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Concerning the Dasarupa of Dhananjaya – Part Four

Continued from Part Three

Dasarupaka of Dhananjaya


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The Third Book or the Third Chapter of the Dasarupa, in its 72 verses, deals, mainly, with the ten (Dasa) varieties of Rupakas or plays. Dhananjaya’s work derives its title from the subject-matter of this Book. Obviously, Dhananjaya considered the discussion on the ten varieties of Dramas as the cream or the ultimate purpose of his work.  Of the 65 Sections in Book Three, as many as 43 Sections are devoted to Nataka, regarded as the best and the most complete form of Drama, exemplifying the rules prescribed for such class of dramatic compositions. The other nine varieties of Drama are briefly defined (in sections 44-64), mainly, by listing the points of their divergence from the Nataka. And, their other common features are simply clubbed under a single phrase – ‘the rest, as in the case of the Nataka’ (sesham natakavat).

When one looks at the structure of the text from this angle, one will appreciate that Book Three is the main purpose of the text (Dasarupa); and, within the Book Three, the Nataka, around which the entire body of discussions revolve, is the central or the pivotal point. The concepts, the definitions and the explanations of the technical terms that occupied Book One (68verses) and Book Two (72 verses) , or discussions concerning the Avastha, Samdhi, Arthaprakrti Vrttis, Vastu and Neta etc., all seem to serve as  the background material or  the preparatory work needed to arrive at the very heart or the soul of the text , the Nataka . Thus, one could say, the Nataka is the summum bonum, in which all the values of a Dramatic composition are included or from which they are derived.


The impetus for the Dasarupa comes mainly  from  : Chapter 20 (Dasarupa – the enumeration and descriptions of the ten kinds of play); Chapter  21 (Sandhi or segments of the plot- itivtta);  and, Chapter  22 (Vrtti or styles of presentation) of the Natyashastra .

The Chapter Twenty of Natyashastra commences with the passage:

I shall now describe the division of plays into ten classes with their names, functions and modes of production.

These ten forms of plays are known as aka, Prakaraa, Aka (Utsṛṣṭikāka), Vyāyoga, Bhāa, Samavakāra, Vīthi, Prahasana, ima, and Īhāmga. I shall describe their characteristics in detail.

aka sa prakaraam ako vyāyoga eva ca bhāa samavakāraś ca vīthī prahasana ima 2

Ihāmgaś ca vijñeyā daśeme nāya lakae eteā lakaamaha vyākhyāsyāmya anupūrvaśa 3

 I shall describe hereafter the different methods of constructing plays.


The Natyashastra identifies ten major types of plays: aka, Prakaraa, Aka (Utsṛṣṭikāka), Vyāyoga, Bhāa, Samavakāra, Vīthi, Prahasana, ima, and Īhāmga.

All these ten forms of Drama (Dasadhaiva) are traditionally associated with certain modes or styles (Vrtti) of representations, which are the constituent elements of all dramatic works.  Such Vrttis are said to be of four kinds (vrttis caturdha) : Kaisiki; Sattvati; Arabhati; and, Bharati.  The Vrttis are the ways of rendering a scene; or, the acting styles and the use of language, diction that different characters adopt in a play, depending upon the nature or the Bhava that relates to the character.[ For more on Vrttis please Part Three in the series]

According to Bharata, the ten forms of Drama are classified based on the number and the types of Vrttis that are involved with it. Of the ten mentioned by him , only the two major forms – the aka and the Prakaraa – present all the variety of styles (Vrttis), for depicting different types of diverse situations. However, the other eight forms of Drama – the Bhāa, the Samavakāra, the Vīthi, the Īhāmga, the Utsṛṣṭikāka (Aka), the Vyāyoga, the ima, and the Prahasana – would not include kaiśikī-vttihī , the graceful Style.

Vīthī samavakāraśca tathehāmga eva ca utsṛṣṭikāko vyāyogo bhāa prahasana ima 8

Kaiśikīvttihīnāni rūpāyetāni kārayet ata ūrdhva pravakyāmi kāvyabandhavikalpanam 9

Bharata regards the Vrttis as the mother of all poetic works (kāvyānā mātkā vttaya), from which the ten kinds of compositions are evolved. He explains; just as the musical notes (Svara) constitute scales (Gramas) because of the Srutis coming together with their Jatis, so the varieties of plays come into existence due to combination of varied of styles (Vrttis). It is the number of Vrttis present in a play that assigns it a distinct class.

Sarveāmeva kāvyānā mātkā vttaya sm ābhyo vinista hyetaddaśarūpa prayogata

[Abhinavagupta took a dissenting view on this issue. He pointed out that though the Gramas (collection of Jaatis or melodic types), in music, might have common Svaras; yet, they differ from each other because of their internal order of arrangement (Aroha-Avaroha); the combination; and, the mutual relations of the Svaras. And, in a Jaati, within a Grama, a certain Svara might be prominent (amsa), or initial (graha) or final (nyasa), depending upon the type of the Jaati. It is because of such variations that each melodic-type gains its distinguishing character and flavour. Therefore, in all those cases, it is not the mere number of Svaras that truly matters.

In a similar manner, in a play, it is not the number of Vrttis, alone, that is significant. In certain types of plays one form of Vritti might be prominent or otherwise. The combination, the treatment and the variations of the Vrittis differs from one type of play to the other. Thus, the classification of the Rupakas is based on the treatment of the Vrttis, which might either be complete with all its angas (elements) or be lacking in some of them.]

While Bharata and Abhinavagupta laid stress on Vrtti, which, in their view, is the factor that defines the unique character of a Drama; Dhananjaya and Dhanika held Vastu (subject-matter), Neta (Hero) and Rasa (sentiment) as the elements which distinguish one form of drama from its other forms.


Though Bharata lists ten types of Dramas (Rupakas), which, apparently, is not exhaustive.  The other ancient writers talk about, in addition, certain minor types of dramatic works (Upa-rupaka). Perhaps, the earliest reference to Uparupaka occurs in the Kama-sutras of Vatsyayana who mentions plays Hallisaka, latyarasaka and Preksanaka of the Uparupaka type, watched by men and women of taste. Ahhinavagupta’s commentary on the Natyashastra occasionally mentions Upa-rupakas; but, without defining the class. Rajashekara calls his Prakrit play Sattaka as not being a Nataka, but resembling a Natika, excepting that pravesakas (preliminary scenes), viskambhakas (intermediary or connecting scenes) and ankas (Acts) do not occur.

[Though Natyashastra enumerates, and discusses Rupakas it does not mention minor forms like Uparupakas. Yet, it is the Uparupaka class based in music and dance movements are considered as the source of the living traditions such as Kuchipudi , Bhagavata Mela Natakas and Kuravanji dance-dramas. Such forms of Uparupakas are very attractive formats; for in them music and dance predominate. And, most of them are dances accompanied by songs, interpreting through Abhinaya or gesture, the emotional contents of the song.

Natyashastra does not mention all the different types of dramas. Kohala, another ancient writer, whose material is said to be mixed up in the present version of the Natyashastra, mentions a number of minor  varieties of dramas that are lyrical in their character; and,  in which music and dance predominate. Abhinavagupta names some drama-types under these varieties as: Dombika, Bhana, Prasthana, Sidgaka, Bhinika, Ramakrida, Hallisaka and Rasaka. But, nothing much is known about these musical varieties. ]

While Rupaka seemed to be the general term used for Sanskrit Dramas, the nomenclature Upa-rupaka indicated a minor type of dramatic composition (within the general class); technically, not satisfying all the classic, dramatic requirements, even when a full theme was handled. Vishvanatha in his Sahityadarpana lists as many as eighteen minor types (Upa-Rupaka), with examples. Among these, he regards the Natika (e.g., Sri Harsha’s Ratnavali, Priyadarsika) and Trotaka (e.g., Kalidasa’s Vikramorvasiya) as more important.

[In case, Natika is counted along with the other forms of Drama, then it would amount to eleven varieties. Bharata, however, explains that Natika is not an independent form; but, is a fusion, combining in itself (antarbhāvagatā) certain features of the Nataka and the Prakarana. And, therefore, the Rupas are only ten (ata eva daśaitāni rūpāī).

 Antarbhāvagatā hyeā bhāvayorubhayoryata ata eva daśaitāni rūpāī tyuditāni vai ॥18. 61

Dhananjaya, following Bharata, also says that the pure forms of Rupas are indeed only ten (Dasadhaiva); as Natika is but a blend of two forms. Here, in Natika, the subject (vastu) is taken from the Prakarana type.  The types of principle characters are as in the Nataka (Natahavat). The hero (Nayaka), a prince, of the illustrious Dhiralalitah class, is taken from a well-known source or is newly created; and, the innocent, beautiful and exceedingly charming (mugdha divya ca atimanohara) heroine (Nayika) is either a princess or a celestial nymph. And, the Rasa (mostly the Srngara-rasa) is also as that in the Nataka. The Natika containing an abundance of female characters is depicted in the graceful style, Kaisiki-vrtti; and, has four Acts (less than that in Nataka or Prakarana). Most of the action takes place within the Queen’s court or in the adjoining gardens – (DR.3. 46-52).

Tatra vastu prakaranan, natakan nayako nipah prakhyato dhiralalitah srngaro angi salaksanah– DR.3.47. ]


[According to the renowned scholar Dr. V Raghavan, the mere number of Rupaka – either ten or eleven- is not of much significance. In his view, the number ten is symbolic; indicating ten tendencies. He points out that all the ten varieties from Nataka to Ihamrga embody these ten tendencies in various degrees.]


Of the ten, the Nataka is regarded as the best, most important and complete form of Rupa. Dhananjaya regards Nataka as the root (Prakrti) of other dramatic forms. Bharata, in his Natyashastra paid greater attention to Nataka and to Prakarana, over the rest eight ; because, these two forms, according to him, lend abundant scope for presenting  all the four varieties of styles (Vrttis); in alluring Rasas; and, for  portraying  range of characters in diverse  types of situations.

Because of these reasons, the Nataka is spoken of first (purvam natakam ucyate).

Prakrtitvad athanyesam bhuyo rasaparigrahat sampurna-laksanat vac ca purvam natakam ucyate   DR.3. 1

 Let’s, therefore, begin with Nataka.


  1. Nataka

[ Dr. Schroder, a German scholar, opines that Natya, also known as Rupaka is of ten types; of which, the Nataka is most important. He says: In Sanskrit literature Nataka is very ancient. Even in Vedic literature we can find descriptions about Nataka. There are also references in Ramayana and Mahabharata of actors, dancers, singers and anchors. Many theories have been put up by the scholars while discussing the origin of drama.

Dr. Schroder thinks that Samvada-suktas are the origin of the Drama. He says that these Samvada-suktas used to be sung by a group of Udgatrus, in the Sama ; and,  enacted during specific Yajnas to the accompaniment of  music.

Some German scholars like Oldenburg, Windish, and Pishel think that initially these Samvada-suktas were the mixture of poetry and prose.  Poetry remained because it was interesting and melodious; while prose part slowly vanished because it was descriptive.

Drama exactly follows this form of ancient Samvada-suktas, as they are also a mixture of prose and poetry.

Bharata in the first chapter of Natyashastra mentions that in order to alleviate the sorrow of common people, Brahma created a Veda for Dramatics  (Natya-Veda) by taking prose from  Rig-Veda; music from Samaveda; acting from Yajurveda; and , emotions from Atharvaveda.]


Bharata, in a passage of six verses (from 19.144 to149) virtually offers his definition of Nataka. He explains that in a Drama (ya), the wide-ranging shades of human nature (lokasya nānā-avasthā-antarātmaka) with its joys and sorrows (lokasya sukha-dukha-samudbhavā) are demonstrated through a variety of representations and actions (nānā-purua-sacārā).

Those who take part in the Drama try to present the past exploits of the gods, sages and human beings (devatānām –ṛṣīnā ca rājñāṃ), by assuming their roles. The actors enact (abhinayate) or interpret, the roles assigned to them through speech, expressions, actions, gestures and other representations. While so acting on the stage, the actors try to give up or suppress their own individual identities and nature (yasmāt-svabhāva saṃ-tyajya);and, systematically, diligently assume the nature, behaviour, gestures and the emotions of the character that they are portraying (gopāga-gati-kramaiḥ). Bharata then remarks, the art of emulating the psychological, mental and physical state of a character calls for an exceptional and a truly dedicated effort. One should realize this truth.

The varieties of dramatic actions; the ways to bringing to life the essence of a character; and, the modes of presentation of actions on the stage, in an attractive manner (rūpāi kartavyāni prayoktbhiḥ), are all indeed countless (aneka-śilpa-jātāni naika-karma-kriayāi ca).

It  is essential that all those involved either in writing, producing or presenting a Drama should observe and study the ways of the common people of the world (Lokasvabhāva saprekya narāāṃ ) – their nature, their modes of behaviour (kāryaṃ) ,speech and dress ; their strengths and weaknesses (balābalam); and, their ways of enjoyment and reasoning (sabhoga caiva yuktiṃ).

Yo’ya svabhāvo lokasya nānā-avasthāntarātmaka so’gādy abhinayairyukto nāya mity-abhidhīyate 19.144

Yasmāt-svabhāva satyajya sāgopāga-gati-kramai prayujyate jñāyate ca tasmādvai nāaka smtam 19.146

Sarvabhāvai sarvarasai sarva-karma-pravttibhinānā-avasthā antaropetaaka savidhīyate 19.147

Anekaśilpajātāni naikakarmakriayāi ca tānyaśeāi rūpāi kartavyāni prayoktbhi ॥ 19.148

Lokasvabhāva saprekya narāā ca balābalam sabhoga caiva yukti ca tata kārya tu nāakam 19.149


Bharata, after describing Lasyangas, the graceful, fluid and charming movements; lists the four characteristics of an ideal Nataka.

He says, the playwright (kavi kuryāttu) while attempting a well constructed (suprayoga) Nataka with aptly chosen happy sounding words  (sukhāśrayam mdu-śabdā ) should ensure that it is composed of five Samdhis (pañcasandhi); four Vrttis (caturvtti); sixty-four Angas (catuḥṣaṣṭya-agasayutam); and, thirty-six Lakshanas (atriṃ-śallakaopetaṃ)adorned with Gunas, Alamkaras (guā-alakāra-abhūitam), many Rasas (mahārasaṃ); as also with topics concerning noble persons of sublime virtues (mahāpurua-sacāraṃ), exalted speeches (udātta-vacanā-nvitam) providing inspiration and great enjoyment (mahābhogam). Apart from that, the Drama should also portray the lives of common people, their happiness and miseries (sukha-dukha-samudbhavā) arising out of interactions with their fellow-beings and their multifarious deeds in the world (avasthā yā tu lokasya, nānā-purua-sacārā.)

Pañcasandhi caturvtti catuḥṣaṣṭyagasayutam atriśallakaopeta guālakārabhūitam 139

Mahārasa mahābhogam-udāttavacanānvitam mahāpuruasacāra sādhvācārajanapriyam 140

Suśliṣṭa-sandhi-sayoga suprayoga sukhāśrayammduśabdābhidhāna ca kavi kuryāttu nāakam 141

Avasthā yā tu lokasya sukha-dukha-samudbhavā nānā-purua-sacārā nāake’sau vidhīyate 142

Viswanatha in his Sâhitya-Darpana also described Rupaka (Nataka) as the most logical and perfect theatrical composition. It progresses in a systematic manner and concludes successfully, bringing joy to all.  He says, according to the Dasarupa, the structure of the Rupaka consists: five elements of the plot (Arthaprakrti), matching with the five stages of the action (KaryaAvastha), from which arise five structural divisions or sequence of events (Samdhi) of the drama, twenty-one subdivisions (Samdhyantara), having sixty-four Samdhyanga , adorned with thirty-six Abhushanas , ninety numbers of music, and four kinds of Vrttis – all of  which corresponding with the elements of the plot and the actions associated with the stages in the hero’s attempts to successfully realize his purpose or objects – Yattu pancachatuh–sastiscatuh–pancaikavisatih / sattrinsatravtisca tat-Natakam.

[To put it simply, In Sanskrit, Nataka is the most complete form of Drama. Its structure is logical. And, its construction is also quite detailed, being composed of five or more Acts, each of which comprising number of episodes depicting various scenes of action. It also employs intermediary scenes that connect its subdivisions. The Dramatic contents of a play find their expressions, through speech, gesture, songs, dance and other representations, in highly refined and attractive forms. . In its modes of depictions, the Nataka employs varied types of embellishments, sentiments, psychological states and actions. And, in case there are such matters, as are not presentable on the stage, they are suggested, indirectly, through explanatory devices.

The heroes in Nataka are generally exalted, descending from noble lineage, known far and wide, for their bravery, generosity and other good qualities. But there may also be other kinds of heroes. The heroines are beautiful; loving; pure in heart; sweet and cheerful; cultured; and, gifted with aesthetic sensibilities. The action in the play ends on an auspicious note, with the overcoming of the evil and the victory of the virtuous.  The major aim of Sanskrit Drama is to provide an unsullied and wholesome enjoyment to the spectators. And, at the same time, it is conducive to Dharma. ]


The three broad heads under which Dhanajaya discusses the subject of Drama are: Vastu (theme), Neta (the leading characters) and Rasa (the aesthetic sentiment it portrays).  Let’s briefly take a look at each form of Drama, with particular reference to these three criteria.


As regards the story of a play, it could either be adopted (itivrttam) from the incidents that occur in the well-known (Prakhyatha) legends of the past; or, could be a story invented (Uthpadya) by the poet; or else, it could be a mixture (Misra) of the two.  The story could also be about gods (Divya), humans (Marthya) and the like (Divyadivya).

prakhyatam itihasader utpadyam ; kavi-kalpitam;  misram ca samkarat tabhyam divya-martyadi-bhedatah.

Whatever might be the original story, if it is not suitable for the hero or is inconsistent with the sentiment (Rasa) he represents, then the story can be modified or re-arranged in some other way. After determining the beginning and end of the play in this manner; and, after dividing it into five parts, the author should then break it up into small interrelated divisions (Samdhi).

Yat tatra-anucitam Kim cin nayakasya rasasya va viruddham tat parityajyam anyatha va prakalpayet.

The purpose of such reshaping of the story and characters by the playwright is to achieve a harmony between the theme and its main character, in order to serve the ultimate purpose of the drama , which is to provide a delightful theatrical experience,  for  the  enjoyment  to the cultured spectators –  the   Rasa .

There should be a sense of balance in the treatment of the subject.  Neither the subject-matter should be isolated by its excessive coverage; nor, should it be cluttered or swamped with unrelated matters and needless elaborations.  

The plot should be simple, the incidents are consistent; the progression of the events should spring direct from the story.


The technical divisions of a drama and the development of the plot follow a set of carefully elaborated rules.

The Natyashastra mentions that there could be between five to ten Acts (Anka) in a Nataka. A regular Nataka will have five Acts. And, a Nataka with ten Acts is called Maha-nataka – (pancankam etad avaram dasankam natakam param). An interlude (Pravesaka) must always be made been the Acts.

An Act (Anka) is generally understood as a cohesive dramatization of events that occur within the course of a day.  However, the Natyashastra does not demand that these events run contiguously.  Normally, the action in a play depicts the events that occurred during the course of that day (or night). But, there are some noted exceptions where the invents in the first the Act and the second Act are separated by long years. In such cases, an intermediate scene (Vishkambha) is introduced as a link and also to explain/narrate the occurrences that took place subsequent to the previous Act.

Further, there might be certain types of actions or objects that should not or cannot be presented on the stage. As per the conventions followed in the Sanskrit Drama, one should avoid showing such events as: long travel; murder; war; loss of kingdom; siege of a city; violent over throw; bloodshed; eating; taking bath; un-dressing; sex act etc.

Further, it is said; a chariot, an elephant or a horse should not be brought on the stage. Similar is the case with palaces, hills or lakes. Such animals and geographical features might be suggested or indicated through models made of cheap materials. And, in case an army has to be introduced on the stage, that should be symbolically represented by the movement (gati-vīcāra) of four to six persons dressed as soldiers.


In a Nataka, the number of characters that really matter to the main story should not be too many. Similarly, the supplementary or the supporting characters, such as the attainders   etc., should at most be four or five.

As the play gathers momentum, in stages, its focus of attention should, progressively, be confined to characters and actions that are directly related to the main purpose of the story.  The play is structured in such a manner that it steadily moves from the general or the diffused towards the purposeful and pointed.  Its initial Acts might, comparatively, be lengthy; but, as the action moves towards the finale the Acts should get brief and pithy. . As Dhanajaya says, the Nataka, in its structure, should resemble the tip of a cow’s tail (gopuccha). All the exalted situations should be placed in the concluding segment (Nirvahana), awe-inspiring (Adbhuta), and radiating joy in celebration of Dharma – the victory of the good over the evil.


The concepts of tragic catharsis or tragedy are not present in the Sanskrit Drama. The Nataka, generally, starts on a happy note (Adi-mangala); and through the trials and tribulations of the hero a happy incident occurs in the middle (Madhya-mangala); and, the play concludes on an auspicious note (Antya-mangala). And, the whole proceeding comes to an end with the Bharatavakya , praying for the welfare and happiness of the King (Raja), his subjects (Praja) and the State (Rajya) ; and , for the peace and prosperity  (Shanthi , Samruddhi) of all the beings in the  three worlds (Trilokye) . 



The hero (Nayaka) the leading character of the Nātaka should be an ideal person, a worthy and exalted (Udatta) icon of virtue; descending from the noble lineage of royal seers. He should be  : resolute, young, endowed with intelligence, energy, memory, and wisdom; brave, firm, graceful, charming, sweet-tempered, soft-spoken, liberal, clever, affable, popular, upright, and eloquent.

Prakhyāta-vamso rājarsih-divyo-vā yatra näyakah/ tat prakhyātam vidhātavyam vrttam-atra-adhikārikam//

The Hero should be  one endowed with noble qualities of the type known as self-control, and exalted (Dhirodatta) , glorious , eager for fame, of great energy , a preserver of three Vedas (Trayi) , a ruler of the world , of renowned linage , a royal seer or a god . It is, basically, his story that forms the the principal subject (Adhikarana) of the Nataka.

mahasattvo ‘tigambhirah ksamavan avikatthanah sthiro nigudhahamkaro dhirodatto drdhavratah

The noble hero  has control over his senses; does not let emotions override his actions; maintains his composure even under dire circumstances; shelters the weak and threatened; always wishes and strives to do good to others; is also wise, well versed in Shastras and is skilled in arts.

The eight virtuous qualities of an ideal hero are: nobility of character (sobha), liveliness (vilasa), sweet-temper (madhurya), poise (gambhirya), firmness (sthairya), sense of honour or brightness (tejas), grace (lalita), and magnanimity (audarya).

 Sobha vilaso madhuryam gambhiryam sthairya tejasi lalita udaryam ity astau sattvajah paurusa gunah

sri Sita Ram


Dhananjaya initially mentions and describes three kinds of Heroines (Nayika tridha) : the hero’s own (Sva) wife; another person’s (Anya) wife; and, the common-woman (Sadharana-stri) – sva anya sadharanastri ‘ti tadguna nayika tridha. Bharata had presented a different classification:  divya (celestial); nrpapatni (queen); kulastri (modest house-wife); and ganika (courtesan).

The Nayika of a Nataka is usually of the first type. She would the Hero’s wife (svaya) . And, she would be either be a princess of renowned royal-heritage or a celestial beauty – virtuous (mugdha), dignified (gambhira, manini), charming (manohara) of loving-nature and devoted to her husband. (Nayika tadrsi mugdha divya catimanohara)

devi tatra bhavej jyestha pragalbha nrpavamsaja/ gambhlra maninl krcchrat tadvasan netrsamgamah



As regards its style of narration and depiction, Nātaka should adopt either the graceful Kaušiki Vrtti associated with the Srngara Rasa (suited for display of expressions of love, dance, song as also charming costumes and delicate actions ) ; or, the  exuberant Sattvati Vrtti  associated with  heroic Vira Rasa .

Dhananjaya, in his Dasarupaka said : a Nataka should principally portray one Rasa – either the Srngara or the  Vira; and,  in the concluding part  the Adbhuta Rasa becomes prominent

Eko rasa – angi -kartavyo virah srngara eva va / angamanye rasah sarve kuryan nivahane –adbhutam

 [But, Abhinavagupta, preferred not to lay any such restrictions. Instead, he argued that a play could be a judicious mix of several Rasas, with a major Rasa that defining the tone and texture of the play. He cited Nagananda of Sri Harsha, which in its initial stages display Srngara; but , towards the end,  it is the Shantha Rasa that pervades atmosphere of  the play.  And, he explained though the play had to deal with the horrific killing of the hapless Nagas, it underplays scenes of violence; and, exemplifies the virtues of peaceful coexistence and compassion towards all beings. It is that aesthetic experience of Shanta – peace and compassion towards the fellow beings – which the spectator carries home]


In the next part let’s talk about Prakarana and eight other forms of the Rupaka.




Part Five

Sources and References

The Dasarupa a treatise on Hindu dramaturgy by George C. O. Haas, Columbia University press / 1912

 A Study of Abhinavabharati on Bharata’s Natyasastra and Avaloka on Dhananjaya’s Dasarupaka – by Manjul Gupta

Sahityadarpanah of Viswanathakavirajah

The Theory of the Samdhis and the Samdhyangas in Natya Shastra by T.G. Mainkar

Sanskrit Dramaturgy

All images are from Internet

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Concerning the Dasarupa of Dhananjaya – Part Three

Continued from Part Two

Dasarupaka of Dhananjaya


David Cooper Photography 2008

The Second Chapter of the Dasarupa , in its 72 verses, classifies, sub-classifies and describes, in great detail, the types of characters in a play, especially the four types of Heroes (bhedais caturdha); three Kinds of Heroines (tadguna nayika tridha) with their twenty (strinam alamkaras tu virnsatih) according to their relations with the Hero; the opponent of the hero (Pratinayaka); the companions and those devoted to the hero; messengers of the Heroine and so on.


The term Nayaka (Hero) is derived from the root Ni, meaning to carry. The concept of Nayaka or Neta comprised not merely the hero but several other characters as well that appear in the play. Unlike Dhananjaya, Bharata did not regard Nayaka as the distinguishing element on the basis of which the ten forms of the Rupaka are classified. Bharata’s approach was broader as it covered a wide range of character-types of all classes.

Sri Rama

As per the  concept presented by Dhananjaya, the hero (Neta) the leading character of the Nātaka should be an ideal person, a worthy and exalted person of virtue; of noble lineage; resolute, young, endowed with intelligence, energy, memory, and wisdom; brave, firm, graceful, charming, sweet-tempered, soft-spoken, liberal, clever, affable, popular, upright, and eloquent. It is , basically, his story that forms the main theme of the Drama.

Prakhyāta-vamso rājarsih-divyo-vā yatra näyakah/ tat prakhyātam vidhātavyam vrttam-atra-adhikārikam//

The noble hero  has control over his senses; does not let emotions override his actions; maintains his composure even under dire circumstances; shelters the weak and threatened; always wishes and strives to do good to others; is also wise, well versed in Shastras and is skilled in arts;

The eight qualities of an ideal hero are: nobility of character (sobha), liveliness (vilasa), sweet-temper (madhurya), poise (gambhirya), firmness (sthairya), sense of honour or brightness (tejas), grace (lalita), and magnanimity (audarya).

 Sobha vilaso madhuryam gambhiryam sthairya tejasi lalita udaryam ity astau sattvajah paurusa gunah

Dhananjaya mentions four kinds of heroes- bhedais caturdha lalita santo udatto -ddhatair ayam. :

(1) Dhira-lalita, the light-hearted hero, fond of arts, happy, gentle, free from stress – niscinto dhiralalitah kalasaktah sukhi mrduh;

(2) Dhira-shantha, the self-controlled and calm hero , possessed of generic merits of a hero – samanya-guna-yuktas tu dhirasanto dvijadikah;

(3) Dhirodatta, the self-controlled and exalted hero of great excellence , exceedingly earnest, forbearing, not boastful, resolute with self-assertion  suppressed, and firm of purpose-mahasattvo ‘tigambhirah ksamavan avikatthanah sthiro nigudhahamkaro dhirodatto drdhavratah; and,

(4) Dhiroddhata, the vehement hero, altogether dominated by pride and jealousy, wholly devoted to magic practices, and deceitful, self-assertive, fickle, irascible and boastful – darpa-matsarya-bhuyistho maya-chadma-parayanah dhiroddhatas tv ahamkarl calas cando vikatthanah..

In a play in which a Hero is endowed with noble qualities of the type known as self-control, and exalted (Dhirodatta) , glorious , eager for fame, of great energy , a preserver of three Vedas (Trayi) , a ruler of the world , of renowned linage , a royal seer or a god – in that , his characterization is to be made the principal subject (Adhikarana).

Sita Ram


Dhananjaya initially mentions and describes three kinds of Heroines (Nayika tridha) : the hero’s own (Sva) wife; another person’s (Anya) wife; and, the common-woman (Sadharana-stri). Bharata had presented a different classification: divya (celestial); nrpapatni (queen); kulastri (modest house-wife); and ganika (courtesan).


There is also an eight-fold classification of the Heroines (Ashta Nayika), depending upon their relations with the Hero:

One who loves to dominate her husband (svadhina- bhartrka or svadhina-patika);

One who loves to dress well and to adorn herself, as she joyfully waits for her lover (vasaka-sajja);

One who cannot tolerate her lover being away from her (viraha-utkanthita) and is disturbed (unmanas) when he delays meeting her;

One who gets furious (khandita) when she discovers that her lover is having an affair with another woman;

One who after a quarrel with her lover moves out (kalaha-antarita), and later upset with herself in righteous anger and remorse ;

One who feels deceived and is deeply hurt (vipralabdha) when her lover fails to show up on-time at the rendezvous agreed upon;

One who is lonely (prosita-priya) when her lover is in a distant land because of war or business;  

 And, one who, deeply in love, sets out in great hurry and anxiety to meet her lover  (abhi-sarika).

[Dhanika, further divides the eight into two classes; and, by permutation comes up with 128 varieties of heroines.]

Dhananjaya lists as many as twenty natural graces of women in the prime of youth. These are again made into three groups.

The first three are related to expressions or manifestation of love: emotions or feeling (bhava); bodily gestures (hava); and passion (hela).

The second group of seven components are related to the inherent characteristics of the heroine: graceful beauty (sobha); lustrous loveliness (kanthi); endearing sweetness (madhurya); poise and courage (pragalbhata); generosity (audarya); and steadfastness (dhairya).

The third group of ten virtues relate to her attitude and dispositions: sportive attitude (Lila); charmingly delightful (vilasa); good-taste (vicchitti); a bit of confusion (vibhrama), easily excitable (kila-kinchita); very affectionate (mottayita); pretending to be angry , in jest (kuttamita); mock-indifference (bibboka); a bit laid-back or relaxed (lalita); and, bashful (vihrta).

 [These twenty qualities are again discussed, in detail, later in the text.)


The Sanskrit Drama carefully classifies and sub-classifies the Heroine into as many as sixteen types.

 heroine b-w


Such fondness for minute sub-division of almost every element of the Drama into as many theoretically possible numbers of types as possible   is a defect in the Sanskrit dramaturgy. Such stereotyped threadbare manipulation of characters, actions, styles is rather futile.  Apart from being of no practical use, they rob the playwright of his initiative and enterprise. Every aspect of Drama is typecast and pigeonholed. It is not therefore surprising that over a period, the Sanskrit Drama lost freshness ,  became too conventional and eventually losing their appeal.


Supporting characters

The section on Neta, apart from the Hero and the Heroine, includes the supporting characters, such as the companions of the hero; the  maids and messengers in service of the heroine ; and , the opponents of the Hero as well. Just mention about these briefly:

The companions of the Hero, i.e., those assisting and attending (pithamarda) and devoted to him are, usually, possessed of qualities similar to that of the Hero, though in a lesser degree. In addition, there would a fun and food loving, good-natured, but a rather incompetent jester (Vidushaka); and another, a sort of parasite (Vita).

The Heroine, usually, has in her service a set of maidens, who attend on her as maid-servant (dasi), and also serve as messengers (dutyo).  The Heroine might use any of those women, as also a foster-sister (dhatreyi), a woman skilled in crafts (silpini), a neighbour (prativesika), and a female ascetic (lingini) to pass on private messages to her lover. Some of these are also her friends (sakhi), confidants and advisors – (dutyo dasi sakhi karur dhatreyi prativesika lingini silpini svam ca netr mitra gunanvitah.)

The opponent of the hero (prati-nayaka), falling under the fourth type of the Hero (Dhiroddhata) is often depicted as avariciousness, vehement, stubborn, criminal and vicious (lubdho dhiroddhatah stabdhah papakrd vyasani ripuh)



Bharata had mentioned:  Vrttis or Styles are traditionally known as the constituent elements of all dramatic works (lit. poems).  It is said; the Vrttis have been so named because of the element or the action that is predominant in them.  the ten kinds of play are considered to have proceeded from these Vrittis.

sarveāmeva kāvyānā mātkā vttaya sm ābhyo vinista hyetad-daśarūpa prayogata 18.4

Another important element of the Drama that is discussed in Book  Two  of the Dasarupa is the concept of Vrtti  ( which Bharata considered as the mother of all poetic works – kāvyānā mātkā vttaya sm), the ways of rendering a scene; or , the acting styles and the use of language , diction that different characters adopt in a play, depending upon the nature or the Bhava that relates to the character. Thus, the Vrttis get related to the four types of heroes and four kinds of representations. And, since Vrttis are also related with Rasas, they set the mood or ambiance on the stage by their distinct style of dramatic representation. In other words; the Vrttis call for the excellence of the mental, physical and vocal efforts of the actors portraying their characters.

Vrttis are said to be of four kinds (vrttis caturdha): Kaisiki; Sattvati; Arabhati; and, Bharati.

The Kaisiki-vrtti (graceful style) which characterizes the tender Lasyanga associated with expressions of love, dance, song as also charming costumes and delicate actions portrayed with care, mostly by women,   is most suited to Srngara-rasa (tatra kaisiki gita-nrtya-vilasadyair mrduh srngara-cestitaih). Kaisiki has four varieties (Bhedas): Narma (good-natured small-talk); Narmaspinja (pleasure blooms at the first meeting of lovers); Narmasphota (the lovers delighting in each other company); and, Narma-garbha (covert pleasure; incognito). The prefix Narma indicates cheer or laughter.  Kaisiki is the most charming and delightful combination of Srngara and Hasya, playful expression one’s affection or longing for union with the lover.

Sattvati Vrtti (flamboyant style) is a rather gaudy style of expressing ones emotions with excessive body-movement; exuberant expressions of joy; and, underplaying mellow or sorrow moods.  It is associated with the Vira , Adbhuta and Rauidra Rasas (vire sattvaty) – arabhati punah rase raudre ca bibhatse vrttih sarvatra bharati. The Sattvati Vritti has four varieties: Uttpatha (raising up to the conflict); Sallapaka or Samlapaka (heroic and passionate words or challenge); Sanghatya (breach of alliance or that which breaches alliance

Arabhati-vrtti is a loud, rather noisy and energetic style. It is a powerful exhibition of one’s anger, valour, bordering on false-pride, by screaming, shouting, particularly, in tumultuous scenes with overwhelming tension, disturbance and violence. It is associated with Raudra (furious) and Bhibhatsa (odious) Rasas (arabhati punah rase raudre ca bibhatse). The Arabhati has four varieties: : Sanskipta ( brief, elaboration , condensed representation of the plot); Avapata ( commotion, fear, jubilation , panic, fall, puzzled behaviour, quick entrance and exit of characters); Vastu Uttahapanam ( elevation of the plot, combination of all other Vrttis); and , Sampheta ( conflict, fights, combats, betrayal, excitement ). Arabhati is also attended with feats of jugglery, conjunction and conflicting situations, where bodily actions are prominent.

And, Bharati-vrtti is mainly related to a scene where the speech or dialogue delivery is its prominent featureBut, generally, the Bharati-vrtti, related to eloquence, is of importance in all the situations (vrttih sarvatra bharati). It is devoid of Srngara, Karuna and Nirveda (dispassion).  The Bharati-Vrtti has four varieties: Parochana (introducing the play and playwright to the spectators); Amukha or Prastavana (where the Sutradhara strikes a conversation with the Nati or Vidushaka, as a prologue to the play); Vithi (sort of monologue the Sutradhara carries on before the play proper); and, Prahasana (hilarious conversations between minor actors). Abhinavagupta suggested the terms: Kathodghata (which consists in some characters catching up with the words or intent of the Sutradhara); Pravartakam (introducing the subject), Prayogatishaya (where the director mentions the entry of a character of the drama), in place of Parochana, Amukha and Vithi. All these take place, mostly, in the Purvanga, the preliminary to the play proper.

[There is much confusion about the terms Vithi and Prahasana. They are used in different contexts carrying different meanings. The Vithi and Prahasana mentioned by Bharata as the Bhedas of Bharati Vrtti refer to the Angas of Vithi and also the two kinds of dramas.]


Before concluding on the Vrttis, Dhananjaya mentions : the actions that take place in a play should be an authentic portrayal of the language, the gestures, the costumes and the characteristics (Desa-bhasa-kriya-vesa-laksanah) of the people of the region, to which the plot of the play belongs. The playwright should promptly adopt such suitable details (yatha-ucityam prayojayet), as are in practice (pravrttayah) among the common people (lokad) of that region.

 Desa-bhasa-kriya-vesa-laksanah syuh pravrttayah lokad ava-vagamyaita yatha-ucityam prayojayet.

Here, Dhananjaya introduces another division among these four Vrttis. He creates two other sub-classes: Artha-vrtti and Sabda-vritti. According to Dhananjaya, the first three (Kaisiki; Sattvati; Arabhati) which deal mainly with action fall under Artha-vrtti; while, Bharati, where language and the presentation of the speech is of importance, is brought under Sabda-vritti.

But, neither Bharata nor anyone else had made such a distinction.  Many scholars opine the sub-classification made by Dhananjaya was rather needless.

According to Bharata, of the ten forms of Drama, Nātakas and Prakaranās should contain all the four Vrttis; hence, they are called Pūrna-vrtti Rūpakas (NS.17.7). And, the other eight Rūpakas should be represented without giving prominence to Kaisiki-vrtti (NS.18.8-9).They may contain one of the other three Vrttis as the prominent one, and the three others to a lesser degree.

However, Abhinavagupta had pointed out:  it is not the number of Vrttis, alone, that is important. In certain types of plays one form of Vritti might be prominent or otherwise. The combination, the treatment and the variations of the Vrittis differs from one type of play to the other. Thus, the classification of the Rupakas is based on the treatment of the Vrttis, which might either be complete with all its Angas (elements) or be lacking in some of them. Thus, the mere number of Vrttis in a play, by itself, is not very significant.

[ The critics point out: though Bharata mentioned ten types of Drama, he discussed mainly about its two forms – Nataka and Prakarana, perhaps because these two alone fulfilled all those requirements that were necessary for Rupaka (Major type). Further, Bharata had also explained :  ‘as these two major forms alone depict varieties of situations , made up all the styles (Vrttis) and representations,  they lend  enough scope for display of Rasas (Rasapradhana or Rasabhinaya or vakya-artha-abhinaya); while the other eight forms are incomplete , as they are not presented in the graceful style, the kaisikivrtti’.

Thus, while Bharata and Abhinavagupta stressed Vrtti as the distinguishing character of a Drama; Dhananjaya and Dhanika held Vastu (subject-matter), Neta (Hero) and Rasa (sentiment) as the elements which distinguish one form of drama (Rupaka)  from its other forms  (vastu neta rasas tesam bhedako) .

For Dhananjaya, these three were pivotal points; and, he went about constructing his work, analyzing the whole of dramaturgy around these three parameters (pradhāna, netà and rasa). Therefore, while conducting a study of each class of the Drama, he does it with reference to : (1) their subject-matter or the plot (Vastu), the main theme (adhikarika), the episodes (angam) and the incidental events (prasangika);  (2) the types of characters they portray (Neta), such as the class of the hero, heroine and other supporting roles;  (3) the structural divisions of the play , the stages in their  corresponding with the elements of the plot (avastha), the actions essential for attaining the object of the play (Arthaprakrti) ,  the  sequence of  episodes (in the development of the play (Samdhi); and, (4) the Rasa , the  principal or the  dominant  sentiment of the play.]


Dhananjaya concludes the Second Book of Dasarupa, which covered a number of essential ingredients of the Drama, with homage to Bharata and to Lord Shiva:

Who but Bharata or the crescent-crested god Shiva would have been able to enumerate , without omission, all the varieties of action (Vrttis) , the qualities (Guna) , the utterances (Vak) , and the involuntary States (sattvabhava) that are inseparable from (a-vibhinna) the ten (four types of heroes and six types of heroines) varieties of leading character (netara-dasa-vibhinnan) ?’

Cesta-guno-dahrti sattvabhavan / asesato netara-dasa-vibhinnan / ko vaktum Iso Bharato na yo va /  yo va na devah Sasi khandamaulih //


In the next Part, we shall talk about the ten forms of Drama which is the main theme of Dhananjaya’s work; and about Rasa as discussed in Book Three and Book Four of the Dasarupa.

Nayana4 crop



Part Four

Sources and References

The Dasarupa a treatise on Hindu dramaturgy by George C. O. Haas, Columbia University press / 1912

 A Study of Abhinavabharati on Bharata’s Natyasastra and Avaloka on Dhananjaya’s Dasarupaka – by Manjul Gupta

Sahityadarpanah of Viswanathakavirajah

The Theory of the Samdhis and the Samdhyangas in Natya Shastra by T.G. Mainkar

Sanskrit Dramaturgy

All images are from Internet

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Concerning the Dasarupa of Dhananjaya – Part Two

Continued from Part One


As mentioned earlier, the Dasarupa of Dhananjaya is a compilation of the extracts taken from the Natyashastra of Bharata.

Dhananjaya’s work is , essentially, a collection of the rules, the terminologies, their definitions and the elements pertaining to Drama, as extracted from the Natyashastra; and, arranged under certain broad heads. The Dasarupa is a compact work, intended to serve as a manual for the use of those interested in the subject of Drama.

As its name suggests, the text is focused on the ten types or classes of Drama that were mentioned in the Natyashastra; and, on the presentation and analysis of their technical features, plot constructions along with their distinguishing characteristics.

[Let me mention, at the outset, what I have posted below is but a brief summary of the few of the selected topics described in the Dasarupa. I have tried to avoid going into various sub-classifications and too many details enumerated in the text. For the complete text, with its translation in English, please click here.]


Before we discuss the main subjects covered by the Dasarupa, let’s briefly take a broad look at its structure and the arrangement of its theme and topics. .

The Dasarupa which commences with a prayer submitted to Lord Ganesha has four Prakashas or sections, containing, in all, about three hundred Karika (verses).

Namas tasmai Ganesaya yatkanthah puskarayate / madabhogaghanadhvano nilakanthasya tandave //



The First Book or the First Chapter consists of 68 verses.  After paying homage to Lord Vishnu who displayed ten incarnations (Dasa-Avatara); and, to Bharata who enunciated the ten forms of Drama (Dasarupa), Dhananjaya seeks the blessings of Sarasvathi the Goddess of wisdom, arts and all learning.

He then states the objective of his work as to give concisely and directly the import of the rules pertaining to Drama, as set down in Natyashastra, in its own words (tasyarthas tatpadais tena samksipya kriyate anjasa)

Dhananjaya then goes on to list (pratipadam laksma) the definitions of some of the fundamental technical terms that appear in the Natyashastra – (pratipadam aparam laksma kah kartum iste)

He commences by stating that Drama is an imitation of situations in life (Avastha-anikrtir natyam); and, it is called a Rupa (form), because it is, basically, a visual presentation (rupam drsyatayocyate), made by actors who assume the forms of various characters that are assigned to them (rupakam tat samaropad), such as gods, kings, men or women of various sorts.  It is said; Rupa refers to delineation, giving a concrete form to an idea. Then, he just lists the names of the ten chief varieties of Drama that are based in different Rasas (dasadhaiva rasasrayam)

[The phrase Avastha-anikrtir natyam, as quoted by Dhananjaya might give an  impression as though the Drama is the art of reproduction by imitation (anukriti), But, Abhinavagupta had  earlier objected to such a banal view, saying that mere imitation of other’s movements would produce the ludicrous; and, the imitation of other’s feelings and emotions is impossible. He held the view that Drama is an artistic creation, where music, dance, acting as also the dress, colours, and the stage environment etc., all unite harmoniously in an effort to create a delightful dramatic performance. According to him, such a presentation becomes an art when its narration in the form of dialogues associated with suitable gestures, postures, movement, dance, dress and music etc., succeeds in giving expressions to sentiments and passions so as to rouse similar sentiments in the minds of the audience. Thus, Drama is an entirely a new art that aims to enliven the hearts and minds of the audience; generates in them an aesthetic joy; and, it is not an imitation in the ordinary sense of the term. ]


 Marga- Desi

Dhananjaya mentions the broad categories of Dance-forms as: the Marga (the pure or pristine); and, the Desi (the regional or improvised) – adyam padartha-abhinayo Margo Desi tatha param. As regards the particular Dance forms, Dhananjaya says: the Nrtya, which, principally, is display of various emotional states (bhava-asrayam nrtyam), is a representation of the traditional Marga class. While, Nrtta, with emphasis on limb-movements, in tune with rhythm and timing (nrttam tala-laya-asrayam), belongs to the popular Desi style.

Under each of these (Nrtya and Nrtta) there is again 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.)


After offering short definitions of these terms, which  are auxiliaries to Nataka and to the other varieties of Drama,  Dhananjaya moves on to the definition of such terms as are directly connected with the major theme of his work –  the Drama (Rupa).

He broadly follows Bharata , who had said : A Nātaka is having five Arthaprakrti; five kâryāvasthās; five Samdhis; four Vrittis;   sixty-four Sandhyaga; twenty-one Sandhyantārā, thirty-six Abhusanas; and, ninety music.. Yattu pancachatuh –sastiscatuh –pancaikavisatih / sattrinsatravtisca tat-Natakam


Vastu -Neta -Rasa

The rest of the First Chapter is devoted to the discussion of Vastu, the subject-matter, in detail, about its sub-divisions; and, also of the structural components or the elements of the plot.

He states that the three essential elements , on which the  Dramas are based and  classified,  are : the Vastu (subject-matter) ; the Neta (the leading character- the Hero) ; and , the Rasa (the sentiment it portrays ) . It is on the basis of these three criteria that Dramas are categorized into different types – Vastu Neta Rasas tesam bhedako.

The plot should be simple; the incidents should be consistent; and, the progression of the events should spring direct from the story. It should make an interesting presentation on the stage; and, should provide entertainment to varied class of spectator. That is the basic purpose of the Drama. The ability to please the spectators, to capture their imagination and to make them visit the theatre more often is a major indicator of the success of the play.

The Subject-matter (vastu) can be depicted in two ways (Vastu ca dvidha) – the main theme (adhikarika) along with the subordinate (angam) incidental events (prasangika) – Tatra adhikarikam mukhyam angam prasahgikam viduh.

The major theme (Vrttam) of a Drama would, usually, be about the intense desire or the objective (Adhikara) of the principal character of the play (i.e., the Hero, the Adhikarin); and, how he goes about to realize that goal. The sequence of incidents or actions that follow during the course of the Hero’s attempts, mainly, to achieve his objective or the desired result would be its principal subject (Adhikarika); and, the related minor ones would form the incidental the subject (prasangika).

[For instance; in Ramayana, the story of Rama and Sita is Adhikarika. The stories of Sugriva and Vibhishana are Prasangika, supplementary to the main story.]



The action of the play expands in manifold ways (vistary anekadha), just as a seed (Bija) very small at the beginning, grows, in stages, and expands into a tree.

The process of unfolding of the story could be marked by five stages or elements of action (Arthaprakrti or Karyalakshana): the beginning (Bija) or the cause (hetu) giving rise to various types of actions; the expansion (Bindu), which like the drop of oil in water, spreads and joins the broken ends, expands and maintains the continuity (accheda-karana), till the very end of the play, in all the Acts; the episodes of  considerable length (Pathaka), which  carry forward  and support the main cause of the  action ; the incidents within the episode (Prakari), of limited duration and of minor importance , yet, serving the principal plot; and, finally the conclusion (Karya), which also sums up the whole action, starting  from the beginning  and leading up  to the ultimate gainful result  (Phala).

Bija-bidu-patakakhya prakari-karya-laksanah arthaprakrtayah panca ta etah parikirtitah.

Following the analogy of the seed and the tree, it is explained, in Arthaprakrti also, the Bija, the germinal-idea, just like a seed, is the origin. And, it goes through several stages namely: appearance (Utpatti), opening up (Udgnatana), going forth or sprouting (Udbheda) and coming out distinctly (Nirbedha). And, just as the seed develops gradually into a tree and bears fruit, here too the Bija develops, in stages, and finally concludes in Karya. And, thus succeeds in bringing the whole series of actions in the play to  a happy (mangala) desired finale  (Phala) .

Bīja bindu patākā ca prakarī kāryameva ca arthapraktaya pañca jñātvā yojyā yathāvidhi NS.19.21

 [The charge levelled against Dhananjaya and Dhanika is that they just state the Arthaprakrti and fail to discuss its importance in the play or its relation with the Avastha, another format of plot-construction.]



The plot could also be structured in another manner so as to depict the successive, ordered (Yathasamkhya) stages of action (Avastha) in the Hero’s (Neta) attempts to accomplish his purpose. The actions involved in the hero’s way to success are structured into five distinct segments or stages : (1) beginning of the action (Arambha) with eagerness to attain the result; (2) the efforts made by the hero to move resolutely, with great haste, towards his objective despite the odds and resistance he has to contend with (Yatna or Prayathna); (3) actions leading him nearer to the objective, with hope of success mixed with fear of failure (Prathi-sambhava); (4) actions or incidents that ensure certainty of realizing his goal,  as by then the dangers and risks  would have been bypassed or  eliminated (Niyatapti) ; and, (5) finally, the crowning glory, the complete and satisfactory achievement of his desired objective (Phala-agama or Phala-prapti or Phala-yoga)

Avasthah panca karyasya prarabdhasya phalarthibhih ararnbha-yatna-praptyasa-niyatapti-phalagamah.

The Avastha, with its five stages, is a comprehensive model which begins with eagerness and zeal; resolutely passes through strenuous efforts, overcoming several obstacles, mixed with anxiety, hope and fear; and, finally ends happily  in the total acquisition of the desired object.  Its elements, taken together, portray the physical, mental and psychological states of the hero (Neta) throughout the action of the play. 

These five stages, in their successive order (Yathasamkhya), form the essential, classic features of any type of human endeavour; not merely Drama.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad calls upon:

‘You are what your deep, driving desire is; as your desire is, so is your will (sa yathā-kāmo bhavati tat-kratur-bhavati); as your will is, so is your deed (yat-kratur-bhavati tat-karma kurute) ; as your deed is, so is your destiny (yat-karma kurute tad-abhi-sapadyate”- (Brhu. Up. 4.4.5).



Another way of structuring the plot (the body, the Sarira of the play) is by creating links, for connecting one scene with the other. These are the Samdhis, the segments of the plot (Artnavayavah), joined mutually or with the limbs (angaih) of the otherantaraika-artha-sambandhah samdhir ekanvaye sati. These Samdhis (junctures) knit together the various structural divisions of the Drama, consistent with the elements of the plot, and with the stages in the Hero’s struggle on his way to achieving his purpose, right from the beginning up to the successful conclusion.

The five stages of  the developments or the progressions in the action of the play in that regard are :   (1) Mukha (lit. face) , the section where the action originates in a seed-form (Bija) giving rise to various purposes and sentiments (mukham bijasamutpattir nana-artha-rasa-sambhava ); (2) Prathimukha ,  the development of the seed – sometimes visible  and sometimes not ; but, there all the while and progressing (laksya-alaksya atayodbhedas tasya pratimukham bhavet); (3) Garbha, the section of the play where the seed springs up and strives to grow despite the difficulties and challenges it is confronted with (garbhas tu drstanastasya bijasya-anvesanam muhuh); (4) Vimarsa or Avamarsa, a crucial or rather testing time in the development of the seed which has now  grown into Garbha , facing troubles; and, when  one stops to reflect (avamrsed) because of getting embroiled in entanglements (aslesa), snared in temptations (vilobana), doubts, anger , or following a misleading clue, thus temporarily arresting its development (krodh en avamrsed yatra vyasanad va vilobhanat); and, (5)  finally, the Nirvahana  or the Upasamhrti, when the scattered threads are harmonized and knit together;  when all the main incidents of the play are  meaningfully interwoven ; and , the play is brought to a successful conclusion – (bijavanto mukhadyartha viprakirna yathayatham aikarthyam uparuyante yatra nirvahanam hi tat).

Mukha-pratimukhe garbhah sa vamarsa upasarnhrtih.

 [For an exhaustive study of the Samdhis, please click here.[


These three – Arthaprakrti, Avastha and Samdhi– could be treated as parallel methods of structuring the divisions of the play. The five elements, that mark the stages of action, in each of these, correspond with the five elements of the other two, in an ordered sequence – Krama (yathasamkhyena jayante).

Arthaprakrtayah panca panca-avastha-samanvitah yathasamkhyena jayante mukhadyah panca samdhayah.

The structural divisions or sequence of events of the drama – Avastha; Arthaprakrti; and, Samdhi – each in its own manner,   corresponds with the elements of the plot and the actions associated with the progressive stages in the hero’s attempts to successfully realize his purpose or object.

Avastha are the stages of action in the progression of the events in the play

Arthaprakrtis are in effect, the means for attaining the desired result or success (Phala). These, again, are said to be sequenced in five stages of action (Avastha)

The Samdhis are junctures or the sequence of events in the development of the play; and associated with the actions or the stages in the hero’s realization of his purpose (Phala-siddhi).

[It seems that Bharata had suggested just two parallel methods or principles of classification for projecting the development of the plot – Avastha and Samdhi – each having five steps. The Samdhi was again divided into 64 sub-sections –Samdhyangas. And, Bharata had not discussed or even suggested inter-relation between these two models.

The schemes of the Avastha (stages) and the Samdhi (junctures), both having five phases, are related to the structure of the play, the dramatic incidents, the development of the theme, and the movement of the plot. While Avastha attempts to delineate or mark the successive stages in the action of the play through various sub-divisions; the Samdhi, following the analogy of the seed and its growth, tries to combine the various types of action into meaningful whole.

When taken together, you find that the Avastha and Samdhi are closely related, with each stage of the Avastha corresponding with each juncture of the Samdhi. Both mark the divisions in the development of the plot, in five stages. Bharata had said: the Samdhis depend on the Avasthas (Samdhyo hi Avastha paratantrah)

Dr. Manjul Gupta explains: Looking at the position, we may finally say that Samdhis are the important parts of a plot. A plot is divided into five parts marking different phases of the main aim. These five Samdhis are related to each other, ‘to their limbs’. .. and, somehow or other, with the five Avasthas of the action.

Thus, the Arambha of Avastha corresponds with Mukha of Samdhi; and similarly, the Prayathna with the Prathimukha; the Prathisambhava with the Garbha; the Niyatapi with the Vimarsa; and, the Phalayoga with the Nirvahana.


Dhananjaya goes further and inserts Arthaprakrti, the constituent elements in a plot, mentioned by Bharata (NS.19.21) as the third format (besides Avastha and Samdhi) for outlining the structure of the plot. And, he had said, they are found in the Itivrtta, just as the five Avasthas do.

Dhananjaya suggested that the five elements of the Arthaprakrti (viz., Bija; Bimdu; Pathaka; Prakari; and Karya), corresponded with the five stages  of action as described under Avastha ; and , from these arise five junctures , the Samdhi , beginning with Mukha , the opening.

arthaprakrtayah panca panca-avastha-samanvitah yathasamkhyena jayante mukhadyah panca samdhayah // DR.1.21//

The difference between Avastha and Arthaprakrti seems to be that while the former (Avastha) pertains to the principal plot; the latter (Arthaprakrti) covers the subsidiary plots also. And, while the action of every play consists of five Avasthas, but, in the case of five Arthaprakrtis, it is not necessary that all should be present. The other difference appears to be that in the Avastha, its stages follow an ordered sequence. But, Arthaprakrti is not bound by such regulations; the sequence and the prominence of its elements might be altered to suit the needs of the plot. 

However, Bharata had not said anything about the inter-relations that might exist among the three formats of the play, viz., the Avastha, the Samdhi and the Arthaprakrti.

But the later writers (e.g. Katayavema and Dhundiraja) accepted the suggestion made by Dhananjaya for treating Avastha, Samdhi and Arthaprakrti as parallel ways of dividing or demarcating the structure of the Drama into successive ordered segments ( yathasamkhyena jayante ).

It has been suggested that these three sets of five each, Pentad (panchayatam), could be taken as three ways of analysing the structure of the plot of a Sanskrit Drama (Rupaka) from three different angles.

Summing up, Viswanatha in his Sâhitya-Darpana described Rupaka (Nataka) as the most logical and perfect theatrical composition. It progresses in a systematic manner and concludes successfully, bringing joy to all.  He says, according to the Dasarupa, the structure of the Rupaka consists: five elements of the plot (Arthaprakrti), matching with the five stages (Avastha) of the action, from which arise five structural divisions or sequence of events (Samdhi) of the drama, which correspond with the elements of the plot and the actions associated with the stages in the hero’s attempts to successfully realize his purpose or objects. ]



As regards the story of a play, it could either be adopted (itivrttam) from the incidents that occur in the well-known (Prakhyatha) legends of the past; or, could be a story invented (Uthpadya) by the poet; or else, it could be a mixture (Misra) of the two.  The story could also be about gods (Divya), humans (Marthya) and the like (Divyadivya).

prakhyatam itihasader utpadyam ; kavi-kalpitam;  misram ca samkarat tabhyam divya-martyadi-bhedatah.

It is also said; whatever be the original story, if it is not suitable for the hero or is inconsistent with the sentiment (Rasa) he represents, then the story can be modified or re-arranged in some other way. After determining the beginning and end of the play in this manner; and, after dividing it into five parts, the author should then break it up into small sections; the divisions called junctures (Samdhi).

The purpose of such reshaping of the story and characters by the playwright is to achieve a harmony of theme and character in order to serve the ultimate purpose of the drama ,  the Rasa – the  enjoyment by the cultured spectators concept of

 Yat tatra-anucitam Kim cin nayakasya rasasya va viruddham tat parityajyam anyatha va prakalpayet.

[The best example of this is Kalidasa’s reworking of Abijnana-shakuntalam and Vikramorvasiya, the former from the Mahabharata and the latter from the Vedas, Epics, and Puranas.]

Dhanika the commentator mentions that the Vastu is initially classified as the principal (Adhikarana) and subsidiary (Prasangika); and, each of these two are again sub-divided in three ways (Prakhyatha, Uthpadya and Misra), keeping in view of the source of the story, the characters, the portrayal and the dramatic conventions.

[But, Bharata had divided the plot (Itivrtta) into only two classes – the principal and the subsidiary; and, had not attempted their further sub-divisions. 

itivtta dvidhā caiva budhastu parikalpayet ādhikarikameka syāt prāsagikam-athāparam 19. 2

The explanation provided is that Bharata did not attempt to divide the dramatic components into tight compartments, because:  he was more concerned with the successful production of a play.  He was focused on coming up with an interesting presentation that would provide wholesome entertainment to the spectators ; and , at the same time he had to pay attention to the  playwright , the actors and the very process of production.

But, the later commentators like Abhinavagupta and Dhananjaya were basically theoreticians who relished offering  scholarly interpretations of the vast variety of technical terms , principles and concepts etc., together with illustrations of their applications by citing passages from the  great plays that preceded their times (such as the plays of Bhasa, kalidasa, Bhavabuthi, Sriharsha and others). These scholars were, however, not much concerned with the nutty gritty or practical details of play-production or the structure and management of the playhouse.]

Dhananjaya says that the chosen subject could be arranged in six ways: showing what needs to be put forth; displaying emotion; the element of surprise; representations for sustaining interest in the story; and concealing what needs to be concealed,

The task of dramatization of the underlying story (Itivrtta) calls for selection, omission and meaningful arrangement of the incidents. Some types of actions should be presented on the stage; while certain other types that are unsuitable for display might either be indicated by words or not shown at all.

There might be incidents in the play which have happened either in the past or in the distant lands; and, there might also be certain types of actions which might neither be possible nor advisable to show on stage. All such matters have to be suggested or indicated by various other clever devices (Arthopaksepaka).

[Normally, the action in a play depicts the events that occurred during the course of that day (or night). But, there are some noted exceptions to such conventions. For instance: in the Uttara-rama-charita of Bhavabhuthi, the invents in the first  Act and the second Act are separated by as many as twelve years. Similarly, several years elapse between the last two Acts of the Abhijnana-shakuntalam . In such cases, an intermediate scene (Vishkambha) is introduced as a link and also to explain/narrate the occurrences that took place  subsequent to  the previous Act.

Further, it is said; a chariot, an elephant or a horse should not be brought on the stage. Similar is the case with palaces, hills or lakes. Such animals and geographical features might be suggested or indicated through models made of cheap materials. And, in case an army has to be introduced on the stage, that should be symbolically represented by the movement (gati-vīcāra) of four to six persons dressed as soldiers.

But, in many cases, the unity of place is not strictly observed; and, travels are undertaken, often, by aerial routes, riding the celestial rathas]

In regard to the continuity of action taking place after a lapse of time , that is achieved through  suggestions or indications   made in  one oe more of the five ways  : (1) Vishkambha, an interlude; (2) Pravesaka confined to lesser characters, which use Prakrit; (3) Culika, suggestions from behind the curtain; (4) Ankamukha, anticipatory scene, at the close of an Act a character alludes to the subject of the following Act; and, (5) Ankavatara , the seed of the subject-matter of an Act in the previous Act before it has drawn to its close, so that the following is a continuation of the one preceding it.

It is only that part of the action which is fit to be exhibited is divided into Acts and presented on the stage in an ingenious and a highly interesting manner.

[Natyashastra prescribes that in the presentation of the play , one should avoid showing such events as: long travel; murder; war; violent overthrow; bloodshed; eating; taking bath; undressing; sex act etc.

Dura-dhavanam; vadham; yuddham; rajya-dessadiviplavan/ samrodham; bhojanam; snanam ; suratam; ca-anulepanam/ amvara-grahanadini pratyakshani na nirdiset na-adhikaraivadham kvapi tyajyam – avasyakam na ca // ]


[The classical Sanskrit Drama, in its presentation, followed a traditional format.

Plays were usually presented at the spring festival. The Srngara and Vira are the usual dominant Rasas of the play. The dialogues are interspersed with lyrical stanzas and songs; and, often with dance movements. Tragedy, in the Western sense of the term, was not there, for every drama must have a happy ending.

A drama always opened with Naandi, or benediction, submitted by the well accomplished Sutradhara, stage –manager or director, to Lord Shiva, praying for successful completion of the play , for the joy (nanda) and the prosperity of the audience. Right after the Naandi, the Sutradhara  , appears in a section , preliminary to the play, called  Prarochana ,  where he would praise the literary merit and scholarship of the playwright;   laud the high quality of his play that the audience is about to watch; and, compliment the audience for their wisdom in choosing to such an excellent play.  The Prarochana would be followed by Prastavana, the prelude to  the play-proper, where the Sutradhara would strike a light-hearted conversation with a Nati or a minor character regarding the play that is just about to be presented. All these take place in the Purvanga, the preliminary , before the commencement of the play .

The initial scenes are always auspicious, spreading a happy–feeling (adi-mangala); and, as the story unfolds, unbearable miseries are unjustly mounted  on the virtuous hero , by the crafty villain. In the midst of all the troubles that the hero is facing, near about the mid-point of the story, something good happens to the hero (madhya-mangala).  Somewhere in the second-half of the story, amidst the trials and tribulations of the lovers,  a sort of relief  arrives  through the  clumsy attempts of the usually inept, food and fun loving sidekick, the vidushaka .  And, after a hard fought and suspenseful struggle (in which the gentle heroine, for no fault of her, is somehow drawn in), the anti-hero falls; eventually the Good, the Love and the Dharma triumphs; and, all ends well (antya-mangala).

The play concludes with a Bharatavakya, praying for the welfare of the king with good governance, the happiness of his subjects ; and, the peace and  prosperity of all beings in all the three worlds.]

lotus offering

Numerous subdivisions

The Dasarupa goes into lot of details, enumerating the subdivisions of the various elements of action (much of it not being quite significant). For instance:

  • 12 subdivisions of the opening scene (Mukha);
  • 13 subdivisions of the progression (Prathimukha);
  • 12 subdivisions of the development (Garbha); 
  • 13 subdivisions of the pause (avamarsa) ,
  • 5 kinds of intermediate scenes (arthopaksepaka) ;
  • 14 subdivisions of the conclusion ( Nirvahana )
  • 64 types of Samdhyangas (Divisions or Limbs of Samdhis)
  • 12 limbs of Garbha
  • 13 types of Avamarsa
  • 72 types of Sandnyantaras which act as inter-links
  • And so on


The First Book of Dasarupa concludes with the advice:  after examining the entire body of divisions of the subject matter presented in these and the following sections, as well as in the works like the Ramayana and Brhatkatha, one should thereupon compose a story expanded with the appropriate selection of Hero (Neta) and sentiments (Rasa) , bound together with appropriate and pleasing words (ucita-caru-vacah).’

ityady asesam iha vastu-vibhedajatam / Ramayanadi ca vibhavya Brhatkatham ca / asutrayet tad anu netrra-sanugunyac / citram katham ucita-caru-vacah-prapancaih //


In the next part we shall talk about the types of Heroes , Heroines and the supporting charecters ; and, also about the Vrttis , which Bharata regarded as the mother of all poetic works.


Nayana5 crop




Part Three

Sources and References

The Dasarupa a treatise on Hindu dramaturgy by George C. O. Haas, Columbia University press / 1912

 A Study of Abhinavabharati on Bharata’s Natyasastra and Avaloka on Dhananjaya’s Dasarupaka – by Manjul Gupta

Sahityadarpanah of Viswanathakavirajah

The Theory of the Samdhis and the Samdhyangas in Natya Shastra by T.G. Mainkar

Sanskrit Dramaturgy

All images are from Internet

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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Thirteen

Continued from Part Twelve – Desi Samgita  

Part thirteen (of 22 ) – Forms of Karnataka Sangita


The Journey

1.1. As you have seen from the articles posted so far that, over the centuries, the Music of India has passed through many significant milestones on the way to its full development. Though the several forms of Music generated over the long periods differ in their form, content and intent, they do in fact represent a continued progression of a hoary tradition, each inspiring its next format. The Music of India, just as its philosophies and branches of art-forms, follows the path of continuity blending in the changes, without compromising its fundamentals.

1.2. The journey of this rich and varied Musical tradition could symbolically said to have commenced from the Riks of the Sama Veda associated with conduct of Yajnas , which then was improved upon by the Shiksha branch of the Vedas (Vedanga). That was followed the pure and chaste form of Music Marga or Gandharva with its gentle appeal to the gods. Then came the Gana of the Natyashastra with its several song-forms to suit various sequences that occur during the course of a Drama.

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

2.2. There arose various theories of characterizing the Ragas according to the mood or the season they seemed to represent,  and the  ideal time (  day , evening or night) to sing  the Ragas. And, the Ragas even came to be personified, treating them as male or female,  each endowed with its own individual traits and appearance. A large number of music-treatises were concerned primarily with the iconography of the Raga; and, were eager to connect the Raga with a deity or a season or a mood or even an environment.

2.3. Emmie Te Nijenhuis observes : For a full understanding of the development of musical forms in India one has to consider not only the technical elements of a composition, such as: its phrasal elements (Taala, Pada, Svara, Pata, Virudu and Tena), its main musical section (Dhatu) or its poetical metre, but also its general character, its subject matter and social environment . Unfortunately the Sanskrit texts do not contain information on some these aspects.

One has to therefore go behind the texts and try to understand their cultural and social background , fathom their inspirations   as also motivations

3.1. Much before the theories and concepts of Raga were fully developed, one of the major forms of Desi Sangita that came to fore was the Prabandha, which in its myriad forms dominated the Music scene of India for more than about thousand years till the end of the seventeenth century. In between, the Persian influence remodeled the forms and the ways of singing classical Music in North India. The ancient Dhruva-pada (Dhrupad) a Desi form of Prabandha gave place to improvised lyrical Khyal and other popular modes of singing.

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

4.1. By the second half of the 17th century the ancient Music that figured in Natyashastra was no longer in practice. The system of 17th century was closer to the one in present day. The texts of this period usually began with the traditional description of the scales (Svara) in terms of the 22 Srutis   and associated Ragas.

4.2. The eighteenth century could be said the golden age of Karnataka Sangita. The period not merely gave birth to significant texts that re-defined Music theories (Lakshana) and practices (Lakshya) but also witnessed the flowering of various Music forms such as : Kirtana, Kriti, Daru, Varna , Padam , Javali, Thillana, Naamavali  and so on. The most fortuitous occurrence or the heavenly blessing of this period was the sublime Music created by the Trinity of Karnataka Sangita who flourished around the same time.  It is, fundamentally, their Music that has given form substance and identity to the Karnataka Sangita and all other related art-forms that are practiced today. We all owe those Great Masters a deep debt of gratitude.

Let’s try to gain brief familiarity with some of the art-music that branched out of the Prabandha. Among those forms, I reckon, Daru seems to be older. Let’s begin with Daru.



Dance Drama

5.1. It is said; the Daru songs were derived from the ancient Dhruva songs (stage-songs) described in the thirty-second chapter of Bharatha’s Natyashastra.

During the times of the Nayaks of Tanjavuru the Yakshagana, Bhagavatamela Nataka and such other dance dramas were popular. And, Daru songs were widely employed in all these forms of dance dramas (geya-nataka). Some of the earliest Daru songs that have come down to us are from Vijayaraghava Nayaka’s Yakshagana Vipranarayana Charita (1633 – 1673).

Daru that is commonly used in Dance Dramas, is basically a story-song (Akhyana or a ballad) narrating an event. Therefore, lyrics (Sahitya) are an essential part of Daru song.

5.2. As regards their format, some Darus may have Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and Charanas; while some others may just have only the Pallavi and Charanas (i.e. without Anu-pallavi). All the Charanas may have the same Dhatu, the musical element. The Tempo (Laya) of a Daru is usually the Madhyama-kaala; but, some are also sung in Vilamba-kala to suit the dramatic event. As regards the Taala, the Chapu Taala is most favored in Geya Natakas (say, as in Nauka Charitram of Sri Tyagaraja).  The other Taalas used were Adi and Jampa.

5.3. The music of Daru songs is usually simple with no elaborate improvisations such as Raga Sancharas or Sangathis.  The Rakthi Ragas are mostly used to bring out the mood and emotion of the scene. The Saurastra Raga seems to have a favorite of the composers.

Classification of Darus

6.1. Darus have been classified into various types depending on their functions. For instance; Svagatha Daru is for a character musing aloud (sotto voce) or a soliloquy speaking to herself/himself softly, aside, rather in a private manner.  Pralapa Daru is for sorrowing or wailing situations. Heccarika Daru is for heralding the entry of the King, alerting the assembled courtiers. Paada-vandana Daru is for respectfully approaching the deity in a temple, as also for retreating, step by step. And, Samvada Daru is for conversations in musical form between two main characters.

6.2. Jakkini Daru has an interesting format. It commenced with Jaati-Svaras (series of notes, sol-fa); and, the words (lyrics) were in the second section of the song. Jakkini was a popular form of Daru during the time of Nayaks. And, in due time, Jakkini Daru gave raise to Tillanas.

6.3. Some Darus (like Tendral Daru, Vennila Daru and Manmatha Daru) were love-songs portraying erotic moods (Sringara Rasa).   Such Darus in lighter moods were the forerunners of the later Javali dance songs.

6.4. Sri Melatturu Venkatarama Shastry who was a senior contemporary of Sri Tyagaraja  is said to have composed as many as twelve  Dance Dramas (Bhagavatha Mela Nataka) employing the Daru-songs. And, the Kuchhipudi dance dramas also employ Daru-songs in their narratives.

6.5. Among the Trinity of Karnataka Music, Sri Tyagaraja in his Dance Drama ‘Nauka Charitram’ used Daru-songs. For instance; one of its Daru –song ‘Indu kemi’ set to Varali Raga in Chapa Taala is of Samvada Daru type. Here, two characters speak alternatively (Uttara – pratyuttara) through songs.

[Independent of the dance dramas, Sri Tyagaraja is said to have composed a Daru (Nee saathi) in Raga Sriranjani. But, its authorship is questioned.]

[And, none of Sri Tyagaraja’s disciples seem to have attempted a Daru.]

Sri Mutthuswamy Dikshitar has also composed a Daru in Sriranjani Raga ‘Na sari sati’ set to Rupaka Taala; and, it is in Telugu. It is one of Dikshitar’s rare compositions in Telugu. The Anuprasa (rhyming) is delightfully phrased in the terms valabu, solabu and kolabu etc. There is an allusion to an anecdote related to churning of the sea that gave forth Amrita (divine nectar)   in the phrase: ’vasavadi amarulella Vamri svarupametti Vasudeva garvamanji’.

Among the later composers, Sri Harikesanallur Muthayya Bhagavatar who was musician in the court of Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the Maharaja of Mysore, has composed four Daru Varnas, Two of which are in Telugu; and, the other two are in Kannada. They contain Jaatis, Svaras as well as Sahitya. Here, the first passage in Svaras is followed by Jaati, which then are followed by Sahitya. Of these, the Daru-Varna in Kannada set to Khamas Raga and Chapu Taala (Mathe Malayadwaja pandya samjate matanga vadana guha) is very popular.

[The name of the Raga Khamas when sung repeatedly in succession sounds ‘Sukhama’].

[For more; Please see: Darus in Carnatic Music by Dr. Gowri Kuppuswami and Dr. M Hariharan; Published in ‘Shanmukha’, October 1986 (Vol.XII; No.4)]



7.1. Until about the beginning of the eighteenth century, Prabandha was the dominant form of Music. It also played an important role in the development of dance and dance-drama. Prabandha, essentially, is a tightly structured (Nibaddha Samgita) musical composition that is governed by a set of rules. Venkatamakhin in his landmark work Chaturdandi Prakasika (ca. 1635) describes Prabandha as a composition having specific characteristics; and, that which is well composed – ‘prabandhayeti Prabandha’. However, the definition was narrowed down to include only those compositions which are made up of Six Angas or elements (birudu, pada, tenaka, pāta and tāla) and Four Dhatus or sections (Udgrāha, Melāpaka, Dhruva and Abhoga).

The structure of a Prabandha, by its very nature, had to adhere to a prescribed format. In general, the emphasis appeared to be more on the text than on the musical content. The faithfulness to the form was, at times, carried to its limits. And, the Prabandha form, in due course, grew rather rigid.

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

[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 music, enormously, in ensuring continuity of its ancient tradition.]

7.2. With the steady decline of Prabandha and rise of regional languages, a range of musical compositions and rhythmic variations began to take place. Those with lighter and attractive musical content set in simpler words easy to understand gained popularity as Kirtana-s or Padas. And, those Prabandha-s composed in high literary style and loaded with religious themes passed into realm of religion.

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

7.4. The Kirtanas do have musical sections such as Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and usually more than two Charanas. The entire Kirtana is usually set to one traditional and melodious Raga in simple Taala; and is rendered in Madhyama-kaala.   In a Kirtana, Music per se is neither explored nor interpreted. Music, here, is but a charming, delightful vehicle to convey the devotional content of the song.

7.5. Among the Saint-poets and composers (Vak-geya-kara) who composed Kirtanas in soul-stirring music preaching devotion and submission to the Lord, the prominent were: Sri Sripadaraya (1403-1502), Tallapakkam Sri Annamacharya  (1408 to 1503), Sri Vyasaraya (1447-1539), Sri Vadiraja (1480-1600) , Sri Purandaradasa (1484-1564) , Kshetrayya (or Kshetragna) (1600–1680), Bhadrachalam Ramadasu (1620-1688)   and  Sri Raghavendra Tirtha (1623- 1671) . However, the original tunes of many of their songs are lost to us.



8.1. As said, Kirtana was the popular form of Music during 15-17th centuries. It was followed by the Kriti format which eventually stabilized and attained perfection by about the middle of the 18th century.

Kirtana and Kriti are often used as alternate or interchangeable terms. But, they are not the same; and, there are differences between the two. But, these two together form the major corpus of the main stream of Karnataka Sangita.

8.2. A Kriti is explained as that which is constructed (yat krtam tat kritih). It is primarily a pre-composed music (kalpitha Samgita), which aims to delineate the true nature of a Raga in all its vibrant colours.  In Karnataka Samgita, a Kriti comprising Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and Charanas, honouring the disciplines of Grammar and Chhandas, and set to appropriate Taala is the most advanced form of musical composition.

8.3. If Kirtana evokes Bhakthi Rasa, Kriti aims at perfection of Gana-Rasa. Kriti depicts shades of various emotions and Rasa-s including Bhakthi. Kriti can express even sorrow-Karuna (e.g. Evari mata–kambhoji); wonder–Adbhuta (Enta muddo– Bindumalini); frustration or disgust – Jigupsa (Chedi buddhi – Adana); resignation or despairBibhatsa (Eti Janma – Varali). And, the expansion of such emotions is more complex, subtle and technically almost perfect.

8.4. The elaboration of a Kriti is complex for other reasons too. It might involve many Kaala-pramanas (tempos). And, quite often, a Kriti may be composed in rare or untested Ragas perhaps because the composer either strives to demonstrate his technical virtuosity or to match the subject and the text of the Kriti with a Raga of an equally aesthetic quality. Many times, a Kriti assigns the Raga greater importance than to its words. It might be trying to employ the Raga with its Gamakas to express the intent (bhava) of its Sahitya more effectively. Further, Kritis are also often structured in complex Taala patterns.

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

9.1. Kriti is conceived as a well chiselled work of art; an ideal harmony of Mathu (words) and Dhatu (music-element).  In an excellently well composed Kriti, the bhava of the words has to fuse with the bhava of the Raga, and the two have to become one.  Therefore, the performer is not expected to meddle with it or deviate from the structure laid down by the composer. And yet; a Kriti provides ample scope to the performer to draw out her/his creative (Mano- dharma), innovative expressions in Raga and Laya. A gifted performer transforms a Kriti into his own inspired self-expression, investing it with his creative skill, well crafted Gamakas and Alamkaras.

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


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

9.4. While the Kritis in Karnataka Sangita are generally rendered in Madhyama Kaala, some of Sri Dikshitar’s Kritis commence in Vilamba Kaala, but, brisk and enlivening passages are built into the Kriti towards the end. Similarly in the case of Kritis of Shyama Shastry a performer can do justice only if she/he grasps the delicacy of Gamakas of his Ragas and renders in slow, contemplative tempo.

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

10.1. One of Sri Tyagaraja’s significant contributions to Karnataka music is the perfection of Kriti format, which was, at that time, evolving out of the shadows of the older Prabandha and its immediate predecessor Kirtana or Pada. Amazingly, Sri Tyagaraja as also Sri Dikshitar and Shyama Shastry, independent of each other, all contributed to the development of Kriti form, although they did not seem to have met or corresponded.

[Prior to the time of Sri Tyagaraja (say, 17th century) composers of great reputation such as Muthu Tandavar and Margadarsi Sesha Ayyangar had experimented with the Kriti format. And, it was the celebrated Trinity of Karnataka Samgita that, later, perfected it. ]

10.2. Sri Tyagaraja in his song Sogasuga mridanga talamu (in Raga Sri Ranjani) provides an outline of how a Kriti should be, in its form and in its content. In this song, he says that a  Kriti should be couched in words ( nija vākkulatō ) conveying the pure spirit of the Upanishads (nigama siro-arthamu) ; should have correctness of musical notes (swara śhuddhamutō)  of the ragas in which they are set; should have pleasant (sokkajeya ) rhythm that is enjoyable (Sogasuga mridanga talamu ); should be marked by beauties of alliterations and successive increases and decreases of notes and syllables , as also pauses (Yati Visrama) ; it’s  literary expressions should nurture  cultivation of true devotion (Sadbhakti ) and dispassion (virati ); and, it  should be adorned with  grace and simplicity embodying  all the nine (nava) Rasas or aesthetic moods.

10.3. In number of his other songs; he explains how Music is indeed the expression of the primordial Nada; how music originates in mind and body; and, how music should be presented. According to him, enjoying music is Sukhanubhava – a tranquil delight.


11.1. One of the innovations of Sri Tyagaraja to improve the aesthetic beauty of Kriti –rendering was the Sangathi.  A Sangathi (lit. putting together) is essentially a set of variations on the shades of a theme, gradually unfolding the melodic (Raga) potential of a phrase (Sahitya) in combination with Svaras. Some say that Sri Tyagaraja adopted Sangathi-rendering from dance-music where variations are done for Abhinaya and for bringing out the different shades and interpretations of the basic emotion (Bhava).

11.2. In any case, this was an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the Kriti format in particular and to the musical performances in general. Sangathi elaboration in Madhyama Kala, in the opening of a Pallavi, has enormously enriched the aesthetic beauty of Raga-bhava during Kriti-presentation in a concert.  With that, a Kriti is no longer static; but, it is a vibrant, living entity like language that is wielded with skill and dexterity. Sangathi passages also mark the virtuosity of the performer. Some of Sri Tyagaraja masterpieces open with a cascade of Sangathis (E.g.  Chakkani raja margamu; Rama ni samana; O Rangashayi; and Naa Jivadhara.)

11.3. Though the Sangathi was fundamentally a feature of Tyagaraja-Kritis, its practice (Sarasa-sangathi sandharbhamu, as Tyagaraja calls it)   has now spread to the presentation of Kritis of Dikshitar, Shyama Shastry and other composers, though they belong to a different style.  Similarly, Madhyama kaala that goes with the Sangathi has come to be the principal tempo of Karnataka Samgita [though some of Dikshitar-kritis, in Vainika style, are in slow tempo (Vilamba Kala)].

11.4. Sangathi and  Neraval (sahitya vinyasa) – where the Sahitya and its melody is spread out in various ways while keeping intact the original structure of the Pallavi or Charanam – together with Kalpana Svaras, provide depth and expansiveness to Karnataka Samgita. And, Tyagaraja-kritis, in particular, provide ample scope not only for elaboration on various phases and aspects of Raga (manodharma-samgita), but also for improvising fascinating sequences of Sangathi-s, Neraval and Kalpana –Svaras.

Raga Taana and Pallavi


12.1. Raga Taana Pallavi is regarded the most mature form of presentation in Karnataka Sangita. Raga here stands for Alapana or elaboration, the Anibaddha Sangita. It is the Music that is not fettered by words, meters or Taala.  Its excellence is limited only by performer’s virtuosity.  The performer after a slow contemplative phases delves into the depths of the Raga explores its various dimensions through his creative endower; and, ends on a high note.

12.2. After the Alapana the performer takes up Taana (comparable to Jor –Jhala in Hindustani Dhrupad and instrumental music). This involves boundless play on meaning-less syllables such as ta, na, nom, tum or tanam, etc. Taana is 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. The Veena players invariably perform Taana; and, it is most delightful.

12.3. The third part is Pallavi, which is Nibaddha, structured by words, sections and Taala. Here the percussion player join in and do enjoy a greater role. The Pallavi ends in a series of kalpanaswaras.


[The Varna or Varnam that we are about to discuss is different from the technical term Varna (special note sequences that indicate different kinds of Svara- movements) we talked about earlier. The Varna or Varnam in the following paragraphs refers to a class of musical composition in Karnataka Sangita.]

13.1. Varnam is a short, crisp and tightly knit music-piece that aims to encapsulate the main features and requirements of a Raga. These are finely crafted exquisite works of art. The creation of a Varna calls for delicate craftsmanship, thorough knowledge of the Raga, its sanchara (movements) in various Kaala (tempos) , grasp over Taala and an overall sense of beauty and balance.

13.2. Varnams have been composed, since about eighteenth century, in all the major Ragas and most of the minor Ragas, in all the principal Taalas. Many Masters of Karnataka Sangita have composed Varnas. The prominent among them are: Pachchimiriyam Adiyappayya, Sonti Venkatsubbayya, Shyama Shastri, Swati Tirunal Maharaja, Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer, Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar and Mysore Vasudevacharya.

[Varna is unique to Karnataka Sangita. The Hindustani Music does not seem to have its counterpart.]

13.3. Varna lays out the Grammar of a Raga. That is to say, it specifies the features and rules regarding the movement of the Raga (raga-sanchara), its scale, how each note of the Raga should be stressed and so on. A Varnam is therefore a fundamental form in Karnataka Sangita. It needs to be practiced well both by the learner and the experienced performer.

14.1. A Varnam is structured in two Angas (sections) : The Purvanga ( first section) comprises  Pallavi, Anu-pallavi, Mukhayi Svara; and The Uttaranga ( the latter section)  comprises a Charana that acts as a refrain for the latter part of the Varnam and Charana-svaras (Chittasvara) that are alternated with the Charanam.  Each section of a Varnam elaborates an aspect of the Raga (raga-svarupa).

14.2. A Varna does include Sahitya (lyrics); but, its role is secondary, merely supporting the music-content of the Varnam. The focus of a Varnam is on the Raga, its individual Svaras and Svara phases of various lengths and speeds. It is said; Varnam does not need the distraction of Sahitya.

14.3. The movement of a Varnam is strictly controlled; and, it’s rendering demands discipline.  Its focus is on the Graha Svara (initial note of the Raga), the Gamakas, the Sanchara (movement) of the Raga according to the prescribed format.

14.4. The Pallavi of a Varna starts on the lower end of the scale stressing on the most important Svara (Jiva Svara) in the opening phase of the Pallavi. The Anu-pallavi deals with the higher end of the scale . And, the Mukhayi Svara and Chittasvara – consist of meandering (Sanchari) chains of Svaras that explore both the upper and lower reaches of the Raga.

14.5. The rendering of a Varna employs all the three tempos. The first Charana Svara is rendered in Vilamba kaala (slow tempo) and each Jiva Svara must be highlighted. After which, the rest is sung in Madhyama kaala (half-time). Some musicians insert their own kalpanaswara passages. In the third Charana Svara, the Svaras are short and made into groups (avartanam) of four. Thus, in Charana, there are two or three Svaras of one avartanam, one Svara of two avartanam-s and finally one Svara of four avartanam-s.


15.1. As said earlier, practicing Varna is much required for the student as also for the experienced performer. For students, the Varnams that are taught at the intermediary level are useful for learning the Svaras of various Ragas, singing in multiple speeds rapidly; as well as learning the appropriate Gamakas.  Advanced students are taught Varnas in multiple Ragas or Taalas. They introduce the student to the proper combinations of Svaras for each Raga and inculcate discipline that is needed for singing.

Varna- rendering also helps to develop voice culture and in learning to maintain proper pitch and control over rhythm. The instrumentalists too can gain control over playing -techniques.

Among the early Adi Taala Varnams a student usually learns are: Ninnukori in Raga Mohana by Ramnad Sreenivasa Iyengar; Samininne in Shankarabharanam by Veenai Kuppaiyer; Evvari Bodhana in Abhogi by Patnam Subramania Iyer; and many others. In the later stages all student do learn to sing the celebrated Viriboni, in Bhairavi, set to Ata Taala by Pacchimirium Sri Adiyappayya.

15.2. In the concerts, a Varnam is most often the first or the second piece to be rendered. Though some consider it as a warm-up exercise, the correct rendering of Varna requires complete knowledge of the Raga.

16.1. Varnams are of three sorts: Daru Varnam, Pada Varnam and Taana Varnam. . The theme of these Varnams is usually Bhakthi (devotion) or Sringara (love).

We just spoke about Daru Varnam in the previous paragraphs of this article. Daru Varnams are special type of Varnams in whose Mukthayi Svaras; there are first the Svara passages, followed by the jatis which are then followed by the Sahitya.

16.2. Pada Varnam: As its name indicates there it has a greater element of Sahitya (Pada or words). Pada Varnams with elaborate Sahitya are difficult to grasp especially when set to difficult Ragas and Taala. But, Pada Varnams are in greater use in Bharatanatyam. Because, it’s Sahitya, expressions and Svaras in moderately slow pace is said to be suitable for choreography.

16.3. Taana Varnam: This does not have Sahitya for Svaras. It usually is of fast tempo (Druta and Tisra Gati). It is the sort of Varna that is meant as pure music, without the intervention of words. It therefore has fewer words than the Pada Varna. The difficult Taana Varnams are commonly chosen for rending in the concerts. The artists enjoy greater elaborations of Taana Varnams studded with Kalpana-svaras to enhance to beauty of the Raga.

Gitam, Svarajati and Jatisvaram

17.1. Just as the Varnam, the Gita and Svarajati have rhythm matching each syllable of the Sahitya to one Svara.

17.2. Gitam is the simplest type of composition. Taught to beginners of music, the Gitam is very simple in structure with an easy and melodious flow of music set in simple Taala.

17.3. Svarajatiis are learnt after a course in Gitams. More complicated than the Gitams, the Svarajati prepares the student for the Varnams. . It consists of three sections, called Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and Charanam. Svarajati does not offer much scope for elaboration of neraval etc since it is in a tight knit form. It bound by rules. Its Svara patterns are aligned with Sahitya in a graded manner. It was the genius of Shyama Shastry that endowed Svarajati with Raga bhava.

17.4. Jatisvaras are similar to the Svarajati in musical structure. However, – Jatisvaram-has no sahitya or meaningful words. The piece is sung with sol-fa syllables. its rhythmical excellence and the jati pattern used in it are its strength.  . This is a musical form belonging to the realm of dance music. In some Jatisvarams, the Pallavi and Anu-pallavi are sung to Jatis and the Charanas are sung to a mixture of Svaras and jatis. There are also Ragamalika Jatisvarams.]

Pada or Padam


[Pada hereunder does not merely refer to ’word’; but, it also refers to a type of song that was prevalent during 17th-18th century.]

18.1. Pada or Padam were sung during Dance as they offered scope for subtle expressions through face and gestures (Abhinaya). During the times of Nayaks of Tanjavuru, Dance and Dance related music were popular because of their sweet music and aesthetic appeal. Most of the poets, musicians and Natyacharyas attached to the King’s Court were engaged in scripting songs and composing music for dance related music-forms such as Pada, Jakkini, Javali, Chintamani, Perani etc than with the art-music. Almost all forms of dance related compositions that are in vogue today are derived from this period. Its form has remained almost unchanged.

18.2. Most of the Padams were composed in regional languages, majority of them in Telugu and some in Tamil. The theme of a Padam would usually be Madhura Bhakthi devotion colored with tender love or suggestive romance. Theoretically, this sort of Bhakthi tinged with Sringara was projected in its two aspects: Antar Sringara, the unseen sublime relation between the Universal Soul (Paramatma) and the Individual Soul (Jivatma) that is guided by the Guru, the spiritual mentor; and, the Bahir Sringara was the explicit romantic relation between the Hero (Nayaka) and the Leading Lady (Nayika) that is aided and abetted by the Lady’s maid (Sakhi). Though all the nine Rasas (Nava Rasa) were portrayed in a Padam, the Srinagar (erotic or romantic love) was the dominant Rasa and the theme.

[The terms Pada and Kirtana seem to be used synonymously in this period .And, later the compositions with Sringara content came to be known as Pada; and, those with element of Bhakthi as Kirtana.]

19.1. The music   of the Padam is generally slow-moving, arousing with an appeal to ones delicate sensibilities. The natural flow of music goes along with tender and evocative words of the song. The Padam aims to blend the music, the words and Abhinaya the dance expressions into a harmonious and very enjoyable art-experience.

19.2. The Padam, when sung, presents an epitome of the raga in which it is composed. Ragas specially noted for evoking typical rasa bhava are commonly employed in Padam. They usually are the mellow and serene Ragas such as: Anandabhairavi, Sahana, Nilambari, Ahiri, Ghanta, Mukhari, Huseni, Surati, Sourashtram and Punnagavarali.

19.3. The Taala of a Padam is rather subdued, not intruding into the mood or the bhava of the song. The Sangathi too are gentle and elaborate; and, not vigorous or energetic.

A Padam also has the sections: Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and Charana.

20.1. Among the Pada composers, Kshetrajana is renowned for his Sringara Pada-s. Some of the poets in the Maratha Court at Tanjavuru like Giriraja Kavi were also noted Padam composers. He is said to have composed many Sringara Padas employing Desi Ragas like Brindavani.  He was followed by Vasudeva Kavi, Soma Kavi and Rama Bharathi.

Kshetrajna- Indian Music composer

20.2. The Maratha kings themselves (Thulaja I, Ekoji II, Sarabhoji II and Shahaji) are said to have composed several Padas, musical operas, Kuravanji’s, Daru, Yakshagana Natakas etc.


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21.1. Javali in its nature is similar to Padam. The Javali too involves the characters of Nayaka, Nayaki and Sakhi; but, unlike in Padam, there are no symbolisms here. The Sringara portrayed in Javali is overt. It is meant to titillate the patron.


21.2. They are basically dance-songs set in Madhyama kaala with attractive tunes and crisp Taala. Lighter Desi Ragas like Paraz, Kapi, Khamas, Behag, Jhinjhoti, Tilang, etc that   are simple and melodious are used in Javalis. They are not burdened with technical complexities as alapanaineraval or kalpanaswaras; and, in a concert they are sung towards the end as a way of relaxation.



22.1. Tillana, again, is a dance oriented song format. It makes use of Mrudanga Jathis in Pallavi and Anu-pallavi. The emphasis is on brisk rhythm, lively movement and not on Sahitya or Manodharma. Percussions have greater role to play in Tillana. It is said; the life of a Tillana is in its rhythm (Laya). The composers played around music-sounds such as tha, thai, theem, thakadhimi, or kitathakatharikitathom, quite generously.

22.2. The Jathis are articulated throughout the piece. The Charanam has usually epithets (Birudu) saluting the deity or the patron. It is tight knit composition that is rendered in just the way it is composed. Tillana exude with joy, celebration or exuberance; and, it is not meant for other Rasa such as sorrow etc.

22.3. The Tillana corresponds to Tarana of Hindustani music. It is a favorite of Veena players.   In a concert Tillanas are sung towards the end, before the Mangalam (benediction), just to make up the variety.



23.1. The forms of song-formats in Indian Music, right from Sama-gaana to the present-day, are truly countless, as we have seen from this and the earlier posts in the Series. As Dr. Ramanathan observes; form is actually a codification of various musical aspects that has been abstracted from Musical structures and prescriptions as given in the texts.

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

23.3. That is to say the Forms in Karnataka Sangita are the representations or the expressions of theoretical principles that governed each stage of its evolution over the centuries. The Forms and formats change to suit their adopted environment; but, the principles behind them remain true and lasting.

In the next two parts, lets briefly take a look at the various Lakshana Granthas (from Dattilam to Chaturdandi prakashika) that have defined, guided and protected Karnataka Sangita.



Lakshana Granthas-1

Sources and References

  1. 1. Darus in Carnatic Music by Dr. Gowri Kuppuswami and Dr. M Hariharan; Published in ‘Shanmukha’, October 1986 (Vol.XII; No.4)
  2. The charisma of composers BY T.M. Krishna
  1. Form in Music by Prof. Dr. N. Ramanathan
  2. 4. Carnatic Classical Music – Centre for Cultural Resources
  3. Carnatic music
  4. All pictures are taken from the Internet. I gratefully acknowledge the sources.

Posted by on May 27, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Twelve

Continued from Part Eleven –Prabandha

Part Twelve (of 22 ) – Desi Samgita  

Marga – Desi

1.1. The term Desi, very often, is used along with or in contrast to another term Marga. Both these terms -Marga and Desi- refer to traditional systems of Music of India.

Marga or Margi or Gandharva is the ancient class of Music that precedes the time of Natyashastra (say, before second century BCE). Marga (the path or the tradition) signifies something that which is chaste and classical. And, Shiva himself is said to have taught this Marga Music, on his Veena, in his Sri Dakshinamurthy form, to the sages sitting around him.

The early Marga songs were in praise of Shiva (Shiva-stuti). And, during the times of Natyashastra, Marga songs were traditionally sung for offering worship to gods, in the preliminaries (purvanga), that is, before the commencement of the play proper. Bharatha explains Marga or Gandharva as the Music dear to gods (atyartham iṣṭa devānā), giving great pleasure to Gandharvas; and, therefore it is called Gandharva.

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

Marga Music was both sacred and well regulated (Niyata).And, by its very nature; Marga was rather somber and not quite flexible.

1.2. While Marga was the sacred Music devoted to please the gods by submitting gentle appeals, Desi was the art-Music that set out to hold a charming appeal to human beings. It was said; Desi is that which delights the hearts of humans (hrudaya-ranjaka), enchants common folks, cowherds, women, children and nobility alike; and, reflects the range of emotions and tunes springing from different regions. In other words, it was meant for ‘pleasing the hearts of the people’; its nature varied from Desha to Desha – region to region. It was basically the Music of the regions (Desha = region).

Deshe-Deshe jananam yadruchya hrudaya-ranjakam I Gitam ca vadanam nruttam tad Desi  ethyabiyate  II

Abala-bala-gopalaihi kshitipali nirjecchaya I Giyate sanuragena svadeshe Desir ucchate  II

[Sangita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva ;  Chapter One  about Svara  ; Verses 23 and 24 ;  pages 14/ 15 – edited by Pandit Subrahmanya Sastri]

[ The verse Abala bala – appears at: Brihaddeshi – First Chapter) (Desha-utpatti prakaranam) – Verse 13]

Desi the music of the land was rooted in the music of the regions, capturing the unique flavors of the regions and sub-regions; and, giving expression to the moods, joys and sorrows of common people. The term Desi encompassed all forms of created songs (Gita); and even the art forms of instruments (vadya) and dance (Nŗtta).

As compared to Margi, Desi was relatively free, less rigid and improvised music of the countryside.

1.3. But, it would not be correct to equate Desi with folk (jaana-pada) and tribal songs.

Desi music was in strict conformity with the lakshana-s (theoretical principles) and the lakshya (practices in vogue) of the then established classical or well regulated (Niyata) Music of its times.  Desi Music was perhaps more relaxed in its approach; and its form opted for a lesser regimen of the Grammar.

Chatura Kallinatha (15th century) in his Kalanidhi, a commentary on Sangita-ratnakara, states that of the ten older types of Grama-Ragas, the Raganga, Bhashanga, Kriyanga and Upanga were regarded as Desi Ragas. He remarks that in these Desi Ragas though some liberty was taken, the rules of the Marga-Ragas were not totally disregarded.

1.4. Matanga also says that Desi is modeled after the Marga; and both allow scope for structured (Nibaddha) and un-structured (Anibaddha – like Aalapi) Music. He says, Ragas are classified according to the number of notes composing them; such  as odava (pentatonic) using five notes; shadava  (hextatonic) using six notes; and,  sampurna (heptatonic) using all the seven notes.No classical melody (marga) can be composed from less than five notes.

According to Matanga, no  Marga or Desi Raga can be composed of four Svaras (notes) or less. He remarks: those with less than five Svaras are used by tribes such as Savara, Pulinda, Kambhoja, Vanga, Kirata, Valheeka, Andhra, Dravida and forest dwellers. 

The exception being a class of stage songs called dhruvas, which though regarded as classical melodies, are found to be composed of four notes.

Catuh-svarat prabhrti na margah svara-pulinda-kamboja-vanga-kirata-vahlika-andhra-dravtda-vanadisu prayu;yatel /Tathacaha Bharatah:-‘shat-svarasya prayogo’sti tatha panca-svarasyaca  catuh-svara-proyage’pi hyavakrista-dhruvasvapi” //

[Thus, Raga is technically penta-tonic. And, usually there is an upper limit of seven notes. But in Hindustani Music, Ragas with nine Svaras are common; and a few mixed Ragas have even twelve Svaras (say, Basant Bahar).]

Obviously, Desi was conceived as a chaste classical music, well regulated but not too rigidly. It was the art-music of the land. It was different from the tribal or folk music of the rural mass. Sarangadeva did not also equate Desi with folk music or Loka or Jaanapada sangeet.

Similarities and differences

2.1. Just as there are similarities between Marga and Desi, there are also differences. To put these in a summary form:

2.2. Marga was the classical phase of the ancient Indian music. It was basically a sacred class of music; and in theatre it was sung to offer prayers to gods during the purvanga the preliminaries before the commencement of the play per se. It was somber and also not flexible. Marga was the icon of the Higher tradition. Its songs were composed in chaste Sanskrit following the rules of Chhandas (metre) Vyakarana (Grammar).  Its music was based in the Jaati-s (melodies) and in Shadja and Madhyama Grama-s (groups of melodies).

2.3. Desi was the art-music of the regions. It represented the flowering of the Prakrit (other than Sanskrit) phase that began to flourish by around 4th century. Songs of Desi Sangita were in Sanskrit as also in Prakrit and other vernacular languages.  They were modeled upon incidental music of the early theatre. Desi music was free flowing, vigorous and attractive; appealing to ones heart (hrdaya-ranjaka); as also providing scope for improvisation.  Its melodic portfolio could be expanded to include all other types of melodies and Ragas.

2.4. One could say that the distinction of the two – Marga and Desi- is largely historical. The transmission from Marga to Desi was a progression from a regimented few towards a spectrum of wide choices. With the growth in art and art forms many styles of music sprang up in diverse regional traditions. The ways of musical expressions also diversified and grew in abundance. For instance; eighteen Jaati-s, two Grama-s and seven Grama Ragas expanded into more than 250 Ragas by the medieval times. Alongside, the varieties of rhythmic patterns, time-units and the entire system of Taala also grew very appreciably. Thus, the advent of Desi and its rapid development greatly enlarged the boundaries of ancient musical structure; opened up new horizons; and, altered and brightened the future course of Indian Music.

2.5. The classification of the Music of India into two strata – Marga Samgita and Desi Sangita – dates back to at least to the eighth or to the ninth century, mainly through the treatise Brhad-Desi by Matanga.

[I wonder whether Marga and Desi are shifting or dynamic concepts. They are not fixed. What was Desi of ancient times could as well be called Margi of the present day. Let me explain. The Karnataka Sangita as it is practiced and performed today honors the theoretical principles, rules, disciplines and the hoary traditions. It is contemplative and devotional in its nature. The chaste and pure classical music of today has taken the place of Marga. The other popular form of music – sugam-sangget, loka-sangeet and film-sangeet etc – that quickly attracts with its catchy tunes and beats is the Desi of today. This is just a muse. ]


[Classical and folk music

3.1. Before we get back to Matanga, let’s digress for a short while, and talk about classical and folk music.

(i). In all literal art forms, two conventions (dharmi) or two streams of expressions are recognized; one is the Loka-dharmi and the other is the Kavya-dharmi.  Similar conventions or forms exist in, music, dance or art. Loka-dharmi in poetry stands for a localized or an individual’s expressions of her/his experience or emotions. Kavya–dharmi is when an individual’s emotions are turned into a song or into a poem; and it is enjoyed by all as a beautiful piece of poetry. Here, an individual’s intimate emotions are shared by all as a work of art, independent of the poet’s localized circumstances that caused the poem. The poem that is enjoyed by its listeners/readers is far removed from its original Desha (location), Kaala (circumstances) and Karana (the cause that triggered the emotion). The emotional content (let’s say, love)  in the poem is no longer limited to poet’s or to one particular person’s experience , but is  generalized and shared by all as the idiom of expression of the entire gamut of  that emotion (love).

In the present context, perhaps, one could (roughly) equate the folk music with Loka-dharmi and the Classical music with Kavya–dharmi.

(ii). The folk music is essentially the outpouring of the elementary, subjective human emotions. It generally is about purely personal emotions limited to an individual. It is spontaneous; and its purpose is to fulfill an immediate need to give forth to an emotional experience that is tied to a specific incident in one’s life or to an occasion, time, and place. In other words, folk music is immediately relevant for the emotions of only a small group, a community with a shared background and emotional state.

Folk music is spontaneous and does not require training in a developed musical system.

Folk music is certainly significant and pleasing; and is a powerful emotive language of a people. It is the medium through which shared feelings are communicated and experienced by the community.  But, it is the innocent expression of basic, natural feelings, limited to the context of a particular time and situation. And, it is rather undeveloped or underdeveloped; is without structure, grammar or classifications; and does not require training in creating a song-form.

In comparison; Classical music is not the simple expression and an instant gratification of a basic human emotion. It is a highly developed and complex art form ; and its creation is involved not merely with musical genius of the composer , but also with the intellectual processes and sensitivities that determine the quality of the creation in terms of musical contents of melody , rhythm;  the structure and the Grammar  of the composition;  and its appeal.

Here, the personal impressions or feeling of the composer are sublimated into a classical form that goes beyond subjective self. The composer’s or the performer’s individual identity is left behind. The created music is universal and is for all, instead of being limited to a specific individual’s personal feelings or to an occasion.

Thus, both the folk and the classical are genuinely powerful and qualitatively rich in aesthetic value. They both aim to interact with human minds and hearts, each in its own way. One is elementary, subjective and localized; and, the other is developed, objective with its own sensitivities and is almost universal. The difference appears to be in the purpose of their creation, which defines their context and relation with the rest of mankind.

For a detailed discussion, please check:  ]





4.1. Matanga or Matanga Muni or Matanga-Bharatha (as he is regarded one among the five-Pancha Bharathas: Nandikesvara, Kohla, Dattila, Bharatha and Matanga) takes a very important position between Bharatha (Ca.2nd century BCE) and Sarangadeva (Ca.13th century). It is surmised that he perhaps lived during sixth or the seventh century.

4.2. Matanga’s fame rests mainly on his outstanding treatise Brhaddeshi. It carries forward the tradition of Natyashastra and Dattilam; and at the same time it establishes the Desi Sangita on a firm pedestal. Brhaddeshi bridges the Marga and the Desi class of Music; and also provides the basis for the emergence of the Mela system of classifying the Ragas.   One could say, Brhaddeshi gave a new birth to Indian Music; and, revitalized its creative genius by bringing the concept of Raga into the very heart of the Music traditions and their sensibilities.

Brhaddeshi also serves as a reference to many earlier authors whose works are now lost, such as: Kashyapa, Kohala, Durgasakti, Maheshwara, Yastika, Vallabha, Vishvavasu   and Shardula.

4.3. The edition of Brhaddeshi, as it has come down to us, is an incomplete text. Only about five hundred of its verses are available. Those available verses and chapters deal only with Music; and conclude with the remark that the next Chapter will deal with Musical instruments (Vadya).  Sadly, that and subsequent Chapters, if any, are not available. However, some commentators of the later periods cite from Brhaddeshi the references pertaining to instruments, taala and dance.

5.1. In the available chapters, the first portion starts with the definition of Desi.  The term Desi, here, refers to all forms created of songs; and, it comprehends the three arts of Gita (song), Vadya (instruments) and Nŗtta (dance). One of Matanga’s major contributions is his scholarly focus on the regional element in music. Brhaddeshi (Brihat + Desi) is thus a masterly compilation of the music traditions of the various regions (Desha).

5.2. Next, the concept of Nada is described as the most subtle vibration which is the basis for speech, music, dance and all other forms of activities. Then, the text goes on to discuss two Grama-s: Shadja-grama and Madhyama-grama. From these, Grama-s the music elements Sruti, Svara, Murchana, Tana, Jaati and Raga are derived.

5.3. Matanga deals with Grama, Murchana and Jaati, rather briefly. According to Matanga, twenty-one Murchana-s evolved from the three main Grama-s: Shadja, Madhyma and Gandharva. Murchana were of two kinds: one, having seven Svaras and the other having twelve Svaras (sa-Murcchana dvi-vidha; sapta-svara-Murchanat dvadasha-svara-Murchana cheti).

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

And, the Murchana with Twelve Svaras manifest in three registers (Sthana): low, medium and high (Mandra, Madhya and Tara).

5.4. The text then discusses Sruti (silent intervals between Svaras), Svara intervals in the two Grama-s and other terms and concepts such as, Tana, Varna, Alamkara, Jaati, Gita and Raga. Various other aspects including the popular melodies of his time are given in the other chapters.  As the name suggests, it is a huge work and is highly informative.

5.5.  He says that the Aroha (ascending) and the Avaroha (descending) pattern of Svaras form the Murcchana of a Raga. Murcchana, in effect, describes the string of notes that, with further embellishments (Alamkaras) of thirty-three varieties, constitutes the core of a Raga. These Alamkaras are indeed the musical excellences that adorn the songs.

5.6. After allotting a chapter to the Jaati-s, Matanga devotes a special chapter to the Ragas.  Here, he deals with Grama-raga; and the Desi-ragas: Bhasa, Vibhasa and Antarabhasa. These Desi-ragas are again classified into four categories, Raganga, Bhashanga, Kriyanga and Upanga.

5.7. Indeed, it is in this chapter of the Brhaddeshi we first come across the definition of Raga as given by Matanga, and as understood by all later literature on Classical Music. In the history of the Ragas, Brhaddeshi is, therefore, a landmark text.



8.1. The term Raga conveys many shades of meanings ranging from color, hue, tint, dye, love, desire, passion, emotional attachment  ( as opposed to it is Viraga– detachment)  , beauty, melody and so on .

But, in the context of music it had a special connotation; and, it had been in use many centuries, even prior to Matanga. Bharatha in his Natyashastra used the term Raga in compound terms in association with Jaati raga, Grama raga. And, he perhaps meant ‘Raga’ in the general sense to suggest color or aesthetic appeal or enjoyment or pleasure. He employed the term Jaati to indicate melodies, but also used the term Grama Raga. But, somehow, he did not explain the terms Jaati and Grama-raga and their mutual relationship.

8.2. There was also the Murchana which was described in Natyashastra as the string of seven Svaras used in an order (krama) in their fixed positions. Later, in the Gandharva, Murchana came to be understood as an arrangement having a gradual Aroha (ascent) and Avaroha (descent) of the seven Svaras (notes). Different musical expressions were derived from the Murchanas by permuting the seven Svaras in any number of ways.

8.3. Further, the term and the concept of Grama-raga was in common use, as evidenced by the seventh century rock inscription at kudumiyamalai in South India. The inscription which basically was meant as lessons for the pupils mentions seven verities of melodies or Grama-ragas : (1) Madahyama-grama (2) Shadja-grama (3) Sadava (4) Sadharita (5) Paricama (6) Kaisikamadhyama-grama (7) Kaisika. These seven seem to correspond to the Grama-ragas in the Naradiya-shiksa the text said to belong first or second century BCE.

8.4. The term Raga seemed to have been in use even prior to 7th century. For instance; Poet Kalidasa (5th century) had suggested Raga Saranga (Madhyamadi) for rendering the introductory song to the first Act of his play Abhijnana Shakuntalam. And, in a fable appearing in the fifth volume of Panchatantra (5th century or earlier), a donkey poses as a musician and explains Gramas, Ragas etc.

8.5. Following the steps of Bharatha, Matanga also recognized Shadja-grama and Madhyama-grama as two basic Grama-s (groups or clusters). From these Grama-s he derived Sruti, Svara, Murchana, Tana, Jaati and Raga. The Aroha (ascending) and Avaroha (descending) pattern of Svaras, according to Matanga, formed Murchana of a Raga.

[It needs to be mentioned here that Bharatha’s concepts of Jaati, Murchana and Giti continued to be in use even during the time of Matanga. He uses these terms and offers his explanations with illustrations from Natyashastra.

Matanga regards Ragas as one of the seven classes of songs (gitis, melodies) current in his time: (1) Shuddha; (2) Bhinnaka; (3) Gaudika; (4) Raga-giti; (5) Sadharani; (6) Bhasha-giti; and, (7) Vibhasha—gitis.  Of the seven classes of gitis, it is said; the Shuddha and the Bhinnaka have each five varieties; Gauda has three varieties; Ragas are of eight varieties; Sadharani is of seven varieties; Bhasha is of sixteen kinds; and, Vibhasha as of twelve kinds.

The Raga-gitis are the fourth in Matanga’s enumeration (Raga-gitis-caturthika). He defines the various classes of gitis, and describes Raga -gitis as: “Attractive note compositions, with beautiful and illuminating graces.”

He also mentions that the eight varieties of riigas went by the name of (1) Takka, or Taku; (2) Sauvira; (3) Malava-panchama; (4) Shadava or Khadava ;(5) Votta·raga; (6) Hindolaka; (7) Takka-Kaisika; and,  (8) Malava-Kaisika

Taku-ragasca; Souviras-tatha; Malava—pancamah/ Khadavo; Votta-ragasca; tatha Hindolakah parah// Taka-kasika ityuktas tatha Malava-Kaiskah I Ete ragah samakhyata namato muni-pungavaih// 314-15//

Here then we have the first enumeration of eight of the earliest ragas known by name. Some of them may have been derived from the 18 jatis described by Bharata.

And, then he recommends the Raga-giti for singing in dramatic sequences. He quotes Bharatha and says: Madhyama-grama (Ma Grama) melodies be used in the Mukha (opening of the drama); the Shadja-grama (Sa Grama) melodies in Prati-Mukha (progression of the play); the Sadharana (mixed scales) in the Grabha (development stages); and, Panchama-Jaati melodies for the Vimarsha (pauses)- (NS: 28.41-45)

Further, even among the music-related terms of the older (Marga) Sangita that he explained, the term Raga was used]


[In the meantime:

There is a remarkable text which the scholars have neither been able to date nor understand it fully. It is titled Gitalamkara; and, is said to have been written by an author who, for some reason, called himself Bharatha. The book aimed at controlling or disseminating the arguments of the rivals (Vadi-mattagaja-ankusha) . In its Chapter 14, the book cites thirty-six ‘Ragas’ (which are named here as Varna or colors).They are classified into three groups: Purusha (male); Stri (female) and Apatya (descendents). This, by a long stretch of time, foreshadows the Raga-Ragini-Purta concept that came about in later times. The scholars suggest that Varna might have been the older name of Raga (which also suggests color).

The Gitalamkara treats the three ancient Gramas (Nandyavarta, Jimuta and Subhadra) in an un-usual manner. Instead of treating them as basic scales, as others did, it merely lists characteristic series of four Svaras (tetrachord) for each of them. This perhaps goes back to the period before the three Gramas: Shadja, Madhyama and Gandhara Gramas came to be recognized.

It is bit confusing to say the least. For more, please see:  Le Gitalamkara by Alan Danielou; and, Musical Literature by Emmie te Nijenhuis.]

9.1. Yes; it seems the word Raga with its multiple meanings was in use even from early times. But, it was not used in Music or in Music-theories in the way we know it and use it now.  It is, therefore, difficult to say Raga as it is understood today, had fully evolved and was recognized as such at the time of Natyashastra.

9.2. Which is to say; the notion of melodies that are created by artistic and ingenious arrangement of ascending and descending Svaras had been there for a very long time. It was a rather amorphous concept; its structure had not been determined; and, was waiting to be defined in a clear language.

That is, precisely, what Matanga did.



10.1. The chapter titled Raga-lakshanam (characteristics of Raga) in the Brhaddeshi commences with two questions and a request: ‘What is meant by the word Raga? And, what are the lakshana-s of a Raga? You must please explain the origin and nature   of Raga clearly ’.

Kim ucchyate raga-shabdena ? kim va ragasya lakshanama  ? I  Utpatthi lakshanam-tasya yathavad vaktum arhasi     II (278)

Matanga replies:

The nature of the Raga system (Raga-margasya- lit. path) has not been explained by Bharatha and others (Bharathadi); and, it is going to be explained (Nirupayate) by us, according to theory (lakshana) and also practice (lakshya) – (279).

Raga-margasya vad rupam yannoktam Bharathadibhih I Nirupayate tasmad abhir lakshya –lakshana –samyuktam II

10.2. Then he goes on to explain: A Raga is called by the learned, as that kind of sound composition (dhwani-bhedaya), which is adorned with musical notes (Svara) , in some peculiarly (visesena) , stationary (sthayi) , or ascending (aroha), or descending, (avaroha) or moving values (varna), which  are capable of affecting the mind with peculiar feelings or of colouring ( Ranjyate ) the hearts of men. A Raga is that which delights: Ranjana-jjayate ragau..

Svara-varna visheshena dhwani-bhedaya va punah I  Ranjyate yena yan kashichit sa ragah samsthatham   II 280

10.3. Or (Athava), it is that particular sound (dhwani vishesa) which is adorned by Svara and Varna (svara varna vibhushitaham); and that which delights the minds of the people (Ranjako jana-chittanam) is called Raga by the wise.

Athava – Yo asya dhwani vishesathu svara varna vibhushitaham I Ranjako jana-chittanam sah ragah kathitho vidhuv II 281

[Following Matanga, Sarangadeva in his Sangeeta-ratnakara described Raga as: ranjayati itihi rāga- that which delights the mind is Raga.]

10.4. After defining Raga, in two way:  as that particular  arrangement or ornamentation   of Svara and movement of Varna (Svara-Varna vishesha ; vibhushitam ); and as the distinction of melodic sounds (Dhwani-bhedana)  which delight the minds of people (Ranjako jana-chittanam) , Matanga takes up  the etymological  explanation  of the term Raga and its origin (Utpatthi).

Matanga says: this is how the word Raga is derived (Ithevam raga-shabdasya utpatthir abhidiyate). He explains that the word Asvakarna when it is derived from its root might literally mean the ears of a horse. But, in practice (rudi), Asvakarna is generally understood as the tree whose leaves resemble in shape the ears of a horse. Similarly, the word Pankaja literally means one that is born (ja) out of mud (panka). But, Pankaja in convention and common usage refers only to the lotus-flower.

In a like manner, he says, the word Raga has etymological as well as special conventional meaning like the word Pankaja. He explains: whatever might be its other meanings, the word Raga (derived from the root ranj = to please), effectively suggests, here, as that which generates delight: Ranjana-jjayate ragau.

Ithevam raga-shabdasya utpatthir abhidiyate I  Ranjana-jjayate  ragau utpatthih samudahrutah II 283

Ashva-karnadi vidha rude yaugikau vaapi vachakah I  Yogarudosthva raage jneyam pankaja-shabdavat II 284

[ Among the many  tools (Nyaya) employed in the olden days to extract and to explain the meaning of the words and terms ,the  Samabhirudha Nyaya derived the meaning of a word from its root;  and , Vyavaharika Nyaya  interpreted the word through conventions (rudi)  and its common usage (paddathi)  in day-to-day life (Vyavahara).

The words Asvakarna and Pankaja are common illustrations of these Nyayas. And, Matanga’s argument is based on similar lines.

There are many other similar words, such as:  Mantapa which normally is understood as an open-hall; but, its etymological meaning could be ‘one who drinks scum of boiled rice (Ganji)’. And, the term Kushala is generally used to denote an expert or a highly skilled person (pravina); but, its etymology analysis would lead to one who is ‘good at cutting grass (kush). And, similarly, Ashva-gandha is literally ‘smell of the horse; but in common usage it refers to a medicinal herb.

 Bhartrhari, in his Vakyapadiya emphasizes the importance of contextual factors in the determination of the meaning of expressions. Etymology is without doubt important in its own context; but, in the day-to-day conversations the conventional meaning (Vyvaharica artha) takes precedence over the etymologically derived sense. Panini the Grammarian also recognized the fact the people who spoke the language and used it in their daily  lives were better judges in deriving, meaning of  the words

Therefore, the generally accepted rule in the Indian poetics is that the conventional meaning overrides the etymological derivation.  It is said; the conventional (rudi) meaning is grasped immediately and directly while its etymological sense has to derived indirectly through analysis. And, the essential nature of the word lies in its power (Skakthi) to signify directly. ]

10.5. Thus, the term Raga, in its etymological and technical sense, means a particular combination or sequence of Svaras and Varnas which delights, charms or colors  (in broader sense ) the mind. Therefore, every Raga, while it delights also creates an emotional mood which colors or influences the mind in its own unique manner. It colors different minds in different ways. That is why a single Raga can yield divergent expressions, associations and experiences.

General and Special characteristics

11.1. Along with defining Raga and explaining its concept, Matanga takes up the question of its identity. He says that the identity of Raga is conceived in two ways (dvivida matham):  through its general (Samanya) classification and through its special characteristics (vishesha lakshana). He mentions the general categories as four (Chatur vidha tu samanya); and, that the Raga’s special identity lies in Amsa and other features (vishesha cha Amshakadhikam).

Samanya cha visheshacha lakshana dvivida matham I  Chatur vidha tu samanya vishesha cha Amshakadhikam II 282

11.2. General (Samanya) classification

As regards the four broad categories (Chatur vidha tu samanya) that Matanga mentioned, some say, he, perhaps, was referring to Desi ragas that are classified into four categories, Raganga, Bhashanga, Kriyanga and Upanga. These ragas are the basis for all musical forms presented in the later Samgita traditions and forms. [But, during the later times the connotation and interpretation of these terms underwent thorough revision. The Ragas came to be classified into Janaka and Janya. And, Janya ragas were further classified into: Sampurna — Varja; Krama- Vakra; Upanga — Bhashanga: Nishadantya, Dhaiva- tantya and Panchamantya. ]

[There is another interpretation which says that the four general categories mentioned by Matanga might refer to : Purna, Shadava, Audava, and Sadharana, The Purna contained  Svaras (hexatone ) ; Shadava , six Svaras(heptatone ) ;  Audava , five  Svaras (pentatonic ) ; and the Sadharana , two displaced (vikrita} Svaras :  antara-gandhara and kakali-nishada.]

Amsa and other characteristics

11.3. Amsa was said, during the time of Matanga, to be the prominent or predominant Svara through which the Raga manifested (raga-janakatvad vyapakatvaccha Amsasya pradhanyam).  During his time, the term Amsa and Vadi were used alternatively. Kallinatha in his commentary has said that both Amsa and Vadi used to convey the idea of creating the pleasing sensations of the Ragas (Sa vadi tyogyatavashdt amsha syat rakti-vyanjakatvat).

Along with Amsa, nine other characteristics (Dasha-lakshanam) of Jaati (melodies) were listed in Natyashastra (28.74) as also in Dattilam (55) as Graha, Amsa, Tara, Mandra, Sadava, Audavita, Aplatva, Bahutva, Apa-Nyasa and Nyasa.

These are briefly:

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

: – Amsa – It is the prominent note (key note) in the song. The melodic expression of the song depends on it;

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

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

: – Sadavita –Six notes are used omitting one;

: – Audavita -Five note are used dropping two.

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

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

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

: – and, Nyasa – It is the note with which the song ends.

[ In the introduction to his work Ragas and Raginis, Prof. O C Ganguli writes:

The starting note (graha) and the terminating note (nyasa) have now almost lost their significance. But the Amsa (predominant note) is of great importance. It is also called the Vadi (lit. the speaker, or announcer) i.e. the note which indicates, manifests, or expresses the peculiar character of the raga; and, receives the greatest emphasis in the structure of the raga. It is also called the jiva, or the soul of the raga. Just as the Vadi note determines the general character of a raga, the Vivadi or the dissonant note, distinguishes and differentiates it from other forms of ragas, by avoidance of the Vivadi note. For, this dissonant note destroys the character of the melody. The Vivadi note gives the negative element, and, the other three, the positive determining elements of a raga. Every raga has its special types of a serial of notes for ascent (aroha) and descent (avaroha) which determines its structure. The degree of insistence or importance of particular notes lends flesh, blood, color, and life to the scale and creates a Raga (Ranjayati iti ragah- ‘that which colors, is a raga).]


Svara, Varna and Alamkara

12.1. In the explanations offered by Matanga, he mentions Svara, Varna and Alamkara etc.


12.2. The Svara, here, indicates the arrangement of five or more ascending and descending notes. According to Matanga, Svara is the sound which has musical quality that creates melody. When the interval between the notes (Sruti) is raised or lowered, the musical quality gets altered.

Depending on their level of importance in a Raga, Svaras are classified under the four categories Vadi, Anuvadi, Samvadi and Vivadi (sonant, assonant , consonant  and dissonant). Bharatha defines these in his Natyashastra. here , the Vadi is the most important Svara to a Raga. It is repeated often and used as a fundamental note  upon which the raga sculpture is erected. Sa, shuddha ri, antara ga or pa are examples of Vadi Svaras. When sung with the Vadi Svaras, only certain Svaras have a pleasant or concordant effect. These are Samvadi Svaras, and they generally have nine or thirteen shruti intervals between them and their corresponding Vadi Svara . The Anuvadi Svaras help in adding substance to a Raga, and they are not emphasized. Vivadi Svaras are those which are discordant and create a displeasing effect when rendered with the Vadi Svara. The space between these two is usually one Svara, though it is often more than two Sruthi differences.

[ Sruthi is derived from Sru (to listen) Srunyanta iti srutayah –that which is heard is Sruti. Matanga , quoting Khohala , says – Srutis are infinite varieties of sounds in the Universe, comparable to the ceaseless waves produced when the ocean is struck by great winds.]


12.3. And, Varna refers to special note sequences that indicate different kinds of movement. The function of Varna in a Raga is to manifest a song; and, it is, therefore, known as gana-kriya. The Varna-s are said to be of four kinds, depending on the movement of Svara. They indicate the general direction of the melodic line.   When a note remains more or less at the same level it is called Sthayi-varna (stable); when the notes are ascending or descending these are known as Arohi and Avarohi. And, a mixture of the three is sanchari-varna, wandering, back-and-forth.


12.4. Alamkara (adornment or ornamentation) refers to graces and flourishes in the music. Alamkara contributes to enhancing the artistic beauty in the presentation of Music.  It has been a vital aspect of the creative process even from very early times. Bharatha, in a famous verse, remarks that “A song without Alamkara will be like a night without moon; a river without water; a creeper without a flower; and, a woman without any ornament.”

Shashina rahiteva nisha, Vijaleva nadee lata, Vipushpeva avibhooshitheva cha kantha, geethir-alamkara-viheena syath.

The Alamkaras are associated with Varna (appearance, color, word, and syllable). It is said; if Varna is the architecture or the structure, then the Alamkara is its decoration bringing out and enhancing its natural beauty. In Music,the term Alamkara represents the combinations of progressions and ornamentation. The harmonious blending of structure and decoration is basic to all forms of Indian art.  And, in early Music, probably, no precise distinction was  made between Varna and Alamkara.

Alamkaras, as recurring patterns of variations formed out of Svaras, were associated with each of the four Varnas. They were classified according to the Varna underlying them. Accordingly, there were four broad categories of Alamkaras:

Sthayi -Varna –Alamkara; Arohi-Varna-Alamkara; Avarohi-Varna-Alamkara; and, Sanchari-Varna –Alamkara.

 12.5. Under these categories, Natyashastra had earlier listed thirty-three types of Alamkaras. But, Dattila later abridged the list to thirteen. Matanga who followed Natyashastra reckoned thirty-three Alamkaras.  However, in later times the list grew up to eighty-eight types of Alamkaras.

Dattila’s list of thirteen Alamkaras , which is  regarded as the basic contained : 1. Prasanna-adi, begins with low note; 2. Prasanna-anta, ends with low note; 3. Prasanna-madhya, low note in the middle; 4. Prasanna-adyanta, begins and ends with low note; 5. Bindu, higher note touched like lightning; 6. Nivrtta-pravrtta, lower note touched quickly; 7. Prenkholita, even swing between two notes;  8. Tara-mandra-prasanna, gradual rise followed by sudden drop; 9. Mandra-tara-prasanna, sudden rise followed by gradual descent; 10. Sama, even ascent and/or descent; 11. Kampita, quiver in low register; 12. Harita, quiver in middle register; and, 13. Recita, quiver in high register

[Source: As listed in Early Indian musical speculation and the theory of melody by Lewis Rowel]


13.1. Karnataka Samgita has developed an intricate system of Alamkara with subtle variations.  It is celebrated as Gamaka. And, Gamaka, as such, was not mentioned in Natyashastra. But, the text does talk about different types of Alamkaras as that which add beauty and aesthetic value to Music.

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

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

Tripa; Spurita; Kampita; Lina; Andolita; Vali; Tribhinna; Kurula; Ahata; Ullasita; Plavita;  Gumpita; Mudrita; Namita; and, Misrita.

स्वरस्य कम्पो गमकः श्रोतृचित्तसुखावहः | तस्य भेदास्तु तिरिपः स्फ़ुरितः कम्पितस्तथः ||लीन आन्दोलित वलि त्रिभिन्न कुरुलाहताः | उल्लासितः प्लावितस्च गुम्फ़ितो मुद्रितस्तथा || नामितो मिश्रितः पञ्चदशेति परिकीर्तिताः |

Sarangadeva’s descriptions are closer to our understanding of Gamaka.

Tripa: Playing one of the notes of a phrase with some stress.

Spurita: wherein the lower note is faintly heard and the second note is stressed.

Kampita: A slight tremble oscillating between two Svaras.

Lina: Merging of a note softly into another note.

Andolita: A free swinging. Holding on a note for some time and then pulling the string or gliding on it so as to reveal a higher note.

Vali: deflecting the string in a circling manner for producing the chhaya of two or three notes from the same Svara-sthāna.

Tribhinna: Produced by placing the left-hand fingers on a Svara-sthāna so that the fingers are in contact with three strings, and then by plucking the three strings with the right hand fingers either simultaneously or successively (only in fretted instruments).

Kurula: production of a note of another sthāna with force

Ahata: Sounding a note and then producing another note without a separate stroke (only in Veena).

Ullasita: Glide. Starting on a note and reaching a different (higher or lower) note by gliding over the intermediate notes.

Plavita: This is a variety of Kampita.

Gumpita: The tone is slender at the start and goes on increasing in both volume and pitch- in vocal music.

Mudrita: Produced by closing the mouth and singing – in vocal Music.

Namita: Singing in a slender tone –vocal Music.

Misrita: Mixture of two or three of the other varieties.

[For more: please check ]

[Various commentators on Indian music have mentioned different numbers of Gamakas. For example, Narada in Sangeeta Makaranda describes nineteen Gamakas; and, Haripala in Sangeeta Sudhakar describes seven Gamakas. There is also a mention of Dasha-vida Gamaka, which is slightly different from that of Sarangadeva. Please check: ]

14.1. In today’s Karnataka Samgita, Gamakas are essential aspects of Manodharma Sangita. Gamaka is much more than an ornament to Karnataka Sangita. It is a very essential constituent of its musical element and its elaboration.

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

14.3. Gamaka-rendering is a highly individualistic and a specialized skill. Not merely that the Gamakas are designed specifically for vocal music and for instrumental music, but also that each performer would, in due course, develop her/his own Gamaka-improvisations. And therefore, two ragas with identical ascending (Aroha) and descending (Avaroha) Svaras and born out of the same parent (Janaka) Raga might sound totally different in character and expression , mainly because of the Gamakas that are employed. One could say that Karnataka Sangita is Gamaka oriented. And, it is, perhaps, because of such extensive use of Gamakas, it has not been easy to commit Karnataka Sangita to notation system.  Gamakas can be taught and practiced only by oral method, through Guru-Shishya interactions.

[In Hindustani Music, Meend and Andolan are similar to Gamakas.]

15.1. Other Angas of Karnataka Sangita

Apart for the above mentioned,  there are certain other Angas (limbs) that are essential to the song formats in Karnataka Sangita. These are:  Pallavi, Anu-pallavi, Chjttaswaram, Mukthayiswaram and Charanam .

The Pallavi is a sort of introduction to the piece; and, it must establish the RagaTaala and bhava of the entire song. The Pallavi is rendered usually, in the middle octave (madhyama sthayi), though Sangathis take it to the higher and lower octaves at times. Pallavi is the counterpart of Udgraha of the Prabandha compositions.

The Anu-pallavi links the Pallavi to the Charanam.  It is analogous to Melapaka of the Prabandha. The Anu-pallavi is usually sung in the higher octave. The Charanam provides the climax of the Sahitya aspect of the song. Neraval and Kalpanaswara often resolve in the Charanam, though this is not a rule. The Charanam has a range from the lower to the middle to the higher octaves, thus having the widest range of the angas of a song.


16.1. For Indian Music, Sruthi and Laya are said to be the parents of music: ‘Shruthi Matha Laya Pitha ’ . The term  Laya  (‘to be one with ) denotes Taala (rhythm).  Sarangadeva remaked that music, vocal , instrumental, and dance  are based on units of time-measure, or Taala: ‘gitam vaadyam thathaa nrtyam yatasthale pratishthitham.’ Bharatha said that without a sense of Taala, one could neither be called a singer or a drummer. Earler to that , Bharatha  had further elaborated on Taala in the 29th chapter of the Natyashastra, saying that it is a definite measure of time upon which Gana, or song, rests: ‘ganam talena dharyathe’.

16.2. While Raga dictates the appearance and characteristics of a melody, it is the Taala that sets the rhythm and beat of any piece in Indian music. All Taalas of Karnataka Sangita are cyclical in nature, i.e. a single unit is taken and repeated to form the Taala pattern or rhythm. There are different units of Taala. An important unit, one of the smallest, is the akshara (lit. Alphabet) . The akshara is not defined in terms of absolute duration ; but it is conceived as  a variable that changes according to the mood of the composer, the piece and the performer involved.

The akshara is further divided into Svaras. And, the Svaras are of five different measures – Tisra (3), Chatusra (4), Misra (7),Khanda (5) and Sankeerna (9). The smallest measure of Svaras is Tisra. Strangely enough, two is not taken as the smallest number, perhaps because two is too small a number to stand on its own as a beat. The number divisible by 2 that is used instead is four, in Chatusra.

These Svara divisions are made easier to remember with the help of the meaningless syllables used primarily in dance or percussion training. For Tisra, the syllables ‘Tha Kita’ are used. Chatusra is denoted by the syllables ‘Thakadhimi’; Khanda – ‘Thaka Thakita’; Misra -‘Thakita Thakadhimi’;and , Sankeerna – ‘Thakadhimi Thaka Thakita’.

16.3. The means and materials of Taala according to Bharatha in his Natyashastra are ‘laya, yati and pani’. The Laya, or tempo, is divided into fast, medium and slow speeds, i.e. Druta, Madhya and Vilambita.  And, Yati is a kind of method of application of laya. It is of many kinds; the three of which are sama, srotogata and gopuccha. The sama-yati possesses three units of tempo: one in the beginning, one in the middle and one in the end. The srotogata contains three units of tempo, as well: the first is slow (vilambita), the second is medium (Madhya) and the third is fast (druta). The gopuccha-yati consists of three units of tempo, where in the beginning of the song the tempo is fast, then it becomes medium and in the end it becomes slow.

16.4. The present day Karnataka Sangita has a Taala System based on the scheme of Sapta Taala (seven Taala). In order to facilitate easy and accurate methods of reckoning these Taalas, the shadangas (six parts) are used. There are symbols to denote these angas. Except for the anga known as ‘laghu,’ the others have fixed time measures.

[For more, please check A Brief Overview of the Evolution of Indian Music]




17.1. It is very essential to understand that Raga is not merely a scale or a mode. To limit a Raga to the confines of a scale might not be quite correct. A Raga has dimensions that go beyond its scales, such as swaroopalakshana and bhava. One might ordinarily,   even, say, a Raga is not a tune, nor is it a ’modal’ scale, but rather a continuum with scale and tune as its extremes. But, Ragas are actually more complex than this limited definition. How the musical sounds are conjured up and configured in such a way as to produce that tender or powerful but indescribable feeling in the listener is truly a very complex process.  The artistic transformation of a scale into Raga is a phenomenon that is unique to the Music of India,

17.2. Indeed, Raga is basically a feeling, an emotional experience shared by the performer and the listener. The expression of the Raga is essentially  through the combination of certain notes and twists of melody. But, Raga is more than its structure. Raga is an icon. It is  indeed a living, fluid, organic entity.

The raga bhava is visualization of the Raga in a seemingly tangible form that draws the listener into the music.

In the introduction to his work Ragas and Raginis, Prof. O C Ganguli writes:

According to Matanga, an ancient authority, : A Raga is called by the learned, as that kind of sound composition (dhwani-bhedaya), which is adorned with musical notes (Svara) , in some peculiarly (visesena) , stationary (sthayi) , or ascending (aroha), or descending, (avaroha) or moving values (varna), which  are capable of affecting the mind with peculiar feelings or of colouring ( Ranjyate ) the hearts of men. A Raga is that which delights: Ranjana-jjayate ragau.

If the combinations, growing out of the component members or elements (svaras) of a raga-composition, have any significant qualities, or functions, the ensemble of the raga-form must spell and express some particular states of feelings and emotions.  Indeed, they are believed to represent particular moods, association, or atmosphere of the human mind, or of nature, and to be able to call up and invoke a distinctive kind of feeling answering to the state of the mind, or its physical environment, for the time being.

 Ragas have, therefore, the power of producing certain mental effects and each is supposed to have an emotional value, or signification which may be called the ethos of the raga. Ragas may be said to stand for the language of the soul, expressing itself variously, under the stress of sorrow, or the inspiration of joy, under the storm of passion, or the thrills of the expectation, under the throes of love-longing, the pangs of separation, or the joys of union.

17.3. Ragas keep changing shape; their rendering vary from time to time ; and, new ones are born while others are forgotten. They gain full status when they are  repeatedly played and heard. Their main features have to be established and tested by experienced performers whose knowledge and interpretation contributes to the very  understanding  of the raga-bhava. In this context, Indian musicians often speak of a ‘raga grammar’, sets of rules and patterns that determine the selection of intervals and characteristic melodic movements. This practical knowledge is orally transmitted ; it  guides the melodic development of every performance; and,  it also forms the  essential framework for the manifestation of each raga’s personality as developed by the performer.

While Raga lakshana is the Grammar of a Raga, the theoretical that define the characteristics of a Raga, Raga Prayoga is movement of the Raga through Aroha (upward sequence of Svaras) and Avaroha (downward sequence of Svaras) that give its identity along with the application of Gamakas

17.4. Each raga has its own definite personality; and can easily be recognized.  A musician may compose in the same Raga many number of times; and, yet it is possible that new tunes can be composed using that Raga. That is to say, though a given Raga has certain melodic phrases, their forms and expressions are truly unlimited. And yet, a Raga can be recognized in the first few notes, because the feelings produced by the musician’s execution of these notes are intensely strong. The effect of Indian music is cumulative rather than dramatic. As the musician develops his discourse in his Raga, it eventually colors the thoughts, elevates and delights the listeners.

18.1. Raga is the central and predominant melodic concept in Indian music. Raison d’être of a classical music performance is projecting the entity of a Raga in its fullest splendor, so as to offer to the listeners an aesthetic experience which only that Raga can generate ( that is, Raga–specific) .

18.2. Raga-bhava-rasa is a continuum. The Raga ambience creates a mood that binds together the performer and the listener. The elaboration of the idyllic tender passages manifests or becomes (Bhava) the emotive world; and, it creates is an experience shared by the creator and the enjoyer (rasika). In that we, somehow, touch the very core of our being. And, that out-of –the world (alaukika) subjective ultimate aesthetic experience (ananda) is not a logical construct. As Abhinavagupta says, it is a wondrous flower; and, its mystery cannot really be unraveled.


19.1. The advent of Raga changed the whole phase of Indian Music.  With its coming, the ancient music-terms and concepts such as Jaati, Grama, and Murchana etc no longer are relevant in the Music that is practiced since say, fourteenth century. Since then Raga has taken the centre stage; and, it is the most important concept in music composition, music performances and even in music-listening.

19.2. The proliferation of Ragas led, in the South, to systematic ways of classifying or grouping (Mela) them based on the technical traits of their scales (Svaras). In North India, Ragas are classified according to such characteristics as mood, season, and time of the day or night. Classification of Ragas plays a major role in Indian Music theories.

Though the present-day system is evolved from the structure suggested by Venkatamakhin, it has many differences. For example, Venkatamakhin did not believe parent melakarthas must contain sampoorna (complete) Aroha and Avaroha as long as they contained the seven notes in some form or the other. The idea that they should have these seven notes in their complete form in the ascending and descending sequences of Svaras is attributed to Govindacharya, who, in the late 18th century, re-organized the melakartas making them all sampoorna so that a certain mathematical elegance could be maintained

[We shall talk about Mela-system later in the series]

In the next segment of this series let’s take a look at the various forms of Karnataka Sangita.



Forms of Karnataka Sangita


Sources and References

  1. Third Quarterly Report – SIPA Textbook Committee

  1. Rāga-s in Bṛhaddēśī: English translation of the verses and the prose passages describing the Rāga-s, in the Bṛhaddēśī of Mataṅga by Dr. Hema Ramanathan
  2. Brhaddasehi of Matanga by Dr. N . Ramanathan
  3. History of Indian Music by Swami Prajnananda
  4. Music and Musical Thought in Early India by Lewis Eugene Rowell
  5. Comparative Musicology and Anthropology of Music: Essays on the History of … By Bruno Nettl, Philip V. Bohlman
  6. Essays on Indian Music by Raj Kumar
  7. Emergence of the Desi tradition by T.M. Krishna
  8. Raga:
  11. A Brief Overview of the Evolution of Indian Music

Posted by on May 21, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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The state of music in the Ramayana

My friend Shri DSampath posted a delightful blog weaving the Ramayana tale with colourful strands of lines of great charm set   in catchy tunes, chosen from popular Hindi movie songs. It was enterprising and highly entertaining too. Naturally, the blog was well received and was hugely popular. I enjoyed the sparkle of wit and wisdom.

That set me to think about Ramayana and music.



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

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

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

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

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

The Adi Kavi states that his Epic poem  (Kavyam)  Ramayana , adorned with Srngara,  Karuna, Hasya, Raudra, Bhayanaka and Vira Rasas is sung by Kusi – Lava –  rasaiḥ śṛṃgāra karuṇa hāsya raudra bhayānakaiḥ | virādibhī rasair yuktam kāvyam etat agāyatām (R.1-4-9 )


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

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

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

 For instance:

:- The sage Valmiki, the author of the Epic, at the commencement says that the Ramayana he composed is well suited to musical rendering in melodious (madhuram) tunes (Jatis) having all the seven notes (Svaras) in three registers (vilambita, Madhyama and Drita) with proper rhythm (laya) to the accompaniment of string instruments (tantrī laya samanvitam) – pāhye geye ca madhuram pramāai tribhir anvitam | jātibhi saptabhi yuktam tantrī laya samanvitam (R.1-4-8)

:- Describing the glory and the beauty of Ayodhya, it is said the city resounding with the rhythmic  drum beats of Dundubhi, Mrudanga and Panava; with the melodious tunes of string instruments like Veena , the city , indeed, was unique ; and undoubtedly the best city on earth –dundubhībhi mdangai ca vīābhi paavai tathā | nāditām   bhśam atyartham pthivyām tām anuttamām (R.1.5.18)

: – And, in the hermitage of Rishyasrnga the girls sent by King Lomapada sang and danced – tāḥ citra veṣāḥ pramadā gāyaṃtyo madhura svaram  (R.I .10.11 ).

 :- When  Sri Rama and his three brothers took birth, the Gandharvas in great jubilation  sang cheerfully; the celestial nymphs Apsaras danced with great delight, the Devas played on the drums enthusiastically, while the heavens showered flowers ; and,  with that there was a great festivity in Ayodhya among its joyous people who had  thronged in celebration – jagu kalam ca Gandharvā nantu ca Apsaro gaā | deva dudubhayo nedu pupa vṛṣṭi ca khāt patat  utsava ca mahān āsīt ayodhyāyām janākula (R. 1-18-17 )

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

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

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

:-  Hanuman , as he entered the city of Lanka, while going from one building to another,  heard a sweet song which was decorated by sound from the three svaras – Mandra, Madhya and Tara of love lorn women like Apsara women in heaven.

:-Hanuman while wandering at night through the inner courts of Lanka heard melodious and sweet  songs adorned with Tri-sthana and Svara; and, the songs had regular Taala (sama-taala) and aksara (words) – (R.V.4.10)- Śuśrāva madhuram gītam tri sthāna svara bhūitam | strīām mada samddhānām divi ca apsarasām iva  (R . 5-4-10 )

:-  Hanuman heard musical notes coming from stringed instruments which were comforting to ears: Tantrīsvanāh karasukhā pravttā | svapanti nārya patibhi suvttā (R. 5-5-9 )

:-  Hanuman found the huge palace of Ravana, vast like the legendary mansions of Kubera, encircled by many spacious enclosures; filled with hundreds of best women; and, resounding with the sounds of percussion on Mrudangas with deep sound – mdanga tala ghoai ca ghoavadbhir vināditam ( R.5-6-43)

:- Silently wandering through the inner courts of Ravana, in the middle of the night, the bewildered Hanuman came upon sleeping groups of women, adorned with rich and sparkling ornaments (R 5.10-37-44) . These women who were skilled in dance and music, tired and fast asleep, lying in various postures, was each clutching or hugging to a musical instrument ; such as Veena,  Madduka; pataha; Vamsam ; Vipañchi; Mridanga ; Paava; Dindima;  and, Adambar. 

Hanuman  sees a lady of the court, tired and asleep, clutching to her Veena,  like a cluster of lotuses entwining a boat moored on the banks of a stream – kācid vīām parivajya prasuptā samprakāśate | mahā nadī  prakīrā iva nalinī potam āśritā (R. 5-10-37  )

There was one woman with black eyes sleeping with an instrument called Madduka under arm pit shone like a woman carrying an infant boy with love – Maḍḍukena asita īkaā | prasuptā bhāminī bhāti bāla putrā iva vatsalā  (5-10-38).

A woman with beautiful body features and with beautiful breasts slept tightly and hugged instrument called Pataha as though hugging a lover, getting him after a long time – paaham cāru sarva angī pīya śete śubha stanī | cirasya  ramaam labdhvā parivajya iva kāminī (5-10-39)

Another woman with lotus like eyes hugging a  vaśam (flute  ) slept like a woman holding her lover in secret – kācid vaśam parivajya suptā kamala locanā | raha priyatamam ghya sakāmeva ca kāminī (R. 5-10-40 )

Another woman skilled in dance obtained sleep getting  Vipanchi an instrument like Veena and being in tune with it like a woman together with her lovervipañcaiim parighyānyā niyatā nttaśālinī | nidrā vaśam anuprāptā saha kāntā iva bhāminī (R.5-10-41)

Another woman with lusty eyes slept hugging a percussion instrument called Mridanga Anya kanaka … mdangam paripīya angai prasuptā matta locanā (R. 5-10-42 )

Another tired woman slept, clutching an instrument called Panava between her shoulders and reaching arm pits- bhuja pārśva antarasthena kakagena krśa udarī | paavena saha anindyā suptā mada krta śramā (R. 5-10-43 )

Another woman with an instrument called Dindima near her slept in the same way as a woman hugging her husband and also her child – iṇḍimam parigrhya anyā tathaiva āsakta iṇḍimā | prasuptā  taruam vatsam upagūhya iva bhāminī (R. 5-10-44 )

And, Another woman with eyes like lotus petals slept making the instrument called Adambara pressing it by her shoulders – kācid āambaram nārī bhuja sambhoga pīitam |ktvā kamala patra akī prasuptā mada mohitā (R. 5-10-45 )

Some excellent women slept hugging strange instrumentsātodyāni vicitrāi parivajya vara striya(6.10.49)

: – Some versions of Ramayana mention that Ravana was a reputed Saman singer; and music was played in his palace. He, in fact, suggests to Sita, she could relax like a queen listening to music in his palace, instead sitting tensely under the tree- mahārhaṇi ca pānāni śayanānyāsanāni ca | gītam nṛttaṃ ca vādyaṃ ca labha maṃ prāpya maithili (R. 5-20-10 )

:- According to some versions of the Ramayana , Ravana was a well known player of Veena  called Ravana-hastaka (an instrument played with a bow).

:- As Ravana’s soldiers prepare for the war, they hear the sounds of the Bheri played by Rama’s monkey –army. Sarama asks Sita to listen and rejoice the Bheri sounds resembling the thundering rumbles of the clouds- Samanahajanani hesya bhairava bhiru bherika / Bherinadam ca gambhiram srunu toyadanihsvanam – (6-33-22)

:- Ravana  compared the battlefield to a music stage; bow (weapon for firing arrows) to his Veena; arrow to his musical bow; and the tumultuous noise of the battle to music – jyā śabda tumulām ghorām ārta gītam ahāsvanām | nārā catalasam nādām tām mamā hita vāhinīm | avagāhya maha raṅgam vādayiṣyāntagan raṇe – ( R. VI: 24:43-44)

:- As the battle ended with victory to Rama, the  Apsaras danced to the songs of Gandharvas, such as Narada the king of Gandharvas (Gandharva-rajanah), Tumbura, Gopa, Gargya, Sudhama, Parvata, and Suryamandala (R.6.92.10). Tumbura sang in divine Taana (divya-taaneshu).

:-The triumphant Rama, the foremost among men, on his return, was greeted and loudly cheered by the people of Ayodhya accompanied by sounds of conchs  (shankha) buzzing in the ears and tremendous sounds of Dundhubi  – Śankha śabda praādaiśca dundubhīnān ca nisvanai | prayayū puruavyāghrastā purīn harmyamālinīm (R. 6-128-33)

:- Rama drove to his palace, surrounded by musicians cheerfully playing on the cymbals, Swastika and such other musical instruments singing auspicious (mangalani) songs- Sa purogāmi abhistūryaistālasvastikapāibhi | pravyāharadbhirmuditairmagalāni yayau vta ( 6-128-37 )

:- On that auspicious and most joyous occasion of the coronation of the noblest Sri Rama, the Devas, the Gandharva sang gracefully ;and , the troupes of Apsaras  danced with great delight – Prajagur deva-gandharvā nantuśc āpsaro gaā | abhieke  tadarhasya tadā rāmasya dhīmata (6-128-72 )


Music terms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some terms that  might need short explanation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instrumental Music

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

In another manner , the musical instruments were  classified under four broad categories : Tatha which included all stringed instruments; Anaddha which included all that  were covered or were struck like drums; Sushira which included all wind  instruments like the flute and the Shanka; and, Ghana which included all  solid cymbal-like resonators.

String instruments

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

Percussion instruments

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

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

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

Wind instruments

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

State of Music

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

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


Ramayanadalli Sangita (Kannada) by Dr. R Satyanarayana

Origin of Indian Instrumental Music Music is found …

Musical Instruments

Telling a Ramayana

Music of India

Glossary of music terms

The Music and Musical Instruments of North Eastern India by Dilip Ranjan Barthakur

Painting by Shri S Rajam


Posted by on September 15, 2012 in Music, Rigveda, Sanskrit


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