Tag Archives: Lakshana

The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Fourteen

Continued From Part Thirteen

Lakshana Granthas – continued

 9. Manasollasa / Abhilasita-artha-cintamani of King Somesvara

someshvara 01

Manasollasa (मानसोल्लासthat which delights Manas-heart and mind), also called Abhjilashitarta-Chintamani (the wish-fulfilling precious gem)  ascribed to the Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (ruled 1126-1138 AD) is an encyclopaedic work, written in Sanskrit, covering wide ranging varieties of subjects.

Someshvara III was the third in the line of the Kings of the Kalyani Chalukyas (also known as Western Chalukyas). He was the son of the renowned King Vikramaditya VI (1076-1126) and Queen Chandaladevi. King Someshvara, celebrated variously as Tribhuvana-malla, Bhuloka-malla and Sarvanjya-bhupa, was a remarkable combination of an enlightened Ruler and an erudite scholar.  Someshvara was a noted historian, scholar and poet; and, his fame as an author, rests on his monumental compilation Manasollasa.  He is also said to have attempted to script a biography of his father VikramadityaVI, narrating his exploits, titled Vikramanka-abhyudaya; but, the work remained incomplete.

King Someshwara was also an accomplished musician and a gifted composer.  He is said to have composed in varied song-formats such as: Vrtta, Tripadi, Jayamalika, Swaraartha, Raga Kadambaka, Stava Manjari-, Charya and so on. He composed Varnas, Satpadis and Kandas   in Kannada language. In addition, he compiled Kannada folk songs relating to harvest –husking season, love, separation (in Tripadi); marriage-songs (in Dhavala); festival and celebration songs (Mangala);  songs for joys dance with brisk movements (Caccari);  songs for marching-soldiers (Raahadi); Sheppard-songs (Dandi) ; and, sombre songs for contemplation (Charya).

Someshvara is said to be the earliest to codify the tradition of allocating the six Ragas to the six seasons: (1) Sri-raga is the melody of the Winter (2) Vasanta of the Spring season (3) Bhairava of the Summer season (4) Pancama of the Autumn (5) Megha of the Rainy season and (6) Nata-narayana of the early Winter.

Prince Someswara was regarded by the later authors as an authority on Music and Dance. And, Basavabhupala of Keladi (1684 A.D.-1710 A.D.) composed his Shiva-tattva-ratnakara modelled on Somesvara’s Manasollasa.  The noted musicologists Parsvadeva and Sarangadeva quote from Manasollasa quite often.  Further,   Sarangadeva in his work mentions Someswara along with other past-masters of music theory (Rudrato, Nanya-bhupalo, Bhoja-bhu-vallabhas tatha, Paramardi ca Someso, Jagadeka-mahipatih).

Someswara describes two schools of music – Karnata and Andhra; and, remarks that Karnata is the older form. This, perhaps, is the earliest work where the name Karnataka Sangita first appears (Musical Musings: Selected Essays – Page 46 )

Manasollasa defines chaste Music as that which educates (Shikshartham), entertains (Vinodartham), delights (Moda-Sadanam) and liberates (Moksha Sadanam)   –

 Shikshartham Vinodartham Cha, Moda Sadanam, Moksha Sadanam Cha.

This, I reckon, by any standard, is a great definition of Classical Music. And, this is how the chaste and classical music is defined even today.

Such Music, he says, should be a spontaneous source of pleasure (nirantara rasodaram), presenting varied Bhavas or modes of expressions (nana-bhaava vibhaavitam) ; and , should be pleasant on the ears (shravyam) .

Someshwara classified the composers (Vak-geya-kara) into three classes: the lowest is the lyricist; the second is one who sets to tune songs of others; and, the highest is one who is a Dhatu Mathu Kriyakari – one who writes the lyrics (Mathu), sets them to music (Dhatu); and, ably presents (Kriyakari)  his composition.

 someshvara 03

Someshvara III was succeeded by his son Jagadeka-malla II (r.1138–1151 CE), also known as Pratapa Prithvi Bhuja. He was also a merited scholar, who wrote Sangitha-chudamani, a work on music. He was the patron of the scholar and Grammarian NagavarmaII, the author of famous works, in Kannada, such as:  Kavya-avalokana and Karnataka Bhasha-bhushana.

The Sangita-Cudamani of Jagadeka-malla 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.  The later scholar Parsva Deva (12th century), the author of Sangita Samayasara, followed the work of Jagadeka-malla on subjects like Ragas, Prabandhas, etc. Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara (first half of 13th century) also mentions Jagadeka-malla (Jagadeka-mahipatih) , with respect.

someshvara 02

It is said; Someshvara commenced compiling the Manasollasa, while he was a Prince; and completed it during 1129 (1051 Saka Samvatsara), which is about two-three years after he ascended the throne.

The Manasollasa  covering a wide variety of subjects ranging from the means of acquiring a kingdom, methods of establishing it, to medicine, magic, veterinary science, valuation of precious stones , fortifications, painting , art, games ,  amusements , culinary art , dance , music and so on , is a monumental work of encyclopedic nature. The text, in general, provides valuable information on the life of those times. It is also of historical importance as it gives the geographical description of Karnataka of 12th century; as also of the contemporary socio-cultural and economic conditions; and of the varied occupations its people.

The entire work of the Manasollasa extends to about 8000 Granthas or verse-stanzas; and, it is composed in the Anustubh Chhandas (metre), with few prose passages interspersed in between. Its Sanskrit is simple and graceful; making it one among the elegant works of Sanskrit literature that reflect the life and culture of mediaeval India.

The treatment of the subjects is sophisticated, cultured, suiting the elite atmosphere of a King’s court. The style of presentation is lucid; and, is yet concise.


The Manasollasa, virtually, is a guide to royal pastimes; and, is divided into five sections, each containing descriptions of twenty types of Vinodas or pastimes. The reason, each section is called a Vimsathi (विंशति), is because; each contains twenty Adhyayas (chapters).  The book is thus a tome of 100 Chapters, which are grouped into five Viśathis (twenties). But, since the Chapters are of unequal length, the Vimsathis also vary in size.

Each Section (Vimsathi) is dedicated to specific sets of topics. The five Vimsathis are:

  Rajya Prakarana; Prapta-Rajya SthairikaranaUpabhogaVinoda and Kreeda

vimsathi table

:- The First Vimsathi, the Rajya Prakarana, describes the means of obtaining a kingdom and governing it efficiently; the required qualifications for a king who desires to extend his kingdom; as also the qualifications of the ministers, their duties and code of conduct  that enable the King to rule a stable, prosperous kingdom. It recommends delegation of powers to various authorities at different levels, with a limited degree of autonomy, under the overall supervision of the ministers.

:- The Second Vimsathi, the Prapta Rajya Sthairikarana describes the ways of maintaining a king’s position strong and stable; retaining it securely; and, ways  of governance of the State, its economics, infrastructure, architecture etc. It also talks about maintenance and training of a standing army, the required capabilities and responsibilities of its commander (Senapathi). This sub-book includes chapters on veterinarycare, nourishment and training of animals such as horses and elephants that serve the army.

As regards economy, it mentions about the administration of the Treasury and taxation; of levying and collection of taxes (Shulka).

:- The Third Vimsathi, the Upabhogasya Vimsathi details twenty kinds of Upabhogas or enjoyments; and, describes how a king must enjoy a comfortable life, including cuisine, ornaments, perfumery and love-games.  

It also speaks of other pleasures of sumptuous living, such as: living in a beautiful palace; enjoying bathing, body-massage, anointing, gorgeous clothing, attractive flower garlands, stylish footwear, rich ornaments; having elaborate royal seat, trendy chariot, colorful umbrella, luxurious bed, enchanting incense; and , enjoyable company of beautiful and witty women etc.

In this section, two chapters are dedicated to Annabhoga or enjoyment of food, describing how various recipes are to be prepared as well as how they should be served to the king. Manasollasa is a treasure trove of ancient recipes. And Jala or Paniyabhoga, talks about the enjoyment of drinking water and juices (Panakas).

The text cautions that fresh and clean water is Amrita (nectar); else, it cautions, if it is sullied, it would turn to Visha (poison).  Someshvara recommends that water collected from rains (autumn), springs (summer), rivers and lakes (winter) for daily use, be first boiled and be treated with Triphala, along with  piece of mango, patala or champaka flower or powder of camphor for health,  flavour and delight.

:- The Fourth Vimsathi of Manasollasa, the Vinoda Vimsathi, deals with entertainment such as music, dance, songs and competitive sports. It speaks of diversions like: elephant riding, horse riding, archery, fighting, wrestling, athletics, cockfights, quail fights, goat fights, buffalo  fights, pigeon fights, dog games, falcon games, fish games and deer hunting etc.

It also mentions the cerebral pleasures such as: rhetoric, scholarly discussions, vocal music, instrumental music, dancing, storytelling and magic art.

The Vinoda-Vimsathi also describes how a king should amuse himself, with painting, music and dance.   The subjects of Music and dance are covered under Chapters sixteen to eighteen of the Vinoda Vimsathi. The vocal and instrumental Music is covered in two sections: Geeta Vinoda and Vadya Vinoda; and, dances are covered under Nrtya Vinoda.

 : – The Fifth and the last Vimsathi, the Krida-Vimsathi describe various recreations. The last two sections, in particular, are virtually the guides to Royal pastime (Vinoda). These include sports like: garden sports, water sports, hill sports and sporting with women; and, games like gambling and chess.

The text is notable for its extensive discussion of arts, particularly music and dance. A major part of Manasollasa is devoted to music and musical instruments, with about 2500 verses describing various aspects of it. Thus, the two exclusive chapters concerning music and dance have more number of verses than the first two sub-books put together. That might, perhaps, reflect the importance assigned to performance arts during the 12th-century India.  And, Someshvara III’s son and successor king Jagadeka-malla II also wrote a famed treatise on music, Sangita-Cudamani.

adavu harini

As regards Dance, the Manasollasa deals with the subject in the Sixteenth chapter, having  457 verses (from 16.04. 949 to 16.04.1406), titled Nrtya-Vinoda, coming under the Fourth Vimsathi of the text – the Vinoda Vimsathi – dealing with various types of amusements.

Manasollasa is the earliest extant work presenting a thorough and sustained discussion on dancing. It not only recapitulates the accumulated knowledge on dancing, inherited from the previous authorities; but also gives a graphic account of the contemporary practices. Someshvara, sums up the views of the earlier writers, which continue to have a bearing on the dance scene of his time (12th century); and, lucidly puts forth his own comments and observations. Here, Someshvara, retained, in his work, only those ancient dance-features (Lakshanas) that were relevant to his time; and, eliminated those Lakshanas which were no longer in practice.

And, another important factor is that Someshvara introduces many terms, concepts and techniques of dancing that were not mentioned by any of the previous dance practitioners and commentators. He mentions new developments and creations that were taking place, as noticed by him.

The Manasollasa is, thus, a valuable treasure house of information on the state of dancing during the ancient times. Another important contribution of Nrtya Vinoda is that it serves as a reliable source material for reconstruction of the dance styles that were prevalent in medieval India.

It is also the earliest work, which laid emphasis on the Desi aspect for which the later writers on this subject are indebted.

The notable features of the Nrtya Vinoda are: the orderly presentation of topics; concise rendition facilitating easy reference; and, the prominence assigned to current practices that are alive than to the ancient theories.

For these and other reasons, the Nrtya Vinoda of Manasollasa, occupies a significant place in the body of dance literature. 


Someshvara introduces the subject of dancing by saying that dances should be performed at every festive occasion (Utsava), to celebrate conquests (Vijaya), success in competitions and examinations (Pariksha) and in debate (Vivada); as well as on occasions of joy (Harsha), passion (Kama), pleasure or merriment (Vilasa), marriage (Vivaha), birth of an offspring (putra-janma) and renouncement (Thyaga)- Manas.950-51

He then names six varieties of dancing; and, six types of Nartakas. The term Nartaka, here, stands for performers in general; and, includes Nartaki (danseuse), Nata (actor), Nartaka (dancer), Vaitalika (bard), Carana (wandering performer) and kollatika (acrobat).

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

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

[Someshvara cautions that Kings would do well to avoid performing dance items like Visama (acrobatic) and Vikata (comic); perhaps because, they were rather inappropriate for a King.]

Manasollasa is also significant to the theory of Dance, because it caused classifying the whole of dancing into two major classes:  the Marga (that which adheres to codified rules) and Desi (types of unregulated dance forms with their regional variations).  

Manasollasa also introduced four-fold categories of dance forms: Nrtya, Lasya, Marga and Desi.

In regard to Dance-movements, Someshwara classifies them into six Angas, eight Upangas and six Pratyanga; with some variations, as compared to the scheme devised by Bharata.

The other important contribution of Someshvara is the introduction of eighteen Desi karanas, (dance poses and movements) that were not mentioned in other texts. However, the Desi aspects are discussed without mention of the word.


Somesvara’s exposition of Dance techniques could be, broadly, classified under  two groups: (1) body movements relating to Anga, Upanga and Pratyanga; and, (2) the other relating to Sthanas, Caris and Karanas etc.

In regard to the former category, relating to the Angika-Abhinaya, Someshvara, in his Nrtya Vinoda, generally, follows the enumerations and descriptions as detailed in the Natyashastra of Bharata (Marga tradition) , with a few variations and modifications. And, the discussion on Angika Abhinaya occupies a considerable portion of the Nrtya Vinoda.

The Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas enumerated and described by Someshvara under the Nrtya Vinoda were classified by the later scholars as belonging to the Desi tradition. That was because they differed from the ‘Margi’ Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas of Bharata‘s tradition. However, Someshvara had not specifically employed the term ‘Desi’ while describing those dance-phrases. He had merely stated in the Gita-Vinoda section that he will be discarding the Lakshanas, as enunciated by Bharata; and, that he will only deal with the techniques that are developed and are in practice (Lakshya) during the current times. The scholars surmise that might be the reason why he does not specify the Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas described by him as belonging  to the Desi Class.


Angika Abhinaya

As mentioned earlier; with exception of a some elements, the treatment of the Angika Abhinaya in the Nrtya Vinoda, to a large extent, follows the Natyashastra of Bharata. But, Someshvara made some changes in the arrangement of the limbs, within the three groups of limbs.

For instance; Bharata, under the category Anga had listed the head, the hips, the chest, the sides and the feet. And, under the Pratyanga, he had mentioned: the neck, the belly, the thighs, the shanks and the arms. And, under Upangas, Bharata had included the eyes, the eyebrows, the nose, the lips, the cheeks and the chin.

Someshvara, under the Angas followed the general pattern of classification as laid down by Bharata; but, included shoulders and belly in place of the hands (Hasthas) and feet (Padas). His Pratyanga includes the arms, the wrists, the palms, the knees, the shanks and the feet. And, under the Upanga, Someshvara included teeth and tongue (Bharata had not reckoned either of these under his scheme.)

Almost all writers follow the classification made by Bharata; and, not that of Somesvara. And, that doesn’t seem surprising; because, the hands (Hasthas) and feet (Pada-bedha) are the most essential elements of any dance-form.  They surely are indeed one among the major-limbs (Anga) so far as the dance is concerned; and, it may not be right to treat these as minor-limbs (Pratyanga) as Someshvara did.

But, some justify Someshvara’s position, saying that he was mainly concerned with the Desi-Dance form where the emphasis was more on the agile, rhythmic and attractive feet and body movements than on the Abhinaya or expressions put out through eyes, facial expressions and palms.

At the same time; it is said that Someshvara was not wrong in classifying shoulders and belly under the major-limbs (Anga); since, anatomically they indeed are large.

As regards the thighs, they are not included by Someshvara in all the three categories; perhaps because the movements of the shanks also account for that of the thighs.

Bharata had not mentioned either the teeth or the tongue in his classifications; but, these are included by Someshvara under Upangas.


The elements covered under Anga, Upanga and Pratyanga  in both the texts are as follows:

Angas (major limbs)

angas table

Under the Angas (major limbs), Someshvara enumerates the movements of the: Head (13 types); Shoulder (5); Chest (5); Belly (4); Sides (Parshva); and Waist (5).

(1) The Thirteen types of head movements (Shiro-bheda)  comprised : Akampita (slow up and down movement); Kampita (quick up and down movement); Dhuta (slow side to side movement); Vidhuta (quick side to side movement); Ayadhuta (bringing the head down once); Adhuta (lifting obliquely); Ancita (bending sidewise); Nyancita (shoulders raised to touch the head); Parivahita (circular movement); Paravrtta (turned away); Utksipta (turned upwards); Adhogata (turned downwards); and , Lolita (turned in all directions).

[All the thirteen head movements laid down by Bharata have been included by Somesvara, along with their explanations and uses.]

(2) Five shoulder (Bhuja) movements are: Ucchrita (raised); Srasta (relaxed); Ekanta (raising only one shoulder); Samlagna (clinging to the ears); and, Lola (rotating).

[Bharata had not discussed the shoulder movements.]

(3) Five chest (Urah or Vakasthalam) movements are: Abhugna (sunken); Nirbhugna (elevated), Vyakampita (shaking); Utprasarita (stretched); and, Sama (natural).

[It is the same as in Bharata’s text.]

(4) Four belly (Jatara) movements are: Ksama (sagging); Khalla (hollow); Purnarikta (bulging and then emaciated); and, Purna (bulging).

[Bharata had mentioned only three; the Purnarikta is added by Someshvara.]

(5) Five side (Parshva) movements of sides are:  Nata (bent forwards); Samunnata (bent backwards); Prasarita (stretched); Vivartita (turning aside); and, Apasrata (reverting back to the front).

[It is the same as in Bharata’s text; only, the definition of Prasarita is missing.]

(6) Five movements of the waist (Kati) are:  Chinna (turned obliquely); Vivrtta (turned aside); Recita (moving round quickly); Andolita (moving to and fro); and Udvahita (raising)

[The names and descriptions of a couple of waist movements are changed.]


Upangas (features)

upanga table

Under the Upangas (features) the following types of movements are listed:  Eyebrows (7); Eyes (3); Nose (7); Cheeks (5); Lips (8); Jaws (8); Teeth (5) ; Tongue (5) and facial colours ( 4)

(1) Seven varieties of eyebrow movements (Bhru-lakshanam)Utksipta (raised); Patita (lowered); Bhrukuti (knitted; Catura (pleasing); Kuncita (bent); Sphurita (quivering); and, Sahaja (natural).

[They are almost the same as in Natyashastra. The Sphurita, here is the same as Recita of Bharata; and, its description is also slightly different. But the movements of the eyeballs, eyelids, are not mentioned in the Nrtya Vinoda.]

(2) Three groups of eye movements (Dṛṣṭī-lakaam) are based upon Rasa; Sthayi-bhava and Sancari-bhava.

The first group covers eight Rasas; the second eight Sthayi-bhavas; and the third has twenty Sancari-bhavas. The total number of glances is Thirty-six, the same as in the Natyashastra.

[As regards the use of the glances, Someshvara gives, in addition, the uses of the Sancari-bhava- glances, which were not  in the Natyashastra.]

(3) Six kinds of nose (Nasika) movements – Nata (closed); Manda (slightly pressed); Vikrata (fully blown); Suchavas (breathing out); Vaikunita (compressed) and Svabhaviki (natural).

[It is the same as in Bharata’s text. Only the description of Suchavas varies slightly. ]

(4) Six types of cheek (Ganda) movements are:  Ksama (diminished); Utphulla (blooming); Purna (fully blown); Kampita(tremulous); Kunchitaka (contracted);  and, Sama (natural).

[It is the same as in Bharata’s text. Only the description of Purna and its uses varies slightly.

The Nrtya Vinoda does not discuss the movements of the neck.]

(5) Ten varieties of lip (Adhara) movements are : Mukula (bud-like); Kunita (compressed); Udvrtta (raised); Recita (circular); Kampita (tremulous); Ayata (stretched); Samdasta (bitten); Vikasi (displaying); Prasarita (spread out); and , Vighuna (concealing).

[Of the ten varieties of lip-movements mentioned by Someshvara, only three of them (Kampita, Samdasta and Vighuna) are from the six listed by Bharata. The other seven lip movements described by Somesvara are taken from other texts.]

(6) Eight kinds of chin (Chibukam) movements are: Vyadhir (opened); Sithila (slackened); Vakra (crooked); Samhata (joined); Calasamhata (joined and moving); Pracala (opening and closing); Prasphura (tremulous); and, Lola (to and fro).

[Bharata had mentioned seven kinds of gestures of the chin (Cibuka) ; and, these were combined with the actions of the teeth, lips and the tongue . In the list of Someshvara, except Vyadhir and Samhata, none of the other movements is mentioned by Bharata]

(7) Five types of teeth (Danta) movements are: Mardana (grinding); Khandana (breaking); Kartana (cutting); Dharana (holding); and, Niskarsana (drawing out).

(8) Five varieties of tongue (Jihva) movements are:  Rijvi (straight); Vakra (crooked); Nata (lowered); Lola (swinging); and, Pronnata (raised).

[Bharata had not discussed teeth and tongue movements. Instead, he had mentioned six movements of the mouth (Mukha). ]

(9) Lastly, the four facial colors described are: Sahaja (natural), Prasanna (clear), Raktha (red); and, Shyama (dark).

[It is the same as in Bharata’s text.]


Pratyangas (minor limbs)

pratyang table

Under the Pratyangas (minor limbs) the following limbs are listed:  Arms –Bahau (8); wrists (4); Hands-Hasthas (27 single hand, 13 both hands combined, Nrtta-hasthas 24); Hastha –Karanas (4); Knees (7); Shanks (5); and, feet (9);

Further, under the Nrtta (pure-dance movements), thirty types of Nrtta-hasthas (movements of wrist and fingers) are described.

(1) Eight movements of the arms (Bahu) are: Sarala (simple);Pronnata (raised); Nyanca (lowered); Kuncita (bent); Lalita (graceful); Lolita (swinging); Calita (shaken); and, Paravrtta (turned back).

[Bharata mentioned ten movements of the arms; but had not described them.]

(2) Four movements of the wrists – Akuncita (moving out); Nikuncita (moving in); Bhramita (circular); and, Sama (natural).

[Bharata had not mentioned wrist positions and movements separately; but had dealt with them under Nrtta-hasthas.]

(3) Three groups of hand (Hastha-bheda) gestures are: twenty seven single hand gestures (Asamyuta-hastas); thirteen gestures of both the hands combined (Samyuta-hastas); and twenty four Nrtta –hasthas.  The three together make sixty-four hand gestures.

[The movements of the hands (Hastha) are discussed in detail both in the Natyashastra and in the Nrtya-Vinoda. Bharata had included the hand-gestures under the category of Anga (major limbs); while Someshvara brought them under Pratyanga (minor limbs). The number of hand-gestures and the composition each of the three varieties does vary; but, the total number of hand-gestures, in either of the texts, is sixty four.

However, the names and uses of many Hasthas of Nrtya Vinoda differ from those listed in the Natyashastra.

For instance; Someshvara does not mention the single-hand gestures Lalita and Valita; as also the Nrtta-hastha Arala. He substitutes them by other Hasthas. And, in the case of Musti, he includes an additional type of Musti, where the thumb is beneath the other fingers. And, in certain instances, Somesvara goes further than Bharata, by giving the exact positions of the fingers, while describing a hand-gesture; as in Ardhacandra, Mrgasira and Padmakosa.

Bharata had stated that the hand-gestures and their use, as mentioned by him, are merely indicative; and, it is left to the ingenuity of the performer to improvise, to convey the intended meaning. Such possibilities, he said, are endless. Someshvara also made a similar remark.]

Both the authors – Bharata and Someshvara- describe four categories of the Karanas of the hand: Avestita, Udvestita, Vyavartita and Parivartita.

These gestures also associated with Nrtta-hasthas, in their various movements, when applied either in Dance or Drama, should be followed by Karanas having appropriate expression of the face, the eyebrows and the eyes.

(4) Seven movements of the knees (Janu) are – Unnata (raised); Nata (lowered); Kuncita (bent); Ardha-kuncita (half bent); Samhata (joined); Vistrtta (spread out; and Sama (natural).

 [Natyashastra doesn’t analyze movements of the knee (janu), the anklets (gulpha) and the toes of the feet; as is done by other texts. But, it described the five shank-movements, as arising out of the manipulation of the knees.]

(5) Five movements of the shanks (Jangha) are – Nihasrta (stretched forward); Paravrtta (kept backwards), Tirascina (side touching the ground), Kampita (tremulous) and Bahikranta (moving outwards).

[But these do not resemble any of the shank movements found in the Natyashastra. Someshvara might have taken these movements from some other text. The five movements of the shanks (Jangha) as mentioned in the Natyashastra are:  Avartita (turned, left foot turning to the right and the right turning to the left); Nata (knees bent); Ksipta (knees thrown out); Udvahita (raising the shank up); and, Parivrtta (turning back of a shank)]

(6) Nine movements of the feet (Pada-bheda) are:  Ghatita (striking with the heel); Ghatitotsedha (striking with the toe and heel); Mardita (sole rubbing the ground; Tadita (striking with toes); Agraga (slipping the foot forward), Parsniga (moving backwards on the heels); Parsvaga (moving with the sides of the feet); Suci (standing on the toes) ; and Nija (natural).

Along with the movements of the feet five movements of the toes are described namely – Avaksipta (lowered); Utksipta (raised), Kuncita (contracted); Prasarita (stretched); and, Samlagna (joined).

The Natyashastra does not specifically discuss the toe movements.

[Natyashastra had described five kinds of feet positions: Udghattita; Sama; Agratala-sancara; Ancita; and, Kuncita.

Agraga and Parsvaga, the two feet movements indicated by Someshvara were not mentioned by Bharata.

There is one major difference between these two sets of feet movements. In the Natyashastra the feet movements indicate floor contacts and placing the feet in a particular position. But in the Nrtya-Vinoda, except for Suci and Nija, all other feet movements, consist of actual movements, which arise out of the combinations of the basic feet positions, as mentioned by Bharata.

For example, Ghatita, Ghatitotsedha, Tadita and Parsniga are all combinations of Ancita and Kuncita feet positions. And, Suci and Nija are only static positions. They correspond to the descriptions of Samapada and Sama respectively, as given by Bharata.]

Shirobhedas or Head movments

Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas

After an analysis of Angika Abhinaya, the Nrtya Vinoda takes up the discussion of Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas.

The Nrtya Vinoda discusses in all, Twenty one Sthanakas; Twenty six earthly (BhumaCaris and Sixteen aerial  (AkasakiCaris; and Eighteen Karanas.

Sthanaka is a motionless posture; a Cari is the movement of the lower limbs, which starts from one Sthanaka position and ends in another. A  Karana, on the other hand, relates to the sequence of static postures and dynamic movements. Thus, the Sthanaka and the Karana are associated with the movements of the entire body; and, the two are interrelated.

The Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas were also discussed by Bharata in his Natyashastra. But, the Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas as enumerated by Someshvara differ from those described by Bharata. Those

Since the two sets of Dance-features differed significantly, the later writers, in order to distinguish the two, classified the ones described in Natyashastra under the Marga class; and, those in the Nrtya Vinoda under the Desi class.

But, Somesvara had not qualified such dance features enumerated by him in the Nrtya Vinoda with the suffix ‘Desi’. He had merely stated that he will disregard the features (Lakshanas) as defined by Bharata; and will deal only with those that were developed during the current times and those that are still in practice (Lakshya).

Some scholars opine that the Desi Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas of Someshvara could very well be treated as additions or supplements to the Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas defined by Bharata.


The term Desi, in the context of dance, stands for all those Dance techniques, postures and movements that were not mentioned in the Natyashastra, the seminal work of Bharata. Desi was used in contrast to the Marga or the classic tradition of Bharata.

And, Desi also meant those Dance-forms and movements that were created in various regions of the country for the pleasure and entertainment of the common folks. They even varied from region to region; and, in that sense the Desi could even be called ‘local-styles’. In the post-Bharata times, many other movements were created and were codified as Desi varieties.

folk dance desi tradition

Such Desi Dances were, usually, spontaneous and free-flowing, not restricted by the regimen of strict rules of a particular tradition. Further, the rhythmic, agile feet and body movements, innovative gestures; and entertaining dance sequences performed with joy and jubilation characterize the Desi Dance. And, there is not much emphasis on Abhinaya through eyes or facial expressions.

Over a period of time, say by the time of Somehsvara (12th century) the Desi styles gained more ground and popularity. And, that is reflected by the number of works of the medieval times that gave greater prominence to Desi elements. The Nrtya Vinoda of King Someshvara also could be placed in that context.


As mentioned, a Sthanaka is a static posture, in which greater importance is assigned to the position of the legs.  Here, the limbs are at a state of rest and harmony. Perfect and balanced disposition of the body is an essential feature of the Sthanaka. In dance, it is employed to precede and succeed any flow of the sequence of movement; as well as to portray an attitude. The dancer starts from one position to make a sequence of movements which end, in the same, position with which the dancer started, or in some other position. When the sequences are many and at a fast pace the postures may however get eclipsed.

The definitions of the Sthanakas as rendered by Someshvara relate exclusively to the position of the lower limbs; and, they do not describe the carriage or the relative disposition of the upper limbs.  This signifies that the upper limbs including the hands could be used in any manner that is appropriate. Further, unlike Bharata, Someshvara does not categorize the Sthanakas into Purusha (male) and Stri (female) Sthanakas.

Of the twenty one Sthanakas described in the Nrtya Vinoda, only two bear the same names of two Margi Sthanakas. They are Samapada and Vaisnava Sthanakas.

The Vaisnava Sthanakas in both the traditions are similar. But, the Samapada Sthanaka of the Desi style differs from the Samhata Sthanaka of the Margi tradition.


The Cari constitutes the simultaneous movement of the feet, shanks, thighs and hips. They are classified into two groups: one in which feet do not loose contact with the floor; and, the other in which the feet are taken off the ground.

The Nrtya Vinoda mentions Twenty six earthly  (BhumaCaris and Sixteen aerial (Akasaki) Caris

The earthly Caris consist of movements of the 1eg as a whole, in which the feet are normally close to the ground. There are however two exceptions to this rule found in the Harinatrasika and the Sanghattita Cari, which replicate the leaping movements of a deer.

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The aerial (AkasakiCaris comprise of the movements of the legs which are lifted or stretched up in the air. Some of the names of the DesiAkasaki Caris are to be found in the Margi tradition as well. They are Urdhva-janu (uplifted knees); Suci (pointed); Vidhyut-bhranta, (alarmed by lightning); Alata (square position); and, Danda-pada (as if punishing).


Towards the end, the Nrtya Vinoda describes Eighteen Karanas. Such Desi Karanas, as described by Someshvara, are merely agile movements involving Jumps and leaps. Therefore, the later writers designated such Desi Karanas as Utpluti Karanas.

Since, Someshvara focused on the Dance-forms that were alive and in practice during his time, he made no effort to restore the 108 Karanas, most of which had gone out of use by then. Similar was the case with the Angaharas, Recakas and Margi-Caris, which perhaps were rather distant from the people of his time; and, not in active practice.

The use of these leaping Karanas are said to employed, especially, in the Laghu or Laghava and Visama Nrtya, which involve acrobatics . They range from the simple and ordinary jumps like the Ancita Karanas to very dextrous and nimble foot-movement like the Kapala-sparsana (bringing a foot very close to or touching the cheek)


To sum up

The Nrtya Vinoda soon gained the status of an authoritative text; and, esteem scholars and commentators – especially Sarangadeva and Jaya Senapathi- quoted from it extensively.

To sum up, the significant features of the Nrtya Vinoda are:

(1) Importance assigned to Desi forms of Dance, which were in active use, and their techniques; and, introducing Desi Sthanakas, Caris and Karanas.

(2) Bringing together various dance forms under the common term Nartana; and, coining the descriptive terms Laghava, Visama and Vikata.

(3) Re-classification of the body-parts: Anga, Upanga and Pratyanga. And , including the descriptions and uses of additional limbs such as shoulders, wrists, knees, teeth and tongue.

(3) The descriptions of certain types of movements that were not mentioned in the Natyashastra. These include, belly-movements (Riktapurna); Lip-movements (Mukula, Kunita, Ayata, Recita and Vikasi); Arm –movements (Sarala, Pronnata, Nyanca, Kuncita, Lalita, Lolita, Calita and Paravrtta); Leg-movements (Ghattita, Ghatitosedtaa, Tadita, Mardita, Parsniga, Parsvaga, and. Agraga); and, five movements of the toes.

(4) Coordinating eye-glances with the transitory states (Sanchari-bhavas)

(5) And, suggesting variations in the execution on and uses of Nrtta-hasthas.


For these and other reasons, the scholars recommend that the Nrtya Vinoda could be gainfully used as a supplement to the study of Natyashastra and of the Sangita-ratnakara. The Nrtya Vinoda could also serve as a link that bridges the scholarship of the ancients and the practices prevalent among common people of the medieval times. That would help to gain an overall view of the progress and development of the Dance traditions of India, over the centuries.

desi dances

 In the Next Part , we shall move on to another text.



The Next Part


References and Sources

  1. Movement and Mimesis: The Idea of Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition by Dr Mandakranta Bose
  3. A critical study of nrtya vinoda of manasollasa      V,Usha Srinivasan
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Posted by on November 25, 2018 in Art, Natya


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The Meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Three

Continued from Part Two

Natya Sastra

Discussions on Artha in Kavya- the Indian Poetics

As said earlier, one of the issues that preoccupied the Grammarians, the philosophers and the poetic-scholars alike was the subtle relation between the linguistic element (Sabda) and its meaning (Artha). There have been elaborate discussions in the Indian Poetics about the shades or the layers of meaning that the word is capable of revealing.

: – The Grammarian Patanjali explained the term Sabda as that which when articulated gives out the meaning or the intent of the speaker. 

: – According to Bhamaha and Rudrata:  Poetry is the combination of word and meaning.

 –  Saba- arthau -sahitau Kavyam – (Bhamaha, Kavyalankara 1.6); Nanu Sabda-arthau Kavyam – (Rudrata, Kavyalamkara2.1);

: – Kuntaka says the word (Sabda) and sense (Artha), blended like two friends, creating each other, make Kavya delightful

Sama-sarva gunau santau sahhrudaveva sangathi / parasparasya shobhayai sabdartau bhavato thatha //

Such togetherness of the word and sense creates a captivating state poetic delight in the mind of the reader or the listener. And, this is exactly what the poet desires to achieve.

Sahitya manayo shobha shalitam prati kashyasau / Atyunna na athiriktha manoharinya vasthithihi // V.J.1.17

: – Raja Bhoja (1011–1055) in his Srngaraprakasha says that word and meaning when harmoniously composed (sahitau) constitute Kavya. . Thus Kavya is a composition (unity, sahitya) of word and meaning.

:- King Somesvara III (around 1130) of the Kalyana Chalukya dynasty in his Manasollasa, an encyclopedic work, says: Words make up the body of a literary text, meaning is its life-breath, tropes (Alamkara)  its external form, emotional states and feelings its movements, meter its gait, and the knowledge of language its vital spot. It is in these that the beauty of the deity of literature consists.

Manasollasa vol 2-page 171 ( 225) verses 205-206

: – And, Mandana Misra, the Mimamsaka, in his Sphotasiddhi said: Sabda is the cause that produces the intended meaning.

The position, simply put, is: poetry in any of its forms does need words; and the arrangements of those words, however clever or elegant, do have to convey a sense or meaning. The poetic beauty does not solely dependent on the strict order of words or other conventions. It, in fact, goes beyond regulated regimens. It is only the right or judicious combination of the two – Sabda and Artha- that produces relishing aesthetic expressions and suggestive poetry. The ultimate merit of a Kavya is in its enjoyment (Rasa) by the Sahrudaya the reader endowed with culture and taste. (Rasa)

In fact, the late-tenth-century philosopher and literary theorist Abhinavagupta went a step further. He asserted that that Kavya is not just about meaning, it is something more than that; and , as  he put it: “It is not the mere capacity for producing meaning as such that enables a text to be called Kavya. And that is why we never apply that term to everyday discourse or the Veda.”


[ Let me digress here, for a while:     About the word and the meaning :

Similar ideas appear in the poetics of the ancient West as also during the Renaissance period. In their ancient treatises – Aristotle (384-322 BCE – Poetics); and, Horace (65-8 BCE Ars Poetica) – talk about the art of poetry.  Horace, in particular, in a discussion of poetics, elaborates on the idea of beauty in poetry. He observes that poetry should contain both beauty and meaning. He comes up with the dictum:  non satis est pulchra esse poemata (it is not enough for a poem to be beautiful), which became a major theme in Renaissance art theory.  And, the Renaissance critics readily accepted the idea of beauty supplementing meaning in art and poetry.

Horace also theorized that the poet’s ability to empathize with his characters; and, express man’s most profound concerns helped build civilization. The Renaissance period also embraced Horace’s idea that the artist should experience an emotion in order to depict it.

Horace writes that poets should apply appropriate styles to their poems based on the subject; and, not force an artificial relationship between subject and style. Horace observes that the poet should use appropriate language relevant to a character’s age, occupation, and personality.

He observes that successful poets know their subjects by observing them, as an artist would observe a live model, and/or experiencing them, as a poet experiences the spoken word.

Yet you cannot draw except from the living model /and the poet must learn to write from the spoken word.”

He asserted that the poet has a responsibility to know his subject intimately; and, to learn of the ways in which past and contemporary scholars approached similar subjects.

Horace, therefore, emphasizes the importance of studying the techniques of successful poets. While he feels that the poets should not restrict themselves to established form, he supports the idea that one could use the classical structures, styles and techniques of established poets when the subject calls for it. He observed that a successful poet becomes wise by reading the philosophies of “better men”.

Horace also feet that both poets and painters should have the freedom, or poetic license, to create from their imagination. He said; for any artist, either as a musician or a painter or poet, there is an inexhaustible richness and diversity in the world we live in. And, there is also abundant freedom to experience and to express in countless innovative ways. Without such artistic freedom, the human civilization comes to a virtual end.

Further, Horace also believes the arts should promote virtuous characters and ideas, because of their ability to influence humanity. At the same time, he cautions that the poet need not omit beauty in order to do this.

Another interesting feature of the treatises on poetry of Aristotle’s Poetics and Horace’s Ars Poetica is the direct correlations between the sister arts – poetry and painting. From their comparison of these two arts emerged the art theory ut pictura poesis: as is painting so is poetry. Thus, the poet’s ability to paint images of nature in the mind’s eye; and, the painter’s ability to paint the same images on canvas, linked the two arts. The relation between poetry and painting was seen as that between two forms of poetry. And, of course, there is the much quoted saying, attributed to Simonides (556-468 BCE), by Plutarch in his De Gloria Atheniensium: Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is the painting that speaks.

It was said; the painter and the poet have much in common.  Conventionally the painter deals with forms, moods and their representations in lines and colours .And, the poet is more immersed in the world of concepts, ideas, doubts and queries often tending to be philosophical. Both symbolize their emotions, sensations and ideas through concrete images and words; each in his own manner.

 Renaissance artists, like Alberti and others, also drew a relationship between the formal elements of poetry and painting in that geometry and arithmetic were the theoretical basis for both arts. Further, they pursued similar goals.

It was said; the most relevant relationships between poetry and painting in the Renaissance’s theory of art were the imitation of nature; content and harmony between parts; beauty and meaning; formal elements and scholarship, and expression, action and decorum..

The impact of the dictum: ut pictura poesis during Renaissance was that it contributed, in a large measure, for introducing several layers of symbolisms and the elements of poetic imagery; forging relations with within certain parameters of literary contexts; and, raising painting to the status of a liberal art. Renaissance critics encouraged the painters to study past and contemporary poetry, history, theology, and philosophy. The ideal painting in the Renaissance contained subject matter from classical sources and the imitation of nature.

Source: Horace, Ars Poetica, trans. C. H. Sisson (Great Britain: Carcanet Press, 1975) ]


The primary sense Vakyartha is the natural (Svabhavokti); and, it is the easily comprehended sense of the word. When the perception of the primary sense is obstructed, the word conveys a sense other than the primary sense; but, the two meanings (somehow) seem related.  Thus, the secondary sense (lakshana) could even be called an unnatural meaning (Vakrokti) of the word.

For instance; when the word Purusha is uttered, one immediately understands it as a reference to a male member of the human race. It is the primary sense of the word. It might refer to an individual or to a generic attribute. In any case; the word Purusha and its meaning are related. It is a signified–signifier relationship; one pointing towards the other. This relationship is termed Abhida.

However, in the world we live, we do not always use a word only in its primary sense. Many times, the word in its primary sense may not be adequate.  Then, we attempt to attribute a sense to the word that is different or distinct from the primary sense. Such process of superimposition (aropita) is called lakshana or indication. This would be secondary sense – lakshanika or lakshyartha – of that word. The relationship between the secondary sense and the word is described as lakshya-lakshya sambandha

In poetry; the obstruction caused due to incompatibility of primary sense; the connection between the primary and the secondary sense; and, the convention (rudi) – are all interrelated. Here, there ought to be some justification for switching over to the un-natural meaning of the word; and, it should be generally acceptable (or should have gained currency in the common usage). 


The use of words, their role and the intended effect are context sensitive. The same word could be employed in any number of ways; each performing its role in its own context. Thus, all the shades of meaning are necessary and relevant in poetry; but, each in its own context. Rajasekhara, therefore, says:  A sentence is an arrangement of words which embodies the content that the speaker wishes to convey (pada-nama-abidhita-arthagrathanakarah sandarbhah vakyam – Kavyamimamasa (22) of Rajasekhara).

For instance; take the word Mother. The word in its primary sense is woman who has given birth to a child. In the specific context when one says ‘Kausalya is the mother of Rama’ you are referring to a specific person. And when one says ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, one is not referring to a physical mother but to suggest the sense of ‘origin’. Here, the primary sense of the term does not work. Similarly, when the Saint Ramaprasad calls out to Devi in anguish as Mother, it suggests the intensity of his devotion and the depth of his longing for her love and protection. Devi is not the physical mother but a projection of the Universal Mother principle or a specific mother deity. The vibrations of the suggested meaning of the word are indeed truly powerful.


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

The word which connotes the suggested sense (through the suggestive function Vyanjana –vritti) is named Vyanjaka. The relationship between the suggestive word and the suggested meaning (Vyanjana-artha) is described as vyangya-vyanjaka sambandha. It is this mutual relationship, which, virtually, is the lifeblood of Indian poetics.  In fact, this is what that distinguishes poetry from other forms of literature.

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

 To put it in another way: it is not the direct literal and obvious meaning that is very significant  in poetry, but it is the suggested, indirect and emotive meaning that matters.  Hence, though the words of a Kavya and the literal sense must be given their due importance, they are but a medium for emotive and indirect meaning to flash forth. In good poetry, this suggested meaning dominates over the words and their literal meaning. As per Anandavardhana: The latter are compared to a woman’s body and the former to her grace and beauty which is a subtler manifestation and a more profound meaning of the womanhood.

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


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

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

Nagesha Bhatta identifies Vedic Sage Sphotayana, mentioned by Panini in one of his rules, as the originator of Sphota theory. Bhartrhari, however, states that Audumbarayana (mentioned by Yaska) had put forth views similar to the Sphota concept. In any case, the original idea of Sphota seems to go back to the Vedic age when Vak or speech was considered to be a manifestation of the all – pervading Brahman , and Pranava (Aum) was regarded as the primordial speech sound from which all forms of Vak were supposed to have evolved. 

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

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

This is a major subject; and deserves to be discussed separately, when we come to the concepts argued out by Bhartrhari.

In the next part, let us start talk of Bhartrhari and his celebrated work Vakyapadiya.

Lotus blossoms

Continued in next Part

Sources and References

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

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

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

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

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock


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The meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Two


Continued from Part One




A. Artha

As mentioned at the commencement of Part One – The most common Sanskrit term for ‘meaning’ is Artha.  Various expressions in English language, such as ‘sense’, ‘reference’, ‘denotation’, ‘connotation’, ‘designatum’ and ‘intention’, have been used to render that Sanskrit term. However, each of those English terms carries its own connotation; and, no single term adequately and comprehensively conveys the various shades of meanings associated with the idea of Artha.

Apart from ‘meaning’, there are at least twenty other connotations to the word Artha; such as : thing; object; purpose; target; extent; interest; property;  wealth; polity; privacy; referent; and so on.


The term Artha figures in Vedic texts too. But, there, it is used in the sense of: aim; purpose; objective; enterprise; or, work. Here, Artha does not explicitly denote ‘meaning’. But, that basic idea is carried into the later texts where the term ‘Vakya-artha’ generally stands for: ’ the purpose of the sentence or the action denoted by the sentence’.

Yaska, the etymologist of the very ancient India, derives the term Artha from two roots (chakarita): Artho’rtem and Aranastha va – (artho.arter.araṇastho.vā -1,18)  ‘ to go, to move towards, reach etc’ and Arna+shta ‘to stay apart ‘. The Artha is, thus, derived from roots conveying mutually opposite sense. It is said; Artha, according to this derivation, at once, denotes something that people are moving towards (Arteh) or something from which  they desire to move away (Aranastha).

Some other scholars point out that in Sanskrit, the term ‘Artha’ has no clear derivation from the verb. But, the term itself gives rise to another verb ‘Arthayate’, which means ‘to request, to beg; to strive or to obtain’.

In any event, Artha has been in use as an all-embracing term having a verity of hues and shades of meanings. Almost everything that is understood from a word on the basis of some kind of ‘significance’ is covered by ‘Artha’. It brings into its fold various other terms and expressions such as: ‘Tatparya’ (the true intent or gist); Abhi-praya (to intend or to approach); ‘Abhi-daha’ (to express or to denote); or,’Uddishya’ (to point out or to signify or to refer); ‘Vivaksa’ (intention or what one wishes to express); ‘Sakthi’ (power of expression); ‘Vakyartha’ (the import of the sentence); ‘Vachya’ and ‘Abhideya’ (both meaning : what is intended to be expressed); ’Padartha’ (the object of the expression); ‘Vishaya’ (subject matter);’Abidha’ (direct or literal meaning of a term) which is in contrast to lakshana the symbolic sign or metaphoric meaning; and, ‘Vyanjana’ (suggested meaning ) and so on .

But, in the common usage, Artha, basically, refers to the notion of ‘meaning’ in its widest sense. But, Artha is also used to denote an object or an object signified by a word.

The scope of the term Artha in Sanskrit is not limited to its linguistic sense or to what is usually understood by the word employed. It can be the meaning of the words, sentences and scriptures as well as of the non-linguistic signs and gestures. Its meaning ranges from a real object in the external world referred to by a word to a mere concept of an object which may or may not correspond to anything in the external world.

It could also mean Artha (money), the source of all Anartha (troubles); and Anartha could also be nonsense. Artha is one of the pursuits of life – wealth or well being. Artha could also signify economic power and polity. It is said that a virtuous person gives up Svartha (self-interest) for Parartha (for the sake of others). And, finally, Paramartha is the ultimate objective or the innermost truth.



The communication of meaning is the main function of words (Pada); and in that sense, Artha is used in various places. In numerous contexts, Artha denotes the aim, purpose, goal or the object of the spoken word (pada). But, at the same time, it also involves other meanings such as –‘the object’ and/or to signify a certain tangible ’object’, ‘purpose or goal’ which could be attained. It is said; Padāt (lit., from word) suggests that every word has the capability to represent a certain object or multiple objects or purposes.

Thus, Padartha (pada+artha) stands for the meaning of the word; for a tangible object (Vastumatra); as also for the meaning (padartha) that is intended to be signified by the word (Abhideya). It is difficult to find an exact English equivalent to Padartha; perhaps category could be its nearest term.

It is argued that each word (Pada) has countless objects; and therefore, Padartha too is countless. It is said; the whole range of Padartha-s could be categorized into two: Bhava-padartha and Abhava-padartha. For instance; the whole of universe is categorized into Sat (existent) and A-sat (nonexistent); Purusha and Prakrti as in Samkhya

Nyaya Darshana (metaphysics) recognizes and categorizes as many as sixteen Padartha-s, elements:

  1. Pramāa (valid means of knowledge);
  2. Prameya (objects of valid knowledge);
  3. Saśaya (doubt);
  4. Prayojana (objective or the aim);
  5. Dṛṣṭānta (instances or examples);
  6. Siddhānta (conclusion);
  7. Avayava (members or elements of syllogism);
  8. Tarka (hypothetical reasoning):
  9. Niraya (derivation or settlement);
  10. Vāda (discussion)
  11. Jalpa (wrangling);
  12. Vitaṇḍā (quibbling);
  13. Hetvābhāsa (fallacy);
  14. Chala (hair-splitting); 
  15. jāti (sophisticated refutation) ;and
  16. Nigrahasthāna (getting close to defeat).

 For a detailed discussion on these elements – please click here



According to one interpretation, the word itself is also a part of the meaning it signifies. Such a concept of ‘meaning’ is not found in the western semantics. For instance; the Grammarian Patanjali says: ’when a word is pronounced, an Artha ‘object’ is understood. For example; ‘bring a bull’, ‘eat yogurt’ etc.  It is the Artha that is brought in; and it is also Artha that is eaten.

[Sabdeno-uccharitena-artha gamyate gam anya dadhya asana iti / Artha anyate Arthas cha Bhujyate]

Here, the term Artha stands for a tangible object which could be brought in or eaten; and, it is not just a notion. A similar connotation of Artha (as object) is also employed by Nyaya and Mimamsa schools. According to these Schools, the qualities, relations etc associated with the objects are as real as the objects themselves.

Bhartrhari also says that word is an indicator; even when a word expresses reality; it is not expressed in its own form. Often, what is expressed by a word is its properties rather than its form.

There are elaborate discussions on the issues closely related to the concept of understanding. It is argued; no matter whether the things are real or otherwise, people do have ideas and concepts of many things in life. In all such cases, it is essential that people understand those things and be aware of their meaning. Such meanings or the content of a person’s understanding are invariably derived from the language employed by each one.

That gives raise to arguments on questions such as: whether the meaning (Artha) of a word is derived from its function to signify (Vrtti); or through inference derived by the listener (Anumana) from the words he listned  ; or  through his presumption (Arthapatti) or imagination.

Grammarians assert that Artha (meaning) as cognized from a word is only a conceptual entity (bauddha-artha). The word might suggest a real object; but, its meaning is only what is projected by the mind (buddhi-prathibhasha) and how it is grasped.

Pundit Gadadharabhatta of the Navya (new) Nyaya School, in his Vyutpattivada, argues that a word is closely linked to the function associated with it. According to him, the term Artha stands for object or content of a verbal cognition (Sabda-bodha-vishaya) which results from understanding of a word (sabda-jnana) as derived from the significance of the function  (vrtti) pertaining to that word (pada-nists-vritti-jnana) – Vritya-pada-pratipadya evartha ity abhidayate.

[According to him:

:- If a word is understood through its primary function (shakthi or aphids-vrtti or mukhya -vrtti) then such derived primary meaning is called sakyarta or vachyartha or abhidheya.

:- If a word is understood on the basis of its secondary function (lakshana-vrtti or guna-vrtti) then such derived secondary meaning is called lakshyartha

:- If a word is understood on the basis of its suggestive function (vyanjana-vrtti) then such derived suggested meaning is called vyanjanartha or dhvani-artha.

:- And, if a word is understood on the basis of its intellectual significance (tatparya-artha) then such derived intended meaning is called tatparyartha.

However, Prof. M M  Deshpande adds a word of caution: Not all the Schools of Indian Philosophy  of Grammar accept the above classification  , although these seem to be the general explanations ]


Punyaraja, a commentator of Vakyapadiya of Bhartrhari, detailing the technical and non-technical aspects of the term Artha offers as many as eighteen explanations.

[ Artho asta-dashaad / tatra vastu-matram abhideyash  cha / abhidheyo api dvidha shastriya laukika cha /.. ]

According to Punyaraja, Artha stands for an external real object (Vastu-matra) as also for the meaning intended to be signified by a word (Abhideya). The latter – meaning in linguistic sense – could be technical (Shastriya) of special reference   or it could be the meaning as commonly grasped by people in a conversation (laukika). In either case, there are further differences. The meaning of a word might or might not be literary; and, it could also stand for an expression or a figure of speech (Abhideya). It could also be used to denote something that is not really intended (Nantariyaka) when something else is actually intended.

Bhartrhari also talks of two kinds of meanings – apoddhara-padartha and sthitha-lakshana-padartha.  The latter refers to the meaning as it is actually understood in a conversation. Its meaning is fixed; and, Grammarians cannot alter it abruptly. Bhartrhari also said: here, meaning does not leave the word. Meaning is comprehended by the word itself. The word is eternal and resides within us.

[There was much discussion in the olden days whether a word has a fixed meaning or a floating one. For instance; the Grammarian Patanjali asserted that a word is spoken; and when spoken it brings about the understanding of its meaning. The spoken word is the manifestation of the fixed (dhruva, kutastha) meaning of the word. And, the word (sabda) and its meaning (artha) and their inter-relations (sambandha) are eternal (nitya) – Siddhe sabda-artha-sambandhe–Patanjali Mbh.1.27]

The former, apoddhara-padartha mentioned by Bhartrhari, tries to bring out the abstract or hidden meaning that is extracted from the peculiar use of the word in a given context. In many cases, such abstracted meaning might not denote the actual (linguistic) meaning of the term as it is usually understood. But, such usage does not represent the real nature of the language. The apoddhara-padartha is of some relevance only in technical or theoretical (Shastriya) sense, serving a particular or special purpose. That again, depends on the context in which the term in question is employed.

[In many of these discussions, it is difficult to draw a clear distinction between the literal meaning and the concept it represents (Pratyaya).

In the Sanskrit texts, the terms such as ‘Sabda’ (word); ‘Artha’ (object); ‘Pratyaya’ (concept) are horribly mixed up and are used interchangeably.]


There is also a line of discussion on whether Artha is universal or the particular? The Grammarian Vyadi says that the words refer to Dravya (substance) , that is , the particular. Another Grammarian Vajapyayana on the other hand argues that words, including proper names, refer to Jati or class or universal.

Panini seems to leave the question open-ended.

But, Kumarilabhatta of the Mimamsa School argues when we utter a word we are at once referring to at least seven characteristics (Vastuni) associated with it. Let’s say when one utter ‘Bull’ (Gauh) , that expression  points to : Jati the whole class ; Vyakti – individual or particular; Sambandha– the relation between the two; Samudha– the collection of such elements; Linga-gender; Karaka- the relation that the term has with the verb (kriya-pada) or activity associated with it; and Samkhya– number , singular or plural.

With regard to the nature of the meaning of a word, Bhartrhari speaks in terms of its general or universal (jati) and its relative or specific (vyakti) connotations. Bhartrhari says that every word first of all means the class (jati) of that word. For instance; the word ‘cow’ initially refers to the general class of all that is in the form of cow. Later, it is implied to refer to its particular form (vyakti) . Thus, what is universal is then diversified into relative or a particular form.  Bhartrhari then extends his hypothesis to the field of philosophy- Advaita. He says; the universal (Brahman) appears as relative or specific limited. It is ultimately the Brahman (Sabdatattva) that is at the root of  all the words  and their  meaning (Artha) .


The Problem of Multiple Meanings

Generally, the notion of meaning is stratified into three or four types. The first is the primary meaning. If this is inappropriate in the given context, then one moves to a secondary meaning. Beyond this is the suggested meaning, which may or may not be the same as the meaning intended by the speaker. Specific conditions under which these different varieties are understood are discussed by the Schools of Grammar.

Bhartrhari points out   that a word can carry multiple meanings; and that the Grammarian should explain, in some way, how only one of those meanings is conveyed at a time or is apt in a given context.

According to him, the process of understanding the particular meaning of a word has three aspects: first, a word has an intrinsic power to convey one or more meanings (abhidha); second, it is the intention of the speaker which determines the particular meaning to be conveyed (abhisamdhana) in a given context; and third, the actual application (viniyoga) of the word and its utterance.

In the case of words carrying multiple meanings, the meaning which is in common usage (prasiddhi) is considered by Bhartrhari   as its primary meaning. The secondary meaning of a word normally requires a context for its understanding. Usually, the secondary meaning of a word is implied when the word is used for an object other than it normally denotes, as for example, the metaphorical use of the word.

Now, according to Indian Poetics, a word has three functions: it signifies or denotes (abhida); it indicates (lakshana); and it suggests (vyanjana).

The meaning that is comprehended immediately after the word is uttered is its primary meaning (mukhya-artha). The meaning thus conveyed and its relation to the next word and its own meaning is a mutual relation of the signifier and the signified (vachya-vachaka). The power that creates the relation among words is Abhida-vyapara, the power of denotation or sense. The suggestive power of the word is through Vyanjana-artha.

The meaning of a word or a sentence that is directly grasped in the usual manner is Vakyartha (denotation or literal sense); and, the power of the language which conveys such meaning is called Abidha-vritti (designating function). It is the principal function of the word .The primary sense Vakyartha is the natural (Svabhavokti) and is the easily comprehended sense of the word.

In certain cases where a particular word is not capable of conveying the desired sense, another power which modifies that word to produce the fitting or suitable meaning is called Lakshana-vritti (indicative function). Such secondary sense (lakshana) could even be called an unnatural meaning (Vakrokti) of the word.


There are certain other peculiar situations:

There is the complicated question of words having similar spelling; but having different pronunciations and conveying different meanings (homograph). Such words have been the concern of Grammarian from ancient times onwards.  Some argue such cases should, technically, be treated as different words with similar pronunciation and similar meaning. But, some Grammarians point out that there are, in fact, no true Homonyms. They do differ, at least slightly, either in the way they are pronounced or their usage or relevance.

 [If someone says saindhavam anaya, it might mean the ‘bringing of a horse’ or ‘bringing salt’. The exact meaning of the term saindhava is to be determined according to the intention of the speaker uttered in a given context,]

There is also the issue of Dyotya-artha  (co-signified) as when two entities are jointly referred by using the conjunctive term such as  ‘and’  or ‘or’ (cha; Va). It is said; the particles such as ‘and’, ‘or’ do not, by themselves, carry any sense if they are used independently. They acquire some context and significance only when they are able to combine (samuchchaya) two or more entities of the similar character or of dissimilar characters.


Artha in art

The concept of Artha also appears in the theories of Art-appreciation. There, the understanding of art is said to be through two distinctive processes – Sakshartha, the direct visual appreciation of the art-work; and, Paroksharta, delving into its inner or hidden meanings or realms (guhyeshu-varteshu). The one concerns the appreciation of the appealing form (rupa) of the art object (vastu); and, the other the enjoyment of the emotion or the essence (rasa) of its aesthetic principle (guna vishesha).  Artha, in the context of art, is, thus, essentially the objective and property of art-work; as also the proper, deep subjective aesthetic art-experience.

In the traditions of Indian art, the artist uses artistic forms and techniques to embody an idea, a vision; and, it is the cultured viewer with an  understanding  heart  (sah-hrudaya), the aesthete (rasika) that partakes that vision.

It is said; an artistic creation  is not a mere inert object, but it is truly  rich in meaning (Artha). And, it is capable of evoking manifold emotions , transforming the aesthete. As for a connoisseur , it is not only a source of beauty; but is also an invitation to explore and enjoy the reason (Artha) of that beauty. Thus, Artha, understood in its wider sense as experience,  is the dynamic process of art-enjoyment  that bridges the art-object and the connoisseur.


Artha in Arthashastra

Artha sastra

In the Arthashastra ascribed to Kautilya, the term Artha means more than ‘wealth’ or ‘material well being’ that follows the Dharma. There are numerous interpretations of Artha in the context of Kautilya’s work.

Here, Artha is an all-embracing term having a verity of meanings. It includes many shades and hues of the term : material well-being of the people and the State (AS:15.1.1); economy and livelihood of the people ; economic efficiency of the State in all fields of activity including agriculture and commerce(AS:1.4.3) . It also includes Rajanithi; the ‘politics’; and the management of the State. Artha, here, is the art of governance in its widest sense.

But, all those varied meanings aim at a common goal; have faith in the same doctrine; and, their authority is equal or well balanced. The purpose of life was believed to be, four-fold, viz. the pursuit of prosperity, of pleasure and attainment of liberation (Artha, Kama, Moksha); all in accordance with the Dharma prescribed for each stage of life.

That is because; there is a fear that the immoderate pursuit of material advantage would lead to undesirable and ruinous excesses. And therefore, Artha must always be regulated by the superior aim of Dharma, or righteousness.


To start with, Artha is interpreted as sustenance, employment or livelihood (Vrtti) of earth-inhabitants. It also is said to refer to means of acquisition and protection of earth.

 [manuṣyāṇāṃ vṛttir arthaḥ, manuṣyavatī bhūmir ity arthaḥ //–KAZ15.1.01]

Artha is also taken to mean material well-being or wealth. It is one of the goals in human life. Here, it is with reference to the individual, his well being and his prosperity in life. That perhaps is the reason Artha, in the text, is taken as Vrtti or sustenance or occupation or means of livelihood of people (Manushyanam Vrtti).

It is said; such Vrtti was primarily related to the three-fold means of livelihood – agriculture; animal husbandry and trade – through which men generally earn a living.


Arthashatra is also concerned with the general well-being of the earth and its inhabitants. And, since the State is directly charged with the responsibility of acquiring, protecting and managing the territory and its subjects, the Arthashastra necessarily deals with statecraft, economy and defence of the land and its people.

In the older references, Arthashastra is described as the science of politics and administration. But, in the later times, it came to be referred to as DandaNitishastra or Rajaniti -shastra / Raja -dharma.

But Arthashastra is more comprehensive. It includes all those aspects and more.


In the concluding section of his work, Kautilya says ‘the source of livelihood of the people is wealth’. Here, the wealth of the nation is both the territory of the Sate and its inhabitants who follow a variety of occupations (AS: 15.1.1). The State or the Government has a crucial responsibility in ensuring the stability and the material wellbeing of the nation as a whole as also of its individual citizens. Therefore, an important aspect of Arthashastra is the ‘science of economics’, which includes starting of productive ventures, taxation, revenue collection and distribution, budgets and accounts.

The ruler’s responsibilities in the internal administration of the State are threefold: raksha, protection of the Sate from external aggression; Palana, maintenance of law and order within the State; and, Yogakshema, safeguarding the welfare of the people and their future generations – tasyāḥ pṛthivyā lābha.pālana.upāyaḥ śāstram artha.śāstram iti /.

Kautilya cautions that a judicious balance has to be maintained between the welfare and comfort of the people on one hand and augmenting the resources of the State on the other through taxes, levies , cess etc. The arrangement for ensuring this objective presupposes – maintenance of law and order and adequate, capable , transparent  administrative machinery.

It is also said that the statecraft, which maintains the general social order should take adequate measures to prevent anarchy.

Apart from ensuring collection of revenue there have also laws to avoid losses to the State and to prevent abuse of power and embezzlement by the employees of the State. These measures call for enforcement of laws (Dandanithi) by means of fines, punishments etc. The Tax payers as also the employees of the state machinery are subject to Dandanithi.

The king was believed to be responsible as much for the correct conduct (achara) of his subjects, and their performing the prescribed rites of expiation (prayaschitta) as for punishing them, when they violated the right of property or committed a crime. The achara and prayaschitta sections of the smrti cannot accordingly be put outside the “secular ” law.


Arthashatra prescribes how the ruler should protect his territory. This aspect of protection (Palana) covers principally, acquisition of territory, its defence, relationship with similar other/rival rulers (foreign-policy), and management of state-economy and administration of state machinery.

Since the safety of the State and its people from aggression by rival states or enemies is of great importance, the King will also have to know how to deal with other Kings using all the four methods (Sama, Dana, Bedha and Danda) ; that is,  by friendly negotiations; by strategies ; as also by war-like deterrents. Thus, to maintain an army and be in preparedness becomes an integral part of ‘science of economics’, the Arthashastra.



B.Tatparya or intention

Tatparya [lit. the about which; Tat (that) +Para (object of intension)] is described as the intention or the desire of the speaker (vak-turiccha); and also as the gist, the substance or the purport of the meaning intended to be conveyed by the speaker. The context plays a very important role in gathering the apt or the correct Tatparya of an utterance (sabdabodha) or a sentence in a text. The contextual factors become particularly relevant when interpreting words or sentences that are ambiguous or carry more than one meaning.

It is said; in the case of metaphors or the figures-of- speech, the intended meaning (Tatparya) is gathered not by taking the literal meaning of each of its individual words but by grasping the overall intention of the expression in the given context (sabda-bodha).

The Mimamamsa and Nyaya Schools which take the sentence to be a sequence of words, relay on Tatparya to explain how the relevant meaning is obtained from a collection of words having mutual relation. Each word in a sentence carries its own meaning; but a string of unconnected isolated words cannot produce a unified meaning. Tatparya, broadly, is the underlying idea or the intention of a homogeneously  knit sentence,  in a particular context, that is required to be understood.

The Mimamsa lays down a framework for understanding the correct meaning of a sentence: denotation (Abhida) – purport (Tatparya) – indication (Lakshana), where by the power of denotation one comprehends the general idea of the sentence; by the power of purport one understands its special or apt sense; and, by the power of indication one grasps the suggested meaning (Dhvani) of the sentence.

According to The Encyclopaedia of Indian Philosophies, Volume 5: The Philosophy of the Grammarians edited by Harold G. Coward and  K. Kunjunni Raja ;  the meaning of a sentence can be considered from two standpoints: from that of the speaker and from that of the listener. The general approach of the West has been from the speaker’s point of view. The Indian approach has been mainly from the listener’s point of view.

In a normal speech situation there can be five different aspects of the meaning of an utterance: (1) what is in the mind of the speaker when he makes the utterance; (2) what the speaker wants the listener to understand; (3) what the utterance actually conveys ;(3) what the listener understands as the meaning of the utterance; and (5) what is in the mind of the listener on hearing the utterance.

In a perfect linguistic communication, all the five factors must correspond. But, due to various causes there are bound to be differences that might disturb a perfect communication.

Let’s say that when the speaker is uttering a lie, he clearly intends to misdirect the listener. Here, what is in the mind of the speaker is different from what is conveyed to the listener. Even otherwise, quite often what the listener understands as the meaning of the utterance might be different from what the speaker intends to convey. The problem could be caused either by the lack of expressive power of the speaker or the inability of the listener  to understand; or it could be both.

Here, what is in the mind of the speaker before he speaks and what is in the mind of the listener after he hears are both intangible. They cannot be objectively ascertained with certainty. It is only what is said explicitly that can be objectively   analyzed into components of syllables, words and sentences. It however does not mean that the other aspects or components of the entire body of communication are less important.


C. Shakthi (power of expression)

The power of word (sabda-shakthi) is that through which it expresses, indicates or suggests its intended meaning. The term Shakthi is also understood as the relation that exists between word (Sabda) and its meaning (Artha) – (sabda-artha-sambandha). This relation is considered to be permanent and stable.

The understanding of the relationship between word and its meaning is called vyutpatti. Salikanatha (Ca.8th century) ,  a Mimamsa philosopher  belonging to the Prabhakra School , in his Prakarana-pancika  lists  eight means for such comprehension of the meaning of the words. They are:

  • (i) grammar;
  • (ii) comparison;
  •  (iii) dictionary;
  •  (iv) words of a trustworthy person;
  •  (v) action;
  •  (vi) connotation of the sentence;
  • (vii) explanation;  and,
  •  (viii) proximity of a word, the meaning of which is already established.


Shakthi is the primary relationship between a word and its meaning. Unless the listener recognizes or remembers their continuing relationship he cannot understand the purport (Tatparya) of a statement. Shakthi is therefore described as a Vrtti, a function which binds the word and meaning together in order to bring out a particular intended  sense – (Vrtti-jnanadhina –pada-jnana-janya –smrti-vishaya)

It would have been ideal if every word had a single meaning; and every meaning had only one word. That would have helped to avoid plausible confusion and ambiguities. But, in all natural languages that are alive and growing, the words, often, do carry more than one meaning; and, a meaning can be put out in verity of words. Even the borders of the meanings are not always fixed. The meanings or various shades of meaning are context sensitive, depending on the context and usage.

There would be no problems if the meaning and intent of a sentence is direct and clear. But, if there are ambiguities, the direct–meaning of the sentence would become inconsistent with its true intent.  It is here that the power of Shakthi comes into play.

The term Shakthi is often used for Vrtti or the function. Grammarians recognize various types of such Vrtti-s. Among those, the main Vrtti-s employed to explain the various types of meaning conveyed by speech are: Abhidana; Lakshana ; Gauni ; Tatparya ; Vyanjana ; Bhavakatva; and Bhojakatva.

Of these Vrtti-s or Shakthi-s, Lakshana which has the power of suggestion is considered most important.  Three conditions for Lakshana are generally accepted by all schools. The first is the incompatibility or inconsistency of the primary meaning in the given context. Such inconsistency produced by the uncommon usage of the word will force a break in the flow of thought, compelling the listener to ponder over in his attempt to understand what the speaker meant; and,   why he has used the word in an irregular way. Such inconsistency can either be because of the impossibility or of the unsuitability of associating the normal meaning of the word to context at hand.

The second condition is some kind of relation that exists between the primary (normal) meaning of the term and its meaning actually intended in the context. This relation can be one of proximity with the contrary or one of similarity or of common quality. The latter type is called Gauni Lakshana which the Mimamsakas treat as an independent function called Gauni. According to Mimamsakas,  the real Lakshana is only of the first type, a relation of proximity with contrariety (oppositeness) .

The third condition is either acceptance by common usage or a special purpose intended for introducing the Lakshana. All faded metaphors (nirudha lakshana) fall into the former category; and , the metaphorical usages , especially by the poets , fall into the latter.

[Panini, however, did not accept Lakshana as a separate function in language. He did not consider the incompatibility etc on which the Lakshana was based by the Grammarians as quite relevant from the point of view of Grammar. The sentences such as: ‘he is an ass’ and ‘He is a boy ‘are both grammatically correct. His Grammar accounts for some of the popular examples of Lakshana; like ‘the village on the river’  (gangayam ghosah) by considering proximity as one of the meanings of the locative case.  Similarly, Panini does not mention or provide for the condition of yogyata or consistency, which is considered by the later Grammarians as essential for unity of sentence. The expression Agnina sinchati (He sprinkles with fire) is grammatically correct, though from the semantic point of view it may not be quite proper, because sprinkling can be done only with liquid and not with fire.]


In the next part let’s look at the discussions on the relationship  between the word (sabda) and meaning (Artha)  are carried out by the Scholars of Indian Poetics (Kavya-shastra).



Continued in Part Three




 Sources and References

  1. The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5; edited by Harold G. Coward, Karl H. Potter, K. Kunjunni Raja
  2. Tatparya and its role in verbal understanding by Raghunath Ghosh; University of North Bengal
  3. The Birth of Meaning in Hindu Thought by David B. Zilberman
  4. The Meaning of Nouns: Semantic Theory in Classical and Medieval India by M.M. Deshpande
  5. Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: Index edited by Edward Craig
  6. Hermeneutical Essays on Vedāntic Topics by John Geeverghese Arapura
  7. the Emergence of Semantics in Four Linguistic Traditions: Hebrew, Sanskrit…edited by Wout Jac. Van Bekkum
  8. 8 A Comparative History of World Philosophy: From the Upanishads to Kant by Ben-Ami Scharfstein
  1. Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Soundby Guy L. Beck
  2. Indian Philosophy: A Very ShortIntroduction by Sue Hamilton
  3. Culture and Consciousness: Literature Regainedby William S. Haney
  4. The Sphota Theory of Language: A Philosophical Analysisby Harold G. Coward
  5. Bhartr̥hari, Philosopher and Grammarian: Proceedings of the First International conference on Bharthari held at Pune in 1992 edited by Saroja Bhate, Johannes Bronkhorst
  6. Being and Meaning: Reality and Language in Bharthari and Heideggerby Sebastian Alackapally
  7. Bharthari, the Grammarianby Mulakaluri Srimannarayana Murti
  8. Word and Sentence, Two Perspectives: Bhartrhari and Wittgensteinedited by Sibajiban Bhattacharyya
  9. Kautilya’s Arthashastra by RP Kangale

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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Seventeen

Continued from Part Sixteen – Lakshana Granthas– Continued

Part Seventeen (of 22 ) – Lakshana Granthas – Continued

10. Pundarika Vittala

Perhaps the first Musicologist who applied Ramamatya’s system of 19 Mela (basic scales) to North Indian Music was Pundarika Vittala (16th century).

Till about the late 16th century both the South and North traditions followed the same set of texts.  Then, Pundarika Vittala a musician-scholar from Karnataka  , Karnata Desiya , (from Sathanur , around Shivaganga Hills about 50 KMs from Bangalore), of Jamadagni gotra, who settled down in the North under the patronage of Muslim King Burhan Khan  in Anandavalli  (near Nasik) in the district of Khandesh, wrote a series of books concerning Music of North India.

(Karnate Shivaganga abhidana giri nikate, Satanur-hrudaye yo gramasta janma pravarasunikarath Jamadagni yo asmita vamsa)

While in Anandavalli during 1560-1570, Pundarika Vittala wrote his famous Sad-raga-chandodaya having three Chapters: Svara-prasada, Svara-mela prasada, and Aalapi-prasada.  In this text, he introduced Ramamatya’s Mela system to the North Indian Music. He almost adopted Ramamatya’s 19 Mela (as in Svara-mela-kalanidhi)   . But, he changed the names and scales of several Melas.

Of the 19 Melas listed by Pundarika Vittala, 11 are identical with those mentioned by Ramamatya:  Mukhari, Malavagaula, Sri, Shuddhanata, Desaksi, Karnatagaula, Kedaragaula, Abhiri, Shuddhavarali, Shuddharamakri and Nadanamakri.

AS regards the other eight Melas either their notes are different or their names as well as their names are different (few of them have only one note different).  For instance; Ramamatya‘s Hejuri becomes Pundarika’s Hijeja; Similarly Vasanthabhairavi becomes Todi, and Saranganata becomes Saranga.

The Hindola Mela is entirely different in both the systems.

In his Sad-raga-chandodaya, Pundarika Vittala says that due to different application of a Svara in different Ragas, different Sthana (positions) of the same Svara in different ragas occurs. He further says that it is important to know the exact structure of Raga,

Later, when he moved to the court of the Prince Madhavasimha and Manasimha who ruled from Jaipur as the feudatory of Akbar, Pundarika Vittala wrote Raga Manjari. In his writings, Pundarika Vittala carried forward the work of Gopala Nayaka (14th century) of grafting Karnataka music on to the newly evolving North Indian music.  Raga Manjari shows a further leaning towards North Indian Music, although the set of twenty Melas is the same as in his earlier Sad-raga-chandrodaya. He adopts the typical North Indian classification of Ragas as: Male (Purusha), female (Stri) and infant (Putra) Ragas. However, in both these works as well as in the third treatise named Ragamala written in 1576 (which he says was written for one Kapila muni- Srimath Kapilamuniyarthe  kriyate Raga –maalikah) , Pundarika Vittala uses for his Shuddha scales, the notes of the South Indian Mela Mukhari 0r Kanakangi scale .

According to the great  Scholar Pandit VN Bhatkhande, : The Ragamala distinctly shows that Pundarika Vittala had come into contact with the music and musicians of North India ,perhaps   in  Delhi or Agra, because the names of Ragas  he mentions , like Chaiiri, Gowdi, Musali, Iraq, Bakharej, Yemen, Husaini, and Tirban distinctly belong to that region.

[Prof. O C Ganguly in his Raga and Ragini (Nalanda Books, 1935; pages 54-57)  and also Chapter II Pundarika Vittala of Shodhganga   ( which is a part of  a thesis titled – The Study of Pundarika Vittala’s Treatises with Reference to the Systems of Raga Classification in Post Ratnakara Period by  Dr.Padma Rajagopal) give details of the three works that Pundarika Vittala wrote under the auspices of three successive royal patrons: (1) Sadraga-candrodaya written under the service of the Faroqi Prince Burhan Khan of Khandesh; (2) Ragamala, written probably under the patronage of the Jaipur prmces, Madho Singh and Man Singh Kacchwas; and, (3) Ragamanjari, probably composed under the patronage of Raja Mansingh Kacchwa

1. Sadraga Chandrodaya

The first one Sadraga-candrodaya was written some time between 1562 and 1599 under the service of the Faroqi Prince Burhan Khan of Khandesh which was incorporated in the Mughal empire after the seige of Asirgarh in 1599.

It is a very extensive text covering almost all the aspects of Music . It is spread over three Chapters ( Prasada) , titled as : Svara Prasada; Svara Mela Prasada; and, Alapti Prasada.

In the first chapter (Svara Prasada) Pundarika briefly describes the music-terms , such as  Nada, Sruti, Svara (defines suddha, vikruta, vadi, samvadi etc),  Grama, Murhcana, Tana prastara etc.. He also briefly discusses about graha, amsa, nyasa, apanyasa vidari, sadja as universal graha. Then he takes up various alankaras, sthaya, aroha, avaroha varieties of alankaras, etc.,

The second chapter, Svara Mela Prasada, has two sub-sections. In the first  (Svara prakarana ) Pundarika discusses about arrangement of frets on theVeena; and then, in the second section (Mela prakarana )  he takes up the description of Mela formation (paryayavriti) and number of melas formed when two, three, four and five svaras are made vikruti (mela prastara) totaling 90 melas.  In the Mela prakarana, he provides a list of 19 Melas   and their deravatives. For more on that – please click here.

In the third chapter – Alapti Prasada – Pundarika,  first describes different types of Gamakas totaling 15; and , then dicusses different varieties of sthayas and alapti, when playing of a raga on Veena.

 In this work, Pundarika deals with both the Southern and Northern systems of ragas and classifies them under nineteen Thats or parent scale, viz.: Mukhari, Malava-gaula, Sri, Suddha-natta, Desaki, Karnata-gauda, Kedara, Hijeja, Hamir, Kamode, Todi, Abhiri, Suddha-varati, Suddha-ramakri, Devakri, Saranga, Kalyana, Hindola and Nada-Ramakri. Out of these nineteen original (Mela) ragas, he attrIbutes to five of them their respective derivative forms (janya-raga).

Dr. Padma Rajagopal observes:

In Sadraga Chandrodaya he gave only 19 melas his explanations resemble those of Ramamatya, but only the names of the svaras differed. For example, Pundarika Vittala  explains the raga Kamata Gauia’s svaras as after Sa, the first svara occurs on the 6th sruti, it is in the realm of Ga, it means that suddha Ga is on the 5th sruti and the 6th sruti is sadharana Ga. The second svara occurs on the 12th sruti, he calls it as lagu Ma, but it can be also taken as one of the varieties of Ga. (he himself says that lagu Ma represents antra Ga). So he explains both svaras as Ga. But Ramamatya explains Kamata Gaula as having the same svaras, but after Sa the first svara on the 6th sruti he calls it as shatsruti Ri, the svara on the 12th sruti. Ramamatya calls it as chyuta madhyama gandhara.

As Prof. Bhatkhande remarks, “the Hindusthani musician will find this classification very interesting. He wIll find many of his own ragas in the list. Some of these latter seem to have retained their original svaras (notes) to this day.”

The work, is, therefore, of great significance for the data provided for the hIstory of the ragas. It is noteworthy, that when the author composed his works, the recognized melodies in the north far exceeded the limits of an exhaustive enumeration as is evident from the author’s remark: “Owing to the ragas being innumerable it is impossible to describe each individual one, I am reciting, here, some of them, following a particular school.”

Anantatvattu raganam pratyekam vaktumakrmah / Kesaacin-matam ashritya kati ragan vadamyaham //


In his next treatise Ragamala, written probably under the patronage of the Jaipur prmces, Madho Singh and Man Singh Kacchwas, Pundarika Vittala classifies the Ragas (Raga-Ragini Parivara) under six male ragas, and attributes to each, five ‘spouses’ (bharyyas) and five ‘sons’ (Raga putra). He also gives the details related to their Svaras, such as:  graha, amsa, nyasa etc.  He also explains the Raga structures in terms of:  nada, sruti, svara, sthana, grama, murchana, tana, etc.

In all, he covers six  Male Ragas-  with five Raginis and five Putra (sons) for each Male Raga- totaling 66 Ragas.

Male Raga: Suddha Bhairav

First Ragini: Dhannasi; Second Ragini: Bhairavi ; Third Ragini: ; Fourth Ragini: Maravi ;  and, Fifth Ragini: Asaveri .

First Son: Bhairava; Second Son: Suddha Lalita; Third Son: Panchama ; Fourth Son: Paraj ;  Fifth Son: Bangala.

Male Raga: Hindola

First Ragini: Bhupali; Second Ragini: Varali; Third Ragini: Todika; Fourth Ragini: Pratama Manjari; and, Fifth Ragini: Yavana Todika .

 First Son: Vasanta; Second Son: Suddha Bangala ; Third Son: Syama ; Fourth Son: Samantha ; and, Fifth Son: Kamoda.

Male Raga: Deshikar

First Ragini: Ramakri ; Second Ragini: Bahuli ; Third Ragini: Desi ; Fourth Ragini: Jayatasri ; and, Fifth Ragini: Gurjari .

First Son: Lalita; Second Son: Bhibas; Third Son: Saranga; Fourth Son: Ravana; and, Fifth Son: Kalyan

Mela Raga: Sri Raga

First Ragaini: Goudi; Second Ragini: Padi ; Third Ragini: Gunakri ; Fourth Ragini: Nadaramakri ; and, Fifth Ragini: Gundakri .

First Son: Takka; Second Son: Devagandhari; Third Son: Malava; Fourth Son: Sudhagouda; and, Fifth Son: Karnata Bangala.

Male Raga: Suddha Nata

First Ragini: Malava Sri; Second Ragini: Desakshi; Third Ragini Devakri; Fourth Ragaini: Madumadhavi; and, Fifth Ragini: Aberi.

First Son: Jijavant; Second Sons: Salanga Nata; Third Son: Karnata; Fourth Son: Chayanata; and, Fifth Son: Hamir Nata.

Male Raga: Natta Narayana

First Ragini: Velavali; Second Ragini: Kamboji ; Third Ragini: Saveri ; Fourth Ragini: Suhavi ; and,Fifth Ragini: Sourastri .

First Son: Malhara; Second Son: Gaunda; Third Son: Kedar; Fourth Son: Sankarabharana; and, Fifth Son: Bihagada


He mentions that Suddha, Chayalaga and Sankirna ragas were analysed as ragas and putras. He also gives a natural explanation to the classification. He introduced a new concept ‘gathi’ in the book, which meant movement of svaras from one sruti to another. He gives for all these ragas their svaras, colour of the body, colour of clothes, ornaments worn, tilakas in the forehead, time of the day, season for singing these ragas.

These 66 ragas probably represented the then current melodies as Pundarika Vittala found them in Northern India when he sat down to compose his work. But the Ragamala, from our point of view, is the most important document, as it is in this work that we come across for the first-time descriptive verses, actually giving the visual pictures, along with the component notes of the melodies, and also an indication of the time allocated to the singing of the ragas.

 (Please refer to Dr. Padma Rajagopal’ paper for a detailed discussion on the Raga-Ragini system of Raga classification, Please also see the Appendix : List of Raga-Ragini Parivar Ragas , according to different authors)

Further, as regards  the treatment of the Mela system in two  of Pundarika’s works – Sadraga Chandrodaya and  Ragamala – Dr. Padma Rajagopal mentions :

The difference in mela details between Sadraga Chandrodaya and Ragamala were: (1) in Sadraga Chandrodaya he gives 19 melas and in Ragamala he gives 20 melas; (2) in Sadraga Chandrodaya he introduced a new term lagu sadja, lagu madhyama, etc. and also used the conventional terms sadharana gandhara, antra gandhara, kakali Ni and Kaisiki Ni. In Ragamanjari, he introduced the new turn gathi while explaining the ragas. He clearly mentioned chatuscruti rishabha and dhaivata and suggested dvisruti rishabha and dhaivata which later on became komal. May be from his period only the fourth sruti Ri was considered as suddha for the musicologists of the north, and in the South, they considered dvisruti as suddha svara.

The details of the Mela system discussed in Sadraga Chandrodaya and in Ragamala are provided in Chapter VIII of Dr. Padma Rajgopal’s thesis

3. Ragamanjari

The third treatise, Ragamanjari, was probably composed by Pundarika Vittala under the patronage of Raja Mansingh Kacchwa and after he was introduced to the Imperial Court at Delhi. In this work, he cites twenty Melas as parents of the 64 derivatives (janya ragas). First, he gives the svaras of Mela ragas; and, then the derivative ragas. The twenty Melas are as follows: Mukhari, Soma-raga, Todi, Gaudi, Varati, Kedara, suddha-niata, Desaki, Desi-kara, Saranga, Aheri, Kalyana, Kamoda, Hijeja, Rama-kri, Hindola, Karnata, Hamira, Malav-kaisika, and Sri-raga.

But the interesting feature of this work is the recognition of the place of as many as sixteen Persian melodies ; and,  relating them to the Indian Ragas by their nearest equivalents.

Most probably, these imported melodies had already obtained a place in current Indian music of the North; and, the author only confirmed the practice by including them in his work and by indicating their characters by assigning them to their places in relation to the Indian models.

As Professor Bhatkhande remarks that the use of the locative case termination of the Indian ragas named “is intended to show that the Persian melody is not exactly the same as the Indian but that the two are founded on the same scale.” He accepts them as part of the Hindusthani system though he characterized them as “Persian” and recognized that they are “the gift from others” (parada). They are sixteen in number and are known as: Rahayi, Nisavar, Mahura, Jangula, Mahang(?), Vara, Sunhath, Iraya, Huseni, Yaman, Sarpharada, Vakhreja, Hijejaka, and Musak.

It is significant that Turuska Todi, which must have received an earlier affiliation is not mentioned in this list. On the other hand, Sarparda, which is ascribed by tradition to Amir Khusrau, is here enumerated as a new-comer… By this time, the melodies had too far exceeded in number to be confined within the limits of the six ragas and their wives.]

Together with Ramamatya’s tuning of Shuddha Mela Veena, which corresponds to the Hindustani Been (Rudra Veena), Pundarika Vittala adopted Ramamatya’s 12 semi tones (Sruti). However, in his description of the Melas, he uses more than 12 Svaras. In his works Ragamala and Ragamanjari (a small work in two Chapters : Svara and Raga)  he develops a system of 18 micro intervals, the application of which was however restricted to middle octave (madhyama saptaka).

While discussing the 18 Sruti positions, he says that the octave contains 22 theoretical Sruti positions. However, 4 of which (that is: between Shuddha Sa and Shuddha Ri , and between the notes Shuddha Pa and Shuddha Dha) should not be used in practice.  Later, Somanatha in his Raga-vibodha adopted this system of 18 notes, omitting only one note (ekagatika Madhyama) and changing the name the Vikrta notes.

[Even as late as in the 16th century, the texts usually began with the traditional description of the scales in terms of the 22 Srutis. But, in actual practice (application), the octaves seemed to have been composed of 12 basic Srutis. In Sad-raga-chandrodaya, for instance, the octave is said to contain 14 notes. But, in his description of the fretting of the Veena, Pundarika Vittala locates only 12 frets, because, he says, the other two notes would be too close to their adjacent frets on the finger board. He adds, if these two frets should be needed in any Raga, the adjacent higher fret would be acceptable, as the difference of one Sruti will not make much difference in the general effect on the Raga.]

Pundarika’s system was later adopted by the North Indian musicologists. It is likely that Somanatha’s Ragas which reflect Pundarika’s theories mostly correspond to modern Hindustani Ragas, while the Karnataka Ragas of the same name developed along different lines.

Apart from Music, Pundarika Vittala was well versed in Sanskrit literature. He is credited with compiling two lexicons: Shigara-bodhini Namamala and Dutikarma Prakasha.

Besides the above mentioned works, Pundarika Vittala may have written the following treatises the chapters of which are available in the Tanjore Sarasvathi Mahal Library: Nartana-nirnaya (written to please Akbar – Akbar-nrupa-ruchyartha krutamidam); Sangita-vrtta-ratnakara; and Vittaliya.

[ I would like to post here a short Note on Pundarika Vittala’s  Nartana-nirnaya based mainly on the work of Dr. Mandakranta Bose.


  Regarding Nartana-nirnaya

The fame of Pundarika Vitthala rests mainly on the texts he compiled on the subjects related to Music. But, his work on dancing and dramaturgy, the Nartana-nirnaya, written in the sixteenth century, while was in the Mughal Court, is no less significant.  It is indeed a major work that throws light on the origins of some of the dance forms – particularly Kathak and Oddisi – that are prevalent today. But, it is sad that Nartana-nirnaya has not received the level of attention and depth of study that it rightly deserves.

By the time of Akbar, the Persian art and music had vastly influenced the cultural life of India, particularly the milieu surrounding the Mughal court. Though the regional traditions did exist, the Persian tradition was the dominant one.

Pundarika Vitthala, while in the Mughal Court, had the opportunity to watch. appreciate and enjoy excellent presentations of the Persian oriented dance and music. He also had the privilege of discussing varied issues related to art with the Persian scholars and connoisseurs attached to the Royal Court. 

Citing the circumstances that prompted him and that led to his writing of Nartana-nirnaya, a text about dance, Pundarika Vitthala states that he wrote the book in order to please the Emperor Akbar

Akbar nrupae icchartha bhuloke sangitam / krutamidam bahu tara bhedam sah-hrudam hrdaye sukam bhuyath // N N 53 b //.

 In the world, this simple Sangita is created with a lot of varieties in order to please the king Akbar. May it please the heart of the goodhearted ones.

The Nartana-nirnaya, an authentic text on dance and dramaturgy, written in a variety of metres (chhandas), has four chapters, one each on, rhythm (259 verses); drum (116 verses); vocal music (579 verses); and,  on dance (the largest, with 916 verses).

And, at the outset, Pundarika states that along with the various regional styles of dancing he would be describing the dance of the Yavanas, (meaning, the Persians).

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

Dr. Mandakranta Bose, in her very well researched paper ( The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition )  stresses the historical importance and relevance of Nartana-nirnaya; and , states   :  This text ,thus, offers us a major breakthrough in understanding both the evolution and the continuity of the art of dance;  because , it enables us to reconstruct the styles prevalent at a transitional period in the cultural history of India.

Thus, Nartana-nirnaya serves as a bridge between the older and present-day traditions of classical Indian dancing.


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

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


As rgards the definition of these terms, Pundarika said he would be adopting those offered by Sarangadeva (11th century).

And, Saragngaseva had, in turn, followed the explanations given by the earlier writers like Somesvara, Dhananjaya and such others (perhaps from Nadikesvara too?)

According to those explanations, generally (although there were some slight variations among them):

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

Nrtya: is a means of putting forth different aesthetic moods or bhava (bhavahetu or bhavashraya) or giving expression to individual words of the song through appropriate gestures and/or facial expressions  pada –artha-abhinayatmaka

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


Nandikeshvara (Abhinayadarpana. 1. 15-16) 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).

But, Pundarika, in his Nartana-nirnaya, throughout, uses the terms Nrtta and Nrtya interchangeably, perhaps, because, both those dance forms involved, in some measure, the elements of abhinaya or interpretative movements.


But, the more significant theoretical aspect of Nartana-nirnaya is the adoption of the two sets of concepts to classify the dance forms.

Pundarika adopts Marga and Desi class  concepts into the Lakshana and Lakshya (theory and practice) of Dance, for classifying its  forms.  

And then, he introduces a novel feature (hitherto not tried by anyone else), which is the principles of Bhaddha (structured) and Anibhaddha (neither bound nor structured) for stratifying the dance forms into two separate classes.

(1) Pundarika carried forward the practice of the earlier scholar-writers who distinguished the dance forms along the lines of Marga and Desi. The term Marga (literally ‘of the way’ or ‘path’) refers to those arts that adhere to codified rules; while Desi is understood as the unregulated regional variations.   

The concepts of Marga and Desi were originally introduced into Music by Matanga in his Brhaddeshi (around seventh or eighth century) to distinguish the pure and well-structured Music (Marga) from the innovative regional melodies (Desi).

As regards the dance forms; by about the eleventh century, Somesvara adopted the Marga-Desi classification to categorize the then existing Dance forms. Later, around the same time, Sarangadeva, in his Sangitaratnakara, systematically presented the Marga and Desi forms as distinct styles of dance. 

Here, in these texts, the classical style, that is the one codified by Bharata in the Natyashastra; and, acknowledged by tradition   as the core of classical art was regarded as the Marga.  The Nrtya, for instance, was classified under Marga form of dance.

The regional and popular dance styles, with easy movements, that allowed more freedom free improvisation within the given framework were classified under Desi. Nrtta, for instance, was treated as a Desi form of dance.

Pundarika Vitthala, in his Nartana-nirnaya, also adopted the Marga-Desi classification to categorize the different dance forms. Nartana-nirnaya describes several entirely new dance forms that were popular at that time.

(2) Matanga had classified Music  into two classes – Nibhadda and Anibhadda – the one that is regulated and structured with Dhatus (elements) ; and , the other  that is not structured (un-bound).

According to Matanga’s classification:  Anibaddha Gita is free flowing music that is not restricted by Taala; it is also   free from disciplines of Chhandas (meter) and Matra (syllables); and, it does not also need the support of compositions woven with meaningful words (Pada or Sahitya). In fact, not one of these – neither Taala, nor Grammar, nor lyrics – has a role to play in the Anibaddha Samgita. Sarangadeva explains Anibaddha as Aalapa which is not bound or which lacks rules (bandha-hinatva) – Alapir bandha-hinatvad Anibaddham itirita (Sangitaratnakara: 4.5).

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


Pundarika was the first scholar to apply the Nibaddha – Anibhaddha type of classification to Dance forms. That is to say; almost 1500 years after these terms came into use in music, Pundarika Vitthala’s work applied them to Dance forms in order to segregate well-structured dance forms from rather free flowing regional dances.

 While both parts followed certain rules of structure and of exposition, Anibaddha was comparatively loose in its construction since it was free of the regimen of Tala. Anibandha-nrttas are, thus ,  flexible in both form and content , within the broadly specified aesthetic frameworks .

Dr. Mandakranta Bose observes:

It would seem that the Anibandha nrttas were unlike any other dance pieces described in the literature before the Nartana-nirnaya.   The Anibandha-nrttas seemed to be short dance-sequences, using which a dancer could choreograph her own piece. Thus, they have the same function in the dancer’s choreographic design as the karanas of the Marga tradition. But, their structural principle is entirely different from that of karanas in that they are entirely flexible as to their components and structure while karanas are of course rigidly set structures.

Roughly, it would seem Bandha-nrttas denoted dances for which there already were prescribed rules; and, the Anibandha-nrttas denoted dances for which there were none or minimal.

In contrast, Bhaddha-nrtta was more rigorously constructed, bound as it was by the constraining patterns of Tala; and, was performed by dancers who were appropriately trained; and, who could interpret a composition perfectly, executing all the movements in detail and precisely as per the prescribed sequence.

Pundarika grouped under the Bandha-nrtta class those dances that were characterized by yati, tala, laya, sthana, carl and hasta etc. as prescribed in the Sastras. He enumerated twelve varieties; and, described in detail their specific movements, their structured sequences, including karanas (N2V.43a-45b)

All the other dance forms were drought under Anibandha dance form. In the Nartana- nirnaya, the Anibandha dances are described in two parts; the first consisting of twenty-one Anibandha urupas (denoting  a broad category of dance sequences formed with the karanas); and, the second consisting two Anibandha-nrtyas. Of the two Anibandha-nrtyas, one comes from Persia and the other is Raasa, which includes the form called Dandarasa (NN. 53a-b). Raasa is the only dance recorded by Pundarika which seems to have continued over centuries and is found even today in at least two regions of India, Gujarat and Manipur.

In the later times, many works on dancing followed the Nartana-nirnaya’ s approach to the categories of dance; and, that eventually became part of their conceptual framework.


Now, as regards the historical significance of Nartana-nirnaya; many scholars, after a deep study of the text, have observed that there is enough evidence to conclude that the text marks the origin of two major styles of India today, namely, Kathak and Odissi. Dr. Bose also concurs that such connection seems highly plausible. The text was part of the same cultural world of the Mughal court that nurtured Kathak.

 She points out that several technical terms used in Nartana-nirnaya match those used in Kathak today. And she goes on to say:

When we look closely at the technique of the dance described under the Anibandha category, we begin to see certain striking similarities with the technique of Kathak. One cannot say that the style described in the Nartana-nirnaya matches Kathak in every detail.  but one may certainly view that style as the precursor to Kathak; but the descriptions and the similarities in their techniques clearly show it to be the same as what we know today as Kathak.

The Nartana-nirnaya seems, thus, to be the proper textual source for Kathak. This claim becomes stronger still on examining points of technique, ….


As regards Odissi, Dr. Bose observes that the Bandha-nrtta as practiced in the Odissi style is very similar to the descriptions given in the Nartana-nirnaya.  And, the basic standing postures prescribed in the Odissi style: Chauka and Tribhangi  . (Chauka and Tribhangi are the two main basic stances in Odissi. Chahka is a stable-wide  stance, with weight of the body distributed equally on both the sides; and, the heels facing  the center. It is said to be a masculine posture.  Tribanghi, is a graceful feminine posture, with the body bent in three-ways) . These are comparable to vaisakha-sthana and Agra-tala-sanchara-pada of the Nartana-nirnaya.  Further, some acrobatic postures still in use are: danda-paksam, lalata-tilakam and nisumbhitam (the foot raised up to the level of forehead),  and several others are found both in Odissi and in Chau dance of Mayurbhanj region of OrissaFurther, there is in the Nartana-nirnaya, the description of a dance called Batu involving difficult poses; and it is very similar to the Batunrtta, a particularly difficult dance in the repertory of Odissi.

For more on Nartana- nirnaya and other texts on Dance forms ; as also  for the details of the few mentioned here , please do read  Dr. Mandakranta Bose’s research  paper ( The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition

[Ref: Pundarika Vittala by Dr. Padma Rajagopal; Musicological Literature by Emmie te Nijenhuis; Dr. Mandakranta Bose’s research  paper ( The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition]

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11 . Raga-vibodha of Somanatha

Raga-vibodha of Somanatha (1610 A.D) is an important text in many ways. It is also an interesting link between the Karnataka Sangita of the South and Hindustani Music of the North.

Pandit V. N. Bhatkhande in his ‘A Short Historical Survey of the Music of Upper India’ writing about Ragavibodha of Somanatha says:

The date of Raga Vibodha appears to be the 3rd Asbvin Shuddha, Shaka year 1531, i.e., A.D. 1610- as given by the author.

The work clearly shows that the author had himself come under the influence of the music of Northern India. He uses in the Raga Vibodha the svara—names of both the Southern and the Northern systems of music. It is; impossible to say whether he had obtained a copy of the Raga Tarangini because the only names of his predecessors he refers to in his book are Hanuma, Matanga and Kallinatha. His use of the svara names as Tivra, Tivratara and Tivratama; and the term ‘Thata’, as a synonym for “Mela,” will also show that he had come into contact with Northern music. Somnatha Pandit, unlike the writers of his time, makes use of the Svara names Mrudu-Sa, Mrudu-Ma, and Mrudu-Pa to denote the sounds of the third Shruti of each of the notes Sa, Ma and Pa.

Ahobala in his Parijata refers to these notes  and follows Somanatha. Their works may safely be cited as instances of the tendency of those times to establish! good musical relations between the North and the South.


Apart from discussing theories (Lakshana) of Music, the Raga Vibodha pays special attention to practical (Lakshya) aspects of music performance. It deals elaborately with the Gamakas and Alamkaras (graces and ornamentation) that adorn and enhance the beauty of music-presentation. Though his exposition is based on the vocal styles of Gamakas and Sthaya (a characteristic phase of a song) , Somanatha excels in offering varieties of  left and right-finger-techniques for  playing on stringed instruments (Veena) –Vadana bedha –  such as, deflections , slides  and others that help to explore the limits of the subtleties that the instrument is capable of.  Veena occupies an exalted position in Raga- vibohda.

Raga-vibodha of Somanatha closely follows the Svara-mela-kala-nidhi of Ramamtya. The author himself has written a detailed commentary (titled Viveka) on his work.

The Raga-vibodha is made of five Chapters.  The first chapter deals with Sruti and Svara-s; the second with Veena; the third with Mela; the fourth with Raga; and, the fifth with Raga-rupa (structure of the raga). There are 83 verses in the First chapter; 53 in the Second; 61 in the Third; 48 in the Fourth; and, 225 in the Fifth.

 Somanatha mentions that, in his work, he has adopted the Arya Chhandas (meter) throughout, as it is the only meter that  provides the facility to express short syllables  like Sa, Ri, Ga and Ma in quick succession.

 [For a complete text of Raga-vobodha of Somanatha along with his own commentary thereupon (Viveka) as edited and translated by Pandit M Subrahmanya Sastry (Adyar Library; 1945), please click here.

 Please also do read the scholarly explanations provided by Dr. C . Kunhan Raja in his elaborate introduction to Pandit Subrahmanya sastri‘s edition of Raga-vobodha. He covers a number of technical aspects such as Sruti-s- Svara-s; Shuddha Svara; Vikrta Svara-s; their respective positions; Murchana-s; varieties of Alamkara-s etc. He also discusses the differences in the treatment of these concepts by Sarangadeva and Somanatha .]

While discussing the technical aspects of music and particularly Veena, Somanatha, in his commentary, offers lucid explanations and also quotes many previous authorities. He quotes mainly from Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara together with its commentary by Kallinatha. The other authorities, ‘sources’ mentioned by Somanatha include ancient Masters such as Kohala, Matanga, Hanuman and others.

 In the process, Somanatha presents the details of Art as it was practiced during his time, in comparison with what was in vogue in the earlier periods. Thus, Raga-vibodha, apart from its own merit, also serves as a valuable source-book on the history of Indian Music. Further, its Chapter Four would be of particular interest to those studying   the history of musical instruments in India.

The Raga-vibodha, a distinctive text, serves as a bridge between the music of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and that of the present-day. Somanatha is, therefore, regarded by many as the most important and the most original of all the sixteenth and seventeenth century Musicologists.

Somanatha makes a very valid observation that the Shastra-s (texts on technical subjects) should present and explain the facts as they really are; and, should never twist the facts to suit it’s own views and pet opinions.

Shastranam laksha-anugruhaya pravrutvat yatra tayo viruddhah tatra shastrasya niryamitasyapi arthasya upa-lakshana-tvadina  prakarantarenaapi gatihi kartavya  I  Na tu lakshyam upekshyam I

Raga-vibodha deals with the Marga and the Desi streams of classical Indian Music. Following the earlier tradition, Somanatha describes Marga Music as that which was sought for (from the root Mrg, to search) by the gods; And, as the pristine Music that was practiced by Bharata and other sages  in the presence of Shiva . Marga, therefore, he says, is worthy of veneration.

 Margaha sa yo viricchadyoh   anvistau Bharatadi Shambhor-agre pratyukto-acharyah II 1.6 II

[  Somanatha brings in the concepts of the Tantra School to explain how the sound is produced within the body-mind complex; and , is put out ( 1.10-13) : ‘ The urge to speak excites the mind; the mind strikes fire in the body ; this , in turn , sets in motion the air that resides in Brahma-granthi. This air raises up through the navel, the chest , the throat , the head and the mouth producing sound. It is only the sound which passes beyond the chest, the throat and the head that can be used for singing.

 About the organs of speech; and, the differences in the pitch of the sound: the twenty-two Naadi-s in the chest , produce twenty-two Sruti-s; each successive Sruti being higher in pitch than its preceding one. A similar arrangement exists in the head and the throat.]


Somanatha (1610 A.D – Ku-dahana-tithi-ganita-Sake 1531)) a musician scholar hailing from Andhra Desha, son of Mudgala Suri a versatile scholar in all arts (sakala kala) , was perhaps the earliest musician-scholars to introduce the system writing notation (Raga-sanchara) to music passages in a systematic manner. Some say that Raga-vibodha is perhaps the only example before the modern times of any Indian Music using Notations. That may not be entirely correct.

[Examples of early Indian Melody in Notation occur in the 7th century Kudumiyamalai Inscriptions, the Brihaddesi of Matanga, and Sarasvathi-hrdaya-alamkara-hara of Nanyadeva of 10-11th century. Nanyadeva the ruler of Tirhut in Nepal is cited as an authority by Sarangadeva . His text not only includes descriptions of several Ragas but also about 15 examples of compositions ( called Panikas, which are of lighter nature might have been used for dancing as also for singing in groups)  with notations  for vocal rendering. The Panikas belong to a genre of music forms called Gitakas or Prakaranas of varying rhythmic patterns ( as opposed to the modern compositions set to a particular Taala). These are no longer in use. Each rhythmic suit is identified by the number of  matras (time units) , by claps and gestures to measure the time of the beats.

The Notation used by Nanyadeva are simple pitch notations by numbering the Svaras (Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni). However no distinction is made between Shuddha Ga and Antara Ga; or between the standard Shuddha Ni and Kakili Ni. Some notations are indicated by placing dots as superscripts. In some cases it is not clear; as it appears the copyists might have got confused.

For more on Nanyadeva and notations on Panika songs please the remarkable study made by D.R .Widdess in his paper :Tāla and Melody in Early Indian Music: A Study of … – jstor]

Somanatha also scripted Dhyanas the pictorial or iconographical descriptions of certain Ragas. He also outlined the norms regarding the preferred time of performance, the special characters (Raga-lakshana) or the atmosphere in regard to some 27 Ragas. Somanatha improved upon the traditional themes associated with Ragas as in the Dhyanas of Sudhakalasha and Kumbha and of the later scholars Damodara, Shubhankara and Srikantha; and, he diversified Dhyanas by relating Ragas to deities, human characters, seasons etc.

It is sad; Raga-vibodha did not get the level attention it deserved from merited composers and musicians of Karnataka Sangita. Further, the system of musical notations that Somanatha introduced was not followed upon; and it is now almost completely lost. Similarly, the Dhyanas, the ancient system of aesthetics that characterized the Ragas, were totally by  passed in Karnataka Sangita, though some norms regarding the time of performance or the special character or atmosphere of some Raga still lingers on in the Hindustani Sangita.

Somanatha largely adopted  Ramamatya’s Mela system and his Veena techniques, as also the theoretical aspects of Music as in the works of Pundarika Vittala.  His Raga-vibodha, spread over five Chapters, also follows the general plan of Ramamatya’s Svara-mela-kalanidhi and Pundarika Vittala’s Ragamanjari.

The first Chapter of Raga Vibodha closely resembles the first Chapter of Pundarika Vittala’s Ragamanjari. It summarizes the ancient terminologies in the same order. Somanatha starts in Chapter Two a discussion on tuning of the Shuddha and Madhya-mela Veena, which resembled Hindustani Bin (Rudra Veena). This Chapter corresponds to Chapter 3 of Svara-mela-kalanidhi of Ramamatya.

In Chapter Three, Somanatha mentions eleven Persian modes, just as Pundarika Vittala did at the end of his Ragamanjari. The seven out of Somanatha’s eleven names for Persian Maqamat are mentioned: Irakha, Huseni, Musali, Vakhareja, Hijeja, Puska ( or Muska) and Saraparda.

The Chapter Three of Raga-vibodha again corresponds to Chapter Four of Svara-mela- kalanidhi; of Ramamatya; and, it deals with Melas. Here, Somanatha added five  more Melas  (Bhairava, Malhara, Kalyana, Suddha-vasanta and Hammira ) to the 20 listed by Ramamatya  and deleted two Melas  ( Hindola, and Hejujji ) to bring up the net number of Melas to 23. (In this list ,  Malava-gauda  is sometimes accepted in place of Bhairava).

Somanatha’s  arrangement of 23 Mela (scales) is based on the division of the Octave (Saptaka) of 17 notes, some of which bear two names. Therefore, the 22 (theoretical) names of the notes cover only 17 actual Srutis.

Out of these, thirteen Melas are identical with Ramamatya’s Melas; and, three (Shuddhavarati, Sriraga and Karnatagaula) are slightly different from their equivalents in Ramamatya’s system.

Out of the remaining Seven Melas, three (Todi, Hammira and Saranga) corresponds to the Melas of the same name which Pundarika Vittala describes in his Ragamanjari.  Of the other four, Somanatha’s Kalyana has its equivalent in Srikantha’s system. And, Somanatha’s Mallari, Bhairavi and Vasantha Melas are not found in any of the works of his predecessors.

In Chapter Four, which corresponds to Chapter Five of Somanatha’s Svara-mela-kalanidhi, describes the individual characteristics (Lakshanas) of the Ragas. Here, after giving the division of the Ragas according to the different standards, their structure in terms of Graha, Amsa and Nyasa are presented.

Somanatha in his Raga-vibodha mentions 51 Ragas, of which 29 are used in the Music of the present-day: 17 in Karnataka Music, 8 in Hindustani and 4 in both the systemsSome scholars surmise Somanatha’s Ragas mostly correspond to modern Hindustani Ragas; and, though the names of some his Ragas resemble those in Karnataka system it is likely they developed along different lines.

Chapter 5 which is the last Chapter is the most valuable part of Raga Vibodha. Following his processor Srikantha, Somanatha gives the pictorial descriptions (Dhyana) of the Ragas and specifies their appropriate times of performance.  But, in Somanatha’s opinion a mere abstract, aesthetic picture (Devamaya rupa = Divine form) of the Ragas would not suffice. He therefore presents their sound-pictures (Nadatmaka rupa) as well through musical notations.

Thus, Somanatha has presented most interesting music examples of the history of Indian Music.  In contrast to the ancient and almost forgotten music-examples of Jati and Gramas as in the older treatise, Somanatha’s music-pictures give an insight into contemporary music practices. The notations he provides indicate various musical ornaments (Gamakas) that were played on the Veena.

The notations

Somanatha’s work is unique because right from the older times Music compositions have come down to us through Oral traditions; and,   no composition could have had musical notations. And, where their lyrics (Sahitya) were written down, they were, sometimes, marked at the top with only the names of the Ragas and Taalas in which the song was set.  Even in the case of  the Music-texts (Lakshana granthas) that described various concepts and  theories and provided illustrations ,  they  merely discussed   the Lakshanas, Svaras, of the basic scale.

However, Somanatha’s music illustrations offer more details. They not only illustrate the scale (Mela) and the modal character (Lakshana) of the Ragas but also indicate the musical ornamentation (Gamaka) and special ways of playing Veena, the left and right hand techniques, by means of particular notational symbols or signs. Since no Taala is involved in these examples, Somanatha’s explanations virtually represent written guidelines outlining    Raga Alapana and other modes of elaborations i.e. a map for improvised explorations in freestyle.

Although Somanatha’s system of notations was not generally accepted and did not lead to a common system of Gamaka-notations, his explanations and his application of various types of ornamentation (Alamkara) to Veena playing (Vadana-bheda) are indeed highly interesting. Somanatha has described twenty Vadana-bhedas plus three other terms to indicate (1) specific registrar positions (Sthana) of the Svaras and (2) phrase endings. His Vadana-bheda techniques roughly fall into four categories: (1) fingering, (2) deflection, (3) slides and (4) others.

Gamakas and Notations


The Veena techniques (Vadana-bheda) expounded in Somanatha’s work generally follows the traditional pattern. Some of Somanatha’s terms referring to the techniques have equivalents in the ancient Gamakas mentioned in Matanga’s Brhaddeshi and Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara.

Matanga, in his Brhaddeshi, while discussing about Raga-giti , one of the seven charming song-forms, he mentions that Ragagitis should be rendered with varied delicate Gamakas (lalithau–Gamakau-vichitrau); and should be adorned with Svara pronunciations, lucid, powerful and even (300); and that 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).

 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.

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

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


Prof. Ranganayaki Veeraswamy Ayyangar, University of Pennsylvania , (who has studied, edited and translated the manuscripts, lithograph versions and printed versions of Raga-vibodha),   in her Gamaka and Vadanabheda: a study of Somanatha’s Ragav- ibodha in historical and practical context, mentions:

among the many music treatises that describe the Gamakas, Somanatha’s Raga-vibodha is the most important because it is the only text that has an entire chapter on ornaments. Somanatha has called these ornaments vadana-bheda; and, has created notational symbols for them after having described, in detail, their realizations on the contemporaneous fretted instrument, the Rudra Veena. Further, he has exemplified the vadana-bhedas by incorporating them in his extensive music examples. Somanatha has acknowledged that his vadana-bhedas were based on the Gamakas and Sthayas (components of a raga) encountered in the Sangita-ratnakara (13thc. A.D) and  other earlier texts.

Somanatha has described twenty vadana-bhedas plus three other terms to indicate specific registral positions of the scale degrees and (phrase endings. A study of the vadana-bheda techniques indicates that most of them fall roughly into four categories, namely, (1) fingering, (2) deflection, (3) slides and (4) others… An analysis of the distribution of the various types of the vadana-bhedas in the musical illustrations in Raga-vibodha indicates that there are in each of the first three categories, at least one type that is widely distributed either singly or in combination and some that occur rarely, again either singly or in combination. Further, it also indicates that some combinations are widely distributed, whereas some others are narrowly restricted….

It is important to reiterate that Somanatha was the first theorist, in the descriptive tradition, to attempt to describe in his Raga-vibodha, instrumental vadana-bhedas based on vocal Gamakas. He was also the first to describe, with adequate notation using these vadana-bhedas, actual music of his time through extensive music examples.


Somanatha while describing the Veena techniques employs terms that are equivalents to the Gamakas mentioned by Sarangadeva   (Spurita – Pratihati; Kampa-Kampita; Kurulu-Parata; Uchata- Ahati; Ahota- Ahuti; Ulhasita-ghasana; Plavita-Gamaka ).

Dr. Ramanathan the noted Musician-scholar explains Somanatha’s Pratihati as equivalent to the present day Spurita. Similarly Somanatha’s Vikarsa, Dolana, Gamaka and Kampana , he says, are comparable to four types of modern Kampita: (1) Vikarsa : single deflection of the string , pulling it away from Veena fret; (2) Dolana : deflection and release allowing the string to assume its original position; (3)  Gamaka: number of slow oscillations – prolonged Kampita; and (4)  Kampa: small number of fast oscillations .

Somanatha’s Garshana is equivalent to Hindustani Ghasit and Karnataka’s ekku or erra and downward (digu) slide (jaru). Pida, heavily stressed (pressure by left hand) is Khandimpu. And, Naimnya, a heavy pluck of the string, is periya-mittu.

Dr. E. Te Nijenhuis, in her the Ragas of Somanatha, observes that Somanatha was well conversant with both the Karnataka and Hindustani systems of Music. And, eight of the twenty-nine Ragas that he dealt with in his work, are exclusively Hindustani Ragas that are still current. She also mentions that the notation systems adopted by Somanatha are admittedly more precise than most of the others in vogue; and, definitions and signs for various types of ornamentation are indeed distinctive.

Dr. Ramanathan , however, observes: It is doubtful if the Notations of Somanatha were ever used by the practicing Musicians. That is perhaps because; the Musicians of India had not felt it necessary to develop an elaborate system of notations as in the West. Up to the present day in Indian Music a great freedom is left to the performing artist in the form of Raga improvisation. In the South it might be Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi; and in the North Aalap, Jor and Gath. Even in the pre composed forms of the South (Kriti, Varnam and Padam) and of North (Drupad, Khyal and Tumri) are always rendered with improvised and elaborate ornamentation and figurative variations adorned with Gamaka (grace notes), Sangathi or Tans ( melodic variations) , Svara vistara or Sargam (sol-fa) and improvised preludes (Alapana) .

And, even in modern times, the Notation system did not come into use until the end of 19th century when the first printed books on Music of South India appeared. But at that time there was no uniformity, with each composer or editor developing his own system.

[As regards the use of staff notations for recording the classical Indian Music, the noted scholar Ananda K. Coomaraswamy (in his introduction to Sir Ernest Clements’ work the Introduction to the Study of Indian Music; Published by Longmans, Green & Co., London – 1913), observed: the publication of Indian music in staff notation, without warning that the scale is other than that usually implied by that notation, tends to the destruction of the character of that music… It is far better that the method of oral transmission should be maintained. That is because, this is the true method of learning for an artist; because , every singer so taught must be in some degree a composer (he is taught, not merely to repeat a given song, but to sing in a given mode and mood); and because, it is so great an advantage for the true musician to need no external aid to memory, such as a printed score.

Indeed, I suppose that even if we succeed in recording the greater part of Indian music as it still survives, the music itself cannot persist as a part of everyday life unless it is thus handed on as a sacred tradition.]

The Dhyanas

As regards the Dhyanas, although the earlier musicologists like Damodara, Shunamkara and Srikantha had presented Dhyanas, their descriptions seemed to have bypassed the traditional themes associated with Ragas. They switched on to Nayaka-Nayaki dramatic situations, personifying the Rasas (aesthetic experiences) particularly of Srngara (erotic) Rasa.

Somanatha obviously considered Rasa personification an important aspect of pictorial Raga description since he himself refers to eight types Nayaka-Nayaki situations or eight different states (avastha)of  Nayika in Nayaka-Nayaki relationship. Somanatha relates Abhisarika Nayika (eager to meet her lover) with Raga Bahuli; Vasakasajja Nayika (dressed up for the meet) with Raga Bhupali; and Proshitabhartruka Nayika (proceeding to meet the lover) with Raga Dhanasri. Similarly, he relates Khandita Nayika ( angry with the lover) with Raga Lalitha ; and Abhisarika ,Vasakasajja and  Uktha Nayika  with the Ragas Saurasri. He relates Dakshina Nayaka with the Ragas Hindola;  and the Proshitabhartruka  Nayika  (sojourning with lover)  with Raga  Kamodi .

Some of Somanatha’s Dhyanas resemble the ancient iconographical Raga descriptions which relate to gods. The Dhyanas of Raga s Bhairava, Kedara and Shankarabharana, for instance, refer to Shiva; the Dhyanas Natanarayana to Vishnu; the Dhyanas of Hindola and Pavaka to Krishna; the Dhyanas of Mallari to Vishnu-Krishna; the Dhyanas of Ragas Adana, Paraja and Vibhangada to Kamadeva; and the Dhyana of Vasantha to god of spring Vasantha.

Besides, Somanatha presents some very vague descriptions which do not refer to any particular deity, human character or state of mind. For instance; in the Dhyanas of the Ragas Dhavala, Gauda , Gaudi, Hammira and Pauravi.

There is an interesting Dhyana which refers neither to a deity nor to a human character. It is the Raga Chaity which personifies the month of Chaitra. This perhaps was the forerunner of the Barahmasa poetry and paintings.

One of the illustrations provided  in Chapter Four of Raga-vibodha describes Raga Abhiri (equivalent to Abheri as it is known now) as a woman (Abhira) , dark in complexion , wearing a black dress adorned with a garland of fresh flowers around her neck, attractive ear ornaments. She has a soft and a tender voice; and, wears her hair in beautiful strands. Abira is idealized as a pretty looking Gopi of the Abhira tribe of Mathura region. She is an attractive looking dark complexioned tribal girl.  In the traditional Indian Music , dark complexion of the Ragini and her  dark clothes correspond to the predominant note (Amsa) Pa

As Emmie te Nijenhuis remarks: Apparently, the ancient Indian aesthetics had already fallen into disuse. The ancient Dhyanas which associates Svaras with particular deity deities, social class, animals, sentiments, colors etc – the system reflecting the ancient Indian mystical view of life – became rather irrelevant, when in the course of time, musicians changed the modal characteristics of Raga.

After Somanatha, the ancient system of aesthetics which was already on decline was completely forgotten in the South. Modern Hindustani Music however has preserved something of this ancient system. Its rules regarding the time of performance or the special character or atmosphere of some its Raga still remind us of the ancient Indian aesthetics.

[Ref: The Rāgas of Somanātha: Musical examples. Part 2 by Emmie te Nijenhuis; Musicological Literature by Emmie te Nijenhuis; DR. S Ramanathan on Raga-vobodha

For a complete text of Raga-vobodha of Somanatha along with his own commentary thereupon (Viveka) as edited  by Pandit M Subrahmanya Sastry (Adyar Library; 1945), please click here ]


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Fourteen

Continued from Part Thirteen –Forms of Karnataka  Samgita  

Part Fourteen (of 22 ) – Lakshana Granthas


1.1. 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.

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

1.3. 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 practice.  Each genre of these texts also provided a model for the subsequent treatises to elaborate on music-theories and practices (Samgita Shastra).

1.4. 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.

The Samgita shastra was at once the theory that laid down concepts and rules to be brought into practice; and it was also the practice that remodeled the theory. It was a two-way mode of progression. It was said:  Shastram iti shaasanopaayam. The Shastra was not merely a theory but it was also a tool (upaya) for perfecting the Vidya. The theory (lakshana) had to have a purpose or a target (lakshya). The test of a theory was in its application, Viniyoga.

1.5. The Lakshan-granthas, the text lying down theoretical aspects of Music, authored by various  musician-scholars,  are the fruits  of their systematic study of the art-forms as they existed in the past and as it was practiced during their times. The texts also projected their vision of how the Music should develop and prosper in future. Thus, the Lakshana-granthas over the centuries have defined, protected and guided the Music of India.

Though the forms and formats of Music over the centuries changed to suit their adopted environments, the essential principles behind the Music have remained true and lasting. Like in other Indian traditions, continuity and change go hand in hand in Music. That happy union, I reckon, is mainly due to the brilliant series of Lakshana-granthas.

Before we go on to the  notable among the texts of ancient and medieval India that deal with Music, briefly lets briefly look at Naradiya Shiksha  perhaps the oldest of Music-texts.

  1. Naradiya Shiksha

Shiksha is a branch of Veda lore (vedanga); and, it deals with elements of chanting and phonetics. According to Taittereya Upanishad (1. 2), the elements of chanting includes six factors: Varna (syllable); Svara (accent or note); Maatra (duration); Balam (articulation or 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.

Om̃ śīkṣāṃ vyākhyāsyāmaḥ । varṇaḥ svaraḥ । mātrā balam । sāma santānaḥ । ityuktaḥ śīkṣādhyāyaḥ ॥ ॥

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.

Some of the well-known Shiksha texts are: Paniniya, Yagnyvalkya, Vashisthi, Katyayani, Manduki and Naradiya.  The last one is  associated with Sama Veda.

[ As regards the name ‘Narada’ ; and many persons associated with it, please take a look the explanation provided in the comments section, in response to a comment made by prachidublay]


Naradiya Shiksha, composed, for the most part, in the Anustubh Chhandas; and based, mainly in the theories and practices of singing   Sama Veda, is an ancient text that deals mainly with the musical notes and the pronunciation of the words in the Vedic language.  It is regarded as an authentic source of references on the development of Indian Music from the Vedic times to the period of the Shiksha literature.  The Naradiya Shiksha, is believed to pre-date Bharatha’s Natyashastra (second century BCE). Some scholars also believe that Bharat might have been familiar with Naradiya Shiksha.

One of the reasons for that inference is that the Naradiya Shiksha discusses the Gāndhāra Grāma, its Mūrchanas and Tānas; but, by the time of Bharata’s Natyashastra, the Gandhara Grama had become obsolete. Further, it is believed that a verse of the Natyashastra (33. 227) seems to reflect verse (1.3.13) of Nāradiya-śhíkhā, which, in effect, says:

Acharyah saamam icchanti; padath chhedantu panditah / striyo madhuram icchanti , vikrustam itare janah//

Those well versed in musical art, appreciate melodious and tuneful singing (sama); the scholars look for clear pronunciation of the words (pada) of the song; the women love the sweetness of voice of the singers (madhuram); and, the rest demand a loud, full-throated singing (vikrustam). 

It is also said; one couplet in Patanjali’s   Maha-bhashya (dated around 200 BCE) closely resembles the one in Nāradiya-śhíkhā:

mantro hīna svarato varato vā mithyā prayukto na tam artham āha sa vāgvajro yajamāna hinasti yathendraśatru svarato ‘parādhāt //

A mantra which is uttered with a defective accent or bad pronunciation does not carry the proper meaning. It is a thunderbolt of speech and kills the yajamāna (sponsor of the Yajna) just as it was done by the wrong accent of (the compound) ‘indra-śatruḥ’.

The opening phrase of the relevant verse in Patanjali appears as ‘dṛṣṭa śabda ‘in place of ‘mantro hīna in the Naradiya Shiksha

For these and other reasons, the Naradiya Shiksha is considered to be a text that is not later than 200 B.C.  Some scholars assign  this Shiksha-text a much earlier period.


Apart from discussing the system of music (Svaramandala) of his times, in terms of SvaraGramaGrama-ragas, Murchanas, Tanas, sthana (registers), Jati-srutis etc , Narada in his Shiksha gives information about the ten different methods of singing (gunavrittis) according to different Vedic recessions; and, ten desired qualities of a good singing (dasha-vidha gunavram). Narada also introduces number of interesting concepts and notions with regard to music, such as: associating each Svara with a color or with a god or with other beings.  The text attempts to derive each Svara from the sounds made by a bird or an animal. It visualizes the origination and the placement of Svaras in different parts of the human body. The text suggests, based on Sama Gana, the ways to intonate the Svaras with the help of fingers of the right-hand. The text also offers some details about the string instruments (Veena) like Daravi and Gatra, which were used in the Samagana and Gandharva -gana.

Further, apart from specifying the charecteristics of correct and melodious singing, the text also suggests the ways and the disciplines needed to improve the singer’s voice-culture.

But, its most significant contribution that has vitalized Indian Music is that of aligning the Vaidika (Sama) and the Laukika – Flute (Venu) Svaras; and, rearranging the Sama svaras of the descending order into ascending order of the Laukika svaras as we know it today.


It is said; in the beginning, the (Rig) Vedic priests used only three notes called Udatta, Anudatta and Svarita.  It is explained that Udatta meant the highest Svara, acutely accented (uchchaih); Anudatta, was the lower, gravely accented (nichaih) ; and Svarita was the summation of the two, with Udatta in the first-half. It is called a circumflex-ed accent.

The singers of the Sama Veda discovered some more notes and extended the range from three Svaras (Udatta, Anudatta and Svarita) to seven Svaras.

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

Prathamasca dvitiyosca tritiyosca chaturtacaha / Mandram krustho hyu atisvarah yetan kurvathi saamagah /1.1.12/

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).

He 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]


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 remarks that Narada  has rendered a valuable service to the music world, by discovering a connecting link between the tonal pitches of seven tones of both Vaidika and Laukika music. He has said that the pitch-value of the tone, prathama of the Vedic music is equal to that of the tone, madhyama of the Laukika music; and in this way, it can be shown that the tones, prathama, dvitiya, tritiya, chaturtlha, panchama, shastha or atisvarya and saptama or krusta are equivalent in their sound values to those of the tones, madhyama, gandhdra, rishabha, shadja, dhaivata, nishada and panchama of the Laulika music.

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


       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


But, the Sama Svaras were of Nidhana prakriti or Vakragati, arranged in a diminishing order, 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.

Since the Sama notes were in a descending order there was not much flexibility in music.

Naradiya Shiksha redefined the concepts and terms of the Sama Gana. It revised and recast the descending order of the Sama scales into the natural ascending order – Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni   – as we are familiar with it today.

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.


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’s cry was Shadja (Sa); the bulls roar was Rishabha (Ri); sheep-goat bleat 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

[ Note: Here, Narada has named the Laukika Svaras, and as compared to the Svaras of the Saman, they correspond as:  Madhyama = Prathama; Gandhdra, = Dvitiya; Rishabha= Tritiya; Shadja = Chaturtha; Dhaivata = Mandra; Nishada=Atisvarya; and, Panchama= krusta.]

Name in Sama Music Symbol Sama Veda Svara Bird/animal



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


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 //


Naradiya Shiksha (NarS.1.5.5-6) mentions several parts of the human body as origins of the seven svaras on the scale:

Shadja springs from the throat; Rsabha springs from the head; Gandhara from the nose; Madhyama svara from the chest; and. Panchama svara springs from the chest, the head and the throat; Dhaivata from the forehead. As regards Nishadha, it springs from the combination of all parts of the body.

Kanthad uttisthate Sadjah; Sirasas iv Rsabha smftah / Gandhars iv anunasikya; uraso Madhyama svarah / lalatad Dhaivatam vidyan Nishadam sarva-sandhijam


The Naradiya shiksha, following the practice of the Saman singers’  intonation of the musical Svaras they were singing, mentions the positions of the Svaras on fingers of the right hand. As for example:

Krusta (Panchama) is situated on the top of the thumb; Prathama (Madhyama) on the thumb (Angusta); Gandhara on the index finger (Tarjani) next to the thumb; Rshabha on the next to it (Madhyama) (middle finger); Shadja on the ring finger(Anamika) next to the middle one; Daivata on the little finger(kanisthika) ; and , the top of the little finger is Nishada.

Angusthasyottame krushto angushthe tu prathamah svarah/ Pradeshinyam tu gandhara-rishabhas tadanantaram // Anamikayam shadjastu kanishthikayam cha dhaivatam | Tasya adhastat cha yo nya stu nishadam tatra nirdiset //

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

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


The Naradiya shiksha, also mentions the practice of the Saman singers of touching parts of the body with the fingers on the right-hand to indicate the Svaras they were singing. 

The Saman singer will touch, respectively:  the middle part of his head, forehead (lalata) to indicate Krusta (Panchama); the middle part of the eyebrows (Bhruvormadhye) to indicate Dvitiya (Gandhdra); the ears (Karna) to indicate Tritiya, (Rishabha); the throat (Kanta) to indicate Chaturtha(Shadja); the thigh (uru) to indicate Mandra (Dhaivata); and, the heart (hridisthanam) to indicate Atisvarya, (Nishada) .

Krustasya murdhani sthanam lalate prathamasya tu/ Bhruvormadhye dvitiyasya tritiyasya cha karnayo// Kanthasthanam chaturthasya mandrasyorasituchyate / Atisvarasya nichasya hridisthanam vidhiyate //

[ Note: Here, Narada has mentioned the Vedic Svaras of the Saman, as compared to the Laukika Svaras, and, here:  Prathama =Madhyama; Dvitiya= Gandhara; Tritiya = Rishabha; Chaturtha= Shadja; Mandra= Dhaivata; Atisvarya = Nishada; and, krusta =Panchama.]

Now, the hand and finger poses (mudras) that 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.


Naradiya Shiksha (NarS. 1.1.7) mentions three voice registers (sthanas) in connection with the recitation of the Sama Gana: chest, throat and the head are the three voice-registers (urah kanthah siras chaiva sthanani trini vanmaye)

At another place (NarS. 1.7.1-2) , Narada mentions seven registers, each one being used for each of the seven notes (svara) of the Sama Gana (head, forehead, between eyebrows, ears, throat, chest and in the heart-region).

While listing the seven registers, Narada mentions the Vedic Svaras, as:  the registers of Krusta (i.e. the Panchama of the Laukika) is the head; of Prathama (Madhyama) in the forehead; of Dvitiya (Gandhara) between the eyebrows; of Triya (Rsabha) in the ears; of Chaturtha (Shadja) in the throat; of Mandra (Dhaivata) in in the chest; of the low Atisvara (Nishadha) in the heart region.

(The Laukika Svaras are given within brackets, for reference).

Krustasya murchani sthanam lalate prathamasya tu / bhrur-madhye dvitiyasya; tritiyasya tu karanayoh / kanthasthanam chatturtasya; mandrasyo urah utcyate / atisvarasya nicasya hrdi sthanam vidhiyate //


Naradiya Shiksha (NarS. 1. 5. 13-14) associates the Svaras with certain gods and with Gandharvas – Narada and Tumburu; and says: The Shadja svara (Sa) is sung by Agni; Rsabha (Ri) is uttered by Brahma; Gandhara (Ga) is sung by Soma; the Madhyama svara (Ma) is sung by Vishnu; the Panchama svara (Pa) is sung by Narada the great person (mahatmana); the Dhaivata and Nishadha are sung by Tumburu

Agni gitah svarah Shadja; Rsabho Brahmanoyate / Somena gito Gandharo, Vishnur Madhyamah svarah // Panchamo tu svaro gito Naradena mahatmana / Dhaivatas cha Nisadas cha gitau Tumburuna svarau //

According to Naradiiya Shiksha (NarS. 1.7.6-8), the gods live on the Svara Krusta (=Panchama); human beings on Prathama (=Madhyama); cattle on Dvitiya (=Gandhara); the Gandharvas and Apsaras on the next note (Triya= Rishabha); the birds (Andaja – others born from an egg) and the Pitris (ancestors) on Chaturtha (= Shadja); the Pisachas (goblins), Asuras and Rakshasas (demons) on Mandra; and, the others on Atisvara (= Nishada).

According to (NarS. 1.2.15), the Shadja delights the gods (Devanam); Rsabha the seers (Rshinam); Gandhara the Pitris (Pitrnam); Madhyama the Gandharvas (Gandharvanam); Nishadha, the Yakshas (Yakshanam); Dhaivata the other living beings(Praninam)


In the Naradiya Shiksha (NarS. 1.4.1), the Svaras are also said to be related to certain colors. It says: Shadja has a reddish colour like lotus; Rsabha has a reddish – yellow color like a parrot; Gandhara is gold colored; Madhyama is colored like jasmine; Panchama has a bluish-black color; Dhaivata is said to be yellow; and, Nishadha has all colors. These are the colors of the Svaras.

Padma-patra prabhah Shadja, Rsabhah sukapinjarah / kanakabhas tu Gandharo, Madhyamah kundasaprabhah // Panchama tu bhavet Krishna pilakam , Daivtam viduh / Nishadah sarvavarnas tu ity etah svaravarnatah // NarS 1.4.1


As regards other music-terms and their concepts:

Narada in his Shiksha talks about the system of music (Svaramandala) of his times, in terms of SvaraGramaMurchanas and Tanas. He mentions the number of Svaras as seven; Gramas as three; Murchanas as twentyone; and, the Tanas as fortynine.

Sapta-svaras; trayo grama; murcchanat ekavimshatih | Tana ekonapanchashadityetat – svaramandalam

Narada mentions the Svaras as seven –Svara saptaka. And, he defines Svara as: that which is pleasant to be heard, that which is sweet and of a pleasing character ; that which spontaneously charms the mind of the listener is called Svara.

Srutyanantarabhavi yah snigda anur anandatmakah / svato rajayati srotrcittam sa svara ucyate.


Narada mentions the three Gramas as Shadja, Madhyama and Gandharva; and, each Grama as having seven Murchanas (a total of 21 Murchanas – (NarS.; and, states their origin as: The Earth for Shadja grama; the intermediate space (atmosphere) for Madhyama grama; and, heaven for Gandhara grama. It also mentions that Gandhara grama is only in heaven (svarga); and, is not found anywhere else. (It does not elaborate on the Gandhara grama)

Shadja- Madhyama-Gandharas trayo gramah parkirtitah / bholokad jayate Shadjo; bhuvar lokac cha Madhyamah// svargan nanyatra Gandharo //

Nardiya shiksha (NarSM. 1.1.49) explains the Grama by comparing it to Murchana (Gramah svara-samuhah syan Murchana tu svarasraya).

According to the renowned  shcolar  Shri M S Ramaswami Aiyar (The Question of Gramas – JRAS, 1936, p.632 ) : Grama is described as a group of scales consisting all the Shuddha and Vikrta svaras, collected together; and, preserved for the purpose of selecting, from that group scale, any desired set of seven svaras with a Graha, the starting point – which set , when sung in the natural order of ascent and descent was called as Murchanas ; and, which when a harmonic individuality was established with the help of Amsa , Nyasa, Vadi and Samvadi etc took the name of Jati.

And another version says: A Grama is a collection of svaras; a Murchana is closely connected with or based upon the svaras (Gramah svara-samuhah syan Murchana adi samashrayah)

Kallinatha (15th century), commenting upon this line, explains: ‘the word – adi (meaning etc)’ is meant to indicate the regular order (krama) of svaras, series of svaras (Taana), ornamentation (Varna), grace (Alamkara) and mode (Jati) ‘- atra adi shabdena karma Taana – Varna -Alamkara- Jati adyayo grahyante.


Murchana was described as the elaboration of the closely connected series of Svaras (kramayutah) in their  proper  (krama) ascending and descending forms. Each type of Murchana was said to possess its own special aesthetic merit.  It was said; the set of Murchanas related to Gandharva Grama were meant to please Devas; and, the other two to please Pitris and Rishis. Though Narada mentioned the Gandharva grama, yet it had become obsolete during his time; and, Bharata too did not mention about it in the Natyashastra.

Matanga  also explains Murchana as:  the ascent and descent of the seven svaras in a regular order is called Murchana (Kramadi svaranam saptanam arohas cha avarohanam / murcchanady ucyate). That is to say; Murchana is something more than the scale; because, it enhances the quality of the Jati (melody-types of the recognised kind).

Nardiya shiksha (NarS. 1.2.4-9) mentions 21 Murchanas which can be divided into three Gramas.

The seven Murchanas of Gandhara grama are said to belong to the gods (Devanam) : Nandi, Visala, Sumukhi, Chitra, Chitravati, Sukha, and Balaya;

the other seven Murchanas  of the Madhyama grama are said to belong to the ancestors (Pitrnam) : Apayini, Visvabhrta, Chandra, Hema , Kapardini, Maitri , and Barhati (Chandramasi) ;

and , the next seven Murcahnas  called Laukika or common are said to belong to Seers (Rishi) : Uttaramandra, Abhirudgata, Asvakranta, Uttarayata, Rajani, Sauvira and Hrsyaka .

[ The aja Grāma gaves rise to seven Mūrchanās such as Uttara-maudrā, Rajanī, Uttarāyatā, Śuddhaajā, Matsarīktā, Aśvakrāntā and Abhirudgatā

The Madhyama Grāma gave rise to seven Mūrchanās: Sauvīrī, Hariāśvā, Kalopanatā, Śuddhamadhyā, Mārgavī, Pauravī and Hṛṣyakā.

The Gāndhāra Grāma also gave rise to seven Mūrchanās. But, since this Grāma had become obsolete at the time of the Natya Śhastra, their name were not mentioned.]

According to Nardiya shiksha (NarS. 1.2.13) the Gandharvas practice the seven Murchanas of the gods (Devanam) – Upajivanti Gandharva Devanam sapta Murchanath.

The Yakshas practice the seven Murchans of the ancestors (Pitrnam) – Pitrnam Murchanadh sapta tatha Yaksha na samsayah.

And, the seven Murchanas of the Seers (Rishi) are in common practice – Risinam Murchanah sapta yas tv ima laukikah smrtah.

Narada arranges the the third set of Murchanas – that is of the Rishis in ascending order: Uttaramandra stands on Shadja; Abhirugata on Rsabha; Asvakranta on Gandhara; Suvira on the Madhyama; Hrsyaka on Panchama; Uttarayata on Dhaivata; and, from Nishada one knows Rajani.

[ Bharata’s enumeration of the third set of Murchans varies slightly from that of Narada; and is also arranged in a descending order.

Though Narada talked about twenty-one Murchanas, Bharata mentions fourteen (dvai gramikshcha- turdasha).  And, by different arrangements of seven Svaras (sa ni dha pa ma ga ri), a total of 84 (7 X 12=84) variations of Murcchanas might have evolved.

Matanga in his Brihaddeshi, said, Murchana was of two kinds: one, having 7 Svaras; and the other, having 12 Svaras (Sa murcchana dvivida; sapta-svara-murcchana, dvadasha-svara-murcchana chcti).

[  However, the Murhcana of 12 svaras  had gone out of practice even before the time of Sarangadeva.]

And, the Murchana with 7 Savras was further divided into four parts: purna, shadava, auduvita, and sadhdrana. The purna or heptatonic contained seven svaras; shadava, the hexatonic, six svaras; auduvita, petnatonic, panchama, five svaras; and, the sadhdranahad two displaced (vikrita) svaras – antara-gandhara and kakali-nishada.

The Murcchana with 12 tones manifested in three registers (sthana), low, medium and high (mandramadhya and tara).]


Narada has mentioned six Grama-ragas like Shadava, Panchama, Madhyama-grama, Shadja-grama, Kaishika and Kaishika-madhyama, which remained in use till about the 7th century A.D.


In the ancient music theory, the function of a Varna is to manifest a song; and, therefore, it is known as the Ganakriya. The Varna is said to be of four kinds: arohi, avarohi, sthayi and sanchari. Different alamkaras evolved from those four Varnas. Now, from the arohi-Varna evolved 12 alamkaras (varnalamkara) such as, vistirna, nishkarsha (together with its gatravarna), bindu, etc. From the avarohi and sthayi varnas similar alamkaras evolved; and, from the sancharivarnas evolved 25 alamkaras.


The relation between the Srutis and the intervals (svara) is a very important aspect of the theory of the ancient Indian music.

The Nardiya shiksha also describes five Jati-srutis (parent srutieslike dipta (excited, bright, radiant); ayata (extended, broad, wide); mridu (soft, tender, mild, gentle); Madhya (central, proper tolerable, middling); and, karuna (sympathetic, compassionate, tenderness, merciful).

Narada remarks: One who does not know the distinctions of the Sruti such as Dipta, Ayata, Karuna, Mrudu, and Madhyama, is no teacher at all.

Dipta, ayata, karunanam mrudu, madhyamayos tatha srutinam yo visesajno na sa acharya ucyate (NarS. 1.7.9)

Bharata, later arranged twenty-two Srutis on the basis of five parent shrutis as indicated by Narada: tivra; kumudavati; manda; chandovati; and, dayavati, which were termed as Jatis or Adhara or parent Srutis.

And much later, Sarangadeva (1.3.27) lists the names of these twenty-two varieties (vidha) of the five parent Srutis:

Tivra; Kumudvati; Manda; Chandovati; Dayavati; Ranjati; Ratika; Raudri; Kroda; Vajrika; Prasarini; Priti; Marjani; Ksiti; Ratika; Samdipani; Alapini; Madntika; Rohini; Ramya; Ugra; and Kshobini.

[ In the Naradiya Shiksha, the Sruti is taken as a subtle sound. It explains , just  as fire remains in the wood, ghee remains in the curd, Sruties remain in the Svaras.

However, there are discussions on the authenticity of the twentytwo Surtis; Some say that Sruti is but a theoretical concept. And, Srutis could be any number; not merely twenty-two. It is only talked about in the older texts. But, among the practicing muscians of the present day, ‘Sruti; just denotes ‘pitch’; and ‘off Sruti’ means that one is ‘out of tune’. The term Adhara Sruti refers to the pitch which a performer has chosen as the most apt and convenient for his voice, instrument or the song he is just about to render.  Quite often, even the raga-s have their notes established on sruit-s, rather than the usual notes

But, Dr.  Vinod Vidwan , in his scholarly research paper , on the basis of the research and experiments he conducted , asserts that the five types of shrutis mentioned in Naradiya Shiksha and their applications; as also, Bharata’s `Shruti Nidarshanam’ experiment is a conclusive proof of the equal temperament twenty two shrutis .]


In the Nardiya shiksha ( II. 8), Narada said that 20 Tanas, series of notes which formed the basis for various musical forms., are evolved from the Madhyama Grama; 14 from the Shadja Grama; and, 15 from the Gandhdra Grama; that is a total of 49 Tanas.

Though Narada  mentions Gandhara Grama , it had gone out of use by the time of Bharata. However , Pundarika Vittala , in his Ragamanjari ,  makes a mention of  two types of Gandhara Grama – one according to Yastika ; and , the other as mentioned by Sarangadeva. For more please check here.

[ But, during Bharata’s time, 84 Taanas were evolved (chaturashiti NS. 28.33). Bharata states that Taanas depend on the Murchanas. In Murchana all the seven svaras should be in krama – aroha/avaroha. In Taana, the svaras can be in any order. The Taanas which depend on the Murcchanas are eightyfour in number. (Tatra Murcchanad samsritas Taanas chaturasitih / tatra ekona pancha sat svarah, pancha trimsat panchasvarah – NS 28.36)

According to Bharata, these 84 Taanas comprised 49 Taanas with six svaras; and 35 Tanas with five svaras. And, it was said; besides these, there exist Tanas with 7 itones (sampurna-tana). Bharata also talked about the Taanas, as applicable to musical instruments (veena, etc.), and they were divided into pravesha (low or soft) and nigraha (touch).

And, Dattila said that besides the simple Taanas, there evolved gradually thousands of intricate or kitta tanas in the later period, from different methods of plucking the strings of ‘the musical   instruments like veena, etc (krama-niutsrijya tantrikam). ]

[ According to some 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). ]

 Please also check  the article on Gandharva for more on Taana]


There is also a brief description of the string instruments (Veena) like Mahati, Daravi and Gatra, which were used in the Samagana and Gandharva -gana.

 Daravi gatra-veena cha dve veene gana-jatisu | Samiki gatra-veena tu tasyah shrinuta lakshanam [ | Gatra-veena tu sa prokta yasyam gayanti samagah|

It is said that the Gatra-veena possessed a gourd and a wooden stem, having five or six or seven gut strings for tones. It used to be played by holding it in a recumbent position, with the help of the fingers; and, was used to be placed on the thighs of the player. Narada gives a description of the method of playing the Veena.

Narada (NarS.1.6.5) while explaining the Gatra Veena, which accompanies the singing of the Saman, says: Gatra Veena is furnished with notes and ornamentation (svara vyapti janasmyukta) ; and, by playing with  with all the fingers stretched, one should be able to produce the range of notes – prasarya cha angulih sarva ropayet svaramandalam.


Narada has mentioned about the ten different methods of singing (gunavrittis) according to different Vedic recensions. He also enumerates ten factors that enhance the quality of rendering of the songs (Gitis ) – (dasha-vidha gunavram); and, emblish the compositions (sahitya) as well as the melodies of the songs – both Vaidika and Laukika  –  like raktam, purnam, alamkritam, prasannam, vyaktam, vikrusfiam, shlaknam, samam, sukumaram and madhuram, 

Ganasya tu dasavidha guna vrtti sadaya-

Raktham, purnam, alamkritam, prasannam, vyktam, vikrustam, shlaknam, saman, skumaram, madhuram iti gunah //1.3.1//

These are the ten good qualities with regard to the performance of a song (gita-guna), namely: harmonious (surakta), complete (purna), ornate (alamkrit),   clear (Prasanna), distinct (vyakta), evocative (vikrusta ) , smooth (slaksna) ,  even (sama), lovely  and delicate ( sukumara),  and charming (madhura) .

Narada also offers explantions for each of the said ten qualities of good rendering of a song.

Raktham:  This is called Rakta (harmonious) because of the harmony of notes (svaras)   of both flute (Venu) and lute (Veena)  with the singer  –  tatra raktam nama venu veena svaranam ekhibhave raktam ity ucyate

Purnam: Purnam stands for completeness. That is called Purna; because, it contains in itself all the notes (Svaras), Srutis and combines with the Chhandas (meters) , lines  of the verse (Pada)  and syllables ( akshara); and , all these are clearly and completely pronounced  – Purnam nama svar sruti purna chandah pada aksharam yogyat purnam ity ucyate.

Alamkrit:   It is Alamkarta, when the song is ornate (alamkrtam) with the beauty of the three voice-registers (sthana) emanating from singes’s chest, head and the throat; appropriately producing the high, low and mid notes as required – alankrtam namorasi sirsi kanthayuktam ity alamkrtam

Prasanna: Prasannam is that which is uttered without stammering and understood with clarity (prakatartham) –  Prasannam nama vagat agadagada nirvitiankam prasannam ity ucyate

Vyakta:  it is Vyakta (distinct) , when the text (patya) with its syllables, grammer, tense, gender, vibhakti etc are clearly pronounced; and, the listener understands it properly – Vyaktam jneyam ativyaktaih prakripratyayaksaaih

Vikrusta:  It is evocative. The lyrics sung in fast, medium and slow speeds , should be pronounced loudly and clearly – vikrustam ucchairuccarad drute Madhya vilambite

Slaksnam:  The term Salkhana means a collection of high and low plutas (elongated syllables of three matras or time-units) in a quick and not in slow speed with hela ( a sort of dramatic grace)and upanayana ( introduction) etc which are effective. This is called Slaksanasalaksana nama drutam avilambitam uccanicapluta samaharam helalaupanayanddibhir upapadanabhih slakshanam ity uchyate

Sama: The term Sama means even, where there is no disparity or conflict (a -vaisamya). Saman also means combination of the positions of the hand indicating the rhythym, avapa nirvapa pradesa and pratyantara – This is called Sama – Saman nama vaapanirva pradesha pratyantara sthananam ity saman uchyate

Sukumara: It is called Sukumaram, when the music is delicate (sukumara);  is full of lovliness (Lavanya guna purnam); and, when the voice (gatra), flute (Venu) and the Veena  are in harmony  –   sukumaram syad venu veena gatra dhvaniyaika yuktam

Madhura:  The term madhuram means that which is abundantly endowed with natural, graceful and pleasing (manoharam) words, syllables and merit (guna) – Madhuram nama svabhavopanita Lalita pada akshara guna samruddham madhuram ity ucyate


Bharata follows the explantions offered by Narada; and, in his Natyashastra 32.492 , mentions the desired qualities of a song-rendering. In his list, Bharata included Six of the qualities mentioned by Narada (NarS .1.3.1 )- ( viz. purna, rakta, sama, slaksna, alamkrita and madhura).

According to Bharata:

That which fully includes the svaras, varnas; and, is emblished by instruments, relates to three voice -registers (sthana), three Yatis (speeds) , three matras ( time-units) , gives joy , is harmonious (sama) and delicate (sukumara)  , contains alamkaras , is performed with ease , and has sweetness is called Gana (song) .

Purna svaram, vadya vichitra, varna tri sthanagami trilayam trimargagam / raktam sama slaksnam alamkrtam ca mukham prasastam madhuram ca ganam


And again , in Chapter 14 ; verses 75-81 of Saṅgītaśiromaṇi , a text compiled in 1468 by a group of scholars , as  edited  and translated by Emmie Te Nijenhuis , the qualtyies of excellent singing are summarized , based on the earlier texts .

When a song is complete in respect of its words (pada), notes (svaras), section (anga) , variations (prayoga) , melody (raga), and poetical meter (Chhandas) , it  is called Purna ( complete)

When its meaning (artha) is clear (prasanna), the song is meaningful. When it fascinates the listener, it is charming (madhura).

When it is full of qualities of lovliness; and , when it is delicate (sukumara); when it is colourful in three voice-reisters (sthana), it should be regarded as ornate (alamkrita).

It is distinct (vyakta), when its syllables clearly show its basic pattern.

Harmonious (surakta) indicates that the flute (venu), the lute (veena) and the singers voice (gatra) are perfectly in tune with each other. Surakta implies that in accompaniment there are no disharmonies (vaisamyaa varjitam) with the sounds produced by the singer.

Evocative (Vikrusta) means that the song is loud in the fast, medium and slow tempos.

Smooth (slaksna) means that the melodic lines (varna) can be clearly heard in the lower as well as in the higher parts. Even (sama) means that there is no conflict (avisamya) in the melodic lines (varna), the registers (sthana) and in the speeds (laya).

These are the qualities of the good rendering of a song (iti gita-gunah).

Tatra purnam padah svarah angaih prayogaih sampurnam ragena chandsapi cha / prasannam prakatartham syan / madhram syan manoharam  //

Lavanya guna purnam cha sukumaram / nu ranjakam tri-sthana sambhavam yat syat tad vijneyam alamkritam//

Vyaktam jneyam ativyaktaih prakripratyayaksaaih/ sukumaram syad venu veena gatra dhvaniyaika yukta //

Suraktam yatra gatrottha dhvani vaisamyaa varjitam / vikrustam ucchairuccarad drute Madhya vilambite //

Nicoccayos cha varnanam sravyatve slaksnam ucyate / varna sthana laya adi naam avaisamye samam matam iti gita-gunah //


Narada suggests;   an ardent student of music must lead a disciplined and well-regulated life; meditate at proper times. He should learn to pronounce the Mantras clearly and crisply. He recommends consumption of Tri-phala-churna (a powder) mixed with salt for digestion, memory and lucid pronunciation. He also recommends breathing in of its smoke and also have honey (Madhu). He says, for securing a clear and sweet voice and attractive teeth, one should use the slick of a mango or wood-apple. Either for learning Vedas or Music, it is essential to have clear voice, self-control, attention, sound approach.  A student of Music should learn to recognize the divinity in the Svaras.

[Ref: Dr. Lalmani Mishra ; A  History of Indian Music  by Swami Prajnanananda ; and,   Vaidika sahithya Charithre by Dr, NS Anantharanga Char; Dattilam: A Compendium of Ancient Indian Music edited and translated by Emmie te Nijenhuis ;;]


2. Dattilam

Dattilam, believed to be the work of Dattila or Dantila or Dattilacharya, is one of the earliest works after Natyashastra. (It is otherwise an untitled treatise said to be by Dattila) .And, as it usually happens in the Indian texts, not much is known about the author of Dattilam or his period. It is surmised that Dattila was contemporary or a follower of Bharatha since Dattilam is closely connected with Natyashastra. The ancient authorities referred to in the Dattilam are Khohala, Narada and Visakhila. Dattila is counted as one among the five-Pancha Bharathas: Nandikesvara, Kohla, Dattila, Bharat and Matanga. And, the later authors of the medieval times, in turn, quote Dattilam. It is therefore surmised the Dattilam might belong to the first or second century of Common Era.

Dattilam is a fairly short text of about 244 Karikas or stanzas, spread over 12 Chapters. Judging from the brevity of its structure and its style, the scholars opine that the edition of the text that has come down to us might be an abridgement of a more extended work. The author, in fact, remarks that he will desist from discussing Veena-playing (Veena-vadana) for fear of making the treatise too lengthy. Similarly, Dattilam does not deal with dramaturgy (Nrtta, Natya), perhaps because that was dealt in the original extended work.

Dattilam takes a significant position in the history of Indian Music. It is the bridge between the Sama Gana the ritual music of Yajna , and the pious Gandharva songs, which later transformed into the Desi Sangita that has come down to us through series of transformations.

The Gandharva totally remodeled the Music structure. In the Gandharva, the original descending Sama Veda scales were recast into new ascending and descending seven Svara (note) structures. These seven notes of the Gandharva (Svara-saptaka) are in use even today.

And , therefore, as Emmie te Nijenhuis remarks : The Dattilam is a very suitable starting point for study of the Ancient Indian Music , as it is a concise compendium of almost all the Musical terms.

A major part of 244 verses of Dattilam is about Gandharva. Dattilam calls Gandharva as Avadhana, conscious (samyag baddha) melodic employment of Svara, Taala and Pada. In Verse three of the Dattilam , Gandharva is explained as a collection of notes (Svara) which is based in words (Pada- thatha–Svara sanghtah ) ; which is  measured by  time-units (Taala) ; and, which is  performed with diligence (prayukthas savadhenena) is known by the name of Gandharva , (Gandharvam abhijayate  )

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

In verses 5 and 6 of Dattilam , the author mentions that he would cover topics such as : Sruti (micro-intervals ), Svara (notes), Grama (two-note system) , Murchana (scales) consisting series of notes (Taana) , Sthana (registers) , Vritti (styles) ,  pure instrumental music (Shushka) , singing along with playing (Giti), Sadharana (two ways of overlapping of notes), Varna (movement of Svaras) and Alamkara (ornamentation ) etc.

Dattilam also explains those music-terms of its period. For instance;  Dattilam (9) explains Sruti as the difference in sounds (dvani visesha) produced by striking on the strings on the upper end of the Veena (Uttarottara-taras tu veenayam) and that produced by striking on the  lower end (adharottarah) of the Veena . And, Abhinavagupta explains the term Sruti as the sound (sabda) produced (prabhavita) when struck at appropriate position (śruti-sthāna-abhighāta) on the Veena.

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

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

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

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

Dattilam (22-24) explains that the Murchanas of Shadja Grama are, generally, seven (Uttaramandra; Rajani; Uttara-ayata; Shuddha-Shadja; Matsarikruta; Ashvakranta; and, Abhirudgata). The Murchanas of the Madhyama Grama were also seven (Sauviri; Harinasva; Kalopanata; Shuddha-madhyama; Margi; Pauravi; and, Hrsyaka). The Murchanas of the two Gramas add up to fourteen.

Natyashastra mentions eighteen Jaati-s  (melodic structure). Of these, seven are called Shuddha Jaati-s. These are the Jaati-s which have the Svaras (notes) after which they are named, such as: Graha, Amsa and Nyasa. To this, Dattila adds Apa-nyasa. The Nyasa of Shuddha Jaati is Mandra. And, the remaining ones, originating from a mixture of these (suddha jatis) are modified (vikrita).

The Shuddha–Jaati had all the seven Svaras. When any one or more of these was  dropped, excepting the Nyasa (final note), the Shuddha Jaati would become Vikrta (modified). By the combination of the two or more Jaatis the eleven  Samsargaja–Vikrta would be formed.

Dattilam (55) lists the ten characteristic of Jaati as:   Initial note (graham), dominant (amsa), high (tara) and low (mandra) registers, hexatonic (sadava) and pentatonic (auduva) in due order, rareness (alpatva), prevalence (bahutva), final note (nyasa) and secondary final note (apanyasa).

Graha amsau tara mandarau ca shadava audava kramath / alpatvamcha bahutvamcha nyaso apanyasa eva ca // 

Then Dattilam goes on to explain:

This is the tenfold characterization of jati according to class (i.e. according to each jati). The accurate description of these ten (characteristics) will be set forth briefly.

There is the initial note (Graha), which is the starting note (adisvara) of a song. The high register (Tara) is considered to consist of five notes, rising (upwards) from the dominant.

it is recommended that in nandayanti jati the limit is not further then the dominant, with the final note as its limit, or even beyond (i.e. lower than) this one, that is the low register (mandra).

hexatonic (sadava) and pentatonic (auduva), respectively, are songs which are based on six or five notes. Rareness (alpatva) and prevalence (bahutva) depend on the rare or frequent use of certain notes.

Nyasa if the final note of a song. In the same way, the note which occirs in the middle, that is to say, in a section (vidari), as a final note, is the secondary final note (apanyasa). I will mention them according to the jatis

Verses 62-95 are about descriptions of 18 jatis.

Similarly, Natyashastra had earlier listed thirty-three types of Alamkaras. But, Dattila 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 was: 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.

Even the vocal styles were defined based on the relation between singing and playing the song on Veena. When one plays on the Veena ( following the vocal style) but without singing it is then known as Shuska or A-gita . And, when one plays on the Veena and sings the song as he plays m it is known as Giti.  Abhinavagupta in his commentary explains it further, saying: every type of Giti can be played on Veena. And, there are three types of Giti:   Tatva, Anugata and Ogha. When the Gana (singing)  is prominent and the Veena follows Gana completely , it is Tatva; when the Veena follows Gana in some part and then shows its own craftsmanship , it becomes Anugata; and , when the playing techniques becomes A-nibaddha and the Karanas become more prominent  and the Gana becomes secondary then the Giti becomes Ogha . Thus in the rendering of the Giti, Veena performs an important role.

Similarly, Murchana and Taana variations to provide pleasure to the listener as also to the performer were explained with reference to Veena. Dattilam (36) mentions about the techniques of improving Taana-s on the Veena (Taana-kriya). Dattila says: The Taana-kriya is twofold (Taana-kriya dvidha tantryam): Pravesika and Nigraha. Pravesika (entering) is raising the lower note or lowering the higher note. And, Nigraha (abstaining) is not touching the string (asamsparka tu nigrahat)

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

Thus, along with Natyashastra, Dattilam is a fundamental Lakshana-grantha, a text that defined and explained the theory and practice of Indian Music. It put in a clear language the concepts and terms governing the Music of its time. Though some of its terms such as Jaati, Murchana, Grama etc are no longer in use, their essential principles have percolated to the present-day through a series of transformations.

[Ref: Dattilam: A Compendium of Ancient Indian Music by Emmie te Nijenhuis ; and , Natalie Savelyeva ; ]



 3. Brihaddeshi

Brihaddeshi is another landmark text that spans the period from Natyashastra/Dattilam to Sangita-ratnakara. It carries forward the tradition of Natyashastra and Dattilam; and, at the same time , it establishes the Desi Sangita on a firm pedestal. Brihaddeshi bridges the Marga and the Desi class of Music; and, it also provides the basis for the emergence of the Mela system of classifying the Ragas.   One could say; Brihaddeshi 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.

Brihaddeshi 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.

The text is attributed to 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 Matanga perhaps lived during sixth or the seventh century.

The edition of Brihaddeshi, 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 Brihaddeshi the references pertaining to instruments, taala and dance.

In the available chapters, the first portion starts with the definition of Desi.  The term Desi, here, refers to all art forms that are related to songs; and, in particular,  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.  The title Brhaddeshi (Brihat + Desi) , thus , stands for a masterly compilation of the music traditions of the various regions (Desha).

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.

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 i.e,  antara-gandhara and kakali-nishada.

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

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 its name suggests, it is a huge work ;and, is also highly informative.

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. He says that the Aroha (ascending) and the Avaroha (descending) pattern of Svaras form the Murcchana of a Raga.  The Murcchana, in effect, describes the string of notes which, 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.

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 as : Raganga, Bhashanga, Kriyanga and Upanga.

Indeed, it is in this chapter of the Brhaddeshi we first come across the definition of Raga as given by Matanga. And , it  is his  definition that has guided  all the later literature (lakshana grantha) on Classical Music. In the history of the Ragas, Brhaddeshi  is, therefore, a landmark text.

The term Raga seemed to have been in use even prior to 7th century. But, it was not used in Music or in Music-theories in the way we know it and  in the way use it now.  It is, therefore, difficult to say that the concept of Raga as it is  understood today, had fully evolved and was recognized as such in the period prior to Matanga  ; say, at the time of Natyashastra ( second century BCE)

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.  But, it was a rather an amorphous concept; its structure had not been determined; and, was waiting to be defined in a clear language. This , precisely, is what Matanga did.


Matanga says :

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 the theory (lakshana) and also the  practice (lakshya)– (279).

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

Then he goes on to explain: It is that particular quality or distinction of melodic-sound (dhwani-bhedaya) which is created by the combination or the arrangement of Svaras and Varnas (Svara-varna visheshena); and, that which delights (Ranjyate) is recognized by the wise as Raga.

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

Or (Athava), it is that particular sound which is adorned by Svara and Varna; and , that which delights the minds of the people is called Raga by the wise.

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

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

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 through illustrations; saying 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 Ranjana-jjayate  ragau utpatthih samudahrutah II 283 Ashva-karnadi vidha rude yaugikau vaapi vachakah Yogarudosthva raage jneyam pankaja-shabdavat II 284

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 (visheshacha 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 Chatur vidha tu samanya vishesha cha Amshakadhikam II 282

As regards the four broad categories (Chatur vidha tu samanya) that Matanga mentioned, he, perhaps, was referring to Desi ragas that are classified into four categories as : 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. ]

During the time of Matanga, the Amsa was said to be the prominent or predominant Svara through which the Raga manifested (raga-janakatvad vyapakatvaccha Amsasya pradhanyam).  And, the term Amsa and Vadi were used alternatively. Kallinatha in his commentary has said that both Amsa and Vadi  were 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 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.

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

According to Matanga, Svara is the sound which has a certain musical quality that creates melody. When the interval between the notes (Sruti) is raised or lowered, the musical quality gets altered

And, Varna refers to special note sequences, which 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.

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.

Matanga, in his Brhaddeshi, speaks about  Gamakas. 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).


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

The proliferation of Ragas led, in the South, to systematic ways of classifying or grouping them based on the technical traits of their scales (Svaras). Classification of Ragas plays a major role in Indian Music theories. Matanga’s work became the source-text for the musicologists of the later periods for developing Mela-karta (parent scale) system of classifying Music;

 [Ref: Rāga-s in Bhaddēśī: English translation of the verses and the prose passages describing the Rāga-s, in the Bhaddēśī of Mataga by Dr. Hema Ramanathan; Brhaddasehi of Matanga by Dr. N. Ramanathan; A Brief Overview of the Evolution of Indian Music ]


Continued in

Part Fifteen


Posted by on May 30, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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