Tag Archives: Abhinavagupta

The Meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Ten

Continued from Part Nine


Levels of speech

The various ancient texts speak of the levels of speech, which, generally, are taken to be four. Each School – Grammarians, Mimamsa, Upanishads, Tantra, Yoga, mythology etc – offers its own understanding and explanation of the four levels of speech. These levels are variously explained  as the varieties of  speech  that are said to be  spoken either in four regions of  the universe;  or spoken by divine beings and humans ; or as speech of the  humans , animals, birds and creatures .  These four are even explained as four levels of consciousness.

For our limited purpose, let us briefly scan through other interpretations, before we discuss  the Grammarians’ views and their explanations of the four levels of speech.


The Asya-vamiya – sukta  (Rig Veda: 1.140- 164) which is one the most philosophical , but  rather enigmatic Suktas (hymns) of Rig Veda, ascribed to Rishi Dīrghatamas  Aucathya  (son of  Ucathya  ),  who was  also called as Mamateya (son of Mamata) ,  mentions  about the levels of speech, among many other things.

According to Rishi Dīrghatamas, there are four levels of speech. Only the wise who are well trained, endowed with intelligence and understanding know them all. As for the rest; the three levels remain concealed and motionless. Mortals know  only  the fourth.

Chatvaari vaak parimitaa padaani / taani vidur braahmaanaa ye manishinaah. Guhaa trini nihita nengayanti / turiyam vaacho manushyaa vadanti. (Rigveda Samhita – 1.164.45)

But, he does not specify what those four levels of speech are.


The notion that there are four quarters or  four levels of existence ; and of which, only  one quarter is within the experience of mortals also appears in the Purusha-sukta  (Rig-Veda 10.90.3) ascribed to Rishi Narayana – Paadosya Vishva Bhutaani Tri-Paada-Asya-Amrtam Divi .

That idea of four quarters is extended to speech as well. The texts of several traditions speak of four levels of speech. For instance :

The Maitrayaniya (Maitri) Upanishad (1, 11.5), of Krishna Yajur-Veda, mentions the four quarters of speech as those belonging:  to the upper region – the heavens (Divi); to the intermediate space (Antariksha); and, to the region of earth (Prithvi) as spoken by the humans (Manusi); and, to the animals (Pashu).

The Atmavadins (mainly those belonging to Nyaya and Vaisesika Schools) say: the four fold speech can be found in the animals; in musical instruments (such a flute); in the beasts ; and,  in the individuals (Atmani)

–  pasusu tunavesu mrgesu atmani ca iti atmavadinah

The Satapatha Brahmana (1.3.16) categorizes the speech into four kinds: as that of the humans; of animals and birds (vayamsi); of reptiles (snakes); and, of small creeping things (kshudram sarisrpam)

– varā vā ia iti hi varā io yadida kudra sarīspa

Similarly, those who believe in myths and legends say that – the serpents; birds; evil creatures; as also the humans in their dealings with the rest of the world – all use speech of their own.

Sarpanam vagvayasam ksudrasarispasya ca caturthi vyavaharika-ityaitihasikah 

The Jaiminiya-Upanishad-Brahmana (1.40.1)  deals with the four levels of speech in a little more detail. In a verse that is almost identical to the one appearing in Rig-Veda Samhita – 1.164.45, it mentions that the discriminating wise know of four quarters of speech.  Three of these remain hidden; while the fourth is what people ordinarily speak.

Chatvaari vaak parimitaa padaani / taani vidur braahmaanaa ye manishinaah. Guhaa trini nihita nengayanti / turiyam vaacho manushyaa vadanti //

Then, the text goes on to explain that of the four quarters of speech: mind is a quarter, sight is another quarter, hearing is the third quarter; and, speech itself is the fourth quarter. 

 tasya etasyai vaco manah padas caksuh padas srotram pado vag eca caturtah padah

Further, it says: what he thinks with the mind, that he speaks with speech; what he sees with the sight, that he speaks with the speech; and, what he hears with hearing, that he speaks with speech.

 tad yad vai manasa dyayanti tad vaco vadati; yac caksus pasyati tad vaca vadati; yac srotrena srunoti tad vaco vadati/

Thus, finally, all activities of senses unite (Sam) into speech. Therefore speech is the Saman.


In the later Upanishads, speech is said to be assimilated with consciousness. The four divisions of speech are explained as four states of consciousness. For instance; Sri Gauda-Paada, the Parama-Guru of Sri Sankara (the teacher of his teacher) , in his celebrated commentary (Gaudapada-karika) on the Mandukya Upanishad while explaining his concept of Asparsha Yoga or pure knowledge,  identifies the four levels of speech with the four states of consciousness : Vishva or Vaisvanara in wakeful state (Jagrat); Taijasa in dream state (Svapna); Prajna in deep-sleep (Shushupti); and, Pranava AUM with Turiya, the fourth, the Absolute state which transcends all the three states and represents Ultimate Reality .


Explanations offered by Sri Sayana

Sri Sayana in his Rg-Bhashya   deals with the subject of four levels of speech in a little more detail. He says, people use speech in a variety of ways to fulfil their roles and responsibilities in life. And, similarly, the animals, birds, creatures and objects in nature do use their own sort of speech to serve their needs.  He  then , while explaining these four levels or quarters of speech (ani tani catwari ityatra bahavah) , remarks that  each School  offers explanations  (bahudha  varnayanti ) according to its own  tenets  (sva- sva-mantanu-rodhena). He, next, briefly mentions what those explanations are:

: – According to Vedantins, the four levels of speech could be the Pranava (Aum) – which is the sum and substance of all the Vedic terms (sarva-vaidika-vag-jalasaya), followed by three Vyahritis (Bhu, Bhuh and Suvah). Thus the Pranava along with three Vyahritis form the four quarters of speech.

: – According to Nirukta (Etymology), the language of the three Vedas (Rik, Yajus and  Saman ) and the speech commonly used  for dealings in the world , together make the four quarters of speech– (Rg-yajuh-samani-caturdhi vyavharikiti nairuktah )

: – The four levels of speech could also be related to four regions representing four deities : on the Earth as Agni (yo prthivyam sa-agnau); in the mid-air as Vayu (Ya-antarikshe sa vayau); and, in the upper regions as Aditya (Ya divi saditye). And whatever that remains and transcends the other three is in Brahman (Tasya-mad-brahmana).

: – The speech, though it is truly indivisible, is measured out or analyzed in the Grammar as of four kinds or four parts-of-speech (akhandayah krtsnaya vacah caturvidha vyakrtattvat).  Accordingly, the four divisions of speech are named by the followers of the various Schools of Grammar (vyakarana-matanus-arino) as: Naaman (Nouns), Akhyata (Verbs), Upasarga (prepositions or prefixes) and Nipata (particles)

:-  According to the wise who are capable of exercising control over their mind; the Yogis who have realized Sabdabrahman; and, others of the Mantra (Tantra) School,  these four levels of speech (Evam catvari vacah padani parimitani)  are classified as : Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari.

Manisinah manasah svaminah svadhinamanaska brahmana vacyasya sabdabrahmani dhigantaro yoginah paradicatvari padani viduh jananti 

Apare mantrkah parkarantarena pratipadanti Para, Pasyanti, Madhyama   Vaikhariti catvariti 


The power of the spoken word

In the Indian traditions, it is believed that it is only  in its oral form that the language becomes fully alive and reveals  its true nature , provided it is spoken properly.  For Indian thinkers, language was  primarily the spoken word or speaking itself (vac); while the written word, as a secondary aid, was only a coded-representation of the spoken word; but, without its nuances. Perhaps the most salient feature of ancient Indian linguistic culture was its concern for preserving the purity of the spoken word.

It was the speech, the spoken word not the written letter that is at the base of the Sanskrit grammar. All speculations and practices are concerned with the oral. Panini’s Astadhyayi is also based on the sounds of spoken Sanskrit. The spoken language in Sanskrit was/is the real language.

Therefore, right from the earliest period, the study of speech has been one of the major concerns of various Schools of Indian traditions. The power of the spoken word or still more of the potent un-spoken sound was well recognized.


Levels of awareness and speech

The notion of various levels of awareness and speech is accepted and discussed in almost all the Schools of Indian philosophy and Grammar. Although numerous meanings are read into the term catvari vak (four kinds or levels of speech), the one that is commonly understood and commented upon by most Grammarians and philosophers is the classification of speech into four strata: Para; Pashyanti; Madhyama; and, Vaikhari.

The entire system of such classification is rooted in the faith that at the top of this language hierarchy, there is only One-indivisible (ekameva) Reality; and, it transforms itself (Vivarta), manifests itself , resulting (Parinama) in  variety of  sounds,  word, sentence etc.

The theory underlying the evolution of speech is an extension of that faith; and it asserts, though there are several levels in the hierarchy of language, they all emanate from one indivisible reality Sabdabrahman. And again, the Sabdabrahman is identified with Para Brahman, the Absolute.

The principle that is involved here is also based in the dictum that diversity essentially pre-supposes an underlying unity (abedha-purvaka hi bhedah).  In other words, it says, where there is difference or division there must be a fundamental identity underneath it ; else, each cannot relate to the other; and , each object in the world would be independent of , or unconnected to  every other thing in existence.

This concept provides the foundation for treating all forms of speech as emanating from a single source. The various levels of language from the most subtle to the gross are, therefore, treated as hierarchy or the levels of a unitary language-system. Most of the philosophical speculations on the process of manifestation of language; and, the discussions upon its various stages – from the subtlest (Para) to the most explicit (Vaikhari) – are based in that principle.


Grammarians’ view

Each of the major schools of Indian philosophy and Grammar tried to explain the origin and nature of the Universe by exploring the nature and manifestations of the sound. They built elaborate philosophical edifices around the concepts they evolved during that process. Those traditions considered sound as one of the most important principles of existence; as the source of matter ; and , also the key to be free from it. They described Sound as the thread-like link connecting  the material and spiritual realms.

The analysis of the speech by the Grammarians is not merely an intellectual exercise, but is also a philosophical quest in an attempt to identify all forms of speech as originating from Sabda-Brahman, the ultimate ground of all speech phenomena. The study of Grammar was itself looked upon as a means or as a right-royal-path to liberation (moksha-manamam ajihma raja-paddhatih).


Speech was  regarded as the verbal expression of a thought that arises in a person’s consciousness. If there is no consciousness, there would be no speech. Speech (Vac) is indeed an outward form of consciousness (chetana). Vac is the word principle that gives expression to the latent or unmanifest thoughts and feelings.

That was meant to say; thinking is, in fact, a sort of internal speaking. Such inaudible speech was regarded the seed or the potent form of explicit speech that is heard by others. It was also said; all knowledge is interpreted in terms of words; and, it is quite not possible to have any sort of cognition that is free from words (Vakyapadiya: 1.123)

The process of transformation of a thought or an impulse arising in ones consciousness into a cognizable, explicit speech is said to resemble the evolution of the Universe from the un-manifest (A-vyakta) to the manifest (Vyakta) material world.

Such process of unfolding is said to take place, at least, in two stages. The first one is the thought that flashes and takes a form within. And, the other is that which comes out as audible speech riding the vehicle of words and sentences; attempting to convey the idea that arose within.  The former is intuition that springs up; and, the latter is the effort that is exerted, both internally and externally, to put it out.

Here, the latent, unspoken form of thought that instinctively springs up and is visualised, within one’s self, is called Pashyanti Vak (thought visualized). The Pashyanti, which also suggests the visual image of the word, is indivisible and without inner-sequence; in the sense, that the origin and destination of speech are one. Here, the ‘internal speech’ or ‘thought’ stands for what is intended to be conveyed. That intention is instinctive (prathibha) and immediate; and, it does not involve stages such as: analysis, speculation, drawing inferences and so on. At the level of Pashyanti Vak, there is no distinction between word and meaning. And, there is also no temporal sequence.

The Pashyanti Vak thereafter transforms into an intellectual process, the level of thought (Buddhi), during which the speaker looks for and identifies appropriate words, phrases, and their sequence, which are capable of conveying his intention candidly. That sequence of thoughts results in definite and clear array of words. As that cognition arises and takes a form within, he grasps it. This is the intermediate stage – The Madhyama vak, a sequenced but a pre-vocal thought – described as the voice of silence; perhaps best understood as internal speaking. Here, there is no perceptible sound (Nada). The Madhyama vak is in an inaudible wave or vibratory (spandana) form.

And, the Madhyama, when it is put out explicitly through uttered words and sentences; and, when it comes out of the speaker’s mouth in sequenced and verbalized speech-form, it is called Vaikhari Vak. For the purpose of putting out the Vaikhari Vac, the speaker employs a sentence comprising words uttered in a sequence. The word itself comprises letters or syllables (varnas) that follow one after the other in space and time.

Thus, the Vaikhari is the articulated speech, which, as sound waves, reaches the ears of the listener and then on to her/his intellect.  The Vaikhari is the physical or gross form of the subtle thought or is the outward expression of the intention of the speaker. And, when it emerges as the spoken-word, it is the one that is heard and apprehended by the listener, in a flash of understanding (Sphota). 

 [The process of Hearing, that is what is heard and grasped by the listener, of course, operates in the reverse direction.]

The spoken word comes out of one’s mouth, no doubt. However, it needs the assistance of breath and of several body parts in order to manifest itself (Vikhara literally means body; and, Vaikhari is that which employs bodily organs). The head, throat, tongue, palate, teeth, lips, nose, root of the tongue and bosom are said to be the eight places which assist  the sounds of the letters to become audible and explicit.

When a person wills to express a thought orally, the air (Prana) inside his body spurs and moves up. Sabda or the Vac (speech or utterance) then manifests through Dhvani (sound patterns), with the assistance of appropriate organs.

[The King Pratardana of Kasi (Kasi-rajah-Pratardanaha), in the Kausitaki Upanishad, makes an interesting observation that one cannot breathe and speak at the same time (‘when a man speaks he cannot breathe; and when he breaths he cannot speak’- kau.Up.2.5).

Yavadvai purusho bhasate na tavat-pranitum shaknoti pranam …. Yavadvai purushah praniti na tavat-bhashitum shaknoti vacam-kau.Up.2.5]

Thus, the transformation of a thought into spoken-words involves two kinds of effort: the internal process (abhyantara prayatna) and the external effort (bahya prayatna). The former is classified into two kinds (Pashyanti and Madhyama), while the latter (the external) is said to be of eleven kinds.

And, of the three levels or stages of speech, Pashyanti is regarded the subtle forms of Vac; while Madhyama and Vaikhari are its gross forms.

The chief characteristic of Vaikhari Vak is that it has a fully developed temporal sequence. At this level, the speaker’s individual peculiarities (such as accent, voice modulation etc) are present, along with relevant parts of speech. Though the Vaikhari gives expression to subtler forms of Vac, it is not considered as the’ ultimate’.


The ancient Grammarians went to great lengths, systematically, to trace the origination of each letter, its appropriate sound; the intricacies and efforts involved in producing them. (Please see the Note * below)


[* In the Sanskrit, the vowels and consonants sounds are classified and arranged dependent on their origin (pronunciation) in different parts of mouth, such as throat, palate, teeth or lips.

The vowels and consonants are so arranged that those emanating from the throat come first. These are followed by those pronounced through tongue; the palate; teeth and the lips. All sounds are arranged as those from the inside of the mouth proceeding outwards, in that order. No other ancient system of writing seems to have been so systematically thought out.

The vowels (Svara-s) , alternating long and short, come first : अ(a)  (aa)  इ(i)   ई(ee)  उ(u)  ऊ(oo)  ऋ(r)  ॠ(r)  लृ(lr)  ए(e)  ऐ(ai)  ओ(o)  and औ(au)

The commencing vowels अ(a) and  (aa)  are pronounced in the throat – Kantya  (कण्ठ्य). They are followed by vowels इ(i) and  ई(ee) produced by the tongue touching the base of the teeth ,Taalavya (तालव्य). The vowels उ(u)  and ऊ(oo)  are produced using the lips making a rounded opening – Oshtya (ओष्ठ्य).  The vowels ऋ(r) and ॠ(r) are produced by the tip of the tongue curling back against the roof of the mouth- Murdhanya (मूर्धन्य). The vowel लृ(lr) is produced by the tongue touching the upper teeth – Dantya (दंत्य).  The vowels ए (e) and ऐ (ai)   are produced near the throat by the tongue touching the bottom of the teeth and sucking in the air – Kanta-taalavya (कंटतालव्य).  The vowels  (o) and औ (au) produced near the throat by the rounding of the lips are called Kantoshtya (कंटोष्ठ्य).

The two ornamental nasal (Anusvara) letters अं (am) and  अः (aha ) ,which are used to decorate the vowels, are called the Visarga , meaning  sending forth . These sounds, which are neither consonants nor vowels, add a softening short burst effect at the end.  These are usually listed as a part of the vowel -group; but are shown at the end.

Similar is the emanation of the consonants – from throat outwards to the lips .

The set of consonants – क(ka) , ख(kha) , ग(ga) , घ(gha) , and ङ(nga) – are guttural (throaty) consonants – Kantya  (कण्ठ्य). Then the consonants – च(cha) , छ(chha) , ज(ja) , झ(jha) , and ञ(nja)- are pronounced on the palate- Taalavya (तालव्य). The next set of consonants –  ट(ta)  ,ठ(tha) , ड(da) , ढ(dha)  and ण(na) – is  produced by the tip of the tongue curling back against the roof of the mouthMurdhanya (मूर्धन्य). Next are  those on the teeth (दन्त्य), like – त(ta) , थ(tha) , द(da) , ध(dha) and  न(na) . And last come those on the lips प(pa)  फ(pha)  ब(ba)  भ(bha)  and म(ma) – (ओष्ठ्य). Oshtya (ओष्ठ्य).

The list is rounded off with semi-consonants like – य(ya) , र(ra) , ल(la)  and व(va) ; and the aspirated and sibilant sounds like श(sha)  ष(sha) ,  स(sh)  and ह (ha ).

Such unique organization of the alphabet underlines the attention paid to the patterns of articulated sound; points  of its location; and , to degree of resonance,  in a way that has not been attempted in any other language]

[ Abhinavagupta offers a mystic explanation of the arrangement of the Sanskrit alphabets, which are placed in between A and Ha. According to him, in the Sanskrit alphabet, the very first letter A stands for Shiva, the primal source of all existence. A is the initial emergence of all the other letters; and hence is Anuttara, the absolute. And, A not only represents the origin of the language; but, also the expansion of consciousness.

If A  the first letter represents Shiva the transcendent source, then Ha the final letter of the alphabet represents the point of completion when all the letters have emerged. If A is Shiva, Ha the last letter is Shakthi, His cosmic outpouring that flows back into Him.

Again, the vowels (Bija – the seed) are identified with Shiva; and, the consonants are Yoni identified with Shakthi. The intertwined vowels and consonants in a language are thus the union of Shiva and Shakthi.

Thus, the sequence of A to Ha contains within itself not only all the letters of the Alphabets, but also every phase of consciousness, both transcendental and universal.

The entire sequence of alphabets, according to Abhinavagupta, represents the state in which all the elements of experience, in the inner and the outer worlds, are fully displayed.]


Philosophers’ view

In the ancient traditions of India, the Grammar, the philosophy of Grammar and the Philosophy run into one another. At times, it is hard to separate them.

While the Grammarians, generally, speak about three levels of speech, the philosophers identify four levels or stages of speech (Vac): Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari.  Of these four forms of Vac, Para and Pashyanti are the subtle forms of Vac; while Madhyama and Vaikhari are its gross forms.

The explanations of the Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari are almost the same as offered by the Grammarians; however, their interpretations and connotations differ slightly.


It is said; the sound has four divisions:  Para manifested in Prana (vital energy); Pashyanti manifested in the mind (Manas); Madhyama manifested in the senses (Indriyani); and, Vaikhari manifested in articulate expressions (Vac).

Para Vac is the ultimate and unmanifest principle of speech, the Sabda-tattva (Sabdasya tattvam or Sabda eva tattvam), where there is no subject-object distinction; and, is of the nature of the Absolute (vag vai Brahmeti).

Para vac is identified with Pranava (Aum), the primordial speech-sound from which all forms of speech emanated. It transforms or manifests (Vivarta or parinama) as all forms of sounds, speech etc.


According to Abhinavagupta, word is a symbol. The four stage of Vac: Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari represent its four phases of evolution and also of absorption; the ascent or descent from the undifferentiated to the gross.

It is explained; Para Vac as Sabda-Brahman is the creative energy (Shakthi) that brings forth all existence. It is also the consciousness (chit, samvid), vital energy (prana shakthi) that vibrates (spanda) and enlivens.

While Para Vac is pure consciousness; the three other forms are its transformations. The three lower forms of speech viz. Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari which correspond to intention, formulation and expression are said to represent ts powers , such as :  iccha-shakthi (power of intent or will) , jnana-shakthi (power of knowledge) and the power of becoming (bhuti sakti) or the power of action (Kriya shakthi  ). Thus, out of the transcendent Para, the three phases of its power (Shakthi) emanate.

The urge to communicate or the spontaneous evolution of Para into Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari   epitomizes the Cosmic act of One becoming many; and, the subtle energy transforming into a less- subtle matter.

Thus, the speech, each time it emanates, is an enactment, in miniature, of the unfolding (Vimarsa) of the One into many.  And each time, when that speech is grasped by the listener and each time it merges into her/his intellect, it re-enacts the process of absorption (Samhara) of the many into One.

The process of manifestation of speech is, thus, compared to the evolution of the Universe. And, that process is said to take place in four stages. First, in the undifferentiated substratum of thought, an intention appears. This first impulse, the self-radiant consciousness is Para-vac (the voice beyond).  This latent, un-spoken, un-manifest, silent thought (Para) unfolds itself in the next three stages as Pashyanti (thought visualized), Madhyama (intermediate)   and as Vaikhari  (explicit) speech).

In its second stage, the subtle thought visualised (pashyanthi-vak) is yet to acquire a verbal form. It is the first sprout of an invisible seed (Bija); and, is the second stage in the manifestation of thought or intention. Then the potential sound, the vehicle of the thought, materializes finding   words suitable to express the idea. This transformation of thought into words, in the silence of the mind (Buddhi), is the third or the intermediate stage of Vac (Madhyama-vak). From this non-vocal or un-voiced thought, emerges the fourth stage – the audible sound patterns. It is in that fourth stage, the ideas acquire cognizable forms of speech; and, are transmitted through articulated audible syllables (vaikhari-vak).  These four stages are the four forms of the speech.



The three- Pashyanthi, Madhyama and Vaikhari – are construed as the three sides of the triangle at the centre of which is the dot-point (Bindu) representing the undifferentiated notion of Para-Vak. The triangle with the Bindu at its centre suggests the idea of Isvara the divinity conceived as non-dual Shiva-Shakti.

In the traditions of Tantra, the process of evolution of the principle of speech (Sabda Brahman) from its most subtle and soundless state of sound – consciousness (Para), in successive stages, into the gross physical speech (Vaikhari) is explained through the principle underling the structure of Sri Chakra.


Sri Yantra is a ‘Cosmogram’ – a graphic representation of the processes of evolution (Sristi) of the Universe emanating from its core; and, re-absorption (Samhara) of the created existence back into itself. And, at the very core or the centre of the Sri Chakra is the Bindu, the dimensionless point about to expand immensely. The Bindu denotes what is hidden; the subtle and the most sensitive.

It is said; the true nature of the Supreme Goddess is beyond mind and matter. She is limitless and formless. She is Arupa. But, when She takes a form, the Bindu is her intense representation. The Bindu symbolizes Her most subtle micro form as the Universal Mother, womb, yoni, creator, retainer as also the receiver of the created universe. It is this Bindu that is, in reality, the Sri Chakra; and, everything else is an expansion and manifestation of its aspects.

The Sri Vidya texts call the Bindu also as Sarva-ananda-maya (all blissful); and, the transcendental power (Para Shakthi). It denotes the absolute harmony (saamarasya) between Shiva and Shakthi; as the immense potential of the non-dual Shiva-Shakthi, the union of Purusha and Prakriti.

The evolution (shristi) from the primary state into the mundane level is said to be the apparent separation of Shiva and Shakthi (avarohana karma). And, the reverse process of re-absorption or withdrawal from the gross to the very subtle state is termed Samhara karma.

According to Sri Vidya ideology, in the process of evolution (Vimarsa), that is in the process of shristi or the outward movement or descending arc of creative activity, the speech proceeds from the creative consciousness pulsations (spanda) of the Devi as Para-Vac, the most subtle and silent form of speech-consciousness. And, in successive stages or forms,  it moves on to more cognizable forms as : Pashyanti (Vak-shakthi, going forth as seeing, ready to create in which there is no difference between Vachya– object and Vachaka-word); Madhyama (the speech in its subtle form as existing in the anthahkarana prior to manifestation); and, Vaikhari (as articulated gross physical speech).

If the Bindu represents the Para-Vac, its immediate expanded form, the triangle formed by three points, represents the Pashyanti, the second stage of the sound (Nada). The enclosure next to this, the eight sided figure (ashta kona chakra) is the Madhyama or the third stage in the development of sound. The rest of the Chakra represents the physical or the phenomenal stage, the Vaikhari, which is the manifest and articulate form of sound. The Vaikhari form is represented by the fifty letters of the alphabet, called Matrka-s or the source of all transactions and existence.

Thus, in the process of Sristi, in the outward movement from the centre of Reality to the periphery, from the most sublime to the ordinary, the Para assumes different forms, in successive stages. All these four forms, apparently different, are indeed the manifestations of Para Vac which pervades the entire structure of speech and consciousness, in all their levels – from the highest to the lowest; and, it transforms (Vivarta) projects itself in various forms (Parinama).  

 (Abhinavagupta treats these aspects in a very elaborate manner. We shall talk about the explanations provided by Abhinavagupta and Bhartrhari in the next part.)



 The Tantra explains the concept of Mantra and Japa in a similar manner.

Mantra is said to connect, in a very special way, the objective and subjective aspects of reality. The Mantra, in its sublime form, is rooted in pure consciousness. The Shaiva text Shiva Sutra describes Mantras as the unity of Vac and consciousness: Vac chittam (Shiva Sutra: 2.1). It is the living sound, transcending beyond the mental plane; the indistinct or undefined speech (anirukta) having immense potential.  In its next stage, it unites harmoniously with the mind. Here, it is union of mind (Manas) and word (Vac).  That is followed by the Mantra repeated in the silence of one’s heart (tushnim). The silent form of mantra is said to be superior to the whispered (upamasu) utterance.

[When one utters a deity’s Mantra, one is not naming the deity, but is evoking its power as a means to open oneself to it. It is said; mantra gives expression to the identity of the name (abhidana) with the object of contemplation (abhideya). Therefore, some describe mantra as a catalyst that’ allows the potential to become a reality’. It is both the means (upaya) and the end (upeya).]

The reverse is said to be the process of Japa (reciting or muttering the mantra). It moves from Vaikhari through Madhyama towards Pashyanti and ideally, and in very cases, to Para vak.

Ordinarily, Japa starts in Vaikhari form (vocal, muttering). The efficacy of the Japa does depend on the will, the dedication and the attentiveness of the person performing the Japa. After long years of constant practice, done with devotion and commitment, an extraordinary thing happens. Now, the Japa no longer depends on the will or the state of activity of the practitioner. It seeps into his consciousness; and, it goes on automatically, ceaselessly and inwardly without any effort of the person, whether he is awake or asleep. Such instinctive and continuous recitation is called Ajapa-japa. When this proceeds for a long-time, it is said; the consciousness moves upward (uccharana) and becomes one with the object of her or his devotion.

[The term Ajapa-japa is also explained in another manner. A person exhales with the sound ‘Sa’; and, she/he inhales with the sound ‘Ha’. This virtually becomes Ham-sa mantra ( I am He; I am Shiva). A person is said to inhale and exhale 21,600 times during a day and night. Thus, the Hamsa mantra is repeated (Japa) by everyone, each day, continuously, spontaneously without any effort, with every round of breathing in and out. And, this also is called Ajapa-japa.]



The system of Yoga also accepts and speaks in terms of Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari. Here, those terms are meant to denote different sounds (Nada) or the stages of consciousness. It is explained:

: – Para is the most subtle form of sound, not audible; and, in its un-manifest (Avyakta) form resides as Nada at the base (Karana-bindu) in the centre of the Muladhara-chakra, solar plexus (Ekaiva nadatmika vak muladharadudita sati Para ityucyate)


: – And, with the ascent of Prana (vital energy) it moves up to Manipuraka-chakra in the region of navel; and, it is transformed to Pashyanti when it enters the heart-region (hradayakhya) and becomes visible to the Yogis (hradayakhya udiyamanatvat)


The Pashyanti (radiant) stage is compared to a well nourished seed (Bija) which sprouts into two leaves. it, then, acquires the qualities of subtle sound ( which is not audible to the physical ear) , and hue of colour (varna) which can be seen (Pashyan).

: – The Pashyanti, moving up and enters the mind (Buddhi) with a desire or the urge to express itself (Saiva buddhim gata vivaksam prapta madhyama ityucyate). And, on reaching the Anahata–chakra in the region of the heart, it is transformed into Madhyama Vac.  Anahata literally means un-struck. Here; the subtle sound (Nada) at the level of the mind is like ‘internal-speech’ which is heard, internally, by the Yogi.


[It is said; the Vac which sprouts in Para gives forth leaves in Pashyanti; buds forth in Madhyama; and, it blossoms in Vaikhari.]

: – When the Madhyama moves up further from heart-region to throat, tongue and mouth it becomes articulate (Vyakta) sound, clearly audible to the external ear at the Vishudhi -chakra. This is Vaikhari, the last stage of sound or speech when it emerges out of the mouth with the help of syllables, words etc and is heard by the listener. And, Vaikhari is the intended speech that comes out clearly through the mouth with the assistance of tongue, lips, teeth and the breath


(Atha yada saiva vaktre sthita talvosthadivyaparena bahirnirgacchati tada vaikhari ityuchyate)


Other explanations

Various other interpretations are also imposed on these four terms.

It is said;   Para represents transcendental consciousness; Pashyanti the intellectual consciousness; Madhyama the cerebral consciousness; and, Vaikhari the physical consciousness.

Further, these levels of consciousness are said to correspond with varying levels of awareness:  Turia (the fourth, the transcendental or the one-beyond); Shushupti (deep sleep); Svapna (dream state) ; and Jagrat ( wakeful state) , in that order.

And again, these states of consciousness are said to relate to different states of being (bodies). Para which is referred to as the Supreme form; the first form; the pure and resplendent Highest-light etc, is indeed beyond all forms (Turiya); and it is formless. The sphere of consciousness at Pashyanti is said to be the causal body (Karana-sarira); at Madhyama, the subtle or psychic body (Sukshma-sarira); and at Vaikhari, the physical body (Sthula-sarira).

While Para is pure consciousness, the other three are said to be its powers through which it differentiates as its power of will (iccha shakthi) at the subtle level of Pashyanti; as the power of discrimination or knowledge (Jnana shakthi) at the mental level of Madhyama; and, as its power of action (Kriya Shakthi) at the physical  level of Vaikhari.


In the next part, let’s talk about the theories expounded and the explanations offered by two of the great thinkers – Abhinavagupta and Bhartrhari- on the subject.

Buddha Meditation Song




The next part

Sources and References

Ritam “The Word in the Rig-Veda and in Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem Savitri

.Vedic river and Hindu civilization; edited by Dr. S. Kalyanaraman

Original Sanskrit Texts on the Origin and History of the People of India…Edited by John Muir

Devata Rupa-Mala(Part Two) by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao

The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 edited by Harold G. Coward, K. Kunjunni Raja, Karl H



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

Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Ten

Continued from Part Nine

[I could not arrange the topics in a sequential order (krama). You may take these as random collection of discussions; and, read it for whatever it is worth. Thank you.]

Kavyasya Atma – the Soul of Poetry


Another line of speculation that is unique to Indian Poetics is to muse about the soul (Atman) of Poetry. Every literary endeavour was regarded a relentless quest to grasp or realize the enigmatic essence that inhabits the Kavya body.

As Prof Vinayak Krishna Gokak explains in his An Integral View of Poetry: an India Perspective:  Poetry in its manifestation resembles the series of descending arches in a cave. It is dim lit, leaving behind the garish light of the day, as we walk into it. And as we begin to feel our way, we detect another passage, leading to yet another. But, we do know that there is light at the other end. And, when we have passed through the archways, we stand face-to-face with the ultimate mystery itself. This seems to the inner core, the essence and the fulfillment of poetry. It is the Darshana, perception, of Reality

Then he goes on to say:  When we say the poet is inspired, we mean that he had a glimpse of Reality, its luminous perception. It is this perception that elevated him into a state of creative excitement. Such vision is the intuitive perception. It reveals the many-splendored reality that is clouded by the apparent. It is the integral experience in which the intuitive and instinctive responses are in harmony.

But, this intuitive perception in poetry is rarely experienced in its pristine purity. It is colored, to an extent, by the attitudes, the experiences and the expressions of the poet. The attitude seeps into the structure of words, phrases, rhythms that give form to poetry. The attitude forms the general framework of the poetic experience.

The soul of the Kavya is truly the poet’s vision (Darshana) without which its other constituents cannot come together.


Thus, the inquiry into the appeal of the Poetry was meant to suggest a sort of a probe delving deep into the depths of Kavya to seize its essence. It was an exploration to reach into the innermost core of the Kavya.  The term used to denote that core or the fundamental element or the principle which defines the very essence of Kavya was Atma, the soul. In the context of Kavya, the concept of Atma, inspired by Indian Philosophy, was adopted to characterize it as the in-dweller (Antaryamin), its life-breath (Prana), its life (Jivita) , consciousness (Chetana) ; and to differentiate it from the  exterior or the body (Sarira) formed out of the words. That is to say; while structure provided by the words is the physical aspect of Kavya, at its heart is the aesthetic sensitivity that is very subtle and indeterminate.

In the Indian Poetics, the term Atma stands for that most elusive factor which is the highly essential, extensive factor illumining the internal beauty of Kavya. Though one can talk about it endlessly, one cannot precisely define it. One could even say, it is like a child trying to clasp the moonbeams with its little palms.   It is akin to consciousness that energizes all living beings (Chaitanya-atma). Its presence can be felt and experienced; but one cannot see its form; and, one cannot also define it in technical terms


Traditionally, the Kavya was defined by Bhamaha as Sabda-Artha sahitau Kavyam (KA.1.15) – the combination or a complex of words and their meanings. His explanation also implied that word and sense in a Kavya must be free from blemishes (nirdosa) .  Bhamaha then extended his explanation to bring in the element of Alamkara; and, said: Kavya is the happy fusion of Sabda and Artha which expresses Alamkaras relating to them

Sabda-abhideya-alamkara-bhedadhistam dvayam tu nah I Sabda-Artha sahitau Kavyam (KA.1.15).

Dandin also said the body of Kavya is a group of sounds which indicates the desired effect or the desired import of the poet

Sariram tavad ista-artha vyvachinna padavali (KA 1.10b).

But, the later Schools pointed out that Bhamaha and Dandin seemed to be talking about the body of Kavya, but not about the Kavya itself. And, their   definition of Kavya is centred on the external element or the body of Kavya; but, it misses the spirit or the soul of the Kavya.  The basic idea, here, was that Kavya is much more than a collection of words; it is about the vision of the poet and the aesthetic delight it presents to the reader.

It was argued that if the structure of words (Pada-rachana or Padavali) could be taken as the body (Sarira) of the Kavya, then it is separate or different from its soul (Atma) which is its   inner–being. Further, Padavali – the group of words – by itself and not accompanied by sense is not of great merit.

Thus, a clear distinction was sought to be made between the body and the spirit or the soul which resides within it. And from here, there began a quest for the soul of Kavya (Kavyasya Atma).

As regards the meaning (Artha) conveyed by words in the Poetry, it was also examined in terms of its external and internal forms. It was said; the language and its structural form lead us to meaning in its dual forms. Thought in poetry manifests itself in two ways: as the outer and the inner meaning. The Outer meaning dominates poetry through its narration. Yet, it permits inner meaning to come into its own through its narrative patterns or poetic excellence. The Outer meaning plays somewhat semi transparent role in poetry.  It achieves its fulfillment when it becomes fully transparent revealing what lies beneath it.

The inner meaning of poetry is embodied in it’s suggestive, figurative or expressions evoking Visions.  It reveals the moods, the attitudes and the vision of the poet expressed with the aid of imagery and rhythm. “Such vision is the intuitive perception. It reveals the many-splendored reality that is clouded by the apparent”.


It was perhaps Vamana the author of Kavyalankara-sutra-vrtti who initiated the speculation about the Atman or the soul of poetry. He declared – Ritir Atma kavyasya – (Riti is the soul of Poetry). Vamana’s pithy epithet soon became trendy; and, ignited the imagination of the champions of other Schools of poetics. Each one re-coined Vamana’s phrase by inserting into it (in place of Riti) that Kavya-guna (poetic virtue) which in its view was the fundamental virtue or the soul of poetry.

For instance; Anandavardhana said Dhvani is the Atma of Kavya; Visvanatha said Rasa is the Atma of Kavya; while Kuntaka asserted that Vakrokti as the Jivita – the life of Kavya. Besides, Rajasekhara (9th century) who visualized literature, as a whole, in a symbolic human form (Kavya Purusha) treated Rasa as its soul (Atma).


Although Vamana was the first to use the term Atma explicitly, the notions of the spirit or the inner-being of Kavya were mentioned by the earlier scholars too, though rather vaguely.  They generally talked in terms Prana (life-breath) or Chetana (consciousness) and such other vital factors in the absence of which the body ceases to function or ceases to live.

[ But, those epithets, somehow, seemed to suggest something that is essential, but not quite inevitable.]

For instance; Dandin had earlier used the term Prana (life-breath) of the body of poetry which he said was the Padavali (string of words or phrases) – Sariram tavad istartha vyavachhina padavali (KA-1.10). He also used Prana in the sense of vital force or vital factor (say for instance: iti vadarbhi –margasya pranah).

Udbhata who generally followed Dandin, in his Alamkara-samgraha, a synopsis of Alamkara, stated that Rasa was the essence or the soul of Kavya.

While Dandin and his followers focused on Sabda Alamkara, Vamana (Ca.8th century) raised questions about the true nature of Kavya; and said Ritiratma Kavyasya – the soul of the poetry abides in its style – excellence of diction.

Anandavardhana said: all good poetry has two modes of expression – one that is expressed by words embellished by Alamkara; and the other that is implied or concealed – what is inferred by the listener or the reader.  And , this implied one or the suggested sense, designated as Dhvani (resonance or tone or suggestion) , is indeed  the soul of Kavya: Kavyasya Atma Dhvanih.

A little later than Anandavardhana, Kuntaka (early tenth century) said that indirect or deflected speech (Vakrokti) – figurative speech depending upon wit, turns , twists and word-play is the soul of Kavya. He said that such poetry showcases the inventive genius of the poet at work (Kavi-karman).

[The complex web of words (Sabda) and meanings (Artha) capable of being transformed into aesthetic experience (Rasa) is said to have certain characteristic features. These are said to be Gunas and Alamkara-s. These – words and meanings; Alamkara; Gunas; and, Rasa – though seem separable are in fact fused into the structure of the poetry. Poetics accounts for the nature of these features and their inter-relations

All theories, one way or the other, are interrelated; and, illumine each other.  The various aspects of Kavya starting from making of poetry (kavya-kriya-dharma) up to the critique of poetry (kavya-mimamsa)  and how human mind perceives and reacts to it, was the main concern for each theory. ]



Alamkara denotes an extraordinary turn given to an ordinary expression; which makes ordinary speech into poetic speech (Sabartha sahitya) ; and , which indicates the entire range of rhetorical ornaments as a means of poetic expression. In other words, Alamkara connotes the underlying principle of embellishment itself as also the means for embellishment.

According to Bhamaha, Dandin and Udbhata the essential element of Kavya was in Alamkara. The Alamkara School did not say explicitly that Alamkara is the soul of Poetry. Yet, they regarded Alamkara as the very important element of Kavya. They said just as the ornaments enhance the charm of a beautiful woman so do the Alamkaras to Kavya: shobha-karan dharman alamkaran prakshate (KA -2.1). The Alamkara School, in general, regarded all those elements that contribute towards or that enhance the beauty and brilliance of Kavya as Alamkaras. Accordingly, the merits of Guna, Rasa, and Dhvani as also the various figures of speech were all clubbed under the general principle of Alamkara.

Though Vamana advocates Riti, he also states that Alamkara (Soundarya-alamkara) enhances the beauty of Kavya. Vamana said Kavya is the union of sound and sense which is free from poetic flaws (Dosha) and is adorned with Gunas (excellence) and Alamkaras (ornamentation or figures of speech).

According to Mammata, Alamkara though is a very important aspect of Kavya is not absolutely essential. He said; Kavya is that which is constructed by word and sentence which are (a) faultless (A-doshau) (b) possessed of excellence (Sugunau) , and (c) in which rarely a distinct figure of speech  (Alamkriti) may be absent.


Vamana called the first section (Adhikarana) of his work as Sarira-adhikaranam – reflexions on the body of Kavya. After discussing the components of the Kavya-body, Vamana looks into those aspects that cannot be reduced to physical elements. For Vamana, that formless, indeterminate essence of Kavya is Riti.

Then, Vamana said; the essence of Kavya is Riti (Ritir Atma Kavyasya); just as every body has Atma, so does every Kavya its Riti. And, Riti is the very mode or the act of being Kavya. Thus for Vamana, while Riti is the essence of Kavya, the Gunas are the essential elements of the Riti. The explanation offered by Vamana meant that the verbal structure having certain Gunas is the body of Kavya, while its essence (soul) is, Riti.

Riti represents for Vamana the particular structure of sounds (Vishista-pada-rachana Ritihi) combined with poetic excellence (Vishesho Gunatma) . According to Vamana, Riti is the going or the flowing together of the elements of a poem

Rinati gacchati asyam guna iti riyate ksaraty asyam vanmaddhu-dhareti va ritih (Vamana KSS). 

The language and its structural form lead us to the inner core of poetry. And, when that language becomes style (Riti), it absorbs into itself all the other constituent elements of poetry. It allows them, as also the poetic vision, to shine through it.

Vamana, therefore, accorded Riti a very high position by designating Riti as the Soul of Kavya –Ritr Atma kavyasya Sareerasyeva (I.2.6) – Riti is to the Kavya what Atman is to the Sarira (body). Here, it is explained that in his definition of Riti, Pada-rachana   represents the structure or the body while Riti is its inner essence. Through this medium of Visista Padarachana the Gunas become manifest and reveal the presence of Riti, the Atman.


Kshemendra – wrote a critical work Auchitya-alamkara or Auchitya-vicharachara (critical research on proprieties in poetry), and a practical handbook for poets Kavi-katnta-abharana (ornamental necklace for poets) – calls Auchitya the appropriateness or that which makes right sense in the given context as the very life-breath of Rasa – Rasajivi-bhootasya. He said Auchitya is the very life of Kavya (Kavyasya jivitam) that is endowed with Rasa (Aucityam rasa siddhasya sthiram kavyasya jivitam).

According to Kshemendra, all components of Kavya perform their function ideally only when they are applied appropriately and treated properly. “When one thing befits another or matches perfectly, it is said to be appropriate, Auchitya”:

(Aucityam prahuracarya sadrasham kila; Aucitasya ka vo bhava stadaucityam pracaksate).

It said; be it Alamkara or Guna, it will be beautiful and relishing if it is appropriate from the point of view of Rasa; and, they would be rejected if they are in- appropriate. And, what is normally considered a Dosha (flaw) might well turn into Guna (virtue) when it is appropriate to the Rasa

But, many are hesitant to accept Auchitya as the Atma of the Kavya. They point out that Auchitya by its very nature is something that attempts to bring refinement into to text; but, it is not an independent factor. And, it does not also form the essence of Kavya. Auchitya is also not a recognized School of Poetics.


Kuntaka defined Kavya on the basis of Vakrokti, a concept which he developed   over the idea earlier mentioned by Bhamaha and others.  According to him, Kavya is the union of sound, sense and arranged in a composition which consists Vakrokti (oblique expressions of the poet), delighting its sensible reader or listener –

(Sabda-Artha sahitau vakra Kavi vakya vyapara shalini I bandhe vyavasthitau Kavya tat ahlada karini:  VJ 1.7).

Kuntaka also said that  the word and sense, blended like two friends, pleasing  each other, make Kavya  delightful

Sama-sarva gunau santau sahhrudaveva sangathi I parasparasya shobhayai sabdartau bhavato thatha  II .

Kuntaka, declared Vakrokti as jivitam or soul of poetry. By vakrokti, he meant the artistic turn of speech (vaidagdhyam bhangi) or the deviated from or distinct from the common mode of speech. Vakratva is primarily used in the sense of poetic beauty. It is striking, and is marked by the peculiar turn imparted by the creative imagination of the poet. It stands for charming, attractive and suggestive utterances that characterize poetry. The notion of Vakrata (deviation) covers both the word (Sabda) and meaning (Artha). The ways of Vakrokti are, indeed, countless.

Vakrokti is the index of a poet’s virtuosity–kavi kaushala. Kuntaka describes the creativity of a poet as Vakra-kavi–vyapara or Kavi–vyapara–vakratva (art in the poetic process).  This according to Kuntaka is the primary source of poetry; and, has the potential to create aesthetic elegance that brings joy to   the cultured reader with refined taste (Sahrudaya).

According to Kuntaka, Vakrokti is the essence of poetic speech (Kavyokti); the very life (Jivita) of poetry; the title of his work itself indicates this.


Rasa (the poetic delight) though it is generally regarded as the object of Kavya providing joy to the reader rather than as the means or an element of Kavya , is treated  by some as the very essence of Kavya.

Yet; Indian Aesthetics considers that among the various poetic theories (Kavya-agama), Rasa is of prime importance in Kavya. And, very involved discussions go into ways and processes of   producing Rasa, the ultimate aesthetic experience that delights the Sahrudya, the connoisseurs of Kavya.

The Rasa was described as the state that arises out of the emotion evoked by a poem through suggestive means, through the depiction of appropriate characters and situations and through rhetorical devices. The production of Rasa or aesthetic delight was therefore regarded the highest mark of poetry.  It was said – The life breath (Prana) of Kavya is Rasa.

Further, Poetry itself came to be understood as an extraordinary kind of delightful experience called Rasa. It was exclaimed: Again, what is poetry if it does not produce Rasa or give the reader an experience of aesthetic delight?

Rasa is thus regarded as the cardinal principle of Indian aesthetics.  The theory of Rasa (Rasa Siddhanta) and its importance is discussed in almost all the works on Alamkara Shastra in one way or the other. The importance of the Rasa is highlighted by calling it the Atman (the soul), Angin (the principle element), Pradhana-Pratipadya (main substance to be conveyed), Svarupadhyaka (that which makes a Kavya), and Alamkara (ornamentation) etc.

Mammata carrying forward the argument that Rasa is the principle substance and the object of poetry, stated ‘vakyatha rasatmakarth kavyam’, establishing the correlation between Rasa and poetry.

Vishwanatha defined Kavya as Vakyam rasathmakam Kavyam – Kavya is sentences whose essence is Rasa.

Jagannatha Pandita defined Kavya as: Ramaniya-artha prathipadakah sabdam kavyam ; poetry is the  combination of words that provides delight (Rasa) . Here, Ramaniyata denotes not only poetic delight Rasa, pertaining to the main variety of Dhvani-kavya, but also to all the ingredients of Kavya like Vastu-Dhvani Kavya; Alamkara-Dhvani –Kavya, Guni-bhutha –vyangmaya-kavya; Riti; Guna, Alamkara, Vakrokti etc.


[While talking about Rasa, we may take a look at the discussions on Bhakthi Rasa.

Natyashastra mentions eight Rasas (not nine). These Rasas were basically related to dramatic performance; and Bhakthi was not one of those. Thereafter, Udbhata (9th century) introduced Shantha Rasa. After prolonged debates spread over several texts across two centuries Shantha was accepted as an addition to the original eight.

But, it was Abhinavagupta (11th century) who established Shantha Rasa as the Sthayi-bhava the basic and the abiding or the enduring Rasa form which all Rasas emerge and into which they all recede. His stand was: one cannot be perpetually angry or ferocious or sad or exited or erotic, at all the time. These eight other Rasas are the passing waves of emotions, the colors of life. But, Shantha, tranquility, is the essential nature of man; and it is its disturbance or its variations that give rise to shades of other emotions. And, when each of that passes over, it again subsides in the Shantha Rasa that ever prevails.

During the times of by Abhinavagupta and Dhanajaya, Bhakthi and Priti were referred to as Bhavas (dispositions or attitudes); but, not as Rasas. Even the later scholars like Dandin, Bhanudatta and Jagannatha Pandita continued to treat Bhakthi as a Bhava.

[Later, each system of Philosophy or of Poetics (Kavya-shastra) applied its own norms to interpret the Rasa-doctrine (Rasa Siddantha) ; and in due course several Rasa theories came up. Many other sentiments, such as Sneha, Vatsalya; or states of mind (say even Karpanya – wretchedness) were reckoned as Rasa. With that, Rasas were as many as you one could identify or craft (not just nine).]

It was however the Gaudiya School of Vaishnavas that treated Bhakthi as a Rasa. Rupa Goswami in his Bhakthi-Rasa-amrita–Sindhu; and the Advatin Madhusudana Sarasvathi in his Bhagavad-Bhakthi Rasayana asserted that Bhakthi is indeed the very fundamental Rasa. Just as Abhinavagupta treated Shantha as the Sthayi Rasa, the Vaishnava Scholars treated Bhakthi as the Sthayi, the most important and the abiding Rasa.

Their texts described twelve forms of Bhakthi Rasas – nine of the original and three new ones. Instead of calling each Rasa by its original name, they inserted Bhakthi element into each, such as: Shantha-Bhakthi-Rasa, Vira-Bhakthi-Rasa, Karuna-Bhakthi-Rasa and so on. They tried to establish that Bhakthi was not one among the many Rasas; but, it was the fundamental Rasa, the other Rasa being only the varied forms of it. The devotee may assume any attitude of devotion like a child, mother, master, Guru or even an intimate fiend. It was said “Bhakthi encompasses all the Nava-rasas”.

Bhakthi, they said, is the Sthayi (abiding) Rasa; and it is the original form of Parama-Prema (highest form of Love) as described in Narada Bhakthi Sutra. What constitutes this Love is its essence of Maduhrya (sweetness) and Ujjvalata (radiance).

Although, an element of individualized love is involved in Bhakthi, it is not confined to worship of a chosen deity (ista Devatha). The Vedanta Schools treat Bhakthi as a companion of Jnana in pursuit of the Brahman. They hold that Bhakthi guides both the Nirguna and the Saguna traditions. Just as Ananda is the ultimate bliss transcending the subject-object limitation, Bhakthi in its pristine form is free from the limitations of ‘ego centric predicament’ of mind. And, both are not to be treated as mere Rasas.

Bhakthi is that total pure unconditional love, accepting everything in absolute faith (Prapatthi).

Now, all Schools generally agree that Bhakthi should not be confined to theistic pursuits alone; it pervades and motivates all aspects human persuasions including studies, arts and literature. In the field of art, it would be better if the plethora of Rasa-theories is set aside; because, the purpose of Art, the practice of Bhakthi and the goal of Moksha are intertwined.

Therefore, it is said, it is not appropriate (an-auchitya) to narrow down Bhakthi to a mere Rasa which is only a partial aspect. Bhakthi is much larger; and it is prime mover of all meaningful pursuits in life.]


Dhvani and Rasa-Dhvani

With the rise of the Dhvani School, the elements of Rasa and Dhvani gained prominence, and superseded the earlier notions of poetry. And, all poetry was defined and classified in terms of these two elements.

Anandavardhana said: all good poetry has two modes of expression – one that is expressed by words embellished by Alamkara; and the other that is implied or concealed – what is inferred by the listener or the reader.

The suggested or the implied   sense of the word designated as Dhvani (resonance or tone or suggestion) through its suggestive power brings forth proper Rasa. Abhinavagupta   qualified it by saying:   Dhvani is not any and every sort of suggestion, but only that sort which yields Rasa or the characteristic aesthetics delight.

For Anandavardhana, Dhvani (lit. The sounding-resonance) is the enigmatic alterity (otherness) of the Kavya-body- Sarirasye va Atma ….Kavyatmeti vyavasthitam (as the body has Atma, so does Dhvani resides as Atma in the Kavya)

Anandavardhana regarded Dhvani– the suggestive power of the Kavya, as its highest virtue. The Alamkara, figurative ornamental language, according to him, came next. In both these types of Kavya-agama, there is a close association between the word and its sound, and between speech (vak) and meaning (artha). The word is that which when articulated gives out meaning; and meaning is what a word gives us to understand. Therefore, in these two types of Kavya there is a unity or composition (sahitya) of word (sabda-lankara) and its meaning (artha-lankara).

Anandavardhana‘s definition of Kavya involves two statements: Sabda-Artha sariram tavath vakyam; and, Dhvanir Atma Kavyasa – the body of poetry is the combination of words and sounds; and; Dhavni, the suggestive power is the soul of the poetry. Here, Anandavardhana talks about poetry in terms of the body (Sabda–artha sariram tavath vakyam) and soul of the Kavya (Dhvanir atma Kavyasa). And he also refers to the internal beauty of a meaningful construction of words in the Kavya. And, he declares Dhvani as the Atma, the soul of poetry.

The Dhvani theory introduced a new wave of thought into the Indian Poetics. According to this school, the Kavya that suggests Rasa is excellent. In Kavya, it said, neither Alamkara nor Rasa but Dhvani which suggest Rasa, the poetic sentiment, is the essence, the soul (Kavyasya-atma sa  eva arthaa Dhv.1.5).

Anandavardhana maintained that experience of Rasa comes through the unravelling of the suggested sense (Dhvani). It is through Dhvani that Rasa arises (Rasa-dhavani).  The experience of the poetic beauty (Rasa) though elusive, by which the reader is delighted, comes through the understanding heart.

Then, Anandavardhana expanded on the object (phala) of poetry and how it is achieved (vyapara). The Rasa which is the object of poetry, he said, is not made; but, it is revealed. And, that is why words and meanings must be transformed to suggestions of Rasa (Rasa Dhvani).

The Rasa Dhvani, the most important type of Dhvani, consists in suggesting Bhava, the feelings or sentiments. In Rasa Dhvani, emotion is conveyed through Vyanjaka, suggestion. Rasa is the subject of Vyanjaka, as differentiated from Abhidha and Lakshana.

Anandavardhana in some instances considers Rasa as the Angi (soul) of poetry. Its Anga-s (elements) such as Alamkara, Guna and Riti seem to be dependent on this Angi.

Thus, the principle of Rasa Dhvani is the most significant of the Kavya dharma, understanding Kavya. And, the Rasa experience derived from its inner essence is the ultimate aim of Kavya. Hence, the epithet Kavyasya Atma Dhvani resonates with Kavyasya Atma Rasah.

Anandavardhana regarded Rasa-Dhvani as the principal or the ideal concept in appreciation of poetry. He said that such suggested sense is not apprehended (na vidyate) by mere knowledge of Grammar (Sabda-artha-shasana-jnana) and dictionary. It is apprehended only (Vidyate, kevalam) by those who know how to recognize the essence of poetic meaning (Kavya-artha-tattva-jnana) – Dhv.1.7

Abhinavagupta accepted that; and expanded on the concept by adding an explanation to it.  He said, the Pratiiyamana or implied sense which is two-fold:  one is Loukika or the one that we use in ordinary life; and the other is Kavya vyapara gocara  or one  which is used only in poetry.

He also termed the latter type of Rasa-Dhvani as Aloukika, the out-of–the world experience. It is an experience that is shared by the poet and the reader (Sahrudaya). In that, the reader, somehow, touches the very core of his being. And, that Aloukika is subjective ultimate aesthetic experience (ananda); and, it is not a logical construct. As Abhinavagupta says, it is a wondrous flower; and, its mystery cannot really be unraveled.

One can hardly disagree with Abhinavagupta. The concept of Kavyasya-Atma, the soul of Poetry is indeed a sublime concept; and, one can take delight is exploring layers and layers of its variations. Yet, it seems, one can, at best, only become aware of its presence, amorphously; but, not pin point it. Kavyasya-Atma, is perhaps best enjoyed when it is left undefined.

Happiness is such a fragile thing!! Very thought of it disturbs it.



in the

Next Part

Sources and References


An Integral View of Poetry: an India Perspective by Prof Vinayak Krishna Gokak

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by  Dr. Satya Deva Caudharī


Posted by on September 5, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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

Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part Four

Continued from Part Three

[I could not arrange the topics in a sequential order (krama). You may take these as random collection of discussions; and, read it for whatever it is worth. Thank you.]

Dhvani – Rasa Dhvani

Poetry is basically a verbal icon or verbal structure; as such there cannot be any poetry without words. Therefore, any discussion on poetry necessarily   involves discussion on words. The poetry also invokes emotional response; and, that is followed by the understanding of it’s  emotive language and the appreciation by the reader of the true import of the poet. These are all highly essential to enjoy the poetry. Thus, the success of a good Kavya fundamentally involves three aspects:  the poet’s creative inspiration (Prathibha) ;  its  form  by way  of the words and meaning , i.e. body  of the Kavya ;  and , the aesthetic  effect it has  upon the reader (Rasa) .

The ultimate object of Kavya is Rasa, the aesthetic delight. As Taittiriya Upanishad remarks in another context: rasam hi evaayam labhvaanandi bhavati- on experiencing Rasa one becomes truly blissful.

Let’s, therefore, briefly talk about words, meanings and Rasa.

As mentioned earlier in the series, a word has three functions: it signifies or denotes (abhida); it indicates (lakshana); and it suggests (vyanjana).  The meaning that is comprehended immediately after the word is uttered is its primary meaning (mukhya-artha). The meaning thus conveyed and its relation to the next word and its own meaning is a mutual relation of the signifier and the signified (vachya-vachaka). The power that creates the relation among words is Abhida-vyapara, the power of denotation or sense. The suggestive power of the word is through Vyanjana-artha.

 Of these, the Vyanjana-artha which is the suggested sense or the essence of the word is most interesting and is much debated. This is based in the principle that   the meaning of word is not limited to its literal sense; the word has the power to reach far beyond the obvious. In poetry, the word acquires another power Vyanjana-vritti the suggestive function. It is the    power which activates the potential hidden in the word. And, the word acquires a new glow. Through the suggestive function of the word; a new meaning or plurality of meanings emerges transcending the obvious literal sense, far more beautiful and sensitive.

The suggestive word, the suggested meaning, the power of suggestion; and their mutual relationship are virtually the lifeblood of Indian poetics.  In fact, this is what that distinguishes poetry from other forms of literature.

The suggested sense Vyanjana-artha, which (though not explicit) becomes the object of awareness is regarded the essence of poetry. The Dhvani School put forward by Anandavardhana (Ca. 850 AD) through his Dhvanyaloka (also called Kavyaloka and Sahridayaloka), brought focus on the potential power of the word in a Kavya. Here, the word (Sabda) together with its literal sense (Vakyartha) is said to form the body of Kavya, it is its cloak.  But, the essence of poetry is elsewhere; it is not directly visible; and, that essence is the suggested sense of the word (Vyanjana-artha).

It other words: it is not the direct literal and obvious meaning that is explicit in poetry, but it is the suggested, indirect (paroksha-artha) and emotive meaning that matters. It does not mean that words and primary meanings are unimportant.  What is suggested here is that:  though the words of a Kavya and their literal sense must be given their due importance, they are but a medium for emotive and indirect meaning to flash forth. In good poetry, this suggested meaning dominates over the words and their literal meaning. As Anandavardhana puts it, the latter are compared to a woman’s body and the former to her grace and beauty which is a subtler manifestation and a more profound meaning of the womanhood.

The primary meaning can be understood by all. But, the suggested meaning is understood only by those who are gifted with some imagination and a sort of intuition. Here, the mere knowledge of the word alone is not enough to understand and enjoy the poetic import or the essence of the Kavya. It needs intuition or Prathibha.  Mammatacharya calls Prathibha as – nava-navaonvesha-shalini prajna – the ever inventive and resourceful intellect. Prathibha is also called, at times, as Vasana.  Only those endowed with Prathibha can truly enjoy the essence and beauty of Kavya. That is why, it is remarked, that the Grammarians (unlike the goodhearted cultured reader the Sahrudaya) cannot truly appreciate and enjoy the Rasa of good poetry. They are incapable of looking beyond what appears obvious.

Anandavardhana, therefore, says that such suggested sense is not apprehended (na vidyate) by mere knowledge of Grammar (Sabda-artha-shasana-jnana) and dictionary. It is apprehended only (Vidyate, kevalam) by those who know how to recognize the essence of poetic meaning (Kavya-artha-tattva-jnana) – Dhv.1.7

It is said; in the highest class of Kavya, the denoted meaning (Vakyartha )  and  the denoting meaning (Lakshyartha)  is subservient to  revealing the suggested sense word (Vyanjana-artha); and , it is  called Dhvani by the scholars – Dhv.1.13

The suggested sense of the word designated as Dhvani (resonance or tone or suggestion) is regarded Anandavardhana as the soul of Kavya: Kavyasya Atma Dhvanih.

Mammata   (Kavyaprakasa 1.4-5) seems to suggest  that Anandavardhana graded the entire body of Kavya into three classes (some dispute Mammata’s statement and point out that Anandavardhana did not say any such thing ) :  (a) Dhvani-kaya (the poetry that suggests) as the true Kavya, the best (Uttama), where Dhvani the unspoken suggestive element is dominant; (b) the second, Gunibhuta-vamgmaya-kavya (well endowed descriptive poetry, as the middle (Madhyama) where Dhvani is secondary to Alamkara, and serves as a decoration for the spoken or expressed meaning; and (c) and Chitrakavya (poetry that structured into various patterns or drawings) as the least (Adhama) which depends entirely on verbal play for  its elegance and elaboration, and where Dhvani the suggestive power of poetry is absent.

[Anandavardhana (9th century) and his theory of Dhvani mark the beginning of a new-phase (Navina) in Indian Poetics.   The Dhvanyaloka of Anandavardhana marks a departure from the old ways of understanding Kavya. It makes an attempt to study Poetics from aesthetic point of view, assimilating all the essentials of various other schools. By giving prominence to Rasa, he lends a new explanation to all the problems of Poetics. According to that, Alamkara, Riti and Guna have their importance only in the context of Dhvani the suggestion which is the soul of Kavya.

The older School (Prachina) – of Bhamaha, Dandin Vamana and others – that belonged to about the 7th century dealt with natural or human situation idealized by the poet for its own sake. The attention of the Prachina School was focused on ornamented figures of speech (Alamkara) and the beauty (sobha, carutva) of the expression or on the ‘body’ of poetry. Their Rasa theory generally was based in dramatic art .Therefore it did not come under Poetic proper.

The Navina School pointed out that the reader should not stop at  the expression but should go further into the meaning that is suggested, or hinted, by it. This suggested sense is the essence of Kavya. It differs from the expressed and the indicated sense. The Navina School laid more importance on the emotional content (Bhava) of the Kavya. But, here, the emotive element was not directly expressed in words (Vachya) ; but , had to be grasped by  the reader indirectly (Parokshya ) through suggestions. Yet, through the description of the situation the reader understands the emotion and derives that exalted delight, Rasa.

Anandavardhana, in his Dhvanyaloka he says that Vynjaartha (the un-expressed or the suggested meaning) is Dhvani. It is the essence of poetry. It sheds light on the function of suggestion in poetry. It is Vyanjana (revealing) and Dhvanana (echoing) or gamana (implication) or pratyayana (acquainting) of poetry which is superior to Vachya (expressed meaning)

Here, the words (Sabda), explicit mean (Vakyartha) the body (Sarira) of the Kavya. The subtle, suggested essence of the Kavya that resides within and is extracted with delight by the cultured reader (Sahrudaya) is the Dhavni.

The Dhvani theory introduced a new wave of thought in Indian Poetics. According to this school the Kavya that suggests Rasa is excellent. In Kavya, they said, neither Alamkara nor Rasa but Dhvani which suggest Rasa, the poetic sentiment, is the essence, the soul ( Kavyasya-atma sa eva arthaa Dhv.1.5).

While stating that Dhvani is superior, Navina also establishes the status of Rasa. In this scheme the relative positions of Rasa, Guna, Alamkara and Dosa get fixed. It gives due credit to poet’s imagination and his sense of propriety.

Though Dhvani was regarded the soul of poetry, the Navina did not lose sight of Rasa. It divided Dhvani into three kinds – Vastu (matter), Alamkara (figures of speech) and Rasa (emotion) .

Thus the evolution of the Navina School marks a transition from the ‘outer’ element to the ‘inner’ one, in regard to the method, the content and appreciation of the Kavya. The criteria, here, is not whether the expression sounds beautiful; but, whether its qualities (Guna) are adequate (Auchitya) to lead the reader to the inner core of the poetry.  ]

It is said; the concept of Dhvani was inspired by the ancient doctrine of Sphota, that which flashes or bursts forth the meaning. The term Sphota signifies:  bursting; opening; expansion; disclosure; the eternal and imperceptible element of sound and words; and, is the real vehicle of the idea which bursts or flashes on the mind when a sound is uttered.

Nagesha Bhatta (author of Manjusha and Shpota-vada) identifies Sage Sphotayana, mentioned by Panini in one of his rule, as the originator of the Sphota concept.  Bharthrhari quotes Yaska as mentioning that another ancient authority, the sage Audumbarayana together with Varttaksa held views similar to the Sphota theory. Yaska had mentioned (Nirukta: 1-2) about a theory suggested by Audumbarayana that a sentence or an utterance is primary and is a whole,  an indivisible unit of language. Audumbarayana, it appears, had also mentioned that the four-fold classification of words into : noun, verb, upasarga and nipata does not hold good. And therefore, Bharthrhari claimed that the views of these ancients support his own theory –Sphota-vada.


[But, Yaska himself had not agreed with Audumbarayana; and, had went on to talk about Bhava – the being and becoming of  verbs from their roots’ and about their transformations (Vikara) .]

 In any case, the original idea of Sphota seems to go back to the Vedic age when Vak or speech was considered to be a manifestation of the all – pervading Brahman , and Pranava (Aum) was regarded as the primordial speech sound from which all forms of Vak were supposed to have evolved.  Perhaps, this claim provided the model upon which the Vyakarana philosophers based their concept of Sphota. Indeed Sphota is often identified with Pranava.

 It was Bhartrhari (around 485 AD) in his great work Vakyapadiya (all about sentence and word) elaborated and established the Sphota doctrine in the realm of Grammar and in Philosophy.

According to Bhartrhari, the perfect perception is that in which there is identity between the object (namely, the Sphota) and the form of its cognition (namely, words or the letters of sounds). This special kind of perception is held to be function of mind, rather than of the external senses.

Abhinavagupta (10th -11th century) who wrote a great commentary, titled Dhvanya-Lochana or Lochana, on Anandavardhana’s Dhvanyaloka, explains the concept of Dhavni in two ways: as  Sabda Shakthi moola based in the sound of the expression  ;  and as Artha-Shakthi rnoola based in the implied meaning of the expression.  He says, Dhvani, in poetics, is so termed because it sounds, rings, or reverberates (Dhvanat iti Dhvani); and, in the second, he says Dhvanyate iti Dhvani that meaning which is implied is Dhvani. The second, suggesting the implied meaning is the more appropriate one. Thus, the faculty of indicating something which it is not is the distinguishing character of Dhvani. In other words, in a verbal expression abhidha and lakshana form the body; and, Vyanjana or Dhvani is in the nature of its  contents. Dhvani is the essence or soul of poetry.

While expanding on the concept of Dhvani, Anandavardhana did not confine himself to the words and sentences, but went on to include all contextual factors such as: the tone and gestures, the sound effect produced, the rhythm, the metere as well as the literal sense.

But at the same time, Anandavardhana did not get involved in the comprehensive linguistic phenomenon, the Vyanjana and its suggestive power. Similarly, he did not venture into the philosophical and grammatical world of Sphota as Bhartrhari did.  Anandavardhana confined his attention to the poetic language and to the suggestion of meanings of aesthetic value. His theory of Dhvani, to put it simply, is Vyanjana or suggestion as applied to poetry. In the process, Anandavardhana chose to align his theory of Dhvani with Rasa as initially outlined by Bharata. It is these two concepts – Dhvani and Rasa – that are the building blocks of Anandavardhana’s theory of Poetics.

According to Anandavardhana, the element of Rasa has to reside in the poet, in his creation Kavya and in the reader, the enjoyer. The poet has to be inspired, charged with emotion to create a poetry that comes alive with suggestions (Dhvani). The poet is the first reader of his Kavya; and the first one to experience Rasa from its Dhvani sensitivities. For instance, Adi Kavi Valmiki was so intensely hurt and saddened by the wailing of curlew bird whose mate was shot down by a hunter in the woods, that his grief (Shoka) poured out into a verse (Shloka) filled with pathos that became the Rasa of Ramayana.

Anandavardhana maintained that experience of Rasa comes through the unravelling of the suggested sense (Dhavani). It is through Dhvani that Rasa arises (Rasa-dhavani).  The experience of the poetic beauty (Rasa) though elusive, by which the reader is delighted, comes through the understanding heart.

Thus, the principle of Dhvani is the most important of the Kavya dharma, understanding Kavya. And, the Rasa experience derived from its  inner essence is the ultimate aim of Kavya. Hence, the epithet Kavyasya Atma Dhvani resonates with Kavyasya Atma Rasah.

Although it decaled that the soul of Kavya is verily the Rasa, the Dhvani School did not abandon the concepts of the  earlier (Prachina)  Schools : Alamkara, Riti and Auchitya etc . It assimilated within it all their essences. It said; the Gunas really qualify the Rasa; hence a Kavya should employ Gunas that are relevant to its dominant Rasa. As regards the Alamkaras that decorate the body of Kavya   with beauteous and sparkling expressions and render it more attractive, they do nourish the Rasa. Thus, The Dhvani School accorded each element of Kavya its appropriate position.

And then there is the element or principle of Auchitya (propriety). Be it Alamkara or Guna, it would  be beautiful and relishing only so long it is  appropriate from the point of view of Rasa .  And, they would be rejected if they are not appropriate to the main Rasa (Angirasa) of the Kavya. In the same vein, what is normally considered a Dosha (flaw) might turn into Guna (virtue) when it is appropriate to the Rasa. That again means, the beauty or the delight of a Kavya resides in its experience, Rasa.

Dhvani principle can be said, briefly, in statements: Rasa (aesthetic experience) is the soul of poetry; the mode in which the body of the poetry reveals it is Dhvani (suggestion); and, the harmonious accordance of the body and the soul is Auchitya (propriety) . Rasa, Dhvani and Auchitya are the Prastha traya, the three fundamental principles of Kavya Shastra.


As I understand it ; the basic position of Anandavardhana is that an emotion cannot be evoked in a reader by mere mention of a name or a term and its bare description. It has to be suggested by describing the situation and the contextual factors. These include the literary meaning as also the suggestive possibilities of the expression such as: the sound echoing the sense, rhythm, imagery and symbols. According to Anandavardhana, all these devices are to be used for helping to evoke the right response in the mind and the heart of the reader. With that, the same utterance may convey different suggestions to different people depending upon their level of understanding and receptivity. He thus brought the emotional response or enjoyment of the listener or the reader (Rasa) within the ambit of ‘meaning’. Thus, language acquires a limitless suggestive power. The object of such power is to provide unalloyed pleasure (Ananda) to the reader by evoking the Rasa.

Anandavardhana introduced a sort of new norm into Kavya.  He said there should be one predominant Rasa (which he called Angirasa) in a Kavya which includes Drama, Epic, lyric etc. According to him, in a Kavya, all other Rasas that are either mutually conflicting or supportive   should be subordinate to its Angirasa. But, Bharata who was mainly concerned with the successful productions of Drama that has to please varieties of people with different   or varied tastes, did not seem to considered it from that angle. And, therefore, Bharata, though he stressed on the structural unity of the plot did not, perhaps, consider it necessary for a Drama (as a whole) to portray a particular single Rasa of its own. In a Drama, each character would evoke a rasa that is peculiar to it.

The later writers of Kavya had adopted the idea of a predominant Rasa for the work as a whole. And, therefore, Anandavardhana stated that even the construction of a plot must be made in such a way that there is scope for highlighting a chosen predominant Rasa. According to him, events and descriptions, figures of speech etc not directly relevant to the development of the theme and its main Rasa should be avoided in a good Kavya.

Another point stressed by Anandavardhana is that the imaginative sensibility necessary for proper appreciation of a Kavya can be acquired only by close study of classical works and by constant practice of response to works of art. According to him, the most important element in the import of a Kavya is the emotion (Rasa) suggested; and that can be appreciated and enjoyed by persons of refined sensibilities (Sahrudaya). What is important is the harmony between the heart and mind of the reader and that of the poet (Sakhayah sakyani janate:  Rig-Veda 10.71.2).

Anandavardhana remarks that not all scholars, Grammarians and logicians get to fully appreciate and enjoy a Kavya. Only those who rise above the confines of rules, petty prejudices and individual fixations can truly appreciate the poet’s point of view. Poetic beauty is apprehended by only those (Vidyate, kevalam) who know how to recognize the essence of poetic meaning (Kavya-artha-tattva-jnana) – Dhv.1.7

Abhinavagupta, in his Lochana, explains the literary sensitivity (Sahrudayatva) as the faculty of entering into the heart of the poet. He says that the more a person is attuned to aesthetic impressions from literature by constant exposure to literary works, the more mirror- like becomes his heart.  The constant relishing (char­vana) of poetry refines his sensibility to an extent that suggestions (Dhvani) ignite in his heart the aesthetic experience. Such, aesthetic delight   (Rasa) has no end outside of itself.

Anandavardhana exalts the poetic-freedom of a creative writer which, according to him, transcends the powers of nature. He says in the world (Samsara) of poetry the Poet rules supreme, the whole world transforms according to his wishes. As Abhinavagupta explained, good poet through his intuitive power (Prathibha) can bring to life even the inanimate.

In the later times, the unalloyed aesthetic pleasure (Ananda) that a reader derives from the Kavya by evoking its Rasa was compared by Bhattanayaka (10th century) to Absolute Bliss (Brahmananda); and placed it even above Yogic experience. Abhinavagupta (11th century) however moderated Bhattanayaka’s claim by explaining that Yogic experience is Absolute and beyond subject-object relation. And, aesthetic experience, he said, gives bliss for short periods; and, therefore cannot be considered supreme, though it is superior to worldly pleasures.  This explanation was in line with Anandavardhana’s own views.


Ananadavardhana classifies Dhvani in various ways.The scheme of his   classification is detailed and complicated; there are in fact as many as fifty-one varieties of Dhvani.  One can, at best, attempt to give only the brief outlines of a few of it here.

Broadly, the Dhvani is classified in three ways:

  1. According to the ways the suggested meaning is related to the literal or the prima facie meaning. This is divided into two types:

A (i), the first type where the literal sense is not intended or not meant (avivaksita – va­cya)

This is again subdivided into two:

: – the type where the literal sense is completely set aside (atyantatiraskita-vacya);

:and, the type where the literal meaning is shifted or deflected (arthantarasamkramita – va­cya); 

A (ii) The second type where the literal sense is in fact intended, but it sub-serves the implied sense (vivaksi­tanyapara – vacya);


  1. the second type ac­cording to the element in the text which effects the suggestion of Dhvani;
  2. and, the third principle of classification is based on the nature of Dhvani per se. Here,the suggested meaning may be of three kinds.

C(i) :-  It may be a thing (Vastu Dhvani), some rare fact or idea or an event or occur­rence is implied.

C (ii) : –  It may be some Alankaara or figure of speech that is suggested (Alamkara Dhvani) .

C (iii): – The third type of Dhvani is the most important type of Dhvani. It is called Rasa – Dhvani where in Rasa or flavour or emotion or mood or sentiment of poetry is evoked. Rasa is an ideal and impersonalised form of joy. Rasa can only be suggested but not described.

Both Vastu Dhvani and Alamkara Dhvani can be expressed by direct meaning (Vacyaartha) or by suggestion (Vyangyanartha). But the third variety of implicit sense of Rasa Dhvani cannot be expressed through the direct meaning of words, nor in words commonly used in day-to-day life (loka vyavahaara).

The Rasa Dhvani, the most important type of Dhvani, consists in suggesting Bhava, the feelings or sentiments. In Rasa Dhvani, emotion is conveyed through Vyanjaka, suggestion. Rasa is the subject of Vyanjaka, as differentiated from Abhidha and Lakshana. .

Anandavardhana regarded Rasa Dhvani as the principal one.  Abhinavagupta accepted that; and expanded on the concept by adding an explanation to it. He added the Pratiiyamana or implied sense which is two-fold :  one is Loukika or the one that we use  in ordinary life;  and the other is Kavya vyapara gocara  or one  which is used only in poetry.

The Loukika Dhvani in poetry is again two-fold:  the one that suggests Vastu or some matter (Vastu Dhvani); and, the other which suggests a figure of speech (Alamkara Dhvani) .

In Abhinavagupta’s classification, the Vastu Dhavani and Alamkara Dhavani are merely parts of poetry; but, are superior to direct designation. The real essence of poetry is , of course, the Rasa Dhavani.

Abhinavagupta differed from Anandavardhana over the issues of the emotion of the poet. Anandavardhana viewed the melting of experience in the poet and out flowing of this empathy as inspired poetic form solidified in words. Abhinavagupta, however, explained it as the generalized state of creative medium, where the poet is an impersonal observer expressing human experience in poetry, as an intermediary.

Ananadavardhana classification is generally accepted and has come to stay. But, what has changed is the types of discussions around it. The later discussions are more pointed and specific.


Many scholars did not entirely agree with Anandavardhana’s exposition of Dhvani. Those who criticized his views include: Bhattanayaka, Kuntaka, Mahimabhatta, Dhananjaya, Bhoja, Rajasekhra, Vishwanatha and few others. The questions raised were : If Guna and Alamkara are left out , what else isthere to lend beauty to Kavya? If it is argued that Guna and Alamkara are different from Dhvani , how can they be said to produce beauty? Many seemed to accept Dhvani ; but as a secondary  function.  Mammata carried forward the argument that Rasa is the principle substance and the object of poetry. He stated vakyatha Rasatmakarth kavyam establishing the correlation between Rasa and poetry; and pushing down the Dhvani. Bhattanayaka pointed out that Rasa can be experienced, but not suggested. Mahimabhatta included all types of Dhvani under the head Anumana, the inference, since Dhvani has no independent or cognizable existence


But , Ananadavardhana, Abhinavagupta , Mammata and others stoutly  defended  the Dhvani and Rasa Dhvani ; and successfully deflected most of the criticisms.


Continued in

The Next Part

Sources and References

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

Indian Poetics (Bharathiya Kavya Mimamse) by Dr. T N Sreekantaiyya

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

A History of Classical Poetry: Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit by Siegfried Lienhard

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock

The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 By Harold G. Coward

Leave a comment

Posted by on July 24, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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

Music of India – a brief outline – Part seven

Continued from Part six – Gandharva

Part Seven ( of 22 ) – Music in Natyashastra




Gandharva and Gana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let see this in a little more detail:

Svara, Taala, Pada and Phala


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


Before we speak of its Samgita a few words about Natyashastra

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[For more on Natyashastra please click here.]


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

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

[For more on Abhinavabharati please click here.]



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


Continued in Part Eight

— Dhruva Gana

Sources and References

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

By Ganesh Hari Tarlekar

Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition

By Guy L. Beck

Poetics of performance by TM Krishna

Language of Sanskrit Drama Language of Sanskrit Drama by Saroja Bhate

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

Pictures are from Internet

Leave a comment

Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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

Music of India – a brief outline – Part Six

Continued from Part Five  – Akhyana – Ramayana

 Part Six ( of 22)-  Gandharva or Marga Music


Gandharva – Svara, Taala and Pada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music Dhrupad


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

Svara, Taala and Pada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gandharva – Music elements – Jaati, Murchana and Grama


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:- Sadavita –Six notes are used omitting one;

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Murchana and Grama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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



Gandharva – Music forms

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

The Kambala–gana

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



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

Tandava2 lasya


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

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

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

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


In the next part of this series,

Let’s talk of Gana with particular reference to

 The Music of Natyashastra.


References and Sources:

I gratefully acknowledge the following

Wonderfully well researched works:

Grama – Murchana – Jaati by Dr. Premalatha Nagarajan

Gandharva Form by Prof. Dr. N. Ramanathan

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


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

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

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

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

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

 Pictures are from Internet


… Music in Natyashastra

Leave a comment

Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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

Bharata’s Natya-Shastra – some reflections

1. Natya-Shastra is a detailed compendium of technical instructions about the performing arts. It was meant as a practical manual for  production of successful theatrical performances, which included music and dance as well as acting. It was also intended as a guide to the poet and to the performer, alike. 

1.1. The text is in the form of elaborate dialogues between the author and a group of Munis , sages who wished to know about Natya-Veda, the knowledge of the performing arts such as dance, music and dramaThe author, in response, presents a detailed inquiry in to the various facets of drama including its nature; is origin; its theories, techniques of the theater with all its components of speech, body-language, gestures, costumes, décor and the state of mind of the performers, apart from rituals, architecture of theater etc. Written in archaic form of Sanskrit, the text consists about six thousand (5,569 – to be exact) sutras or verse-stanzas spread over thirty-six chapters. Some passages are in prose.

Because the Natyasastra has about 6,000 verses, the text is also known as Sat-sahasri. The later authors and commentators (Dhanika, Abhinavagupta and Sarada-tanaya) refer to the text as Sat-sahari; and, its author as Sat-sahasri-kara.

But, the text having 6,000 verses is said to be a condensed version of an earlier and larger text having about 12,000 verses (dwadasha_sahasri). It is said; the larger version was known as Natya- agama and the shorter as Natya-shastra.

2. Though the  Natya-Shastra speaks of theater (natya), it actually encompasses all forms of art expressions. The text, in fact, claims that there is no knowledge, no craft, no lore, no art, no technique and no activity that is not found in Natya-Shastra (1.16). The reason that theater-arts were discussed specifically is that, in the ancient Indian context, drama was considered the most comprehensive form of art-expressions. Further, at the time the Nataya Shastra was compiled, the arts of poetry, dance, music and drama; and even painting, sculpture and architecture were not viewed as separate and individualized streams of art forms. It was an integral vision of art, which blossomed in multiplicity. All art expressions were viewed as vehicles of beauty providing both pleasure and education, through refinement of senses and sense perceptions. The object of the drama was to show men and women the proper way to live, a way in which one could live and behave, so that one might be a still better person.

“A play shows your actions and emotions. Neither gods nor demons are depicted as always good or always evil. Actually, the ways of the world as represented here are not only of the gods but also of yours. It gives you good advice; it gives you enlightenment and also entertainment. It provides peace of mind to those who afflicted with miseries, sorrow, grief or fatigue. There is no art, no knowledge, no yoga, and no action that is not found in Natya.” 
(Natya-Shastra 1: 106=07; 112-14)

2.1. The text employs Natya as a generic term, which broadly covers drama, dance and music .It does not treat dance as a separate category of art form. Bharata while dealing with Angikabhinaya (body-language) speaks of nrtta, pure movements that carry no meaning – as compared to Abhinaya (literally meaning that which carries the meaning forward towards the audiencei. e. gestures that convey specific meaning. Nrtta was, in fact, meant to provide beauty, grace and a certain luster to the performance. The postures of the nrtta (called karanas) were classified by Bharata as tandava and sukumara, to convey vigor and grace.

[ Nandikeshwara (circa sixth century), author of Abhinaya_darpana, is believed to be the first to recognize dance as an independent art. He called it natanam; and classified it in to nrtta (Pure dance), nrtya (abhinaya – expressional aspectand natya (combination of nritta and nrtya with a dramatic element to it).]

3. It is said that the text which we know as Natya-Shastra was based on an earlier text that was much larger. And, many views presented in Natya-Shastra are believed to be based on the works of other scholars. There are frequent references to other writers and other views; there are repetitions; there are contradictory passages; there are technical terms, which are not supported by the tradition.

 [ In the preface to his great work Natya-shastra of Bharatamuni (Volume I, Second Edition , 1956) Pundit M. Ramakrishna Kavi mentions that Panini , in his Astadhyayi refers to  two  groups or schools of Nata-sutra-kara ( actors – directors- producers) : Silali and Krasava. But in the Natyavarga of Amara-kosha (2.10.12) there is reference to three types, groups ( or schools ) of Nata-sutra-kara : Silali ; Krasava; and,  Bharata .


It appears that in the later times,  the former two Schools (Silali and Krasava) , which flourished earlier to Bharata , went out of existence or merged with the School of Bharata; and, nothing much has come down to us  about these older Schools. And, it is said, the Bharata himself was  predeceded  by  Adi-Bharata and Vriddha (senior) Bharata.  And, all the actors of whatever earlier Schools, later came to be known as Bharata-s. ]

3.1. These factors lend support to the view that Natya-Shastra might have been the work of not one single author but of several authors, spread over a long period of time.

Ms. Kapila Vatsyayan, a well known scholar, however observes that the text projects an integrated vision and   a unity of purpose. She points out many instances of reference to later chapters in the text, and says they are indicative of the coherent and well knit organic nature of the work. 

For those reasons, she concludes, Natya-Shastra was the work of a single author.

3.2. Bharata gave a definite structure to the drama; and said every play must have a rasa and each of the eight rasas providing enjoyment to the audience. A rasa depends on the type of the story and sort of the hero. According to him, hero (neta), story (vastu) and rasa (artistic enjoyment) constitute the essential ingredients of a drama.

Natya-Shastra strives with a single pointed devotion to bestow an artistic form and content to what was still then a vulgar source of entertainment. Bharata could say with pride “parents could watch a dramatic performance in company of their sons and daughters-in-law.”(Natya-Shastra– 22:288)

3.3. That leads us to the question who was this author? Was Bharata his name   ? Was Bharata the name of his tribe? Or, was it a clever acronym?

There are, of course, no clear answers to these questions. The author made no attempt to reveal his identity. The book, as I mentioned earlier, is in the form of dialogue between Bharata and the sages.  The author was explaining the broad parameters, the basic principles and techniques of theatrical art as they then existed. He was not expounding the text as if it were his discovery or as his personal position. He was lucidly and systematically explaining a tradition that was alive and vibrant. These factors lead us to believe that Bharata, whoever he was, might have been a practicing- well informed-leading performer of his time belonging to a certain tradition . Bharata perhaps   belonged to a community of artists, actors, dancers, poets, musicians who shared a common heritage and common aspirations. 

3.4. From the prologue, couched in mythological language and imagery, it appears, Bharata was also a teacher and a preceptor of a school or an academy. He had a number (100?) of sons and pupils each of them being an accomplished performer or a learned theoretician. He produced plays with their assistance; by assigning each one a specific role.

3.5. Incidentally, the text – in its last chapter- provides a sort of definition of the term Bharata: one who conducts as the leader of a performance – by acting in many roles, by playing many instruments and by providing many accessories – is called Bharata. (Natya-Shastra 35:91).The term Bharata perhaps initially referred to a multi-talented virtuoso; and also a producer of plays. The author of the Natya-Shastra was perhaps one such“Bharata”.

3.6. The author of the Natya-Shastra is also often addressed, in later times, as Bharata­muni. Shri Adya Rangacharya, a noted scholar, remarks.  “The usual trappings of a muni (sage) are nowhere mentioned”. On the other hand, his sons misused their knowledge and   ridiculed the sages; and the enraged sages promptly cursed them “as due to pride in your knowledge you have taken to arrogance; your ill knowledge (ku-jnana) will be destroyed.” (Natya-Shastra 36: 29 – 35).

3.7. Bharata recounting this sad episode, cautions the community of artists not to overreach themselves, in arrogance, just because the art had bestowed upon them a special position in the society . The art that empowered them, he counsels, derives its strength from the society; and, the artists, therefore, have a special responsibility to cultivate discipline, self-restraint and humility (Natya-Shastra 36: 29 – 38).

3.7.1. Bharata refers, repeatedly, to the power that creative art is capable of wielding; and to the responses – both subtle and intense – they can evoke in the hearts of men and women. He asks his sons and disciples not to destroy drama which has its origins in the hoary past of the Vedas and their upangas (supplementary texts). He implores them to preserve the dramatic art by teaching it to their disciples; and to spread the art by practicing it.

3.8. [The attempt to explain Bharata as an acronym for three syllables Bha (bhava), Ra (raga) and Ta (tala) is not convincing at all. At the time Natya-Shastra was composed, music was discussed in terms of pada (words), svara (notes) and tala (rhythm) forming components of a certain style of music called gandharva said to have been derived from Sama. Bharata talks about structured and unstructured music: bhaddha (structured like a verse or a stanza; and with rhythm) and anibhaddha (unstructured – without rhythm, analogues to the present-day aalap). The term raga did not come to prominence  until Matanga (about sixth century), in his Brihaddesi, elucidated the categories of muchchhanas and jatis; and introduced the term raga and outlined its concept.]

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

4. As regards its date, it is not clear when the Natya-Shastra was initially articulated. There are, of course, a host of debates concerning the date of composition of the text. I however tend to go along with the argument that Natya-Shastra was a post Upanishad text; but it was prior to the age of the Puranas; and certainly much earlier to the age of classic Sanskrit drama. The following, briefly, are some of the reasons:

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

*. The text is permeated with the Vedic symbolism and the imagery. The theatrical production is compared to yajna; with the stage being the vedika,   the altar. The dramatic spectacle, just as yajna, is said to have a moral and ethical purpose.

The text might have, therefore, arisen at a time when the Vedas were not a remote theoretical fountain head, but a living-immediate experience. 

*. The text strongly recommends that puja, worship, be offered to the stage before commencement of the show. It however recognizes puja as distinct from yajna. There is, however, no reference to “image” worship.

*. The gods revered and worshiped in the text are the Vedic gods; and not the gods celebrated in the puranas. For instance, Natya-Shastra begins with a salutation to Pitamaha (Brahma) and Maheshwara. There is no specific reference to Shiva. There is no mention of Nataraja even while discussing karanas and angaharas. Ganesha and the avataras of Vishnu are conspicuously absent. There are no references either to Krishna or to the celestial raasa dance. 

*.The gifts showered by the gods on successful performance of the play are similar to the gifts received by the performer at the conclusion of the yajna.

“Indra (Sakra) gave his auspicious banner (dhwaja) , then Brahma a kutilaka ( a crooked stick) and Varuna a golden pitcher (bhringara) , Surya an umbrella, Shiva success (siddhi) and Vayu a fan , Vishnu a throne (simhasana), Kubera a crown  and Saraswathi –visibility and audibility.” (Natya-Shastra-1.60-61)

*. It therefore appears; during the time Natya-Shastra was compiled the prominent gods were the Vedic gods such as Indra, Varuna and Vayu; and not the gods of the Puranas that came in to prominence centuries later.

*.The mention of the Buddhist bhiksus and Jain samanas indicate that Natya-Shastra was post –Buddha and Mahavira.

*. Natya-Shastra employs a form of Prakrit, which predates the great poet Ashvaghosha’s play (first century).

For these reasons, the scholars generally agree that Natya-Shastra might have been composed sometime between second century BCE and second century AD, but not later.


5. The questions whether or not the Natya-Shastra was compiled in a particular year by a particular person are not  very important. Whatever are the answers to those questions, the importance of the work would not be diminished nor its wisdom distracted. What is of great importance is that Natya-Shastra has provided a sustainable foundation and framework for development of theory and practice of arts in India. Just as Panini standardized the classical form of Sanskrit, Bharata standardized the classical form of drama. He gave it status and dignity; a form and an objective; a vision and finally a technique.

5.1. Bharata ensured that drama and dramatic performance is first a work of art before it is literature – drsya kavya a form of literature that could be seen and heard.

5.2. His brilliant intuition and intellect has inspired generations of artists over several centuries. It is immaterial whether or not Bharata was an individual or when he lived.


6.1. It could be said that the Natya-shastra is broadly modeled into four sections, based on Abhinaya or modes of conveying theatrical expressions which bring pleasure, pure delight (Rasa) to the cultured spectators (sahrudaya). Such Abhinaya-s are: Sattvika (conveyed through expressions which delight the mind); Angika (natural and appropriate movements of body, limbs and face); Vachika (delivery through speech and songs); and Aharya (costume, decoration, make-up and such others to heighten the beauty or the effectiveness of the dramatic presentation).

The author of the Natya-shastra seems to have assigned greater importance to Sattvika elements, the expressions of which are conveyed through the aid of movements, gestures (Angika) and speech (Vachika).

6.2. The Sattvika aspects are dealt in Chapters 6 and 7; followed by Angika in Chapters 8 to 13; and, Vachika in Chapters 14 to 20.  The Aharya which deals with costume, scenic presentation, movement on the stage along with music from the wings etc follow in the later Chapters.

The four-fold core Chapters are supported by information and descriptions about the origin and greatness of the theatrics; different forms of the stage and the norms for construction; qualifications and desirable modes of behavior of the actors; and the rituals and pryers before and after the play etc.

Thus, the core of the theatrical art and science is dealt in 29 Chapters  – from 6 to 34.


7.1.  A question that is often asked is: why were the ancient Indian scholars and seers reluctant to disclose, in their works, details of themselves and of their times? Did they lack a sense of history? 

There is, of course, an array of explanations, in answer to that.

But, I think it had a lot to do with the way the ancients defined their relation to a school of thought, and the position, they thought, their text occupied in the tradition of that school. They always viewed themselves as a part of an ongoing tradition – parampara. Invariably, even the best known of our thinkers (say, the Buddha, Badarayana or Shankara) did not claim that they propounded an absolutely new idea that was totally unknown hitherto. They always said, they were interpreting or elucidating the truth in the light of eternal pristine principles.  They did not lay claim to novelty or uniqueness. They placed their work in relation to the larger and broader river or stream of the tradition. Within that tradition, individual styles, innovative ideas or enterprising leaps of thought were surely discerned; but they were always placed and viewed in context of the overall ongoing tradition.

7.2. As regards Natya-Shastra, as Kapila Vatsyayan  summed up beautifully:

“ it was analogous to the Gomukh demarcating the glaciers above and the rivers which flow with streams of the Alakananda and the Mandakini , the Bhagirathi and others with their manifold confluences and some divergences , but all of which we recognize as the Ganga. The analogy of streams, confluences (prayaga) and the continuous flowing and yet unchanging nature of the river is the closest approximation in which the parampara of the Natya-Shastra, the text and dramatics of inflow confluences, outflow and ultimate inflows in to the ocean, can be explained.”

7.3. The individual biological identity in terms of the physical events of the birth and the personal life of the author did not, therefore, seem to be a psychical concern. Individual effort and contribution in furthering a school of thought was, no doubt, important; but it was viewed as an integral part of the dynamics of the flow and course of the river called parampara, characterized with its nature of continuity and change.

The attitude signified being alive to a sense of tradition rather than lack of a sense of history.


8. Why the text was called a Shastra?

The term Shastra does not always carry connotations of ritual or religion. Nor does it always mean classical, as in shastriya sangeeth

The Sanskrit- English dictionary of Sir Monier-Williams describes the term as an order, a command, a rule, teaching, and instruction manual relating to religious precepts. But,  Shastra, in fact, means much more than that.

8.1.In the Indian context , Shastra is a very extensive term that takes in almost all human activities – right from cooking to horse and elephant breeding; love making to social conduct; economics to waging wars; justice system to thievery ; and of course all the arts- from archery to poetry. There  is a  Shastra – a way of doing and rationalizing — for almost everything. A Shastra binds together the theory that provides a framework for rationalizing the practice; and the practice that illustrates the theory. Shastra is, at once, the theory of practice and practice of a theory- enriching each other.

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

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

tree of life

9. Natya-Shastra,throughout, talks in the metaphor of the seed (bija) and the tree. It talks of the organic inter-relatedness of the parts and the whole; each branch of the text being distinct and yet inspired by the unitary source. Introduction of the core theme is the seed (bija) and its outer manifestation is like a drop of liquid or a point (bindu) that spreads and enlarges (vistara) to fill the structured space. That denotes both the process and the structure.

9.1. Bharata also explains the relationship between the structure of the drama, its plot, bhava and rasa through the imagery of a tree. The text grows like a tree and gives out shoots like the proverbial Asvattha tree.” Just as a tree grows from a seed and flowers and fruits… So the emotional experiences (rasa) are the source (root) of all the modes of expressions (bhava). The Bhavas, in turn, are transformed to rasa.”(Natya-Shastra: 6-38)

9.2. This idea of multiplicity springing out of a unity is derived from the worldview nourished by the ancient Indians. It views the world as an organism, a whole with each part interrelated and inter dependent. The expanding universe is viewed as a process of sprouting from the primordial source (bija), blooming, decaying and withering away, at some time; but only to revive and burst forth with renewed vigor. The seed (Bija) is the source / origin of the tree; and, Bija is also its end product. The relationship between the universe and the human; between nature and man, too, has to be understood within the cyclical framework of the Bija- and -the tree concept.

Bharata seems to suggest that theater is an organism, just as life is an organism that re-invents itself.


10 . Let me end this in the way Bharata concluded his Natya-Shastra:

He who hears the reading of this Shastra , which is auspicious, sportful, originating from the mouth of Brahman , very holy , pure good, destructive of sins; and he who puts in to practice and witnesses carefully the performance of drama will attain  the same blessed goal which masters of Vedic knowledge and performers of yajna – attain.” (Natya-Shastra-36:77-79)


Please also read Abhinavabharati – an interpretation of Bharata’s Natya-Shastra


Sources and references

Bharatamuniya Natya-Shastra by prof.SKR Rao

Bharata: The Natya-Shastra by Kapila Vatsyayan

Introduction to Bharata’s Natya-Shastra by Adya  Rangacharya

An introduction to natya shastra – gesture in aesthetic arts  by  M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.

Translation of the Natya-Shastra verses from the Natya-Shastra by Man Mohan Ghosh


Posted by on September 13, 2012 in Abhinavagupta, Music, Natya, Sanskrit


Tags: , , ,


Though Hinduism has now virtually been rooted out of Kashmir , the region at onetime was a renowned center of learning ; and its erudite and enlightened scholars such as Abhinavagupta (10thcentury),Augusta (8thcentury), Somananda (9thcentury),Utpaladeva (9thcentury) Anandavardhana (9thcentury) and others made immense contribution to the development of Indian thought , literature and art.

The most outstanding of them was Abhinavagupta Acharya (c. 950 to c. 1020 C.E) a great philosopher, intellectual and a spiritual descendant of Somananda the founder of the Pratyabijnya the “recognition” metaphysics school of Kashmiri Saivite monism. He was a many sided genius and a prolific writer on Shaivism, aesthetics, music and a variety of other subjects. Among his most notable philosophic works are the Isvara-pratyabhijña-vimarsini and the more detailed Isvara-pratyabhijña-vivrti-vimarsini, both commentaries on Isvara-pratyabhijña (“Recognition of God”), by Utpaladeva an earlier philosopher of the pratyabhijna school .

His famous commentaries on poetry, drama, and dance; the Lochana on the Dhvanyaloka and theAbhinavabharati on Bharata Muni’s Natyasastra cover almost every important aspect of Indian aesthetic and poetics . His theory of rasa is a land mark in Sanskrit art and literature.

Abhinavagupta was born in Kashmir probably around 950 A.D. The tradition has it that after his 70thyear Abhinavagupta entered the Bhairava cave near the village Bhiruva, along with his 1200 disciples and was never seen again.

What little is known of him comes from his commentries. At the end of Ishwar Pratyabijnya Vimarsini, a commentary on Kashmir Shaivism work by Utpaladeva, Abhinavagupta states that his remote ancestor Attrigupta, a great Shaiva teacher, who lived in Antarvedi – a tract of land lying between the Ganga and the Yamuna, migrated to Kashmir at the invitation of the King Lalitaditya ( 700-736 A.D) .Many generations later, one of his descendants, Varahagupta was also a great scholar of Shaiva philosophy. His son, Narasimhagupta a great Shaiva teacher was the father of Abhinavagupta; and Vimla or Vimalkala the mother. His father’s maternal grandfather, Yashoraja, was a man of great learning and wrote a commentary on Paratrinshika .a dialogue between Bhairava (Shiva) and Bhairavi (Shakti) .

Abhinavgupta always described himself as kashmirika, from the land of Kashmira.

It is believed that Abhinava was a Yoginibhu, i.e. born of a Yogini. The Kaula system believes that a progeny of parents who are sincere devotees of Lord Shiva is endowed with exceptional spiritual and intellectual prowess and will be a depository of knowledge.

Abhinava might not have been his real name, but one assigned to him by his teachers because of his brilliance. He describes his work Tantraloka (1.50): ‘This is the work written by Abhinavagupta, who was so named by his Gurus”.The name  Abhinava suggests the virtue of being “ever –new and creative, progressively innovating oneself”; it also suggests competence and authoritativeness. Abhinavagupta was, in fact, all these and more.

He was also referred to as Abhinavagupta_pada. The suffix pada signifies a reverential form of address.  There is also a clever explanation of the term “gupta_pada” which translates to “one with hidden limbs” , a poetic  synonym for snake. Thus, Abhinava was also regarded as an incarnation of Sesha, the legendry serpent.

Abhinava lost his mother Vimalakala when he was just two years of age. The pain of separation and the longing for his mother haunted him all his life. He, later in his works, frequently referred to his mother with love and reverence. The relation between the mother and the child, he said, is the closest that nature can forge. The bond of love and friendship between the mother and the child is the strongest and the most enduring bond in the world.

His father Narasimha gupta, after the death of his wife Vimalakala, assumed an ascetic way of life; and yet continued to bring up his three children. He became more focused on his spiritual endeavor. He was Abhinava’s first teacher. Abhinava, later, recalled with gratitude the training he received from his father in grammar, logic, literature and music (geya vidya).

He was a diligent pupil and put his heart and soul in to his studies. By one account Abhinava had as many as fifteen teachers; Narasimhagupta, his father being his first teacher.  Among them was Lakshmanagupta, a direct disciple of Somananda, in the lineage of Trayambaka .  He taught Abhinavagupta the monastic subjects:  Krama,  Trika  and  Pratyabhijna    (except Kula).

The most prominent of his teachers was, of course, Shambhu Natha of Jalandhara (in the present-day Punjab). Guru Shambhu Natha preached monistic shaivism and initiated Abhinava in toArdha_thrayambaka , a doctrine of Kaula school of Tantric tradition. It is said that Shambhu Natha asked his wife to act as a conduit (dauti) for transmitting the intiation through Kaula process (having sexual connotations).It was at the instance of Shambhu Natha that Abhinava authored his monumental Tantraloka, in which he compared Shambhu Natha to the sun in his power to dispel the darkness of ignorance; and to the moon shining over the ocean of Trika knowledge.

As regards his immediate family, it is said, Abhinava had a younger brother Manoratha and an elder sister Amba. Manoratha was one among Abhinava’s earlier batch of disciples; and one of his fellow students was Karna who married Amba. Karna and Amba had a son Yogis war _datta who was precociously talented in Yoga. After the death of her husband, Amba too devoted herself entirely to Yoga and to worship of Shiva. Amba’s in-laws too became devote followers of Abhinava.

A cousin of Abhinava was Kshema who later became renowned as his illustrious disciple Kshemaraja. Mandra, the cousin and childhood friend of Karna, too became Abhinava’s disciple. Vatasika, Mandra’s aunt, took exceptional care of Abhinava and offered him support to carry on his life’s work. It was while staying in her suburban house at Pravapura (present-day Srinagar) that Abhinava wrote and completed his Tantraloka, in which he recorded his gratitude to Vatasika for her concern, dedication and support. Abhinavagupta also mentioned his disciple Rāmadeva as faithfully devoted to scriptural studies and for serving his master.

Abhinava did not become a wandering monk nor did he take on Brahmincal persuasions. He did not marry and he followed an ascetic way of life; and yet, he lived in his ancestral home surrounded by the members of his family, loving friends and disciples. He lived the life of a scholar, a teacher and a Yogi immersed in Shiva. Referring to the atmosphere in his family, Abhinava said,” All the members of the family regarded material wealth as a straw and they set their hearts on the contemplation of Shiva”.

He lived in a nurturing and a caring environment. An epoch pen-painting depicts him  seated in Virasana, surrounded by devoted disciples and family, performing on Veena while dictating verses of  Tantrāloka to one of his attendees, as  two dauti (women yogi) wait on him. He was ever surrounded by his friends and disciples.

No wonder that about 1,200 of his friends and disciples faithfully followed Abhinavagupta, as he marched in to the Bhairava cave reciting loudly his Bhairara_stava, never to be seen again.


A prolific writer on a wide ranging subjects , Abhinava  authored more than about 40 works, some of which survive to the present day.

Abhinavagupta’s works are sometimes classified according the branches of his triad (trika) will (icchā) – knowledge (jnana) – action (kriya).

But according to another classification, Abhinavagupta’s works fall into four broad groups. The first group of his works deals with Tantra. His monumental encyclopedic work the Tantraaloka or Light on the Tantras is an authoritative text. It explores doctrine and the inner meaning of rituals in the Shaiva and Shakta Aagamas .The text enumerates the Tantrik Agamas and the three methods of realizing the Ultimate Reality: Sambhavopaya, Saktopaya and Anovapaya. The other important work of this group is Malini-Vijaya Vivrti , a commentary.

The second group consists few small treatises like Bodh-Punch Dashika;  and  Strotras  or hymns in praise of deities such as Bhairava.

A third group includes his works on art of the theatre and art of writing plays; poetics; aesthetics and the rhetoric. The great scholar Prof. P.V. Kane remarked “his two works, i.e. Lochana and AbhinavBharati are monuments of learning, critical insight, literary grace and style.” Lochan,his commentaryon Dhvanyaaloka is a highly regarded work in aesthetics. Abhinav Bharati is an extensive commentary on Natyasastra of Bharata Muni. His analysis of rasa is very appealing and distinguishable from other interpretations. For example, Bharata talks about eight types of rasa, while distinguishing it fromsthaayibhaava. The Abhinava Bharati and Lochana suggest that bhoga (pleasure) is produced not only by the senses but also by the removal of moha (ignorance). They also suggest that art and literature are not mere vinoda (entertainment) but are outpourings of the ananda arising of knowledge

Abhinavagupta emphasized that intuition (prathibha), inner experience was the lifeblood of good poetry. He said , creativity (karaka) was the hallmark of poetry as it brings into the world a new art experience. Poetry need not aim to remind (jnapaka) what is already present; that , he said , was the function of sastras. A poet need not seek justification or approval of scriptural authority. He is the lord of his domain. He is the creator. Abhinava  recommend, the poet need not allow himself to be bound by logic, propriety and such other restrictions.

Abhinavagupta in his Lochana says prathibha the intuition might be essential for creation of good poetry .But ,that flash of enlightenment alone is not sufficient . He explains , what sustains that vision is the “unmeelana_shakthi” which is something that charges the mind, opens up or awakens the potent faculties. Abhinavagupta clarifies that prathibha is inspirational in nature and it does not, by itself , transform automatically, into a work of art or poetry. It needs a medium to  harness it, bring it forth through lively , delghtful or forceful expression .And , that medium has to be cultivated, honed and refined diligently over a period to produce a work of class.

In this context, Abhinavagupta mentions three essentials that a poet has to keep in view. They areRasa (rasa_vesha), Vaishadya and Saundarya. The rasa concept is well known and ls expounded by Bharata muni. The second one refers to clarity in thought, lucidity in expression and comfortable communication with the reader. The third is the sense of poetic beauty . A good poetry can manifest, according to him, only when the delightful combination of these three essentials are charged or supported by prathibha.

He cites Valmiki and kaalidasa as classic examples and states it is the wonderful combination of those poetic virtues and prathibha that sets them apart from the rest of the tribe.

The fulfilment of poetry is Ananda, joy. It therefore needs a good reader (Sah_hrudaya) who can understand, appreciate, empathize and enjoy the beauty of the poetry. He is an integral part of poetic experience.

Subash kak remarks “Abhinava emphasized the fact that all human creativity reveals aspects of the seed consciousness. This explains his interest in drama, poetry, and aesthetics.”

The last group constitutes his work on the Pratya bhijnyasastra, the monistic philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism. In this group we have his matchless contributions to this system. Among his most notable works in this category are the Isvara-pratyabhijña-vimarsini and the more detailed Isvara-pratyabhijña-vivrti-vimarsini, both commentaries on Isvara-pratyabhijna (“Recognition of God”) by Utpaladeva, an earlier philosopher of the pratyabhijna school.

Abhinavagupta was a devotee of Lord Shiva and led a celibate life. He is considered the greatest exponent of the Kashmiri Saivite monism. This school viewed Shiva (the manifestation of ultimate reality), the individual soul, and the universe as essentially one. The philosophy of pratyabhijna refers to the way of realizing this identity.

Kashmir Shaivism is intensely monistic. It is not much concerned with worshiping a personal god ;its emphasis is upon meditation , reflection and guidance by a guru. It aims at attaining the transcendental state of Shiva consciousness.

It explains the creation as Shiva’s abhasa, shining forth of himself in his dynamic aspect of Shakti.Abhasavada is therefore another name of the system . Shiva the Supreme Self is immanent and transcendent; and performs , through Shakti , the five actions of creation, preservation, destruction, revealing and concealing. During this process , Shiva as the Universe Vishwanatha, on his own will creats , expands, flourishes , retracts in to a most minute form till the next cycle of creation and expansion.

Kashmir Shaivism is called Trika philosophy because all its interpretations are three fold. Trika stands for threefold science of the individual, the energy and the universal consciousness. it also represents three modes of knowledge of Reality, viz. non-dual (abheda), nondual-cum-dual (bhedabheda), and dual (bheda). The Trika school also argued that reality is represented by three categories: transcendental ( para ), material ( apara ), and a combination of these two ( para_para ) . This three-fold division is again reflected in the principles shiva, shakti, anu or pashu .The Trika is also known asSvatantryavadaSvatantrya and Spanda expressing the same concepts.

The purpose of Trika is to show how an individual rises to the state of universal consciousness through Shakthi. Shiva represents pure consciousness, shakti its energy, and anu the material world.Pashu is the individual who acts according to his conditioning, almost like an animal, pashas are the bonds that tie him to his behavior, and pathi or pashupathi (Lord of the Flock) is shiva personified whose knowledge liberates the pashu and makes it possible for him to reach his potential.

Abhinavagupta classified Trika philosophy into four systems : Krama  system,  Spanda  system,  Kulasystem and Pratyabijnya system.

The mind is viewed as a hierarchical (krama) collection of agents (kula) that perceives its true self spontaneously ( pratyabhijna ) with a creative power that is vibrating  or pulsating (spanda)

Explaining the Spanda system, Abhinavagupta says whatever that appears to be moving is actually established in the unmoved point. Although everything seems to be moving , actually, they are not moving at all.

As for the Kula system, he says that Kula means the science of totality. In each and every part of the universe totality shines . Take an infinitesimally small object, in that you will find the universal energy. A macrocosm resides in microcosm .

The fourth , the Pratyabijnya system deals with the school of recognition. This school conceived Shiva (the manifestation of ultimate reality), the individual soul, and the universe as essentially one; pratyabhijna refers to the way of realizing this identity. Abhinavagupta, while explaining this school of recognition, says, man is not a mere speck of dust but an immense force, comprising a comprehensive consciousness and capable of manifesting through his mind and body limitless powers of knowledge and action (Jnana Shakti and Kriya Shakti). The state of Shiva-consciousness is already there, you have to realize that and nothing else.

His non-dual philosophy, in essence, is similar to the one expounded by Sri Shankara. He considers the universe completely real, filled with infinite diversity and not different from Shiva , the supreme consciousness. He expands on this concept and shows that the various levels of creation, from the subtlest to the grossest, are all the same and Shiva.

He conceived Shiva, the I or Consciousness, as an expression of the supreme freedom This concept of freedom (Swatrantya) is one of the principal achievements of Kashmiri Shaivisim .

Kashmir Shaivism, reached its culmination in the philosophy of Abhinavagupta and Kshemaraja (10thcentury) and in the theory of Recognition , Shaivite philosophy found its full flowering .

Together with Somananda’s disciple Utpaladeva, Abhinavagupta is the most important representative of the school . Many believe Shiva himself appeared in Kashmir in the form of Abhinavagupta to enlighten the people. In any case , Abhinavagupta is a precious jewel of our heritage . His works and teachings continue to influence our thoughts.

Abhinavgupta talks about Shadanga_yoga, a system of yoga comprised of six aspects. According to him prana (life force) and manas (mind) are interdependent. The Yoga consists in harnessing these two together. The disciplines of yama, niyama and aasana prescribed by Patanjali are meant for conditioning the body; they are the indirect methods.

Whereas, the methods that help directly are  dhyana  (meditation),  dharana (contemplation),  tarka (reasoning) and  Samadhi  (absolute identity with the ideal).  Contemplating on the identity of self and the Shiva  is essential; and it can be achieved through divine grace. It leads to emancipation and freedom from ignorance; and roots out the sense of duality. This he called it Prathyabhigna the new method  (margo navaha).





Tags: ,