Tag Archives: Music of India

Music of India – a brief outline – Part Ten

Continued from Part Nine – Musical Instruments in Natyashastra

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

Anibaddha and Nibaddha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 img-thing (1)

Manodharma Samgita

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Prabandha, Vastu and Rupaka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Types of Prabandhas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


There are also countless other forms

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

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


Continued in Part 11


Sources and References

Indian Music: History and Structure by Emmie Te Nijenhuis

A History of Indian music by Swami Prajnanananda

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

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

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

Music and Musical Thought in Early India by Lewis Eugene Rowe

Kalātattvakośa: by Ramesh Chandra Sharma

Sangiti Sabda Kosa by Bimal Roy

Suladis and Ugabhogas  by  Mahamahopadyaya Dr. R .Sathyanarayana

Prathamopalabda Swarasahita Samkeerthana Sila Lekhanamu by I.V Subba Rao

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


Posted by on May 10, 2015 in Music, Sangita


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Music of India – a brief outline – Part Eight

lowContinued from Part Seven – Music in Natyashastra

Part Eight (of 22) – Dhruva Gana in Natya


Dhruva Gana

1.1. Drama in the ancient context was said to be a blend of four components: speech; gesture; song (or music); and emotion. Each of these was believed to correspond with a Veda: the spoken word or speech the vehicle of elemental power with Rig-Veda; acting, gestures and expressions with ritual action of Yajur Veda; songs rooted in tradition with the musical style of rendering the Sama Veda verses; and emotional elements communicated to spectators through the combination of all such means with Atharva Veda.

1.2. A play was described as a Poem (Kavya) that is to be seen and heard (Drshya-Kavya). Song and Music, therefore, did play a vital role in the enactment of a play. The songs in the play were of Dhruva Gana class.

2.1. Dhruva Gana initially meant versified stage-songs that are essential to a play. They were the type of songs that were sung by the actors on the stage as also by the singers in the wings, to the accompaniment of musical instruments, during the course of the play. These songs formed an essential ingredient of the play. And, Natyashastra says:  without songs the Drama is incapable of providing joy (NS. 32. 482).  It says : Just as a well-built dwelling house (citraṃ niveśanaṃ) does not become beautiful and provide a pleasant ambiance without any colour; so also  a Drama without any songs  does not provide much joy.

Therefore, much importance is assigned to Dhruva Gana.  Natyashastra devotes one entire and a lengthy chapter (Chapter 32) for discussing the Dhruva songs.

2.2. Abhinavagupta explains that the type of these songs were called Dhruva ( = standpoint; locus of reference)  because in it,  the Vakya (sentence), Varna (syllables) , Alamkara (grace notes), Yatis (succession of rhythm patterns) , Panyah (use or non-use of drums) and Laya (beats) were  harmoniously fixed ( Dhruva) in relation to each other – (anyonya sambandha) .

Vakya –Varna–Alamkara  yatyaha -panayo-layah I   Dhruvam-anyonya sambandha yasmath smada Dhruva smrutah II

He further says, the composition (pada samuha) structured as per a rule (niyatah) and that which supports (adhara) singing could be called Dhruva (Dhruvah- Gitya-adhara niyatah pada –samuha).

At another place, Abhinavagupta explains Dhruva as the basis or the support (adhara) on which the song rests. Abhinavagupta saya: just as the painting is supported by wall, the Dhruva song is supported by Pada (word). And, Pada in turn is supported by, the Chhandas (meter) – (Abhinavagupta: NS.32.8).

Thus in the Dhruva Gana the words of the song are regulated by Chhandas. And , the words are then set to appropriate tunes and Taala-s.

Abhinavagupta explains that the Dhruva songs help to enhance the artistic sense of the important themes that occur in various situations in a play.

Earlier,  Natyashastra (NS: 32.32) had also explained  Dhruva Gana as well composed songs that are steadfast (Dhruva) in  the principles of Pada (words), Varna (syllables) and Chhandas (meter) .

When to sing and what to sing


3.1. During the play, the Dhruva–Gana songs were sung at various situations in the drama including entry or exit of a character; or for heightening the emotions; or for dance movements or steps. The type and mood of Dhruva songs varied depending upon the demands of the dramatic situation.  That would also take into  consideration  the theme, the context in  performance, the age and the nature of the character as also the moods , the seasons , the place , time (day or night) and conditions (bright sun , moonlight , cloudy or raining) and so on.

3.2. Natyashastra says that events and emotions that either cannot be expressed or remain to be expressed in speech should be presented through songs. That is because; the songs have the tender power, flexibility and ripeness to bring out the inner content (aantharya) of the situation succulently. And, in songs the words seem to acquire greater depth of meaning.

For instance; the Avakrsta songs having long drawn out syllables were used in pathos and when the character was in misery or nearing death. Dhruva-s of Sthitha in slow tempo were sung in the case of separation, longing for the beloved, anxiety, exhaustion or dejection. Prasdiki Dhruva-s in medium tempo is for love scenes, recalling a pleasent memory, sweet speech and wonder. And, the Druta type of Dhruva-s having short or rapid notes were employed in situations where there was furious heroism, , wonder, excitement , excessive joy or anger .

3.3. At the same time, the Natyashastra also tried to maintain a sense of balance between speech and song. It therefore said: The first round of Dhruva should be without drums, because it is important for the spectators to get to know the theme of the song. And, too much music should not be used in Dhruva because the substance of the song is important to outline the context of the scene. The words (Pada) of the Dhruva are important and should be heard clearly.

And, when a character enters crying in excitement, in wonder or announcing a statement, then Dhruva songs were not to be used.

Particularly when female actors sing the music should not be so loud as to   hamper the intricacies of singing. Generally women have sweet and soft voice and they could be allowed more number of songs with mellow instrumentation. The men who have vigorous voice could use louder and intricate instrumental music.

Five types of Dhruva


4.1. Five types of Dhruva are mentioned in the context of Natya according to the situation and the desired mood to be evoked: Pravesiki Dhruva; Naiskramiki Dhruva; Aksepiki Dhruva; ; Prasadiki Dhruva; and Antara Dhruva.

Some of the Dhruva songs were sung by the musicians behind the curtain. And when it was removed the character would enter and join the singing and gesturing the mood etc indicated by the song. All those songs were played to the accompaniment of the instruments.

4.2. Pravesiki Dhruva: – these were songs heralding the entrance of a main character on to the stage for the first time. The singing of the Dhruva was generally from behind the screen (Nepathye); and when the screen was removed the character entered on to the stage. And, the actor too would join the singing. This appears to be the forerunner of the Paatra-pravesha Daru of Bhagavata Mela, Yakshagana and Kuravanji Nataka. Rajashekara (Balabharata 1-14) says, the Dhruva that announces and introduces a character, delights the hearts of the spectators helps to forge a relation between the two.

4.3. Naiskramiki Dhruva: – songs rendered during the exit of a character either at end or the middle of an act.

4.4. Aksepiki Dhruva: – songs rendered, between the acts, after a tense scene or to indicate change of mood. The change, sometimes, occurs in the character after listening to Nepathya-vakya – the speech behind the curtain. Along with the change in the mood, a change in tempo also takes place – from slow to quick or the other way. Abhinavagupta illustrates the use of Aksepiki sung in fast tempo (Druta) to indicate the change of mood of Sri Rama from that of sadness (Shoka) to that of heroics (Vira) after listening to Ravana.

4.5. Prasadiki Dhruva: – Prasadiki is described as that which gives rise to colourful delight (ranga-raga) and happiness (Prasada). This type of songs sung in Madhyama Kaala  are used to express Srinagar Rasa, as in love-scenes, the first meeting of the lovers, recalling a pleasent memory sweet speech, joy and wonder. It is also meant to clam the spectators after a stressful scene as in Aksepiki.

4.6. Antara Dhruva – is a sort of ‘filler’ that could be used to rescue the performance. It could cover up a gap due to delay or due to a mishap during the play. It could also be sung to offer relief after a disturbing scene such as violence, anger, intense grief swooning, poisoning etc. All such songs were played to the accompaniment of the instruments

Antara was always being sung from behind the curtain, while the other four types being sung on the stage and some of that the leading characters.

It is said; Antara Dhruva songs were sung even to divert audience’s attention. For instance; in the middle of one of his plays, Bharatha introduces a song and dance sequence that apparently had no relevance to the narration of the story. The learned among the audiences are promptly confused. They inquire Bharatha “We can understand about acting which conveys definite meaning. But, this dance and this music you have brought in seem to have no meaning. What use are they?” –  na gītakā-artha-sambandhaṃ na cāpy-arthasya bhāvakam ॥ 4.262

Bharatha agrees that there is no meaning attached to those dances and songs; and goes on to explain calmly “yes, but it adds to the beauty of the presentation and common people naturally like it. And, as these are happy and auspicious songs people love it more; and they even  perform these dances and sing these songs at their homes on marriage and other happy occasions”(Natyashastra : 4.267-268)

[ Such ‘relief’ Antara Dhruva was perhaps the forerunners of the Item-songs of the Bollywood.]

vinodakāraṇaṃ ceti nṛttam etat pravartitam । ataścaiva pratikṣepā adbhūtasaṅghaiḥ pravartitāḥ॥ 266

ye gītakādau yujyante samyaṅnṛttavibhāgakāḥ। devena cāpi samproktastaṇḍus tāṇḍava pūrvakam ॥ 267॥

gīta prayogam āśritya nṛttam etat pravartyatām । prāyeṇa tāṇḍava vidhir deva stutyāśrayo bhavet ॥268॥

Chhandas (Meter)

5.1. Bharatha says that just as the Vedic chants, the Dhruva cannot be without Chhandas (meter) _ (NS: 32.432). In the Natyashastra, Chhandas are discussed as an essential part of vācika abhinaya. And, Vac is said to be the soul of this Abhinaya (expressions with gesticulation). Bharatha considers that the words in Dhruva and Chhandas go together; they are mutually dependent.

(Chandohīno na śabdoˊsti na chanda śabdavarjitam, evam tūbhayasa¿yogo nāyasyoddyotaka smta ).

5.2. Bharatha combines the discussion on Chhandas with that on dramatic-plot with script (Pathya). The Chhandas, he says, gives a structure to the words of the Dhruva song (Chhandamsi hya nibaddha).

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

Bharata considered Pathya under two heads: Sanskrita and Prakrit. Abhinavagupta followed Bharata in this respect

5.3. The Chapter 16 of the Natyashastra discusses the practical aspects of Chhandas in Dhruva Gana and gives about 116 illustrations of Dhruva-s set in various Vedic meters such as: Gayatri, Anustub, Tristub, Brihati, Jagati, Panaki etc

 Laya (Tempo)

Dance Drama

Laya literally means ‘to be one with’ and binds the emotion of the song with the Tempo.  Laya signifies the speed or the Tempo of a song or dance. Chapter 29 of the Natyashastra discusses how the emotional content (Rasa) or the mood of a Dhruva song could be best presented in a certain Laya.

The measurement of time is usually in terms of the time- interval between two events. Time (that is the duration) appears as a chain that links events separated from one another by periods of rest (absence of events) . That is to say the duration between two events which becomes the basic unit of measure is known as Kaala .

The Kaala is measured in terms of the time-units called Matra. And, one Matra is the time taken to utter five short syllables (e.g. Ka-Cha-Ta-Pa). It is, of course, not precise ; because,  the time taken to utter five short syllable might vary from person to person. But, it taken as the approximate time that most, normal, persons would take. Therefore, in the Gandharva Music, Matra is not rigid.

Kaala is the basic unit in terms of which the duration of the Taala is measured (Abhinavagupta: NS: 31.06). A Taala segment is identified as a structure of so many number of  Kaala-s. (Thus, Kaala, Matra, Laya and taala are all inter related terms).

The three kinds of units of measure (Kaala) that were employed in the Gandharva Music were: Laghu (short), Guru (long) and Pluta (extended). Laghu is equal to one Matra; Guru to two Matra-s; and Pluta to three Matra-s.

Laya is understood as the time-interval between two Matra-s ( or the pause between two strokes). If the intervals are of short duration then the beats must be fast; and the Tempo would be fast. If the intervals are twice the duration of the fast tempo, the beats become slower; and the Tempo would be middle. And similarly, if the intervals are four times the duration, the beats would get slower ; and the tempo would be slow.

The text speaks of three kinds of Laya: Vilambita (slow); Madhyama (middle); and Dhruta (fast). Vilambita is the basic speed; Madhyama is double the speed of Vilambita Laya; and, Dhruta, the fast, is double the speed of Madhyama Laya.

In Druta Laya the time lag between two Kaala-s is brief; each following the other in quick succession. Thus, when the Laya is short, the tempo of the Taala would be fast. In Madhya Laya, the tempo would be medium ; and in Vilamba   the tempo would be  slow. The change from Druta to Madhyama is spoken as ‘doubling of Laya’.

There are also other ways of classifying Laya:  Sama, Srotogata and Gopuccha. This is spoken in terms of Yati which is a sort of method to indicate Laya.

In the Sama there is a uniformity of Laya in the beginning, in the middle and in the end.  In the Srotagata (like the flow of the river that expands in breadth)  Vilambita is used in the beginning, Madhyama in the middle and Druta in the end. The Goputccha (tapering like a cow’s tail) is the reverse order of Srotagata.

Laya is an integral part of music, while Taala is its physical expression through a precise time-cycle. Laya is thus said to be Prana (vital force) of Taala. And the two terms are sometimes used alternatively. Therefore, the Taala-s of Dhruva songs sometimes are referred to as Laya-s or Laya-taala.

 Bharatha   elaborated on Taala in the 29th chapter of the Natyashastra, as it performed a large role in coordinating different activities of music, drums and dance. The function of the Taala is measuring the rhythm of the song and regulating the flow of the rhythm and the melody in the song. He explained Taala saying as a definite measure of time upon which Dhruva Gana rests:  ganam talena dharyathe. Matra is the smallest unit of the Taala. A Taala does not have a fixed tempo (Laya); and, can be played at different speeds. The Taala-s used in Dhruva songs were simpler – say , like Tryasra and Chturasra. ; and , were regulated by the meter (Chhandas)  of the song text (Pathya) (Abhinavagupta :NS: 32.352)  .

In the Tryasra Dhruva the steps should follow three Kaalas. And, in Chatusra they should follow four Kaalas (Kaala = Matra that is the time required to utter five short syllables)

Natyashastra recommends songs exuding Karuna Rasa (sorrow) should in Vilamba Laya; Sringara (erotic) in Madhyama Laya; and, Veera (heroics) and Raudra (anger) in Druta Laya.

And, in relation to Dhruva Gana, in particular, Natyashastra provides number of illustrations.

:- Dhruva compositions of Avakrsta  type , full of long syllables (Avakrsta) expressing pathos (Karuna) , separation (Viraha) ; or when the character on the stage is fettered , fallen , disabled, fainted and nearing death  – should be rendered in Vilamba Kaala  (slow tempo).

– When the movement is slow (with wide steps) as during the entry of an elephant; and when songs with long syllables are sung

– Dhruva-s of Sthitha type in slow tempo depicting separation, longing for the beloved, anxiety, restlessness, exhaustion or dejection, should be rendered in Vilamba Kaala (slow tempo).

– With regard to Sthitha Dhruva songs, its twofold aspects (sthana)  are described  as Parastha and Atma-samsrita . Abhinavagupta explains these terms as referring to songs that help to clearly bring out the pathos the situation. For instance; the character of Sri Rama sings a Dhruva song in anguish pining for his separated beloved Sita it would be Atma-samsrita ( concerned with the character proper); and , the Dhruva song  that Lakshmana sings  empathising with his brother and sharing  his pain that would be Parastha  ( concerned with others’ sorrow).

:-  Madhyama Kaala is the normal or the standard (middle) Tempo. And, it is particularly recommended for Prasadiki type of Dhruva songs sung in love scenes (Sringara), first meeting of lovers (prathama samagama), recalling a pleasent memory (priya varthalapa) , sweet speech (madhouse bhashi), joy (harsha) and wonder (Adbhutam, Vismaya)).

: – Dhruta the fast Tempo is employed in varieties of occasions:

–  When the character is in confusion, wonder, sudden joy or anger.

– For Dhruva of short syllables; for quick movement during scenes that depict entry of chariots, aerial-cars (Vimana).

– For Druta type of Dhruva-s having short or rapid notes, employed in situations where there was furious heroism, wonder, excitement, excessive joy or anger.

[A word of caution the concepts of Kaala, Matra , Laya etc as mentioned in the ancient Gandharva and Gana Music are NOT the same as they are understood in the present time.]

Drama chariot


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

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

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



9.1. Theatre in the Natyashastra is a huge symbolism; and , it is projected beyond the natural world.  Apart from that , Theatre in the sense of Drama functions on many levels of symbolism – through speech (Vachika-abhinaya), costume , make-up (Aharya) gestures (Mudra), exhibiting emotions (sattvika abhinaya) and in  music (Gana).

9.2. Dhruva symbolisms are dealt with great detail.  Symbols representing the moon, the fire, the sun and the wind; and these are to be used in the case of gods and kings; The night , the moon light, lotus plants, she elephants , rivers and night in the case of queens; The clouds, mountains and oceans are used in the case of demons; The elephants in the rut and royal-swans in the case of superior beings; Peacocks and lotuses in the case of middling’s; Cuckoos , bees in the case of others;  Creepers and swans in the case of other women and courtesans; The female bee and female cuckoo in the case other  women.

9.3. The entrance song (Pravesiki) is to be sung to indicate anything happening in the fore-noon; and, the exit song (Naiskramiki) to indicate anything happening by day and night. Gentle Dhruva-s are to be sung to indicate the forenoon; and, the songs with excitement to indicate the noon . And, the pathetic Dhruva-s are to be sung in case of afternoon and evenings.

The symbolisms of the Dhruva-s with their evocative suggestions, enriched by melodious music, helped to enhance the aesthetic quality of the theatrical presentation.

Languages of Dhruva Gana



10.1.Bharata states, in general, the languages to be used in a play (pathya) as of four types: Atibhasha ( to be used by gods and demi-gods); Aryabhasha (for people of princely and higher classes); Jatibhasha (for common folks, including the Mleccha , the foreigners) and, Yonyantari ( for the rest , unclassified and the tribal)

Bharata in Chapter 17 (verse 48) mentions seven types of Upa-basha (desha-basha) the dialects then in use . And he also mentions the tribal dialects

māgadhy avantijā prācyā śauraseny ardhamāgadhī । bāhlīkā dakṣiṇātyā ca sapta bhāṣāḥ prakīrtitāḥ ॥ 7. 48

śakārā abhīra caṇḍāla śa varadramilodrajāḥ । hīnā vanecarāṇāṃ ca vibhāṣā nāṭake smṛtā ॥ 7. 49

As for the language of the Dhruva songs, which were sung either by the actors or by the musicians behind the curtain, it was, usually, not Sanskrit (in contrast to Gandharva songs in Sanskrit that were sung during the Purvanga, the preliminaries), but was Prakrit, the regional languages. Natyashastra discusses the features of the Dhruva songs composed in regional dialects ; and , in that context mentions seven known dialects  (Desha-bhasha) of its time : Māgadhī,  Āvantī, Prācyā, Śaurasenī,  Ardhamāgadhī,  Bāhlikā  and  Dākiātyā  (NŚ . 17-48).  However, most of the Dhruva-s were composed in Suraseni or Magadhi; and some in Ardha-Samskrita (mixture of Sanskrit and the regional language). The songs addressing to heavenly beings were however in Sanskrit (NS.32.441).

10.2. As regards Śaurasenī, it was the language spoken around the region of Surasena (Mathura area). And, in the play the female characters, Vidūṣaka (jester), children, astrologers and others around the Queens court spoke in Śaurasenī. It was assigned a comparatively higher position among the Prakrita dialects.

prācyā vidūṣakādīnāṃ dhūrtānāmapyavantijā । nāyikānāṃ sakhīnāṃ ca śūrasenyavirodhinī ॥ 7. 51॥

10.3. In comparison, Magadhi , the dialect of the Magadha region in the East as also  Ardha-Magadhi and Prachya , also of the East, were spoken in the play by lesser characters such as servants, washer -men, fishermen, , barbers , doorkeepers , black-smiths, hunters  and by the duṣṭa (wicked)  . Even otherwise, the people of Magadha as such were not regarded highly and were projected in poor light.

māgadhī tu narendrāṇām antaḥpura samāśrayā । ceṭānāṃ rājaputrāṇāṃ śreṣṭhināṃ cārdhamāgadhī ॥ 50॥

10.4. In some versions, there is a mention of Mahārāṣṭ also. It was a language spoken around the river Godavari and according to linguists; it is an older form of Marāṭhī. In some plays, the leading-lady and her friends speak in Śaurasenī, but sing in Mahārāṣṭ.

The security guards and doorkeepers were said  to speak Dakshinatya (Southern) or Bahliki (Northwest – Ancient Bactria; modern Balkh  region) , considered as outsiders.

yaudha nāgarakādīnāṃ dakṣiṇātyātha dīvyatām । bāhlīka bhāṣodīcyānāṃ khasānāṃ ca svadeśajā ॥ 52॥

10.5. Natyashastra (NS.32.56-354) presents more than 116 examples of Dhruva-s in Prakrit in various meters  including Vedic meters such as Gayatri, Anustubh, and Tristubh etc.

10.6. The language of the Suraseni or Magadhi (specially the Narukta Dhruva) dialects was usually be simple. And, the songs talked about the things that one sees in nature during the different seasons (Rtu) , such as : the bright sun, the soothing moon, the  sparking stars in a cloudless dark night sky , the passing dark clouds laden with water bringing cheer to the hearts of lovers , the thunderous lightning that drives the Lady love into the arms of the lover etc.

10.7. The language of the Dhruva songs sung by women was generally Prakrit. Bharatha says the vocal music should be generally the province of the women as their voice is naturally sweet.

In the next Part let’s talk about Musical instruments mentioned in Natyashastra.

Please click on the picture below 


Continued in Next Part

Musical Instruments in Natyashastra

Sources and References

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

By Ganesh Hari Tarlekar

Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition

By Guy L. Beck

Poetics of performance by TM Krishna

Language of Sanskrit Drama Language of Sanskrit Drama by Saroja Bhate


Leave a comment

Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Music, Sangita


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Music of India – a brief outline – Part seven

Continued from Part six – Gandharva

Part Seven ( of 22 ) – Music in Natyashastra

music in natya

Gandharva and Gana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let see this in a little more detail:

Svara, Taala, Pada and Phala


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


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


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


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

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

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

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



Before we speak of its Samgita a few words about Natyashastra

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[For more on Natyashastra please click here.]


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

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

[For more on Abhinavabharati please click here.]



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

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

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

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

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

The third component of Samgita involves three forms

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


Continued in Part Eight

Dhruva Gana

Sources and References

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

By Ganesh Hari Tarlekar

Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition

By Guy L. Beck

Poetics of performance by TM Krishna

Language of Sanskrit Drama Language of Sanskrit Drama by Saroja Bhate

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

Pictures are from Internet


Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Music, Sangita


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Music of India – a brief outline – Part Six

Continued from Part Five  – Akhyana – Ramayana

 Part Six ( of 22)-  Gandharva or Marga Music


Gandharva – Svara, Taala and Pada

After Saman and Akhyana, let’s take a look at the Gandharva or Marga Music.

1.1. The term Gandharva by itself means Music in general (Gandharva-shastra) and the Gandharva form of Music in particular. Gandharva Music regarded as Marga signifies something that which is chaste or classical. Marga, by its very nature, is rather sombre and not quite flexible.  Gandharva was said to be the Music performed for worship of gods since the ancient times. It is both sacred and well regulated (Niyata).

The early Gandharva songs were in praise of Shiva (Shiva-stuti). And, Shiva himself is said to have taught this Marga Music, on his Veena, in his Sri Dakshinamurthy form, to the sages sitting around him.

Chandogya Upanishad (7.1.2) calls the Gandharva-vidya as Devajana -vidya ( the art of the Devas). And, it is said : Ganat parataram na hi – nothing is higher than that music. 

1.2.  Gandharva or Marga is a sort of counterpart to Saman; and yet, the two are different types of Music. The Svaras in the early Saman were arranged in descending order (Avaroha); and, the concept of Grama –Vibagha (classification as per Gramas) was also not there. The Gandharva Music, in contrast, is based in Gramas and in the ascending and descending order of Svaras (Aroha-Avaroha). In fact, the term Gandharva, either as a class of Music or of musicians, does not appear in Rig-Veda. Similarly, plying of cymbals and marking of Taala also does not appear in conduct of Yajna or in Sama singing.   Further, while the Saman singing was in the context of a Yajna; the Gandharva, on the other hand, seemed to be the singing by trained singers on other worship-occasions (Puja).    Taittiriya Aranyaka (1.9.30) mentions a group of eleven Gandharva-singers (eti ekadasha gandharva-ganah) who sang songs in praise of gods.

1.3. Abhinavagupta, commenting on Natyashastra , strikes a conciliatory note and remarks : Although there is no structural similarity between Saman and Gandharva, the fruit (Phala) of rendering the two is indeed the same – bestowing bliss and leading towards Moksha. Such Music is a worthy offering to gods.  And, gods would be delighted with sublime Music than with reading Puranas or lecturing on Yoga exercises.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 2.1. Historically, Gandharva occupies an important position in the Music of India. It acts as a bridge between the Music of Saman and the Music of the later generations that has come down to us through series of transformations. 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 – Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, and Ni –  were adopted in Natyashastra and in Dattilam  (Svara-saptaka); and ,more importantly, they  are in use even today.

[The Gandharva music is significant, in another way too; because, it moved away from Yajna (offering havis to Agni, the fire); and, adopted the approach of prayers and Puja – worship, adoration. It became a counterpart to Sama  which was chanted at the Yajna. Since then, worship through or with music has remained at the center of most Puja or Seva activities, with flower and other offerings.]

Therefore, getting to know Gandharva might help to gain a historical perspective of our Music.

3.1. Bharatha explains the term Gandharva as the Music dear to gods (atyartham iṣṭa devānā), giving great pleasure to Gandharvas; and, therefore it is called Gandharva.

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

3.2. In Verse three of the Dattilam , its author  Dattila explains Gandharva 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

And, Naradiyashiksha (1.4.12) gives the etymology of the term Gandharva by splitting it into three parts. It explains Gandharva as made of: Ga – the song (giti geyam vidhuhu); Dha – playing on the Veena by skilful use of fingers (karupya vadanam); and , Va – other instruments and gestures (veti vadhyasya sanjnya)  ; and says ‘ this indicates Gandharva (ye Gandharvasya nirochanam).

3.3. Abhinavagupta in his Abhinava-bharathi (a commentary on Natyashastra) remarks that Gandharva which is sung from time immemorial bestows both evident or seen (Drsta) and not-evident or unseen (A-Drsta) benefits (Phala).  It is pleasant to the ears and to the mind; and, it also brings merit paving way towards liberation .

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

Music Dhrupad


3.4. The terms and concepts of the Gandharva musical tradition were described, mainly, in Bharatha’s Natyashastra and in the Dattilam of Dattila.  Natyashastra devotes about nine chapters to Gandharva Music – vocal and instrumental. And, a major part of 243 verses of Dattilam is about Gandharva. The Verse Six of Dattilam mentions that the text aims to discuss, mainly: Sruti (micro tone intervals), Svara (notes) , Grama (systems), Murchana (scales) consisting series of notes (Tana) , Sthana (voice registers) , Vritti (styles) , Suska or A-gita (playing on Veena following vocal style but without singing) and Sadharana (two ways of over lapping).

Svara, Taala and Pada

4.1. Gandharva is said to be governed by the combination of Svara (tonal structure); Taala (time-units); and, Pada (text), in association with various musical instruments (Gaandharvam trividham vidhaat svara-tala-pada-atmakam). Thus, song, Veena and flute all contributed to Gandharva. Dattilam explains it in a similar manner, calling it Avadhana, conscious (samyag baddha) melodic employment of Svara, Taala and Pada. And yet, the scholars reckon the Gandharva Samgita was essentially vocal. The objective of the Gandharva songs (Stuti pada-s) was to praise of Shiva (Shiva-stutau prayojani) and to please the gods (atyartham iṣṭa devānā).

4.2. In Gandharva, the Svara, Taala and Pada had hierarchical positions (Gāndharva yan mayā prokta svara-tāla-padātmakam). Svara and Taala enjoyed prominence.  However, Svara and Taala do need the substance (vastu) or the form of Pada – the text – as their base.  Bharata, therefore, says that Pada serves as an aid to Svara and Taala (Pada tasya bhaved vastu svara-tālānubhāvakam).  Padas were, perhaps, modified to suit Svara and Taala. In other words, lyrics of a song were subject to Svara (melody) and Taala patterns.  Specific examples of modifications of Pada are listed in Dattilam: changing Agne to Ognayi; disjoining syllables – Viyate to Vo Yi to Ya Yi; stretching a syllable – Ye to Ayi; repetition of words – Ya YiYa Yi; unwarranted break in Pada – Gunano havyadataye to GunanohaVyadataye; and insertion of meaningless sounds – Au, Ho, Va, Ha, U, Eha, Aho-i, Oha-i etc. These were the practices carried forward from Saman singing.

4.3. However, between Svara and Taala, Gandharva assigned a secondary position (angāngi-bhāva) to Taala; and the prime position to Svara. Taala was governed by rigid rules measured by time-units (matra), having a fixed number of delineations, by the strikes of hand-held cymbals (Ghana).  In Gandharva, no deviation was allowed from the set pattern. The main task of Taala was to provide fixed measurement of time to the notes; and, to maintain Saamya (coming together) a point of resolution that provides a sense of balance. (It could perhaps be akin to Sam of Hindustani Music..!)

5.1. According to Matanga, Svara is the sound which has musical quality that creates melody. When the interval between the notes (Sruti) is raised or lowered, the musical quality gets altered. And, such musical sound is different from other sounds. Thus, Sruti and Svara-s are vital elements of a song. The difference between the two is that the former has no resonance, while the latter has it.

5.2. Abhinavagupta explains the term Svara as derived from the root Sva of the expression Svabhavadi-gana. And, Svara has both Sabda (sound) and Upa-taapa (warmth of feeling) – śabdopa-tāpayo. He goes on to say; the mind ordinarily grasps plain sounds. But, a Svara has the power to infuse various emotions into the sounds and to influence the mind. And, thus, the Svara has resilience to assert itself over mundane noises and stray thoughts.

5.3. Dattilam  as in Natyashastra (28.24) says Svaras are seven starting with Shadja (Dattilam .11) ; and they are  of four types:  Vadi (sonant); Samvadi (consonant); Anuvadi (assonant) and Vivadi (dissonant).

chaturvidha tva meteṣāṃ vijñeyaṃ gānayoktṛbhiḥ । vādī caivātha saṃvādī vivādī cā anuvādyapi ॥ NS.88. 22॥

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.

Svarah shadja adayah sapta gramau dvau shadja madhyamau / kechid gandharam apy ahuh sa tu nehopalabhate //  (Dattilam .11) //

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

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.



6.1. Before going into the other elements of Gandhara Music we may talk a bit about its concept of Sruti.

Bharata refers to Sruti in his statement: Jatibhih Srutibhiscaiva svara gramatva-amagatah (NS 18, 5-6) – through Jaatis and Sruti-s the Svara attains the state of Grama.

6.2. Dattilam (9) mentions that the notes in the higher register (Tara) are on the upper end of the Veena (Uttarottara-taras tu venayam); and the notes in lower register are on its lower end (adharottarah). The difference in sounds (dvani visesha) so produced is understood as Sruti (Sruti samjnitah); and, that difference can be perceived only through practiced listening (iti dvani visesas te sravanah). ‘And, with these Sruti-s one sings all the songs’ (Dattilam.10)

Uttarottara-taras tu venayam adharottarah / iti dhvani visesa te  svara varna ca chrutisamjnitah//9// te bhyah kamscid upadaya giyante  svara giti su / adriyante ca ye tesu svaratvam upalabhya te //10//

6.3. Prof. Dr. Ramanathan explains that Sruti, here, is the unit of measure (pramana) of Svara-s, and also the basis on which Svara-s were classified into Gramas. Thus, what is important in a Grama is the number of Sruti-s that link the Svara.

6.4. Abhinavagupta points out: In fact it is for the very purpose of classifying the Gramas that the concept of Sruti was formulated (Grama-vibhagarthm eva Sruti-kirtanam); else, it had no existence in performance .

(evam gramadvayam tadupayoge ca Sruti; sadbhave svaranam Sruti niyama pramanya bhidhaya)

6.5. Dr. Ramanathan explains: In the ancient system, Svara was conceived not merely as a sound of fixed pitch position, but also as comprehending the entire tonal range between itself and its previous svara.  The interval which separated one Svara from another was measured in terms of Sruti-s.

6.6. Sruti is, thus, a distinctly cognizable, audible sound-interval (not a precise mathematical or physical measure) that separates one Svara from its next. The listening acumen of the musician is the sole guide to measure the rise or fall in Sruti. And, this is achieved only by diligent practice (Sad-abhyasa) , as  Abhinavagupta says –  Sruteh Sabdasya Srotragr -Ahyasya utka.

[Naradiyashiksha remarks: one who is not able to distinguish between the Srutis cannot be called a teacher – Srutinam yo visheshajno na sa acharya uchyate – (Nar,Shi 1.7.9) ]

6.6. According to Bharatha, Sruti is basically an interval. And, Svara is measured in terms of Sruti. When you call a Svara as Dvi-srutika, it means that two Sruti-s are separating a Svara from its previous Svara. Similarly, the terms Tri-srutika and Chatus-srutika mean that there are three and four Sruti intervals, respectively, between a Svara and the previous Svara. Let’s say; when one speaks of Tri-srutika in relation to Ri  it would mean that it is the third distinctive sound from Sa ; and also that it is three Srutis away from Sa.

Bharatha adds that the lowering or raising could be done by loosening or tightening of the strings in the case of stringed instruments.

[Dr. Ramanthan comments : While Bharatha explains Sruti as the unit of interval, Dattila (9-10) understands it as the pitch positions or sounds that can be distinguished from one another.]

6.7. Abhinavagupta explains the term Sruti, in his unique manner, as the sound (sabda) produced (prabhavita) when struck at appropriate position (śruti-sthāna-abhighāta) on the Veena. And, the note produced afterwards continuously by resonance is Svara. And says, when the Sruti is exact (anuraana) it transforms into resonant sweet flow of sound pleasing to the ears and to the heart (snigdha-madhura). Here, Anuraana is the physical aspect of Sruti; while snigdha-madhura is its aesthetic beauty.

Gandharva depivtion in art


Gandharva – Music elements – Jaati, Murchana and Grama


8.1. The Gandharva songs were rendered in melody-forms or modes called Jaatis, which perhaps, did not allow much scope for elaboration.

The Jaati-s were formed by Svaras which in turn were made of measurable units of intervals (Sruti).

8.2. Natyashastra mentions eighteen Jaati-s. 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.

The Shuddha–Jaati had all the seven Svaras. When any one or more of these were dropped, excepting the Nyasa (final note),  the Shuddha Jaati would become Vikrta (modified).

śuddhā vikṛtāścaiva hi samavāyājjātayastu jāyante । punarevāśuddhakṛtā bhavantyathaikādaśānyāstu ॥ 46॥

[It is also said: When a Svara leaves its own place and or the Sruti-s specified for it and assumes another place or contains other Sruti-s, it becomes Vikrta. For instance; When Rsbha assumes the four Sruti-s of Shadja it becomes Vikrta.]

By the combination of the two or more Jaatis the eleven Samsargaja–Vikrta would be formed.

(In Ramayana only seven Jaatis were mentioned .They, perhaps, were derived from Ga Grama).

8.3. Natyashastra (28.66) lists ten characteristics of a Jaati:

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

: – Amsa – It is the prominent note (key note ) in the song ( According to some, it is another name for Vivadi Svara). The melodic expression of the song depends on it;

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

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

: – Nyasa – It is the note with which the song ends;

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

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

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

:- Sadavita –Six notes are used omitting one;

:- and, Audavita -Five note are used dropping two.

daśakaṃ jātilakṣaṇam –
grahā aṃśau tāra mandrau ca nyāso’ apanyāsa eva ca । alpatvaṃ ca bahutvaṃ ca ṣāḍava auḍuvite tathā ॥ 66॥


[Dattilam (55) also lists the ten characteristic of Jaati as: Graha, Amsa, Tara, Mandra, Sadava, Audavita, Aplatva, Bahutva, Apa-Nyasa and Nyasa

Graha amsau tara mandarau ca sabda baudubite kramat / alpatvam ca bahutvam ca nyaso apanyasa eva ca //55//]


[Later, Sangita-ratnakara (1.7.29-53) adds three more lakshana-s : Samnyasa, Vinyasa and Antara-marga.

Samnyasa the final note of the first part (Vidari) of a song is described as ‘a note which is not dissonant (Vivadi) with the dominant note (Amsa); and, which concludes (samapti-krt) the first part (Vidari) of a song.

Vinyasa, the final note of the pada (a division of a song) is explained as a note that is not dissonant (Vivadin) with regard to the dominant note (Amsa). And, it stands at the end of the verbal-theme (Vidari-bhaga-pada-pranthe).

Antara-marga is an intermediate note which occurs in the midst of the notes practiced rarely (madhye-madhye alpatva yujam). It brings in variety (vichitratva-kariny) and is practiced without repetition and with isolated omissions. And, as a rule it occurs in the modified (Vikrta) Jaati (krta sa antara-margah syat prayo vikrta Jaatishu).]

The Amsa being the prominent (key) note in the Jaati was often used in combination with its Samvadi (consonant) and Anuvadi (assonant) Svaras.

[In the later times, the music of the Jaatis with its many varieties gave rise to the Raga system.]

Murchana and Grama

9.1. Murchana is described as the ordered or the sequential arrangement of the seven Svaras. The term Murchana is derived from Murch – to increase or to pervade. Natyashastra says that Murchanas are so called because seven notes are used in order (kramayutah) in their fixed positions. Narada in his  Shiksha  said: tana-raga-svara-grama- murcchana tu lakshanam- (II. 1) – Murcchana  is that which comprises – tana, raga,svara and grama

Later, in Gandharva, Murchana came to be understood as an arrangement having a gradual Aroha (ascent) and Avaroha (descent) of the seven Svaras (notes). Different musical expressions were derived from the Murchanas by permuting the seven Svaras in any number of ways. Of such rearrangements, the one where the seven Svaras were placed in their sequential order was called Krama. And, the one where the Svara-sequence was not in the order was called Kutatana. The logical method of computing Krama and Kutatana was called Prastara.

9.2. As said earlier; it was on the basis of Sruti-s that the intervals of the Svaras in a Jaati were measured. Abhinavagupta explains Grama as jaati-samudaya (collection of Jaatis). Jaati, again, refers to class of melodic types, which were constructed out of Murchanas.

It is also said that Grama is the resort  in which the Murchana-s reside.

9.3. In the Gandharva, the Murchana arrangement was under two parent scales or Gramas: Madhyama (Ma) and Shadja (Sa) – Jatibhih Srutibhis chaiva Svara-Gramatvam agatah- NS.28.24-26. ‘Here there are 22 Sruti intervals’.

The Jaati-s were, initially, grouped under three Grama-s (group or cluster) known as Gandhara (Ga); Madhyama (Ma) and Shadja (Sa).  The Ga Grama, it appears, went out of use quite early. And, out of the other two Gramas (Sa and Ma), fourteen Jaatis were formed.

9.4. The term Shadja means ‘giving birth to six’. And, it refers to the first defining note of the Grama – Sa. Once this note is fixed, the placement of other six notes is determined. The Shadja Grama is the collection of the seven Svara-s namely:  Shadja (Sa), Rsabha (Ri), Gandhara (Ga), Madhyama (Ma), Panchama (Pa), Dhaivata (Dh) and Nishadha (Ni).

The Madhyama Grama also has seven Svaras (Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, and Ni) ; but , the sequence or the order of the two Gramas differ.

Under each Grama, the intervals between two consecutive Svaras (measured by Sruti) also differ.  For instance ; Sa Grama has Srutis as : Sa (4), Ri (3), Ga (2) , Pa(4) , Dha (3) and Ni(2). And, the  Ma Grama has :  Sa(4) , Ri(3) , Ga (2), Ma (4) , Pa (3), Dha (4) and Ni(2).  And, therefore the Murchana obtained from one Grama differs from that of the other.

[You may notice: the Pa note of Ma Grama is one Sruti lower. Therefore, the interval between Pa and Dha of Ma-Grama becomes longer, that is four Srutis. ]

As can be seen; the interval of two Srutis is the smallest; then, there are intervals of three Srutis and four Srutis. Natyashastra gives the number of Srutis in the Grama as 22. But, they were not named. Dr. Ramanathan remarks: Though the number of Sruti-s is said to be 22; this number has no sanctity attached to it. What is important in the Grama system is the number of Sruti-s within a Svara.


10.1. It is said; there were four types of Murchanas: Purna (full), the heptatonic with all the seven Svaras; Shadava (hexatonic) with six Svaras; Audava (Pentatonic) with five Svaras; and, Tanas or Sadharani-krta (including overlapping notes, like Kakili Nishada).

kramayuktā svarā sapta mūrcchanetyabhisajñitā apañ ca svara kāstānāḥ, āavau uvitāśrayā 28.32 sādhāraaktāś caiva kākalī samalak antara svara sayuktā mūrcchanā grāmayordvayo NS.28.33

Natyashastra mentions: The variety of Tanas and Murchanas, thus arising, provide enjoyment to the listeners and to the musicians, as well. They do help the singer in improving his voice registers (sthana-prapti).

As said earlier; 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.

Each of the seven Murchanas of the Shadja Grama is called by a name. They are:(Uttaramandra; Rajani; Uttara-ayata; Shuddha-Shadja; Matsarikruta; Ashvakranta; and, Abhirudgata).

aje cottaramandrā syādṛṣabhe cābhirudgatā aśvakrāntā tu gāndhāre madhyame matsarīk 28.29

Sa-Ri-Ga-Ma-Pa-Dha-Ni Uttaramandra
Ri-Ga-Ma-Pa-Dha-Ni-Sa Rajani
Ga-Ma-Pa-Dha-Ni-Sa-Ri Uttarayata
Ma-Pa-Dha-Ni-Sa-Ri-Ga Shuddha-Shadja
Pa-Dha-Ni-Sa-Ri-Ga-Ma Ashvakrantha
Dha-Ni-Sa-Ri-Ga-Ma-Pa Matsyakrantha
Ni-Sa-Ri-Ga-Ma-Pa-Dha Abhirudgata

The Murchanas of the Madhyama Grama were also seven (Sauviri; Harinasva; Kalopanata; Shuddha-madhyama; Margi; Pauravi; and, Hrsyaka).

atha madhyamagrāme -sauvīrī hariāśvā ca syātkalopanatā tathā śuddhamadhyā tathā mārgī pauravī hṛṣyakā tathā madhyamagrāmajā hyetā vijñeyā saptamūrcchanā 28.31

Ma-Pa-Dha-Ni- Sa-Ri-Ga Sauviri
Pa-Dha-Ni-Sa- Ri-Ga-Ma Harinasva
Dha-Ni-Sa-Ri- Ga-Ma-Pa Kalopanata
Ni-Sa-Ri-Ga- Ma-Pa-Dha Shuddha-Madhya
Sa-Ri-Ga-Ma- Pa-Dha-Ni Margavi
Ri-Ga-Ma-Pa- Dha-Ni-Sa Pauravi
Ga-Ma-Pa-Dha- Ni-Sa-Ri Hrsyaka


The Murchanas of the two Gramas add up to fourteen.

The Gandhara Grama also gave rise to seven Murchanas. However, it was obsolete by the time of Natyashastra.


[The explanations by about the seventh century seemed to be slightly different.

Matanga (7th century), in his Brhaddeshi, described   Murcchana as  the elaboration of ‘the seed form of the raga’ (murcchamoha-samucchrayayoh) . And, he said , such elaboration is  possible when the seven Svara-s  of a Raga manifest in the processes of  ascent (aroha) and descent (avaroha).

The Murcchana-s , according to Matanga,  evolved from the Gramas as their base. And, twenty-one Murcchana-s evolved from the three main Gramas-Shadja, Madhyma and Gandharva. Each Murcchana possessed a special unit of aesthetic sentiment.

Matanga said: Murcchana were of two kinds: one, having seven Svaras and the other having fourteen Svaras (sa- Murcchana dvi-vidha; sapta-svara-Murchanat  dvadasha-svara-Murchana cheti).

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

The Murcchana with Twelve Svaras manifest in three registers (Sthana): low, medium and high (Mandra, Madhya and Tara).]


[As regards the Gandharva Grama which went out of use quite early, Naradiyashiksha and Sangitaratnakara mention the names of its seven Murchanas as: Nandi, Visala, Sumukhi, Chitra, Chitravati, Sukha and Aalapa.

According to Shri KV Ramachandran the noted music-critic of yester years, the high pitched Ga Grama was used for gods and heavenly beings, Narada, Urvashi etc. That perhaps explains why Ga Grama came to be associated with heaven in the later works.

And, in a similar manner the Jaati, Grama, Murcchana etc system of Music based in two Gramas (Sa and Ma) came to an end by the time of Sarangadeva (13th century). Thereafter,  the scholar-composers derived the Ragas only from Sa Grama ; and discarded the Ma Grama . It was said; Ma Grama had become defunct as its Panchama was but a mere variety of Madhyama.

For instance; Ramamatya (16th century) derived all the Desi Ragas from Sa Grama.  Pundarika Vittala (16th century) also said that all Ragas are derived from Shadja-Grama . And, Venkatamakhin (17th century) who followed him said that Ma Grama does not seem to exist. And, he recognized only the Sa Grama. According to Venkatamakhin, all the Desi Ragas originate from Sa Grama.]

10.2. In the Gandharva Music, it is said, the Murchana of one Grama could be derived from the other. Thus, if the Panchama (Pa) of the Shadja Grama is lowered by one Sruti, it would result in Madhyama Grama. In a similar manner, Murchana of Madhyama Grama could be converted into Shadja Grama by lowering its Daivata (Dha) by two Srutis.[ The Daivata that is so lowered is now named Gandhara (Ga). Then Nishadha (Ni) and Shadja (Sa) would be called Madhyama (Ma) and Panchama (Pa), respectively.]

Abhinavagupta comments: In Gandharva, dropping of notes in two Gramas, as also on the basis of Amsa notes, was governed by definite rules. For instance; Daivata (Dha) was indispensible in Shadja Grama; and, in Madhyama Grama, Panchama (Pa) could never be dropped from any Jaati.

10.3. In addition, there was also the practice of using one or two Svaras more (in addition to the seven) in a Murchanas. Such additional (overlapping) Svaras were called Sadharana Svaras. [It’s too cold in winter and too hot in summer. But, there is also a comfortable season which is neither cold nor hot; it is neither summer nor winter.  It is between the two seasons. And, this is the Sadharana Kaala – the common season. And, so are the Sadharana Svaras.]

In the Murchana, the additional Svaras between two Svaras – (Sadharana Svara) are not separate individual Svaras, but are chosen from among the seven. They are resorted to only when the respective Grama-Svaras are weak. And, Sadharana-Svara is weaker than the Grama-Svara, and therefore it cannot become the commencing Svara of a Murchana. [It is said; there would also be Murchanas with Sadharana Svaras (with Antara Ga and Kakili Ni) of two scales.]


11.1. Apart from the Seven-Svara Murchanas and Murchanas with Sadharana Svaras, there were also some Murchanas which had only six Svaras (Shadava) or five Svaras (Audava). And, these were called Taanas (from the root tan = to spread out), which formed the basis for various musical forms.

For instance; Sa Grama will have four Taanas when Sa, Ri, Pa and Ni are dropped successively. Similarly, there will be three Taanasin Ma Grama when Sa, Ri and Ga are dropped successively.

As regards Audava Taanas, Sa-Pa, Ri-Pa and Ga-Ni are dropped in Sa Grama; and Ga-Mi and Ri-Dha are dropped in Ma Grama.

Matanga says that the five-note Audava Taana could be obtained generally by omitting the Samvadi (consonant) Svara; and, in some cases it may be obtained by omitting the Anuvadi (assonant) Svara also.

In all, the Murchanas of the two scales would be 35.

[Taana-s are said to be twofold: Shuddha and Kuta. when Svaras are sung in a regular order it is Shuddha; and. when sung in an irregular order it is Kuta.

Matanga explains the difference between Murchana and Taana as the difference in the order (karma): the former has an ascending order while the latter has descending order. The purpose of both the Murchanas and the Taanas are was to provide pleasure to the listener as also to the performer. Perhaps, I think, these (Murchana and Taana) variations related to Veena plying than to human voice. ]

11.2. How the notes are to be omitted for the sake of Taana is given in Taana-kriya on the Veena (Dattilam. 36). The Taana-kriya, the technique is twofold (Taana-kriya dvidha tantryam) – Pravesika and Nigraha.  Pravesika (entering) is raising the lower note or lowering the higher note. Nigraha (abstaining) is not touching the string (asamsparka tu nigrahat) , i.e.  , not producing the middle note as the middle note would denote Murchana. The Ma-note of the Veena may never be omitted as it was essential for indication of Murchana-s of the two Grama-s.

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



[The scanty information posted here about Murchanas, Gramas and Jaatis was, roughly, according to Natyashastra and Dattilam. In the later centuries, just before  the time of Matanga‘s Brihad-desi ( 6th  to 8th century) , the concept and the method of deriving Murchana, as also the  connotation of Jaati and its further evolution  had changed much.

And, by the time of Brihad-desi, the concepts of Grama, Murchana and Jaati had all but gone. After this period, the Ragas came to be regarded as the melodic-base of the songs. Initially, the Ragas were treated as janya-s (derivatives) of the Jaatis. But, in due course the relation between Ragas and Jaatis tapered out, and then ceased. Similarly, the Svaras that gave form to Ragas came to be described in terms of Shuddha or Vikrta Svaras; and, the relation between Svaras and Gramas of the past was also lost.]



Gandharva – Music forms

12.1. The following were said to be the song- formats of the Gandharva Music (Giti): Gitaka; Nirgita; Jaati-gita; Kapala-gana; and, Kambala-gana. Of course, all these forms vanished long ago. And, even historically, the scholars are not sure of their origins. Each of the four forms seemed to have come from a different tradition. The relation or the link between the forms is also rather hazy or uncertain.

12.2. Among these, Gitaka and Nirgita type were said to be songs with definite structure. The Jaati-gita, on the other hand, was said to be a song-type with no specified format. Kapala-gana and Kambala-gana were said to be simpler songs.

[In another context, it is said: the relationship between the Gana and the Veena playing is called Giti (when Veena playing is not accompanied by singing, it is A-giti). Abhinavagupta explains: every type of Giti can be played on Veena, And, there are three types of Giti:   Tatva , Anugata and Ogha. When the Gana 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.]


13.1. As said; Gitaka is a well structured song format. There were major divisions or groups of Gitaka-s, each group having seven song-forms. The seven forms of the first Division were (Sapta-rupa): Madraka; Aparantaka; Ullopyaka; Prakari; Ovenaka; Rovindaka; and, Uttara. And, the seven forms under the second Division were: Asarita; Vardhamana; Chandaka; Panika; Rik; Gatha; and, Sama.

13.2. Every Gitaka, in turn, had two sections: Vastu and Anga. The different forms of Gitaka were classified according to the variations of their Vastu (section of the text) and Anga (styles of rendering the texts). The other distinguishing features were: Svara; Taala; and, Pada.

13.3. The ways of rendering the Gitaka had components (Anga) such as: Upavartana:– the end portion of a section of the text rendered in double speed; Prastara :- the concluding portion of one  section is repeated as the opening of the following section; and, Shakha-Pratishaka:-  certain sections are to be rendered twice – each in a different style- the first rendering is called Shakha and the other was called  Prati-shakha.

14.1. In the Gitaka, the terms such as Svara; Taala; and, Pada have their own connotation. And, they do not carry the meaning that we now associate with those terms.

For instance; Taala in a Gitaka does not mean rhythmic patterns or beats; but, it is the measure of time-span (duration) of the Gitaka. The sections of the Gitaka were divided into smaller time-units, marked by specific action by hands (kriya), either by making sound (Sa-sabda) or without sound (Ni-sabda). These were said to be four-fold, each.

Nishabda: (a) Avapa: contracting fingers with the palm turned upwards; (b) Niskrama: spreading the fingers with the palm turned downwards; (c) Viksepa: moving hands swiftly as in Niskrama; and, (d) Pravesha: taking back the hand pointing downwards.

Sa-sabda: (a) Samaya: clapping by the right hand; (b) Taala: clapping by the left hand; (c): Sannipata: clapping with both hands together; and, (d) Dhruva : movement of the hand with the snapping of the fingers according to threefold Kaala.

[It is said; cymbal plying with its neutral yet audible sound, usually, accompanied the hand gestures during Gandharva, for attainment of Saamya (the moment of precise coordination of Taala, Svara and Pada).]

14.2. Similarly, Svara was not mere notes. It is, here, related to Taala (as explained above). The melodic-lines of the song were broken into segments to match the Taala (time-units) or the duration assigned to that section..

14.3. Pada, the verbal elements of the song were also important. The object of the songs was to praise Shiva (Shiva-stutau prayojani). The duration of each section of the Gitaka and that of the meaningless syllables (jham, tum, tha, ka etc) employed were also prescribed.


15.1. Nirgita, also called Bahirgita or Shska, too had elements of Svara, Taala and Pada.  The Nirgita was a song form (Gita) suitable for dance (Nrtta) consisting vocal part (Dhruva) and instrumental part (Vadya). The instrumental part of the song (Veena- vadya-prayoga) was more prominent as compared to the verbal part (Dhruva-prayoga).The Vadya part was characterized by specific strokes (Karana) on the Veena.  According to Abhinavagupta, the Svaras that are produced by striking (praharavishesha janyah) the strings of Veena in a specific manner is called Dhatu.

15.2. The Dhatu-s had four elements: Vistara (high pitched), Karana (low pitched), Aviddha (duration of the note) and Vyanjana (different ways of employing each finger), each of which had its variations. Such variations depended on whether the stroke was made on the upper end (uttaramukha) or lower end (adhara) of the Veena; the number of strokes made on the strings; the time span (guru and laghu); and, their sequences.

Pada, here, meant both the verbal text (Dhruva-prayoga) and the passages of instrumental play (Vadya-prayoga).

15.3. As regards Taala in Nirgita, it has the same connotation as in Gitaka. The entire time-span of the verbal composition (Dhruva) is broken into smaller segments; and each is measured in time –units (kaala pramana). The instrumental part of Nirgita was, however, free from restrictions of Taala.


16.1. Jaati-gita seemed to be simple songs with no marked division or refrain ( in contrast to Gitaka) . Jaati-gita songs were based in one or the other Jaati, class of melodies. They were perhaps illustrative representation of a Jaati group.  For instance; a Gita based in Shadja-jaati represented the Shuddha variety of the Jaati.

Jaati-gita too had elements of Svara, Taala and Pada.

16.2. The Svara aspect of Jaati-gita-s exhibited the characteristics of the jaati-s to which they pertained. The Tala organisation ( time-management) of the Jaati-gita was not as complex as that of the Gitaka and Nirgita. The Pada aspect of the Jati-gita-s was also fairly simple. The text consisted of Stuti pada-s addressed to Siva.


17.1. Kapala-ganas were simple songs just as the Jaati-gitas, without any sectional organisation. They were based on melodic structures called Kapala-s. The seven Kapala-s were derived from Shuddha variety of seven Jaati-s.

The Pada of Kapala-ganas were all in praise of Shiva, particularly the Kapala adorned form of Shiva; and were interspersed with loud Hoonkara and sounds such as : Hum, Ha, Hu , Avu etc.

The Kambala–gana

18.1. The Kambala–gana, just as the Kapala-gana, was based in derivatives of Jaati known as Kambala. The Kambala-gana were said to be derived from Panchami-jaati. And, in their structure they resembled the Kapala-ganas.



19.1. The Gana of the Natyashastra had its roots in Gandharva Music. Several of the Gandharva – songs were adopted into Drama. For instance; in the Purvanga, that is during the preliminaries before the commencement of the Drama per se, the Gandharva songs of the type Nirgita were sung , to the accomniment of instruments, offering prayers to Shiva. This was flowed by a song in Gitaka format ; and by a Tandava dance of Shiva or a Lasya of Shiva and Devi to another Gitaka-song. Thereafter, the Sutradhara (Director and Stage-Manager) and his troupe enter the stage move in a rhythmic  dance like steps   and sing Gandharva-songs praying to the gods for successful enactment and completion of the play. However, during the entry and exit or at important junctures Dhruva  songs were sung.

Tandava2 lasya


Some say that Gandharva or the sacred Music Marga performed during worship, in due course, gave place to Gana, the songs that were not so rigidly bound and were meant to entertain.

But, Abhinavagupta strongly refutes such a view; and, asserts that Gandharva and Gana flourished side by side even during later times. Though Gana owed to the Gandharva, there were differences between the two. In his commentary on the 33rd chapter of Natyashastra, Abhinavagupta draws a four-fold distinction between Gandharva and Gana Music-s.

According to Abhinavagupta , the two differ in their : in Svarupa –  structure and ways of employing Svara, Taala and Pada; in Phala –  the  benefits or the objectives ;  the one is in praise of Shiva and pleasing gods  while the other strives to gladden the hearts of  the audience in a theatrical performance;  in Kaala – the context or the occasions of their rendering , one is for worship and the other is for entertainment; and , in Dharma – in their distinctive nature and functions.

[Gāndharvasya ki lakaam? uktam adhyāyacatuṣṭayeu muninā |tathāpy anusandhāna-vandhyam mahā-bhāgam bodhayitum anusandhīyate |svara- tāla-pada-viśeātmaka pravtti-nivtti-pradhāna-dṛṣṭādṛṣṭa-phala-sāma-veda-prabhavam anādi-kālavttim anyonyoparañjanā-guatā-vihīna gāndharvam iti svarūpa-phalāt kālād dharmāc ca bhidyamānam avaśyam gāna-vailakaya bhedaika-sampādanam]


In the next part of this series,

Let’s talk of Gana with particular reference to

 The Music of Natyashastra.


References and Sources:

I gratefully acknowledge the following

Wonderfully well researched works:

Grama – Murchana – Jaati by Dr. Premalatha Nagarajan

Gandharva Form by Prof. Dr. N. Ramanathan

Abhinavagupta’s contribution to the solution of some problems in Indian Musicology by Shri Jaideva Singh


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

Studies in the Nāyaśāstra: With Special Reference to the Sanskrit Drama in performance By Ganesh Hari Tarlekar

Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition by Guy L. Beck

Sruti in Ancient, Medieval and Modern Contexts by Prof. Dr. N. Ramanathan

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

 Pictures are from Internet


… Music in Natyashastra

Leave a comment

Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Music, Sangita


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Music of India – a brief outline – Part Five

Continued from Part four – Music of Sama Veda

Part Five (of 22) –Music in Ramayana


Sri Rama Pattabhishekam -Shri SRajam (1) 



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

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

Ramayana recitation

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

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

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




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


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

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

 For instance:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VeenaMadduka; pataha; Vamsam ; Vipañchi; Mridanga ;Paava; Dindima;  and, Adambar. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some excellent women slept hugging strange instruments – ātodyāni vicitrāi parivajya vara striyaḥ (6.10.49)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music in Valmiki's Ramayana

Music terms

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

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

: –  Valmiki mentions that Kusi–Lava sang in Marga style – Marga-vidhana-sampada – (R. I.4.35); in seven melodic modes called Jatis (jatibhih saptabhiyuktam) that were pure (shuddha) ; to the accompaniment of the musical instrument like veena-  tantri – laya – samanvitam (R. I.4.8.34 );

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

: – The music of Kusi-Lava was Baddha, structured into stanzas – with apt rhythm (Taala), tempo (Laya) and words (Pada); and with alamkaras – pathye geye cha madhuram” (R.I.4.8).

: –  Valmiki mentions, Kusi-Lava were well-versed with Murchana and Tri- Sthana (sthana-murcchana-kovidau); the art of Gandharva (tau tu gandharva – tattvajnau) and (bhrataran svara – sampannau gadharva viva- rupinam); as also with the rhythmic patterns – Laya, Yati – in three-speeds. Tri-Sthana might either refer to three voice registers (Mandra, Madhyama and Tara) or three tempos (Vilamba, Madhyama and Druta).

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

:- Lava and Kusha used to sing Ramayana gana with the application of kaku (variations of the vocal sound for expressing aesthetic rasas) –Tam sa shushrava kakusthah purvacharya vinirmitam | Apurvam pathyajatim cha geyena samalamkritam 1 1

From these it is evident that Lava – Kusa were well trained in in the Gandharva type of music; sung with the seven shuddha jati-raga (like like shadji arshabhi, gandhdri, madhyami, panchami, dhaivati and naishadi) having seven svaras, murcchana, sthana or register, rhythm and tempo, and aesthetic ornamentation (alamkara) and mood (rasa and bhava} – rasair-yuktam kavyametadgayatam

Here are some terms that perhaps need short explanations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instrumental Music

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

String instruments

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

Percussion instruments

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

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

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

Wind instruments

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

State of Music

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

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


Continued in Part Six

Gandharva or Marga Music


Sources and References

Ramayanadalli Sangita (Kannada)  by Prof. Dr. R Satyanarayana

Origin of Indian Instrumental Music…

Musical Instruments

Telling a Ramayana

Music of India

Glossary of music terms

The Music and Musical Instruments of North Eastern India by Dilip Ranjan Barthakur
Painting by Shri S Rajam


Posted by on April 22, 2015 in Music, Sangita


Tags: , , , , , ,

Music of India – a brief outline – Part Three

Continued from Part Two – Overview (2) North – South branches


Part Three (of 22) –  Overview (3)


Karnataka samgita

1.1. The Music of South India was referred to as Karnataka Sangita, perhaps, even  slightly prior to 12th century. King Nanyadeva, a prince of a later branch of the Rastrakuta (Karnataka) dynasty who reigned in Mithtili (Nepal) between 1097 and 1133 A.D. in his Sarasvathi-hrdaya-alamkara-hara mentions Karnata-pata tanas. Further, the Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (1127-1139 AD) in his Manasollasa (also called Abhjilashitarta Chintamani) calls the Music of his times as Karnata Sangita . This, perhaps, is the earliest work where the name Karnataka Sangita is specifically mentioned . Later, Thulaja the Nayak ruler of Tanjavuru in his ‘Sangita saramruta’ (1729 – 1735) calls the Music that was in vogue at his time as Karnataka Samgita. That was, perhaps, because the authorities and the Lakshana-granthas he quoted in his work were authored by Kannada-speaking scholars.  Later, Sri Subbarama Dikshitar in his ‘Sangita-sampradaya-pradarshini’ (1904) refers to Sri Purandaradasa as ‘Karnataka Sangita Pitamaha’ (father of Karnataka Music).

The contributions of the Kannada scholars in terms of –  the Lakshna-grathas that articulated the theoretical aspects of the Music; defining the concept of classifying the Ragas under various Mela-s; refining the elements of Music such as Taala; coining fresh Music terms; and, systematizing the teaching methods , particularly in the early stages of learning  – had been truly enormous.


1.2. One of the reasons for naming the Dakshinadi as Karnataka Samgita could be that in the initial stages of its development and even in later times up to the 18th century the texts delineating the Grammar (Lakshana –grantha) of Music were authored mostly by Kannada speaking Music-scholars (Lakshanika). The texts were, however, written in Sanskrit and not in Kannada.

The notable among such texts (Lakshana–grantha) in question, mention could be made of 

: – Manasollasa ( also called Abhjilashitarta Chintamani ) ascribed to Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (12th century) ;

: – Sangita-Cudamani of Jagadekamalla (1138 to 1150 AD ) –   son of king Someshwara , author of Manasollasa;

:- Sangita-sara of  Sage Sri Vidyaranya  (1320 – 1380)  which perhaps was the first text to  group (Mela ) Ragas according to their  parent scale;

: – Sad-raga-chandrodaya of Pundarika Vittala (1583 approx);

 :- Kalanidhi of Catura Kallinatha (Ca,1430),  a reputed commentary on on Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara ; he was in the court of Immadi  Devaraya ( aka Mallikarjuna) the King of Vijayanagar (1446-65);

: – Swaramela-Kalanidhi  by Ramamatya (Ca.1550) a poet-scholar in the court of Vijayanagar ;

: – Sangita Sudha, attributed to Govindacharya (aka. Govinda Dikshita, Ca 1630) ;

: – Chaturdandi-Prakasika (a landmark text in Karnataka Sangita) by Venkatamakhin, son of Govinda Dikshita (ca. 1635);

: –  Sangraha Chudamani by Govindacharya (late 17th – early 18th century), which expanded on Venkatamakhi’s work;

:- and,

the Ragalakshanam  ( early 18th century) of Muddu Venkatamakhin (maternal grandson of Venkatamakhin) which makes a drastic shift in the concept of Mela , identifies the Raga by the position of its notes (Svara-sthana) and characterizes a Raga by its Aroha and Avaroha ( ascending and descending notes).


1.3. The practice of grouping (Mela) the Ragas according to their parent scale, it said, was initiated by Sage Vidyaranya in his Sangita-sara (14th century). Govinda Dikshita (who reverently addresses Sri Vidyarana as: Sri Charana)   confirms this in his Sangita-sudha (1614).  Sri Vidyaranya classified about 50 Ragas into 15 groups (Mela). Mela is a Kannada term meaning collection or group; and it is still in use ( eg. sammelana- is meeting or conference).Sri Vidyaranya ‘s  work on Melakarta system was followed up and improved upon in later times by other Kannada–speaking scholars. For instance; Ramamatya, following Sri Vidyaranya, in his Svara-mela-kalanidhi classified the then known Ragas into 20 Melas. His classification of Melas was based on five criteria (Lakshana): Amsa (predominant note); Graha (initial note); Nyasa (final note); Shadava (sixth note); and, Audava (pentatonic structure). Ramamatya was thereafter followed by:  Pundarika Vittala (16th century); Venkatamakhin (17th century); and his grandson Muddu Venkatamakhin (18th century).



1.4. Sri Sripadaraja (1406-1504) who presided over the Matta at Mulbagal in Kolar District, Karnataka, is credited with reorganizing the Taala system from out of the numerous Desi Taalas (rhythmic patterns) that were in use. He categorized the Taala under seven categories (Suladi sapta taala), each with a fixed number of counts: dhruva (14), matya (10), rupaka (6), jampa (10), triputa (7), ata (14), and eka (4). The counts were measured in terms of Laghu (of one matra duration- notionally to utter four short syllables) and Dhruta (half that of Laghu). He also provided scope for extending these counts (virama) by adding a quarter duration of a Laghu.

It appears; two other Taalas (jhompata, a Desi Taala and Raganamatya from folk traditions) were also in use.

Of course, today, the Taala regimen has completely been overhauled.

Music Terms

1.5 . Many of the Music-terms that are in use today were derived from Kannada. For instance: while the music-content of a song is called Dhatu, its lyrics are Mathu (meaning spoken word in Kannada). Similarly, the terms Sarale and Janti-varase are derived from Kannada. Sarale is, in fact, said to be the local (prakrta) version of the Sanskrit term Svaravali (string of Svaras). And, Varase (meaning style in Kannada) refers to ways of rendering the Svaras in high (melu-sthayi) and low (taggu-sthayi) pitch.

Further, the terms to denote ten modes of ornamentation (Dasha-vidha-Gamaka) were also said to be derived from Kannada: Hommu; Jaaru; Rave; and Orike etc.

Teaching Methods

1.6. Apart from charting the path for development of Music in South India, the teaching methods were systematized by Sri Purandaradasa through framing a series of graded lessons. Sri Purandaradasa is credited with devising a set of initial lessons starting with Maya-malava-gaula Raga and later in other Ragas. The Svaravalis, Janti varse, the Suladi Sapta taala alankaras and Gitams, composed by Sri Purandaradasa, form a part of Music-learning. He has also to his credit numerous lakshya and lakshna Gitams; Suladis, Ugabhogas, Devara Nama and kirtanas.

His compositions served as a model for Sri Tyagaraja. The other composers of the 18th century also followed the song-format devised by Sri Purandaradasa which coordinated the aspects of Raga, Bhava and Taala.

kanaka-vyasa-vadi ed

Contribution of Haridasas

2.1. As regards the Haridasas, their contributions to Karnataka Samgita, spread over six hundred years, have been immense, both in terms of the sheer volume and the varieties of their works.

Haridasas were proficient singers and composers; and, spread their message – of devotion, wisdom, ethics in life and social values- through songs and Music. They composed their songs in Kannada, the spoken language of the common people;  not in Sanskrit as was the practice until then. Their songs were accessible even to the not-so-literate masses; and, soon became hugely popular.

2.2. The range of Haridasa Music is indeed very wide. It spread from songs derived from folk traditions (lullaby (laali), koluhadu, udayaraga, suvvake, sobane, gundakriya etc) to Prabandha forms (gadya, churnika, dandaka, shukasarita, umatilaka and sudarshana), to musical opera and to the classic poetry.

But, the bulk of the Haridasa songs were in the format of: Pada; Suladi; and, Ugabhoga. When put together, their numbers run into thousands

2.3. As regards the Music, they seemed to have re-organised Ragas starting with malavagaula, malahari under 32 (battisa) Raga-groups.

[Incidentally, it is said, it was Sri Sripadaraya who first mentioned and introduced into Haridasa-music the stringed drone instrument Tamburi (Tanpura). And, later it came to be identified with the Haridasas in Karnataka music.]


3.1. Sri Naraharithirtha (13th century), a direct disciple of Sri Madhvacharya, was perhaps the first to compose Kannada songs in Pada- format. (His Ankita or Nama-mudra was Raghupathi.) The model he offered was fully developed and expanded by generations of Haridasa composers. That in turn led to evolution of other song-forms in Karnataka Samgita: Kriti, Kirtana, Javali etc.

3.2. Sri Naraharithirtha, after a considerable gap, was followed by Sri Sripadaraja (Ankita: Rangavittala) who lived for almost a hundred years from 1406-1504. He wrote a good number of Padas as also a long poem in Sanskrit (Bramara-geetha). He also introduced many innovations into Karnataka Music.

3.3. The later set of Haridasas, mostly, lived around the Vijayanagar times. The prominent among them was the most honoured Sri Vyasaraya (1447-1539), a disciple of Sri Sripadaraja. He composed many Padas (Ankita: Sri Krishna).  He enjoyed the patronage of the Vijayanagar King Sri Krishnadevaraya; and, also had a large following of disciples. During the time of Sri Vyasaraya the Haridasa movement (Daasa-kuta) reached its heights. Sri Purandaradasa and Sri Kanakadasa were prominent members of the Daasa-kuta.

3.4. During the same time, Sri Vadiraja (Ankita: Hayavadana) who had his seat in Sode (North Kanara District) composed varieties of Padas, popular songs and lengthy poems in classic style.

3.5. Among the Daasa-kuta , Sri Purandaradasa ( 1484-1564) a disciple of Sri Vyasaraya was  , of course,  the most well known of all. He composed countless Padas (Ankita: Purandara Vittala). Though he is said to have composed gita, thaya, padya-vrata (vrittanama) and prabandha (much of which is lost), he is today known mainly by his Padas, Suladis and Ugabhogas.  His songs cover a range of subjects such as: honesty and purity in ones conduct and thoughts; wholesome   family life; social consciousness and ones responsibility to society; philosophical songs; futility of fake rituals; songs preaching importance of devotion and surrender to God; prayers; narrative songs etc. He systematized the methods of teaching Music; and blended lyrics (Mathu), Music (Dhatuu) and Dance (Nrtya) delightfully. He is credited with introducing early-music lessons such as: sarale (svarali), janti (varase), tala- alankaras as well as the group of songs called pillari gitas.  These form the first lessons in learning Karnataka music even today. Sri Purandaradasa was later revered as Karnataka Samgita Pitamaha (father of Karnataka Music).


It is said; Sri Tyagaraja (1767-1847) derived inspiration from Sri Purandaradasa whom he regarded as one among his Gurus. Sri Tyagaraja, in his dance-drama Prahlada Bhakthi Vijayam pays his tribute to Sri Purandaradasa – వెలయు పురందరదాసుని మహిమలను దలచెద మదిలోన్ (I ponder, in my mind, on the greatness of Purandaradasa who shines in a state of ecstasy, always singing the virtues of Lord Hari which rescues from bad fates). Sri Tyagaraja brought into some of his Kritis the thoughts, emotions and concepts of Sri Purandaradasa.

3.6. A contemporary of Sri Purandaradasa was the equally renowned Sri Kanakadasa (1508-1606). He is remarkable for the range and depth of his works (Ankita: Nele-Adikeshava). He, like the other Haridasas, was driven by the urge to bring about reforms in personal and social lives of people around him. He wrote soulful songs full of devotion (Bhakthi), knowledge (jnana) and dispassion (Vairagya), besides composing classic epic-like poetry in chaste Kannada. His Kavyas: Mohana-tarangini (in Sangatya meter); Nalacharitre, Haribhakthisara and Ramadhyana-charite (in Saptapadi meter) are popular even today.


3.7. Following Sri Kanakadasa there were generations of Haridasas who continued to compose Padas, Devara Namas Ugabhoga, Suladi, Vruttanama, Dandaka, Tripadi and Ragale (blank verse) etc as per their tradition. Among them  the prominent were : Mahipathidasa(1611-1681) ;  Vijayadasa (1682-1755) ; Prasanna Venkatadasa  (1680-1752) ; Gopaladasa (1722-1762) ; Helavanakatte Giriyamma  (18th century) ; Venugopaladasa (18th century) ; Mohanadasa (1728-1751) ; Krishnadasa (18th century) and Jayesha Vittaladasa (1850-1932).

They all have contributed immensely to the development of Karnataka Samgita. Be bow to them with reverence and gratitude


Pada, Suladi, and, Ugabhoga

4.1. As said earlier; the bulk of Haridasa music can broadly be grouped under three categories: Pada; Suladi; and, Ugabhoga.

4.2. The Padas are structured into Pallavi which gives the gist, followed by Anu-pallavi and Charana (stanzas) which elaborates the substance of the Pallavi. Pada is set to a Raga and a Taala. The Pada-format is closer to that of a Kriti. The term Pada is again derived from Kannada, where it stands for spoken-word or a song.

4.3. Suladi ( some say that it could suggest Sulaba-hadi , the easy way) is a delightfully enterprising  graded and a gliding succession of different Taalas (Tala-malika) and Ragas (Raga-malika). Some others  say, the name Suladi also means Su-haadi (meaning a good path, in Kannada).

The Suladi is a unique musical form that evolved from the Salaga Suda class of Prabandha . It is made up of 5 to 7 stanzas ; and does not, generally, have Pallavi or Anu-pallavi. Each stanza explains one aspect of the central theme of the song. And,   each of its stanzas is set to a different Taala (Taala–malika) chosen from among the nine Suladi Taalas (They in their modern form are: dhruva, mathya, rupaka, jhampa, triputa, atta and eka; in addition to two others   jhompata and raganamathya. ) And, at least five Taalas are to be employed in a Suladi.  Occasionally, the folk rhythm Raganmatya Taala is also used.

Therefore, in Suladi, particular attention is paid to the Taala aspect. Sometimes Ragas are not prescribed for rendering a Suladi. Towards the end of the Suladi there is a couplet called Jothe (meaning ‘a pair ‘in Kannada). 

Mahamahopadyaya Dr. R. Satyanarayana explains that the Dhruva Prabandha after which Suladi  was patterned employed nine different types of Taalas, while they were sung as a series of separate songs. Thereafter, there came into vogue a practice of treating each song as a stanza or Dhatu (or charana as it is now called) of one lengthy song. And, it was sung as one Prabandha called Suladi. Thus, the Suladi was a Taala-malika, the garland of Taalas or a multi-taala structure.

He mentions that there was also a practice of singing each stanza of a (Suladi) Prabandha in a different Raga. Thus, a Suladi type of Prabandha was a Taala-malika as also a Raga-malika.

Earlier to that,  Matanga had  mentioned  about Chaturanga Prabandha sung in four charanas (stanzas) each set to a different Raga, different Taala , different language (basha) and different metre (Chhandas) . Similarly, another type of Prabandha called Sharabha-lila had eight stanzas each sung in a separate Raga and Taala.

Sarangadeva also mentioned several types of Prabandha-s which were at once Raga- malikas and Taala-malikas such as : Sriranga, Srivilasa, Pancha-bhangi, Panchanana, Umatilaka, and Raga-kadamba.

Thus , the Raga malika, Taala malika and Raga-Taala- malika concept  which was described in the old texts was adopted and improved upon by the Haridasa (Sripadaraya, Vyasaraya, Vadiraja, Purandaradasa and others) to produce series of Suladi songs.

4.4. Ugabhoga is a piece of single stanza, sung in a Raga of performer’s choice.  They are similar to Vrittams which evolved from the Prabandhas of Desi music.  But, they are free from restrictions of meter or the length of the line. Most Ugabhogas don’t have prescribed ragas. It is a form of free rendering where Taala is absent or is not of much importance.  Ugabhoga attempts to convey a message in a nutshell. Therefore, rendering of the theme is more important here. Ugabhoga is characterised by the dominance of Raga- ‘Svara Raga Pradhana’.

Some say; the name Uga-bhoga is related to elements (Dhatu) of Prabandha Music, called Udgraha and A-bogha.  In the song set in Prabandha format, the element Udgraha consisting a pair of lines grasps (udgrahyate) the substance of poem; and, the element A-bogha completes the poem.

Baliya manege vaamana bandante | BhagIrathage sri  Gange bandante | Mucukundage shrI Mukunda bandante | Vidurana manege shrI Krishna bandante | Vibhishanana manege shrI Raama bandante | Ninna naamavu enna naaligeli nindu | Sthalnali srI Purandaravittala ||

As can be seen, there is the opening section (Udgraha) and the last line (Abogha) with the signature (Birudu, Ankita or or Mudra) of the composer. The Ugabhoga is not structured into sections.

There is no prescribed Raga; and there is no Taala either. This Ugabhoga was rendered famous by Smt. ML .Vasantha Kumari who sang the first part in Hamsanandi and the rest in Maand

4.5. The Haridasas through their Padas, Ugabhogas, Suladis and Geetas set to attractive Ragas and Taalas carried to the doors of the common people the message of Bhakthi as also of worldly wisdom.

Trinity of Music


5.1. The contributions of the celebrated Musical Trinity- Sri Tyagaraja, Sri Mutthuswami Dikshitar and Sri Shyama Shastri – are enormous. Their period could doubtless be called the golden age of Karnataka Samgita. Though the three did not meet together, they seemed to have complemented each other wonderfully well.  The approach of each was different from the other. And yet; their combined influences has bound the Music of South India into an integrated system and has given it an identity. For instance; of the three, Shyama Shastri seemed to favour tradition, as most of his compositions are in Ragas mentioned in older treatises. Sri Dikshitar was open to influences from the Music of the West (Nottu sahitya) as also that of the North (Drupad music of North India). Some of his compositions in Vilamba-kaala are set in Ragas derived from North Indian Music. Yet; Sri Dikshitar was authentically original; and was also rooted in tradition, following Mela-Ragas classification of Venkatamakhin and that of Muddu Venkatamakhin’s Ragalakshana.

5.2. Sri Tyagaraja seemed to be more innovative. He brought to life some rare Ragas that were long forgotten and had gone out of use. He also created some new ragas. He perfected the Kriti format of Musical compositions that are in vogue today; introduced the practice of Sangathi elaboration of the Pallavi; and built in Svaras into Sahitya. And, he was also  a prolific composer, having produced large numbers of Kritis/Kirtanas, Utsava-sampradaya kirtanas, Divya nama samkirtanas and Geya Natakas (dance dramas).

5.3. The post-Trinity period saw an explosion of light musical forms, such as: Varnas, Thillanas, Swarajathis, Jathiswarams, Shabdams and Javali. The composers of these musical pieces were mostly the disciples of the Trinity and their subsequent generation of disciples and their followers.


Today and tomorrow

6.1. As you look back, you find that the Music of India developed and changed, over the centuries, at multiple layers due to multiple influences. The Indian classical music as we know today is the harmonious blending of varieties of musical traditions such as sacred music, art music ,  folk music and other musical expressions of India’s extended neighbourhood.  And, yet the Music of India has a unique characteristic and an identity of its own.

6.2. The Music of India has travelled a long way. The modern day Music scene is markedly different from its earlier Avatar, in its practice and in its attitude. The traditional system of patronage vanished long back. Now, the professional musicians have to earn their livelihood by public performance, recoded discs, radio /TV channels, teaching in schools or at home. The relation between the teacher and student , the ways of teaching as also the attitudes of either teaching or learning have all  undergone a sea change; almost a complete departure from the past practices and approaches .   New technology and accessories are brought in to enhance the quality and volume of sound output. Many new instruments, starting with violin and Harmonium, are being adopted for rendering traditional music (saxophone, mandolin etc). The styles of rendering the Alap or the song or even selection of Ragas/kritis are all hugely different. Many musicians have been experimenting with fusion music of various sorts. And above all, there is the overbearing influence of film music.

6.3.  But, at the same time, I believe the fundamental basics of Indian music are not yet distorted. It is, as ever, growing with change, adapting to varying contexts and environments.  This, once again, is a period of exploration and change. It surely is the harbinger of the Music to come in the next decades.

Lotus Blossom_

 In the coming instalments of the series, we will take a look at the various stages in the evolution of the Music of India, separately, each at a time :the  Music of Sama Veda; the  Music in Ramayana; Gandharva or Marga Music; the Music of Dhruvas in Natyashastra ; the Desi Music of Ragas; the Prabandhas along with Daru and other forms  ; various types of song- formats; the best of all formats – the Kritis also ; and at the end , the Lakshana Granthas composed over the centuries, in a bit more detail.


In the next part of the series we shall try to catch a glimpse of the Music of Sama Veda.

power of Music

Continued in Part Four

Music of Sama Veda

Sources and References

ಕರ್ನಾಟಕ ಸಂಗೀತ’ದಲ್ಲಿ  ಕನ್ನಡ’

Important Treatises on Carnatic Music by Harini Raghavan

Haridasa s’ contribution towards Music


Posted by on April 22, 2015 in Music, Sangita


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Music of India – a brief outline – Part Two

Continued from Part One – Overview


Part Two (of 22) –

Overview (2) – continued

North – South branches

1.1. The Music of India, today, flourishes in two main forms:  the Hindustani or Uttaradi (North Indian music) and the Karnataka or Dakshinadi Samgita (South Indian music). Both the systems have common origins; and spring from the traditional Music of India. But, owing to historical reasons, and intermingling of cultures, the two systems started to diverge around 14th Century, giving rise to two modes of Music.

1.2. In that context, Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara (first half of 13th century) is of particular importance, because it was written just before influence of the Muslim conquest began to assert itself on Indian culture.  The Music discussed in Sangita-ratnakara is free from Persian influence. Sangita-ratnakara therefore marks the stage at which the ‘integrated’ Music of India was before it branched into North-South Music traditions. It is clear that by the time of Sarangadeva, the Music of India had moved far away from Marga or Gandharva, as also from the system based on Jatis (class of melodies) and two parent scales.  By his time, many new conventions had entered into the main stream; and   the concept of Ragas that had taken firm roots was wielding considerable authority.  Sarangadeva mentions names of about 267 Ragas.

1.3. In regard to the Music in South India, the Persian influence, if any, came in rather late. Written in 1550, the Svara-mela-kalanidhi of Ramamatya, a minister in the court of Rama Raja of Vijayanagar, makes it evident that the Music of India of that time was yet to be influenced by the Persian music. Somanatha (1609) in his Raga-vibodha confirms this view, although he himself seemed to be getting familiar with Persian music.

Mughal Shamsa, smallest

The Persian influence


2.1. The Muslim Sultanat began to get foothold in India by about 1200 A.D, when all major Hindu powers of Northern India had lost their independence,

Conquering Muslims came in contact with a system of Music that was highly developed and, in some ways, similar to their own. The poet Amir Khsru an expert in Music in the court of Allauddin Khilji, Sultan of Delhi (1290-1316) was full of praise for the traditional Music of India. And, at the same time, Khsru was involved with the Sufi movement within Islam which practiced music with the faith that Music was a means to the realisation of God.

2.2. But, that didn’t seem to be the general attitude among most of the later Muslim rulers. India in the sixteenth century was politically and geographically fragmented. There were also conflicting cultural practices and prejudices. Though the Mughal era, in general, witnessed musical development, Musicians and Music, as such, did suffer much.

For instance; Aurangzeb (1658-1707) threw the whole lot of musicians out of his court. The grieving , hapless musicians , wailing and lamenting carry the ‘bier’ of music and symbolically bury ‘music’ in Aurangzeb’s presence. Aurangzeb,undaunted, retorted  “Bury it so deep that no sound or echo of it may rise again” (Muntakhab-al Lubab, p.213)


The unfortunate artists , no longer able to support themselves,  were scattered and had to seek their livelihood in humbler provincial courts. In the process, the accumulated musical knowledge and musical theories developed over the years were lost. The priority of the professional musicians, at that juncture, was to make living by practicing music that pleased their patrons.

2.3. Yet; Music and its traditions did manage to survive and flourish in India despite the Muslim rule and its harsh attitudes towards Music in general and the Indian in particular. Persian Music along with Indian Music was commonly heard in Indian courts; and, the two systems of Music did interact. Amir Khsru, who served in courts of many patrons and assimilated diverse musical influences, is credited with introducing Persian and Arabic elements into Indian Music. These included new vocal forms as well as new Ragas (Sarfarda, Zilaph), Taalas; and, new musical instruments such as Sitar and Tablas (by modifying Been and Mridamgam). Another modification of Been is said to be tanpura (or tambura, tanpuri) that provides and maintains Sruti. (Till then, it is said, flute – Venu – provided Sruti).  Of the vocal forms that were developed, two are particularly important: Qaul, the forerunner of Qawwali, a form of Muslim religious music; and, Tarana a rhythmic song composed of meaningless syllables.

Sitar Tabla

[As regards Sitar, Pandit Ravi Shankar points out that documentation of the history of Sitar between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries is lacking; and, suggests that Khsru ‘adapted’ probably a ‘Tritantri Veena’, already known to Indians along with its many variations. Khsru gave it the name ‘Sehtar’; reversing the order of the strings in the instrument;  and placing them in present form i.e. ‘the main playing string on outside, and the bass strings closer to the player’s body’. This order is opposite to what we find on Been. But, strangely, the Persian treatise on music written in Gujarat in 1374-75 A.D. Viz. Ghunyat-ul Munya does not mention Sitar or Tabla, though it mentions a number of Tat, Vitat, and Sushira and Ghana instruments.– Bhartiya Sangeet ka Itihaas, Ghunyat ul- Munya, pp. 52-62, Dr. Pranjpay]


2.4. Even during the Muslim rule, Music did enjoy some patronage. It appears Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq (1325-1351) had in his court as many as 1200 musicians. Many other Muslim rulers were also patrons of Music. And, some of them were themselves musicians. For instance; Husyan Shah Sharqi (1458-1528) Sultan of Jaunpur*, a musician in his own right, is credited with introducing a new form of song–rendering, Khyal (Khayal) lending greater scope for improvisation and technical virtuosity than did the ancient Dhrupad. Similarly, Ibrahim Adil shah (1582-1636) of Bijapur (Karnataka), a poet and musician, in his Kitab-i-Nauras (Nava Rasa) compiled his poems set to music. He is also credited with bringing to fore the Raga-mala paintings, depicting pictorial representations to Ragas, their moods and seasons. Similarly, it is said, the. Khyal singing came into its own due largely to the efforts of Sadarang and Adarang during the reign of Mohammad Shah Rangeela (1719-1748).

[* Swami Prajnanananda in his A History of Indian Music (Volume One- Ancient Period) under the Chapter ‘Evolution of the Gitis and the Prabandhas’ writes:

During Raja Mansingh‘s time Dhrupads were performed in different Ragas’ and Raginis. Khayal form is purely imaginative and colorful. There are different opinions about its evolutions (1) Some say Khayal evolved from Kaivada-prabandha, (2) it originated from Rasak or Ektali-prabandha, (3) it evolved from Rupaka-prabandha, (4) it was created on the image of Sadharani-giti.

In the opinion of Thakur Jaideva Singh, Khayal form is a natural development of ‘Sadharani-Giti’. So Khayal form was neither invented by Indo-Persian poet Amir Khusro nor by Sultan of Jaunpur Hussain Sharqui. The Khayal of slow tempo was designed and made popular by a noted Dhrupadist and Veenkar Niyamat Khan who was in the Court of Sultan Muhammed Shah in 18th Century A.D. Khayal already existed in some form at the time of Akbar in 16th-17th century and it was practiced by Hindu and Muslim musicians like Chand Khan, Suraj Khan and Baj Bahadur. There are lighter forms like Thumri, Dadra and Gazal etc.

[Sadharani –Giti was a style of rendering Dhrupad combining in itself the virtues of four other Gitis or modes of singing that were in vogue during the early Mughal times : Shuddha–Giti (pure, simple, straight contemplative); Bhinna Giti (innovative, articulated, fast and charming Gamaka phrases); Gaudi Giti (sonorous, soft, unbroken mellow stream of singing in all the three tempos); Vesara or Vegasvara Giti (fastness in rendering the Svaras).]

2.5. Even among the Hindu Kings there were Musicians of repute, such as Raja Mansingh of Tomar, Gwalior (1486-1516). He was a generous patron of the arts. Both Hindu and Muslim musicians were employed in his court. He brought back the traditional form of Dhrupad music (Skt. Dhruvapada). He edited a treatise Man Kautuhal, put together by the scholars in his court, incorporating many of the innovations that had entered traditional Indian music since the time of Amir Ahusraw. Raja Mansingh is also credited with compiling/editing three volumes of songs: Vishnupadas (songs in praise of lord Vishnu); Dhrupads; as also, Hori and Dhamar songs associated with the festival of Holi. It is said; later during 1665-66 Fakirullah Saifkhan, a musician in the court of Jahangir (1605-27) partially translated Raja Mansingh’s Man Kautuhal into Persian.

 [Please do read the article about the state of Dhrupad Music in the   Mughal reign during seventeenth-century, written by Katherine Butler Schofield  Professor in Music at King’s College London; and, brought out by the Royal Asiatic Society and the British Library.

Please do not miss to see the colourful illustrations of folios of the Dhrupad songs during the Mughal period.

 She says; of all the arts and sciences cultivated in Mughal India, outside poetry, it is the music that is by far the best documented. She also tells us about the role and power of music at the Mughal court at the empire’s height, before everything began to unravel

Hundreds of substantial works on music from the Mughal period are said to be still extant, in Sanskrit, Persian, and North Indian vernaculars. The following is a brief extract from her talk.

The first known writings in Persian on Indian music date from the thirteenth century CE; and, in vernacular languages from the early sixteenth. These often were translated directly from the Sanskrit theoretical texts.

A particularly authoritative model was Sarngadeva’s Sagīta-ratnākara, the Ocean of Music, written c. 1210–47 for the Yadava ruler of Devagiri (Daulatabad) in the Deccan. This was initially translated into Persian and Dakhni.

Later, the text also came out in vernacular languages, in rather interesting ways. These versions included large additional sections presenting contemporary material chosen from the region in which they were written.

Among such improvised versions, Katherine Butler Schofield  mentions, Ghunyat al-Munya or Richness of Desire, the earliest known Persian treatise on Hindustani music, composed in 1375 for the Delhi-sultanate governor of Gujarat.  

And the other being, Shaikh Abd al-Karim’s Javāhir al-Mūsīqāt-i Muammadī or Jewels of Music, a unique Persian and vernacular manuscript produced at the Adil Shahi court of Bijapur (Karnataka).

Though the Javāhir has its core the Dakhni translation of Sarangadeva’s Sangita ratnakara, it deviates from the main text in number of ways. The Javāhir sidesteps the traditional discussions on Ragas, their concepts, framework and varied forms, which perhaps was getting rather stale by then.  Instead, it introduced the new and vibrant concept of Ragamala (garland of Rāgas).

Katherine Butler Schofield mentions that the Sanskrit authors, in the Mughal domains, continued to write a variety of musical texts. But, what was more notable, during the seventeenth century, was the effort to re-codify and systematise Hindustani music, in new ways; and, in more accessible regional languages, especially suited to the Mughal era.

From there, the translations or the re-rendering of the older texts Hindustani music seem to have moved from Persian  into Hindi, Brajbhasha and other vernaculars , during the reigns of Jahangir and Shah Jahan. For instance; the well-known Sahasras or Thousand Sentiments, a compilation of 1004 Dhrupad songs created by the early sixteenth-century master-musician Nayak Bakhshu, was re-rendered into Brajbhasha, with an introduction in Persian.

The other instance of re-codifying the principles of Hindustani music was the rendering of Damodara’s Sanskrit text, Sagīta-darpaa or Mirror of Music, of early seventeenth century, into Brajbhasha by Harivallabha during the  mid seventeenth-century. Later, in eighteenth-century, it was followed by a gloss in modern Hindi by a hereditary musician, Jivan Khan

Another example is an eighteenth-century interlinear copy of the premier Sanskrit treatise of the early seventeenth century, Damodara’s Sagīta-darpaa or Mirror of Music. Here, alongside the Sanskrit text, we have Harivallabha’s hugely popular mid seventeenth-century Brajbhasha translation, combined with an eighteenth-century gloss in modern Hindi by a hereditary (khandani) musician, Jivan Khan.


The first major piece of Mughal theoretical writing in Persian on Hindustani were the chapters on music and musicians written by Akbar’s great ideologue Abu’l Fazl in his Ā’īn-i Akbarī (1593).

But, the process really took off during the reign of Aurangzeb. The translations during his reign were predominantly in Persian. The more prominent among such translated texts, which occupied the canonical position for the next two hundred years, were:

1) The Miftā al-Sarūd or Key to Music: a translation of a lost Sanskrit work called Bhārata-sagīta by Mughal official Qazi Hasan, written in 1664, at Daulatabad

2) The Rāg Darpan or Mirror of Rāga, a work written in 1666 by Saif Khan Faqirullah, completed when he was governor of Kashmir. Faqirullah cites extensively verbatim from the Mānakutūhala, an early sixteenth-century Hindavi work traditionally attributed to Raja Man Singh of Gwalior.

3) The Tarjuma-i Kitāb-i Pārījātak: the 1666 Translation of Ahobala Pandit’s Sanskrit masterpiece Sagītapārijāta by Mirza Raushan Zamir.

4) The fifth chapter of the Tufat al-Hind or Gift of India: 1675 Mirza Khan’s famous work drawn , mainly, from Damodara’s Mirror of Music and from Faqirullah’s Mirror of Rāga. The text which was exhaustive became hugely influential in later centuries.

5) The Shams al-Awāt or Sun of Songs, written in 1698,  by Ras Baras Khan kalāwant, son of Khushhal Khan and the great-great-grandson of Tansen. This work is primarily another Persian translation of Damodara’s Sangitadarpana or Mirror of Music.  The text is enriched with invaluable insights from the orall tradition  of Ras Baras’s esteemed musical lineage.

6) The Nishā-ārā or Ornament of Pleasure, was prepared ,  most likely late seventeenth-century prior to1722 , by the hereditary Sufi musician Mir Salih qawwāl Dehlavi (of Delhi).

These and other treatises written during the time of Aurangzeb cover, in significant depth, a wide range of musical terrain. Their overriding concern and unifying theme, was about the nature of the Rāga, their derivatives and structures.]

2.6. The Persian influence brought in a changed perspective in the style of rendering the classical Indian music as it then existed in North India. The devotional Dhruvapad transformed into the Dhrupad form of singing. And, the Khayal developed as a new form of singing art-music, in the 17th century.


Taking positions

3.1. The periods of 16-18th centuries were rather confusing. While the songs of the Indian music were either in Sanskrit or in a regional language, the Muslim singers found it difficult either to pronounce the words or to grasp the emotional appeal. Similarly, Hindu musicians found it difficult to render songs in Persian, some of which elaborated Muslim religious themes. As a result, in either case, in the Music of North India, the words of the songs lost their importance or were of little significance to the singers, while all the attention was focused on voice culture, melodic improvisation and style of rendering the music. Further, an increasing number of Music-scholars of the North discussed Hindustani Art Music and wrote their works in Persian, Urdu, Hindi and other regional languages, instead of in Sanskrit. Such an admixture of Indian-Persian-Muslim influences over a period of four centuries from the sixteenth resulted in the Hindustani music of today.

karnataka samgita

3.2. Thus, while in the Music of South India the texts were written mainly in Sanskrit ;  and while its  Music continued to be based in structured formats (such as Kriti) and lyrics (Sahitya); the Hindustani music focused on experimenting  with  the possibilities of improvising the musical elements of a song. While Karnataka music retained the traditional octave (sapta svara), the Hindustani music adopted a scale of Shudha Svara saptaka (octave of natural notes).  And at the same time, both the systems exhibited great assimilative power, absorbing folk tunes and regional tilts; and elevating many of the regional tunes to the status of Ragas.

North- South interaction

Hindustani Music

4.1. The North and South regions of India had been aware of the developments in each other’s system of Music, art etc; and, there were also attempts to exchange.

For instance; Mahendra Varma Pallava (CE 600-630), who ruled from Kanchipuram in the seventh century, published some compositions of the North by having them engraved on the rocks on the hill at kudumiyanmalai, in Sanskrit (in Pallava-Grantha characters)  with footnote in Tamil. The inscription is actually an extract of Music lesson (Abhyasa gayana) for developing four types of finger–techniques (Chatush-prahara-Svaragama) for playing on the Veena. The type of the Veena is mentioned as Parivardhini. The inscription which is in seven sections mentions Ragas such as: Madhyamagrama, Shadjagrama, Shadava, Shadharita, Panchama, Kaisikamadhyama   and Kaisiki. It is said in the inscription that these lessons were ‘made for the benefit of the pupils by the King who is the devotee of Maheshwara the Supreme Lord and the disciple of Rudracharya’.


The King Nanyadeva (11th century) who established the Rastrakuta dynasty of Karnataka in Mithila (Nepal) in his commentary on Natyashastra refers to Karnata-pata Taanas and to many other elements of the music of the South.

Sarangadeva  in his Sangita Ratnakara (Chapter : Ragadhyaya; Section : Ragangadi Nirnaya Prakarana ), while enumerating ten vibhasha Ragas, mentions a Raga with a Kannada name Devara-vardhini.

Every author of the South based his theory of Karnataka Samgita on the texts of Bharatha, Dattila, Matanga and Sarangadeva.

The  two systems have continued to influence each other  even after Muslim rule . And, that increased  since about the 14th century, in a number of ways. For instance; Gopala Nayaka travelled all the way from the South to become the court musician of Allauddin Khilji (1295-1315) in the North. He cultivated the friendship of the Persian musicologist, Amir Khusrau. Their discussion led to the development of new Ragas. These were incorporated in the treatise on music by the 16th century scholar Pundarika Vittala.

4.2. Till about the late 16th century both the South and North traditions followed the same set of texts.  Then, Pundarika Vittala (1583 approx) a musician-scholar from Karnataka (from around Shivaganga Hills about 50 KMs from Bangalore), who settled down in the North under the patronage of Muslim King Burhan Khan, wrote a series of books concerning Music of North India: Vitthalya; Raga-mala; Nartana-nirnaya; and his famous Sad-raga-chandodaya. Later he moved to the court of the prince Madhavasimha and Manasimha, feudatory of Akbar. Here he wrote Raga-narayana and Raga-manjari. In his writings, Pundarika Vittala carried forward the work of Gopala Nayaka (14th century) of grafting Karnataka music on to the newly evolving North Indian music.  In his work Raga-manjari, Pundarika Vittala adopted the parent scale (Mela) classification of Ragas as was devised by Ramamatya (Ca. 1550) in his Swaramela-Kalanidhi. (Ramamatya, in turn, is said to have taken the term Mela meaning ‘group’ and its concept from Sage Vidyaranya’s (1320-1380) Samgita Sara.) Pundarika listed 20 contemporary Ragas of North into Melas, which were not identical with their South Indian examples.

4.3. Somanatha (1609 A.D) a musician scholar hailing from Andhra Desha, largely followed the theories of Pundarika Vittala. Somanatha in his Raga-vibodha mentions 51 Ragas, of which 29 are used in the Music of the present-day: 17 in Karnataka Music, 8 in Hindustani and 4 in both the systems. Some scholars surmise Somanatha’s Ragas mostly correspond to modern Hindustani Ragas; and, though the names of some his Ragas resemble those in Karnataka system it is likely they developed along different lines.

Somanatha is also said to have brought into vogue the practice of writing notations (Raga-sanchara). Raga-vibodha is perhaps the only example before the modern times of any Indian Music using Notations. But, sadly, this valuable text did not receive the level of attention that it deserved.

He is also credited with outlining the rules regarding the time of performance, their special characters (Raga-lakshana) or the atmosphere of some of the Ragas. Some of his concepts are still relevant in Hindustani Music, but have not found place in Karnataka Samgita.  For instance; Somanatha in chapter four of his Raga-vibodha describes Raga Abhiri (equivalent to Abheri as it is known now) as a woman (Abhira), dark in complexion, wearing a black dress adorned with a garland of fresh flowers around her neck, attractive ear ornaments. She has a soft and a tender voice; and, wears her hair in beautiful strands.

[Abira is surmised to be a pretty looking Gopi of the Abhira tribe of Mathura region. She is an attractive looking dark complexioned tribal girl.  In the traditional Indian Music, dark complexion of the Ragini and her dark clothes correspond to the predominant note (Amsa) Pa]

4.4. The other significant work that attempted to introduce the elements of South Indian music in the North was Pandita Ahobala (early 17th century) who described himself as a ‘Dravida Brahmana, the son of Samskrita Vidwamsa Sri Krishna Pandita’.

Pandita Ahobala’s Samgita Parijata pravashika describing 68 types of Alamkaras or Vadana-bedha is said to be an improvement over Somanatha’s Raga-vibodha. And, it is regarded by some as the earliest text of the North Indian Music. Following Ramamatya and Pundarika Vittala, Ahobala classified 122 Ragas under six Mela categories. Instead of using specific names for his scales, Ahobala used phrases like vikrta svara, komal, tivra, tivratara, and so on. His scale of Shuddha notes, it is said, corresponds to the current Kafi Thath of the Hindustani system.

Pandita Ahobala’s famous Sangita Parijata was translated into Persian by Mirza Raushan Zamir (1666) as Tarjoma -yi- parijatak, with his own comments.

4.5. There were some other works that classified Ragas (including those of the North) according to Melas, such as: Rasa Kaumudi by Srikantha (Ca. 1575) a South Indian musicologist who migrated North; Raga Tarangini by Locana Kavi (?) recognizing 12 Mela Ragas and 86 Janya (derivative) Ragas which included some Ragas attributed to Amir Kushro; and, Hrdaya kautuka and Hrdaya Prakasha by Hrdaya Narayana Deva (Ca.1660).

lotus reflection

South coming close to North

5.1. By the end of 17th century the classical styles of the two strands of Music had stabilized in their own manners. Seeing that music of North and South were drifting apart in technical aspects, many scholars did make efforts to harmonize the two systems.

5,2, For instance, in the South, Venkatamakhin (1660), author of the monumental Chaturdandi Prakashika which re-structured the Karnataka Samgita, in his list of Desi Ragas included Bhibhas, Hammir, Bilaval, Dhanashri and Malhar which are primarily Ragas of the North.

5.3. And, Sri Mutthuswami Dikshitar, who followed Vekatamakhin’s classification of Mela Ragas, in his youth, lived in Varanasi for about seven years and learnt Dhrupad singing. He brought in the shades of Uttaradi-samgita in some of his Kritis, in his own unique and original manner without compromising pristine Music [e.g. Hamir Kalyani (Kedar), Hindolam (Malkauns), Dvijavanti (Jaijaivanti), Yamuna-kalyani (Yaman) and Brindavana Saranga.]


6.1. As regards the North Indian music, it was, at that stage, had almost parted with the traditional theories of Music. And, it had come to be regarded more as collection of individual entities than as an organized system of Ragas. Their Ragas were known by the times and seasons they should be performed; their character; magical properties, etc.

6.2. Further, after the disintegration of the Muslim empire the political structure of North India fragmented into numerous small states ruled by Nawabs and Maharajas. Each ruler competed with his rival in studding his court with famed musicians. It is said, rulers of some states borrowed heavily to get hold of top-notch performers. Each ruler was keen to establish the superiority of the Music of his court over that of others. Each would goad his musicians to come up with different styles and techniques of singing, such as: Taans, Murkis, Layakaari, Tayaari, and so on. The Music across North India, thus, came to be stratified into styles of various court-music. Each was known as a Gharana (‘family’ or ‘house’), named after its patron (such as: Gwalior Gharana, Patiala Gharana, Jaipur Gharana and so on) . Each ruler desired to have his very own personalized Gharana of music. And if no particular geographical region could be identified then a Gharana would take the name of the founder; as for instance: Imdadkhani Gharānā named after the great Imdad Khan (1848 -1920) who served in the Royal Courts of Mysore and Indore.

A  Gharana, in due course,   turned into a symbol of social standing, affluence and power among the rulers .


6.3. The proliferation of Gharanas gave raise to bewildering styles of singing. Further, there was no exchange of ideas among the Gharanas, because of the element of competition among their patrons. Each Gharana guarded its technique as a secret; and each turned into an island.  Performing to please the patron had taken priority; and, the theoretical aspects were left far behind. Music had become a practical craft. Attempts at standardization did not begin until the twentieth century when Pandit V. N. Bhatkhande worked out a system of classification.

Bhatkhande’s efforts


7.1. Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande (1860-1936), a scholar and a musicologist, in his colossal work ‘Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati’ reorganized the Uttaradi or North Indian Music, mainly,  by adopting the concept of Mela (grouping derived Ragas under a  principal Raga) system as expanded by Venkatamakhin (1660) in the Appendix to his Chatur-dandi-prakashika. [Venkatamakhin classified the Ragas according to the system of 72 basic scales (Mela)]. Bhatkhande also adopted the idea of Lakshana-geetas that Venkatamakhin employed to describe the characteristics of a Raga. Bhatkhande arranged all the Ragas of the Uttaradi Samgita into ten basic groups called ‘Thaat’, based on their musical scales.  The Thaat arrangement, which is an important contribution to Indian musical theory, broadly corresponds with the Mela-karta system of Dakshinadi samgita.


8.1. Thus, after the early parts of the 20th century, there began a growing realisation that though the two systems differ from each other in their peculiar and characteristic treatment of Ragas, their fundamental principles are similar. At the same time, the differences in their style of presentation were recognized and given due credit.

Karnataka Music generally begins in Madhyama-kaala (medium tempo) while the Hindustani begins in Vilamba-kaala (slow tempo). The techniques of Alamkara (ornamentation), Gamaka-s and Jaaru (slides) also differ.

The classification of Ragas in the two systems under the Melakartas (the major category) does indeed differ. And yet; certain Ragas of one system correspond to a certain Raga of the other system, though their names differ. For instance; Shubha Pantuvarali, Hindola, Abheri and Mohana of Karnataka Music correspond to Thodi, Malkaunss, Bhimplas and Bhupali of the Hindustani music.

There are plenty more such Ragas that are common to both the systems. Further, there also pairs of Ragas that have the same/similar set of notes (svara-sthana) but slightly differ from one another.

Coming close again

9.1. In the latter half of the 20th century the music of the North and the South did come closer, with the musicians of either branch trying to understand the approach and the idioms of the other. On the performance stage, Ustads and Vidwans began playing together (Jugalbandi) the Ragas common to both; Tabla virtuosos played alongside Mridanga artistes. Now, ragas such as Hamsadhvani, Abhogi and Kiravani became as much Hindustani as they were Karnataka.

9.2. The barriers are thus breaking down and there is a greater awareness among the musicians of today that the music of India is one; and, that two branches that originated from a common stock are indeed the two facets or modes of expressions of an integrated, fundamental Music tradition of India.  And, that the Hindustani and Karnataka systems are but the two classical styles based on a common grammar but with different approaches and modes of expression. It is just their approach, techniques and Mano-dharma that have branched out.

9.3. It is good that the two styles have not attempted to merge into one; because, each enjoys its unique flavour, charm and brilliance. And, it is good that there is a growing mutual respect and appreciation of each other’s genius. The two are indeed variations of the same system and not two different systems altogether.


Continued in Part Three

…. Overview (3) – continued

Sources and References

The Rāgs of North Indian Music: Their Structure and Evolution  by Nazir Ali Jairazbhoy

Indian Music: History and Structure   by Emmie Te Nijenhuis’

The Music of India  by Reginald Massey, Jamila Massey

History of Hindustani Classical Music

Origins of Indian Music – The medieval period


Leave a comment

Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Music, Sangita


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,