chakra-bhramaris in the Nartana-nirnaya.

In its discussion of revolving movements the Nartana-nirnaya also describes Tirapa-bhramari. [NN 47b: Revolving obliquely with both the legs after crossing them is Tirapa-bhramari]. A similar movement termed as Tirapa is used in Kathak as well.


As for the Tatkar, it clearly corresponds with the Gharghara, of which details are given in both Nartana-nirnaya and Sangita-ratnakara.

 (NN. 50a) Where striking the ground to make the sound of the ankle bells,  it is known as Gharghara.

 (NN.52b-53a) Where the song is sung by the dancer in the language of the Yavana, holding her veil, words uttered with kalla etc. and Gajara etc. ;  and beautified with Ahahga, the dance should be performed being adorned with various three Layas. When this dance is performed with soft movements adorned by Bhramaris , where the Kriya (keeping time with hands) is done with sounded beat in accordance with the difference between Dhruva and Samya, that dance, which is devoid of effort and action, is known as Jakkadi. Thus, the song sung by the experts from Persia using Udgraha, Svaras etc. and in vernacular is known as Jakkadi which is the favourite of the Yavanas.

This Dace sequence is an almost exact description of the Ghungat-gat, one of the best known compositions in Kathak.

The Nartana-nirnaya describes a certain Anibandha-nrtta as follows:

(NN. 52b) Where [the dancer] contracts one of her toes with the big toe extended, shakes her shank after extending it with various quick [movements] and with Gharghar is [that is, tinkling her ankle bells] it is known as Kudupa.

Precisely this action can be recognized today in Kathak when the dancer beats a fast tattoo on the ground to create rhythmic sounds with her ankle-bells.


Further, in Kathak ,  Yati or the rhythmic arrangement of the tempo is divided into five categories, sama, srotagata, gopucchika, pipilika and mrdangi. The Nartananirnaya lists the same types of yatis similar in every detail, although it includes a sixth type, kharjurika . Another term, kuvada, used in Kathak to denote the climax of a complex rhythmic pattern is also found in the Nartana-nirnaya.


Such  similarities offer good reason to believe that the style described in the Nartananirnaya was something very much like Kathak, since it required musical elements similar to those needed for Kathak. The argument becomes even more persuasive when we examine the specifics of the dance technique. But first let us briefly consider the typical characteristics of Kathak as known today

The correspondence between Kathak and Anibandha-nrtta is important not only for discovering the roots of Kathak but also for understanding the value that came to be attached to improvisation in medieval times. In contrast with the prescriptive nature of the descriptions found in the earlier texts, those in the Nartana-nirnaya and its contemporaries allow the dancer more structural flexibility while retaining the basic movements described by Bharata and his successors.]


As regards Odissi, Dr. Bose observes:

The Bandha-nrtta as practiced in the Odissi style is very similar to the descriptions given in the Nartana-nirnaya.  And, the basic standing postures prescribed in the Odissi style: Chauka and Tribhangi. (Chauka and Tribhangi are the two main basic stances in Odissi. Chahka is a stable-wide stance, with weight of the body distributed equally on both the sides; and, the heels facing the centre. It is said to be a masculine posture.  Tribhangi, is a graceful feminine posture, with the body bent in three-ways). These are comparable to vaisakha-sthana and Agra-tala-sanchara-pada of the Nartana-nirnaya. 

Further, some acrobatic postures that are still in use are: danda-paksam, lalata-tilakam and nisumbhitam (the foot raised up to the level of forehead), and several others are found both in Odissi and in Chau dance of Mayurbhanj region of OrissaFurther, there is in the Nartana-nirnaya, the description of a dance called Batu involving difficult poses; and it is very similar to the Batunrtta, a particularly difficult dance in the repertory of Odissi.

(NN. 53a) When the performer revolves touching the ground either with both the knees or with both the legs describing a circle [while her] back is bent [backwards] with her hands in lata then it is known as batu [and its] movement is like [moving] in the orbit of the sun.

This sequence is one of the twelve urupas described in the Nartananirnaya. Urupas are sequences formed with the karanas prescribed for bandhanrtta and are danced to specified varieties of yati, tala and laya. Specific sthana, cari and hand gestures characterize them. Using these twelve urupas a dancer can reconstruct a composition as described in the Nartananirnaya, which will not be far from what we see being performed by artists today. In Odissi we do find similar compositions. Such close correspondences are now proving to be of particular interest to many dancers and teachers who are trying to reconstruct older dance  forms by following the Sanskrit manuals.


Again, there is a correspondence between Odissi and the movements described in the Nartana-nirnaya.  The Text  describes the use of hand gestures to express seven principal musical notes (Svaras) . Each note, according to the author, is a correlative of a bird or an animal, which is represented by hand gestures, as the following passage explains:

 (NN. 20b) Peacock, rain bird, goat, heron, cuckoo, frog and elephant are the seven (notes starting with) Shadja etc that should be recited in order. [Sa=Mayura (peacock); Ri = Chatak (rain bird); Ga=Chag (goat); Ma= Krauncha (heron); Pa=Kokila (cuckoo); Dha = Dadur (frog); and , Ni= Gaja; elephant ].



Pundarika Vittala

Before we move on to a brief discussion on the structure and contents of the Nartana-nirnaya, let’s take a look at its author: Pundarika Vittala, a renowned a musician-scholar.

Pundarika Vittala (16th century) describes himself as a person hailing from Karnataka – Karnata Desiya – born in the village of Sathanur, situated near the Shivaganga Hills (about 50KMs from Bangalore).

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

He refers to his father as Vitthalarya (Vitthalayya) of Jamadagni Gotra – (Tarta Vitthalaryo bhavad amitaya sa sadgunakhya; tat suno ragachandrodaya iti bhaja-SC.3, 57)

He gives his mother’s name as Demaka (RJ.2.77) (Demaka janani-nijasuta Vittalakrta Ragamanjarike yam)

The shrine of Vitthala-raya-swami located about ten KMs from the town of Magadi is believed to be family deity (Kula-devata)


Pundarika Vittala was a remarkable link between the Art traditions of the South and of the North. After moving away from his native country, Pundarika Vittala settled down in the North, initially under the patronage of Muslim King Burhan Khan  in Anandavalli  (near Nasik) in the district of Khandesh. He then moved on to other Royal Courts in the Western and North India.

He was an expert in what is today known as Karnataka Sangita, Hindustani Music, Dancing, Lexicography and Dramaturgy. He later got familiar with Persian Music. He describes North Indian Music forms such as Dhrupad, Jakkari and Raasa etc. He wrote a series of books concerning Music of North India. He exhibits a broader view of the contemporary Arts and their practices in various regions of the country.

While in the Court of Burhan Khan of Khandesh, at Anandavalli, during 1560-1570, Pundarika Vittala wrote his famous work – Sad-raga-chandodaya – having three Chapters titled as: Svara-prasada, Svara-mela prasada, and Aalapi-prasada.  It is a very extensive text, covering almost all the aspects of Music. In this work, Pundarika deals with both the Southern and Northern systems of Ragas ; and, classifies them under nineteen Thats or parent scale, 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.

In this text, Pundarika Vittala introduced; and, almost adopted Ramamatya’s system of 19 Melas (as in his Svara-mela-kalanidhi) to the North Indian Music. He was, perhaps, the first Musicologist to undertake such an exercise. Out of these nineteen original (Mela) Ragas, he attributes five of them to their respective derivative forms (janya-raga). 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.


His next treatise named Ragamala, was probably, written under the patronage of the Jaipur princes, Madho Singh and Man Singh Kacchwas. It is believed; Ragamala  was written during 1576 for one Kapila muni (Srimath Kapilamuniyarthe  kriyate Raga –maalikah) ,

Here, Pundarika Vittala classifies the Ragas (Raga-Ragini Parivara) under six male Ragas. And, attributes to each Male raga, five Raginis – ‘spouses’ (bharyyas) and five ‘sons’ (Raga putra) — totalling 66 Ragas. He also gives the details related to their Svaras, such as:  graha, amsa, nyasa etc.  He also explains the Raga structures in terms of:  nada, sruti, svara, sthana, grama, murchana, tana, etc.

In all, he covers six Male Ragas – with five Raginis and five Putra (sons) for each Male Raga- totaling 66 Ragas.


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 his third treatise:  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.

But the interesting feature of this work is the recognition of as many as sixteen Persian melodies; and, relating them to the Indian Ragas by their nearest equivalents.

(1) Rahayi – Deva-gandhara (2) Mahur – Saranga (3) Desh – Ahanga (4) Suhaya – Kedara (5) Huseni – Jijavanta (6) Yaman – Kalyana (7) Deshkar – Vakhrej (8) Devangyo – Devagandhara-Mushakakya (9) Kanara – Nishavara (10) Jangula – Bangala (11) Vara – Malhara (12) Danasya – Irak (13) Sarparda – Bilaval (15) Malave – Muslik (16) Asavari – Hijjeja

Most probably, these imported melodies had already secured a place in the then 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.

According to the great  Scholar Pundit VN Bhatkhande, it 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 Chanri, Gowdi, Musali, Iraq, Bakharej, Yemen, Husaini,  and  Tirban  distinctly belong to that region.


However, the fame of Pundarika Vitthala rests mainly on Nartana-nirnaya concerning Dance and dramaturgy, composed, in the sixteenth century, while he was in the service of Emperor Akbar.


By the time of Akbar, the Persian art and music had vastly influenced the cultural life of India, particularly the milieu surrounding the Mughal court. Though the regional traditions did exist, the Persian tradition was the dominant one.

Pundarika Vitthala, while in the Mughal Court, had the opportunity to watch, to appreciate and to enjoy excellent presentations of the Persian oriented dances and music. He also had the privilege of discussing varied issues related to Art with the Persian scholars and connoisseurs attached to the Royal Court. 

The Nartana-nirnaya, an authentic text on dance and dramaturgy, written in a variety of metres (chhandas), has four chapters, one each on, rhythm (259 verses); drum (116 verses); vocal music (579 verses); and, on Dance (the largest, with 916 verses).

And, at the outset, Pundarika states that along with the various regional styles of dancing he would be describing the dance of the Yavanas, (meaning, the Persians). Pundarika Vitthala, with great sensitivity, lays down a framework for bringing about structural changes in the fields of Indian Music and dance.

The Nartana-nirnaya is indeed a major work that throws light on the origins of some of the dance forms – particularly Kathak and Oddisi – that are prevalent today. But, it is sad that Nartana-nirnaya has not received the level of attention and depth of study that it rightly deserves.


In the next part, let’s take a look at the structure and the contents , in brief, of the Nartana-nirnaya.



In the

Next Part


Sources and References

The primary source on which I have depended upon is Nartana-nirnaya (in three volumes) edited and commented upon by the renowned scholar Prof. Dr. R. Satyanarayana. For Volume One, please click here. For Volume three please click here.

For Volume One :please click here

For more on Nartana- nirnaya and other texts on Dance forms ; as also  for the details of the few mentioned here , please do read  Dr. Mandakranta Bose’s research  paperThe Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition

Also refer to Pundarika Vittala by Dr. Padma Rajagopal


And to Musicological Literature by Emmie te Nijenhuis




Posted by on May 4, 2019 in Natya, Sangita


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Sixteen

Continued From Part Fifteen

Lakshana Granthas Continued

11. Sangita-ratnakara of 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 and dance discussed in Sangita-ratnakara is free from Persian influence.  The Sangita-ratnakara, therefore, marks the stage at which the ‘integrated’ Music of India was , before it branched into North-South Music traditions.

[Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara was published by Adyar Library in four volumes. Please click here for : Vol IVol II ; Vol III and Vol IV 

And, please click here for the Sanskrit text of the Nartana-adhyaya]

The Sangita- ratnakara (the ocean of Sangita) describes the varied aspects of Sangita. The Sangita that the text refers to is indeed a composite term. The Sangita, according to Sarangadeva, is a comprehensive Art-form, composed of three elements (taurya-trika): the vocal (Gitam) and instrumental (Vadyam) music; followed by the third, the dance (Nrtyam) – Gitam, Vadyam tatha Nrtyam trayam Samgitam uccyate. 

The last one, the Nrtyam, is comprised of all the three Angas:  the elements: song, instrumental music, and, Dance.


Here, the first element (Anga) of Sangita, the Gitam, the song format, is a fusion of Nada (sounds) and Akshara (a composition made of words). Its musical element is named Dhathu; while its lyrics or composition made of words is called Mathu. Locana Pandita, in his Raga-tarangini, explains the term Gitam, as:

Dhatu-matu-samayauktam Gitam iti uccyate budhaih; tatra nadatmako dhatur mathur akshara sambhavah

The Gitam, going by its traditional definition, strictly belongs to the Salaga Suda class of Prabandha, which is composed two Angas (elements) – Pada (words) and Taala (time-beats); and, having three components or Dhatus (Tri-dhatuka Prabandha) :  Udgraha, Dhruva and Abhoga.  For more on that, please click here. But, in common practice, anything that is sung goes by the name of Gita (Giyata iti Gitam).

The next term Vadyam, covers a wide variety of musical instruments, such as: the varied string instruments; different types of Drums; bell-metal cymbals; and a host of wind instruments including flutes, pipes, conch, trumpets etc.

Thus, the Sangita 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 Sangita-ratnakara (13th Century), three Angas (limbs) of Sangita 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 as well. On Dance (Nrtya), he offers clear picture of both Marga and Desi traditions, although in a concise manner.


In his work Sangita-ratnakaraSarangadeva devotes seven chapters (Sapta-adhyayi) for discussing these three components (Anga-s) of Sangita; but, mainly about the first two. These seven Chapters covering varied aspects of Sangita are:

(1) Svara-gata-adhyaya ; (2) Raga-viveka-adhyaya (3) Prakinaka-adhyaya (4) Prabhandha-adhyaya (5) Tala-adhyaya; (6) Vadya-adhyaya; and,  (7) Nartana-adhyaya

The first six Chapters discuss, what is now known as Music – vocal and instrumental – (Gitam and Vadyam); and, these Chapters, together, are reckoned among the longest works on Music, in Sanskrit, covering all its vital aspects. The First Chapter deals with Nada (the principle of sound);  the Second with Raga (musical modes); the Third with Prakirna (miscellaneous topics relating to music); the Fourth with Prabandha (structured composition); the Fifth with Marga (classical) and Desi (regional) types of Taala (rhythm); and, the Sixth with Vadya (musical instruments).

Apart from these, the Sangita-ratnakara highlighted 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 over a period. 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 (Lakshana), which though he respects them highly.

Thus, Sangita-ratnakara not only provides material for the study of the ancient music, but it also gives an insight into the then current practices. In his writing, Sarangadeva draws a clear distinction between the well established ancient (purva prasiddha) and the contemporary popular (adhuna prasiddha) Ragas. He also gives descriptions of the structures and temperaments of   musical instruments such as Veena and Vamsa (flute) according to the practices of his times. 

Therefore, the Sangita-ratnakara is regarded as a standard work or an authoritative text, on which the later scholars and commentators drew upon copiously.


[There are two well known commentaries on Sangita-ratnakara: the Kalanidhi of Chatura Kallinatha (c.1430); and, the Sangita-sudhakara of Simhabhupala (c.1330). Most of the editions of the Sangita-ratnakara are published along with these two commentaries, with the description:

Sangitaratnakarah, Chatura Kallinathaya virachitaya Kalanidhdya tikaya; Simhabhula virachitaya Sangitasudhakara tikaya cha samethah

Of the two, the Kalanidhi of Kallinatha (c.1430) is considered almost as a supplement to Sangita-ratnakara; as it expands on the text by citing verses of other authorities, and also introducing some new elements. For instance; Kallinatha, while commenting upon the descriptions of the Arm-movements, adds an entire section on the Vartana of which he describes thirty-one varieties (SR.7.270 to 286; Pages 105 to 110). Again, he adds another section on fifty types of Calanas or Calakas, another type of arm movement (pages 111 to 124). Further, Kallinatha quotes from the ancient authority Kohala, on the subject of Caris; and adds a new a new type Cari called Madhupa-cari (SR. pp.313-17)

The King, Simhabhupala, of the Recherla dynasty of Rajachala in Andhra, in his commentary Sangita-sudhakara (c.1330), written about a hundred years earlier to Kallinatha’s Kalanidhi, tried to clarify the topics dealt by Sarangadeva  rather lucidly . It provides some valuable information culled from the older texts. He cites from a certain text named Prayogastabaka, said to be a commentary the Dattilam ascribed to Dattila (Ca. First century); but, its manuscript, so far, has not been found.]


The Seventh and the last Chapter (Nartana-adhyaya) of the Sangita-ratnakara is about the third component of the Sangita, which is Nartana, the Dance format which includes Nrtta, Natya, and Nrtya. Here, Sarangadeva follows King Someshvara (Manasollasa) who had divided Nartana into three categories: Nrtta, Natya and Nrtya.  Though the Chapter on Dance is titled Nartana, it discusses mainly its Nrtta and Natya aspects.

On the subject of Dance, Sarangadeva has less information to offer than his contemporary Jaya Senapati (Nrtta-ratnavali, 13th century). But, what he offers is concise and systematic, presenting a clear picture of two Dance traditions – Marga and Desi – as were practiced dancing in the author’s time. And, the Seventh Chapter, the Nartana-adhyaya, with 1678 Verses, is the longest Chapter of the text.

And, so far as Dance is considered, Sangita-ratnakara marks the stage when Dance came to be viewed and treated as an independent Art-form; and, not as a mere ingredient adding beauty to a theatrical presentation. And, another significant feature was that the regional, the Desi style of Dance was given due importance, along with the classical Marga. Here, Sarangadeva was following the trend set by King Someshvara, in his Manasollasa.

Now, we are mainly interested in the last and the Seventh Chapter Nartana-adhyaya, dealing with Dance.


Sarangadeva / Sharangdeva (1175–1247) 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 from Kashmir into the newly found Yadava capital at 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 Sevuna (Yadava) King Simhana/Singhana (1200-1247). He was a very powerful king and also a great patron of arts, literature, and science. It was 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 a 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 Sangita. It turned out to be one of the important and comprehensive Sanskrit texts on Music of India.


The Nartana-adhyaya opens with the famous verse, which is commonly associated with the Abhinaya Darpana of Nandikeshvara.

Angikam Bhuvanam sloka

Angikam Bhuvanam Yasya, Vachikam Sarva Vangmayam, Aaharyam Chandra Taradi, Tam Namah Saattvikam Shivam 

Whose bodily movements is the entire universe; whose speech is the language and literature of the entire Universe; whose ornaments are the moon and the stars; Him we worship, the serene Lord Shiva. ..!

There is, in fact, a protracted debate about the original authorship of the first forty verses of the Nartana-adhyaya.

Dr. K. Kunjunni Raja, in the introduction to the Fourth Part of the Sangita-ratnakara, edited and translated by him (published by Adyar Library, 1976), observes , it appears that nearly forty-two  verses in the introductory portions of the Seventh Chapter of the  Sangita-ratnakara , are almost the same as the introductory verses found in the Abhinaya-Darpana ascribed to Nandikeshvara.

The question is who borrowed from whom?

At the outset, it appears as though Sarangadeva borrowed these portions from the Abhinaya-Darpana.  However, the commentators, King Simhabhupala (c.1330), author of the Sangitasudhakara; and Kallinatha (c.1430) author of the Kalanidhi assert that the introductory verses of the Nartana-adhyaya are genuinely Sarangadeva’s own verses. If that is so, then the date of the Abhinaya Darpana would be pushed further down.

But, the Abhinaya Darpana mentions that these verses are the teachings of the older authorities – Yetani purva-shastra-anusarena ukthani ve maya (AD.47)

It is also likely that Nandikeshvara and Sarangadeva, both borrowed from a common source.

Yet; the question is still open.


In the introductory section of the First Chapter, Sarangadeva lists a number of earlier authorities, the essence of whose views, he states, he is presenting in his work.

Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara is a great compilation, not an original work, which ably brings together various strands of the past music traditions found in earlier works like Nāţyashastra, Dattilam, Bŗhaddēśī, and Sarasvatī-hŗdayālańkāra-hāra. It is greatly influenced by Abhinavagupta’s Abhinavabharati and Someshvara’s Manasollasa. But for Sangita-ratnakara, it might have been more difficult to understand NatyasastraBrhaddesi and other ancient texts.

Chapter Seven, which is 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 (SR. 7. 3).

In describing the Marga tradition of Dance, Sarangadeva follows Natyashastra. In fact, the whole of the Seventh Chapter draws most of its material from Natyashastra and its commentaries. Many of the passages narrated therein (say, verses 78 to 89) are straightaway taken from the Ninth Chapter of Natyashastra. Even the definitions offered in this Chapter are adopted from other sources.

As regards the Desi class of Dance he improves upon the explanations offered in Manasollasa of King Someshvara and Sangita Samayasara of Parsvadeva.

In the second part of this Chapter, the author describes the Bhavas  (states or moods) and the related Nine Rasa-s, namely, Śrńgāra, Vīra, Hāsya, Raudra, Adbhuta, Karuņā, Bhayānaka, Bībhatsa and Shānta.


Sarangadeva commences his exposition on Dance with the statement that the Natya-Veda is, indeed, threefold: Natya, Nrtya and Nrtta (Natya, Nrtya tatha Nrtta tridha tadipi kititam- SR.7.3)


[Here Sarangadeva is following the classification as given in the Manasollasa; except that he does not use the term Nartana, as Someshvara did to represent the Dance , in general.]

Of these three, Sarangadeva explains the term Natya as that through which Rasa manifests (Natya sabdau Rase mukhyo Rasabhivyaki karanam – SR.17.18) . It connotes Abhinaya, through which the import of the Drama is expressed by the actors, in varied ways, providing uninterrupted joy to the spectators (SR.7.19).


He explains Nrtya as that which expresses Bhavas (various states and moods) through Angika-abhinaya; and, it is of the Marga class (SR.7.26)

And, Nrtta, he says, is only the movements of the body (gatra-vishepa matra), devoid of Abhinayas (sarva-abhinaya vargitam) SR.7.28.


Then, Sarangadeva mentions three varieties of Nrtta: Visama (acrobatic, dancing around with ropes etc.,); Vikata (comical or ludicrous in ungainly dress and movements; and, Laghu (of Ancita and other easy Karanas) – SR.7.31.32


The Natyashastra had earlier described Tandava as the Nrtta performed by Shiva; and Sukumara (Lasya) as Parvati’s dance. And, Bharata had not qualified these dance types as either being aggressive or gentle. There was, of course, mention of Nrtya.

But, here, Sarangadeva differed from Bharata. He classified both the Nrtta and Nrtya into two kinds: Tandava and Lasya (SR.7.28). Further, he said that Tandava requires Uddhata (forceful, aggressive) and Lasya requires Lalita (delicate, gentle)   movements (SR. 7. 29- 30).


Thus, according to Sarangadeva, the Nrtya covers rhythmic limb movements (Nrtta) as also eloquent gestures expressing emotions through Abhinaya. It is a harmonious combination of facial expressions, various glances, poses and meaningful movements of the hands, fingers and feet. Nrtyam, the dance, delightfully brings together and presents in a very highly expressive, attractive visual and auditory form, the import of the lyrics (sahitya), the nuances of its emotional content to the accompaniment of soulful music and rhythmic patterns (tala-laya). And, Nrtya can portray both the Tandava and the Lasya Dance movements.

As mentioned earlier; with exception of some elements, the treatment of the Angika-Abhinaya in the Sangita-ratnakara, to a large extent, follows the Natyashastra of Bharata. But, Sarangadeva made some changes in the arrangement of the limbs, within the three groups of limbs: Anga, Upanga and Pratyanga. Here, Sarangadeva followed the Manasollasa of Someshvara – (Verses 38 to 42). For instance;


SR Anga

Bharata, under the category Anga, the major body-parts, had listed six parts as: the head,  the chest, the sides, the hips, the hands and the feet.

Here, Sarangadeva, following the general pattern as laid down by Bharata, adopts, under the Anga, the six body parts: the head; the two hands; the chest; the sides; the hips and two feet. In addition to these Six, he adds the shoulders also.

Here, Sarangadeva differed from both Bharata and Someshvara [who had included shoulders and belly in place of the hands (Hasthas) and the feet (Padas)].


SR PratyangaBharata, under the Pratyanga, had mentioned six parts as: the neck, the belly, the thighs, the shanks and the arms.

Sarangadeva included all these six parts under the Pratyanga; and, in addition he also counted the knees and wrists. Here, Sarangadeva followed the classification made by Someshvara.



And, under Upangas, Bharata had included nine elements , such as : the eyes; the eyebrows; the eyelids; pupils; the nose; the lips; the cheeks; the chin and the mouth; in addition to facial colors.

[Sarangadeva enumerates thirty-six varieties of glances, as did Bharata. And, he remarks: these may be taken only as illustrations; but, in fact, its possibilities are innumerable, depending upon the actions of the brows, pupils and the eyelids.]

SR UpangaSarangadeva, in addition to the nine Upangas in the head, as mentioned by Bharata, brought in the elements of the breath, the teeth and the tongue. However, Bharata had not considered these three as Upangas.

Apart from the twelve Upangas located in the head, Sarangadeva counted the heels; the ankles; the fingers of the hand; the toes; and the soles of the feet. Here he was clearly deviating both from Bharata and Someshvara. Because, Someshvara had included only the tongue and teeth as Upangas, in addition to those mentioned by Bharata; but, he had not included those parts with other limbs as Upangas. Obviously, Sarangadeva adopted these details from some other source.



As regards, the colours of the Face (Mukha-raga), Sarangadeva adopts the four colours as mentioned in the Natyashastra: Svabhavika (natural); Prasanna (clear); Raktha (red); and, Shyama (dark) Verses 527-528


As regards the position of the hands (Kara-Pracara), Bharata had classified these into three kinds: Uttana (facing upward); Adhomukha (facing downward); and , Parsvagata (turned to the sides). Sarangadeva , however, adds twelve more  positions of the hands as sub-classification of  the three mentioned by Bharata: Agratastala (palm facing forward); Svasamm-mukhatala (palms turned to oneself); Urdhva-mukha (pointing upward); Adho-vadana (pointing downward); Paran-mukha (pointing outward); Sammukha (pointing toward oneself); Parsvato-mukha (pointing to the sides) ; Urdhvaga (moving up); Adhogata (moving down); Parsva-gata (moving to the side) ; Agraga (moving forward); and, Sammukha-gata (moving toward oneself). (Verses 532-537, Page 182)

flower design

Sarangadeva mentions (in Verses 42 to 48, Pages 16-17) that henceforth, in the Chapters to follow, he would be describing:

Sarangadeva mentions (in Verses 42 to 48, Pages 16-17) that henceforth, in the Chapters to follow, he would be describing:

: – The positions of the hands (Kara-Pracara); the movements of the hands (Kara-Karana); the actions of the hands (Kara-Karma); the places for the hands (Hastha-kshetra);

:- The descriptions of the two-fold Karanas , the Marga and the Desi Nrtta karanas,  those accompanied by jumps (Utpluti); the Angaharas along with their Recakas ; the Caris , with their Marga and Desi variants; the Sthanakas; the Vrttis; the Nyayas , with their Pravicaras , the Mandalas of all kinds;

: – The descriptions of the Lasyangas; the Rcakas;

: – The procedures for practice (Srama) of Dance ; the definition of a person fit for Dancing (Patra); the qualifications of a Nartaki, the qualifications of the Dance-teacher; the merits and de-merits of the Dance troupe;

: – The descriptions of the Acharya, the Nata, the Nartaka, Vaitalika, Carana, and Kolhatika;

: – Particulars of the rules relating to Gundali; the correct description of Peranin and his style;

: – The descriptions of the assembled spectators, the leader of the assembly, and the location of the assembly; and,

: – The descriptions of the Nava Rasa-s and Bhava-s;

Sarangadeva , generally, follows the descriptions provided in the Natyashastra and the  Manasollasa , while enumerating the different  positions and movements of the various elements and components of the body; the Caris, Sthanas,  Karanas and the Angaharas of both the Marga and the Desi types; the Lasyangas; qualities of the Dancers; qualities of the Dance teacher; the Desi Nrtta and its various forms ; and , discussions on the Rasas , Bhavas etc.


Sarangadeva’s description of Caris, Sthanas, Karanas and Angaharas of the Marga type are as per the Natyashastra.

[Sarangadeva explains Cari as the combination of the beautiful movements of the feet, shanks, thigh and the hips, performed in coordination. The term Cari, he says, is derived from root Car ( to move); and, by adding the suffix i (n) and ni , at the end.]

But, the Desi styles of Bhumi (36 types) and Akashi Caris (19 types); six Sthanas for men, seven Sthanas for women and twenty-three Desi Sthanas; nine sitting and six reclining Sthanas (altogether fifty-one Sthanas); the four types of Vrittis; the Bhumi and Akashi Mandalas; the Desi Lasyangas; and the 36 Utpluti-karanas from regional traditions, which demand strenuous physical exertion and perfect control of the limbs, are the same as those in the Manasollasa of Someshvara.

Some of the thirty-six Utpluti-karanas in the Sangita-ratnakara are also the same as in the Manasollasa, which lists eighteen karanas of the Desi variety (Manas. 16. 4. 1384-99).


As regards Bhramaris, in the Natyashastra, the Bhramari was the name of a Cari; and, it was not a particularly complicated revolving movement.

In the later times, many types of Bhramaris were developed; all of them being variations of the whirling movements. Gradually, as these diversified into more elaborate movements, they came to be recognized as constituting a distinct class. The earliest text to do so was Parsvadeva’s Sangita-samayasara (7.193) a treatise on Desi music and dance prevalent in 13th century; and, it describes eleven Desi karanas; along with five Bhramaris.  

The Abhinaya-Darpana (289- 98) also regards the Bhramaris as a distinct group.

Here, Sarangadeva was following Parsvadeva, who had described Utpluti-karanas needed for the Desi Nrtta along with eleven Desi Karanas with different Desi Sthanas; and, five Bhramaris.

These Bhramaris are included among Utpluti-karanas by Sarangadeva, also. And, it indicates that by his time, the Bhramaris were so developed and so important as to be regarded as a form of Karanas.


After the description of the Sthanas which include sitting and lying postures that are appropriate to drama, the author discusses the four types of vrttis (caturdha Vrtti) , the modes of depiction and styles of presentation : Kaisiki; Sattvati; Arabhati; and, Bharati. Bharata regarded the Vrttis or the Styles as one among the most important constituent elements of the play. In fact, he considered the Vrttis as the mother of all poetic works – sarveāmeva kāvyānāṃ-mātkā vttaya smḥ (NS.18.4).

This is followed by a description of Mandala (combination of Caris); and then of ten Lasyangas of the Desi variety.

Jaya Senapati (Nrtta-ratnavali), who was a contemporary of Sarangadeva, gives a list of forty-six Lasyangas; and, Parsvadeva, who preceded both, had listed twenty Desi Angas.

But it is Sarangadeva’s list of ten Lasyangas that was cited by the  later authors.


Next, Sarangadeva describes the Gaundali and the Perani, the two dances commonly performed in the Desi tradition.  Here, Sarangadeva follows Sangita-Samayasara of Parsvadeva.

Parsvadeva, had mentioned Perana, Pekkhana, Gundali and Dandarasa, as forms of the Desi-Nrtya. He had also discussed the Sthanas and Caris needed for these Desi types of dances; and, in particular, the five elements or components (Angas) of Perana Dance: Nrtta, Kaivara, Ghargara, Vagada and Gita.

Parsvadeva had described Nrtta as consisting Lasya and Tandava aspects , which are based rhythm and tempo; Kaivara as praising the king through praising his ancestors; Gharghara as rhythmic stamping of feet , with bells tied to the ankles; Vagada as miming of ludicrous characters; and, Gita as a song sung according to the rules of a pure or mixed raga, complete with Alapa.

In that context, he had given the details of the instrumental music, drumming in particular, needed for four kinds of Desi dances, namely, Perana, Pekkhana, Gundali and Dandarasa. Parsvadeva had also indicated the requirements of a good dancer, her physical appearance; and, the way she should be dressed etc.

Sarangadeva, following Parsvadeva, also talks of the qualities and appearance of the Peranin a male dancer; and, says that the Peranin should : have his body covered with white coloured ash ; have his head shaved, leaving a small tuft of hair (Shikha); wear number of shining anklet-bells (Ghargharika); have a good voice ; be clever; be an expert in Tala and Laya; and, should be an attractive dancer (Verses 1301-3, Pages 384-85)

He also explains the sequential process of a performance, including the musical accompaniment, in the pure mode or Shuddha-paddhati, and the Gaundali of the Desi tradition (Verses 1316-25, Page 389). Here, Sarangadeva follows Manasollasa, entirely

The Gaundali and the Perani  seemed to have been the most common Dance-items in Desi tradition; because, they are mentioned in all the texts from the Sangita-samayasara in the twelfth/thirteenth century down to the Siva-tattva-ratnakara of Basavabhupala of Keladi (1684 A.D.-1710 A.D.)

And, Perani was popular, particularly in the Andhra region. And, Jaya Senapati had discussed it in fair detail. Its popularity is attributed to its fast movements; and, to the use of ankle bells.

Pekkhana or Preksana, a Desi Dance with Lasya and Gaundali are described with accompanying vocal and instrumental music. The Gaundali dance certainly survived till the eighteenth century; but,  later, it seemed to have faded away.


After describing these two dance pieces, Sarangadeva enumerates the qualifications of the Acharya (the teacher); the Nata (the actor); the Nartaka (the dancer); the Vaitalika (a common entertainer); the Charana (an expert in understanding Gharghara, a distinctive feature of the Desi dances of the Dravida region); and, the Kolatika (a performer who specializes in Bhramari, rope-walking and dancing with a dagger). Next, he describes the audience and the sitting arrangements.

Then, after describing the Lasyangas, Sarangadeva explains the importance of aesthetic beauty; and,  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 Shuddha Paddhati.

The Chapter offers guidelines for dance practice; dancer’s merits, credentials and shortcomings; and, the description of the music/performance hall. In doing so he combines the material from the Natyashastra with that from later works; and , presents a coherent view not found in previous works.


In the second part of this Chapter, the author describes Rasas , the Nine Rasas (Nava-rasa), thirty-three Sthayi-bhavas, eight Sattvika-bhavas , thirty-three Vyabichari  Bhavas; and the definition of Sattva. Sarangadeva largely follows the explanations offered by Abhinavagupta on the theories of Rasa.

Sarangadeva mentions that all the eight kinds of states or Sattvika-bhavas (temperamental states) can appear in any of the Rasas. And, in a Drama one Rasa must be made prominent; and, other Rasas should be supplementary.


The Seventh and the Final Chapter concludes with the Verse wherein Sarangadeva avers that he did not compile this work out of pride of his learning or knowledge; but, as a means to reach out and to seek a place in the hearts and minds of the learned.

Na vidya-darpato grantha pravrttirmam kim tvidam / Vidvan manasa –vasaya gantu patheyam asthitam // SR.7.1678 , Page 476 //



In the Next Part, we shall move on to another text.



The Next Part


References and Sources

  1. Movement and Mimesis: The Idea of Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition by Dr Mandakranta Bose
  2. Sangita ratnakara
  3. Sangita ratnaj -kars :
  4. All images are from Internet


Leave a comment

Posted by on December 10, 2018 in Art, Natya


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Fifteen

Continued From Part Fourteen

Lakshana Granthas – continued

10.  The Nrttaratnavali of Jaya Senapati



Evolution of Dance During the medieval period

The medieval period spanning the Twelfth to the Fifteenth century was a very significant period in the history of Indian Dancing. And, the developments that took place during this period cast their influence on the future course of Indian Dancing. And, they were also instrumental for the emergence of numerous Dance forms, in the different regions of the country.

To start with; it was during this period that Dance along with Music (which were both clubbed under the term Samgita)  emerged out of the shadows of the Drama; and, began to be recognized and discussed in their own right , as independent Art-forms rather than as adjuncts to Drama.

Dance, in the Natyashastra, was an ancillary part (Anga) or one of the ingredients that lent elegance and grace to theatrical performance; and, it was not yet an independent art-form, by itself.  Further, Bharata had discussed Dance, mainly, in terms of Nrtta, pure, abstract and beautiful dance, performed in tune with the rhythm and tempo, to the accompaniment of vocal and instrumental music.

The Nrtta was described in terms of the motion of the limbs (Anga-vikshepa), the graceful composition of the limbs – gatram vilasena kshepaha ; the beauty of its form; the balanced geometrical structure; creative use of space; and rhythm (time). And, therefore, Nrtta was meant to be a beautiful visual presentation, as an auxiliary to Natya (Drama), pleasing the eye (Shobha hetuvena). But, it was not intended to give expression to thoughts, emotions or even to indicate objects.

Bharata, at that stage, is credited with  having devised a more creative Dance-form, which was adorned with elegant, evocative and graceful body-movements of the Nrtta; performed in unison with attractive rhythm and enthralling music; in order to effectively interpret and illustrate the lyrics of a theatrical song; and, also to depict the emotional content of a dramatic sequence. Thus, Bharata, in effect, fused the rhythm and fluidity of Nrtta with the evocative grace and expressions of the Abhinaya. 

But, Bharata had not assigned a name to that resultant new Art-form. It was only after the Eleventh-Twelfth century that this delightful and the most enjoyable of all Art-forms created by Bharata (Bhartopajanaka) came to be celebrated as Nrtya.

Bharata had not also classified what later came to be known as Nrtya into Tandava and Lasya types.  Therefore, the terms Nrtya and Lasya do not appear either in the Natyashastra or in its early commentaries. Even Abhinavagupta (11th century) avoids using the term Nrtya.  It was only during the later times (that is, during the period about which we are talking now) that Nrtya gained an independent recognition as an expressive, eloquent representational Art, which projects human experiences, with amazing fluidity and grace.

 It was beginning with this period that Nrtya, a blend of two well studied, well developed and well codified Art forms – the dance of Nrtta and Abhinayas of Natya –advanced  vibrantly, imbibing on its way, numerous novel features; and, soon became hugely popular among all classes of the society. It gained recognition as the most delightful Art-form; and in particular, as the most admired phrase or form of Dance.


It was also during this period that the element of Lasya came into prominence; and, it also developed in different regions assuming varied forms (Desi-Lasyanga).  


By this time (say, the 12th century) the influence of the Natyashastra was getting distant and weaker; and, most writers of this period followed the interpretations of Abhinavagupta (11th century).

Further, Natya, the Sanskrit Drama, by then, was beginning to lose its appeal among the common people. 


The tradition, techniques and definitions as prescribed and codified in the Natyashastra came to be classified as the Marga, the classic or the pristine form of Dance, as distinct from the innovative regional styles called Desi.

At the same time, those dance forms which adhered to the established regulations and conventions of the Marga; and, which had a definite structure were termed and classified as Nibaddha. And, those free-flowing dance forms, which were spontaneous, unregulated, unstructured and not bound by any rules, were treated as Anibaddha

Anibaddha also meant allowing the dancer considerable latitude in devising body movements that best suited the aesthetic and emotional content of the theme. And, it also made room for enterprise to come up with fresh idioms of expressions.

And, because such spontaneous Desi Dances , unique to each region, were  practiced enthusiastically by the common people ; and, were gaining ascendency,  the writers and commentators of this period, in their texts,   assigned greater importance to the descriptions of the postures, feet positions and movements (Sthanaka, Cari and Karanas) of the regional and popular  Desi styles.


Commencing with this period, there began the practice of composing texts and treatise, which were wholly devoted to the discussions on the theory, practice and techniques of Dance, as relevant to the contemporary methods of training, learning and performance. Until then, most of the texts and treatise which dealt with Music, primarily, also talked about dance, in comparatively briefly manner, towards the end.

Such specialized  texts of this period covered not only the well regulated dance forms (Margi), but also  the individual Desi Dances (Desi-Nrtta) and   the group dances (Pindibandhas) of the Desi types like Rasaka, Perani, Carcari, DaṇḍarasRaslīlā , and other folk dances of similar nature, some of which have survived as dramatic group presentations.

Though the texts usually commenced with descriptions of the Marga features, the contemporary Desi dance-forms were given a more detailed treatment, while illustrating various postures and movements.

11e4e6fb8ccd6f3e59cf6151778c16d8 (1)

By about the twelfth century, the differences as also the relationship between the Nrtta (pure dance) and Nrtya (Nrtta with Abhinaya) were clearly established. And, those dance formats, in combination with music, were suitably applied and integrated into the performance of the Dance Dramas.

That marked the emergence of dance-dramas of the Uparupaka class, as a credible format of Dancing. Here, Dance was not a mere ornament as in the age of Bharata; but, it permeated the entire body of presentation. This was an altogether new genre of Dance oriented Dramas.

Such forms of Uparupakas, composed in very attractive and entertaining formats, with the predominance of the elements of the music and dance, accompanied by soulful songs, interpreting the emotional contents of the song through Abhinaya or gestures, soon gained immense popularity.

Such Uparupakas, of the dance-drama type, began to develop in many regional popular styles.  And, each of its derivative forms such as Kathak, Odissi, Manipuri, and Kuchipudi and so on, formulated its own tradition, ethos and idioms of expressions , anchored  in its own regional and cultural background; and rooted  in its own philosophy  and outlook.

The features that were  common to all those diverse types of regional dance forms (Desi Nrtta) could , in short, said to be :

:- the prominence assigned to the narration of the theme; 

:- the dominance of Natya-dharmi mode of presentation;

:-  more space and time given to  dances  depicting Srngara aspects performed to  appropriate music, Laya (tempo) and Taala (time-units, beats);

:- employment of all the four Abhinayas in varying degrees;

:- making a distinction between the Nrtta and the Nrtya, and maintaining  their distinctive features while executing  the respective elements in the performance;

:- taking care to see that the Nrtta aspect, particularly the individual dance movements and postures, are  governed by the special techniques developed by each school of Desi-Dance;

:- and, recognition of both the  Ekaharya (solo-where a single dancer enacts the role of several characters) and Anekaharya (where several actors participate  to enact their respective role)  modes of presentation.


And, since then, such dance and music oriented Uparupakas have come to stay and flourish both in the solo and in the group dance forms; and, even have come to occupy a central position within the contemporary world of Art. They have also successfully retained their regional and cultural identity, while carrying forward their tradition to the present time.

[The early twentieth century witnessed the revival of the Marga tradition, thanks to the efforts of a group of artists, scholars and art-lovers. That regenerated Art-form, is celebrated by the name of Bharatanatya; and, its scope and content extends beyond Bharata’s concepts and techniques. It has brought within its ambit the formats of NrttaNrtya and Natya, in addition to the Uparupaka class of Dance Dramas. Further, though it is, essentially, rooted in the principles of Natyashastra, it has adopted many features and techniques from the regional dance traditions (Desi Nrtta) ; and, has thus enlarged its repertoire;  and, acquired many dimensions.

Though its teachers  and the learners , alike,  emphasize  the importance of adhering  to and preserving the purity of the Marga tradition; and, its continuation, Bharatanatya, in its practice, has brought within its fold some innovative techniques and refreshing modes of expression, in tune with the advancing times. These could be called as ‘context-sensitive interactions’.]


The Nrttaratnavali

The Nrttaratnavali of Jaya Senapati (13th century) epitomizes the characteristic features of the Indian Dance tradition of the medieval period.

The Nrttaratnavali is the first text (perhaps the only text) of this period that is entirely devoted to the discussion on the subject of Dance. All the Eight Chapters of the text discuss Dance in its varied forms; and, the aspects of vocal or instrumental music is mentioned only in the context of Dance.

Though it commences with the discussion on the Angika-Abhinaya as per the norms specified in the Natyashastra (but, actually, as per Abhinavagupta), Nrtta- ratnavali later covers, in detail, the aspects of the Desi Nrtta, on which it lays greater emphasis.  In the process, the focus of the work is more on the Desi Nrtta, than on Nrtya with its Abhinaya aspects. And, that, perhaps, is the reason why the text was named as Nrtta- ratnavali.

It would be fair to say; the Nrttaratnavali went beyond the Natyashastra in its descriptions of the Karanas of the Marga Class. The Nrttaratnavali is perhaps, one of the few texts of its period, which presents graphic details for execution of a Karana along with its associated Caris (feet position), Hasthas (hand-gestures) and Pada-bedha (feet movements) , by following which a Karana could be reproduced successfully.

Apart from that; Jaya Senapati quotes the views of earlier writers on the treatment of Karanas, providing a broader view on the subject of evolution of the Karanas.

Thus, the Nrttaratnavali, apart from its theoretical merit, is also of great practical value.


The King Someshvara, (12th century), in his Manasollasa, was the first writer to recognize and to describe the Desi Sthanas, Caris and Karanas.  He was followed by Sarangadeva (first half of 13th century), who in his Sangita-ratnakara, gave the Desi Nrtta a more detailed treatment.  And, Parsvadeva (a Jain Acharya of 12th or early 13thcentury) in his Sangita-samarasya also recorded some Desi Dances.

But, it was indeed  Jaya Senapati (second-half of thirteenth century), who in his Nrttaratnavali, accorded a systematic and an elaborate treatment to all aspects of Desi Nrtta.

Jaya Senapati’s work covers, in main, the Nrtta type of Dance forms and their movements as prevalent during the time of the King Ganapati Deva (13th century). Jaya Sena was the first author and commentator to write, in detail, about the dances prevalent in AndhraPradesh.

He enumerates verities of new forms and techniques of Desi Nrtta; the entire sequence of Desi Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas; how to perform the entire form of dance; and, clarifies the major points of dance and artistic techniques. One could say that the Nrttaratnavali covers all areas of the art of Desi-Dance, its techniques, composition, and aesthetics and so on.

The Nrttaratnavali is one of the early manuals on dancing to describe Lasya, in detail. It makes Lasyanga the very heart of the Uparupakas, the minor type of Dance-dramas, narrating an incident or a segment of a theme, usually, related to the sports of Krishna (Krishna Lila). These Rasaka types of dances depict the graceful, delicate and love-laden-playful (Lalitha) dance movements associated with Srngara Rasa.

Though the text initially enumerates the Lasya elements of Marga Class, as they appear in the Natyashastra, it then goes to elaborate on the Desi-Lasya, listing as many as forty-six regional variations Desi Lasyangas (please check page 17)  of such Lasya type.

Nartananirnaya Desi Lasya 460002

These Desi Lasyangas are presented, mainly, through the Angika (dance movements), with hardly any Vachika Abhinaya (speech). The Nrttaratnavali describes Lasya the graceful delicate dance performed by women; as also the Perani, a form of Tandava the vigorous forceful dance of men.

The Desi-Lasyangas enumerated in the Nrttaratnavali became the core of the Lasya dance tradition of Andhra Pradesh. Many of such Lasyangas can be seen in the performance of Padams, Javalis etc., of Kuchipudi dance form.

Therefore, Nrttaratnavali is said to mark a significant stage in the development of the dance-literature. The Dance-manuals of the later period, following the lead given by Jaya Senapati, accorded greater importance to Desi Dance sequences that were in practice during the contemporary times, instead merely  reiterating the norms  of the Natyashastra.


Jaya Senapati

Jaya Senapati / Jaya Senani / Jaya Sena / Jaya Senadi-natha /Jayana / Jayappa Nayaka / Jaya-charya / Jayappa Nayadu , the author of Nrttaratnavali, was a Commander of the Elephant Forces (Gaja-Sena-pathi) as also a Elephant-trainer (Gaja-sadhanika) in the service of the Kakatiya King Ganapati Deva (1199-1262), considered as the greatest among the Kakatiya Kings,  who ruled from Warangal (Andhra-Maha-Nagara). Jaya Senapati, later served the legendary Queen Maharani Rudrama Devi (ruled 1262-1289), the daughter and the successor of Ganapati Deva.

[The Kakatiyas, who were vassals of the Chalukyas of Kalyani, became independent after the defeat of the Chalukyas at the hands of the Kalachuris, towards the end of the 12th century. Thereafter, the  Kakatiyas rose to power and ruled over a large part of the Deccan for nearly three centuries.]

Gaja shastra

[Gajasiksa or Gaja-sastra or Hasti Sastra, a special branch of study dealing the martial strategy of elephants, was an important component in devising military tactics.  A medieval text Gajasiksa, said to have been composed by an unknown author who went by the name Naradamuni, deals with the subject of capturing wild and robust elephants and training them to take part in battles. In the introduction to Gajasiksa, edited by Dr. E.R. Sreekrishna Sarma, Shri S. Sankaranarayanan mentions:  The elephant-warfare seems to have been well developed in the South, particularly in the Andhra Pradesh, since the sixth century AD. During this period many monarchs styled themselves as having won spectacular victories in the fierce battle of four-tusked elephants.]

gajasiksa 2

It is said; Jayana hailed from a family of Chieftains (Ayya-kula sanjata) who, at one time, were in charge of the Velanadu region, under the Telugu Cholas who ruled from Chandavolu. And, later, Jayana’s father Pinna-Choda Nayaka was in charge of Divi Island (Divi-seema) in the Krishna Delta, under Kakatiya King Ganapati Deva.

The King Ganapati Deva, an enlightened ruler and a patron of Arts,  having noticed  the intelligence , politeness and studiousness  of Jayana, as also  his desire to learn ,  took the boy Jayana under his care; and supervised his education. He arranged for Jayana’s Dance –education under the Natyacharya Gundamatya.

The King Ganapati Deva later appointed Jaya as the Nayaka of the Tamrapuri (said to be in Guntur District); and honoured him with the title ’Vairigodhuma Gharatta’

Jayana though an army commander by profession, was at heart a true Artist; and, was a well qualified Nartaka. He grew to become a Natyacharya, a Master who imparted training to the aspirants desirous of learning Dance. He was also a qualified musician and a composer. He has to his credit the Geeta-ratnavali, a treatise on Music, as a companion volume to his Nrtta- ratnavali, a manual on Dance.

Jaya Sena mentions that the text of the Nrtta-ratnavali was completed during – Vaivasvata Manvantara, Kaliyuga, Prathama Pada, after 4355 years during this period, and in the year named Ananda-nama-Samvathsara – which equates to the year 1253 -54 AD. It is said; by then Jaya Sena had grown into a wise and erudite scholar of about sixty years of age.

He reveals that it was not easy for him to compose Nrtta- ratnavali, a work of a highly technical nature, in Sanskrit verses. He had to study much, work hard and had to consult many experts in various fields.

Jaya Sena mentions that he studied the Natyashastra of Bharta Muni , diligently , spending hours upon hours poring over its tedious text; delving deep into the depths of its numerous commentaries; debating endlessly with the well disposed scholars, each adhering to his tradition; learning from many Gurus the secrets of the Shastra; and, above everything else he had the faith he could successfully accomplish his task, blessed with the infinite mercy and Grace of Lord Shiva , the Supreme Natyacharya. (Nr. Rv. 1.12).

[Abhyasate Bhartokti-bhanghisu, bahau-vyakya patesu sramath, samvadath Guru sampradaya suhrudam, Shambho prasadadapi, jnathava shastra rahasyam,  nirmitamidam maharthanvitam, nasyath kasya hitaya shasvata yashasam rakshanam lakshanam – Nr.Rv. 1.12]

Ramappa Devalaya10


He also studied the Dance sculptures of the Ramappa Devalaya, dedicated to Lord Shiva, as Ramalingeswara, at Warangal, depicting various KaranasIt was built during 1213 AD by a General Recherla Rudra, during the reign of the Kakatiya ruler Ganapati Deva, under whom Jaya Sena served.

Ramappa Devalaya4 Ramappa Devalaya 2

The temple is known for its elaborate carvings that adorn  the walls, pillars and the ceilings of its marvelous edifice. In addition, there are images of Shiva in his various forms; the sculptures of Naginis, musicians; and, the bracket-figures of dancers executing various Karanas.


[ As regards the bracket-figures (Sala-bhanjika) , some readers have made an interesting observation.

One of the Lady-figures is shown wearing a high-heeled platform-type of footwear, perhaps to make her look taller. Considering that the figures were sculpted in the eleventh century, it is indeed amazing.

Ramappa Devalaya high heels Ramappa Devalaya high heels 2 Ramappa Devalaya high heels 3


Apart from the study of the traditional texts, Jaya Sena mentions that he learnt much from the practicing Devadasis, the temple-dancers.  And, he put that practical- learning to good use. He cites as many as three hundred dances performed by the Devadasis at the Natya Mantapas of various temples, as illustrations in his text Nrtta- ratnavali.

And, in return, Jaya Sena trained many young Devadasis, along with the Raja-Nartakis who danced at the King’s Court.

The Nrtta-ratnavali is thus the fruit of Jaya Sena’s dedication to his Art, earnestness and long years of learning from various sources. He remarks: Lord Shiva, verily, is formless (amurta); but, since he loved Dancing, he, in his boundless compassion (karunya) and love for the beings, assumed the form (murta) of Nrtta, in order to be accessible to the aspirants. For my humble-self, the Nrtta, indeed, is Shiva incarnated (Shiva-svarupam). 

shiva dancing333

Structure of the Nrtta-ratnavali

structure of nartnaratnavali

Ramappa Devalaya 2

The Nrtta-ratnavali is a comprehensive study of dance, structured into Eight Chapters (Asta-adhyayi). It has, in all, about 1700 verses (Slokas).

All the Eight Chapters of the text deal with dance exclusively. The first Four Chapters describe the Angika Abhinaya, generally following the Natyashastra of Bharata (which is the Marga tradition). And, the Four Chapters, in the latter half of the text, are devoted to the Desi Nrtta, keeping in view the contemporary practices , as prevalent during the Kakatiya reign. These include Folk dance forms like Perani, Prenkhana, Suddha Nartana, Carcari, Rasaka, Danda Rasaka, Shiva Priya, Kanduka Nartana, Bhandika Nrityam, Carana Nrityam, Chindu, Gondali and Kolatam. 

The description of the  traditional regional dances differs from that of the Marga tradition in two ways: first, by putting its emphasis on the style of presentation rather than on the content of the composition; and,  second, by concentrating on the use of more acrobatic movements. Their treatment should  be seen as a different stylistic approach that grew through the course of time into a separate branch out of  the same basic  or the main Art form or tradition .

village outlet

In short:

The Chapter one , which serves as a sort of introduction, provides  the definition of terms such as Nrtta, Nrtya, Marga, Desi, Tandava and Lasya, as also their different aspects ; and, gives  explanations of  the four types of Abhinayas. The Chapter Two deals with Angika-Abhinaya, giving details of the different body-parts classified under:  Anga, Upanga and Pratyanga. The Chapter Three explains the Dance-elements: Caris, Mandala, Sthanaks, Asana and Shayana; and the importance of physical fitness (Anga saustava). The Chapter Four enumerates the 108 Karanas, the Angaharas and the Recakas. As mentioned; the first four chapters contain material as per the Marga tradition.

In the latter half of the text; the Chapter Five deals with the Desi varieties of Sthanakas, Uupulika-karanas, Caris and Bhramaris. The Chapter Six describes Desi varieties of Pada-bedha, Caris, Lasyangas and Gati-bedha. The Chapter Seven discusses general topics related to dance; and, in main, the fifteen Desi-Nrttas, (Nrtta-bedha), including the Perani type of dance. It also discusses the theatre and its types, training methods, various types of artists involved in the production and presentation of Dance etc. The last Chapter Eight describes the general aspects of presenting dance; and, the administration of the theater. The Chapters Five to Eight are devoted to Desi Nrtta, in the light of the then current practices.

satyab hama2 satyabhama3

 Brief Summary of the Contents of the Nrtta-ratnavali – Chapter-wise

As regards the Chapter-wise details:

Chapter One

1.The First Chapter (74 verses) of Nrtta-ratnavali begins with the customary benediction, praising dance as an Art-form par excellence, and, defining Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya. And, it also explains the four modes of Abhinaya, i.e., Angika, Vacika, Aharya and Sattvika; and, describing , in detail , the six forms of Dancing- Nrtta, Nrtya, Marga, Desi, Tandava and Lasya .

Jaya Sena explains, the verbal root ‘Nata’ represents the pulsations that occur when the innermost feelings of a being are stirred, awakened and move up (Uccara) towards awareness

Spandana artha taya dhootornateh Satvika puritam ; Rasa-ashrayam ca jneyam vakhyarta abhinayam atmakamNr.Rv.1.26  

As regards Abhinaya, Jaya Sena says, when the prefix ‘Abhi’ is added to the verbal root ’ni’; and, when it ends in ‘an’, the term Abhinaya is formed. Its purpose is to bring forth and to express thoughts and emotions, as also to indicate objects. Abhinaya, he explains, is the act of experiencing a feeling and expressing its meaning variously  , with clarity, through the postures, gestures and movements  of the parts of the body  , the major and minor limbs (Shakha, Anga and Upangas).

Shakha, Angair Upangai ca prayogena vibhavayan, artan bahau vidhan prapyena va Abhinaya mathah –Nr.Rv.1.28

Jaya Sena defines Nrtta as the movements of the limbs (Anga-vikshepam), in harmony with the rhythm (Laya), the music of the instruments and the song. It is pure Dance, devoid of Abhinaya etc.

Gita-vadyadi militam, laya-matra samashrayam, Anga-vikshepam Nrttam, Bhaved –AbhinayojjitamNr.rv.1.53

And, Nrtta and Nrtya, he says, are of two kinds each: Lasya, the delicate (sukumaram) and graceful; and, Tandava the vigorous (uaddatam).  

Lasyam- Tandava bhedena dvaya metat dvidha punaha, sukumaram, tayo -radhyam bhaved para uaddatam-Nr.rv.1.56

The mutual attraction and love between man and woman, he says, is Laasa. And, that which is meant to express such Laasa is Lasya. The Lasya comprises those delicate and graceful movements of the body, which arouse a pleasant euphoric feeling (manasija ullasa) and erotic desire.  The Lasya is to be performed only be women.

Bhavah Stri-Pumsayor Laasam, tad artam tatra sadhu va Lasyam manasija ullasa hetu mrudvanga horavat Devyai Devo upadistatvat prayaha Stribhi prayujyate –Nr.rv.1.57

Then, Jaya Sena enumerates ten forms of Lasyanga (Lasyangani): Geyapada; Sthitapāhya; Āsīna; Pupagaṇḍikā; Pracchedaka; Trimūhaka; Saindhavaka; Dvimūhaka, Uttamottamaka; and Uktapratyukta (Nr.rv.1.58-59)

 These ten Lasyangas, of Marga Class, mentioned by Jaya Senani are the same as in NatyashastraLāsye daśa-vidha hyetad-aganirdeśa-lakaam.

Geyapadam, Sthitapāhyam, Asīna PupagaṇḍikāPracchedaka Trimūha ca Saindhavākhya Dvimūhakam 119 Uttamottamaka caivam Uktapratyuktam eva ca NS.19. 120

[The Lasyangas, according to Jaya Sena, are the elements of the traditional forms of Dance (Marga). In the first part of his work, Jaya Sena presents the Lasyanga as per Bharata, whose emphasis was on the dramatic nature of Lasya. In the Second half of the work, Jaya Sena deals with the Desi –Lasya, the regional variations of the Lasya. He lists as many as forty-six (on page 17) such Desi-Lasyas, which are entirely rooted in Angika movements, with very little of speech element, the Vacika.]

lasya (1)

Jaya Sena remarks; some authorities include two more types of Lasyangas – Vicitrapada and Bhavika – but, he would not accept them; and, would adhere to the ten, as enumerated by Bharata Muni – Angani Dasa caiveti Munina yat prakirthitam (Nr.rv.1.72).

1 . Geyapada :  The Lasya opens with Geyapada; and, it is accompanied by instrumental music; and, by the singing of the Sushka Aksharas, the rhythmic syllables (Svaras) by the musicians.  Then the heroine enters, in dance-like movements; takes her seat; and, sings a song praising the virtues and merits of her Lover.

2. Sthitapāhya: The love-stricken Nati or heroine (still seated) renders a song composed in a Prakrit language, pining for her lover; and, pouring out her pain and pangs of separation.

3. Āsīna : The heroine continues to sit in a depressed mood, ruminating over her forlorn condition. She expresses her sorrow and misery through her doleful eyes and facial expressions.

4. Pupagaṇḍikā: The sad looking heroine enters the further phase of her love-pangs; and, with her friends by her side, she imitates her Lover, his gestures and his speech. And, the Nati-Nayika, assuming the role of a man dances and sings a song, as her Lover would do.

5. Pracchedaka: This stage depicts the overpowering influence of moonlit-nights over the beloveds. They, still separated, forget and forgive each other’s mistakes; and, long to be together again.

6. Trimūhaka: This is similar to the fourth stage of Lasyanga. Here, the pains of separation experienced by the Lover (male) is conveyed through a song composed in Sanskrit, in which the metre is even, employing words that are neither harsh nor severe; but , is natural. The accompanying Dance too is gentle.

7. Saindhavaka: Here, the heroine is depicted as of a Vipra-labdha, waiting for her Lover who fails to turn up on time at the place of tryst. She is sad, disappointed and restless; and, she sings a plaintive song in Prakrit of the Sindhu region (Saindhavi), arousing pity. Her dance follows her mood.

8. Dvimūhaka: This is a happier dance, celebrating the heroine’s joy. In her Abhinaya, there is a clear portrayal of her Bhava and Rasa. She , in her playful exuberance, makes pretentious gestures, dances delightfully; turning and swinging merrily in circular movements. The accompanying melodious vocal and instrumental music reflect her happiness.

9. Uttamottamaka: This takes the heroine through a more joyous mood. She celebrates her Love through playful, seemingly mischievous and cheerful movements. The songs she sings are composed in verses of striking beauty. And, the instrumental music is lively and uplifting.

10. Uktapratyukta: The two lovers finally meet and come face-to-face. The Lady-Love, in mock anger, blames the erring Lover for the misery he caused her; and, brisk words are exchanged (Uktapratyukta). After due explanations, the two beloveds forgive each other; assert their Love for each other; and, promise never to be apart. The songs depict the moods and the theme of their exchanges. Then, the heroine dances around her Hero, sublimely.

[ Jaya Sena, in the latter part of the text, lists forty-six Desi- Lasyangas.]


Chapter Two

2.The Chapter Two (437 verses) , which is the longest , having the most number of verses, deals with Angika Abhinaya, the movements of body-parts, which are most relevant to dance. Jaya Sena describes, in detail, the movements of the major and minor limbs – Angikani – (Anga, Pratyanga and Upanga).

He mentions six Angas (head, hands, chest, waist and feet) – Shiro, hastha, Purah, Parshva, Kati, Padau, sat-kramath (Nr.rv.2.1)

The six Pratyangas listed are: the neck, shoulders, stomach, spine, thighs and shanks (Griva, Bhuja, Kushiro, Prusta, Uru, Jamha, Prtyangani sat – Nr.rv.2.2)

And, the six Upangas are: the eyes, eyebrows, nose, lips cheeks, and chin (Vilocana, Bhru, Nasika, Oustya, Kapola, Chabukani, sat UpanganiNr.rv. 2.2.)


Then he goes on to describe

: – thirteen types of head – movements (Shiro-lakshanam- verses 3 to 29);

:- thirty-six type of eye movements or glances  (Dristi-lakshanam) ; of which eight types of glances are based  in eight Rasas (Rasa-dristi);  eight glances expressing Sthayi-Bhavas (Sthayi-dristi) ; and those expressing the Sancari-Bhavas being twenty – (verses 30 to 72 )

: – Jaya Sena also describes the applications or uses of the glances enumerated by him (Dristinam Viniyogah) – (Verses 73 to 83)

: – Thereafter he moves on to describe nine kinds of the movements of the eyeballs (Tara karma) and its uses (Tara karma Viniyogah) – (verses 84 to 91)

: – Next, eight types of eye-expressions (Darsha Prakara) are described (Verses 92 to 96)

: – The nine types of the movements of the eyelids (Puta Karma) are described next (Verses 97 to 104)

: – The seven types of the movements of the eyebrows (Bru-karma) are described next – (verses 105 to 115)

: – Thereafter, Jaya Sena moves on to Nasika -lakshanam, the six types of movements of the nose (Nasa-karma) – (Verses 116 to 122)

: -The movements of the lips (Oustya or Adhara-lakshanam) are six – (verses 123 to 131)

: – The movements of the cheeks (Kapola-lakshanam) are also six – (Verses 131 to135)

: – The movements of the chin (Chibuka-lakshanam) are seven; these are coordinated with those of the tongue, teeth, lips. These are mentioned as Hanu-lakshanam, Jihva-lakshanam, and Danta-kama (Verses 136 to 151)

: – The movements of the neck (Griva-lakshanam) are of nine types – (verses 152 to 157)

: And, the facial colors (Mukha-ragam) are three- (Verses 158 to 163)


Hastha –lakshanam

Jaya Sena deals with the gestures and movements of hands (Hastha-lakshanani) in fair detail. Here again, he, generally, follows the enumerations and the descriptions as provided in the Natyashastra. He also explains why he is adhering to the enumerations made by Bharata Muni; and, is not accepting the changes and modifications made by Someshvara and other commentators.

Jaya Sena describes 14 types of the movements of the single hand (Asamyukta-hasta) – (Verses 165-167); 13 types of the movements generated by the combination of both the hands (Samyukta-hastha) – (Verses 168-169); and, 29 types of the Nrtta hastha- (Verses 170 to 175)  . Thus, the Hasthas, in all, add up to sixty-six representations.

Jaya Sena describes each of the elements of the Asamyukta-hasta (Verses 187-263); the Samyukta-hastha (Verses 264-286); and, the Nrtta-hastha (Verses- 326-375), along with their Viniyogas (applications). During the course of presenting his explanations, Jaya Sena quotes the views of other authors, such as Abhinavagupta, Klrtidhara and others.

At the commencement of the discussion on the Hastha-lakshanam, Jaya Sena makes a very interesting observation. He compares the movements and gestures of the hands and fingers to a vast ocean.  He says, the subject is very vast; and is indeed, endless. Just as the ocean contains in itself, varieties of animals, creatures, vegetation etc., the Hasthas have varied and almost countless varieties of expressions.

Vast is indeed the subject of the gestures of the hands, just as the ocean. The waters of the ocean, in their depth, house the wily animals like crocodiles; on its surface are the lovely flowers like lotuses; and, over its surface fly the swarm of bees in graceful abandon. The waters are dotted and decorated by the beautiful wings of the swans; and, by the dancing petals of the lotus. The ocean, of course, is also the home of creatures like crabs etc.

Chatura Makaradi prollasat-padma-kosam, Bhramara-Lalita-Lilam, Hamsa paksha-abhiramam, pravicalad-alapadmam, karkata-dirupetam , jaladi jalami vedam, brumahe hastha-lakshanam (Nr.rv.2.164)

The terms that are cleverly used by Jaya Sena in this verse, also stand for the various types of hand-gestures (Hastha-bedha): Chatura; Macara; Padma-kosa; Bhramara; Lalitha; Hamsa-paksha; Ala-padma; and Karkata.  He has woven these terms, ingeniously, into the descriptive verse.

Referring to the limitless potential of the hand-gestures (Hasthanam ananthathvam) to express various suggestions, thoughts, emotions and objects; Jaya Sena remarks:  the whole universe can be expressed through these gestures. Their ways are truly endless. There are might be many Hasthas that are applicable in a particular context; but, there could be several more such. The skill of the performer lies in exploring; and, in choosing from the vast resources, the one that is most appropriate. The use (Viniyoga) of the Hasthas is, indeed,  infinite –ananta.

Abhijneyam jagat –sarvam ananto abhinayo pyayam, yo eva yujyate hastho tesam api anantataNr.rv. 2.287

Jaya Sena counsels: the truly wise must study deep, exercise their discretion to choose the most suitable Hastha, taking into consideration the context of place, time , performance and its purpose. Its expressions of the Sthayi and Sancari Bhavas must be adequately supported by the suitable meaningful eye- movements.

Desa, Kala, prayogartha vedi, netradi dristi cestitai, anukulai prayanjita sthayi-sancari-suchacaihi – (Nr.rv.2.290)


Thereafter, Jaya Sena moves on to describe the movements of the other limbs (Pratyangas), such as the arms, shoulders, stomach, spine, thighs and shanks, with particular attention to the feet movement : Bahu Prakara (310-325); Paksha-lakshanam (376-382); Parshva-lakshanam (383-388);  Jatara-lakshanam (389-390); Kati-lakshanam (391-395); Uru-lakshanam (396-400); Janu-karmani (401-404); Jampa-karmani (405-411); Pada-lakshanam (412-426); and, Padanguli-lakshanam (427- 437 ).


Chapter Three

3. The Chapter Three (198 Verses) is mainly about Caris (movements of one leg), Sthanas (postures); Nyaya (stance to be assumed while wielding a weapon in a fight); Vyayama (exercise); Sausthava (physical fitness); and, more Sthanas and Mandalas (combinations of Caris).

Here, Jaya Sena broadly follows the enumerations and definitions as per Bharata; but, makes certain variations.

He describes 16 types of Bhu Caris – both feet in contact with the ground (Verses 14 to 40) and 16 types of Akasha Caris – one foot in the air or a leap (Verses 41 to 69). Jaya Sena remarks, though for the purposes of the text the Caris are counted as 32 in number; its varieties are truly endless.

He also describes ten earthly (Bhu) Mandalas and ten aerial (Akasha) Mandalas.

As regards the Sthanas, standing-postures, Jaya Sena makes a distinction between the Sthanas meant for men (Purusha-Sthana) and those for women (Stri-Sthana). He reckons the following six Sthanas as being suitable for men: Vaishnava, Sampada, Vaisakha, Mandala, Alidha and Pratya-alida.

He describes, in fair detail, the Nyayas or the positions and postures to be assumed while fighting and wielding weapons.

karana (1) dance

Chapter Four

4. The Chapter Four (377 Verses) describes Karanas (dance-units) and Angaharas (sequences of dance-units); and, ends with Recakas (extending movements of the neck, the hands, the waist and the feet), mainly, on the lines of the Natyashastra. In general, Jaya Sena’s treatment of the Marga tradition is faithful to Bharata and Abhinavagupta.

The groups of Karanas as listed in the text are : Valitoru (encircling); Aksipta (embrace); Kranta (anklet movement); Harinapluta (leaping like a deer); Bhujanga-ancita (curving-like-a-snake); Parsva-kranta (moving sideways); Apavidda (entertaining); Vrshabha-krida (like a bull); and, Urdhva-janu (lifting up the knee).

He then provides various combinations of the Stanakas, Nrtta-hasthas and Caris in order to compose varieties of Karanas. He describes several aspects of Angaharas; and, remarks, that by altering the sequence in the combinations of the Karanas, infinite variations of the Angaharas can be produced.

Here, while commenting on the Angaharas, Jaya Sena observes: Generally, a combination of three or four Karanas could be said to compose an Angahara.  But, there is no such strict rule in that regard. Bharata had used the prefix ‘va’ to indicate that there could be more options.  A combination of two Karanas is named Matraka; of three as Kalapa; of four as Khanda; and, of five Karanas as Sanghata. Therefore, the Karanas can be made into sets of six, seven, eight and even nine to form an Angahara. And there is no strict rule; it is left to the imagination and skill of the performer.


Chapter Five  

5. The Chapter Five (109 Verses) marks the commencement of the Second-half of Nrttaratnavali; and, this latter-half is devoted to discussion on the Desi Nrtta.

The term ‘Desi’ had been in use since the time of Matanga’s Brhad-Desi; and , later it was extensively used by  other authors , such as : King Someshvara (Manasollasa) , Srangadeva (Sangita-ratnakara) and Parsvadeva (Sangita-samaya-sara). All these commentators described the various types of Desi dance-postures, movements and Dances.

As mentioned earlier, Jaya Sena in his Nrttaratnavali deals with the Desi Dances and their elements in Four Chapters (from Chapter 5to 8).  Here again, he discusses the Desi tradition in two parts: in the First Part (Chapters 5 and 6) he describes the Desi types of Sthanakas, Utpluti-karanas, Bhramaris, Pada, Pata, Cari, Lasyanga and Gati-bhedas as being derivatives or supplements  to the Marga -bhedas.

And, in the second Part (particularly the Chapter 7), Jaya Senani focuses on the various types of Desi Dances that were prevalent during the time of his King Ganapati Deva; and, these include Dances forms that were peculiar to the Andhra region  (Desi Nrtta) such as : Perini, Rasakam, Carchari, Bahurumpam, Kanduka , Bhandika , Kollatamu , Chindu and Gondali.


Jaya Sena commences the Chapter Five by defining the term ‘Desi’ as that which is innovative, depicting new subjects, in newer forms of Dance movements (Nava Nrttam), that are peculiar to the culture (Desanusara) of each region (Desi); and, that which are devised for the delight of the Kings, who are always interested in newer forms of entertainment; as also for gladdening the hearts of common people of.

Bhavanti Dharanipalah prayena Abhinaya-priyah, atah triptiyedyapi yad utpadyate navam Nrttam tatah smrutam Desi tat Desanusaraha (Nr.rv. 5.3)

He then goes on to describe twenty-three types of Desi Sthanas (Verses 12 to 38); Fourteen types of Utpluti-karanas (Desi Karanas with leaping movements)- (Verses 39- 46) and their thirty-two types of applications (Verses 47 to 81); and, thirteen types  of Bhramaris  (pirouettes, spins and turns) – (Verses 82 10 109)

akasiki 5a7544283f63d7a

Chapter Six

6. The Chapter Six (187 Verses) deals with the movements of the feet. These are described here as Desi-Padas, which are also called as Desi Caris by other authors. But, in the tradition of Bharata, the Caris and Padas are treated as being distinct.

Jaya Senani, following Bharata, treats these separately. He has a separate section for dealing with his Desi-Caris, some of which are not found in the earlier texts. Similarly, the descriptions of the Desi-Patamanis are his own.

Here, the Desi Pada implies merely contact of the feet with the ground; and, Desi -Patamani involves stamping or striking the ground with the feet (Pada-tadana); and, Desi-Caris involve movements of one extended leg.

Matanga, in his Brhad-Desi, had described sixteen verities of foot-positions (Sodasa-DesiPada-bedhah) that add beauty to the Desi Nrtta. Jaya Sena after describing these Desi-Padas (Verses 1 to 12) extends them to twenty-eight foot-movements – Astavimsati-patah (verses 13 to 53).

Jaya Sena recalls the statement made by Matanga that with some enterprise and imagination, one can devise more number of Desi Padas; and, Jaya Sena avers that he would be following Matanga’s advice. Accordingly, Jaya Sena describes forty-two verities of Desi-Caris, of which twenty-six are Bhumi-Caris (with feet in contact with the ground)- (Verses 63 to 88); and, sixteen are Akashi Caris (with at least one leg in the air) – (Verses 89 to 105).

Jaya Sena, in addition, describes four mixed varieties of Caris (Sankirna-Cari) : Talasarpanika (chain-like movements on foot soles), Hamsarutham (swan-like movements gliding back and forth), Tittiri-gati (simulating butterfly movements perched on toes) and Antarapadmasam (squatting in Padmasana and moving up) (verses 106 to 112).

Then Jaya Sena takes up Desi-Lasyanga, describing its forty-six varieties, following, in main, Srangadeva and Parsvadeva- (Verses 118 to 169).

Jaya Senani defines Lasya and Tandava as the two varieties of Nrtta and Nrtya. The Lasya, he says, is a feminine dance style, which arouses the Srngara Rasa with its delicate and graceful movements. Shiva taught this dance style to his consort Parvati.

In contrast, Tandava, a pure Nrtta with no element of Abhinaya, is a vigorous type of dance, performed in various Talas to invigorating music, in brisk and aggressive movements, exuding Veera and Bhayanaka Rasas. In the Desi Nrtta, Tandava is basically the dance of the warriors performed only by men. 


The Chapter Six concludes with description of the Gatis (gaits), in slow (vilambita), medium (madhyama) and fast tempos (druta) – (Verses 170 to 187). During the sequence of taking such steps, the pace of gaits could vary from slow to fast or medium etc., or the other way; it would then be a Sankirna –Gati. Jaya Sena also indicates the Talas (the time units) that are appropriate for the Gatis of each tempo (Kala). For instance; if the performer takes two, three or more steps within a Time-unit (Tala), then that could be called Druta-Gati (Verse 172).

Desi Cari satyabhama8

Chapter Seven

7. The Seventh Chapter discusses varied subjects such as : auspicious dates for beginning dance lessons (the term that Jaya Sena uses here is Nrtya); the characteristics of the stage and some general discussion on presentation; the time and location of dance performances; the worship of Ganesha; the methods of training and practice; the qualifications desirable in a dancer; the dance costume; the hand-gestures for practice; and, the accompanying vocal and instrumental music. The Chapter then focuses its attention on describing individual dance pieces, calling them Desi Nrtta.


There is an elaborate description of Perani. It is said; the term Perani was derived from ‘Prerana’ meaning inspiration. And, Perani is one who is inspired by Lord Shiva; or a dance form that invokes (Prerana) and is dedicated to the Supreme Dancer Shiva.

The text carries an elaborate description of Perani, lauding him in choosiest words of praise and attributing to him all the noble virtues.

A Perani , a dancer,  is one who is capable of taking the spectators to the heights of aesthetic delight; an attractive person of great reputation; descending from commendable linage; a sentient connoisseur; and adept in rhythm; expert in music; master of several instruments; devoid of aberrations; learned in several, branches of knowledge ; proficient in many languages; a dancer of great quality, who is well versed in both the Lasya and Tandava Dance forms; one who can execute the Karanas involving leaps , turns and spins; and, an adept in all the Dance techniques.( Nr.rv. 7. 34 to 37)

The text mentions; the Prerana dance has five aspects: Nrttam; Kaivaram; Ghargaram; Vikatam; and, Geetam.

Prerar-angani panchasya Nrtta, kaivarah, Vikatam, Geetam ityesham karma laksham pracakshapa (Nr.rv.7.43)

It is believed that this dance form invokes ‘Prerana‘ (inspiration) and is dedicated to supreme dancer Shiva.


Jaya Sena describes the five parts of the Prerana Dance. And says :

 : –  The Nrtta is that which has both the aspects of Lasya and Tandava- tan Nrttam yat dvidataktam Lasya Tandava bhedah  (Verse 44).

:- The Kaivara is the dance which adulates and celebrates the virtues and valour of the Great kings of the past; and, through the metaphors used for such a great person , the King who is on the throne is lavishly praised (Verse 45).

:- The Gharghara is that war-dance which is enthused by vigorous and rousing beats of the thundering Gargara war-drums; dancing furiously, employing six of the ten Pada-bhedas (other than Parsva, Gattitama, Suci and Anguliprusta) – (Verse 55).


 :- The Vikata is the grotesque dance  where the dancers wearing the ghastly make up and costumes of the demons and ghouls (Pisaca), covering their faces with masks of ugly faces, frightening eyes and repelling lips ; even turning their shoulders, stomachs and legs into ghastly proportions (Vikruta) , scream , shout most annoyingly ; and, jump, twist, turn in ugly ways. Some call this Dance as Vagada. (Verses 56 and 57)

images (2)

: – And, Geetam is that where the performers dance to the melodious and tuneful singing of the songs from the traditional Shuddha Chayalaga Prabandha Music format. (Verse 58).

folk dance


The Perani Paddati the ways of performing the Perani Dance are described in Verses 59 to 68. Here, Jaya Sena specifies the types of music, songs and instruments, as also the stage preparations suitable for performing all the five aspects of the Prerana Dances, in their sequence.

[The Perini Tandava is a vigorous Nrtta, usually, performed by warriors (Veerulu) before they leave for to the battlefield. It is therefore called ‘Dance of Warriors’. The Perini Tandava, done to the resounding beats of drums, is indeed believed to be the most invigorating and intoxicating male dance form. While dancing, the warrior invokes Shiva to come into him ; and, to dance through him.  Dancers drive themselves to a state of frenzy, where they feel the power of Siva in their body.

The dance form, Perini, reached its pinnacle during the rule of the Kakatiya Kings, who established their dynasty at Warangal and ruled for almost two centuries. The Perini dance form almost disappeared after the decline of the Kakatiya dynasty.]

perani shiva tandavam

Jaya Sena outlines the Desi Paddathi of presenting a Dance performance.

The performance begins with the auspicious instrumental music; that is followed by Yati-Praharana; and Pushpajali is performed without song or musical accompaniment. Then follow the Jhenkara; Rigavani; Tundaka; and, Camatkara. Thereafter come the Geetanga, the orchestral music, the auspicious songs and finally the Praharana- (Verses 69-70) . Further details are provided in Verses 71 to 77.

[Pardon me; I am not very clear about some of the terms used here to indicate the ingredients of the Desi-Paddathi.]


Jaya Sena, following the explanations provided by Matanga for classifying the Prabandhas, says that Nartana can also be classified into two classes: Shuddha Suda and Salaga Suda.

According to Jaya Sena, Nartana that follow the  Shudda Suda type of Prabandha  has nine forms : Ela; Karana; Varnasara; Kaivara; Jhombada; Tribanghi; Vartani, Rasaka; and Ekatali.( Verses 80 and 81)

And, the Salaga Suda has seven types: Dhruva, Mantha, Prati-mantha, Nihsaru, Addatala, Rasaka and Ekatali. (Verse 88)

The following twelve types of Desi Nrttas are described in the Nrttaratnavali:

1. Rasakam; 2. Carcari; 3. Natya-Rasaka; 4. Danda-Rasaka; 5. Sivapriyam; 6. Cinthu-Nrtta; 7. Kanduka-Nrtta; 8. Bhandika-Nrtta; 9. Ghatisani-Nrtta; 10. Carana-Nrtta; 11. Bahurupa-Nrtta; and, 12. Kollata- Nartana.


Jaya Sena, then, takes up the description of the Rasaka, which is a Pindibandha class of Group Dances. The Pindibandhas, or group dances, a form Nrtta, are performed by six, eight, twelve or more pairs of men and women. The Pindibandhas are classified into four types: Pindi (Gulma-lump-like formation); Latha (entwined like creeper or net like formation, where dancers put their arms around each other); Srinkhalika (chain like formation by holding each other’s hands); and, Bhedyaka (where the dancers occasionally break away from the group and perform individual numbers).

Of these four types of Pindibandhas, the Rasaka is treated as a Pindibandha of the Latha variety of  Lasya, which is related to Srngara-rasa, portraying love and other softer, graceful aspects.

Jaya Sena describes the Rasaka type of Desi Nrtta in Verses 84 to 99.

According to Jaya Senapati, Rasaka is to be performed by experienced, young, dancers in pairs of 8,12 or 16 , dressed appropriately, exhibiting various Caris , entering from either sides of the stage , in tune with the musical instruments, the Sangita Vadya.  He describes the beauty, youth and alluring qualities of the dancers; and, their flashing movements, comparing them to lightning.



Carcari is described as a springtime-dance performed by a group of female dancers, celebrating the Vasantotsava festival, singing sweet songs in Raga Vasantha; weaving various patterns and designs as they dance; clapping hands; snapping the fingers or striking each other’s palms while they dance around in circles; and form manifold patterns while performing Khanda, mandala, Cari etc., as in the Pindibandhas. Carcari is a kind of ensemble dance, resembling the Rasa-Lila of the Gopis.

Carcari is a jubilant Dance, a festive sport of merriment , singing songs  of Srngara Rasa, where the cheerful women, as they dance, move around in circles,  and sing praise the virtues of the Nayaka , the presiding King (Verses 98 and 99) .

It is said; the Carcari Prabandha is known as Jajara in some Telugu texts. And, Raja Bhoja, in his Srngara Prakasa, uses the term Carcari as an alternate name for Natya-Rasaka.

Maidens Performing The Ecstatic Dance


Jaya Sena explains Natya-Rasaka as a Dance performed in the spring season (Vasantha) by the women of the Court singing Desi Songs in Hindola Raga, praising the virtues and merits of the King ; and, interpreting the words of the song through Abhinaya (Padartha-abhinaya)- (Verse 100)


Danda Rasaka

The Danda-Rasaka is Nrtta, a Pindibandha or group dance performed by eight or more pairs of men women, playing with coloured sticks. There is much singing and dancing in rhythmic steps; but, not much speech and Abhinaya. It is similar to the Rasaka. This type is also known as the Krida-Rasaka of the Gopis, where the Gopis play the Rasa with Sri Krishna.

Jaya Sena explains the Danda Rasaka as a form of group performance during spring season. It is performed by even number of pair of dancers, usually in multiples of 4 to 24, with sticks held in both the hands. In some variations, fly-whisks, daggers are held by the dancers in one hand and sticks in the other. The instrumentalists play melodious music to which dancers perform choreographic patterns including Lasyangas, Brahmaris, Caris and Utplavanas (leaps), in circling movements, to the accompaniment of rhythmic striking of sticks. Khandas or dance segments must be continued along with elegant leaps to the left and right hand sides as well as executing the circular movements. Specific strokes of the sticks must create the required beats.

Regarding the mode of the entry of the dancers, Jaya Sena said:  Eight of them may enter first, gradually by addition of batches of four, the number may go up to sixty-four, forming two rows.

Jaya Sena says that the songs are composed in praise of the Kings virtues. Dances are to be performed by experienced dancers. (Verses 101 to 107)


Shiva Priya

Shiva Priya, is again, a group dance performed by men and women to the accompaniment of the beats of the various types of drums, cymbals, trumpets (Kahala). The participating men and women each holds in his/her left hand a replica of a snake made of brass or copper; and, a sword in the right hand. They all rhythmically make sounds ‘Kirikiti’.

They all wear garlands made of Rudraksha beads; three stripe of Vibuthi across their forehead; and, reverently sing songs in praise of Shiva (Shiva stuti).

The Shiva Priya dance consists in the performers dancing in rhythmic  steps, displaying Lasyanga, singing songs ; and, sometimes facing each other in rows of two ; and, then breaking to form circles in various patterns . This Dance is said to be particularly dear to Shiva (Shiva Priya) – (Verses 108 t0 118)


Cintu Nrtta

According to Jaya Sena, Chitu is a type of Desi Nrtta that originated in the Dravida Desa; and, it (Cindu) is very dear to the people of Tamil Nadu. Groups of well dressed young women dance swaying their arms and bodies, rhythmically, to the accompaniment of instrumental music. As they clap their hands and dance in playful steps, displaying the Padas, Caris and Gatis of Lasyanga, they sing songs composed in Dvipadi. The dancers interpret the meaning of the words of the song with predominance of Lasyanga, through Pada-artha-abhinaya.



Kanduka is a peculiar kind of a Desi Nrtta and a ball-game as well, played by wide-eyed, young and beautiful women, in the prime of their youth, in a jubilant mood (Vibhrama). As these playful and joyous lovely women play and dance, the songs selected from the Prabahdhas relating to the Desi Nrtta; or the songs meant for the depiction of Bhandas (patterns) such as: Padma, Gomurtica, Naga, and Chakra, are sung and played on musical instruments.

The ball, these women play with, is made either of gold, silver or brass; and, is hallow inside. The ball holds within it number of beads, which rattle and make sounds, as the dancing women jump in the air, run around throwing and catching the ball.

As these beautiful women with mischievous flickering eyes, jump in the air, and, perform various types of Caris, Gatis, Padas of Lasyanga, while they create patterns resembling fish, lotus filled ponds etc. (Verses 118 to 125)

Rasaka designs0002


Bhandika Nrtta

The Bhandika Nrtta is comical dance performed by clowns. As they dance around in irregular and difficult steps , mimicking Adavus, the instrumentalists pretend as though they are playing the pipe or beating the drums. The dancing jesters create their own rhythms  by clap of hands; and imitate the movements of hunchbacks, dwarfs and the maimed  and , they also make varieties of sounds of birds and animals such as : peacock, parrot, monkey, donkey, dog, camel etc. While making the sounds of each bird or animal they imitate its movements in exaggerated, funny and mischievous manners. These hilarious dances blow away the sorrows and anxieties of the spectators; and, make them laugh till their sides ache. (Verses 126to 129)



The Ghatisani-Nrtta is a dance that is oriented towards rendering a song with action, in the company of her friends. Here, a beautiful Candala women, dressed in light and modest costume; and, gifted with melodious voice and clear diction; sings songs, while playing on the Panduka Vadya (a kind of hand-held musical instrument). The songs she sings are variously selected from the Desi Suda Prabandha and Carya-Prandha, describing the playful actions of Shiva in his Kirata (hunter) aspect, holding bow and arrows.

As she sings and dances along with other male and female dancers, to accompaniment of the sounds of the drums , cymbals , trumpets (Kahala) and Karata Vadya (?); and to the rendering of Tala-Prabandha, Yati , Praharana etc., she moves along delightfully, in delicate (Sukumara) dance-steps, spreading cheer and happiness. (Jaya Sena mentions that even a male who is endowed with the requisite virtues can perform Ghatisani-Nrtta.)- (Verses 130   to 134)



According to Jaya Sena, the Carana-Nrtta is the dance of the professional nomadic dancers and singers who come from the Saurastra region in the Western India. They travel (Carana) from place to place displaying their artistry.   Their songs composed in Dohas (couplets) or Dohaka, derived from Dohaka metre, laden with Rasas, set to attractive beats, are sung in melodious Ragas, with playful Desi-Kakus (intonations). They sing along merrily, clapping their hands, twisting, spinning (Bhramari) and tumbling somersaults (laghava); moving in swift but not with very aggressive (Lalita-uddhata) footwork (Pada-vinyasa) ;  they , in between, shout in booming voice ‘Bhi- Bhoo’ imitating the sound of instruments. Jaya Sena observes, the Carana women-dancers cover their heads with a part of the sari they are wearing (Pallu). – (Verses 135-138)


Bahurupa Nrtta

The Bahurupa Nrtta is the display of varied forms of dresses, behaviors, speech etc., of persons coming from different regions and cultural groups.

Describing the qualities of a competent Bahurupa Nrtta performer, Jaya Sena mentions that such a dancer must be: young, agile, learned, clever, witty, fluent in his expressions, proficient in Sanskrit and regional languages; and, should induce happiness. In addition, such a Bahurupi should be a well trained, experienced dancer having a pleasant voice; he should be quick in changing the costumes and make up; he should, preferably have shaved off the beard and the hair on his head. A woman endowed with these qualities can also perform as a Bahurupi.

As regards the performance of the Bahurupi, Jaya Sena mentions, the dancer should adopt the Natyadharmi mode of presentation. And, in his versatility , he should be able to credibly represent the two-footed , the four-footed and even the feet-less living beings . He should, following the instrumental music and the songs, dance according to the situation. And, in between, he should also sing. More importantly, he should never cross the limits of decency.  A Bahurupi would do well to enact the roles of a King or of a renowned person in the history. (Verses 145 to 148)


Kollata- Nartana

The Kollata – Nartana that Jaya Sena describes is , in fact, the dance of the acrobats who perform at  the street corners. They are also called ‘Dombigas’ or ‘Domburu’.  

Initially the acrobats perform Desi Caris, Karanas and other dance movements. And, then, as the drums, cymbals, bells, blow-horns (Bheri) play vigorously; and with the spectators clapping and cheering loudly, the tempo of the Dance increases. Thereafter, the acrobat climbs on the tripod supporting the leather strap or the rope that stretches across. He then begins to walk along the rope in careful steps. And, while on the rope he does dance movements with a remarkable sense of balance. Then, after reaching the other end of the rope , standing on the tripod, he executes dexterous and risky Bhramaris (Turns), wielding dangerous weapons like swords.

Then, after jumping down from the rope, the Kollatiga, dances around carrying incredibly heavy objects, twirling swords etc. The acrobat performs many types of skillful, swift and attractive dances; leaping, spinning, twisting, turning, tumbling, cart-wheeling etc.- (verses 149-152)


Thereafter, Jaya Sena concludes the Chapter Seven by describing in great detail  the qualities of the female dancer (Nartaki), the male dancer (Nartaka) , the main singer (Mukhya-gayaka),the instrumentalist who plays the pipe (Mukhari) , the orchestra (Vadya-brunda) ; and the stage-manager (Sabhapati) . He also describes the theater (Nrtta-mandala)- (Verses 153 to 288)


Chapter Eight

8. The Eighth and the Final chapter (84 verses) is the shortest. And, in general, it provides more information regarding presentation; the recital; the appropriate time for its presentation; the arrival of the chief guest ; and, the welcome to be accorded to the king and other important members of the audience; the qualities required in a dancer; her costume and make up; the orchestra; the seating arrangements; the entrance of a dancer; the use of three curtains on the stage and their removal etc.

The chapter also talks about honoring the dancer, the musicians and the poet


Jaya Senapati remarks that the spectators are very much a part of the Art-experience; and, even a very good performance would be of no avail unless the spectators are cultured, refined and truly capable of appreciating and enjoying the presentation.

Jaya Sena concludes his work with the Verse, which says: This garland named as Nrttaratnavali was knitted by Jaya Sena-natha, with the aid of Nrtta-angas composed of Sucimukha, Gati, Guna and Shikhara.

Here, he was playing on the words, by comparing the Nrttaratnavali to a garland ; and the various elements of  Nrttanga to sharp needle (Suci), thread(Gati); knitting (Guna) and the successful completion (Shikara).

Sucimukha, Gatisuchya, Guna, Shikara-shobini, Jaya-Senadi-nathena Nrttaratnavali krtah (Verse 81)

Eti Sriman Maharajadhi Raja Ganapathi Deva Gaja-sadhanica Jaya Senapati virachitam Nrtta-ratnavali Sampurnam


In the Next Part, we shall move on to another text.



The Next Part

References and Sources

  1. Nrttaratnavali (Translated into Telugu) by Prof. Rallapalli Ananata Sharma – published by Andhra Pradesh Sangita Nataka Academy –1969
  2. Movement and Mimesis: The Idea of Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition by Dr Mandakranta Bose
  5. Bharatanatya: a paper presented by Dr.V Raghavan at the Dance Seminar held Sangita Natak Academy





Posted by on December 4, 2018 in Art, Natya


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,