Tag Archives: Lakshya

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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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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