Tag Archives: Gana

Music of India – a brief outline – Part seven

Continued from Part six – Gandharva

Part Seven ( of 22 ) – Music in Natyashastra

music in natya

Gandharva and Gana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let see this in a little more detail:

Svara, Taala, Pada and Phala


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


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


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


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

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

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

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



Before we speak of its Samgita a few words about Natyashastra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yo’yaṃ svabhāvo lokasya sukha dukha samanvita som gādya abhinaya ityopeto nātyam ity abhidhīyate 119

Natyashastra (6.10) provides a comprehensive framework of the Natya-veda, in a pellet form, as the harmonious  combination  (sagraha) of the  various essential components that contribute towards the  successful production of a play.

Rasā bhāvāhya abhinayā dharmī vtti pravttaya siddhi svarās tathā atodya gāna ragaśca sagraha 6.10

The successful production (Siddhi) of a play enacted on the stage (Ranga) with the object of arousing joy (Rasa) in the hearts of the spectators involves various  elements of the components of  the actors’ gestures, actions (bhava) and speech ;  bringing forth (abhinaya) their intent, through the medium of theatrical ( natya dharmi) and common (Loka dharmi) practices; in four styles of representations (Vritti-s) in their four regional variations (pravrttis) ; with the aid of  melodious songs  accompanied by  instrumental music (svara-gana-adyota).

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

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

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

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

[For more on Natyashastra please click here.]


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

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

[For more on Abhinavabharati please click here.]



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

9.2. The ‘Music’ that the Natyashastra talks about is indeed the Samgita. The term Samgita in the early Indian context denoted a composite art-form comprising vocal (Gitam) and instrumental (Vadyam) music; as also Nrtyam the dance movements or dance (Gitam, Vadyam tatha Nrtyam trayam Samgitam uccyate)The last one, Nrtyam, the dance, is composed of all those three elements.

[The Gitam, the song format, is a fusion of Nada (sounds) and Akshara (composition made of words). Its musical element is named Dhathu; while its composition made of words is called Mathu. Lohana Pandita, in his Raga-tarangini, says: – Dhatu-matu-samayauktam Gitam iti uccyate budhaih; tatra nadatmako dhatur matur akshara sambhavah’.

Gitam, going by its traditional definition, strictly belongs to the Salaga Suda class of Prabandha, which is composed two Angas (elements) – Pada (words) and Taala (time-beats); and, having three components or Dhatus (Tri-dhatuka Prabandha) :  Udgraha, Dhruva and Abhoga. For more on that, please click here. But, in common practice, anything that is sung goes by the name of Gita (Giyata iti Gitam).

The term Vadyam, covers a wide variety of musical instruments, such as : the varied string instruments; different types of Drums; bell-metal cymbals ; and a host of wind instruments including  flutes, pipes , conch,  trumpets etc.

The third component of Samgita involves three forms

Nrtta: the display of smart looking (shobhahetu) limb movements in  tune with attractive and catchy Taala (rhythm) and Laya (tempo) – Nrttam Taala Laya ashrayam (DR.I. 9). But, in itself, it is devoid of meaningful content; and, is valued for its mere visual beauty of body movements (gatrasya viksepaha).

Nrtya: the means of putting forth different aesthetic moods or bhava (bhavahetu orbhavashraya) or giving expression to individual words of the song through appropriate gestures, facial expressions,expressing emotions through Abhinaya-pada-artha-abhinayatmaka. The key ingredient in this is the elaborate gesture-language. Abhinaya (lit. To bring near, that is to present before the eyes), is a harmonious combination of striking pose, eloquent gestures, lucid facial expressions, various glances,  and meaningful movements of the feet, hands, fingers and feet.

Thus, Nrtta is pure dance movements, without emotions; Nrtya is that which brings forth the emotional content of the song or the dance theme.

Nandikeshvara (Abhinayadarpana. 1. 15-16) distinguished Nrtya from Nritta, thus:

Bhavabhinaya-hinam tu nrittamitya-abhidhyate | Rasabhava-vyanjana adi yuktam nrityam ity uchyate

And, Sarangadeva said that Nrtya and Nrtta can both be of two kinds –Tandava and Lasya (SR. 7. 28); and, while Tandava is uddhata (vigorous), the Lasya is of Lalita (delicate) movements (SR. 7. 29- 30).


And, the third, the Natya: the art form gives forth Rasa (ultimate aesthetic enjoyment) ; and, is based in Rasa – Natyam rasam-ashrayam (DR.I. 9). It gives expressions to the inner or true meaning of the lyrics through dance gestures –vakyartha-abhinayatmaka.

Thus, Natya, the dance, delightfully brings together and presents in a very highly expressive, attractive visual and auditory form, the import of the lyrics (sahitya), the nuances of its emotional content to the accompaniment of soulful music and rhythmic patterns (tala-laya).


Later, Pundarika Vittala  his work (Nartana-nirnaya), uses the term  Nartana, generally, to mean ‘Dance’, Pundarika said that by Nartana he meant it to be a general class name for Dance. And, that the term Natrana would cover the three forms of Dance: NatyaNrtya and Nrtta. The last (Nrtta) would again be subdivided into three other types: visama (acrobatic), vikata (ludicrous) and laghu (light and graceful), identified respectively as rope-dancing, a comic dance, and a dance based on easy karanas.

Thus, it seems, in the later times, while Nartana stood for the general class name; the other three were its sub-divisions.

Please also read the highly educative introduction written by the renowned scholar Pandit Sri S .Subrahmanya Sastry to his edition of Sangraha Chudamani of Govinda, published by Adyar Library, 1938.]

In the latter times, the scope of the term Samgita narrowed down to what we now call ‘music’. Dance became a separate art form. And, within Music the vocal remained the more dominant aspect. The instrumental music follows what is rendered vocally.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

: – And, the last three chapters of the treatise, 34 ; 35 ; and 36 (as also  37) provide details regarding the different characters, varieties of costumes and popularization of the art of histrionics. The concluding two chapters lay down the principles for distributing roles and the qualifications for members of the troupe.

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


Continued in Part Eight

Dhruva Gana

Sources and References

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

By Ganesh Hari Tarlekar

Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition

By Guy L. Beck

Poetics of performance by TM Krishna

Language of Sanskrit Drama Language of Sanskrit Drama by Saroja Bhate

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

Pictures are from Internet


Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Four

Continued from Part Three – Overview (3)


Part Four ( of 22 ) – Music of Sama Veda


 Sama Veda Samhita

1.1. The earliest form of organized Music that we know about is the Music of Sama Veda or the Saman. Sama Veda is linked to music through Yajna.

The Yajna-s, were at the very heart of the Vedic way of living. During the Yajna-s, it was customary to invoke and invite devas (gods) by singing hymns dear to them or dedicated to them ; and to recite the mantras while submitting to them offerings (havish) through Agni, the carrier (havya-vahana). The group of priests who sang (Samaga or Chandoga) the Mantras, initially, compiled a text for their use by putting together selected Mantras from Rig-Veda (the oldest known text) that could be sung during the performance of a Yajna or a Soma Yaga. That collection of lyrical Mantras came to be known as Sama Veda Samhita; and was regarded as the fourth Veda.

1.2. Out of the 1,549 mantras in Sama Veda Samhita, as many as 1,474 mantras are taken from Rig Veda (mainly from the eighth and the ninth Mandalas). Most of the mantras are in Gayatri chhandas (metre), while some are in Pragatha. It is said; the term Sama is composed of: SA, which stands for Rik (Vedic Mantra); and AMA, meaning various notes (Brihad Up: 1-3-22). Sama Veda is thus, virtually, a musical rendering of the selected mantras from Rig Veda. In other words, Sama took maathu (words) from Rig Veda; and provided dhathu   the musical substance to those words. Sama Veda is perhaps the earliest known musical literature.

1.3. The Sama Veda Samhita has two segments. The first segment is called Sama – Yoni (adhara) mantra Samhita, meaning that it is the basic text. This segment contains the selected mantras as they appear in the Rig Veda .This, virtually, is the source book. The second segment called Sama–gana text. Here, the mantras are not in the order they originally appear in Rigveda. But, the selected mantras are rearranged to suit the sequence of rituals during the Yajna; or according to the meters (chhandas) or the gods to whom mantras are addressed.


2.1. While rearranging the text for the purpose of singing, the selected mantras are converted to Saman by turning, twisting, elongating its syllables; and, by inserting various modulations, rests, and other modifications.  The musical effect or the ‘floating form’ of the Sama-gana is enhanced by interpolation of Svaras and meaningless sounds called Stobha (which resemble shouts of joy) such as: Hoyi, Hoi, Hova, Hai, Haw, Oi, Ai, Ha, Ho, Uha, Tayo, etc. This is the text for singing; expanding each mantra with notations and instructing how mantras are to be sung. This is the Sama Veda as it is generally understood and sung.

2.2. Sama-singing (Sama-gana) was an integral part of a Yajna. Sama, thus, represents the earliest known instance of deep relationship between religious life and Music. There were numerous styles of singing Sama. Patanjali in his Mahabhashya remarks that there were a thousand recessions (shakhas) or ways of singing Sama – sahasra-vartma samvedah.  That perhaps was a poetic manner of suggesting there were a range of styles of rendering Sama.  [Some texts speak of thirteen Samaga-charyas – ways of singing Sama. But names of about only eleven are mentioned:  Ranayaniya; Chatyamugra; Kaleya; Kalvala; Mahakaleya; Langalayana; Mahakalvala; Sardula; Langala; Kouthuma; Jaiminiya]

2.3.  In any case, of the many, only three recessions (shakhas) Viz. Kauthumiya, Ranayaniya and Jaiminiya, have survived. The Kauthumiya and Ranayaniya carry the same set of mantras; but their internal grouping differs; and there are also variations in their svaras (accent). The Jaiminiya is said to be different from the other two, in both the aspects. Of the three shakhas, Kauthumiya is regarded the prominent one.


3.1. Throughout, Sama Veda is arranged in two streams of classification. And, the two often   interrelate. One is Arcika, the way in which Sama Veda text is structured and the way its Riks (stanzas) are grouped. The other is Gana, the musical aspect which details the manner of singing the Sama Riks.

First, Archika (group of Riks sung in adoration), is essentially the collection of the texts (yoni) of individual Riks adopted from Rigveda. Here, the selected Riks from Rigveda are put together under several chapters (prapathakas). And, under each prapathakas; the Riks are bunched into sets of ten (dasasti) or less.

3.2. The Sama Veda text is broadly made into two Arcikas. The first Arcika (Purvarchika or Shadarchika) is made of six chapters (prapathakas) together with an Appendix.  The Purvarchika consists about 650 Riks selected from Rigveda that  are grouped partly according to meters (chhandas) and partly according the gods  (devatha) that are propitiated. The first five prapathakas have about 585 Riks to be sung in honour of Agni, Indra and Soma-Pavamana.  The sixth prapathaka having 55 Riks is called Aaranya or Aranyakanda.  There is also an Appendix consisting 10 Riks attached to Purvarchika; and is called Mahanamani (or Sakravayah) to be sung in honour of Indra the Great (Mahan).

3.3. The second Arcika, Uttararcika (that which follows the first) is made up of nine prapathakas divided into number of segments (khandas). Under these Khandas, about 900 Riks are grouped into about 300 songs of three Riks each. The Riks, here, are arranged according to the sequence of events that occur in the course of the performance of the Yajna. It is presumed that the Uttararcika is, comparatively, of a later origin. And, it is regarded as an essential supplement to the Purvarchika.


4.1. As regards the Gana, the musical element of the Sama Veda, the Riks included in the first five chapters (prapathakas) of the first Arcika (Purvarchika) and those under Mahanamani are known as Grama-geya-gana – that is the songs meant to be sung in homes in the villages – praying to gods (devatha) Agni, Indra Soma and Visvedevah – during the course of domestic functions such as Brahmayajna (teaching of Vedas), Upakarma and other worships.

The Riks included under the sixth chapter (prapathaka) of the Purvarchika – that is Aaranya or Aranyakanda – are meant to be sung in the solitude of forests. Hence, they are named Aranya gana. The singing is of contemplative nature; and, it is deemed as sacred-music.

The Purvarchika way of singing (both the Grama and the Aranya gana) is deemed Prakrti-gana, the natural way of rendering a song.  And, it appears that the hymn-melodies for the Soma-yaga performed at homes in the villages (Grama) were different from those performed by the hermits living in the forests (Aranya).

4.2. As regards the singing (Gana) of the Riks included under the second Arcika (Uttararcika), it basically consisted two kinds of songs: Uha-gana (numbering 936) sung during the Soma Yajna; and Uhya-gana (numbering 209) singing within oneself. The texts (yoni Riks) of most of the songs were adopted from Purvarchika. But, here, the singing style is improvised with unusual variations; and, therefore it is named Vikrti-gana (not the straightway of singing). It is also said; the same Rik can be sung in different tunes, producing different Samas. The number of such Samas can vary from one to eighteen..!

[It is also said; Uha and Uhya were composed for the purpose of indicating the order of rituals in the Yajna. And, that Uha is related to Grama-gana, and Uhya to Aranya –gana.]

In summary; The Sama Veda Samhita, is arranged in two primary sections – the verse books (Arcika) and melody books (Gana). The Arcika is divided in two parts: Purvarchika and Uttararcika.  And, as regards melody (Gana) there are four styles of singing hymns: Grama-geya-gana; Aranya-gana; Uha –gana; and; Uhya-gana.  There is a mutual relation between the Riks contained in Arcika and the Gana books.


5.1. The priests who sing the Mantras at the Yajna are designated as Udgathru-s (derived from udgita – to sing ’high’ or loud). The Sama Veda Samhita came to be compiled, essentially, for their use and guidance.  They were usually a group of three singers (Prasthothru, Udgathru and Prathiharthra). And, the group, together, rendered the Sama in five stages.

Prasthava: The initial portion of the mantra is sung by an Udgathru designated as Prasthothru.  And, he starts with a deep Huuum sound (Hoon- Kara).

Udgita: Prasthothru is followed by the chef Ritwik (designated the chief Udgathru) who sings his portion of the Rik. He commences with an elongated Om Kara.

Prathihara: the mid-portion is sung loudly by Prathiharthra. This adulates the Devatha to whom Rik is addressed.

Upadrava: The chief Udgathru sings again;


Nidhana: the final portion is sung by all the three together, commencing with prolonged Om-kara.

When a mantra, as per the above format, is sung three times, it is then a stoma. Some texts describe the set of these five stages (Prasthava, Udgita, Prathihara, Upadrava and Nidhana) as Bhakthi. Its number is extended to seven by adding Hoon- Kara and Om Kara.

Elements of chanting

6.1. Shiksha, a branch of Veda lore (vedanga), deals with elements of chanting and phonetics. According to Taittereya Upanishad (1. 2), the elements of chanting includes six factors: Varna (syllable); Svara (accent); Maatra (duration); Balam (stress); Sama (even tone) ; and Santana (continuity) . The first four deal with correct pronunciation of individual syllables; and the last two with the recitation of the entire line or the verse.

Briefly, Varna is the correct pronunciation of every isolated syllable, combination of consonants and ovals and compound letters. Svara is how a syllable has to be pronounced in one of the three accents (udatta, anudatta and svarita). Maatra is the time duration for pronouncing a syllable. There are of four types: hrasva– a short one – duration for short ovals; dhirga –  two unit-duration for long vowels; plutam- longer than two–unit duration; and, the fourth is ardha- maatra, half unit, meant for consonants not accompanied by vowels.

Sama Svaras

6.2. In the beginning, Sama-gana employed only three notes called Udatta, Anudatta and Svarita. The lyre (Vana-Veena) accompanying the singing had only three strings, one for each note. The songs were perhaps like Ga Ga -Re Re -Sa Sa Sa. This kind of singing might have suited for chanting hymns.

The three notes were differentiated depending on whether it was produced from above or below the palate (taalu).

Udatta refers to sound produced from above the palate; and is acutely accented (uchchaih).

Anudatta was gravely accented (nichaih); produced from below the palate.

Svarita is a combination of udatta and anudatta, with udatta in the first-half. It is called a circumflexed accent.

[It is also explained that in context of Sama Veda , Udatta meant the highest Svara; Anudatta , just lower; and Svarita is the summation of the two.]


It is said; in the beginning, the (Rig) Vedic priests used only three notes : Udatta, Anudatta and Svarita.  The singers of the Sama Veda discovered some more notes and extended the range from  these three Svaras to seven svaras.

Narada (NarS 1.1.12) identifies the seven Sama Svaras (Vaidika)  as: Prathama; Dvitiya, Triya; Chaturtha; Mandra; Krusta; and Atisvara.

And then, he correlates the Sama Svaras used by the Saman singers with the notes of the flute (Venu) – according to the Laukika music (NarS 1.5.1).

Narada offers an explanation that from the ancient Udatta the Svaras Nishada (Ni) and Gadhara (Ga) were derived; from Anudatta, the Svaras –  Rsbha (Ri) and Dhaivata (Dha); and, from Svarita emerged three Svaras:  Shadja (Sa), Madhyana (Ma) and Panchama (Pa).

udātte niāda gāndhārāva anudātte ṛṣabha dhaivato /
svarita prabhavā hyete
adja madhyama pañcamā //


Swami Prajnanananda in his A  History of Indian Music   explains the right hand and figure gestures that the Saman singers used to indicate the Svaras (tones) of the Saman that they were singing.

In the Vedic period, the base-tones (sthana-svaras) like Udatta, Anudatta and Svarita, together with the Savras, such as, Prathama, Dvitiya, etc., were used to be symbolized by different positions or movements of ‘the fingers of the hands as well as by different movements of the upper parts of the bodies of the Saman singers.

The tradition of expressing the tones of the Vedic music, by moving the fingers of the right-hand, is current and common to this day, at least, with the followers of the Ranayaniya and the Kauthuma recessions (shakhas) of the Samaveda.

While singing the Samans, the singers used to indicate the intonation of  the special musical Svaras, with the help of their five fingers of the right-hand thus;

(a) the first finger, the thumb (Angusta) used to stand for denoting the Prathama Svara, to sing;

(b) the second finger (Tarjani), next to the thumb, used to denote the Dvitiya Svara, lower than the first;

 (c) the third finger middle one (Madhyama) used to denote, the Tritiya Svara, lower than the second;

 (d) the fourth finger (Anamika), next to the middle one, and

(e) the last finger (kanisthika) used to denote the Chaturtha and the Mandra of the Saman.

The thumb was made to move and touch the other fingers, and thus helped the singers to sing the Samagana with proper intonation.


In the Naradishiksha, we find the mention of both the processes of. the fingers of the right hand as well as different parts of the body. As for example,

Angusthasyottame krushtohyagushthe prathamah svarah/ Pradeshinyam tu gandhara-rishabhastadanantaram // Anamikayam shadjastu kanishthikayam cha dhaivatam | Tasyadhastaccha yonyastu nishadam tatra vinyaset

  [ Note: Here Narada has mentioned about the Laukika or Desi tones, and it should be remembered that Madhyama = Prathama; Gandhdra, = Dvitiya; Rishabha= Tritiya; Shadja = Chaturtha; Dhaivata = Mandra; Nishada=Atisvarya; and, Panchama= krusta.]

And again, the Saman singer will touch, respectively, the middle part of his head, forehead (lalata), middle part of the eyebrows (Bhruvormadhye), ears (Karna), throat (Kanta), thigh (mandra) and heart (hridisthanam), when he will use the Vedic tones Prathama, etc., during the Saman singing

Krustasya murdhani sthanam lalate prathamasya tu/ Bhruvormadhye dvitiyasya tritiyasya cha karnayo//

Kanthasthanam chaturthasya mandrasyorasituchyate / Atisvarasya nichasya hridisthanam vidhiyate //

Now , the hand-poses (mudras), which are adopted in the religious functions (puja) and others (updsana-mudras) as well as the gestures adopted in the art of dancing (nartana-mudras), are all evolved from the Mudras employed by the Saman singers.


While in writing down / copying the  Vedic  and Saman text , the Udatta and Anudatta  etc were indicated by symbols. 

In the written/printed texts of the Rig Veda, Udatta is not indicated by any symbol; Anudatta is indicated by underlining the syllable; and Svarita is indicated by a vertical line above the syllable.

The Sama–gana texts, however, indicate Udatta by writing the Sanskrit numeral –one above the letter; Anudatta by writing the numeral–three above the letter; and Svarita by writing the numeral–two above the letter. In the Sama text, the syllables that have no symbols are called prachaya.

Please see the following example:

sama verse

 In the later Sama texts, it became customary to write the numerals (one to seven) on top of the Sama mantras to indicate their note-delineations (Sama vikara).



Sama Svara and Venu Svara

7.1. Dr. Lalmani Misra, a noted scholar, explained the (Rig) Vedic priests used a single or two notes. The Sama singers improved on that and used at least three notes. “The singers explored further and discovered more notes. M G R S D has been determined to be the basic set of notes used in this order by Sāmik singers” , he said, “Sāmik notes were exactly those followed in Shadja grāmik tradition.”

7.2. As Sama-gana originated from the Yajna, its purpose, at least in the initial stages, was limited to chanting by the Udgathrus. Later, as the Sama Music developed, the number of notes increased from three to four, then five (which continued for a very long time), then six and finally seven. With that, the number of strings of the lyre too increased. Thus, over a period, the Sama scales expanded from three to seven notes. (It is not clear when or at what stage seven notes were introduced into Sama).

7.3. Naradiya Shiksha is a text that deals mainly with the musical notes and the pronunciation of the words in the Vedic language. Some believe it might pre-date Bharata’s Natyashastra. Narada Shiksha explaining the Sama music states that there were three Gramas (Sadja, Madhyama and Gandhara). It also mentions that each Grama has seven Murchanas (a total of 21 Murchanas). (But, it does not define Grama or Murchana). The set Murchanas related to Gandhara Grama are meant to please Devas; and the other two to please Pitris and Rishis. In addition, it mentions 49 Taanas.

[According to some other texts (Samavidhana Brahmana and Arseya Brahmana), Sama-Gana employed seven Svaras (notes): 1. Prathama; 2. Dvitiya; 3. Tritiya; 4. Chaturtha; 5. Panchama or Mandra (low); 6. Shasta or Krusts (high); and, Antya or Atiswara (very high)]

7.4. Naradiya Shiksha relates the Sama Svaras to the notes on the flute (Venu) as: Ma, Ga, Ri, Sa, Dha, Ni, and Pa.

Narada  says:  Prathama, the first Svara of the Saman singers is the Madhyama Svara of the Venu (flute); Dvitiya, the second, is GandharaTritiya, the third, is traditionally the RsabhaChaturtha, the fourth, is said to be ShadjaPanchama, the fifth, is DhaivataSasta, the sixth, is considered to be NishadhaSaptama, the seventh, is the Panchama.

Yo Samaganam prathamah sa venur Madhyamah Svarah / yo dvitiyah sa Gandharas, trias tu Rsabhah smrtah // Chaturthah Shadja ity ahuh Panchama Dhaivato bhavet / sastho Nishadho vijneyah, saptamah Panchama cmrtah // NarS 1.5.1//

[ The fifth, sixth and the seventh Svaras of the traditional Vaidika music are also indicated by names: Mandra, Atisvarya and Krusta. These correspond to Dhaivata, Nishadha and Panchama of the Venu Svaras]

       Sama svara                      Venu svara
01 Prathama Madhyama Ma
02 Dwithiya Gandhara Ga
03 Trithiya Rishabha Ri
04 Chathurtha Shadja Sa
05 Panchama Nishadha Ni
06 Shasta Daiwatha Dha
07 Sapthama Panchama Pa

Narada (NarS. 1.5. 7-11) explains how and why the five Svaras – Shadja, Rsabha, Gandhara, Madhyama, and Panchama– came to be named as such ‘

Shadja (Sa): Because, it is situated in the nose, the throat, the chest, the palate, the tongue and the teeth; and, because it springs from these six , it is traditionally called Shadja.

Nasam, kantham, uras, talu jihvam, dantams cha samsritah / sadbhih sanjayate yasmath tasmath Shadja iti smrtah //

Rsabha (Ri):  Because, the air, rising from the navel and striking the throat and the head, roars like a bull, it is called Rsabha.

Vayuhu samutthito nabheh kantha-sirasa samahath / nardaty Rsbhavad yasmath tasmath Rsbha ucyate //

Gandhara (Ga): Because, the air, rising from the navel and striking the throat and the head, blows smells to the nose and is delicious; for that reason it is called Gandhara.

Vayuhu samutthito nabheh kantha-sirasa samahath / nasam gandhavah punyo gandharas ten hetuna//

Madhyama (Ma): Because, the essence of the Madhyama is in the air, which rising from the navel, striking the chest and the heart, reaches the navel as abig sound.

Vayuhu samutthito nabhir urohrdi samahath / nabhim prapto mahanado madhyamavatam samasrute //

Panchama (Pa) : Because, the air , which rising from the navel and striking the chest, the heart, the throat and the head springs from these five places , is accounted to be the essence of Panchama

Vayuhu samutthito nabhir urohrtkantha-sirohatah / panchastsnotthitasyasya panchamatvam vidhiyate //


Derivation of Svaras

8.1 .Naradiya Shiksha (1.5.3; 1.5.4) explains that each Sama-svara was derived from the sounds made by a bird or an animal in its appropriate season. For instance; the peacock crys was Shadja (Sa); the bulls roar was Rishabha (Ri); sheep-goat bleats was Gandhara (Ga); kraunchaka’s (heron) cry was Madhyama (Ma); koel’s (cuckoo) melodious whistle was Panchama (Pa); the neigh of the horse was Dhaivata (Dha); elephant’s trumpet was Nishadha (Ni). Please see the table below.

Shadjam vadati mayuro, gavo rambanti ca Rsabham / ajavike tu Gandharam, kraunco vadati Madhyamam // pushasaddarane kale kokilo vakti Panchamam / avas tu Dhaivatam vakti, Nishadam vakti Kujarah // NarSh 1.5.3-4 //

The peacock cries Shadja; the bulls moo Rsabha; the she-goat and the sheep Gandhara; the curlew cries Madhyama. And, in the spring time, the cuckoo calls Panchama; the horse produces Dahaivata; and, the elephant, the Nishadha

Name in Sama Music Symbol Sama Veda Svara Bird/animal Sound associated
Madhyama Ma svarita heron
Gandhara Ga udatta goat
Rishabha Ri anudatta bull
Shadja Sa svarita peacock
Nishadha Ni udatta elephant
Daiwatha Dha anudatta horse
Panchama Pa svarita koel


Descending order of Sama Svaras


9.1. As can be seen, the Sama notes were of Nidhana prakriti (diminishing nature) or Vakragati, following Avaroha karma, a descending order (uttarottaram nicha bhavanthi).

The order of the Svaras in Sama-music was: Ma, Ga, Ri, Sa, Ni, Dha, and Pa. The order of the svaras was revised in the later texts to: Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni ; as we are familiar with it today. [Another Shiksha text, the Yajnavalkya Shiksha gives the names of the seven Svaras as SA-RI-GA-MA-PA-DA-NI; and says that the seven Svaras belonged to Aranya-gana.]

Dr. Misra says  that the ancient musical scale using notes in descending order can be translated into modern Shadja grām by considering the Madhyam  to be Shadja and moving up the scale.

Because of that re-orientation of the Sama scales a well-structured system of music could be erected and developed during the later ages.

This, surely, is one of the most significant contribution of the Naradiya Shiksha to the growth and vitality of Indian Music in all its forms.

9. 2. Even then, since the Sama notes were in a descending order there was not much flexibility in music. Dr. Misra remarks “In those times there were no microphones or loudspeakers. Sam was sung in large, wide, open or canopied spaces, with the intention that all present should be able to hear it. In such a condition if the song has notes M G R S D(as in Sama) it would be audible at best in a single room, but if the notes, S N D P Gstarting from Tār-saptak are sung they would be loud enough for all to hear. So, from this angle of usage too, S N D P G seems more appropriate than M G R S D. “

Further since the Raga concept was, then, yet to be evolved, there might not have been much depth and variation in the rendering of Vedic or Sama music.

As Dr. N.Ramanathan, a noted musicologist remarked, Sama music was to acquire the rhythmic-time- patterns. That is to say, the taala system was yet to evolve.

 Development of Sama music

10.1. The Sama music, in its later stages, was just ripe; and it was also eager to grow and expand both in scope and content.

Historically, the Sama chanting is recognized by all musicologists as the basis for the Indian Music. The roots of Sangita, the traditional (classic) Indian Music are firmly founded in Sama- gana.

10.2. The Saman initially gave rise to a body of devotional songs called Marga or Gandharva sung in Jati (melody). No matter who sang and in which region it was sung, the Sama and the Marga music had to follow the traditional approved format.

As a result of the disciplines evolved over the ages, a well structured system of music could be erected during the Gupta period on the foundations of the Sama–gana. It was during this period that Indian music started gaining the form with which we now are familiar.

10.3. From Marga, the devotional music (Vaidika) , was born the Art music (laukika) Desi,  the Music of Ragas. Desi, the one derived from regions, sprang from the common people; and, it varied from region to region. Desi was inspired from life, spontaneous and fluid.

10.4. Then for over a thousand years the Music scene was dominated by a structured Music (Nibaddha-samgita) format called Prabandhas (a type of Khandakavya). Since Prabandha grew rigid it had to give place, by about 17th century, to varieties of free flowing (Manodharma-samgita) such as Padas,  Kritis or Kirtanas, Varnas, Javalis etc.

9.5. Of late, the Marga and Desi; the classical folk and other improvised forms Of Music are coming together, enriching and inspiring each other. It is wonderfully delightful development.

Music and spiritual progress

11.1. Music in the Vedic times was sung and played for entertainment. Its other main use was during the performance of the Yajna; and it was here that Sama-gana was born. The concept of Nada-Brahman does not appear in Rigveda or in the early Upanishads. The metaphysical concept of Nada – Brahman is not discussed either in Sama Veda or its recitations (shakhas).  It seems to have come from Yoga or Agama.  Similarly, the notion  that music would lead to spiritual development did not seem to have existed then.

11.2. It was only in the later texts, say of 4th to 6th century AD, such as Brihaddeshi, Vayu Purana and Naradiya shiksha assigned the musical taanas, names of the various Yajnas; and said that the benefits of those yajnas could be obtained by singing the relative taanas. It seems , at that stage, the idea that music was a way to liberation (moksha sadhana) was yet to get established .

[ In the later times,  Music was elevated to the status of a Veda ; and , came to be reckoned as the fifth Veda (Panchama Veda).  It was, therefore, held in high esteem and invested with an aura of spiritual pursuit (Sadhana),  leading to liberation from earthly-attachments. It is said; for both the performer and the good-hearted listener (sah-hrudaya), pure-music (Samgita) can be a fulfilling blessed experience. 

For instance ; Yajnavalkya (Yajnavalkyasmrti-III-4-115) describes Samgita as the most sublime of all the fine-arts that pleases ; and , has the potential to convey all shades of emotions . It is a Vidya that, if practiced diligently, can lead the aspirant towards liberation- mokamārga niyacchati

āvādanatattvajña śrutijātiviśārada / tālajñaś cāprayāsena mokamārga niyacchati // Yj_3.115 //

gītajño yadi yogena nāpnoti parama padam /rudrasyānucaro bhūtvā tenaiva saha modate // Yj_3.116 //

And much later, Abhinavagupta, commenting on Natyashastra, remarked that Gandharva bestows bliss and leading towards Moksha. Such Music , he said, is a worthy offering to gods.  And, gods would be delighted with sublime Music than with reading Puranas or lecturing on Yoga exercises.

In support of his observation, Abhinavagupta quotes verses (26,27 and 28 of Chapter 36) of the Naytashastra :

The recital of poetry, performance of dance (drama) along with songs and instrumental music are equal in merit to the recitation of Vedic hymns.

hyaya tathā geya citravā aditrameva ca  veda-mantrārtha-va-canai sama hyatad bhaviyati 26

I have heard from the god of gods (Indra) and even from Shankara (Shiva) that music (vocal and instrumental) is indeed purer and superior to taking a ceremonial dip in a river and repeating a mantra (Japa) a thousand times.

śruta mayā devadevāt tattvata śakarāb-ddhitam  snāna japya saha srebhya pavitra gīta vāditam 27

Whichever places that reverberate with the auspicious sounds of songs and music of Natya will forever be free from inauspicious happenings.

yasmin nātodya nāyasya gīta pāhya dhvani śubha  bhaviyatya śubha deśe naiva tasmin kadācana 28॥ ]


Musical instruments

12.1 Vocal music was accompanied by lot of musical instruments in the Rig-Veda.

Some of the instruments of Rig-Veda are:  Dundubhi, Vaana, Nadi, Venu, Karkari, Gargar, Godha, Ping and Aghati. The sound of Dundubhi has been described as sound of clouds. Veena commonly denoted string instruments. The other instruments mentioned are: Venu or Vamsha (flute) and Mridanga (drums).

12.2. The string instruments such as Veena were played during a Yajna. Vana was the most popular string instrument of Vedic period. Among string instruments, frequent   references were made to the bow-shaped harp Vana. Vana (RV 1.85.10; 6.24.9 etc.) was a lyre; a plucked string instrument like a harp. Rig Veda (10.32.4) mentions the seven tones (varas0 of the Vana (vanasya saptha dhaturit janah).

Karkari (RV 2.43.3) and Tunabha were also veena – like string instruments. The other kind of string instruments mentioned in Rig-Veda is Kand-veena, which was made by combining together bamboo joints and stretching strings on it.

The other kinds of Veena mentioned are : Aghati, Ghatlika or Apghatika, Pichchola or Pichchora stambalveena, Taluk Veena, Godha Veena, Alabu, and  Kapishirshni etc.

In fact, all string instruments were called Veena.

12.3. Some others that were mentioned are:

Naali (RV 10.135.7) was a wind instrument similar to flute.

Dundhubhi (RV 1.28.51; 6.47.29 etc.) was a conical shaped drum with two faces, made by hollowing out a block of wood and stretching an ox’s hide over the mouth. It was played with a stick.

Adambarara was also a drum made from Udambara tree.

Shanka vadya blowing of conch is also mentioned.

Musical instruments were basically used as accompaniments to singing and dancing. There are no references to playing them solo; or in an orchestra





While on the subject of svaras, let me append here the wonderful explanation of the swaras in Indian music offered by Shri S Rajam the renowned artist and musician. He says:  The Seven swaras have twelve swara divisions:

Carnatic System Syllable Hindustani System Western
Shadja SA Shadj C
Suddha Ri R1 Komal Rishab D Flat Db
Chatusruti Ri R2 Thivra Rishab D
Sadarana GA G1 Komal GA E Flat Eb
Antara GA G2 Thivra GA E
Suddha MA M1 Komal MA F
Prati MA M2 Thivra MA F Sharp F+
Panchama PA Pancham G
Suddha Da D1 Komal Da A Flat Ab
Chatusruti Da D2 Thivra Da A
Kaisiki NI N1 Komal NI B Flat Bb
KakaliNI N2 Thivra NI B


 SA & PA are constant. Others have two levels (sthanas). Thus there exist twelve swara sthanas. Four more having shades of other swaras – Suddha Gandharam, Shatsruti Rishaba, and Suddha Nishada  & Shatsruti Dhaivata – make up a total of sixteen.

72 Sampoorna Ragas having all seven swaras both in ascending (arohana) & descending (avarohana) emerge as Mela ragas. Each mela has all the seven swaras but drafts varying swarasthana formulations.

Each mela raga applied to permutations & combinations of swara sthanas gives scope to 484 janya (sub) ragas. 72 mela ragas have thus a potential to give the colossal 34776 janya ragas. Of course, this is only an arithmetical projection & not a melodic feasibility.

Of 72  Melas, the first 36 have M1 & the second 36 have M2.


Sources and References Dr. Lalmani Mishra

Sama-gana :

The tradition of Indian art music (a historical sketch)   by Acharya Chintamani Rath

Sama Veda & its Music by R L Kashyap

 Vaidika sahithya Charithre by Dr, NS Anantharanga Char


Painting by Shri S Rajam,%20September%29.pdf


19 CommentsPosted by  on September 15, 2012 in MusicRigvedaSanskrit


19 responses to “Music in Sama Veda

  1. iphone 4S kopen

    September 18, 2012 at 6:48 am

    I’ve found youre article on my iPhone 4 Kopen and i wanna say thanks for it! It’s a nice www you have over here! I’ll visit it more in the future! Thanks, Frank

    • sreenivasaraos

      September 18, 2012 at 4:05 pm

      Dear kopen ,thank you for the appreciation.The post , because of its very nature, has many Sanskrit terms . I trust you did not have much difficulty in following the subject. Please check other blogs too. Regards

  2. sreenivasaraos

    September 18, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    thank you.Regards

  3. sreenivasaraos

    September 22, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    Dear libreria online , Thank you for the visit . As I mentioned , I am not very familiar with the technical aspects. I welcome help and guidence. Regards

  4. Saddha

    November 27, 2013 at 1:33 am


    Thank you for quite a detailed article in the Brahmanical Sama Veda. However, Krishna in The Bhagwad Gita was not talking about the Brahmanical Sama Veda when he said, “amongst Vedas I am The Sama Veda”.

    The Bhagwad Gita clearly does not mean that the tunes/melodies of the Sama are the most important!

    As the Gita says in chapter 2 “Buddhau Saranam Anvicche!”

    There is another Sama Vedas — aka Dhamma Vedas, this was revealed by Lord Buddha! This is known as the Nikayas or Tripitika — unfortunately preserved by every nation except India.

    Krishna when he said he was the Sama Veda meant “to be in tune”– to be in tune with what? The Dharma!

    Who tune themselves with the Dharma? Buddhists since only they have the Dharma Chakra! Lord Buddha uses the word “Sama” several times in various Suttas to describe tuning in accordance with The Dharma,

    Thanissaro Bhikku states:

    Dissonant and harmonious (visama and sama): Throughout ancient cultures, the terminology of music was used to describe the moral quality of people and acts. Discordant intervals or poorly-tuned musical instruments were metaphors for evil; harmonious intervals and well-tuned instruments were metaphors for good. In Pali, the term sama — “even” — describes an instrument tuned on-pitch. AN 6.55 contains a famous passage where the Buddha reminds Sona Kolivisa — who had been over-exerting himself in the practice — that a lute sounds appealing only if the strings are neither too taut nor too lax, but “evenly” tuned.

    Lord Buddha describes this tuning to the Dharma process in MN 41 PTS: M i 285 MLS ii 379 Saleyyaka Sutta: (Brahmans) of Sala translated from the Pali byThanissaro Bhikkhu

    “Householders, it’s by reason of un-Dhamma conduct, dissonant [1] (visama) conduct that some beings here, with the break-up of the body, after death, reappear in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. It’s by reason of Dhamma conduct, harmonious [1] (Sama) conduct that some beings here, with the break-up of the body, after death, reappear in the good destinations, in the heavenly world.”

    The true Sama Vedas is not knowledge of musical notes, it is knowledge and living in tune with the universe through the Dharma Chakra.

    • sreenivasaraos

      November 27, 2013 at 2:50 am

      Thank you Dear Saddha for your detailed explanation.
      I am grateful.


  5. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 8:28 am

    sreenivas: thanks to you . now i know what is sama veda. i belong to yajur(yajus shakha) but my wife was born a sama vedi. so the first time i heard chants in musical form was during my wedding, and after 45 years i read your blog to understand the origin of sama veda
    rgds, girdhar

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 8:28 am

      dear shri gopal,
      thank you for the comments. i am glad you could relate to it.
      the later portion of the blog, i fear, became rather technical.

  6. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 8:29 am

    that was a wonderful blog. i have to read it again & assimilate a lot of things. just loved it. pranaams to you. you are great !

  7. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 8:29 am

    sir, i posted a short blog on colors and music. may see if time permits.
    dmr sekhar

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 8:30 am

      dear shri sekhar,

      thank you for your detailed response. i greatly appreciate the gesture.

      i understand, in sound → color synesthesia, individuals experience colors in response to tones or other aspects of sounds. a lot of that subject is highly technical, and i do not pretend i understand all of that. i am posting a few words from the little i know and from what i read.

      the theory of synchronizing music with colors is highly interesting. there have been theories in that regard even from the time of pythagoras. in the subsequent centuries others too followed it . there has, of course, been plenty of debate around the issue. edwin d. babbitt, scientist who has done work in that field confirms (in his the principles of light and color) the correspondence of the color and musical scales:

      “as c is at the bottom of the musical scale and made with the coarsest waves of air, so is red at the bottom of the chromatic scale and made with the coarsest waves of luminous ether. as the musical note b [the seventh note of the scale] requires 45 vibrations of air every time the note c at the lower end of the scale requires 24, or but little over half as many, so does extreme violet require about 300 trillions of vibrations of ether in a second, while extreme red requires only about 450 trillions, which also are but little more than half as many. when one musical octave is finished another one commences and progresses with just twice as many vibrations as were used in the first octave, and so the same notes are repeated on a finer scale. in the same way when the scale of colors visible to the ordinary eye is completed in the violet, another octave of finer invisible colors, with just twice as many vibrations, will commence and progress on precisely the same law.”

      the theosophists too, especially madam blavatsky, putforward theories relating colors to the seven types of constitution of man and the seven states of matter. (please check- it is in the same page).she was primarily trying to relate the aura in and around the human body to their colors.

      you made a mention, also, of ragas and colors. the indian music made attempts to translate the emotional appeal of a raga into visual representations. that gave rise to schools of paintings called ragamala, in which each raga was personified by color, mood, a verse describing a story of a hero and heroine (nayaka and nayika). the colors, substance and the mood of the ragamala paintings were determined not by the individual notes that go to construct the scale of a raga, but by the overall mood , bhava and context of the raga.

      in the traditional indian morphology, the colors of the deities represent and convey their attributes. for instance, the highest divinities with sublime attributes (gunas) are sky blue signifying their true infinite nature; shiva, the ascetic the supreme yogi is gauranga the colorless- without any attributes; hanuman and ganesh are red like the blood full of energy, vitality and life; and kali’s black does not signify absence of color but is the sum and culmination of all colors and energies in the universe.

      coming back to your subject, you might be interested to check the site that talks of people who “see” music, or sounds. the article says it is another common form of synesthesia, to have colors associated with specific tones, so that listening to music becomes a more intense and complex experience. with your scientific training and background, i am sure you would be in a better position to appreciate it.

      i am told there are musicians in hollywood who find that letters and numbers represent colours, rainbows of textures, rainbows of moods and feelings too.

      there have been attempts in the other direction too,of translating individual colours into music with the aid of compute r graphics.

      i understand there are schools that help the aspirants’ to hone their synesthesia condition.

      much study needed to understand this phenomenon.

      thank you for introducing me to a fascinating subject.


  8. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 8:32 am


    whether by intent, or by research or by serendipity, the twelve basic swaras have been discovered time and again by civilisations across the world. Some however have discovered additional quarter tones, and have developed different forms of scales- with upto 31 tones in a scale. The Vedic form of M G R S D- S N D P G (Nidhana or diminishing order- also a convergent order) was converted to the more flexible ascending sequence leading to progressive flexibility as decadence set in…
    some civilisations have 5 tonal octaves, some have more. all have to go through till the chromatic notes are (re-)discovered, independently. civilisation has been here longer, and degraded and then revamped. music has always been on the ascendancy!
    I liked reading your post- will be keeping note of this!

  9. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 8:32 am

    Your article is mind blowing for person like me.
    Hats off to you
    Do you know me? Or my music?
    Am I in your city? What is you phone number and address?


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 8:33 am

      Dear Shri Sablu, Yes, as you said, it might very likely be by chance you bumped into this old blog while you were lost in the ‘Recent Comments’ page. Thank you. Since you consider it ‘mindboggling’ for a person like you, I reckon you would be interested in a few other articles I wrote on music. The ones that quickly come to my mind are: The state of music in the Ramayana; Sri Mutthuswami Dikshitar and Hindustani music; the Music of Sri Mutthuswami Dikshitar; and the music of Shri SRajam (a great musician scholar and a creative artist; he was the uncle of our Shri VS Gopal who writes and sings delightfully on Sulekha).You may like to click on the links.

      As regards the several things you mentioned in your comment as also in your note, well… I usally live in Cincinnati –OH; and Bangalore is the location with reference to which I check news updates etc. I am now visiting India; may be here for another couple of months.

      I am truly not surprised if you have not noticed me on Sulekha during all these four years. The reasons are many and they are quite simple: I am not very active on Sulekha; I did not participate in any of the tag –games; I have also not contested in the ongoing EYC series; most of the friends who kept in touch with me have since migrated out of Sulekha; now, I do not know many; I have not written or commented much; not many read what I write and, what I have posted is truly not readable (many have groaned about the length). A bright star on the Sulekha horizon once referred to me as ‘the guy who writes about the dead who do not contradict’. I consider that sums me up pretty well and almost aptly. The reasons for not knowing me, you see, are quite many. They are all valid; and without prejudice. It’s OK.

      Sablu…Yes, I have, of course, seen the name many times spoken with affection, warmth and regard. I am aware; Sablu is popular and is among the elite here. That is great. And, about why I have not checked into Sablu music: I usually log into Sulekha late in the night when most have done with the computer and gone to bed. I said ‘most’ because, the one who keeps company with me is a little boy of just over three; and he delights in running round the house, up and down the stairs, jumping and turning somersaults when no one disturbs him. During those silent hours I prefer to just read or write than turning on music. I normally spend no more than ninety minutes a day on Sulekha.

      Now that I will be here where I am surrounded by sound all the time, I will surely check into your link with pleasure and listen to that with delight.

      Thank you for the comment and the Note.

      Warm Regards

      • sreenivasaraos

        March 20, 2015 at 8:33 am

        Thank you so much Sir,
        I’m highly honored by your kind words and great response. I will love to read thousands blogs of yours in music which made me so glad today to go through your precious blog. Boss such thing is gold and silver even I invest lakhs I will not get such relevant info.
        Does not matter you listen to my music as per your convenience and leisure.So you are actually in OH. Oh I’m so sorry I thought you are Bangalore based. Please do welcome here.
        And please do write more music blogs like you wrote on samveda. i will go through one by one as you also mentioned some links in your comment.
        Kudos to your great knowledge and I touch your feet.

  10. sreenivasaraos

    March 20, 2015 at 8:34 am

    Hi,Thank you for posting. If you dont mind can I make a suggestion. The equivalent names for shadja, Rishabha, Gandhara etc are not C , Db, D , Eb etc.. its == Pi, m2, M2, m3(A2), M3, P4, A4(Dim5), P5, m6(A5), M6, m7, M7 ,8ve( Higher Shadja)P = PerfectA = AugmentedDim= DiminishedM = Majorm = MinorWhen sung:Ascending and DescendingDo, Di, Re , Ri, Ma, Fa, Fi, Sol, Si, La, Li , Ti, Do — Do, Ti, Te, La, Le, So, Se, Fa, Mi,Me, Re, Ra, Do


    • sreenivasaraos

      March 20, 2015 at 8:34 am

      Dear Godwin, Thank you for breathing fresh life into an old and a forgotten blog. Thank you also for the corrections suggested. I shall try to edit the blog. But, the problem is that in the present state of Sulekha editing a blog is a risky proposition. I shall wait for a while // Para// Btw, I noticed in the scholarly essay “Samaveda und Gandharva” included in the book “Ritual, State, and History in South Asia: Essays in Honour of J.C. Heesterman “(page 146) it is mentioned that “Madhyama = F28; Gandhara = E; Rsabha = D; Sadja= C; Dhaivata = A; Nishadha = H; and, Panchama = G” . Please let me have your views before I try to edit the blog-post.// Para// Here is the link to the article “Samaveda und Gandharva”

  11. Priya

    February 19, 2018 at 11:34 am

    I am trying to learn how to sing samaveda.I have read your blog. I did not understand how to chant as per the numbers. what is the sound of ka and ra appearing on the letters. I know KY and RV chanting.can you help me with SV chanting

    • sreenivasaraos

      February 19, 2018 at 4:01 pm

      Dear Priya,

      Wow… It is great to see you trying to chant.

      But, Maa, it is not easy; and, definitely you cannot get it right unless you are trained and guided by a teacher. It has to be a face-to-face exercise; and has to be practiced diligently, over a period.

      By the way, the indications on the top of the letters are numerals (from one to seven) to suggest their note-delineations (Sama vikara).

      [According to Samvidhana Brahmana and Arsheya Brahmana, Sama-Gana employed seven Swaras (notes): 1. Prathama; 2. Dvitiya; 3. Tritiya; 4. Chaturtha; 5. Panchama or Mandra (low); 6. Shasta or Krusts (high); and, Antya or Atiswara (very high)]

      For instance; please follow the text along with the chanting of the verse 594 of Sama Veda Samhita- (Listen to pundits chanting in streaming audio.)


      The numbers on top are note delineations. and , where it is written within brackets as Dve or Tri , it means that the words have to repeated two or three times .

      Follow the text as you listen carefully.
      You may also enjoy listening to some passages from Sama Veda Samhita kauthuma shakha at

      Some parts the chanting are taken from the text at

      You may be able to recognize the following verses ; as also Gayatri mantra at 6.44of the tape

      text at 1:42 indraya soma suShutaH pari sravApAmIvA bhavatu rakShasA saha . mA te rasasya matsata dvayAvino draviNasvanta iha santvindavaH .. 561

      2:14 saM te payA.Nsi samu yantu vAjAH saM vR^iShNyAnyabhimAtiShAhaH . ApyAyamAno amR^itAya soma divi shravA.NsyuttamAni dhiShva .. 603

      3:57 yasho mA dyAvApR^ithivI yasho mendrabR^ihaspatI . yasho bhagasya vindatu yasho mA pratimuchyatAm . yashasvyA3syAH sa.N sado.ahaM pravaditA syAm .. 611

      R^itasya jihvA pavate madhu priyaM vaktA patirdhiyo asyA adAbhyaH . dadhAti putraH pitrorapIchyA3M nAma tR^itIyamadhi rochanaM divaH mA tvA mUrA aviShyavo mopahasvAna A dabhan . mA kIM brahmadviShaM vanaH .. 732

      pavamAna ruchAruchA devo devebhyaH sutaH . vishvA vasUnyA visha .. 905 ubhayataH pavamAnasya rashmayo dhruvasya sataH pari yanti ketavaH . adI pavitre adhi mR^ijyate hariH sattA ni yonau kalasheShu sIdati ..

      If you are seriously interested , please secure the guidance of a learned teacher.

      Please keep talking



Continued in Part Five

Gandharva Music

Sources and References Dr. Lalmani Mishra

Sama-gana :

The tradition of Indian art music (a historical sketch)   by Acharya Chintamani Rath

Sama Veda & its Music by R L Kashyap

 Vaidika sahithya Charithre by Dr, NS Anantharanga Char,%20September%29.pdf


Posted by on April 22, 2015 in Music, Sangita


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Music of India – a brief outline – Part One


Part One (of 22) – Overview


1.1. It is said; Music and musical thoughts are the expressions of a range of diverse emotions that co-exist within the hearts or in the inner worlds of a community. It has its roots in its total cultural context, in its traditions, in its philosophy of life and in its aspirations. A  Music can truly be understood and appreciated only when it is viewed as part of the integral experience of that community.

1.2. That is particularly true with regard to India where Music had been woven into the fabric of its various philosophical, religious, cultural and literary traditions for over long ages, stretching back to the forgotten periods of its un-recorded History. Apart from this, a special branch of study devoted to the theory and practice of Music (Samgita-shastra) was developed and enlarged, in stages.  Samgita-shastra, right from the ancient times, is deemed as an integral part of the broad framework of ideas that systematically explain the philosophical basis of sound (Nada); the Grammar and language of Music; and, the aesthetics of Music,

Thus, Music and its study have flourished in all the intellectual traditions of India. Here, Music was valued not only as a delightful sensory experience but also as a vision (Darshana) providing a glimpse of the reality that is beyond the reach of the senses. It is, therefore, held in high esteem and invested with an aura of spiritual pursuit (Sadhana) leading to liberation from earthly-attachments. It is said; for both the performer and the good-hearted listener (sah-hrudaya), pure-music (Samgita) can be a fulfilling blessed experience. Some traditions even elevate Music to the level of sacred lore, the Vedas; calling it as the fifth Veda (Panchama-veda).

1.3. Sage Yajnavalkya (Yajnavalkyasmrti-III-4-115) describes Samgita as the most sublime of all the fine-arts that pleases and has the potential to convey all shades of emotions (). It is a Vidya that, if practiced diligently, can lead the aspirant towards liberation- mokṣamārgaṃ niyacchati

vīṇāvādanatattvajñaḥ śrutijātiviśāradaḥ / tālajñaś cāprayāsena mokṣamārgaṃ niyacchati // Yj_3.115 //

gītajño yadi yogena nāpnoti paramaṃ padam /rudrasyānucaro bhūtvā tenaiva saha modate // Yj_3.116 //

As regards the virues of the Samgita : Abhinavagupta quotes verses (26,27 and 28 of Chapter 36) of the Naytashastra :

The recital of poetry, performance of dance (drama) along with songs and instrumental music are equal in merit to the recitation of Vedic hymns.

pāṭhyaṃ nāṭyaṃ tathā geyaṃ citravā aditrameva ca । veda-mantrārtha-va-canaiḥ samaṃ hyatad bhaviṣyati ॥ 26॥

 I have heard from the god of gods (Indra) and even from Shankara (Shiva) that music (vocal and instrumental) is indeed purer and superior to taking a ceremonial dip in a river and repeating a mantra (Japa) a thousand times.

śrutaṃ mayā devadevāt tattvataḥ śaṅkarāb-ddhitam । snāna japya saha srebhyaḥ pavitraṃ gīta vāditam ॥ 27॥

Whichever places that reverberate with the auspicious sounds of songs and music of Natya will forever be free from inauspicious happenings.

yasmin nātodya nāṭyasya gīta pāṭhya dhvaniḥ śubhaḥ । bhaviṣyatya śubhaṃ deśe naiva tasmin kadācana ॥ 28॥

Later, the Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (1127-1139 AD ) in his Manasollasa (also called Abhjilashitarta Chintamani )  describes  chaste Music as that which educates (Shikshartham), entertains (Vinodartham), delights (Moda Sadanam) and liberates (Moksha Sadahanam) – Shikshartham Vinodartham Cha, Moda Sadanam, Moksha Sadhaanam Cha.

1.4. Rabindranath Tagore speaking of the Music of India said: “To me it seems that Indian Music concerns itself more with human experience in its relation to God and nature, than with the day-to-day world of common living. The mystic world of Indian Music, like the starry night, has certain serenity, pure, deep and tenderness about it. The Indian Ragas stir our imagination and move us away from mundane towards the ideal. For us, Music has a transcendental significance. ”



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

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

2.2. Gana was the Music of the songs – Dhruva Gana – sung during the course of play by the actors on the stage as also by the musicians behind the curtain to the accompaniment of instrumental music. Natyashastra deals elaborately with the theoretical and practical aspects of the Dhruva Gana – its various types, structures, grammar, as also the type of songs to be sung in various contexts in a play.

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

2.4. For about a thousand years thereafter, which is till about the 17th century, the musical scene of India as also the dance-drama (geya-nataka) was dominated by a class of regulated (Nibaddha) Music called Prabandha, in its various forms. Prabandha is a variety of Khandakavya bound by certain specified elements (Dhatu and Anga). It is a tightly structured (Nibaddha Samgita) song format having specific characteristics that are governed by a set of rules. At times, the faithfulness to a prescribed format was carried to its limits. And, the Prabandha form, in due course, grew rather rigid; and, had to give place to improvised, easier and innovative (manodharma samgita) forms of music, such as Kriti and Dhruvapada (Drupad).

2.5. In the Music of South India, the churning of the Prabandhas and the Padas gave rise to a music format called Kriti (sometimes also called Kirtana, though there is a subtle difference between the two). Though several composers of repute prior to 17th century experimented with the Kriti format, it was the celebrated Trinity of Karnataka Samgita that, later, perfected it during the 18th century.  A Kriti which is explained as that which is constructed (yat krtam tat kritih) is primarily a pre-composed music (kalpitha Samgita), comprising pallavi, anu-pallavi and charanas, set to Taala.  And, it is the most advanced form of musical composition in Karnataka-samgita.

A Kriti is also the ultimate test of a composer. The Raga of Kriti should be in harmony with its structure, its lyrics and its musical content. Generally, a Kriti should strikes a good   balance between its words, its structure and its music (Mathu and Dhathu). A good Kriti should succeed in not only capturing the essence of its Raga, but also in aptly bringing out the inner meaning, the Bhava, of its lyrics (Sahitya).

Such a Kriti provides ample scope to the performer to delineate the true nature of a Raga in all its vibrant colours and also to draw out his creative (Mano- dharma), innovative expressions in Raga and Laya. The Musical performances of the present day are dominated by Kriti-rendering along with expanding on Raga-Alapa and Laya vinyasa (Taala or rhythmic patterns).

Along with the Kriti several other song formats with special reference to dance (Varna, Svarajit, and Javali etc) have come into being.



3.1. A landmark step towards the evolution of the Raga was taken when the concept of Raga was introduced into Music of India by Matanga and others. The music-treatises of the second half of the 17th century 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.

3.2. The Music of Ragas, as we know it today, is the culmination of a long process of development in musical thinking that aimed to meaningfully organise melodic and tonal material. During the earlier times, Sama-gana gave way to Gandharva – gana as the mainstream of the sacred music. And, by the second half of the 17th century the ancient Gandharva Music that figured in Natyashastra was no longer in practice. The system of 17th century was closer to the one we have in the present day.

A familiarity with the traditions within the larger canvas of musical changes over centuries will help us to gain a better understanding of our Music.

musical instruments



4.1. As said before, the evolution of Music of India in all its forms, including the sacred music, art music, dance music, opera, instrumental music and other recognized forms (Gita prabandha, Vadya prabandha, Nritya prabandha and Lakshana prabandha) is a long process spread over many centuries. It took a long time for music to come to its present-day form. What we have today is the result of a long unbroken tradition and the fruit of accumulated heritage of centuries, stretching from the notes (Svara) of Sama-gana to the Mela-kartas of Govindacarya.

4.2. What is remarkable about the Music of India is its systematic way of developing musical thinking that aimed to organise and arrive at a golden mean between melody (Raga) and the structure of the compositions (Sahitya). This has lent our music an inner-strength and an identity of its own.

4.3. There followed a very long period stretching over a thousand years – from Natyashatra to Chaturdandi prashika – which produced most wonderful texts providing substance , structure and a sense of identity to what we now call as Classical Music. These texts on Samgita-shastra (Musicology), classified as Lakshana-granthas, brought together the various strands of the past Music traditions; established a sound theoretical basis for the structural framework Music, its related issues and practise.  Each genre of these texts also provided a model for the subsequent treatises to elaborate on music-theories and practices (Samgita Shastra).

4.4. The authors of ancient Indian musical texts seemed to be concerned with precise ways to describe Music as it should be; how it should be taught, learnt and performed; and, how it should be experienced and enjoyed.  It was an evolutionary process cascading towards greater sophistication.

5.1. The most notable among the texts of ancient and medieval India that deal with Music, briefly , are:

: – Bharatha’s Natya-shastra (Ca.200 BC) – though it treats Music as ancillary to theatre production;

: – Dattilam (around first century), which follows Bharatha closely, ascribed to Dattila marks the transition from Sama-gana to Gandharva, describing musical elements of Svara (scales), Sthana (base notes) and Grama (tonal framework) in terms of Sruti (micro-tonal intervals);

:- Brihadesi ascribed to Matanga (around 5th century) , a landmark text, that established the concept of Raga , dealt with Raga as a special subject,  spoke of Nada as (sound) in metaphysical terms , recognized Desi Music and established it in place of Margi , and became the source-text for the musicologists of the later periods for developing Mela-karta (parent scale) system of classifying Music;

: – Sangeeta Makaranda by Narada (11th century), is virtually a compendium which enumerates 93 Ragas and classifies them into  Raga (masculine) and Ragini ( feminine)  species;

: – Manasollasa (also called Abhjilashitarta Chintamani) ascribed to the Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (12th century) covers a wide range of subjects related to Music (e.g. the desired qualities of a singer, voice culture, ways of elaborating a song etc) besides clearly stating the structure and the components of a class of Music called Prabandha which dominated Indian Music till about the end of 17th century;

: – Sangita-Cudamani of Jagadekamalla (1138 to 1150 AD ) –   son of king Someshwara ,  author of Manasollasa –  covers many topics related to music , such as  : Alapana  and Gamaka;   the desired qualities of a singer, of a composer; the voice culture; design of  the auditorium, and so on .

:- Sangita Samarasya of Prasavadeva, a Jain (monk?) of 12-13th century, which discusses various topics relating to Nada (sound), Dhvani (pitch), Shaarira  ( resonating musical voice) , Gita (song), Alapti ( free flowing elaboration of Raga), Sthaya (phrases), Varna ( lines) , Taala (rhythm) and Alamkara (ornamentation)  . It is said; Prasavadeva explained Gamaka as: “When a note produces the colour of Sruthis other than those which are its own, it is known as Gamaka.”

:- the 13th century monumental text Samgita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva ( perhaps the last of the integral Music texts of India before the distinctions of North and South appeared) , which brought together various strands of the past music traditions, defined almost 264 Ragas, established a sound theoretical basis for music and provided a model for the later musicology (Samgita Shastra);

:- Swaramela-Kalanidhi  by Ramamatya (Ca.1550) a poet-scholar in the court of Vijayanagar , which laid the foundation for the theoretical framework for classifying Ragas according to 19  Mela (parent scale) and 166 Janya (derived ) Ragas – this is said to be an improvement over Sage Vidyaranya’s  (1320 – 1380)  initiative  , in his Sangita-sara , to group (Mela ) about 50 Ragas according to their parent scale;

:- Raga-vibodha of Somanatha (1609 A.D) pays special attention to Alamkara (ornamentation) or Vadana-bedha – the techniques of plying on stringed musical instruments (Veena) – such as deflections, slides and others. His exposition of Vadana-bedha (finger-techniques), emphasizing the subtleties of the instrument, is said be based mainly on the vocal techniques of Gamaka-s and Sthaya-s (components of a raga) as described in Sangita-Ratnakara of Sarangadeva (13th century). He is also said to have brought into vogue the practice of writing notations (Raga-sanchara).

:- the fundamental treatise of present Music, Chaturdandi-Prakasika  by Venkatamakhin (ca. 1635) corrected Ramamatya’s Mela system from 19 to 17  and  , more importantly , in its appendix (anubandha) introduced the  possibility of classifying Ragas (Kanakangi to Rasikapriya) under a  72 Mela-karta scheme made into two groups of 36 each (Shuddha Madhyama and Prathi Madhyama)  ;

:- Sangraha Chudamani  by Govindacharya (late 17th – early 18th century),  which  expanding on Venkatamakhi’s  Chaturdandi-Prakasika introduced the  Sampoorna Melakarta scheme as well as delineating  Lakshanas for 294 janya  ragas, many of which were till then unknown, with their Arohana and  Avarohana , and also refined the Katyapadi prefixes  by linking the Mela Ragas to their first two syllables;

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

In addition, there were numbers other Lakshana-granthas of great merit that were written by musician-scholars spread over long periods.

5.2. These works, with the exception of Sangita-parijata, follow the Mela system of classifying the Ragas. For this reason, these texts are closer to the present day than those that were rooted in Murchanas, the important Amsa and the final note Nyasa (which is followed in Sangita-ratnakara).

{We will briefly talk about each of these texts, separately, later in the series]

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

Continued in Part Two

–  Overview (2) continued



Sources and References


Music and Musical Thought in Early India by Lewis Rowell

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

Early Indian musical speculation and the theory of melody by Lewis Rowell

Abhinavagupta’s theory of musical transcendence

Important Treatises on Carnatic Music by Harini Raghavan


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Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Sangita


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