Tag Archives: Anibaddha

The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part One


Natya Sastra (1)

Lakshana-granthas – texts concerning the performing arts of India

Some time back – as a part of the series on the Music of India  – I had posted brief profiles of some of the well known texts on Samgita-shastra (Musicology), which established a sound theoretical basis (Lakshana) for the structural framework of the classical Music traditions; and, their practice (Lakshya). Those texts, produced over a long period of time, described, in precise terms, the concepts of   Music; its concerns; how it should be taught, learnt and performed; and, how it should be experienced and enjoyed.  It was an evolutionary process cascading towards greater sophistication.

Those Lakshana-granthas projected their vision of how the Music should develop and prosper in future, at the same time retaining the pristine purity of the time-honoured tradition. In the process, those texts, produced over the centuries, defined and protected the principles; as also, guided and regulated the performance of the chaste Music of India.

Some friends and readers inquired whether I could write, on similar lines, about the texts concerning the evolution of the principles and techniques of the performing arts of India; and, particularly , about Dance , which  is the most enchanting form of them all; rich in elegance and beauty ; comprehensive; and highly challenging.

Various thinkers and writers of the Lakshana granthas, over a long period, have put forward several theories based on their concept of the essential core, the heart or the soul of the art of Dance (Natyasya Atma).

In the series of articles that are to follow, I have attempted to trace the unfolding of the principles and practice of the performing arts of India, as discussed in various texts spread over several centuries.

In the present installment of the series, let’s take an overview of the texts of the Indian Dancing traditions. In the subsequent parts, we may discuss each of the selected texts, in fair detail.

This may also be treated as a sort of General Introduction to the theories of Indian Dancing.


The Natyashastra

It is customary to commence with Natyashastra, when it comes to any discussion related to the art-forms of India. To start with, we shall, briefly, talk about the text of the Natyashastra, in general; and, then move on to Natyashastra in the context of Dance.

The Natyashastra of Bharata is regarded as the seminal and the earliest text extant text, represents the first stage of Indian arts where the diverse elements of arts, literature, music, dance, stage management and cosmetics etc., combined harmoniously in order to produce an enjoyable play. It is the source book for all art forms of India. The yaśāstra, surely, is a work of great antiquity. Yet; the scholars opine that looking at the way the text has been compiled and structured; it appears to be based on earlier works.

It is said that the text which we know as Natya-Shastra was based on an earlier text that was much larger. That seems very likely; because, the Natyasastra, as we know, which has about 6,000  karikas (verses), 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.


And, again, According to Prof. KM Varma, there were three types of works which preceded the Natyashastra that we know: (1) Sutra – a work on Natya; (2) Bhashya – a commentary on it; and (3) Anuvamsya – a collection of verses , from which Bharata often quotes.

He also points out that Bharata mentions in the Samgraha (the table of contents to Natyashastra) that the subjects to be discussed in the text have reference to what is stated in the Sutra and the Bhashya. That leads to the conclusion that a comprehensive theory of Natya existed much before the time of Bharata; and that he incorporated some of that into his work – the Natyashastra.


Further, Panini also suggests there were texts on Natya even much prior to Natyashastra.

Panini (Ca.500 BCE) the great Grammarian, in his Astadhyayi (4.3.110-11), mentions two ancient Schools  –  of  Krsava and Silalin – that were in existence during  his time –Parasarya Silalibhyam bhikshu nata-sutreyoh  (4.3.110); karmanda krushas shvadinihi  (4.3.111)It appears that Parasara, Silalin, karmanda and Krsava were the authors of Bhikshu Sutras and Nata Sutras. Of these, Silalin and Krsava were said to have prepared the Sutras (codes) for the Nata (actors or dancers). At times, Natyashastra refers to the performers (Nata) as Sailalaka -s. The assumption is that the Silalin-school, at one time, might have been a prominent theatrical tradition. Some scholars opine that the Nata-sutras of Silalin (coming under the Amnaya tradition) might have influenced the preliminary part (Purvanga) of the Natyashastra, with its elements of worship (Puja).

However, in the preface to his great work Natya-shastra of Bharatamuni (Volume I, Second Edition, 1956) Pundit M. Ramakrishna Kavi mentions that in the Natyavarga of Amara-kosha (2.8.1419-20) there is reference to three schools of Nata-sutra-kara: Silalin; Krasava; and, Bharata.

Śailālinas tu śailūā jāyājīvā kśāśvina bharatā   ityapi naāś cāraās tu kuśīlavā

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 also said, the Bharata himself was preceded by Adi-Bharata, the originator and Vriddha (senior) Bharata. And, all the actors, of whatever earlier Schools, later came to be known as Bharata-s.

All these suggest that there were texts on Natya even before the time of Bharata; and, by his time Natya was already a well established Art.


The Natyasastra, that we know, is dated around about the second century BCE . The scholars surmise that the text was in circulation for a very long period of time, in its oral form; and, it was reduced to writing several centuries after it was articulated. Until then, the text was preserved and transmitted in oral form.

The written text facilitated its reach to different parts of the country; and, to the neighboring states as well. In the process, each region, where the text became popular, produced its own version of Natyasastra; in its own script. For instance, Natyasastra spread to Nepal, Almora to Ujjain, Darbhanga and also to the Southern states. The earliest known manuscripts which come from Nepal were in Newari script. The text also became available in many other scripts – Devanagari, Grantha, and several regional languages. It became rather difficult for the later-day scholars, to evolve criteria for determining the authenticity and purity of the text, particularly with grammatical mistakes and scribes errors that crept in during the protracted process of transliterations. Therefore, written texts as they have come down to us through manuscripts , merely represent the residual record or an approximation to the original; but, not the exact communication of the oral tradition that originated from Bharata.

It is the general contention that the text of the Natyashastra, as it is available today, was not written at one point of time. Its form, as it has come down to us, includes several additions and alterations. It is also said; many views presented in Natya-Shastra might possibly have been adopted from the works of other scholars. That seems quite likely; because, 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.

And, in regard to Dance, in particular, the Chapter Four (Tandava-lakshanam) is the most important portion, as it details the dance-techniques. The editor of  ya Śāstra, Sri. Ramaswami Sastri, however remarks  that ‘this section of ya Śāstra dealing with Karaas, being of a highly technical nature, was less understood and was rendered more difficult by numerous errors committed by the scribes as well as by the omissions of large portions in the manuscripts’.

Though such additions, deletions and alterations have not been pinpointed precisely, some scholars, particularly Prof. KM Varma, surmise that the verses of a long portion of the Fourth Chapter beginning from Sloka number 274 and ending with the chapter seem to be interpolated.  These verses do not also fit into the context. Abhinavagupta also admits the possibility of their insertions.

Further, Prof. KM Varma also mentions that the portion from the Samanya-abhinaya chapter (Chapter 22) to the beginning of the chapter on Siddhi; as also the portions beginning after the chapter on Avanaddha to the end of the present text, are the later additions.

And, by about the tenth century, two recessions of the yaśāstra were in circulation. One was the longer version; and, the other the shorter. There have been long drawn out debates arguing which of the two is the authentic version. Abhinavagupta in his commentary of the yaśāstra used the shorter recession as the basis of his work; while some authors of the medieval period like Raja Bhoja used the longer version. However, Pandit Ramakrishna Kavi, who examined as many as about forty Manuscripts of the text, opined that the longer recession seemed to be ancient, although it contains some interpolation. But, in any case, now, both the versions are treated as ‘authentic’; and, are used depending upon the choice of the commentator.


Natyashastra in the context of Dance

Natyashastra was mainly concerned with successful play-production. And, the role of Music and Dance, in conjunction with other components, was primarily to beautify and to heighten the dramatic effects of the acts and scenes in the play. These were treated as enchanting artistic devices that articulate the moods of various theatrical situations in the Drama. The Dance, at that stage, was an ancillary part (Anga) or one of the ingredients that lent elegance and grace to theatrical performance. That is to say; though Music and Dance were very essential to Drama, neither of the two, at that stage, was considered as an independent Art-form.

Further, for a considerable length of time, say up to the middle period, both music and dance were covered by a single term Samgita.  The term Samgita in the early Indian context meant a composite art-form comprising Gita (vocal singing), Vadya (instrumental accompaniments) and Nrtta the limb movement or dance (Gitam, Vadyam, Nrttam Samgita-mucchyate).  The third component of Samgita, viz., Nrtta, involved the use of other two components (Gita and Vadya).

Thus, the term Samgita combined in itself all the different phases of music, including dance. For Dance (Nrtta), just as in the case of vocal (Gita) and instrumental (Vadya) music, the rhythm (Laya) is very vital. The Dance too was regarded as a kind of music. This is analogous to human body where its different limbs function in harmony with the body’s rhythm.

It was said; all the three elements 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.

Thus, till about the middle periods, Dance was regarded as a supporting decorative factor; but, not an independent Art form.

Shiva dancing Halebidu

Coming back to Natyashastra, the Dance that it deals in fair detail is, indeed, Nrtta, the pure dance movements – with its Tandava and Sukumara variations – that carry no particular meaning.  The Nrtta was described as pure dancing or limb movements (agavikepa), not associated with any particular emotion, Bhava. And, it was performed during the preliminaries (Purvaranga), before the commencement of the play proper. The Nrtta was meant as a praise offering (Deva-stuti) to the gods.

And, later Bharata did try to combine the pure dance movements of Nrtta (involving poses, gestures, foot-work etc.) with Abhinaya (lit., to bring near, to present before the eyes), to create an expressive dance-form that was adorned with elegant, evocative and graceful body-movements, performed in unison with attractive rhythm and enthralling music, in order to effectively interpret and illustrate the lyrics of a song; and, also to depict the emotional content of a dramatic sequence.

But, for some reason, Bharata did not see the need to assign a name or a title to this newly created amalgam of Nrtta and Abhinaya. (This art-form in the later period came to be celebrated as Nrtya).

Even at this stage, Dance was not an independent art-form; and, it continued to be treated as one of the beautifying factors of the Drama.

Bharata had not discussed, in detail, about Dance; nor had he put forward any theories to explain his concepts about Dance. The reason for that might be, as the scholars explain, Bharata had left that task to his disciple Kohala; asking him to come up with a treatise on dancing, explaining whatever details he could not mention in the Natyashastra. In fact, Bharata, towards the end of his work says: ‘the rest will be done by Kohala through a supplementary treatise’ – śeam-uttara-tantrea kohalastu kariyati (NS.37.18.)

But, unfortunately, that work of Kohala did not survive for long. And, by the time of Abhinavagupta (10-11th century), it was totally lost.


Texts concerning dance

When it comes to the texts concerning dance there are certain issues or limiting factors.

There is reason to believe that many works on dancing were written during the period following that of Bharata. But most of those works were lost.

For instance; the ancient writers such as Dattila or Dantila (perhaps belonging to the period just after that of Bharata) and Matanga or Matanga Muni (sixth or the seventh century) who wrote authoritatively on Music, it appears, had also commented on Dance. But again, the verses pertaining to Dance in their works, have not come down to us entirely. Some of those verses have survived as fragments quoted by the commentators of the later periods; say , for example, the references pertaining to Taala and Dance from the Brihaddeshi  of Matanga .

Similarly, between the time of Natyashastra (Ca. 200 BCE) and the Abhinavabharati of Abhinavagupta (10-11th century), several commentaries were said to have been produced on the subject of Drama, Music, Dance and related subjects. Some of such ancient authorities mentioned by Abhinavagupta are: Kohala, Nandi, Rahula, Dattila, Narada, Matanga, Shandilya, Kirtidhara, Matrigupta, Udbhata, Sri Sanuka, Lottata, Bhattanayaka and his Guru Bhatta Tauta and others. But, sadly the works of those Masters are lost to us; and, they survive in fragments as cited by the later authors.

Abhinavagupta, states that much of the older traditions had faded out of practice. And he says that one of the reasons, which prompted him to write his work, was to save the tradition from further erosion.


Texts on Music etc., which also dealt with Dance

There are not many ancient texts that are particularly devoted to discussions on Dance, its theories and techniques.

In the earlier texts on Dance, the techniques of Dancing are seldom discussed in isolation. It invariably is discussed with music and literature (Kavya).  Similarly, the treatise on sculpture (Shilpa) , Drama(Natya), music (Gitam) and painting (Chitra) , do devote a portion , either to Dance itself or to discuss certain technical elements of these art forms in terms of the technique of Dance (Nrtya or Nrtta). For instance; the  treatises on painting discuss the Rasa-drsti in terms of the glances (Drsti) of the Natyashastra; and, the  treatises on sculpture enumerate in great detail the Nrtta-murti (dancing aspects) of the various gods and goddesses(prathima-lakshanam) , and discuss the symbolism of the hasta -mudra in terms of the hasta-abhinaya of the Natyashastra.

The Vishnudharmottara emphasizes the inter relation between the various art forms.  Sage Markandeya instructs : One who does not know the laws of painting (Chitra) can never understand the laws of image-making (Shilpa); and, it is difficult to understand the laws of painting (Chitra) without any knowledge of the technique of dancing (Nrtya); and, that, in turn, is difficult to understand without a thorough knowledge of the laws of instrumental music (vadya); But, the laws of instrumental music cannot be learnt without a deep knowledge of the art of vocal music (gana).


Therefore, most of the texts and treatise which dealt with Music, primarily, also talked about dance, in comparatively briefly manner, towards the end. For instance:

[Here, in this portion, I have followed Dr. Mandakranta Bose, as in her very well researched paper ( The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition )  . I gratefully acknowledge her help and guidance.]

(1) Visnudharmottara Purana (Ca. fifth or sixth century) a   text encyclopedic in nature.  Apart from painting, image-making, Dancing and dramaturgy, it also deals with varied subjects such as astronomy, astrology, politics, war strategies, treatment of diseases etc. The text, which is divided into three khandas (parts), has in all 570 Adhyayas (chapters). It deals with dance, in its third segment – chapters twenty to thirty-four.

The author follows the Natyasastra in describing the abstract dance form, Nrtta; and, in defining its function as one of beautifying a dramatic presentation. The focus of the text is on Nrtta, defining its vital elements such as Karanas, Cari etc., required in dancing. In addition, the author briefly touches upon the Pindibandhas or group dances mentioned by Bharata; and, goes on to describe VrttiPravrtti and Siddhi; that is – the style, the means of application and the nature of competence.

(2) The Abhinavabharati of   Abhinavagupta (11th century) though famed as a commentary on Bharata’s Natyasastra, is, for all purposes, an independent treatise on aesthetics in Indian dance, music, poetry, poetics (alakāra-śhāstra), art , Tantra, Pratyabhijnana School of Shaiva Siddanta etc.   Abhinavabharati is considered a landmark work; and is regarded important for the study of Natyasastra.

Abhinavabharati is the oldest commentary available on Natyasastra. All the other previous commentaries are now totally lost. The fact such commentaries once existed came to light only because Abhinavagupta referred to them in his work; and, discussed their views. Further, Abhinavagupta also brought to light and breathed life into ancient and forgotten scholarship of fine rhetoricians Bhamaha, Dandin and Rajashekhara.

Abhinavagupta also drew upon the later authors to explain the application of the rules and principles of Dance. As Prof. Mandakranta Bose observes : One of the most illuminating features of Abhinavagupta’s work is his practice of citing  and drawing upon the older authorities critically , presenting their views to elucidate Bharata’s views ; and , often rejecting their views , putting forth  his own observations to  provide evidence to the contrary.

Abhinavagupta, thus, not only expands on Bharata’s cryptic statements and concepts; but also interprets them in the light of his own experience and knowledge, in the context of the contemporary practices. And, therefore, the importance of Abhinavagupta’s work can hardly be overstated.

He also discusses, in detail, the Rasa-sutra of Bharata in the light of theories Dhvani (aesthetic suggestion) and Abhivyakti (expression). And, Dance is one of the subjects that Abhinavabharati deals with. As regards Dance, Abhinavabharati is particularly known for the explanations it offers on Angikabhinaya and Karanas. The later authors and commentators followed the lead given by Abhinavagupta.

(3) The Dasarupaka of Dhananjaya (10-11th century), is a work on dramaturgy; and, basically is a summary or compilation of rules concerning Drama (Rupaka), extracted from the Natyashastra of Bharata. As regards Dance, Dhananjaya, in Book One of his work, which provides lists of definitions, mentions the broad categories of Dance-forms as: the Marga (the pure or pristine); and, the Desi (the regional or improvised). And, under each class, he makes a two-fold division: Lasya, the graceful, gentle and fluid pleasing dance; and, Tandava, the vigorous, energetic and brisk invigorating movements (lasya-tandava-rupena natakad-dyupakarakam.). The rest of his work is devoted to discussion on ten forms of Drama (Dasarupaka)

(4) The Srngaraprakasa of Raja Bhoja (10-11th century) is again a work; spread over thirty-six chapters, which deal principally with poetics (Alamkara shastra) and dramaturgy. In so far as Dance is concerned, it is relevant for the discussion carried out in its Eleventh Chapter on minor types of plays (Uparupakas) or musical Dance-dramas.

(5) The Natya-darpana of Ramacandra and Gunacandra (twelfth century) is also a treatise, having four chapters, devoted mainly to dramaturgy; discussing characteristics of Drama. The text is useful to Dance, because in its third chapter while discussing Anigikabhinaya, it lists the names of the movements of the different parts of the body, as well as extended sequences and compositions.

(6) Another text of great interest from the twelfth century is the  Manasollasa (also called Abhjilashitarta Chintamani) ascribed to the Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (1127-1139 AD). It  is an encyclopedic work, divided into one hundred chapters, clustered under  five sections, covering a wide variety of subjects, ranging from the means of acquiring a kingdom, methods of establishing it, to medicine, magic, veterinary science, valuation of precious stones, fortifications, painting , art, games ,  amusements , culinary art and so on . 

As regards Dance, the Manasollasa deals with the subject in the sixteenth chapter, having in 457 verses, titled Nrtya-vinoda, coming under the Fourth Section of the text – the Vinoda vimsathi- dealing with types of amusements.

Manasollasa is also the earliest extant work having a thorough and sustained discussion on dancing. It is also the earliest work, which laid emphasis on the Desi aspect for which later writers on this subject are indebted. Another important contribution of Nrtya Vinoda is that it serves as a source material for reconstruction of the dance styles that were prevalent in medieval India. For these and other reasons, the Nrtya Vinoda of Manasollasa, occupies a significant place in the body of dance literature. 

Someshwara introduces the subject of dancing by saying that dances should be performed at every festive occasion, to celebrate conquests, success in competitions and examinations as well as occasions of joy, passion, pleasure and renouncement. He names six varieties of dancing and six types of Nartakas. The term Nartaka, here, stands for performers in general; and, includes Nartaki (danseuse), Nata (actor), Nartaka (dancer), Vaitalika (bard), Carana (wandering performer) and kollatika (acrobat).

Manasollasa is also significant to the theory of Dance, because it classified the whole of dancing into two major classes:  the Marga (that which adheres to codified rules) and Desi (types of unregulated dance forms with their regional variations).  Manasollasa also introduced four-fold categories of dance forms: Nrtya, Lasya, Marga and Desi.

At another place, Someshwara uses the term Nartana to denote Dancing, in general, covering six types: Natya (dance), Lasya (delicate), Tandava (vigorous), Visama (acrobatic), Vikata (comical) and Laghu (light and graceful).

 The other authors, such as Sarangadeva, Pundarika Vittala and others followed the classifications given Manasollasa.

In regard to Dance-movements, Someshwara classifies them into  six Angas, eight Upangas and six Pratyangas. The last mentioned sub-division viz. Pratyanga is an introduction made by Someshwara into Natya terminology; the Natyashastra had not mentioned this minor sub-category.

The other important contribution of Someshwara is the introduction of eighteen Desi karanas, (dance poses) that were not mentioned in other texts.

 (7) A work from this period, but not dated with certainty, which deal with drama is the Nataka-laksana-ratna-kosa of Sagaranandin. The text, as the name suggests, discusses, in detail, the nature and characteristics of Nataka as well as other varieties of drama. This work is of interest to Dance insofar as it lists and describes ten types of Lasyanga that are used in the Lasya variety of dance.

(8) The Bhavaprakasana of Saradatanaya (1175 -1250 A.D.) containing ten Adhikaras or chapters, is a compendium of poetics and dramaturgy based on the critical works written right from the period of Natyashastra. Its relevance to dance is in its discussions on glances that express Bhavas, as given at the end of the fifth chapter. And, the tenth and final chapter explains the distinction between Nrtta and Nrtya; and, between Marga and Desi.

He contradicts Dhananjaya; and, asserts that   Nrtta, the pure dance, is rooted in Rasa (Nrttam rasa-ahrayam). Saradatanaya’s definition meant that Nrtta not only beautifies a presentation, but is also capable of generating Rasa. This, during his time, was, indeed, a novel view.

(9) The Sangita Samayasara of Parsvadeva (a Jain Acharya of 12th or early 13thcentury) is an important work, which is devoted to musicology. It is its seventh chapter that is of interest to Dance.  It is not until the Sangita Samayasara that we find any description of a complete dance.

The Sangita Samayasara, though it deals, mainly, with Music, is of great relevance to Dance. The Seventh Chapter is devoted entirely to Desi dance (referred to as Nrtta); its definition; and, the Angas or body movements (Angika), the features of Desi dances (Desiya-Angani).

This text not only describes specific Nrtta dance pieces (such as: Perana, Pekkhana, Gundali and Dandarasa), but also adds a number of new movements of the Cari, the Sthanas and the Karanas of the Desi variety, all of which involving complicated leaping movements. Here, Parsvadeva describes the utplatti-karanas, needed for the Desi dances; eleven Desi karanas with different Desi-sthanas; and, five Bhramaris.

Towards the end of the Seventh Chapter, Parsvadeva describes the requirements of a good dancer; her physical appearance; and, the way she should be dressed etc.

(10) By about the 13th century, dance had its own existence; and was no longer an ancillary to drama, as it was during the time of Natyashastra. The concept of Nrtta was still present; Nritya as a delightful art form was fully established; and, the two forms retained their individual identity. And, both were discussed along with Natya.  This is reflected in the appearance of numerous works on the art of Music, Dance and Drama, the most significant of which was the Samgita Ratnakara of Sarangadeva 

The Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara (first half of 13th century) is one of the most influential works on music and dance. The Sangita-ratnakara is a great compilation, not an original work, which ably brings together various strands of the past music traditions found in earlier works like Nāţyashastra, Dattilam, Bŗhaddēśī, and Sarasvatī-hŗdayālańkāra-hāra. It is greatly influenced by Abhinavagupta’s    Abhinavabharati. But for Samgita-ratnakara, it might have been more difficult to understand Natyasastra, Brhaddesi and other ancient texts. But, while dealing with Desi class of Dance, Sarangadeva follows Manasollasa of Someshwara.

The text of Sangita-ratnakara has 1678 verses spread over seven chapters (Saptaadhyayi) covering the aspects of GitaVadya and NrttaSvaragat-adhyaya; Ragavivek-adhyaya; Prakirnaka-adhyayaPrabandh-adhyayaTaala-adhyaya; Vadya-adhyaya and   Nartana-adhyaya. The first six chapters deal with various facets of music and music-instruments; and, the last chapter deals with Dance. Sangita-ratnakara’s contribution to dance is very significant.

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

According to Sarangadeva, the Nrtya covers rhythmic limb movements (Nrtta) as also eloquent gestures expressing emotions through Abhinaya. It is a harmonious combination of facial expressions, various glances, poses and meaningful movements of the hands, fingers and feet. Nrtyam, the dance, delightfully brings together and presents in a very highly expressive, attractive visual and auditory form, the import of the lyrics (sahitya), the nuances of its emotional content to the accompaniment of soulful music and rhythmic patterns (tala-laya).

Although he follows Bharata in describing the movements of the body, he differs from Bharata in dividing the limbs into three categories, Anga, Upanga and Pratyanga.

He also differs from Natyashastra which identifies Tandava as Shiva’s dance and Sukumara (Lasya) as Parvati’s. According to Sarangadeva, Tandava requires Uddhata (forceful) and Lasya requires Lalita (delicate) movements.

Sarangadeva’s description of Cari, Sthana, Karana and Angaharas of the Marga type are the same as in the Natyashastra. But the Desi Caris, Sthanas and Utputikaranas are according to Manasollasa of Someshwara.

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

(11) The Sangita Upanishad Saroddhara  is a treatise on music and dance written in the fourteenth century (1350 A.D.) by the Jaina writer Sudhakalasa. The work is in six chapters, the first four of which are on Gita (vocal music), Vadya (musical instruments) and on Taala (rhythm). The fifth and the sixth chapters are related to dancing.

The term he uses for dance is Nrtya. His understanding of the terms Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya varied from that of his predecessors. According to him, Nrtta is danced by men, Nrtya by women, while Natya is Nataka, performed by both men and women. And, his treatment of the movements of the feet (pada-karmas) and the postures (Sthanas and Sthanakas) differs from that of other texts. According to him, Sthanas are postures meant for women; while, Sthanakas are postures meant for men. Karanas, according to Sudhakalasa, are components of Lasyangas and Nrtya. Obviously, he was recording the contemporary practice, without specific reference to the earlier texts and traditions.

(12) The Sangitacandra is a work containing 2168 verses by Suklapandita, also known as Vipradasa (Ca. fourteenth century). He explains the procedures of the Purvaranga; and classifies its dance Nrtta into three categories:  Visama (heavy), Vikata (deviated) and Laghu (light). Such classification of Nrtta and such terms to describe Nrtta had not been used earlier by any author.

He then, initially, divides Nrtya, the dance, into two classes: Marga-nrtya which expresses Rasa; and, Natya-nrtya, which expresses Bhava. And, then, brings in the third variety of Nrtya, the Desiya Nrtya, the regional types. Thereafter, he divides each of the three varieties of Nrtya into Tandava and Lasya.

Again, Vipradasa‘s understanding of the terms and concepts of Dance and their treatment; and, emphasis on the Desi dances, reflect the contemporary practices of the medieval period.

(13) A major work of the medieval period is the Sangita-damodara by Subhankara (ca. Fifteenth century).  Although the Sangita-damodara is principally a work on music and dance, it includes substantial discussions on drama as well. Of its Five Chapters, the Fourth one relates to Dance. Here, dancing is discussed under two broad heads:  Angahara (Angaviksepa, movements of the body) and Nrtya (the dance proper).

Under Angahara, the author includes Angikabhinaya, as related to Drama, because it means acting by using the movements of the limbs. As regards Nrtya, he treats it, mostly, as Desi Nrtya, the regional dances. Nrtya is divided into two types: Tandava, the Purusha-nrtya, danced by men; and, Lasya, the Stri-nrtya, danced by women.

Under Natya, Subhankara includes twenty-seven major type of Dramas (Rupaka) and minor types of Drama (Uparupaka). He classifies them under the heading Nrtye naksatramala, the garland of stars in Nrtya.

Thus, the concept of dance in its male and female forms had crept in. And, the Dance-drama, based in music, was treated as a form of Nrtya. The Nrtya was generally understood as Desi Nrtya.

(14) Another important work from this period is the Nrtyadhyaya of Asokamalla (Ca. fourteenth century). The Nrtyadhyaya consisting of 1611 verses follows the Desi tradition of dance, as in Sangita-ratnakara and the Nrtta-ratna-vali.

The text describes, in detail, the hand gestures followed by the movements of the major and minor limbs, that is, Anga, Upanga and Pratyanga.

It also describes Vicitra-abhinaya (various ways of acting), dividing it into elements of Bhava-abhinaya (expressions displaying emotions); and, Indriya-abhinaya (gestures through use of limbs), resembling the Samanya-abhinaya and Citra-abhinaya, as in Natyashastra. The author also describes one hundred and eight Karanas of Bharata. The text ends with descriptions of Kalasas, generally understood as dance movements with which a performance concludes.

(15) The Rasakaumudi of Srlkantha (a contemporary and student of Pundarika Vitthala – 16th-17th century) is again a work of general nature that deals with vocal music (Gana), instrumental music (Vadya), Dance (Natya) , Drama (Rupaka) and aesthetics (Rasa) etc. The text is of interest to Dance, mainly because of the contemporary scene of dancing it portrays.  It mentions ten divisions of Natya as: Natya, Nrtya, Nrtta, Tandava, Lasya, Visama, Vikata, Laghu, Perani and Gaundali. But, he calls only the first variety Natya as being authentic.

But, the main contribution of Rasakaumudi is the introduction of the concept of ‘Prana’ or the essential elements of the performance; the summation of what a dancer should aim at, while performing. The ten Pranas listed are : the line (Rekha); the steadiness (Sthirata); the swiftness (Vega); the pirouettes (Bhramari), the glance (Dristi); the desirous smile (Smita); the pleasing appearance (Priti); the intellect (Medha); the speech (Vachya); and , the song (Gitam) – RK. 5. 162.

(16) The Sangltadarpana of Chatura Damodara (a poet at Jahangir’s court, which places him in the seventeenth century) is, again, a work on music and dance. Its seventh, the final chapter, is related to dancing; and, it generally follows Nartananirnaya of Pundarika Vittala. It also adopts Nartana as the general name for dancing; and, mentions Nrtta, Nrtya, Natya, Tandava and Lasya as the types of Nartana. It then divides Nrtya into five sub-divisions: Visama, Vikata, Laghu, Perani and Gaundali, all of which are Desi forms.

There is greater emphasis on Desi forms, in its discussions. And, the authors of this period followed and adopted the views of the Nartananirnaya; and, there was a steady drift taking the discussions away from the concepts and terminologies of the Natyashastra.

(17) Sangitanarayana by Purusottama Misra, a poet at the court of Gajapati Narayanadeva of Orissa (seventeenth century), in its four chapters deals with music and dance. For a greater part, it reproduces the concepts and terms of dancing as in the other texts, particularly Nartananirnaya.  The new information it provides relates to the enumeration of the names of twelve varieties of Desi-Nrttas; five varieties of Prakara-Natya of the Desi type; eleven varieties of Marga Natyas and sixteen varieties of Desi Natyas – dramatic presentations ; and, names of thirty-two Kalasa-karanas

(18) The Sangita-makaranda of Vedasuri (early seventeenth century) follows Nartananirnaya of Pundarika Vitthala. The new information it provides is with regard to the Gatis. He treats each Gati like a dance sequence; and, describes each Gati with all its components of movements. For instance; while describing the Marga-gati, the author gives all the movements necessary for its presentation, such as the appropriate Karana, Sthanas, Cari, the hand-gestures, the head movements and glances.

He seems to have been interested mainly in the structure of dance compositions as combinations of smaller movements. He describes these movements step by step; and, includes with each movement the appropriate rhythm and tempo that it should go with.


Texts dealing mainly with the theory and practice of Dance

There were also texts and treatise, which were wholly devoted to the discussions on the theory, practice and techniques of Dance. The numbers of such texts are not many; but, are relevant to the contemporary Dance training and learning. The following are the more significant ones, among them:

 (1) The date of the Abhimaya Darpana of Nandikeshvara is rather uncertain. The scholars tend to place it in or close to the medieval period; because, it divides dance into three branches: Natya, Nrtta and Nrtya. But, such distinctions did not come about until the time of Sangita-ratnakara (13th century). Also, the Abhinaya Darpana views Tandava and Lasya as forms of masculine and feminine dancing, which again was an approach adopted during the medieval times.

Abhinaya Darpana deals predominantly with the Angikabhinaya (body movements) of the Nrtta class; and, is a text that is used extensively by the Bharatanatya dancers. It describes Angikabhinaya, composed by the combination of the movements of Angas (major limbs- the head, neck, torso and the waist), Upangas (minor limbs – the eyes, the eyebrows, the nose, the lower lip, the cheeks and the chin), Pratayangas (neck, stomach, thighs, knees back and shoulders, etc) and the expressions on the countenance. When the Anga moves, Pratyanga and Upanga also move accordingly. The text also specifies how such movements and expressions should be put to use in a dance sequence.

According to the text, the perfect posture that is, Anga-sausthava, which helps in balancing the inter relationship between the body and the mind, is the central component for dance; and, is most important for ease in the execution and carriage. For instance; the Anga-sausthava awareness demands that the performer hold her head steady; look straight ahead with a level gaze; with shoulders pushed back (not raised artificially); and, to open out the chest so that back is erect. The arms are spread out parallel to the ground; and, the stomach with the pelvic bone is pushed in.

The techniques of dance, body movements, postures etc. described in this text, is a part of the curriculum of the present-day performing arts.

The emphasis on Angikabhinaya in Nrtta requires the dancer to be in a fit physical condition, in order to be able to execute all the dance movements with grace and agility, especially during the sparkling Nrtta items according to the Laya (tempo) and Taala (beat).

(2) Closely following upon the Sangita-ratnakara, the Nrtta-ratnavali by Jaya Senapati was written in the thirteenth century A.D. This is the only work of that period, which deals exclusively with dance, in such detail. Nrtta-ratnavali devotes all its eight chapters to dance; and, discusses vocal or instrumental music only in the context of dance.

The first four chapters of the text discuss the Marga tradition, following the Natyashastra; and, the other four discuss the Desi.

The Marga, according to Jaya Senapati, is that which is faithful to the tradition of Bharata; and, is precise and systematic. While dealing with the Marga, although he broadly follows the Bharata, Jaya Senapati provides specific details of the execution of the Karanas and Caris.  He also quotes the views of earlier writers, in order to trace the evolution of Dance and its forms.

The First Chapter describes the four modes of Abhinaya, i.e., Angika, Vachika, Aharya and Sattvika; as also the six forms of dancing – Nrtta, Nrtya, Marga, Desi, Tandava and Lasya.  The Chapter Two deals with Abhinaya, describing in detail the movements of the major and minor limbs: six Angas, six Pratyangas and six Upangas. The Third Chapter is on Caris (movements of one leg); Sthanas (postures); Nyaya (rules of performance); Vyayama (exercise); Sausthava (grace); more Sthanas and Mandalas (combinations of Caris). The Fourth Chapter describes Karanas (dance-units) and Angaharas (sequences of dance-units); and, ends with Recakas (extending movements of the neck, the hands, the waist and the feet) mainly following their descriptions as given in the Natyasastra.

The second half of the text is devoted to the Desi tradition.  The more significant contribution of Nrttaratnavali is in its detailed descriptions of the Desi Karanas, Angaharas and Desi Caris. And, of particular interest is its enumeration and description of Desi dance pieces.

The Fifth Chapter defines the term Desi; and, goes on to describe the Desi sthanas, Utpati-karanas (Desi karanas) and Bhramaris (spin and turns). The sixth chapter deals with movements of the feet, Desi Caris. Jaya Senapati then describes forty-six varieties of Desi Lasyangas, which include the Desi Angas, following the Sangita-samaya-sara. The Gatis or gaits are described next. The Seventh Chapter mainly deals with individual Desi dance pieces, Desi-nrtta. These include Perani, Pekkhana, Suda, Rasaka, Carcari, Natyarasaka, Sivapriya, Cintu, Kanduka, Bhandika, Ghatisani, Carana, Bahurupa, Kollata and Gaundali. The Eighth and Final Chapter , provides information regarding presentation in general, the recital, the appropriate time for its presentation, the arrival of the chief guest and the welcome accorded the king, other members of the audience, the qualities required in a dancer, her costume, the orchestra, the sitting arrangements, the entrance of a dancer,  the use of three curtains on the stage and their removal. The Chapter ends with advice on honoring the dancer, the musicians and the poet.

(3) The Nrtya-ratna-kosa of Maharana Kumbha (a scholar king of the fifteenth century), is part of a larger work, the Sangita-raja, which closely follows the Sangita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva. It is the Fourth Chapter of Sangita-raja; and, deals with Nrtya. The Nrtya-ratna-kosa is divided into four ullasas or parts; each consisting of four pariksanas or sections. It is mostly a compilation of the concepts, definitions, theories and practices concerning Dance – both Marga and Desi– culled out from earlier texts, particularly from Sangita-ratnakara. While describing various types of dance-movements, the emphasis is more on the Desi types.

The first section of the first part describes the origin of the theories of Natya (shastra); the rules of building the performance-hall; the qualifications of the person presiding; and, of the audience. It also offers definitions of certain fundamental terms.

Raja Kumbha defines the terms Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya. According to him, Nrtta is made up of combination of Karanas and Angaharas (Karanam angaharani caiva Nrttam); Nrtya is Rasa (Nrtya sabdena ca Rasam punaha); and, Natya is Abhinaya (Natyena abhinayam).

The Nrtya is classified as Marga; and, Nrtta as Desi. The Pindibandhas or group dances, performed by sixteen female dancers as part of the preliminaries are included under Nrtta.

The rest of the verses are devoted to Angikabhinaya or the movements of the body. The text discusses, in detail, about limb movements like Pratyangas, Upangas etc.; and, also about Aharya-bhinaya or costume, make-up and stage properties.

There are also descriptions of Marga and Desi Caris, Shanakas or postures, meant for men and women, for sitting and reclining. Similarly, the Karanas are classified as Shuddha karanas (pure) of the Marga class; and, as Desi Karanas.

That is followed description of four Vrttis or styles and six kalasas (dance movements with which a performance concludes), with its twenty-two sub-varieties.

Towards the end, it enumerates the qualities and faults of a performer.  It discusses make-up; different schools of performing artists; their qualities and faults; the Shuddha-paddhati or the pure way of presentation; and, states the ways of imparting instructions to performers.

(4) The Nartana-nirnaya of Pundarika Vitthala (16th-17th centuries) is a very significant work in the history of Indian Dancing. Till about the time of Raja Kumbha, the Dance was discussed mainly in terms of Marga and Desi. Pundarika Vitthala introduces a novel feature (hitherto not tried by anyone else), which is the principles of Bhaddha (structured) and Anibhaddha (neither bound nor structured) for stratifying the dance forms into two separate classes. Even though the later texts on dancing generally followed the Sangita-ratnakara, they did take into consideration Nartana-nirnaya’s classification of Bhaddha and Anibaddha, as a part of their conceptual framework. His classification of Dance forms into Baddha and Anibaddha was a significant theoretical development.

The Nartana-nirnaya was written in the sixteenth century, while Pundarika Vitthala  (or Pandari Vitthala) was in the service of the Mughal Court. It comes  about five hundred years after Sangitaratnakara. This period between these two texts was marked by several interesting and rather radical changes and transformations that were taking place in India , in the field of Arts.

The Nartananirnaya was composed in an altogether different ambiance.  The courts of Raja Man Singh, Raja Madhav Singh and Akbar provided the forum for interaction between the North and South Indian traditions on one hand; and between Indian and Persian practices on the other. This was an interesting period when diverse streams of Art came together.

Pundarika Vittala mentions that he wrote the Nartananirnaya, concerning music and dance, at the suggestion of Akbar, to cater to his taste – Akbara-nrupa rucyartham

The subject matter central to Nartana-nirnaya is dancing. The technical details of dance as detailed in the Nartananirnaya are an important source for reconstructing the history of Indian music and dance during the middle period. This was also the time when the old practices were fading out and new concepts were stepping in. For instance, by the time of Pundarika Vittala, the 108 Karanas were reduced to sixteen. At the same time , dance formats such as Jakkini, Raasa nrtya were finding place among traditional type of Dances.

In his work, Pundarika Vitthala does not confine only to the traditional dances of India and Persia; but, he also describes the various dance traditions of the different regions of India that were practiced during his time. The information he provides on regional dance forms is quite specific, in the sense that he points to the part/s of India from where the particular style originated, the language of the accompanying songs and the modes its presentation. The Nartana-nirnaya is, therefore, an invaluable treasure house on the state of regional dance forms as they existed in the sixteenth century IndiaThus, Nartana-nirnaya serves as a bridge between the older and present-day traditions of classical Indian dancing.

The chapter titled Nartana-prakarana, dealing with Nrtta and Nartana, is relevant to Dancing. The Nrtta deals with the abstract aesthetic movements and configuration of various body parts. And, Nartana is about the representational art of dancing, giving expression to emotions through Abhinaya. The Nartana employs the Nrtta as a communicative instrument to give a form to its expressions.

Another chapter, Nrttadhikarana is virtually about the Grammar of Dance. It describes the Nrtta element of Dancing with reference to the special configuration of the static and moving elements of the Dance, such as: Sthanaka, Karana, Angahara, Cari, Hasta, Angri, Recaka, Vartana etc.

Then the text goes on to enumerate the items of the dance recital: entry of the dancer (Mukhacali, including Pushpanjali); Nanadi Slokas invoking the blessings of the gods; the kinds of Urupa, Dhavada, Kvada, Laga and Bhramari. It also mentions the dance forms originating from various regions: Sabda, Svarabhinaya, Svaramantha, Gita, Cindu, Dharu, Dhruvapada, Jakkadi and Raasa.

Some of these are classified under Bandhanrtta, the group dances with complex configurations and formations. These are also of the Anibaddha type, the graceful, simple dances, not restricted by the regimen of the rules etc.

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

[We shall discuss many of the texts enumerated above, in fair detail, later in the series.]



All the texts enumerated above deal with the subject of dance in some detail; exclusively or along with music, drama and poetics.

When you take an over view, you will notice that three texts stand out as landmarks, defining the nature and treatment of dance in the corresponding period. These three are: Natyashastra of Bharata (Ca. 200 BCE); Abhinavabharati of Abhinavagupta (10-11th century) and Sangita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva (13th century).

Natyashastra is, of course, the seminal text that not only enunciated the principles of Dancing, but also brought them into practice. Though the emphasis of Natyashastra was on the production and presentation of the play, it successfully brought together the arts of poetry, music, dance and other decorative elements, all of which contributed to the elegance of the theater.

The Dance that Bharata specifically refers to is Nrtta, pure dance, which was primarily performed before the commencement of the play proper (Purvaranga) as a prayer offered to gods. The elements of the Nrtta were also brought into Drama by fusing it with Abhinnaya. Though the resultant art-form was not assigned a name by Bharata, its essence was very much a part of the theatrical performance. And, this delightful art form came to be celebrated as Nrtya, during the later periods. And, in its early stages, Dance was not considered as an independent Art-form.

Several commentaries on the Natyashastra that were produced between the period of Bharata and Abhinavagupta are lost. And, the Abhinavabhatarati is the earliest available commentary on the Natyashastra; and, is, therefore, highly valuable. Abhinavagupta followed Bharata, in general; and, adhered to his terminologies. For instance, while discussing on Dance, Abhinava consistently uses the term Nrtta; and, avoids the term Nrtya (perhaps because it does not appear in Natyashastra). During his time, dance, music and dramatics were continued to be treated as integral to each other, as in the times of Natyashastra.

Yet; Abhinavagupta, brought in fresh perspective to the Natyashastra; and, interpreted it in the light of his own experience and knowledge. His commentary, therefore, presents the dynamic and evolving state of the art of his time, rather than a description of Dancing   as was frozen in Bharata’s time.  As it has often been said; Abhinavabharati is a bridge between the world of the ancient and forgotten wisdom and the scholarship of the succeeding generations.

Abhinavagupta’s influence has been profound and pervasive. Succeeding generations of writers on Natya were guided by his concepts and theories of Rasa, Bhava, aesthetics and dramaturgy. No writer or commentator of a later period could afford to ignore Abhinavagupta.

The commentaries written during the period following that of Abhinavagupta continued to employ the terminologies of the Natyashastra. But, the treatment of its basic terms such as, Nrtta, Natya, Tandava and Lasya was highly inconsistent. These terms were interpreted variously, in any number of ways, depending upon the understanding and disposition of the author; as also according to contemporary usage of those terms and the application of their concepts. Standardisation was conspicuous by its absence.

A significant development during this period was assigning greater importance to the regional types of Dances. Though based on the Natyashastra, these texts recognized and paid greater attention to the dance forms that were popular among the people of different geographic regions and of different cultural groups. In the process, the concepts of Marga, which signified the chaste, traditional form of Dance as per the rules of Natyashastra, came to be distinguished from the regional, popular, free flowing types of Dance, termed as Desi.

By about the 13th century, dance came into its own; and, was no longer an ancillary to drama, as was the case during the time of Natyashastra. Yet; the Dance, in this period, continued to be discussed along with the main subjects such as Music and Drama.

The concept of Nrtta continued to exist and Nritya was established; each with its own individual identity. The term Natya which signified the combination of Nrtta (pure dance) and Abhinaya (meaningful expressions) had come into wide use.

The Sangita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva marks the beginning of the period when Dance began to be discussed in its own right, rather than as an adjunct to Drama. It was during this period, the Desi types of Dance along with its individual forms were discussed in detail.  And, the other significant development was the fusing of the special techniques of Angikabhinayas of both the Nrtta and the Desi types into the graceful Natya form. And, new trends in Dance were recognized.

Though the ancient terms Nrtta, Tandava, Lasya and Natya continued to be interpreted in various ways, the term Nartana came to be accepted as the general class name of Dance, comprising its three sub-divisions: NatyaNrtya and Nrtta.

In the period beginning with the sixteenth century, Pundarika Vittala introduced the new concept of classifying dance forms into two separate classes, as the Bhaddha (structured) and Anibhaddha (neither bound nor structured). The later texts, while discussing Dance, apart from following Marga and Desi classification, also took into consideration Nartana-nirnaya’s classification of Bhaddha and Anibaddha, as a part of their conceptual framework.

It was during this period, the Persian influence, through the Mughal Court , entered into Indian dancing, giving rise to a new style of  Dance form, the Kathak.  This period was also marked by the emergence of the Dance forms that were not specifically mentioned in the Natyashastra – the Uparupakas. This genre of musical dance dramas not only came to be admitted into the mainstream of dancing, but eventually became the dominant type of performing art, giving rise dance forms such as Odissi, Kuchipudi etc.

The emphasis of the later texts shifted away from the Marga of the Natyashastra; but, leaned towards the newer forms of Desi Dances with their improvised techniques and structural principles. Apart from increase in the varieties of regional dance forms, a number of manuals in regional languages began to appear. These regional texts provide a glimpse of the state of Dance as was practiced in different regions.

Dr. Mandakranta Bose observes:

Bharata’s account represented only a small part of the total body of dance styles of the time. When new styles became prominent in the medieval period they had to be included in the descriptions of dancing. Such a widening of frontiers meant a great increment of technical description in the texts.

The distinction between the Natyashastra and the later texts is not merely one of detail. Of greater significance is the fact that unlike the Natyashastra, the later texts recognize different styles. These are distinct from the one described by Bharata, the main path or Marga tradition of dancing. The later texts concern themselves more and more with other styles, known, generically, as Desi, whose technique and structural principles are sufficiently different from the style described by Bharata..


Further, the principle of Anibaddha allowed the dancer a considerable degree of freedom, encouraging her to search far and to create, through her ingenuity, novel aesthetic expressions. This was a major departure from the regimen that required the dancer to rigorously follow the prescriptions of the texts. The opportunities to come up with artistic innovations, within the framework of the tradition, helped to infuse enterprise and vitality into dance performances. The dance became more alive.

At the same time, the Natyashastra continues to be the authoritative source book, which lays down the basic principles of the performing arts; and, identifies the range of body movements that constitute dancing.

The Bharatanatya of today represents such a dynamic phase of the traditional Indian Dancing.  It does not, specifically, have a text of its own; its roots are in the principles, practices and techniques that are detailed in Natyashastra, Abhinava Darpana and such other ancient texts. Though it is basically ingrained in the principles of Natyashastra, it delightfully combines in itself the Angikabhinaya of the Nrtta; the four Abhinayas of the Natya (Angika, Vachika, Aharya and Sattvika); the interpretative musical narrative element of the Uparupakas, for enacting a theme; and the improved techniques of the later times.

Besides, the Bharatanatya developed its own Grammar through Dance idioms such as: Adavus (combination of postures – Sthana, foot movement – Chari, and hand gestures-Hasta); Jati (feet movement in tune with the Sollakattu syllables); Tirmanam (brilliant bursts of complicated dance rhythms towards the ‘end’ section of the dance). Besides, the Bharatanatya, in the context of its time, enriched its repertoire of the Nrtta by items such as Alaripu, Jatiswara and Tillana.

Thus, the evolution of Indian Dance system is a dynamic process that absorbed new elements and techniques without compromising its basic tenets. It, thus, demonstrates the time-honored Indian principle of growth: continuity along with change.


Before we discuss Dance and its forms, let’s take a look at the Art and Art-forms, in general.




Part Two

References and sources

1.Movements and Mimesis: The Idea of Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition  by Dr.Mandakranta Bose

2 . Literature used in Dance/ Dance Sahitva

3. Natyashastra


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Eleven

Continued from Part Ten – Anibaddha, Nibaddha and Prabandha

Part Eleven (of 22) – Prabandha

As said earlier, the major types of Prabandha were counted as four: Shuddha Suda, Salaga Suda, Alikrama and Viprakirna.


1.1. The two major types of Prabandha – Shudda and Salaga – are usually mentioned with the suffix Suda. However, it appears the term Suda was not in use during the early stages, say in the 5th century. For instance; Matanga in his Brhaddeshi does not employ the term Suda. He merely lists out the phrases: Ela, Karana, Dhenki Vartani, Jhombada, lambaka, Rasaka and Ekatali

But, the term Suda has been in active use since 11-12th century in the works of Somesvara (Ca, 1130), Haripaladeva (Ca.1175), Prasvadeva (Ca.1200) and other writers who preceded Sarangadeva (13th century).

And, Sarangadeva  was the first to present the class of Suda systematically, lending it a theoretical base.  (However, he did not seem to have defined the term Suda). For about 300 years thereafter, the terms and descriptions provided by Sarangadeva were adopted by all the later authors.

2.1. Later in the 15th century, Kallinatha (Ca.1440) in his Sangita kalanidhi explains the term Suda as a Desi shabda (regional or vernacular term) that signifies a particular group of songs (Gita-vishesha-samuha-vachi) –

Suda iti Gita-vishesha-samuha-vachi Desi sabdah.

Venkatamakhin (Ca.1650) also describes Suda in almost similar terms, calling it Deshiya Sabda (vernacular term) which stands for a type of songs –

Suda ityesha desiya-shabdo gitaka vachakah.

There is another explanation where Sudu is said to be a Kannada term meaning ‘ a small bundle of grass’ ; and it signifies knotting together (  ekatra-gumpham ) of different Taalas .

2.2. Mahamhopadyaya Dr. R .Satyanarayana surmises that since both Kallinatha and Vekatamakhin hailed from Kannada country, Suda may have been an Old -Kannada term derived from the root Sul (meaning sound in old Kannada). And, Suda denoted a group of certain type of songs.

The elements of   Prabandha – Anga and Dhatu


prabandha (1)


General features

3.1. Prabandha in the early texts has been explained or identified with reference to its general physical features.

Parshvadeva  (10-11th century) defines Prabandha as the Giti-s (songs) that are made of Six Angas or Avayava (limbs or organs) and four Dhatus (substance or elements) –

chaturbhir- dhatubhih shadbhishcha-angairyah syat prarbandhate tasmat prabandhah”.

3.2. Somesvara (Ca. 1126–1138 CE) in his Manasollasa confirms and expands further. And, Sarangadeva (Ca.1230) in the fourth Canto of Sangita-ratnakara sums up the formal features of Prabandha as: Six Angas (Svara, Birudu, Pada, Tena, Paata, and Taala) which like the limbs of a body are the integral parts of a configuration called Prabandha; and four Dhatus (Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva and Abhoga) which are like substances or elements that regulate the proper working of the body.

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


4.1. The Angas and Dhatus were explained with reference to organs and elements of the human body

Of the  six Angas, it was said :  Tena and Pada, reflecting auspiciousness and meaning respectively are its two eyes; Pata and Birudu are the two hands because they are produced by the hands, the cause being figuratively taken for effect; Taala and Svara are the  be two feet as they cause the movement of the Prabandha.

As regards the Dhatus – Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva and Abhoga – were said to be  like the Dhatus ( energies or Doshas) of Vata (wind), Pittha (bile) and Kapha (phlegm) that support (Dharana) and sustain (Bharana)  body functions and the physical constitution; and, Prakriti   which is the basic nature of body.

Thus Prabandha, like a well functioning human body, with its textual, melodic and rhythmic components was conceived as  a well structured musical composition.

5.1. The Prabandha was also classified (Prabandha-Jaati) depending on the number and type of Anga-s that went into its structure. For instance:

  • the Medini Jaati Prabandha has all the six Angas;
  • the Anandini Jaati has only five Angas (in which pada and Taala along with any three other Angas are present);
  • similarly, the Dipani Jaati has four Angas (in which pada and Taala along with any two other Angas are present);
  • the Bhavani Jaati  has three Angas (in which pada and Taala along with any one other Anga are present;  and,
  • the Taravali Jaati has only two Angas ( in which pada and Taala are present) .

No Prabandha could be conceived with only one Anga.

Similarly, Prabandha was also classified according to the number of Dhatu-s : Dvi-dhatu (Udgraha and Dhruva); Tri-dhatu (Udgraha, Dhruva and Abogha);  and Chatur-dhatu (Udgraha , Melapaka, Dhruva and Abogha).


6.1. The term Dhatu has many meanings such as substance (dravya), thing (Vastu) , element , layer, constituent part, ingredient, element etc. In the present context, Dhatu could be taken to mean an element or a  section or sections of a Prabandha composition.

6.2. Somesvara in his Manasollasa explains the four Dhatu-s:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once the Abhoga has been sung, Dhruva should be repeated.


6.3. Among the four Dhatus, the two – Udgraha and Dhruva – are essential and indispensable. And the other two, Melapaka and Abhoga may or may not be included.

6.5. In addition, there is an optional fifth Dhatu called Antara (or Antara-marga, the intermediate note) which connects Dhruva and Abhoga. (Antara was used exclusively in Salaga Suda).

[Antara-marga is described as an intermediate note which occurs somewhere in the midst of Jaatis. It is not a dominant note; and, it is employed rarely (alpatva) in the middle (madhye-madhye alpatva yujam). And when it is used it is not repeated much (anabhyasa). It brings in variety (vichitratva-kariny). And, as a rule it occurs in the modified (Vikrta) Jaati (krta sa antara-margah syat prayo vikrta Jaatishu).]

Rendering of a Prabandha

7.1. The scholars surmise that a typical Prabandha might have been rendered in the following sequence.

The opening Udgraha will begin with a couplet set to mater (Chhandas), in meaningful words (Pada) setting out the main theme of the song and continuing with elaboration of the melodic syllables (Svaras). Then, in the interlude which functions as the bridge (Melapaka), one may or may not have passages of Tena. Then comes the main section Dhruva set in meaningful words (pada) and meter (Chhandas) with appropriate Taala cycles. Here, the rhythmic element of the song gets more intense. Then, one could have an optional section (Antara) perhaps with rapidly recited Pata syllables – before coming to the concluding section. For the concluding section (Abogha), the Anga Birudu is required as the signature (Mudra) of the composer or singer or as a dedication to the patron. The performance could conclude with repletion (refrain) of main lines from Dhruva.

[Udgraha and Dhruva are taken to be the equivalents of the present-day Pallavi; Dhruva is also be the body of the Kriti. Melapaka is the bridge just as  of Anu-pallavi; and Abhoga as that of the concluding charana (stanza) with the Mudra (signature) of the composer.]

[The Dhrupad (Dhruva-pada) evolved from Salaga Suda Prabandha, which had five Dhatus namely Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva, Antara and Abhoga. Of these, the Abhoga, being very long was split into two sub parts the Sanchari and the Abhoga. The Dhruva was also dropped. The Dhatus of the Dhruva-pada-prabandha thus became Udgraha, Melapaka, Antara, Sanchari and Abhoga. Later Udgraha and Melapaka were combined into one division called the Sthayi.  Thus the modern Dhrupad has four divisions: Sthayi, Antara, and Sanchari Abhoga.]

Shuddha Suda

8.1. As mentioned, the ancient Prabandhas were arranged in four classes: (1) Shuddha Suda – the pure or the classic type; (2) Alikrama, the intermediate type to be inserted in Shuddha Suda ; ( 3) Salaga Suda the pseudo-classical  songs of mixed nature intended for art-music,  theatre and dance; (4) Viprakirna, separate or different type of songs.

8.2. Of these, the songs of the Shuddha Suda, governed by strict rules, were regarded as the classical musical suit of the middle ages. They had to conform to the prescribed Raga, Chhandas and Taala in addition to the other criteria as specified- (Ragadi –anyatyad asya shuddhatvam ishyate).

8.3. The Shuddha Suda was divided into eight types: Ela, Karana, Dhenki, Vartani, Jhombada, lambaka, Rasaka and Ekatali. While rendering, it had to consist between four and eight songs from among these eight types.  They were sung in Jaatis and Grama Ragas and their derived archaic Ragas.

9.1. It appears the Shuddha Suda songs were mainly prayers and songs that eulogise various virtues.


For instance; in the Ela the first song of the Shuddha Suda  , which have Chhandas, Alamkara and Rasa etc , praise the virtues of detachment (hana or vairagya), generosity (audarya), benevolence (saubhagya), heroism (shaurya) and courage (dhairya). The Ela songs were said to be blissful to the performer and to the person who figured as the main character in the song. It was said that by singing the Ela with devotion (bhakthi) and sincerity (shraddha) one would be blessed with the grace of the goddess Sarasvathi .And Varahi would increase the passion, Durga the ferocity and Indrani the regal valour.  It appears that Ela was not sung separately but as a part of suit of cycles (Suda) . It is said; Ela in praise of Goddesses Sarasvathi and others were sung in Raga Takka, Sriraga, Vasantha, Hindola, Malavakaisika and Kakubha. But, sadly no example of a suit having at least four songs ahs come down to us.


And, Jhombada compositions were rich in figures of speech (Alamkara). Several types of Jhombada which had ornate similes in which the dispositions and emotions the main character were described in terms of the idioms of experiences of the legendry (Puranic) figures. For instance ; the pains and pangs of separation in love were described through the suffering of Rama and Sita (Rama-jhombada); the joy of the lovers in their meeting as the love of Krishna and Malathi (Madhava jhombada); love in sublime union as of Vishnu and Lakshmi (Purushottama jhombada); , anger and fury of the king destroying enemies as that of the Rudra (Rudra jhombada) ; and,  the victorious  King returning from the battle glowing with  pride as the  glory of Shanmukha the Commander of the Divine forces (Shanmukha jhombada)  and so on

Some jhombada songs were meant for special occasions, such as : Nandi jhombada to please gods at the beginning of a theatrical performance to please gods; Sapeksha jhombada : to seek special favours from  the King  etc


The Rasaka songs under Shuddha Suda were similar in structure to Jhombada song. They also had the first section (Udgraha), bridge phase (Melapaka), refrain (Dhruva), conclusion (Abogha) , and again  refrain– punar-punar-upadana –   (Dhruva) or Udgraha; and in addition it would also have  an improvised introduction Aalap.

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


Karana songs had three Dhatu-s: Udgraha, Dhruva and Abogha (But not the Melapaka) . Dhruva was made of Pata (vocalized sounds or beats of the percussion) ; and auspicious (mangala)  sounding words  or  sounds like tenna-tena-tom . Karana was said to be of nine kinds.


Dhenki songs were set to combination of different Taala-s. In contrast, the stanzas Vartani songs were different Ragas.


The Ekatali songs of the Shuddha Suda consisted of Udgraha , Dhruva ,Abogha and Dhruva again. The first section of the Udgraha could have the structure of an Aalapa.

Salaga Suda

10.1. Salaga is the Apabhramsa (or the localized name) for Chayalaga (suggesting that it is a shadow of the Shuddha variety).  Salaga Suda was Niyukta Prabandha and belonged to Taravali Jaati because it had only two Angas– Pada and Taala. It also had only three Dhatus:  Udgraha, Dhruva and Abhoga (but not Melapaka). Hence, the Salaga Suda came to be known as Tri-dhatuka Prabandha; and, was considered pseudo-classical. And, the Salaga was set to Desi Ragas (Desi-ragadi-samabandat Salagatvam api smrtam). Yet, the Salaga Suda ranks high among the ancient type of refined songs.  Venkatamakhin, in his work, takes up only the Salaga Suda for the discussion on the Prabandha-s.

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

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

The Rasaka and Ekatali songs of the traditional Shuddha Suda re-appear in the Salaga Suda. Their Taala is still the same. but the musical setting of the main section  has changed.

In the Rasaka of Salaga Suda, the Udgraha (initial) section itself could be rendered as Aalapa or the Aalapa phrases could be used at the beginning , in the middle or  at the end of the Dhruva section.

In the Ekatali of the Salaga Suda, the Antara , which in the other songs of this class functioned as an optional section following the Dhruva, became obligatory and was sometimes performed with Aalapa phrases.

[  It is interesting to see how the Taala of the medieval mixed suit Salaga Suda found their way into the South Indian Music. In his treatise Sangita-sudhakara (Ca.1179) the Gurjara King Haripala describes seventy-six Prabandha songs. Among these songs one may recognize some compositions of the Salaga Suda class: Dhruva, Mantha, Jhampa, Addatala and Ekatala, but also other songs such as Rupaka and Tivida (= Triputa). The names of the seven songs called after their Taala correspond to the names of the seven Taalas of the modern Karnataka system.

In the songs of the medival Salaga Suda each Taala variety is associated with a particular Rasa.]


11.1. Of these seven varieties of the Salaga Suda compositions, the Dhruva type was  the prominent one.  And, the Dhruva was different from the others in its construction. The others also had similar structures but they lacked the invisible-auspicious benefits (adrustaphala).

11.2. Dhruva, in the context of Natyashastra, initially meant stage-songs, which formed an important ingredient of the play. Natyashastra mentions different types of Dhruva-s and their uses in different dramatic sequences. It is said; these were called Dhruva-s because their words, Varnas, Alamkaras and Jaatis were are all regularly (Dhruvam) connected with one another. . Dhruva is also explained as Nityatva and Nischalatva having a character of stability. Natyashastra describes five kinds of Dhruva-s : Praveshika, Nishkamanika, Prasidita , Akshepita , and Antara. They were, of course, employed depending upon the context in dramatic situations.

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

Sangitaratnakara lists sixteen types of Dhruva Prabandhas:  1.Jayanta; 2.Shekhara; 3.Utsaha; 4.Madhura; 5.Nirmala; 6.Kuntala; 8.Chara; 9.Nandana; 10.Chandrashekhara; 11.Kamoda; 12.Vijaya; 13.Kandarpa; 14.Jayamangala; 15.Tilaka; and, 16.Lalita. The objectives of these songs were ,generally, the  attainment of auspicious (mangala–prada) things in life, such as : longevity, worthy progeny, progress in life, growth in luster, enhancement of intellect, enjoyment, victory, and securing ones desires etc.

Kallinatha in his commentary suggests a correction to the general rule. He tries to view the virtue of a composition in terms of its ‘meaning-content’- Akshara-artha and Pada-artha. He remarks that a composition which is ‘irregular’ (aniyama) in regard to the number of its syllables (akshara-sankhya) could still be considered as Dhruva Prabandha, if the Pada aspect is according to the rules. And, even otherwise, when the composition is irregular in regard to the number of words in the text (Pada-sankhya) , it can also be considered as Dhruva Prabandha if it is endowed with other virtues (guna) such as Rasa, Taala ,etc.  That perhaps was to suggest that the evaluation or classification of a composition did not entirely depend on the presence/absence of  certain structural components.

11.3. Dr. R. Satyanarayana explains that while rendering a Dhruva Prabandha a particular order was followed: First Udgraha containing only one section (only one Dhatu), then a pause. Thereafter, the melodic element Dhruva is sung twice (refrain). If there is no Antara, Dhruva is followed by the Abhoga, sung once. This is followed by the Dhruva on which the song rests.

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

[In the Ekatali song of the Salaga Suda, the Antara (which in other cases was an optional section) became obligatory and was sometimes performed with Aalapa phrase.

In the Rasaka of the Salaga Suda, the Udgraha section itself could be performed as Aalapa or the Aalapa phrases could be used at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of the Dhruva section.]

12..1. Dr. R. Satyanarayana explains that till about the 12th century, a Salaga Prabandha was often named after its Taala, since the Taala provided the rhythmic description of the song. In this manner, he says, we have Varnas which signify the names of a Nrtta, Vrtta, Taala and Prabandha.

Dhruva Prabandha, he explains, was unique in the use of Taala-s in that it employed nine separate Taalas, while they were sung as a series of separate songs. Thereafter, there came into vogue a practice of treating each song as a stanza (or charana as it is now called) of one lengthy song. And, it was sung as one Prabandha called Suladi. Thus, the Suladi was a Taala-malika, the garland of Taalas or a multi-taala structure.

There was also a practice of singing each stanza of a (Suladi) Prabandha in a different Raga. Thus, a Prabandha was a Taala-malika as also a Raga-malika.

12.2. Matanga mentions about Chaturanga Prabandha sung in four charanas (stanzas) each set to a different Raga, Taala and language (basha). Similarly, Sharabha-lila had eight stanzas each sung in a separate Raga and Taala.

12.3. Sarangadeva mentions several types of Prabandhas which were at once Raga- malikas and Taala-malikas: Sriranga, Srivilasa, Pancha-bhangi, Panchanana, Umatilaka, and Raga-kadamba.

12.4. The Raga malika, Taala malika and Raga-Taala- malika concept was adopted and improved upon by the Haridasa (Sripadaraya, Vyasaraya, Vadiraja, Purandaradasa and others) to produce series of Suladi songs.


13.1. It is said; the term Ali denotes a line or a row; Krama indicates the ordered sequence. It appears, the Ali when rendered along with or inserted into the Shudda was called Alikrama. The Alikrama Prabandha is, thus, a series of systematically arranged Prabandhas, perhaps ordered according to syllables (Varna) or Matraka (Akshara). It was believed such singing was equivalent to chanting the Mantras. The origin of such practice must have served a ritual as well as an artistic purpose. Manasollasa provides instances of the arranged Ali Prabandhas.

13.2. The Ali Prabandhas were twenty-four in number (Varna, Varnasvara, Gadya, Kaivada, Angacharini, Danda, Turangalila, Gajalila, Dvipadi etc. and when the Ali Prabandhas were combined with Suda they were said to be thirty-two. Several Ali Prabandhas were fused together to form a single Prabandha (in contrast to Viprakirna which were scattered and rendered individually).

13.4. Many songs of the Ali Krama were named after their Chhandas. In the Ali Krama songs some well known types of Chhandas from classical Sanskrit poetry, such as Arya, Totaka and Dvipatha as well as their Prakrit equivalents (Gatha, Dodhaka etc) were employed.

14.1. Some instances of Ali Prabandha are mentioned.

: – Krauncha-pada was a type that opened with Svaras (sol-fa syllables) in its Udgraha section followed by words in the Dhruva section. The Abhoga section carried words conveying the Prabandha name and the two signatures (Mudra).

: – The Svara-artha Prabandha of Alikrama had the seven Svaras arranged in such a manner that it would form a meaningful sentence in which the Prakrita words were also, often, used.

:- The Dhvani-kuttanl was a type of Ali Prabandha, in which two different Taalas were used in its two sections (Dhatu) , as a result the Laya also varied in its tempo. The sections were separated by a brief pause.

: – The Pancha-Tala -Svara Prabandha s of Alikrama class used to commence with an Aalapa. Five Padas out of all the Padas were repeated twice. The instruments such as Mujara-vadya ( a type of percussion) were used along with Pata (vocalized drum beats) . After each Khanda (section) of singing a different instrument was used.

: – The Raga-kadamba  Prabandha of the Alikrama class employed different types of Taalas with different Chhandas ( meter) while presenting a series (garland ) of Ragas.



15.1. Viprakirna conveys the sense of being scattered, disbursed, dishevelled or extended. The Viprakirna or the mixed class of Prabandhas were separate pieces of songs set in simple Chhandas and in simple words. Many Viprakirna songs were in the regional languages.

In the Viprakirna Manthaka songs, particular variety of Mantha Taala was used in combination with other musical metres or other varieties of the same Taala in each of the sections. The names of the songs indicate their subject: Lakshni-kirti, Hara-smaraka, Gauri-priya, Madana-vallabha .etc. There were also other   popular types of songs praying: for fortune (Sriprada, Srikara, and Sampathkara); for begetting sons (Putra-prada), for begetting daughters (Tanaya-prada), for mental peace (Mati-vilasa), for good for destruction of enemies (Shatru-mardana).

Several of the of the above mentioned auspicious Manthaka songs were performed in special Ragas. For instance ; Lakshmi-kirti in Raga Mallara; Hara-smaraka  and Gauri-priya  in Raga Kedara; Putra-prada in Panchama; Satpitaputra in Gurjari; Srikara in Sri Raga ; Tanaya-prada in Vasantha or Lalitha ; Rati-lila in Saurastra Raga and Shatru-mardana in Varali raga.

In due course, the Viprakirna replaced ancient complex songs of Shuddha Suda and Alikrama suits.

15.2. It is said; the North Indian poetical pieces such as Doha (Dohada) couplets and Caupai (Chatus-padi) the four lined songs were derived from the Viprakirna Prabandha. Similarly, in the South the devotional poetry of Kannada adopted meters of Tripadi and Shatpadi. In a like manner, each linguistic region of India developed its own types and forms of poetry, especially in devotional music.

16.1. The Viprakirna Prabandhas were said to be of thirty-six types, such as shrirariga, tripadi, chatushpadi, shatpadi, vastu, vijaya, Tripatha, Rahadi, Virasri, Srivilasa   etc.

Some instances of the Viprakirna Prabandha are mentioned.

: – Rahadi songs of the Viprakirna class were composed describing battle sequences in Vira Rasa.

:-In the Virasri of Viprakirna one stanza was composed in the spoken language (Basha pada) and the next was made of Birudu , the epithets or expressions of admiration.

: – Srivilasa songs of the Viprakirna employed five Ragas and five Taalas; while the Saranga songs were set in four Ragas and four Taalas.

:- Tripatliaka had three Dhatus (sections) composed of syllables of Vadya (Pata), words of praise (Birudu) and Svaras, in a serial order (karma).

: – Chaturanga was composed of four Dhatus (sections) each section was in different language, different Chhandas,  different Raga, different Taala .

:- Caccari songs were sung during the spring festival (Vasanthotsava) composed rhyming couplets in regional languages (Prakrit), set to Hindola Raga and Caccari –Taala or Krida-Taala. The rhythm was  of importance in these songs that were sung  with group dances.


Gita Govinda

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17.1. While on the subject of Prabandha, I cannot resist talking about the most enchanting Gita-Govinda of Sri Jayadeva Goswami (about 1150 A.D) who was a court poet of the King Lakshmana  of the Bengal region ( 12th century ) . It is the most celebrated and the best loved among the Prabandha class.

It is a semi-dramatic  composition of twelve episodes (Adhyayas ) consisting monologues in sixty slokas and twenty-four songs of eight lines (Astapadi).   

17.2. Though it is recognized today as the sublime Shringara-mahakavya that lovingly describes the emotive sports of Sri Radha the Mahabhava highly idealized personification  Love and Beauty; and  Krishna the eternal lover (Sri Radha-Krishna lila) , it is basically a Prabandha composed of Anga, Dhatu, Sahitya, Raga, Taala, Murchana, Rasa and Bhava.

Sri Jayadeva at the commencement of his Khandakavya states that he is composing a Prabandha Kavya (Etam karoti Jayadeva kavih prabandham). The Ashtapadi (eight footed) is a Dvi-dhatu Prabandha, i.e. consisting two sections (Dhatu):  Udgraha and Dhruva.

The Gita Govinda abounds in a large number of song-sequences; and, each is titled as Prabandha viz. Prabandha-I, Prabandha-II etc. Yet; it is nearer to the Prabandha songs than to a Kavya (classic poetry).

Gita Govinda is the most enchanting collection of twelve chapters (Sarga). And, each Sarga commences with soulful a Sloka followed by one or two songs arranged in couplets. These songs are known as Giti, Prabhanda or Ashtapadi, since twenty-four of such  (but not all) employ eight couplets. Sri Jayadeva himself calls them as sweet and delicate Padavali-s (Madhura komala padavalim).

17.3. Gita Govinda in simple, delightfully lucid Sanskrit is one of the finest Khandakavya-s that is classified as a Prabandha.  At the same time, it is permeated with intensely devotional and delicate Madhura Bhakthi. The Gita Govinda was one of the inspirations of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprbhu who was steeped in Krishna-bhakthi; and, it  is the primary text of the Gaudiya Vaishnava School of Bengal.

The Gita Govinda one of the principle texts of the Bhakthi movement has also been a unique phenomenon in Indian music. This evergreen lyric sequence is set to music and rhythm by the poet himself. And, musically, each of the twenty-four songs or Prabandhas in Gita Govinda is set to a Desi Raga and a Taala. His Ragas were : Malava, Gurjari, Vasantha, Ramakari, Malavagowda, Karnata, Desakya, Desivaradi, Gowdakari, Bhairavi and Vibhasa. And his Taalas were: Yathi, Rupaka, Eka, Nissara and Ashta.

Sadly, we, now, do not know how the Raga mentioned therein actually sounded or what their scales were. Therefore, their correct interpretation and rendering are lost to us.   The Astapadis in the modern days are rendered in Karnataka and Hindustani Ragas currently in use  . 

There are many legends associated with Gita Govinda. For instance; in the nineteenth Ashtapadi, Krishna requests Sri Radha: The poison of love has gone to my head, Place your tender rose-colored feet on it to let the poison recede (Smara garala khandanam, Mama sirasi mandanam, Dehi pada pallava mudaaram).

After he wrote these lines, Sri Jayadeva wondered whether it was appropriate for Sri Radha to place her foot on the head of the Lord. Then, he promptly scored out those lines. And, next morning to his wonder and amazement those very lines appeared again in his script. Sri Jayadeva took that as the Lord’s blessing and approval of his Prabandha.

Jayadeva Goswami

17.4. The immense popularity of Gita Govinda is phenomenal . Each region and each language of India embraced with love and devotion; adopted it as its own; sang in its own chosen Raga; and, interpreted it in its own dance form.

Several poets , inspired by the Gita Govinda, have created lyrical poems in Sanskrit and in the regional languages, elaborating on parallel themes.

The most noted of such delicately beautiful poems (Madhura komala padavalim) are; Sri Krishna Lila Tarangini of Narayana Thirtha (Ca.16th century); Mahakavi Vidyapati Thakur’s (15th century) love-poems in Sanskrit and in Maithili; and, hundreds of Padavali-s in regional dialects by Vaishnava saint-poets.



Prabandha in Historical perspective

18.1. The Prabandha served as an extremely versatile, resourceful and ever changing musical format allowing scope for many of regional variations.  Prabandha as a class of Music had a very long and useful life spread over centuries. It was the dominant form of Music, Dance and other poetical works for more than a thousand years ending by 1700 AD or a little later.

The term Prabandha almost went out of use after the 17th century. And, in its later stages, Prabandha came to be understood as the final component of a four-fold system (Chatur-dandi) devised by Venkatamakhin: Raga; Thaya; Gita; and Prabandha.

[Strangely, it appears that while the Chatur-dandi was being written, Prabandha as a class of Music was almost on its way out.]

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

18.3. For instance; the Dhrupad (Dhruva-pada) of the Hindustani Sangita Paddathi, which insists on maintaining purity of the Ragas and the Svaras, evolved from Salaga Suda Prabandha, which had five Dhatus namely Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva, Antara (optional) and Abhoga. Of these, the Abhoga, being very long was split into two sub parts the Sanchari and the Abhoga. The Dhruva was also dropped. The Dhatus of the Dhruva-pada-prabandha thus became Udgraha, Melapaka, Antara, Sanchari and Abhoga. Later Udgraha and Melapaka were combined into one division called the Sthayi. Thus the modern Dhrupad , rooted in Prabandha, has four divisions: Sthayi, Antara, and Sanchari Abhoga.

Dhrupad retained the essential nature of the Prabandha tradition of deep introspection in elaboration of the Raga and in expanding the rhythmic patterns.  Accordingly, the Dhrupad has continued to maintain the distinctions of Anibaddha (un-structured) and Nibaddha (structured) Gana through its Aalap and Bandish sections.

In the Prabandha, Tena or Tenaka , one of its  Six Angas, described as vocal syllables, meaningless and musical in sound with many repetitions of   the syllables or sounds like tenna-tena-tom, conveying a sense of auspiciousness(mangala-artha-prakashaka), was sung after rendering Ragalapti; but, before the main section of the Prabandha i.e. the Dhruva which was set in meaningful words (pada) and meter (Chhandas) with appropriate Taala cycles.

A similar practice was adopted in Dhrupad.  The Tena of Prabandha became the Nom tom of Dhrupad. It was elaborated after rendering the Alap but before taking up the Bandish.  The latter part of Alap slides into the more rhythmic nom-tom section, where the Raga develops with a steady pulse employing meaningless syllables such as nom tom dir tana etc, but without the binding of the Taala.

The counterpart of Nom tom in the instrumental music is the Jor –Jhala of Sitar.

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

The latter part of Bandish is the series of Improvisations executed mainly through playing on the words of the text by breaking it up, but keeping  the group of words , so formed distinct. This division of words synchronized with the beats and cross rhythms is called Bol- Bant. In addition, melodic ornamentations, such as meend and Gamaka are also employed for improvisation. And , with Pakhawaj  , Laya –bamt , an improvised and playful rhythmic patterns are woven in an enterprising manner.

18.4. In a similar manner , in the Karnataka Sangita , the Udgraha and Dhruva of the Prabandhas took on the name of Pallavi , while Melapaka , the bridge, came to be known as Anu-pallavi (that which follows the Pallavi).  The length of Dhatus (sections of the song) was extended by introducing the Antara as the second theme into Anu-pallavi. At the same time, the large number of sections (stanzas) was reduced. And, Abhoga the concluding section of the Prabandha became the last charana (stanza) of the Kirtana or Kriti accommodating the Mudra (signature) of the composer.

Tena that were originally used in the Tena-karana of the Prabandha lost their mystique nature and became meaningless musical syllables- Taana-s.

In the Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi , particularly in Veena , the Tanam , was derived from the Tena-karana  which was meant to be played on the Veena in the Nanda type of songs of the Viprakirna class of Prabandha. The  Taanam (played soon after the latter part of the Alapana)  is a particularly endearing segment of the Veena play of the Karnataka Sangita.

Svaras which had been prominent in the ancient Vartani and Svara –karana songs of the Shuddha Suda  and in Ali Krama  song Svarartha  re-appeared as Chitte Svara in Karnataka  Kritis;  and asSapta tan in Khyal of Hindustani Music.

The Neraval of Karnataka Sangita is similar to Bol- Bant of Dhrupad.

The application of the Drum syllables (Pata) once the a characteristic feature of the Paata and Bandha–karana of the ancient Shuddha Suda and of the vernacular Sukanku song of the Viprakirna led to the creation of new forms such as Hindustani Tarana and the Karnataka Tillana.

The simple devotional form Viprakirna type of Prabandha served as the model for various types of Padas, songs etc. In addition to the regular words (Pada) , the tone-syllables (Svara) , drum-syllables(Pata) , epithets (Birudu) , invocatory syllables (Tena) and musical meter (Taala) were used again for composing many song-forms in regional languages .

The Suladi and Ugabhoga songs of the Haridasa-s were derived from Salaga Suda Prabandha. And, Suladi Taala-s were also derived from the Prabandha practices.

The epithets Birudu which once had been the important element in the Birudu Karana of the Shuddha Suda and which mainly constituted the famous lauds (Namavali stotra) of Sanskrit literature (in the musical treatise called Stavana manjari) became the basic element of the Namavali and Divya nama Kirtanas of the Karnataka sangita.

As regards the Taala of the ancient Shuddha Suda, they found their way to the Karnataka Kirtana and Hindustani Dhrupad through the mixed forms of Salaga Suda, perhaps during the second half of the 12th century.

Thus, almost all musical forms in the realm of Karnataka sangita owe their origin to one or other types of Prabandhas. Many elements of the Prabandha found their re-birth in various musical forms such as Kriti, Kirtana, Varnam, Padam, Daru, Javali, Tillana etc.

19.1. By about the end of 17th century a realisation dawned on the musicologists and composers that Prabandha format had grown very rigid, laying more emphasis on the text than on the musical content; and, that the faithfulness to the form was, at times, carried to its limits.

19.2. And, Prabandha, naturally, had to give place to improvised, easier and innovative (manodharma samgita) forms of music having distinctive features of their own. Yet; here too, it is the basic elements of Prabandha that provided guidelines to modern composers of classical music.

19.3. Most of the medieval Prabandha-s eventually disappeared because of the stiffness of their musical construction. Yet; it should also be mentioned that Prabandha helped the Karnataka Sangita, enormously, in defining its  concepts and terms, specifying the structures of its songs , refining its Grammar  and in ensuring continuity of our ancient tradition.

In the next segment lets talk about the Desi Sangita and the Ragas.


Continued in Part Eleven

Desi Sangita



Sources and References

Indian Music: History and Structure by Emmie Te Nijenhuis

A History of Indian music by Swami Prajnanananda

Sagītaśiromai: A Medieval Handbook of Indian Music edited by Emmie Te Nijenhuis

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

The Traditional Indian Theory and Practice of Music and Dance edited by Jonathan Katz

Music and Musical Thought in Early India by Lewis Eugene Rowe

Kalātattvakośa: by Ramesh Chandra Sharma

Sangiti Sabda Kosa by Bimal Roy

Suladis and Ugabhogas  by  Mahamahopadyaya Dr. R .Sathyanarayana

Prathamopalabda Swarasahita Samkeerthana Sila Lekhanamu by I.V Subba Rao

Darus in Carnatic Music by Dr. Gowri Kuppuswami and Dr. M Hariharan; Published in ‘Shanmukha’, October 1986 (Vol.XII; No.4)


Posted by on May 10, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Ten

Continued from Part Nine – Musical Instruments in Natyashastra

Part Ten (of 22) – Anibaddha, Nibaddha and Prabandha

Anibaddha and Nibaddha

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

Nibaddha and Anibaddha are two related terms which have a long history. In the Natyashastra, while describing the three aspects of Pada (verbal syllabic structure) it is said: one that is governed by Chhandas and Taala signifies Nibaddha. And similarly, the absence of these is Anibaddha (NS. 32.28-29).

Sarangadeva defines Anibaddha as Aalapi which is not bound or which lacks rules (bandha-hinatva) – Alapir bandha-hinatvad Anibaddham itirita (Sangitaratnakara: 4.5).

1.2. Thus, Anibaddha Gita  is free flowing music that is not  restricted  by Taala; it is also   free from disciplines of Chhandas (meter) and Matra (syllables) ;  and, it does not also need the support of compositions woven with  meaningful words (Pada or Sahitya) . In fact, not one of these – neither Taala, nor Grammar, nor lyrics – has a role to play in the Anibaddha Samgita.

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

[ Bharata mentioned Pathya in the Natyasastra (17. 102); and, said:  “pathyam prayunjitam sad-alamkara-samyuktam” – the Sahitya of a song is called the Pathya, when it is embellished by six Alamkaras.  Abhinavagupta in his Abhinava- bharati explains that when any composition (sahitya) possesses six Alamkaras and sweet tones, it is known as a Pathya. These six Alamkaras are: Svara, Sthana, Varna, Kaku, Alamkara and Anga.  (Note: kakus are the variations of the vocal sound for expressing different ideas). Bharata considered Pathya under two heads:  Samskrita and Prakrita. Abhinavagupta followed Bharata in this respect.]

1.3. There is a mention of another way of classifying Nibaddha. It is said; there are two classes of Nibadda: Niryukta and Aniryukta. The Niryukta Prabandha was to be sung only to certain specified Taala, Chhandas, and Rasa etc. And, Aniryukta was free from such restrictions. Parshvadeva mentions a third variety called Ubhayatmaka Prabhanda in which some aspects of the song are fixed while others are optional.

[By about end of the 19th century, the terms Anibaddha Gita and Nibaddha Gita went out of use; and, were promptly replaced by the terms Manodharma Samgita and Kalpita Samgita. The revised names are very much in circulation today. Though the nomenclatures underwent a change, the principles behind the terms remained almost the same but with little variations.

Manodharma Samgita (just as the Anibaddha Gita) is improvised music that is not pre-composed. And, Kalpita Samgita is rendering a composition, which has already been constructed, with much practice and discipline. ]

1.4. In any case, whether be it Anibaddha/ Manodharma or Nibaddha/ Kalpita, the music that is created must be permeated with the fragrance of artistic beauty; and, at the same time, it must respect the norms and disciplines of the tradition in which the music that is played or sung is rooted. Improvisation could be understood as a means of self-expression, where the virtuoso artist brings in her/his own unique genius to adorn and to enhance the beauty and virtuosity of her/his presentation.  In other words, Improvisation is a means to upgrade the quality of presentation and give it a stamp of individuality; and yet, it will have to work within the bounds of the system, honouring its norms, disciplines and traditions.

2.1. The most well-known form of the Anibaddha type is the Aalapa (Raga Alapti)The Aalapa rendering is free from set words and Taala too. It is elaborate but delicate and precise presentation of a Raga.  It demands from the musician maturity, skill; complete understanding of the Raga and its nature; as also creative imagination.  It calls for patience and sensitivity in performing, if it has to evoke the listeners’ admiration and enjoyment. It is the Aalapa that, often, is regarded as a benchmark of a performer’s excellence.

2.2. The absence of Taala in Aalapa does not mean absence of Tempo. Aalapa generally follows a pattern of presentation.  It is said to be spread over in four stages. It usually has a rather slow introspective beginning (vilamba) in lower octaves (Mandra), followed by elaborations of the basic theme of the Raga in medium tempo, Madhyama-kaala, building into faster Tempo (Druta) leading to a crescendo (Ati-Druta). Indeed, Aalapa is one of the deeply moving, sublime experiences of the Indian music.

2.3. Apart from Aalapa, there are also other forms of Anibaddha type of music that are not pre-composed; that are not based in words; that are not played to a Taala; but yet , are the expansive elements of music. The most notable of that genre of singing/playing is Taana.

Taana or Taanam in Karnataka Samgita (comparable to Jor –Jhala in Hindustani Dhrupad and instrumental music) is played after the Aalapana, but before the commencement of the structured Kriti.  In Karnataka Samgita, Taana is performed both in vocal and instrumental music (but, particularly in Veena playing). These are unique in the sense that with the rise in tempo, the performer improvises and builds into the melody various patterns of rhythms, without, however, the element of Taala.

[Ugabhoga of the Haridasa-s, Shlokas and Ragamalikas, perhaps, fall in between Nibaddha and Anibaddha forms of music.  Here the Sahitya and the Bhava are important. But, these pieces are not set to Taala. And, the singer is also free to choose any Raga/Ragas to bring out the literary and musical values of the composition. The absence of Taala, somehow, seems to aid in enhancing the import of its Sahitya.]

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Manodharma Samgita

3.1. In this context, we may also talk about Sangathi, Neraval, Kalpana Svaras and such other elaborations in Karnataka Samgita. At the outset, I reckon these improvisations cannot strictly be considered as Anibaddha.

3.2. Sangathi is a way of weaving patterns elaborating certain lines of a Kriti. The Sangathi technique was, it is said, introduced by Sri Tyagaraja by adopting it from the Dance. In some of Sri Tyagaraja’s compositions, the Sangathi-s appear in the earlier segment (Pallavi) of the text (Sahitya).  But, it has since become a regular part of rendering of Kritis of other composers as well. The Sangathi is, usually, pre-conditioned variations of a phrase or a line of a song. And, the composer would already have envisaged briefer and finer variations of Sangathi-s into his work. The performer brings in her/his own improvisations to elongate the Sangathi-s.

3.3. Neraval, unlike Sangathi, is a small and flickering variation of a melody-filled line of a Kriti or a Pallavi. In Neraval, the Sahitya and its melody is spread out in various ways; and yet, keeping intact the original structure. The Neraval could also be expansive improvisation of the Raga-bhava. Creativity and spontaneous outpouring characterize an enjoyable Neraval.

The Neraval is comparable to the ancient Rupaka Alapti (as compared to Raga Alapti) where one line or the whole of the composition was taken up for melodic elaboration without , however, changing the text.

The Neraval of the present-day Karnataka Samgita is an aspect of the improvised Manodharma Samgita. And, in a concert, it precedes the Svara Kalpana.

3.4. Kalpana-Svara or Svara prastara is the expansion on the rhythmic patterns of the Svara (Sa, Re, Ga, Ma etc). It is a free-rendering. And, is a highly improvised presentation, often playful, that appears in the latter part of the song-rendering.  An entertaining Kalpana-Svara rendering calls for enterprising variations, often involving the accompaniments (Violin and the percussion instruments) in a good-humoured interplay (saval-javab). It, therefore, has great popular appeal.

3.5. As can be seen, Sangathi, Neraval or elaborations of the rhythmic patterns (Svara –prastara) are all based in Taala and are tied to the words in the text (Sahitya) of the composition. Though these provide immense artistic freedom to elaborate and to improvise in varied imaginative patterns, I reckon these are not strictly of the Anibaddha type.


Prabandha, Vastu and Rupaka

4.1. Sarangadeva (13th century) in the fourth Canto of his Sangita-ratnakara says: the Gayana (singing) is twofold – Nibaddha and Anibadda. That which is composed of Anga-s (limbs or parts) and Dhatu-s (elements or sections) is Nibaddha Samgita. And Alapita which is free from such structures is known as Anibaddha Samgita.

Then he goes on to say that Nibaddha has three names: Prabandha, Vastu and Rupaka. (But, he does not go into details of their internal differences.)

4.2. Parshvadeva a Jain musicologist (9-10th century) in his Sangita-samaya-sara (Ca.10-11th century) described Prabandha as a Giti (song) formed of four or six musical elements (Dhatu-s) –

(Chaturbhir-dhatubhih shadbhishcha-angairyah syat prarbandhate tasmat prabandhah).

He also recognized the classifications of Prabandha, Vastu and Rupaka.   In the fourth Chapter of his Sangita-samaya-sara, he explained the Prabandhas like Dhenki, Lambaka, Rasaka, Ekatali, etc. together with eleven kinds of Dhruva, and the process of singing (ganakrama), the Giti.

4.3. Sangita–shiromani (said to be a compilation by a group of scholars in the 15th century) says: One should know that Prabandha, Vastu and Rupaka are the three names of composed music based on Pada and other elements (Anga and Dhatu). Their internal structure is slightly different (13.6)

5.1. When the main sections of the composition contains all the Anga-s and Dhatu-s, either separately or in combinations, it is considered to be a Prabandha composition (13.7) .

5.2. As compared to Prabandha which has all the Angas, something which is exclusively composed of regular words (Pada) and musical metre (Taala) is said to be Vastu (lit substance or thing). It has the freedom to omit some of the Anga-s.

Kumbha (15th century) in his Sangita-raja (2.4-6) explains Vastu as one in which there is (vasanti) always (nityam) some Dhatu and some Angas (Dhatavo Angani kinchit); and its good sound is important (sad-vastu-dhvani-mukhyena). It is also said; that which ends in Apanyasa, Amsa and Nyasa (or else samnyasa), is Vastu.


Amsa the dominant note is the note in which the Raga resides (ragas ca yasmin vaasati) and manifests (raga-abhivyaktir bhavathi); and from which the movement of the low (mandra) and high (Tara) registers of five Svaras starts. Amsa is a Vivadi Svara.

Nyasa is the final note which occurs at the end of a section of the composition (Anga) – Nyaso hy Anga-samaptau. It is the note on which the song is fixed and ended. The final note is also described as the ‘name-giver’ as it gives the Jaati its name – Nyasas tu Svra-jaatishu namakrt.

As compared to Nyasa, Apanyasa is the penultimate note. It occurs before the final note (Nyasa), in the midst, which is to say in the Anga (section) – Anga-madhye.

Samnyasa is the final note of the first part of the song (Vidari); and, it is not a Vivadi Svara (dissonant)

Vidari is the section of a song. It is twofold: Mahathi and Avantara. That which fills up the Vastu is Mahathi. The others which are completed at the end of the episodes (Varna) are Avantara. Of both the kinds of Vidari, the final note is in the Vastu, the dominant. ]

5.3. Rupaka, derived from ‘Rupa’ (form), later was used as a general term for all dramatic compositions. In fact, Rupaka is the proper name for Sanskrit Drama; and, not Nataka.[And, Nataka is one of the ten recognized forms of Rupaka.]

The Dramatic compositions based in music (Geya-prabandha) also termed as Drshya Kavya ( a poem that is to be seen as also heard) were arranged as Rupaka  and Upa-Rupaka (minor forms of Rupaka). It is said; there were ten types of Rupaka-s and eighteen types of Upa-Rupakas (depicting a short theme or a self-contained section taken from a larger theme).

In Music, when there is scope for developing the melodic form (Raga) and other elements (ragadya-aropa) in a dramatic form, such composed music is called Rupaka (lit from) (13-8). It is explained by the later scholars that in Rupaka Alapti, either one line or the whole Prabandha is taken up and melodic variations are sung with the lyrics of the Prabandha.

[And, this perhaps resembled the Neraval of the present-day music].


6.1. Sangita–shiromani (15th century) says the song (gana) which has been written by composers (Vaggeyakara), which has special musical character (lakshana), which is based in Desi Ragas and which pleases people is Nibaddha (13.3)

Such composed music (Nibaddha) which is formed with Anga (phrasal elements) like: Pada (passage of meaningful words), Svara (tone syllables or passage of sol-fa syllables),Birudu (words of praise, extolling the subject of the song and also including the name of the singer or the patron), Taala (musical meter or time-units ),  Paata (vocalized drum syllables) and Tenaka (vocal syllables , meaningless and musical in sound with many repetitions) are known as Prabandha (13.5) ; and that which has in its main sections Dhatu-s (elements) : Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva and Abogha.

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

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

6.3. As said earlier, the Prabandha is conceptualized as Prabandha Purusha, a living organism , consisting six limbs , which function harmoniously as do the limbs of a healthy human body. Thus,  Prabandha could be understood as  a type of harmonious musical composition set to words, Raga, Taala, Chhandas, Vrtta; and governed by six Anga-s (Svara, Birudu, Pada, Tena, Paata and, Taala) and four sections-Dhatu-s (Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva  and  Abhoga).

6.4. Prabandha is basically a variety of Khandakavya (not particularly associated with Drama); and, at the same time it is also a song. And, therefore, the Chhandas and Taala rather than the musical element were central to the composition (perhaps with the exception of Geya prabandha s).

7.1. Prabandha-s do not figure in the earlier texts like Nāţyashastra and Dattilam.  They are dealt with in the texts  written after the 5th -6th century  , such as : Brihaddeshi (Ca, 5th century); Sangita-Samayasara ( Ca. 11th century); Manasollasa (Ca,12th century); Sangita-ratnakara (Ca,12-13th century) Sangita –samayasara (12-13th century) ; Sangitadamodara (Ca.14th century)  ; Sangita–shiromani (15th century);  Chaturdandi Prakasika (c.1635 CE) and  others. These texts describe the nature and the varieties of Prabandha, the salient features of their variations and the elements that are involved in the construction of Prabandha songs.

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

Some of the Prabandha- types mentioned in this text are: Kanda, Vŗtta, Gadya, Catushpadī, Jayavardhana, Ela and Dhenaki. (He pays particular attention to Ela) And, while describing the nature of Prabandha-s, Matanga did not employ terms such as Dhatu and Anga, as was done in the texts of the later periods.

7.3. Prabandha received a detailed treatment in the fourth Chapter Prabandha-adhyaya of Sarangadeva’s Samgita-Ratnakara which appeared about five centuries after Matanga. By the time of Samgita-Ratnakara, Prabandhas had grown into thousands. Sarangadeva explained Prabandha as that which is pleasant; and that which is governed by rules regarding Raga, Taala, Chhandas, Vritta (Sanskrit verses) and Anga. In his work, Sarangadeva described about 260 types of Prabandha-s with their variations.

7.4. Sangītasiromai (15th century) in its Chapter Eight presents a wealth of details on the Prabandha-s. It describes the four classes or cycles (Shuddha Suda, Ali karma, Salaga Suda and Viprakirna) of the Prabandha songs; the criteria of six elements (Anga-s – Taala, Svara, Pata Birudu, Tena and Pada) and four substances or Dhatu-s (Chhandas, Raga, Varna, and Gamaka).

7.5. Later, in his monumental work Chaturdandi Prakasika (c.1635 CE) Venkatamakhin gathered various music-forms under a fourfold system (Chaturdandi) comprising Gita, Prabandha, Thaya and Aalapa. Here also, Prabandha was described as ‘prabandhayeti Prabandha’ – that which is well structured (Nibaddha) is Prabandha.

However, the definition of Prabandha was narrowed down to include only those compositions which are made up of Six Angas (shadbhirangaisca) and Four Dhatus (chaturbhidhaturbhischayah). He also names the six Anga-s or elements of the musical Prabandha-s are Svara, Birudu, Pada, Tenaka, Paata and Taala. The four Dhatus are Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva and Abhoga.

“Ucyate shadbhirangaisca chaturbhidhaturbhischayah I Nibaddah swarasandarbhastasminneva hibhūriśa I Prabanda iti lokānām vyavahāro nirīkśyate” II “śadangāniitichedbrumaha swaraschabirudam padam I Tenakah pātatālau cetyetānyangāniśatpunah II


[Strangely, by the time Chaturdandi Prakasika appeared, the Prabandha, as a class of Music, was already on its way out.]

8.1. The Prabandha, generally, appeared to be highly ornate, varied compositions formed out of many sections (Dhatu) . They were ornate both in their elaborate poetical diction (Alamkara) and abundance of rich language (Sabdalankara) adorned with meaning (Arthalankara).  They were varied in the sense that many songs featured a mixture of different languages (Bhasha), Taala-s, Ragas; and frequent alteration between meaningful text and meaningless syllables. They were sectional in that Prabandhas were divided into distinct formal divisions and components with many changes of tempo, Raga and Taala. The word-play (pada-jala) was also prominent in the repertoire with clever use of alliteration of letters (anuprasa); alliteration of words (pada prasa), ambiguous use of a word where it conveys different meanings depending upon the context (latanu-prasa), play of pun (slesha or sabda slesha), change of voice (kaku) , and  poetic subversion  or deviant expression (vakrokthi) etc. The word (pada), meter (Chhandas) and Music (gana) were well structured and coordinated.

Prabandha was the dominant song-form for about thousand years or a little more till about the 17-18th century, which is until the advent of the Trinity of Karnataka Samgita.

[In the later stages, Prabandha merely came to be understood as the fourth component of the fourfold system (Chatur-dandi) of: Raga, Thaya, Gita and Prabandha.]

Types of Prabandhas

9.1. As   Matanga   remarked, the Prabandhas are indeed countless; and, ‘their complexities are beyond the understanding of weaker minds’.   Yes; it is a virtual jungle.

9.2. Parshvadeva (Ca.10-11th century), a Jain musicologist, in his Sangita-samaya-sara divided the Prabandha-s into three classes: Suda, Alikrama and Viprakirna. And, later in the 13th century, Sarangdeva split the Suda into Shuddha Suda and Chayalaga (the Apabhramsa or colloquial form of Chayalaga is Salaga Suda).- [ The Chayalaga or  Salaga Suda – as a class of Prabandha – was not mentioned either  in Matanga’s Brihaddeshi, or in Someshwara’s Manasollasa (1131).]

With that, the major types of Prabandha were counted as four: Shuddha Suda, Salaga Suda, Alikrama and Viprakirna.

: – The Shuddha Suda was again divided into eight parts: Ela, Karana, Dhenki Vartani, Jhombada, lambaka, Rasaka and Ekatali.

: – And Salaga Suda was divided into seven parts: Dhruva, Mantha, Pratimantha, Nisaruka, Addatala, Rasaka and Ekatali.

: – Several unclassified types were grouped under Alikrama Prabhanda; and it was divided into 24 parts: Varna, Varnasvara, Gadya, Kaivada, Angacharini, Dandaka, Turangalila, Gajalila, Dvipadi and so on

: – The Viprakirna was divided into Sriranga, Tripadi, Chatuspadi, Shatpadi, Vastu, Vijaya etc.

9.3. There is also mention of several other types of Prabandhas such as:

: Virashringara, Chaturanga, Sharabalita, Suryaprakasha, Chandraprakasha, Ranaranga, Nandana and Navaratna. (There are no clear descriptions of these types Prabandhas)

: Divya Prabandha, Naga Loka Geya Prabandha and Bharati Prabandha etc

: Gita Prabandha, Vadya Prabandha, Nrtya Prabandha, Taala-Prabandha, Geya Prabandha , Rupaka Prabandha, and Lakshana Prabandha etc

: Kanda, Varana, Vichitra, Vastu, Chachari, Chakravala, Bhanjani, Pratigrahnika, and   Tribangi,


There are also countless other forms

10.1. It is virtually not possible here to discuss all or even the most of the Prabhanda varieties. For the limited purpose of this post let’s, therefore, confine to the main or the better known types of Prabandhas.

Let’s take a look at the major types of Prabandha, their structure, elements and their other components in the next Part.


Continued in Part 11


Sources and References

Indian Music: History and Structure by Emmie Te Nijenhuis

A History of Indian music by Swami Prajnanananda

Sagītaśiromai: A Medieval Handbook of Indian Music edited by Emmie Te Nijenhuis

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

The Traditional Indian Theory and Practice of Music and Dance edited by Jonathan Katz

Music and Musical Thought in Early India by Lewis Eugene Rowe

Kalātattvakośa: by Ramesh Chandra Sharma

Sangiti Sabda Kosa by Bimal Roy

Suladis and Ugabhogas  by  Mahamahopadyaya Dr. R .Sathyanarayana

Prathamopalabda Swarasahita Samkeerthana Sila Lekhanamu by I.V Subba Rao

Darus in Carnatic Music by Dr. Gowri Kuppuswami and Dr. M Hariharan; Published in ‘Shanmukha’, October 1986 (Vol.XII; No.4)


Posted by on May 10, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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