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The Meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Twelve

Continued from Part Eleven



According to Bhartrhari

As mentioned earlier in the series, Bhartrhari , at the commencement (Granta-aaramba or Grantha-mukha) of Brahmakanda , the first chapter  of his renowned work the Vakyapadiya,  asserts the identity of the Sabda tattva (the Word principle) with the Absolute Reality, the Brahman (vāg vai brahmeti) which is without a beginning (Anadi), without an end (Nidana) and is imperishable (Aksharam). 

That Brahman, he avers, is  One (ekam eva) and is the essence of Sabda from which the whole of existence is derived. And, it transforms (Vivartate) itself into speech; as words, their meanings (Artha) and also the universe (jagato yataha).

 (Anadi-nidhanam Brahma sabda-tattvam yad-aksharam / vivartate artha-bhavena prakriya jagato yatah – VP. 1.1)

Thus, according to Bhartrhari, Sabda Brahman is the ultimate ground of all existence; and, the Sabda tattva is the first principle of the universe.

For Bhartrhari, Vac or speech is the means to all knowledge and is the essence of consciousness. He regards speech as the verbal expression of a thought that arises in a person’s consciousness. If there is no consciousness, he argues, there would be no speech. Speech (Vac) is indeed an outward form (Vargupta) of consciousness (chetana or Samjna).

Thus, Vac is the word principle that gives expression to the latent or un-manifest thoughts, feelings and impulses. And at the same time, for Bhartrhari, all forms of awareness imply the presence of words. That is to say; language is an integral part of our consciousness.


At a metaphysical level, Bhartrhari conceives the ultimate Reality as One-without–a second (Ekam Eva). It is of the nature of the Word (Sabda eva tattvam) and from it are manifested all objects (including speech) and the whole of existence.

[Bhartrhari was a monist (Advaita) philosopher; and, he explained everything in terms of his metaphysical view point. Thus, at the top of the language hierarchy there is only one indivisible reality present; and that transforms into many.]

According to Bhartrhari, the language we speak is the medium of expression of the Ultimate Reality communicated through meaning-bearing words. It leads us across the external appearances and diversities to the core of the Reality which is the source and the underlying unity beneath everything. 

Here, the Real is the luminous Truth which needs to be rediscovered by every speaker. The Real breaks forth (sphut) through the medium of speech (Sabda). And, Sabda is not mere means to the Reality, but it is the very Truth and Reality (Shabda-Brahman).


In the Vritti accompanying the main text of the Vakyapadiya (1.14), Bhartrhari describes and offers explanations on the process of evolution or transformation (Vivarta) of the thought arising in one’s mind into audible speech. According to Bhartrhari, the process of transformation of a thought or an impulse arising in ones consciousness into a cognizable, explicit speech resembles the evolution of the Universe from the un-manifest (A-vyakta) to the manifest (Vyakta) material world.

Bhartrhari explains; at first, the intention (iccha) exists in the mind of the speaker as a unity or Sphota. In the process of giving an outward form to that impulse or thought, he produces a series of different sounds in a sequence where one sound follows its previous one. It might appear as though those word-sounds are separated in time and space. But, they are indeed part and parcel of one and the same single entity – the sentence which puts out, in full, the intention of the speaker. The communication of a sentence and its meaning is not complete until its last word is uttered. Thus, though the word-sounds reach the listener in a sequence, eventually they all merge into one; and, are grasped by the listener as a single unit. The same Sphota which originated in speaker’s mind re-manifests in listener’s mind, conveying the intended meaning.

[In the Vakyapadiya, the concept of Sabda occupies a central role; Bhartrhari equates it with Sphota to show the metaphysical nature of the language.]

Such process of unfolding of speech (Vac) is said to take place, at least, in two stages. The first one is the thought that flashes and takes a form within. And, the other is that which comes out as audible speech riding the vehicle of words and sentences; attempting to transport the idea that arose within.  The former is intuition (Prathibha) the flash of insight that springs up; and, the latter is the effort that is exerted, both internally and externally, to put it out.

According to Bhartrhari, the process of manifestation or transformation of the speech principle (Sabda tattva) or the latent, unspoken form of thought, into explicit audible speech can be said to be spread over three stages, Viz. Pashyanti, Madhyamā   and Vaikhari.

Bhartrhari explains that Vak or any sort of communication passes through these three stages whenever one speaks or gives expression to it in any other form. Sabda which is at first quite internal is gradually externalized for the purpose of utterance.      [Hearing, of course, operates in the reverse direction]

[While Bhartrhari regards the levels of speech as three (Pashyanti, Madhyamā and Vaikhari), Abhinavagupta enumerates four levels (Para, Pashyanti, Madhyamā and Vaikhari). Bhartrhari does not specifically name Para, pure consciousness, as the source of all speech.

However, some scholars have tried to reconcile that seeming difference between the stance of the two scholars by explaining that Bhartrhari’s concept of the speech-principle Sabda-tattva or Sabda-Brahman the fundamental basis of the all existence and of speech, virtually equates to the concept of Para Vac, the Supreme Consciousness, as expounded   by Abhinavagupta. Please see Part Eleven of the series.]


According to the explanations provided by Bhartrhari:

The latent, unspoken thought that instinctively springs up and which is visualised, within one’s self, is called Pashyanti Vak (thought visualized). The Vrtti on Vakyapadiya (1.14) presents Pashyanti as a form of Supreme Reality, Sabda-Brahman. And, Pashyanti again is identified with Prathibha, the flash of insight.

The Pashyanti Vak thereafter transforms into Madhyamā, the intermediate stage. It is an intellectual process, involving thought (Buddhi), during which the speaker looks for and selects appropriate words, phrases, and their sequence, which are capable of conveying his intention , clearly.

And, Pashyanti Vak, thereafter, when it comes out of the speaker’s mouth as sequenced and verbalized speech-form is called the Vaikhari Vak. It is the final stage at which ones’ thought or intention is put out explicitly through uttered words and sentences. Thus, Vaikhari is the fully embodied stage of everyday speech.

Thus, the transformation of a thought into spoken-words involves two kinds of efforts: the internal process (abhyantara prayatna) and the external effort (bahya prayatna). The former is classified into two kinds (Pashyanti and Madhyamā), while the latter (the external) is said to be of eleven kinds.

And, of the three levels or stages of speech, Pashyanti which is identified with Prathibha (intuition) and Madhyamā identified with intellectual process (Buddhi) are regarded as subtle or internal forms of Vac; while Vaikhari is its overt manifested gross form.  These three forms, in turn, are identified with Sphota, Prakrta dhvani and vaikrta dhvani.

Let’s look at these three forms of Vac in a little more detail



Bhartrhari takes a metaphysical view of Sabda, the speech-principle (Sabda tattva). He compares the transformation of Sabda, in three stages, with the manifestation of the Universe.

The Vrtti on Vakyapadiya (1.14) presents Pashyanti as the Supreme Reality, Sabda-Brahman, which is identified with Prathibha, intuitive cognition or the first flash of understanding.

The first stage in the transformation of a thought or an impulse into speech is the Pashyanti (thought visualized). It is a pre-verbal or potential stage. In this stage, the latent, unspoken thought that instinctively springs up is visualised within one’s self.

The Pashyanti, which also suggests the visual image of the word, is indivisible and without inner-sequence; in the sense, that the origin and destination of speech are one. Here, the latent word (Sabda) and its intention or meaning (Artha) co-exist; and, is fused together without any differentiation. That is to say; intention is instinctive and immediate; and, it does not involve stages such as: analysis, speculation, drawing inferences and so on. At the level of Pashyanti Vak, there is no distinction between word and meaning. And, there is also no temporal sequence. In other words; Pashyanti is the direct experience of Vakya-sphota,   of the meaning as whole of what is intended.  

In Pashyanti state, Sabda is in an unmanifested state. Yet, at the stage of Pashyanti, there is a kind of hidden impulse or a desire (iccha) for an expression. That instinct or urge is indeed an experience; and, it is said to prompt or motivate the formation of the Pashyanti vision. It is an intention to convey a certain meaning. Therefore, Vac or the ‘internal speech’ or ‘thought’, at this stage, stands for what is intended to be conveyed ; it is the first ‘vision’ of what is yet to appear.

Bhartrhari employs the simile of the yolk of the peachen’s egg which is about to hatch. Before the hatching of the egg, all the flecked colours of the peacock lie dormant in potential state in the yolk of the egg.


The noted scholar Prof. Bimal Krishna Matilal, in his The word and the world (Oxford University Press; New York, 1990; p.86) explains

“…. Similarly in the self of the language speaker or hearer or whoever, is gifted with linguistic capability, all the variety and differentiation of the linguistic items and their meaning exist as potentialities; and language and thought are identical at that stage. Bhartrhari even believes that the nature of the self is nothing but identical with the nature of language – thought ….”


Thinking or motivation for conveyance of the meaning, here, does not refer to concept-formation, speculation or drawing inference and so on. That intellectual process takes place at the next stage, the Madhyamā.


The Pashyanti Vak thereafter transforms into an intellectual process (Jnana), the level of thought (Buddhi), during which the speaker becomes aware of the word as it arises and takes a form within him. As that cognition crops up and takes a shape within, he grasps it.  Here, one looks for and identifies appropriate words, phrases, and their sequence, which are capable of conveying ones’ intention, clearly. As Prof. Matilal puts it: “In other words, he recognises the verbal parts, which he is about to verbalise either to himself or to another as distant and separable from the Artha or thought.”

[From the hearer’s point of view, Madhyamā is the stage where the words or sentence are conceived by his mind.]

That sequence of thoughts results in definite and clear array of words. This is the intermediate stage – The Madhyamā vak, a sequenced but a pre-vocal thought –described as the voice of silence; perhaps best understood as internal speaking. Here, there is no perceptible sound (Nada). The Madhyamā vak is in an inaudible wave or vibratory (spandana) form.

Thus, Madhyamā is the stage at which the initial idea or intention is transformed into series of words, as conceived by the mind, before they are actually put out.    It may even be regarded as introspection or as a sort of internal dialogue. All the parts of speech that are linguistically relevant are present here in a latent form. At this stage, the word and the meaning are still distinct; and the word order is present. Therefore, temporal sequence may also be present.


And, the Madhyamā, when it is put out explicitly through uttered words and sentences; and, when it comes out of the speaker’s mouth in sequenced and verbalized speech-form, set in motion according to his/her  will,  is called Vaikhari Vak. For the purpose of putting out the Vaikhari Vac, the speaker employs a sentence comprising words uttered in a sequence. The word itself comprises letters or syllables (varnas) that follow one after the other in space and time.

Thus, the Vaikhari is the act (kriya) of articulated speech, which, as sound waves, reaches the ears of the listener and then on to her/his intellect.  It gives expression to the subtler forms of vac. The Vaikhari is the physical or gross form of the subtle thought or is the outward expression of the intention of the speaker. And, when it emerges as the spoken-word, it is the one that is heard and apprehended by the listener, in a flash of understanding (Sphota). 

 [The process of Hearing, that is what is heard and grasped by the listener, of course, operates in the reverse direction.]

The spoken word comes out of one’s mouth, no doubt. However, it needs the assistance of breath and of several body parts in order to manifest itself (Vikhara literally means body; and, Vaikhari is that which employs bodily organs). When a person wills to express a thought orally, the air (Prana) inside his body spurs and moves up. Sabda or the Vac (speech or utterance) then manifests through Dhvani (sound patterns), with the assistance of appropriate organs.  In this process, the head, throat, tongue, palate, teeth, lips, nose, root of the tongue and bosom are said to be the eight places which assist the sounds of the letters to become audible and explicit.

Vaikharī represents the power of action Kriyāśakti. This is the plane at which the Vac gains a bodily- form and expression; and the intent of the speaker is transported to the listener. Until this final stage, the word is still a mental (iccha) or an intellectual (jnana) event. Now, the articulated word comes out in succession; and, gives substance and forms to ones thoughts. Vaikharī is the final stage of communication, where the word is externalized and rendered into audible sounds (prākta dhvani).


The chief characteristic of Vaikhari Vak is that it has a fully developed temporal sequence. At this level, the speaker’s individual peculiarities (such as accent, voice modulation etc) are present, along with relevant parts of speech.

Bhartrhari makes a distinction between Sabda and Dhvani. The former is the ‘Real word’; while the latter is the ‘sound’ produced by the speaker in order to give expression to Sabda.

The purpose of the Dhvani, the articulated sound, is to give expression to, and to act as a vehicle for Sabda which is the intent of the speaker. One’s mode of speaking, accent, stress and speed etc (Dhvani) might vary; but, the speech-content or intention (Sabda) remains unaltered. Thus, while Dhvani is variable; Sabda, the underlying cause of the Dhvani, is not.

Bhartrhari again classifies Dhvani into two sorts – Prakrta Dhvani and Vaikrta Dhvani – (primary or natural sounds and derived or transformed sounds).

The former, the Prakata Dhvani, is said to be the natural (prakrti) way of speaking where the sequences, durations and other qualities-as specified by the particular language system- are maintained, as expected. The long sounds (dirga) would be long, of the required length; the short (hraswa) vowels would be short; and,  the extra-long  (pluta) would be elongated  and so on. It is normal way of speaking by one who knows the language.

But, when one brings in her/his own mannerisms or individual peculiarities into her/his utterance, such way of speaking is called Vaikrta (modified or not-natural). Here, what is expected to be pronounced in normal speed (Madhyamā) or slowly (Vilambita) might be uttered rapidly (Druta); and so on. The differences in the ‘speed of utterance’ (vrttibheda) might also be quite the other way. The other features such as accent, stress, pronunciation intonation, tempo, pitch etc might also differ from the natural. It is the way of speaking by one who doesn’t know the language.

Though, in either case, one’s manner of speaking might vary, the substance or what is intended to be conveyed (sphota) is the same.


There are further differences in Dhvani. It could be either a clear and loud pronunciation (Saghosha); or a whisper in low voice (Aghosha), almost a sotto voce. Both are fully articulated; what distinguishes them is that the former can be heard by others and the latter is not.


It is said; the three forms of speech viz. Pashyanthi, Madhyamā and Vaikhari which correspond to intention, formulation and expression  represent iccha-shakthi  (power of intent or will),  jnana-shakthi (power of knowledge) and kriya-shakthi (power of action).

As said earlier; Pashyanti Vac is identified with the power of intent or will (iccha shakthi) which arises in ones consciousness; Madhyamā Vac which is seated in the intellect (Buddhi) is identified with the power of knowledge (Jnana shakthi); and, Vaikharī Vac where the speaker’s intent gains a bodily- form and expression, and which employs breath and body-organs is identified with the power of action Kriyāśakti


Some scholars point out that each of the three levels of speech – Vac (Pashyanti, Madhyamā and Vaikhari) correspond to the structure and content of each of the three chapters (Khanda) of the Vakyapadiya.

The first Khanda (Brahmakanda) which deals mainly with Brahman, the undifferentiated Ultimate Reality, is said to correspond with Pashyanti Vac.

The second Khanda (Vakyakanda) which elaborates on Vakya-sphota describes the differentiation as also the unitary meaning of the sentence. The ideas presented here are said to correspond with the Madhyamā vac.

And, the third Khanda (Padakanda) which deals almost entirely with the analysis of words or parts of speech and their differentiation is said to be closely related to the concern of the Vaikhari vac.

lotus pond


Sources and References

Sphota theory of Bhartrhari

The word and the world (Oxford University Press; New York, 1990) by Prof. Bimal Krishna Matilal

Culture and Consciousness: Literature Regained by   William S. Haney


Pictures are from internet.


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The Meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Ten

Continued from Part Nine


Levels of speech

The various ancient texts speak of the levels of speech, which, generally, are taken to be four. Each School – Grammarians, Mimamsa, Upanishads, Tantra, Yoga, mythology etc – offers its own understanding and explanation of the four levels of speech. These levels are variously explained  as the varieties of  speech  that are said to be  spoken either in four regions of  the universe;  or spoken by divine beings and humans ; or as speech of the  humans , animals, birds and creatures .  These four are even explained as four levels of consciousness.

For our limited purpose, let us briefly scan through other interpretations, before we discuss  the Grammarians’ views and their explanations of the four levels of speech.


The Asya-vamiya – sukta  (Rig Veda: 1.140- 164) which is one the most philosophical , but  rather enigmatic Suktas (hymns) of Rig Veda, ascribed to Rishi Dīrghatamas  Aucathya  (son of  Ucathya  ),  who was  also called as Mamateya (son of Mamata) ,  mentions  about the levels of speech, among many other things.

According to Rishi Dīrghatamas, there are four levels of speech. Only the wise who are well trained, endowed with intelligence and understanding know them all. As for the rest; the three levels remain concealed and motionless. Mortals know  only  the fourth.

Chatvaari vaak parimitaa padaani / taani vidur braahmaanaa ye manishinaah. Guhaa trini nihita nengayanti / turiyam vaacho manushyaa vadanti. (Rigveda Samhita – 1.164.45)

But, he does not specify what those four levels of speech are.


The notion that there are four quarters or  four levels of existence ; and of which, only  one quarter is within the experience of mortals also appears in the Purusha-sukta  (Rig-Veda 10.90.3) ascribed to Rishi Narayana – Paadosya Vishva Bhutaani Tri-Paada-Asya-Amrtam Divi .

There are similar notions with regard to Pranava Om where the three syllables A, Vu, and Ma are normally visible. But it is its fourth element the Anusvara (Brahma-bindu) that leads from being to non-being; and , from the word to the silence beyond it.

svarena samdhayed yogam asvaram bhävayet param asvarena hi bhävena bhävo näbhäva  isyate– Brahmabindu Upanishad

And, there is also the Turiya paada (Chaturtha or Fourth) the fourth line of the Gayatri mantra. It is said; while the traditional three lines of Gayatri mantra can be grasped by reason, the fourth line, which is mystical in its import, and can be comprehended only through intuition. The fourth line (Turiya paada) which reads ‘paro rajas ya tapati’ is said to be hidden (darshatasya) or un-manifest (apad); beyond intellect; resplendendent, shining beyond the worlds known; and , which is the support of the Gayatri itself and of the Universe.


That idea of four quarters  is extended to speech as well. The texts of several traditions speak of four levels of speech. For instance :

The Maitrayaniya (Maitri) Upanishad (1, 11.5), of Krishna Yajur-Veda, mentions the four quarters of speech as those belonging:  to the upper region – the heavens (Divi); to the intermediate space (Antariksha); and, to the region of earth (Prithvi) as spoken by the humans (Manusi); and, to the animals (Pashu).

The Atmavadins (mainly those belonging to Nyaya and Vaisesika Schools) say: the four fold speech can be found in the animals; in musical instruments (such a flute); in the beasts ; and,  in the individuals (Atmani)

–  pasusu tunavesu mrgesu atmani ca iti atmavadinah

The Satapatha Brahmana (1.3.16) categorizes the speech into four kinds: as that of the humans; of animals and birds (vayamsi); of reptiles (snakes); and, of small creeping things (kshudram sarisrpam)

– varā vā ia iti hi varā io yadida kudra sarīspa

Similarly, those who believe in myths and legends say that – the serpents; birds; evil creatures; as also the humans in their dealings with the rest of the world – all use speech of their own.

Sarpanam vagvayasam ksudrasarispasya ca caturthi vyavaharika-ityaitihasikah 

The Jaiminiya-Upanishad-Brahmana (1.40.1)  deals with the four levels of speech in a little more detail. In a verse that is almost identical to the one appearing in Rig-Veda Samhita – 1.164.45, it mentions that the discriminating wise know of four quarters of speech.  Three of these remain hidden; while the fourth is what people ordinarily speak.

Chatvaari vaak parimitaa padaani / taani vidur braahmaanaa ye manishinaah. Guhaa trini nihita nengayanti / turiyam vaacho manushyaa vadanti //

Then, the text goes on to explain that of the four quarters of speech: mind is a quarter, sight is another quarter, hearing is the third quarter; and, speech itself is the fourth quarter. 

 tasya etasyai vaco manah padas caksuh padas srotram pado vag eca caturtah padah

Further, it says: what he thinks with the mind, that he speaks with speech; what he sees with the sight, that he speaks with the speech; and, what he hears with hearing, that he speaks with speech.

 tad yad vai manasa dyayanti tad vaco vadati; yac caksus pasyati tad vaca vadati; yac srotrena srunoti tad vaco vadati/

Thus, finally, all activities of senses unite (Sam) into speech. Therefore speech is the Saman.

Nageshabhatta (Ca. between 1670 and 1750), in his commentary on Patanjali’s Mahabhashya, accepts the four forms of Vac; and, explains the expression ‘Catvari padjatani namakhyato-upasargani-patah ‘as referring to Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari :

 Bhashya padajatani Para-Pashyanti-Madhyama- Vaikhari rupani / ata evagre nipatah  ceti cakarah sangacchate


In the later Upanishads, speech is said to be assimilated with consciousness. The four divisions of speech are explained as four states of consciousness. For instance; Sri Gauda-Paada, the Parama-Guru of Sri Sankara (the teacher of his teacher) , in his celebrated commentary (Gaudapada-karika) on the Mandukya Upanishad while explaining his concept of Asparsha Yoga or pure knowledge,  identifies the four levels of speech with the four states of consciousness : Vishva or Vaisvanara in wakeful state (Jagrat); Taijasa in dream state (Svapna); Prajna in deep-sleep (Shushupti); and, Pranava AUM with Turiya, the fourth, the Absolute state which transcends all the three states and represents Ultimate Reality .


Explanations offered by Sri Sayana

Sri Sayana in his Rg-Bhashya   deals with the subject of four levels of speech in a little more detail. He says, people use speech in a variety of ways to fulfil their roles and responsibilities in life. And, similarly, the animals, birds, creatures and objects in nature do use their own sort of speech to serve their needs.  He  then , while explaining these four levels or quarters of speech (ani tani catwari ityatra bahavah) , remarks that  each School  offers explanations  (bahudha  varnayanti ) according to its own  tenets  (sva- sva-mantanu-rodhena). He, next, briefly mentions what those explanations are:

: – According to Vedantins, the four levels of speech could be the Pranava (Aum) – which is the sum and substance of all the Vedic terms (sarva-vaidika-vag-jalasaya), followed by three Vyahritis (Bhu, Bhuh and Suvah). Thus the Pranava along with three Vyahritis form the four quarters of speech.

: – According to Nirukta (Etymology), the language of the three Vedas (Rik, Yajus and  Saman ) and the speech commonly used  for dealings in the world , together make the four quarters of speech– (Rg-yajuh-samani-caturdhi vyavharikiti nairuktah )

: – The four levels of speech could also be related to four regions representing four deities : on the Earth as Agni (yo prthivyam sa-agnau); in the mid-air as Vayu (Ya-antarikshe sa vayau); and, in the upper regions as Aditya (Ya divi saditye). And whatever that remains and transcends the other three is in Brahman (Tasya-mad-brahmana).

: – The speech, though it is truly indivisible, is measured out or analyzed in the Grammar as of four kinds or four parts-of-speech (akhandayah krtsnaya vacah caturvidha vyakrtattvat).  Accordingly, the four divisions of speech are named by the followers of the various Schools of Grammar (vyakarana-matanus-arino) as: Naaman (Nouns), Akhyata (Verbs), Upasarga (prepositions or prefixes) and Nipata (particles)

:-  According to the wise who are capable of exercising control over their mind; the Yogis who have realized Sabdabrahman; and, others of the Mantra (Tantra) School,  these four levels of speech (Evam catvari vacah padani parimitani)  are classified as : Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari.

Manisinah manasah svaminah svadhinamanaska brahmana vacyasya sabdabrahmani dhigantaro yoginah paradicatvari padani viduh jananti 

Apare mantrkah parkarantarena pratipadanti Para, Pasyanti, Madhyama   Vaikhariti catvariti 


The power of the spoken word

In the Indian traditions, it is believed that it is only  in its oral form that the language becomes fully alive and reveals  its true nature , provided it is spoken properly.  For Indian thinkers, language was  primarily the spoken word or speaking itself (vac); while the written word, as a secondary aid, was only a coded-representation of the spoken word; but, without its nuances. Perhaps the most salient feature of ancient Indian linguistic culture was its concern for preserving the purity of the spoken word.

It was the speech, the spoken word not the written letter that is at the base of the Sanskrit grammar. All speculations and practices are concerned with the oral. Panini’s Astadhyayi is also based on the sounds of spoken Sanskrit. The spoken language in Sanskrit was/is the real language.

Therefore, right from the earliest period, the study of speech has been one of the major concerns of various Schools of Indian traditions. The power of the spoken word or still more of the potent un-spoken sound was well recognized.


Levels of awareness and speech

The notion of various levels of awareness and speech is accepted and discussed in almost all the Schools of Indian philosophy and Grammar. Although numerous meanings are read into the term catvari vak (four kinds or levels of speech), the one that is commonly understood and commented upon by most Grammarians and philosophers is the classification of speech into four strata: Para; Pashyanti; Madhyama; and, Vaikhari.

The entire system of such classification is rooted in the faith that at the top of this language hierarchy, there is only One-indivisible (ekameva) Reality; and, it transforms itself (Vivarta), manifests itself , resulting (Parinama) in  variety of  sounds,  word, sentence etc.

The theory underlying the evolution of speech is an extension of that faith; and it asserts, though there are several levels in the hierarchy of language, they all emanate from one indivisible reality Sabdabrahman. And again, the Sabdabrahman is identified with Para Brahman, the Absolute.

The principle that is involved here is also based in the dictum that diversity essentially pre-supposes an underlying unity (abedha-purvaka hi bhedah).  In other words, it says, where there is difference or division there must be a fundamental identity underneath it ; else, each cannot relate to the other; and , each object in the world would be independent of , or unconnected to  every other thing in existence.

This concept provides the foundation for treating all forms of speech as emanating from a single source. The various levels of language from the most subtle to the gross are, therefore, treated as hierarchy or the levels of a unitary language-system. Most of the philosophical speculations on the process of manifestation of language; and, the discussions upon its various stages – from the subtlest (Para) to the most explicit (Vaikhari) – are based in that principle.


Grammarians’ view

Each of the major schools of Indian philosophy and Grammar tried to explain the origin and nature of the Universe by exploring the nature and manifestations of the sound. They built elaborate philosophical edifices around the concepts they evolved during that process. Those traditions considered sound as one of the most important principles of existence; as the source of matter ; and , also the key to be free from it. They described Sound as the thread-like link connecting  the material and spiritual realms.

The analysis of the speech by the Grammarians is not merely an intellectual exercise, but is also a philosophical quest in an attempt to identify all forms of speech as originating from Sabda-Brahman, the ultimate ground of all speech phenomena. The study of Grammar was itself looked upon as a means or as a right-royal-path to liberation (moksha-manamam ajihma raja-paddhatih).


Speech was  regarded as the verbal expression of a thought that arises in a person’s consciousness. If there is no consciousness, there would be no speech. Speech (Vac) is indeed an outward form of consciousness (chetana). Vac is the word principle that gives expression to the latent or unmanifest thoughts and feelings.

That was meant to say; thinking is, in fact, a sort of internal speaking. Such inaudible speech was regarded the seed or the potent form of explicit speech that is heard by others. It was also said; all knowledge is interpreted in terms of words; and, it is quite not possible to have any sort of cognition that is free from words (Vakyapadiya: 1.123)

The process of transformation of a thought or an impulse arising in ones consciousness into a cognizable, explicit speech is said to resemble the evolution of the Universe from the un-manifest (A-vyakta) to the manifest (Vyakta) material world.

Such process of unfolding is said to take place, at least, in two stages. The first one is the thought that flashes and takes a form within. And, the other is that which comes out as audible speech riding the vehicle of words and sentences; attempting to convey the idea that arose within.  The former is intuition that springs up; and, the latter is the effort that is exerted, both internally and externally, to put it out.

Here, the latent, unspoken form of thought that instinctively springs up and is visualised, within one’s self, is called Pashyanti Vak (thought visualized). The Pashyanti, which also suggests the visual image of the word, is indivisible and without inner-sequence; in the sense, that the origin and destination of speech are one. Here, the ‘internal speech’ or ‘thought’ stands for what is intended to be conveyed. That intention is instinctive (prathibha) and immediate; and, it does not involve stages such as: analysis, speculation, drawing inferences and so on. At the level of Pashyanti Vak, there is no distinction between word and meaning. And, there is also no temporal sequence.

The Pashyanti Vak thereafter transforms into an intellectual process, the level of thought (Buddhi), during which the speaker looks for and identifies appropriate words, phrases, and their sequence, which are capable of conveying his intention candidly. That sequence of thoughts results in definite and clear array of words. As that cognition arises and takes a form within, he grasps it. This is the intermediate stage – The Madhyama vak, a sequenced but a pre-vocal thought – described as the voice of silence; perhaps best understood as internal speaking. Here, there is no perceptible sound (Nada). The Madhyama vak is in an inaudible wave or vibratory (spandana) form.

And, the Madhyama, when it is put out explicitly through uttered words and sentences; and, when it comes out of the speaker’s mouth in sequenced and verbalized speech-form, it is called Vaikhari Vak. For the purpose of putting out the Vaikhari Vac, the speaker employs a sentence comprising words uttered in a sequence. The word itself comprises letters or syllables (varnas) that follow one after the other in space and time.

Thus, the Vaikhari is the articulated speech, which, as sound waves, reaches the ears of the listener and then on to her/his intellect.  The Vaikhari is the physical or gross form of the subtle thought or is the outward expression of the intention of the speaker. And, when it emerges as the spoken-word, it is the one that is heard and apprehended by the listener, in a flash of understanding (Sphota). 

 [The process of Hearing, that is what is heard and grasped by the listener, of course, operates in the reverse direction.]

The spoken word comes out of one’s mouth, no doubt. However, it needs the assistance of breath and of several body parts in order to manifest itself (Vikhara literally means body; and, Vaikhari is that which employs bodily organs). The head, throat, tongue, palate, teeth, lips, nose, root of the tongue and bosom are said to be the eight places which assist  the sounds of the letters to become audible and explicit.

When a person wills to express a thought orally, the air (Prana) inside his body spurs and moves up. Sabda or the Vac (speech or utterance) then manifests through Dhvani (sound patterns), with the assistance of appropriate organs.

[The King Pratardana of Kasi (Kasi-rajah-Pratardanaha), in the Kausitaki Upanishad, makes an interesting observation that one cannot breathe and speak at the same time (‘when a man speaks he cannot breathe; and when he breaths he cannot speak’- kau.Up.2.5).

Yavadvai purusho bhasate na tavat-pranitum shaknoti pranam …. Yavadvai purushah praniti na tavat-bhashitum shaknoti vacam-kau.Up.2.5]

Thus, the transformation of a thought into spoken-words involves two kinds of effort: the internal process (abhyantara prayatna) and the external effort (bahya prayatna). The former is classified into two kinds (Pashyanti and Madhyama), while the latter (the external) is said to be of eleven kinds.

And, of the three levels or stages of speech, Pashyanti is regarded the subtle forms of Vac; while Madhyama and Vaikhari are its gross forms.

The chief characteristic of Vaikhari Vak is that it has a fully developed temporal sequence. At this level, the speaker’s individual peculiarities (such as accent, voice modulation etc) are present, along with relevant parts of speech. Though the Vaikhari gives expression to subtler forms of Vac, it is not considered as the’ ultimate’.


The ancient Grammarians went to great lengths, systematically, to trace the origination of each letter, its appropriate sound; the intricacies and efforts involved in producing them. (Please see the Note * below)


[* In the Sanskrit, the vowels and consonants sounds are classified and arranged dependent on their origin (pronunciation) in different parts of mouth, such as throat, palate, teeth or lips.

The vowels and consonants are so arranged that those emanating from the throat come first. These are followed by those pronounced through tongue; the palate; teeth and the lips. All sounds are arranged as those from the inside of the mouth proceeding outwards, in that order. No other ancient system of writing seems to have been so systematically thought out.

The vowels (Svara-s) , alternating long and short, come first : अ(a)  (aa)  इ(i)   ई(ee)  उ(u)  ऊ(oo)  ऋ(r)  ॠ(r)  लृ(lr)  ए(e)  ऐ(ai)  ओ(o)  and औ(au)

The commencing vowels अ(a) and  (aa)  are pronounced in the throat – Kantya  (कण्ठ्य). They are followed by vowels इ(i) and  ई(ee) produced by the tongue touching the base of the teeth ,Taalavya (तालव्य). The vowels उ(u)  and ऊ(oo)  are produced using the lips making a rounded opening – Oshtya (ओष्ठ्य).  The vowels ऋ(r) and ॠ(r) are produced by the tip of the tongue curling back against the roof of the mouth- Murdhanya (मूर्धन्य). The vowel लृ(lr) is produced by the tongue touching the upper teeth – Dantya (दंत्य).  The vowels ए (e) and ऐ (ai)   are produced near the throat by the tongue touching the bottom of the teeth and sucking in the air – Kanta-taalavya (कंटतालव्य).  The vowels  (o) and औ (au) produced near the throat by the rounding of the lips are called Kantoshtya (कंटोष्ठ्य).

The two ornamental nasal (Anusvara) letters अं (am) and  अः (aha ) ,which are used to decorate the vowels, are called the Visarga , meaning  sending forth . These sounds, which are neither consonants nor vowels, add a softening short burst effect at the end.  These are usually listed as a part of the vowel -group; but are shown at the end.

Similar is the emanation of the consonants – from throat outwards to the lips .

The set of consonants – क(ka) , ख(kha) , ग(ga) , घ(gha) , and ङ(nga) – are guttural (throaty) consonants – Kantya  (कण्ठ्य). Then the consonants – च(cha) , छ(chha) , ज(ja) , झ(jha) , and ञ(nja)- are pronounced on the palate- Taalavya (तालव्य). The next set of consonants –  ट(ta)  ,ठ(tha) , ड(da) , ढ(dha)  and ण(na) – is  produced by the tip of the tongue curling back against the roof of the mouthMurdhanya (मूर्धन्य). Next are  those on the teeth (दन्त्य), like – त(ta) , थ(tha) , द(da) , ध(dha) and  न(na) . And last come those on the lips प(pa)  फ(pha)  ब(ba)  भ(bha)  and म(ma) – (ओष्ठ्य). Oshtya (ओष्ठ्य).

The list is rounded off with semi-consonants like – य(ya) , र(ra) , ल(la)  and व(va) ; and the aspirated and sibilant sounds like श(sha)  ष(sha) ,  स(sh)  and ह (ha ).

Such unique organization of the alphabet underlines the attention paid to the patterns of articulated sound; points  of its location; and , to degree of resonance,  in a way that has not been attempted in any other language]

[ Abhinavagupta offers a mystic explanation of the arrangement of the Sanskrit alphabets, which are placed in between A and Ha. According to him, in the Sanskrit alphabet, the very first letter A stands for Shiva, the primal source of all existence. A is the initial emergence of all the other letters; and hence is Anuttara, the absolute. And, A not only represents the origin of the language; but, also the expansion of consciousness.

If A  the first letter represents Shiva the transcendent source, then Ha the final letter of the alphabet represents the point of completion when all the letters have emerged. If A is Shiva, Ha the last letter is Shakthi, His cosmic outpouring that flows back into Him.

Again, the vowels (Bija – the seed) are identified with Shiva; and, the consonants are Yoni identified with Shakthi. The intertwined vowels and consonants in a language are thus the union of Shiva and Shakthi.

Thus, the sequence of A to Ha contains within itself not only all the letters of the Alphabets, but also every phase of consciousness, both transcendental and universal.

The entire sequence of alphabets, according to Abhinavagupta, represents the state in which all the elements of experience, in the inner and the outer worlds, are fully displayed.]


Philosophers’ view

In the ancient traditions of India, the Grammar, the philosophy of Grammar and the Philosophy run into one another. At times, it is hard to separate them.

While the Grammarians, generally, speak about three levels of speech, the philosophers identify four levels or stages of speech (Vac): Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari.  Of these four forms of Vac, Para and Pashyanti are the subtle forms of Vac; while Madhyama and Vaikhari are its gross forms.

The explanations of the Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari are almost the same as offered by the Grammarians; however, their interpretations and connotations differ slightly.


It is said; the sound has four divisions:  Para manifested in Prana (vital energy); Pashyanti manifested in the mind (Manas); Madhyama manifested in the senses (Indriyani); and, Vaikhari manifested in articulate expressions (Vac).

Para Vac is the ultimate and unmanifest principle of speech, the Sabda-tattva (Sabdasya tattvam or Sabda eva tattvam), where there is no subject-object distinction; and, is of the nature of the Absolute (vag vai Brahmeti).

Para vac is identified with Pranava (Aum), the primordial speech-sound from which all forms of speech emanated. It transforms or manifests (Vivarta or parinama) as all forms of sounds, speech etc.


According to Abhinavagupta, word is a symbol. The four stage of Vac: Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari represent its four phases of evolution and also of absorption; the ascent or descent from the undifferentiated to the gross.

It is explained; Para Vac as Sabda-Brahman is the creative energy (Shakthi) that brings forth all existence. It is also the consciousness (chit, samvid), vital energy (prana shakthi) that vibrates (spanda) and enlivens.

While Para Vac is pure consciousness; the three other forms are its transformations. The three lower forms of speech viz. Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari which correspond to intention, formulation and expression are said to represent ts powers , such as :  iccha-shakthi (power of intent or will) , jnana-shakthi (power of knowledge) and the power of becoming (bhuti sakti) or the power of action (Kriya shakthi  ). Thus, out of the transcendent Para, the three phases of its power (Shakthi) emanate.

The urge to communicate or the spontaneous evolution of Para into Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari   epitomizes the Cosmic act of One becoming many; and, the subtle energy transforming into a less- subtle matter.

Thus, the speech, each time it emanates, is an enactment, in miniature, of the unfolding (Vimarsa) of the One into many.  And each time, when that speech is grasped by the listener and each time it merges into her/his intellect, it re-enacts the process of absorption (Samhara) of the many into One.

The process of manifestation of speech is, thus, compared to the evolution of the Universe. And, that process is said to take place in four stages. First, in the undifferentiated substratum of thought, an intention appears. This first impulse, the self-radiant consciousness is Para-vac (the voice beyond).  This latent, un-spoken, un-manifest, silent thought (Para) unfolds itself in the next three stages as Pashyanti (thought visualized), Madhyama (intermediate)   and as Vaikhari  (explicit) speech).

In its second stage, the subtle thought visualised (pashyanthi-vak) is yet to acquire a verbal form. It is the first sprout of an invisible seed (Bija); and, is the second stage in the manifestation of thought or intention. Then the potential sound, the vehicle of the thought, materializes finding   words suitable to express the idea. This transformation of thought into words, in the silence of the mind (Buddhi), is the third or the intermediate stage of Vac (Madhyama-vak). From this non-vocal or un-voiced thought, emerges the fourth stage – the audible sound patterns. It is in that fourth stage, the ideas acquire cognizable forms of speech; and, are transmitted through articulated audible syllables (vaikhari-vak).  These four stages are the four forms of the speech.



The three- Pashyanthi, Madhyama and Vaikhari – are construed as the three sides of the triangle at the centre of which is the dot-point (Bindu) representing the undifferentiated notion of Para-Vak. The triangle with the Bindu at its centre suggests the idea of Isvara the divinity conceived as non-dual Shiva-Shakti.

In the traditions of Tantra, the process of evolution of the principle of speech (Sabda Brahman) from its most subtle and soundless state of sound – consciousness (Para), in successive stages, into the gross physical speech (Vaikhari) is explained through the principle underling the structure of Sri Chakra.


Sri Yantra is a ‘Cosmogram’ – a graphic representation of the processes of evolution (Sristi) of the Universe emanating from its core; and, re-absorption (Samhara) of the created existence back into itself. And, at the very core or the centre of the Sri Chakra is the Bindu, the dimensionless point about to expand immensely. The Bindu denotes what is hidden; the subtle and the most sensitive.

It is said; the true nature of the Supreme Goddess is beyond mind and matter. She is limitless and formless. She is Arupa. But, when She takes a form, the Bindu is her intense representation. The Bindu symbolizes Her most subtle micro form as the Universal Mother, womb, yoni, creator, retainer as also the receiver of the created universe. It is this Bindu that is, in reality, the Sri Chakra; and, everything else is an expansion and manifestation of its aspects.

The Sri Vidya texts call the Bindu also as Sarva-ananda-maya (all blissful); and, the transcendental power (Para Shakthi). It denotes the absolute harmony (saamarasya) between Shiva and Shakthi; as the immense potential of the non-dual Shiva-Shakthi, the union of Purusha and Prakriti.

The evolution (shristi) from the primary state into the mundane level is said to be the apparent separation of Shiva and Shakthi (avarohana karma). And, the reverse process of re-absorption or withdrawal from the gross to the very subtle state is termed Samhara karma.

According to Sri Vidya ideology, in the process of evolution (Vimarsa), that is in the process of shristi or the outward movement or descending arc of creative activity, the speech proceeds from the creative consciousness pulsations (spanda) of the Devi as Para-Vac, the most subtle and silent form of speech-consciousness. And, in successive stages or forms,  it moves on to more cognizable forms as : Pashyanti (Vak-shakthi, going forth as seeing, ready to create in which there is no difference between Vachya– object and Vachaka-word); Madhyama (the speech in its subtle form as existing in the anthahkarana prior to manifestation); and, Vaikhari (as articulated gross physical speech).

If the Bindu represents the Para-Vac, its immediate expanded form, the triangle formed by three points, represents the Pashyanti, the second stage of the sound (Nada). The enclosure next to this, the eight sided figure (ashta kona chakra) is the Madhyama or the third stage in the development of sound. The rest of the Chakra represents the physical or the phenomenal stage, the Vaikhari, which is the manifest and articulate form of sound. The Vaikhari form is represented by the fifty letters of the alphabet, called Matrka-s or the source of all transactions and existence.

Thus, in the process of Sristi, in the outward movement from the centre of Reality to the periphery, from the most sublime to the ordinary, the Para assumes different forms, in successive stages. All these four forms, apparently different, are indeed the manifestations of Para Vac which pervades the entire structure of speech and consciousness, in all their levels – from the highest to the lowest; and, it transforms (Vivarta) projects itself in various forms (Parinama).  

 (Abhinavagupta treats these aspects in a very elaborate manner. We shall talk about the explanations provided by Abhinavagupta and Bhartrhari in the next part.)



 The Tantra explains the concept of Mantra and Japa in a similar manner.

Mantra is said to connect, in a very special way, the objective and subjective aspects of reality. The Mantra, in its sublime form, is rooted in pure consciousness. The Shaiva text Shiva Sutra describes Mantras as the unity of Vac and consciousness: Vac chittam (Shiva Sutra: 2.1). It is the living sound, transcending beyond the mental plane; the indistinct or undefined speech (anirukta) having immense potential.  In its next stage, it unites harmoniously with the mind. Here, it is union of mind (Manas) and word (Vac).  That is followed by the Mantra repeated in the silence of one’s heart (tushnim). The silent form of mantra is said to be superior to the whispered (upamasu) utterance.

[When one utters a deity’s Mantra, one is not naming the deity, but is evoking its power as a means to open oneself to it. It is said; mantra gives expression to the identity of the name (abhidana) with the object of contemplation (abhideya). Therefore, some describe mantra as a catalyst that’ allows the potential to become a reality’. It is both the means (upaya) and the end (upeya).]

The reverse is said to be the process of Japa (reciting or muttering the mantra). It moves from Vaikhari through Madhyama towards Pashyanti and ideally, and in very cases, to Para vak.

Ordinarily, Japa starts in Vaikhari form (vocal, muttering). The efficacy of the Japa does depend on the will, the dedication and the attentiveness of the person performing the Japa. After long years of constant practice, done with devotion and commitment, an extraordinary thing happens. Now, the Japa no longer depends on the will or the state of activity of the practitioner. It seeps into his consciousness; and, it goes on automatically, ceaselessly and inwardly without any effort of the person, whether he is awake or asleep. Such instinctive and continuous recitation is called Ajapa-japa. When this proceeds for a long-time, it is said; the consciousness moves upward (uccharana) and becomes one with the object of her or his devotion.

[The term Ajapa-japa is also explained in another manner. A person exhales with the sound ‘Sa’; and, she/he inhales with the sound ‘Ha’. This virtually becomes Ham-sa mantra ( I am He; I am Shiva). A person is said to inhale and exhale 21,600 times during a day and night. Thus, the Hamsa mantra is repeated (Japa) by everyone, each day, continuously, spontaneously without any effort, with every round of breathing in and out. And, this also is called Ajapa-japa.]



The system of Yoga also accepts and speaks in terms of Para, Pashyanti, Madhyama and Vaikhari. Here, those terms are meant to denote different sounds (Nada) or the stages of consciousness. It is explained:

: – Para is the most subtle form of sound, not audible; and, in its un-manifest (Avyakta) form resides as Nada at the base (Karana-bindu) in the centre of the Muladhara-chakra, solar plexus (Ekaiva nadatmika vak muladharadudita sati Para ityucyate)


: – And, with the ascent of Prana (vital energy) it moves up to Manipuraka-chakra in the region of navel; and, it is transformed to Pashyanti when it enters the heart-region (hradayakhya) and becomes visible to the Yogis (hradayakhya udiyamanatvat)


The Pashyanti (radiant) stage is compared to a well nourished seed (Bija) which sprouts into two leaves. it, then, acquires the qualities of subtle sound ( which is not audible to the physical ear) , and hue of colour (varna) which can be seen (Pashyan).

: – The Pashyanti, moving up and enters the mind (Buddhi) with a desire or the urge to express itself (Saiva buddhim gata vivaksam prapta madhyama ityucyate). And, on reaching the Anahata–chakra in the region of the heart, it is transformed into Madhyama Vac.  Anahata literally means un-struck. Here; the subtle sound (Nada) at the level of the mind is like ‘internal-speech’ which is heard, internally, by the Yogi.


[It is said; the Vac which sprouts in Para gives forth leaves in Pashyanti; buds forth in Madhyama; and, it blossoms in Vaikhari.]

: – When the Madhyama moves up further from heart-region to throat, tongue and mouth it becomes articulate (Vyakta) sound, clearly audible to the external ear at the Vishudhi -chakra. This is Vaikhari, the last stage of sound or speech when it emerges out of the mouth with the help of syllables, words etc and is heard by the listener. And, Vaikhari is the intended speech that comes out clearly through the mouth with the assistance of tongue, lips, teeth and the breath


(Atha yada saiva vaktre sthita talvosthadivyaparena bahirnirgacchati tada vaikhari ityuchyate)

Nageshabhatta in his Parama-laghu-manjusha also   describes the four forms of Vac (Para-Pashyanti-Madhyama- Vaikhari), in terms of the Yoga, as those arising from Muladhara, Nabi (navel); Hridaya (heart region) and Kanta (throat)



Other explanations

Various other interpretations are also imposed on these four terms.

It is said;   Para represents transcendental consciousness; Pashyanti the intellectual consciousness; Madhyama the cerebral consciousness; and, Vaikhari the physical consciousness.

Further, these levels of consciousness are said to correspond with varying levels of awareness:  Turia (the fourth, the transcendental or the one-beyond); Shushupti (deep sleep); Svapna (dream state) ; and Jagrat ( wakeful state) , in that order.

And again, these states of consciousness are said to relate to different states of being (bodies). Para which is referred to as the Supreme form; the first form; the pure and resplendent Highest-light etc, is indeed beyond all forms (Turiya); and it is formless. The sphere of consciousness at Pashyanti is said to be the causal body (Karana-sarira); at Madhyama, the subtle or psychic body (Sukshma-sarira); and at Vaikhari, the physical body (Sthula-sarira).

While Para is pure consciousness, the other three are said to be its powers through which it differentiates as its power of will (iccha shakthi) at the subtle level of Pashyanti; as the power of discrimination or knowledge (Jnana shakthi) at the mental level of Madhyama; and, as its power of action (Kriya Shakthi) at the physical  level of Vaikhari.


In the next part, let’s talk about the theories expounded and the explanations offered by two of the great thinkers – Abhinavagupta and Bhartrhari- on the subject.

Buddha Meditation Song




The next part

Sources and References

Ritam “The Word in the Rig-Veda and in Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem Savitri

.Vedic river and Hindu civilization; edited by Dr. S. Kalyanaraman

Original Sanskrit Texts on the Origin and History of the People of India…Edited by John Muir

Devata Rupa-Mala(Part Two) by Prof. SK Ramachandra Rao

The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 edited by Harold G. Coward, K. Kunjunni Raja, Karl H



Posted by on April 8, 2017 in Artha-Meaning, Bhartrhari, Sanskrit


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The Meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Eight

Continued from Part Seven




Two Aspects of the Word

As mentioned earlier in the series, the first two khandas of the Vakyapadiya cover subjects such as grammar as also the philosophy of grammar and linguistics, focusing on the word (Sabda) and meaning (Artha).

The first Khanda (Brahma-khanda) of Vakyapadiya introduces the concept of Sadba-sphota and gives the outline of its general philosophy; and, its distinction from sound (Dhvani, Nada). By Sabda Sphota, Bhartrhari refers to that inner unity of Sabda (word or sentence) which conveys the meaning (Artha).

The text explains a complete sentence as the intent of the speaker, which is unerringly grasped, directly and immediately, by the listener (Sphota). And, that it is not the same as Nada (non-linguistic sound or that which expresses) or Dhvani (intonation) which act as a carrier to convey the intended meaning.  Here, in Grammar (in contrast to Tantra and to the classical theories of Indian music), Nada signifies the gross sound which results from a collection of subtle Dhvani-s.


After establishing , in the opening Karika-s (Shastra-aramba), that Sabda–tattva (Word-principle) is verily the Brahman, the ultimate truth which is beyond space or time; and declaring that Sabda Brahman (Supreme word principle) is One (ekam eva), is imperishable (Akshara)  and is identical with the highest Reality –Para Brahman, Bhartrhari takes up the question of language and  meaning.

(Anadi-nidhanam Brahma sabda-tattvam yad-aksharam / vivartate artha-bhavena prakriya jagato yatah – VP. 1.1)

Bhartrhari begins his discussion on words and meaning (VP: 1.44-49) by stating that in the words which are expressive, Grammarians see two aspects :  one, the cause of all words, and another, the kind of words used to convey a meaning.  These two , though appearing to be separate, are ,in fact, not distant from each other; they, in truth, are one. The Supreme Word principle and the spoken word are in a similar relationship – as that between the fire which is inherent in the firewood, and that which is made manifest through rubbing fire-sticks together.

dvāv upādānaśabdeṣu śabdau śabdavido viduḥ /
eko nimittaṃ śabdānām aparo ‘rthe prayujyate -VP:1.44
avibhakto vibhaktebhyo jāyate ‘rthasya vācakaḥ /
śabdas tatrārtharūpātmā saṃbandham upagacchati – VP: 1.45
ātmabhedaṃ tayoḥ ke cid astīty āhuḥ purāṇagāḥ /
buddhibhedād abhinnasya bhedam eke pracakṣate –  VP:1.46
araṇisthaṃ yathā jyotiḥ prakāśāntarakāraṇam /
tadvac chabdo ‘pi buddhisthaḥ śrutīnāṃ kāraṇaṃ pṛthak – VP: 1.47
vitarkitaḥ purā buddhyā kva cid arthe niveśitaḥ /
karaṇebhyo vivṛttena dhvaninā so ‘nugṛhyate – VP: 1.48
nādasya kramajātatvān na pūrvo na paraś ca saḥ /
akramaḥ kramarūpeṇa bhedavān iva jāyate – VP:1.49

[Translation of Shri K Raghavan Pillai

Words are of two kinds — one, the cause of all words, and another, the kind of words used to convey a meaning.  Some consider that there is an intrinsic difference between them, according to others, the second type is only a manifested form of the first the Supreme Word principle and the spoken word are in a relationship similar to that between the fire which is inherent in the firewood, and that which is made manifest through rubbing fire-sticks together. The potential fire in the kindling wood, once inflamed, illuminates itself as well as other objects. Like the light concealed in the piece of kindling wood is the cause of the manifestation (prakāśa) of another [light].  It is the same way in which the mental word is the cause of every audible word.

The nada or the uttered sound is only the Sphota or the Word-principle in manifest form. But the manifested word has characteristics of its own which are not – of the Sphota (44-49)

In the next kārikās it is claimed that although the distinction between the mental and the audible words may be useful for the description of a verbal communication, from the ontological point of view it is invalid. It is the indivisible word that acquires succession in the phonemes (Varna) as if being differentiated. Modifications, which the mental word is subject to in the course of audible manifestation, have the same character as the changes which the reflection of an object undergoes because of the movement of water.

pratibimbaṃ yathānyatra sthitaṃ toyakriyāvaśāt /
tatpravṛttim ivānveti sa dharmaḥ sphoṭanādayoḥ // VP:1.50 //]


Here, Bhartrhari, just as Patanjali, begins with the observation that the words or sentences (Sabda) can be viewed in two ways or as having two aspects (upādāna-śabdesu): One; as sound patterns (Dhvani); and, the other as its cause and essence (Artha).

[Patanjali had said:  Sphota is both internal and external. The internal form of Sphota is the innate essence of the word-meaning. The external aspect of Sphota is the uttered sound which is perceived by the sense organs. It merely serves to manifest the inner Sphota with its inherent word-meaning. But, for Patanjali, Sphota could be a letter (Varna) or a fixed pattern of letters (Pada).]

 (i) The gross sound pattern, Dhvani or Nada, is a sequence of sounds. Those sounds are employed to convey or to give an audible form to the intent of the speaker.  Those audible sounds through their divisions and time sequence, produced one after another by the speech organs, act as means (upaya) or as vehicles to transport the intent of the speaker. Such quanta of sound-sequences (words) might create an impression as though they are independent; and, the meaning intended to be conveyed by them (Sphota) comprises several parts. But, in truth, the individual words have no separate existence; and, both the sentence and its meaning (Sphota) are part-less.

.[ pade na varna vidyante varnesva avayaya na cha / vakyat padanam atyantam pravibhago na kascha na // VP 174]

According to Bhartrhari, the letter-sounds have a limited range. Each sound helps in gaining a better understanding of its next. The first one could be vague ; and , the next one little more clear and so on, until the last one, aided by the accumulated  impression created by all the preceding perceptions, finally reveals the complete meaning (Sphota)  with precision and distinctness.

(ii) The second; the essence or the meaning-bearing aspect of the language is called the Sphota. It is through that Sphota the meaning (Artha) of the sentence, as a whole, flashes forth.

Bhartrhari envisages Sphota “as that internal aspect, which is a timeless and part-less (avibhakta) linguistic symbol, to which meaning is attached”. Here, Sphota represents the true intent, purpose of the sentence (Sabda), while Dhvani the articulated sound-pattern, in its physical aspect, acts as a carrier to manifest the Sphota.

(ii) These two – Dhvani and Sphota – though appearing to be separate are, in fact, intimately related through a natural process (Yogyata). The former (Dhvani), acts as the outer garment or as an instrument in order to convey the inner essence of the word (Sphota).

Thus, a word has a dual power; one to indicate itself and the other to indicate the thing symbolized by it. It is like the power of fire:  to   reveal itself and at the same time to reveal other things.It is both the revealer and the revealed  (prakasha and prakasyatvam).

[Earlier, Panini had also mentioned that it is through conveying the own form first, the word conveys its meaning –  svam rūpam  śabdasya  aśabdasamjñā (Pā.1.1.68) ]


Though the Sphota is revealed in stages by each succeeding sound; it is, by itself, ‘one and indivisible’. The sounds uttered (words) are merely parts of a sentence that aid to reveal this Sphota. Bhartrhari asserts that it is the cognition of the Sphota in its entirety that is important in understanding the complete and true meaning of a sentence.

While the audible noise may vary depending on the speaker’s mode of utterance, Sphota as the meaning-unit of speech is not subject to such variations.

[ For instance; the sound of the word Ghata (gh, a, t and a) can be produced in any number of ways, either naturally (prakrta) or in a modified manner (vikruta). That word can be uttered slowly (vilambita), a little more quickly (madhyama) or even very quickly (druta).The variations in speed or in the mode of utterance are called vritti. The vritti might vary the form in which the word is uttered (Dhvani); but , it does not alter the content and the sense (Sphota) of the word.

Again; a pot in bright light can be seen clearly. The pot could be seen for a longer time if clear light continues to fall on it. The visibility of the pot depends on the quality of light that falls on it. The variation in the quality of light does not alter the very nature or the status of the pot.

Similarly, the change in speed or accent or mode of uttering a word (vritti) does not alter its Sphota. The physical aspect of the word that is the quality of its sound (Dhvani) might vary ; but , its Sphota remains unchanged.]

Obviously, Sphota is viewed here as a changeless element of speech, the inner unity which holds together the meaning. But, Bhartrhari does not define the term precisely.

[The commentators surmise that the ancient concept of Pranava (Om-kara) might have provided the inspiration to come up with the Sphota concept. In fact, Sphota is often identified with Pranava; and is taken as the imperishable Vak, the speech-principle (Vak-tattva).]


Bhartrhari explains the relation between the Sphota and Nada through an analogy of reflection of the moon on the surface of water. The relation between the object (moon) and its image (reflection) is because of the reflective surface (water). And the movement of the reflection might not necessarily be because of the movement of the object (moon). He says; just as the reflection on the water might give an impression as though the moon  (object) is rippling and moving, similarly the Sphota takes on the properties of uttered speech ( sequence, loudness or softness and so on) in which it is manifested. According to this view, the reflection acquires the qualities of the object.

According to Bhartrhari, the perfect perception is that in which there is identity between the essence or the thought (Sphota) and the form of its manifestation (Nada or Dhvani  – the letters or sounds). They are the two halves of one entity; and, are not distinct and separable (ekasaivatmano bhedau sabda-artha-vapathak sthitau – VP.2.31) The  realization of this special kind of relation arises  due to the function of mind, rather than of the external senses.

[Some scholars have pointed out that Bhartrhari’s position is closer to the notion of reflection (Abhasa) formulated by the Trika philosophers of Kashmir. In this viewpoint, the Shaktis and their material forms as words are identical with the Absolute. The relationship between the two is described as that between the mirror and its reflection. That is; the latter can have no independent existence without the former. And, yet the latter also has a reality which is somehow identical with the former.]

[Bhartrhari at another place clarifies (VP.1.59): ‘Two aspects of a word (upādānaśabda), distinguished artificially and perceived as separate, indicate different activities, without contradiction’.  It means that all the elements extracted from the word in the course of linguistic analysis are ultimately unreal. But they are valid in their own context. The elements that are relevant in the context of one activity may not be valid in the context of another. That is to say; each kind of activity, i.e. each kind of communicative situation, has its own reality which in some way might differ from the realities of other situations.

bhedenāvagṛhītau dvau śabdadharmāv apoddhṛtau/ bhedakāryeṣu hetutvam avirodhena gacchataḥ  (VP.1.59)  ]



The technical term Sphota does not easily translate into English. Sometimes, the term ‘symbol’ is used for Sphota in the sense of its function as a linguistic sign. Some scholars have tried to equate Sphota with the Greek concept of Logos, which stands for an Idea as well as for word. But such explanations too seem rather inadequate.

The term Sphota is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘Sphut’ which means ‘to burst forth’; but, it also describes what ’is revealed’ or ’is made explicit’. Sphota can also refer to the abstract or conceptual form of an audible word. Say, as when the idea or the meaning bursts or flashes on the mind after one hears /grasps the sounds that are uttered.

[Harsha V. Dehejia remarks : translated wrongly as ‘explosion’; Sphota could ideally be understood as ‘blossoming’]

In Grammar and in Indian linguistic theory, the term Sphota is of prime importance. Nageshabhatta in his Sphota-vada describes Sphota as an entity which is manifested by spoken letters or sounds (sphutati prakashate artho asmad iti sphotah). In a similar manner, Sri Madhava in his Sarva-darshana-samgraha, defines Sphota as that which is manifested or revealed by the Varna (phonemes): sphutyate vyajyate varnairiti sphotah’.  Sri Madhava describes Sphota in two ways. The first as: that from which the meaning bursts forth or shines forth. And, the second as: an entity that is manifested by the spoken letters and sounds.

To put it in another way; Sphota, in its linguistic sense, refers to that element which expresses a meaning (word). In its second sense, it is something that is made explicit by letters or sounds (meaning). Thus, the Sphota may be thought of as a kind of two-sided coin. On the one side, it is manifested by the word sound; and on the other side, it simultaneously reveals the word meaning. It is both the word and its meaning.

Bhartrhari also deals with Sphota at two levels: one on the metaphysical plane and the other on the empirical plane. The Sphota here is more than a theory of language.  The principle that is involved here is: the Brahman first manifested itself as Sound and then as form. The Sphota, Sabda-Brahman, the manifester as Logos or Word, is the power through which the Lord manifests in the universe. Liberation is achieved when one attains unity with that ‘supreme word principle’. Within this theory, consciousness and thought are intertwined; and Grammar becomes a path to liberation. This metaphysical Sphota-vada is a monistic philosophy based in Sanskrit grammar.

At the empirical level, Bhartrhari is concerned with the process of communicating meaning. He deals with the word and the sound distinctions; the word meaning; the unitary nature of the whole sentence; the word-object connection; and the levels of speech, etc. His focus is on cognition and on language.

Bhartrhari also says that Sphota is both external (bahya) and internal (abhayantara). And again, in understanding Sphota as an external entity we have to understand it in the form of universal (Jati) and individual or specific (Vyakti).


Communication of thought

If the letters  float away and disappear the instant we utter them and if each sound is replaced by another in quick succession, then one can hardly perceive the sentence as a whole. And the question that comes up is – how does one grasp  a sentence and its meaning in full?

Bhartrhari explains, at first, the sentence exists in the mind of the speaker as a unity or Sphota. In the process of giving a form to a thought, he produces a series of different sounds in a sequence where one sound follows its previous one. It might look as though those word-sounds are separated in time and space. But, they are indeed part and parcel of one and the same single entity – the sentence. The communication of a sentence and its meaning is not complete until the last word is uttered. Thus, though the word-sounds reach the listener in a sequence, eventually they all merge into one ; and, are grasped by the listener as a single unit. The same Sphota which originated in speaker’s mind re-manifests in listener’s mind, conveying the intended meaning.

The listener grasps the intent of the speaker as a whole; and the understanding is like an instantaneous flash of insight (prathibha). Just as the sentence (the symbol – Sphota) is an integral unit, the meaning signified by it is also unitary. That is; the sentence is an integral unit; and, its meaning which is grasped through intuition (pratibha) is also a single unit (Vakya-sphota)). According to Bhartrhari, Sphota is an auditory image of the sentence.  It is indivisible and without inner-sequence.

This, rather crudely put, is the concept called Sphota – the sentence just as its meaning being taken as an integral symbol; and its meaning bursting forth in a flash of understanding.

Bhartrhari held the view that the sentence is not a mere collection (Sabda-samghatah) or an ordered series of words. The sentence with its words is to be taken as single part-less linguistic unit (eko’navayavah s’abdah); and, not as a jumble of fragments. A sentence is a sequence-less, part-less unity that gets expressed or manifested in a sequential and temporal utterance. He maintained that the primary function of the words is to combine into a sentence, in its complete utterance, to give forth a meaning – (Arthah sahabhuteshu vartate – VP.2.115). Ultimately, the meaning of the words depend upon the overall meaning of the sentence (rupam sarva-pada-artham vakyartha nibamdhanam-VP.2.324)

[At another place, Bhartrhari observes: All differences presuppose a unity (abheda-purvaka hi bhedah); and, where there are differences and parts, there is an underlying unity. Otherwise the one would not be related to the other; and, each would constitute a world by itself.

Abheda-pūrvakā bhedāḥ kalpitā vākya-vādibhiḥ / bheda-pūrvān abhedāṃs tu manyante pada-darśinaḥ // VP. 2.57// ]

Just as a root or a suffix by itself has no meaning, so also the meanings of individual words have no independent existence. Bhartrhari asserts that a word consisting letters and syllables cannot, on its own, directly convey the meaning/ intent of the speaker. The words are somewhat like intermediate steps to arrive at the meaning of the sentences.

[That does not mean that Bhartrhari denies the validity of individual words or their meaning; but, what is in question is their significance. They are secondary in relation to the Sphota, which is the real object of cognition.

Bhartrhari accepts the fact that a word is vital in a sentence; and, can have multiple meanings. The role and the particular desired meaning of the word depend on the intent of the speaker and the context in which it is employed. He explains this through an analogy: the human eye which has the natural power of seeing many things at a time, but it can see a particular object, clearly,  only when the individual decides and focuses his attention to see that object.]

Bhartrhari argues; in a linguistic analysis, artificial extraction of parts from an integral unit (apoddhāra) – splitting up of a sentence into word and then on into roots, suffixes and syllables, syntaxes etc – might be a useful exercise for study of a language and its grammar; but, such fragmented approach serves hardly any purpose; and, surely it is not suitable in the real world where men and women live, transact (vyāpāra) and communicate verbally (Vyavahara). He says that in a   speech situation, where the speaker communicates her/his ideas and the listener grasps the uttered speech, the communication is always through complete statement. The speaker thinks; communicates; and, the listener grasps and understands those series of word- sounds as a single unit.

Bhartrhari says, those who know the language well, do listen to the sentence. And those who do not know the language may hear words only as sound bites.  Sphota, in essence, is the real experience of listening to a sentence as a whole and grasping its meaning through perception.  It is said; meaning is not something that can be inferred; but, it is actually being perceived.

Bhartrhari compares the communication through language (by use of sentences) to creation of a painting. Bhartrhari describes the painter as going through three stages when he paints a picture : “ when an artist wishes to paint a figure of a man , he first visualizes the object and its spirit as a composite unit  ; then , as of a figure having parts; and, thereafter, gradually, in a sequence , he paints it on the surface of a cloth or whatever”.

Mandana Misra in his Sphota-siddhi (a Vritti, commentary, on Bhatrhari’s Vakyapadiya) offers the example of the viewing-experience of a painting, in order to illustrate the relation that exists between a sentence and its words. He points out that when we view a picture, it is conceived as a whole, over and above its various parts. Similarly, he says, the composite image presented by a piece of cloth is a whole; and, it is quite distinct from the particular threads and colours that have gone into making of it.

That is to say; a painter conceives a picture in his mind; and, thereafter gives its parts a substance on the canvass by using variety of strokes, different colours, varying shades etc. Which means; an artist paints the picture in parts though he visualizes it as a single image. The viewer of the painting, rightly, also takes in, absorbs the picture and its spirit as a whole, as an integral unit; and , he  does not look for individual strokes, shades etc or the permutation of such details that went into making the picture.  

Similar is the case with the sentence and individual words employed to compose it.


For Bhartrhari, Sphota is the real substratum, proper linguistic unit, which is identical with its meaning. Language is not merely the vehicle of meaning or of thought. Thought anchors language; and, the language anchors thought. According to Bhartrhari, the speech and thought are two aspects of the same principle (Vak). In this way, he says, there are no essential differences between a linguistic unit and its meaning or the thought it conveys. That is to say; the perfect communication is when there is complete identity between sentence (or word) and its meaning.

Sphota refers to that ‘non-differentiated language principle’; and, that later gave rise to the theory of Sabda-advaita (word monism).

[Bhartrhari in his Vakyapadiya recognized and gave credence only to the sentence-Sphota (Vakya-Sphota). But, the latter Grammarians split up the concept into various divisions; and, came up with various sorts of Sphota-s. For instance; Nagesabhatta in his Parama-laghu-manjusha enumerates as many as eight varieties of Sphota, such as: Varna-sphota; Pada-sphota; Vakya-sphota; Varna-jati-sphota; Pada-jati-sphota; Vakya-jati-sphota; Akhanda-pada-sphota; and Akhanda-vakya-sphota.

Of those eightfold varieties of Sphota-s, it is only the last mentioned, the Akhanda-vakya-sphota (sentence as the undivided linguistic unit, the conveyer of meaning), that corresponds to the essential nature of Sphota doctrine as envisioned by Bhartrhari. The rest are mere classroom-exercises. It is said; though the other seven divisions have no real merit of their own, they still serve some practical purpose. They enable the beginner to learn and to know the true nature of Akhanda-vakya-sphota.]


Process of cognition and theories of error

In the traditional Schools of Indian philosophy (say; as in Samkhya, Advaita or even in Buddhism) there is a sharp distinction between the states of ignorance (A-vidya) and enlightenment (kaivalya, Moksha or Nirvana). A person is either bound or is liberated; but, there is no intermediate stage. Similarly, in the Schools of Logic (Nyaya) also, the valid means of knowledge (Pramana) either reveal the object completely or do not reveal at all.

The approach adopted by Bhartrhari in explaining the process of true cognition is significantly different from that of the other Schools. Bhartrhari argues that perception need not always be an ‘all–or-nothing process’. It could very well be a graded one. There could be vagueness initially; but, the perception could improve as one tries to gain clarity of the object. That is to say; the process of revelation could start from the indeterminate stage and progress, in steps, to the determinate stage. At each successive step, it gains increasing clarity. It begins from complete ignorance, passes through partial knowledge and ends up in a complete knowledge.

Thus, the position of Bhartrhari is that the overcoming of error is a perceptual process by progressing through degrees of positive approximations. Even invalid cognitions can sometimes lead to valid knowledge ( say , as in trial-and-error). Initial errors or vagueness could gradually and positively be overcome by an increasingly clearer cognition of the word form or Sphota. That is to say; the true cognition, established by direct perception, could take place , initially, through a series of possible errors; but, finally leading to the truth.

And, that also takes care of the objections raised by the Mimamasa School which accused the Sphota of being a mere guesswork.

[In Advaita, the true–final cognition is achieved through a process of reasoning and inference; and, not by perception. The Grammarians, in contrast, hold the view that the final cognition of Sphota is by perfect perception Prathibha; and, not through inference. Mandana explaining the Sphota point of view says: the revelation of an object clearly or vaguely is by direct perception. In the case of the other means of knowledge there is either apprehension of the object or not at all.]

Mandana in his Sphotasiddhi agrees with Bhartrhari’s stand   that the final and the clear perception of the Sphota could possibly be achieved after rectifying  a series of probable errors.

Bhartrhari’s position is in stark contrast to that of Sri Sankara wherein the overcoming of the error (A-vidya) is a process of inference in which there are no approximations or degrees of errors. In Advaita Vedanta, there can only be a ‘True’ or ‘False’ cognition, with no gradation in between. Here, error is overcome by a single negation. According to Sri Sankara, the error, if it is to be overcome, must be completely and effectively replaced at once by true knowledge.

Thus, Bhartrhari’s stand marks a significant departure from the Vedanta School where the validity of a means of cognition (Pramana) is judged by its ability or otherwise either to provide for a clear apprehension of the object or not at all. And, there is no room for vagueness or for improving upon an error in stages.

That is to say; Advaita usually describes the error in terms of negation (such as when it is said it is not a snake). The Grammarians, on the other hand, explain the error (vagueness of perception), positively, as a step that , if overcome by increasingly clear cognition, could finally lead to true and complete understanding (Sphota).

The nature and process of comprehension of Sphota   is illustrated by Bhartrhari and other grammarians by means of various analogies.

: – A jeweler, examining a jewel or precious stone, has to look it steadily for some time, to enable him to gain a familiarity with its genuineness, its details  and as also its probable value. With his first reading he acquires a knowledge of the general features of the gem. Each subsequent examination thereafter helps him to ascertain the true nature and quality of the gem.  And the final assessment, aided by the results gained through the previous ones, will enable him to evaluate and to determine, with certainty, the true quality and the exact value of the gem, completely and clearly.

: – Bhartrhari   gives the example of a student attempting to learn by-heart a verse or an anuvaka (a passage of a text) by repeated reading/recitation. Each such attempt helps him to retain the text or a part of it in his memory, to an extent.  It is the last reading aided by the impressions left behind by the previous attempts that helps him to commit to his memory the verse or the passage correctly and fully.

: – Bhartrhari offers another example of a tree which when viewed from a distance might appear like an elephant. But, that apparent mistake would be eliminated if one keeps gazing at the object intensely. And, one would eventually recognize it as a tree, which is its true form. In this instance also, the valid cognition is achieved by erasing a series of errors.

Mandana Misra, in his commentary, remarks that such correction – moving from error to the true – might not necessarily be explained away by factors such as change in distance. That is because, he says, even by standing at the same spot and looking at the object intensely one would be able to gain the right perspective of the object. He explains   : ‘it is the previous cognitions (in this case an elephant) leaving progressively clearer residual impressions, which become the cause of clear perception of the tree’.

Similarly, in Bhartrhari’s theory of language, the object of cognition (sentence), at first, is heard in the form of a word. But finally, through further cognitions ; with the subsequent words providing increased clarity; and , with the utterance of the last word, the total import of the sentence is grasped clearly (Sphota).

It is said; the Sphota theory was developed by Bhartrhari as a foil to the Mimamsa. In contrast to Mimamsa, Bhartrhari asserts that ‘primary linguistic unit is the undivided sentence (Vakya-Sphota). The individual words are merely hints or stepping stones to the complete meaning of sentence (Vakya).

: – And there is the much battered case of a coil of rope being mistaken for a snake. The perception of a rope as a snake is an error. But, the true perception results by negating that error through a series of increasingly clearer perceptions (Sphota) – (as in the case of elephant-tree analogy) . 

:- And, Sesa Krsna, a philosopher and commentator belonging to the early part of the sixteenth century, in his Sphota-tattva-nirupana, a treatise on the Sphota doctrine, offers another illustration.

He says that when a person utters a sound ka with the intention of saying Kamalam (a lotus), we know that he is trying to say a word beginning with Ka. And, when he utters the next syllable Ma, we have another clue; and, we can guess the word a little more clearly. Now, that eliminates the possibility of all the words not beginning with Kama.  Still, the word is not quite clear. We do not know whether he is going to say Kamanam or Kamalam. It is only when the last sound lam is uttered that we come to know the word fully and clearly. It is by the perception of the last letter; we reach at a valid cognition. Thus, the function of the letters is to build up the higher unit (in this case, the word).



Bhartrhari in the Karikas (2.143-152) of his Vakyapadiya discusses his concept of Prathibha – intuition or flash of understanding.

The basic principle of Bhartrhari’s theory of language is that the complete utterance of the sentence, as a whole, is a unit of speech; and, it should be considered as a single unity. The words, though meaningful, are fractional parts of a sentence. The complete sentence-meaning might be produced by the combination of such parts; but, the whole is simply not the sum of the parts. The sentence and its meaning is essentially an indivisible unit.

We understand the full meaning of a sentence immediately, only, after the speaker finishes the sentence. Thereafter, the complete meaning of the sentence is grasped, as a unity, instantly (pratyaksha), in a flash of insight (Prathibha).

Viccheda grahane arthanam prathibhanyaiva jayate I vakyartha iti tam aahuh padarthair upapadita II – VP.2.143

That Prathibha or flash is not a mere piece of knowledge. It is the wisdom or flash of understanding which guides a person to right understanding (prajnya) and right conduct (iti-kartavyata). Such instinctive awareness is in everyone’s experience. Even the birds and animals have that basic instinct, acquired directly or through recollection of it (samskara or Vasana).  All beings act upon and depend on that inborn intuition (Prathibha).  Even the language-competence and performance is also an inborn virtue (Pratibha) in Man. It is through the power (Shakthi) of that Pratibha the total meaning of the part-less (avibhakta) sentence (AkhandaVakya-sphota) flashes forth.

And yet, that innate instinctive awareness (Prathibha) possessed by all beings cannot be precisely defined in words (anakhyena); pinpointing ‘this is that’- (idam tad iti sanyesam anakyena katham cha na).

[ Mammatacharya ( Kāvyaprakāśa, 11th century) while dealing with poetics , observes  :  the mere knowledge of the word alone is not enough to understand and enjoy the poetic import or the essence of the Kavya;  it needs intuition or Prathibha.  He calls Prathibha as – nava-navaonvesha-shalini prajna – the ever inventive and resourceful intellect. Prathibha is also called, at times, as Vasana.  Only those endowed with Prathibha can truly enjoy the essence and beauty of Kavya. ]

That intuitive wisdom which reveals the dynamic inter-relatedness of all things comes to a person through maturity, experience (anubhava), reasoning (yukthi) and learning ( from Shastras and Grammar). At another place, Bhartrhari remarks: “insight attains clarity through  diverse traditional views (prajna vivekam labhate bhinnair Agama-darshanin -VP: 2.484). Such wisdom, it is said, is derived from six sources (sadvidhā): nature (Svabhava); action (acharana); practice (abhyasa); meditation or contemplation (yoga); invisible causes (adrsta); and, instructions handed down by the wise (upapāditām)

Svabhāva-acharaṇā-abhyāsa- yogā-adṛṣṭa-upapāditām / viśiṣṭopahitāṃ ceti pratibhāṃ ṣaḍvidhāṃ viduḥ (VP : 2.152 )


For and against the Sphota-vada

Over the centuries, the Sphota concept was hotly debated among  various Schools of thought. There were those who supported the Sphota-vada; and, there were many others who criticized and opposed it bitterly.

Among the former (Sphotavadins), the more prominent were: Yaska; Patanjali; Mandana Misra; Nagesabhatta; scholars of the Kashmir-Shaiva School; some Yoga-commentators; and, of course Bhartrhari who was the champion of the Sphota-vada. But, somehow, those who opposed the Sphota-vada not only outnumbered its supporters but also were more influential. The anti-Sphotavadins included such eminent philosophers as: Upavarsha; scholars of Samkhya, Nyaya and Vaiseshika Schools; scholars of Shaiva siddantha; Mimamsakas – Sabaraswamin, Kumarila Bhatta and Prabhakara; Sri Ramanuja; Sri Madhva; Sri Jiva Goswami; Vachaspathi Misra; and, most notably Sri Sankara.

The early Mimamsa School which strongly defended Varna-vada argued that the individual word or the letter (Varna) is the prime substance of Vak (speech). The School of the Grammarians, on the other hand, advocated Sphota-vada to explain the mysterious manner by which the sentence-meaning is conveyed. They put forward Sphota as a process of cognition which culminates in the intuitive perception (Prathibha) of the Absolute as Sabda –Brahman.

In the later periods, these two points of view became the major platforms for debates and discussion among the various Schools of Indian philosophy as also among the Schools of Grammar and language.


In the earlier part of this series we have seen the objections raised against the Sphota concept  by the Samkhya and the Mimamsa scholars prior to the time of Bhartrhari. Let’s now see few major observations made by both the pro and anti Sphotavadins after the time of Bhartrhari (Ca.450 CE).

 : – Kaumarila Bhatta, a noted Mimamsa Scholar (7th -8th century) attacked the manner in which the Sphota phenomenon was supposed to reveal the meaning of word-sounds (Sabda). Kaumarila argued that the word (Sabda), whether be it individual or be it a part of sentence, is nothing more than a collection of articulated-sounds or spoken words. And, it is with this collection of sounds alone that the meaning is associated. The listener grasps the sounds of the words and their meaning. There is nothing else here, he said, one need not, without reason, assume a mystical process of Sphota etc.

: – Mandana Misra, a contemporary of Kaumarila Bhatta, however, refuted the stand of his senior Mimamsaka; and, said that Kaumarila’s stand was rather frivolous. Mandana, in support of the Sphota doctrine, wrote a brilliant commentary (Sphota-siddhi) based Bhartrhari’s Vakyapadiya. He supported Bhartrhari’s presumption of the whole being prior to the parts; as also the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. He agreed with Bhartrhari that it is not the individual words but the complete thought of the sentence that ultimately matters.

As mentioned earlier, Mandana also offered the example of a painting conceived as a whole, over and above its various parts. And, also of the appreciation of a piece of cloth, as whole; and, not as mere collection of threads and colours that are woven into it. He says: This aspect is brought out clearly by Bhartrhari.

:- The Jain philosopher Prabhachandra in his Prameya-kamala-marthanda attempted  to reconcile the two opposing views; and, came up with his own doctrine of ‘Interminacy’ (syavada, anekantavada), which, essentially, was a principle that encouraged acceptance of multiple or plural views on a given issue as being multiple dimensions of one and the same object.

:- As regards the Buddhists , while Dharmakirti attacked Bhartrhari, another Buddhist scholar Dignaga seemed to be highly influenced by Bhartrhari ; and quoted verses from Vakyapadiya in support of his own arguments concerning grammatical distinctions between two words having different nominal endings and those with identical endings. Finally, Dignaga agreed with Bhartrhari that meaning of a sentence (vakyartha) is grasped through intuition (prathibha

: – Sri Sankara in his commentary on Brahma Sutra (1.3.28) argued against the stand of the Sphotavadins. He adopted the view taken by the highly revered ancient philosopher Upavarsha (Ca.500 BCE) who had earlier rejected the Sphota-vada. While brushing aside the Sphota concept, Upavarsha had remarked: ‘that all this talk of unity of meaning etc. is largely an illusion, for it is the words, it’s articulated elements (Varna) alone that make the unity’.  Upavarsha had in turn come up with his theory of   Varna-vada; according to which, the smallest phonetic units that can carry the meaning (phoneme = Varna) alone are real constituents of a word. He said sounds are only Varnas; and, there is no need for assuming a Sphota.

Sri Sankara adopted the statement of Upavarsha “words are none other than various letter-sounds (Varnas)”. He agreed with Upavarsha; and supported Varna- vada while rejecting the Sphota-vada (Sankara Bhashya on Brahma Sutra: 1.3.28).

Sri Sankara did not approve the concept of Sphota-vada; and, said the meaning of a word can be known from its constituent letters, sounds and the context.  Here, he remarks: Bhagavad Upavarsha says ‘but, the words are none other than various letter-sounds (Varna)- varna eva tu sabddh id bhagavan Upavarsah (BS: 1.3.28). And, therefore, he said , there is no need to bring in the concept of Sphota to decide upon the meaning of the word when it can be derived directly from the Varna-s that form the word.

And then, Sri Sankara went on to build his own arguments to oppose the Sphota vada, based on what he called ‘the tradition of the Masters’- (Acharya –sampradayokti-purvakam siddantam aaha varna iti).

According to him, only the individual letters are perceived; and, they are combined through inference of the mind into word aggregate. Because the psychological process is one of inference and not of perception, there can be no degrees of cognition. According to Sri Sankara, the inference Pramana is an all–or-nothing process. The error, if it is to be overcome, must be completely replaced, all at once, by a new inferential construction of mind or by a super-conscious intuition of Brahman.

:-  The other Acharyas and commentators also toed the line of Bhagavan Upavarsha and Sri Sankara; and, supported Varna- vada as against Sphota-vada. Vacaspati Misra, who commented on Sri Sankara’s Vedanta Sutra Bhashya, also rejected the Sphota theory. He came up with his own theory of Abhihitanvaya-vada; and, said the understanding of the meaning of a whole sentence is reached by inferring to it, in a separate act of lakshana or implication, from the individual meanings of the constituent words.

In the recent times, the Sphota doctrine has received much attention from the scholars of linguistics – both in the West and in the East. It has been duly recognized as one of the significant contributions of India to the philosophy of Grammar. As the noted scholar Bimal K. Matilal observes: “Even today this theory is widely recognized among modern linguists as the most complete investigation into the profundities of language, making a considerable contribution to the Philosophy of Language, the Psychology of Speech, and especially Semiotics”.


Bhartrhari, while discussing about Sphota, put forth his theory to explain the process and the stages through which the thought in the speaker’s mind gets transformed into audible speech.

In the next part let’s look at those levels of Language


Continued in

Next Part

References and Sources

  1. The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 – edited by Harold G. Coward, Karl H. Potter, K. Kunjunni Raja
  2. Of Many Heroes: An Indian Essay in Literary Historiographyby G. N. Devy
  3. Time in Hinduismby Harold Coward
  4. Bhartṛhari, the Grammarianby Mulakaluri Srimannarayana Murti
  5. The Study of Vakyapadiya– Dr. K Raghavan Piliai Volume I (Motilal Banarsidas; 1971)
  6. Being and Meaning: Reality and Language in Bhartṛhari and Heideggerby Sebastian Alackapally
  7. Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Soundby Guy L. Beck
  8. Bhartrhari (ca. 450-510)by Madhav Deshpande
  9. Bhartrihariby Stephanie Theodorou
  10. The Sphota Theory of Language: A Philosophical Analysisby Harold G. Coward
  11. Speech versus Writing” In Derrida and Bhartahariby Harold G. Coward
  12. Sequence from Patanjali to Post _modernityby  V. Ashok.
  13. The Vedic Conception of Sound in Four Features
  14. Sphota theory of Bhartrhari
  15. Word and Sentence, Two Perspectives: Bhartrhari and Wittgensteinedited by Sibajiban Bhattacharyya
  16. Hermeneutical Essays on Vedāntic Topicsby John Geeverghese Arapura
  17. Culture and Consciousness: Literature Regainedby William S. Haney
  18. The Advaita Vedānta of Brahma-siddhiby Allen Wright Thrasher
  19. Bhartr̥hari, Philosopher and Grammarian: Proceedings of the First… Edited by Saroja Bhate, Johannes Bronkhorst
  20. Bhartṛhari – from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  21. Sri Venkateswara Univrsity Oriental Journal Volumes XXX-XXXi 1987 – 1988
  22. Studies in the Kāśikāvṛtti: The Section on Pratyāhāras: Critical Edition …edited by Pascale Haag, Vincenzo Vergiani
  23. Proceedings of the Lecture Series on Våkyapadiya and Indian Philosophy of Languages- (31.1.08 to 2.2.08)
  24. Encyclopaedia for the world psychologists 1. A – D ; Edited by H. L. Kalia
  25. Linguistic philosophy of Yaska- Sodhganga
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The Meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Five

Continued from Part Four



As mentioned in the previous part, Vakyapadiya, without doubt, is a seminal work on: Grammar; the philosophy of language; and philosophy related subjects. It is regarded as the most significant work appearing after the long and the hoary tradition of Tri-Muni or Muni-traya – the revered trio (Trimurti) of sages – Panini (Astadhyayi), Katyayana (Vrttika), and Patanjali (Mahabhashya). Vakyapadiya represents the culmination of several traditions; but is, basically, rooted in the Vedic tradition.  Following Patanjali, Bhartrhari regards Grammar as the most important Vedanga (branch of the Vedas).

Vakyapadiya is certainly the most widely cited text on the subject of ‘philosophy of Grammar’, not only by the various traditional Schools of Sanskrit Grammar, but also among modern scholars of linguistic studies. The distinguished scholar Harold Coward, in the preface to his work on Bhartrhari (1971) writes:

Although Bhartrhari lived in India many centuries ago, his writing has a universal appeal that spans the years and bridges the gulf between East and West. This very timelessness in conjunction with universality strongly suggests that Bhartrhari as a Grammarian, metaphysician, and poet has come close to revealing the fundamental nature of consciousness itself.



The title Vakyapadiya, in general, could be described as a treatise on sentences and words, their meanings; and, their mutual relationship.  The text discusses in great depth, the subjects related to Vakya (sentence); Pada (word) and meaning (Artha); together with their grammatical as well as philosophical implications.  It is said; the text is, therefore, celebrated by the name Vakyapadiya – (Sabda-Artha-Sambandiyam prakaranam Vakyapadiyam) and (Vakya-pade adhikrtya krtah granthah Vakyapadiyam)

Since Bhartrhari’s Vakyapadiya follows in spirit the rules governing words (sabda-anushasanam) as in the Samgraha of Vyadi, it is also known as Agama Samgraha (compendium of Agama), as received from tradition.

And again, since the text Vakyapadiya is made up of three Khanda-s (Cantos or Chapters or segments) it is also known by the name Trikandi comprising Brahma-khanda (or Agama-samucchaya- aggregation of traditions); Vakya-khanda (discussion on sentence); and, Pada-khanda (prakirna or Prakīraka –miscellaneous).

It is said; under the Trikandi structure, each Khanda was named after the most significant word in the first Karika (statement) of that Khanda: First KhandaBrahma Kanda (Anadi-nidhana Brahma); Second khanda: Vakya Kanda (ākhyāta); and, Third Khanda: Pada Kanda (dvidhā kaiś cit pada)

Though the Vakyapadiya, in the present period, is largely accepted as a text comprising three Khanda-s or Cantos or sections, there were very involved discussions during the middle and the later periods on the question whether what is known as Vakyapadiya is a single text or whether it is, in fact, two texts put together. It was argued by some that the first Khanda (Brahma-khanda) and the second Khanda (Vakya-khanda) alone constituted what is Vakyapadiya. To support that argument, it was pointed out that the explanatory Notes (Tika or Vritti) prepared by Bhartrhari himself covered only the first two Khanda-s related to the key theories of Sabda Brahman and the Sphota.

According to this line of argument, the third segment (Khanda), the Pada-khanda or Prakirnaka, dealing with words (Pada) and having a large number of verses spread over several sub-sections is to be treated as  a separate work  (Vakyapadiya-Prakirnakayoh karta Maha-bhashya-tripadaya vyakyatah).

At the same time, there have also been several learned articles written by scholars  arguing that though the Vakyapadiya could be said to have two parts – ( the first part comprising the First and the Second Khandas; with the Third Khanda forming the latter part ) – it is , in fact , a single text. It is pointed out that Bhartrhari himself mentions (VP II, 488) that in the third chapter he would be discussing  in detail the topics which were briefly mentioned in the earlier two chapters*.  The third Khanda, Prakirnaka-prakasha, in fact, ends with the statement – iti bhartharikta vākyapadīyam samāptam – that concludes the Vakyapadiya written by Bhartrhari.

(*vartmanām atra keṣām cid vastumātram udāhṛtam / kāṇḍe trtīye nyakṣena bhaviṣyati vicāraṇā / VP II, 488)

It is now generally accepted that though Vakyapadiya is composed of two distinct parts, it essentially is a single text having three Cantos (Trikandi).

One of the later commentators pays his respects to Bhartrhari the author of  Vakyapadiya and Mahabhashya by cleverly playing upon ‘Hari’ in his name.  He says: I submit my reverence to Hari the author of Tripadi (commentary on Mahabhashya) who took three steps in the form of Trikandi (Vakyapadiya) that covered the three worlds; and who is the Lord of Sri the embodiment of all knowledge

Trailokya-gamini yena Trikandi Tripadi-krita/tasmai samastha –vidya-sri kanthaya/ Haraye namah//


While the length of text differs slightly according to different published editions, it could  generally be said that the first Khanda (Brahma-khanda) consists about 156 karikas (comments, in metrical verse form); the second (Vakya-khanda) consists about 485 karikas; and, the third khanda (Pada-khanda), the biggest of all, consists about 1325 karikas. The entire book, thus, could be said to have about 1966 Karikas, or comments, in metrical form.

[According to the edition of Vakyapadiya published by Wilhelm Rau in 1977, the first and the second chapters have 183 and 490 verses, respectively. The third chapter, which is divided into 14 sections, has 1325 verses.  Thus the text runs up to 1998 Karikas.  According to Sri K. A. Subramania Iyer and others, the three Khanda-s together contain 1860 Karikas.]


Astaka– Eight topics

The main features of the Vakyapadiya   could, broadly, be grouped under three heads: Prakriya (the word formation process); Parishkara (the analysis and clearly enunciating the concept); and, Darshana (philosophy).  Thus, though Vakyapadiya is basically about Vyakarana (Grammar) and its philosophy, it is accorded the status of Agama (traditional text) – pratyak caitanye sannivesita vak.

Though the first two khanda-s cover subjects such as grammar as also philosophy of grammar and linguistics, Bhartrhari seems to focus, here,  on two types each of the linguistic units (words-Sabda) and meanings (Artha); and four types of their relations (Sambandha). Thus, the book is said to discuss eight kinds of topics.

The verses 24-26* of the first Khanda  indicate that Vakyapadiya deals with eight subjects (Astaka); two kinds of meanings – one by analysis, and the other , natural as fixed by convention;  two kinds of words – one explained by grammar, and the other by its context; two kinds of relations – one by the  cause and effect relation between expressions and meanings,  and the other by its appropriateness to express the meaning ; and, two kinds of objectives – one that is spiritual, and the other whichhas the ability  to understand the meaning.

*Apoddhārapadārthā ye ye cārthāḥ sthitalakṣaṇāḥ /
anvākhyeyāś ca ye śabdā ye cāpi pratipādakāḥ // 1.24 //
kāryakāraṇabhāvena yogyabhāvena ca sthitāḥ /
dharme ye pratyaye cāṅgaṃ saṃbandhāḥ sādhvasādhuṣu // 1.25 //
te liṅgaiś ca svaśabdaiś ca śāstre ‘sminn upavarṇitāḥ /
smṛtyartham anugamyante ke cid eva yathāgamam // 1.26 //

Hence, the commentators Vrsabha and Helaraja describe Vakyapadiya as padartha-astaka-vichara-para– the text concerned with discussions on eight kinds of subjects. Each of these topics   discussed in their respective chapters are grouped under:

Sabda: Anvakhyeya (linguistic units- sentences and words- to be explained) and Pratipadaka (linguistic units which serve to convey the formerstems, suffixes etc)

Artha: Apoddhara-padartha (meanings derived or extracted); and Sthita-lakshana (meanings fixed by convention)

Sambandha: Karta-karana-bhava (relations established through cause-effect); and Yogya-bhava (relations that exist between linguistic units and meanings, and their capability to express a certain desired meaning);

Objective: Pratyayanga (comprehension of meaning); and, Pratyaya-dharmanga (acquisition of merit)


Importance of Tradition

After citing the eight topics (VP: 1.24-26), Bhartrhari talks about the importance of tradition; and the necessity of relying on the inherited knowledge in regard to acquisition of spiritual merit. And, that includes the hoary tradition of Grammar which decides upon the correctness (sadhutva) and incorrectness (a-sadhutva) in the use of language.

[While asserting the value of traditional interpretations, Bhartrhari criticizes other commentators like Vaiji, Saubhava and Haryaka for vainly pursuing ‘dry-logic’ (Shushka-tarka) without much thinking or introspection –vaiji-saubhava-haryakai śuka-tarkānusāribhi– VP.2.484]-

Bhartrhari assures (VP I. 27 – 43) that he will present, through direct statements and indirect indications, only the subjects that have already been accepted in the traditional Grammar (kecid eva yathāgamam)  . Thus, he clarifies, his explanations (smrtyartham) would be in accordance with the accepted traditions of the Grammar.

His commentator Vrsabha explains that by the term yathāgamam, Bhartrhari meant that he did not invent (utprekshya) these eight topics, but was handing them down (smrtyartham) as tradition (agama or paddathi).

Bhartrhari urges all to adhere to Dharma which is an eternal principle. A righteous and wise person must always act in accordance with Dharma, even if the texts perish and even if there are no longer any authors left.

astaṃ yāteṣu vādeṣu kartṛṣv anyeṣv asatsv api /
śrutismṛtyuditaṃ dharmaṃ loko na vyativartate // VP. 1.149 //


Sources of Valid knowledge

After enumerating the eight topics and the importance of following the tradition, Bhartrhari discusses about the relations between the three major sources of valid knowledge (Pramana): (i) direct perception (Pratyaksha); inference (Anumana); and, tradition or traditional texts (Agama or Sabda).

Here, he draws attention to to the fact that perception, at times, could be erroneous because of weakness or improper functioning of sensory organs. As regards inference, he points out that inference, by itself, is an inadequate of source reliable of knowledge (Pramana). He argues that inference alone, without the steadying influence of the scriptures is an improper Pramana.   Vakyapadiya (1.34), remarks : ‘whatever is inferred with great effort through clever reasoning can easily be put aside a much more clever reasoning or argument (kuśalair anumātbhi)’.

And he then asserts, the traditional knowledge (Agama) which consists of the revealed (Sruti) or remembered (Smrti) scriptures cannot be set aside by inference, since they are more dependable than inference.

According to Bhartrhari, it is not justifiable to replace scriptures (Sabda) with inference, particularly in non- empirical matters. He also says that philosophical views (Vada) cannot be independent of the scriptures. In this context, Bhartrhari mentions, the role of Vyakarana (Grammar) is very important, as it helps to safeguard the correct transmission of the scriptural knowledge, and to assist the aspirant in realizing the truth of the revealed knowledge (Sruti).

[For more on valid knowledge in Indian thought – please click here]


Subjects discussed

The treatment of the subjects in the Vakyapadiya is indeed refreshing. It adopts an open approach; and is prepared to review and validate different perspectives on a given issue. Throughout Vakyapadiya, both the viewpoints – supporting and opposing – on a subject are discussed. Sometimes the viewpoints are just enumerated. And, sometimes Bhartrhari adds a comment to the one that is more acceptable  of the two. There are also instances where he develops his own view by reconciling or synthesizing two apparently conflicting views. He, at times, steers a middle course between two extreme positions. In certain ways, Bhartrhari surely is different from most authors of his time who had fallen into the habit of either totally condemning the opposite School or staunchly upholding one’s own system at any cost. (For more, please read Bhartrhari’s perspectivism by Jan E .M. Houben)

Bhartrhari was adopting the approach of Anekāntavāda which, essentially, is a principle that encourages acceptance of multiple or plural views on a given subject. The Buddha too, earlier, had said that merely judging the issue from individual (separate) stand points of view would lead to wrong conclusions; it would be prudent to approach each issue from more than one point of view (aneka-amsika).

With such a rather ‘aloof ‘or rational approach, Bhartrhari demonstrates his faith that things appear differently from different points of view.

That does not mean that Bhartrhari does not assert his own position. He is quite candid and assured of his own position. For instance; he opens the Vakyapadiya with a series of well defined statements which he plans to elaborate and defend later in work.


The first two Khandas are closely related. In these two Books, the topics (prakarana) concerning sentence and words are arranged under three broad sections, as: (i) the nature of these constituents, and their mutual relations; (ii) their contents; (iii) meaningful linguistic units and their mutual relations; the nature of creation; the relationship of Brahman, world, language, the individual soul (Jîva); and, the manifestation and comprehension of the meanings of words and sentences.

In first two Chapters, Bhartrhari shows his remarkable understanding of the psychology of communication, which is not restricted by mere structure of words.  Bhartrhari is among the few who have systematically investigated Thought and Language and their interrelationship. According to him, consciousness and thought are intertwined; speech or the spoken language is an outer expression of the inward thought process; and, language is the base of all human activity.

According to this view, there are two levels of language:  the inner speech and the articulated sound. The former he called Sphota, the latter Nada, ‘sound’, ‘noise’. The former is more real; and, it is the cause of the latter.

The basic idea here seems to be that the word is initially conceived as a unity in the mind of the speaker. Thus, the inward form of the word is its thought (intent), while the articulated sound is its outward form. And, both originate from the speaker’s mind as  thought process which later finds words to express itself; and, that verbalized thought is put out through series of word-sounds with the aid of various body-parts and the breath.  Bhartrhari employs a range of terms- such as Nada, Dhvani, Prakata-dhvani, Vaikrata-dhvani etc – in order to indicate the audible spoken word. He also talks, in detail, about the levels of language (we shall talk of this level in fair detail in the later parts).

Thus, a spoken word is but a transformation of a subtle form of un-vocalized thought which originated in the mind of the speaker in a much more subtle form. The inner most impulse is the knower, the person himself, who transforms Vivartate), in stages, to reveal himself.


The first Khanda (Brahma-khanda) introduces the concept of Sadba-sphota  and gives the outline of its general philosophy; and, its distinction from sound (Dhvani, Nada). By Sabda Sphota, Bhartrhari refers to that inner unity Sabda (word) which conveys the meaning (Artha) .

The text explains the real word (Sabda-Sphota) as the intent of the speaker, and that which is unerringly grasped by the listener. And, that is not the same as Nada (non-linguistic sound or that which expresses) or Dhvani (intonation) which acts as a carrier to convey the intended meaning.  Here, in Grammar (in contrast to Tantra and to the classical theories of Indian music ), Nada signifies the gross sound which results from a collection of subtle Dhvani-s.

Thus, Dhvani and Nada are‘external substances’ covering a meaningful content. In other words, they are  the outer garments or the cover of the real word (Sphota).

[Amazingly, in the later periods, the concepts of Nada and Dhwani underwent a thorough change. The terms Nada and Dhwani acquired totally different connotations. Nada in Tantra as also in the theories of Indian music was elevated to the mystical concept of a very high order as Nada Brahman.   Similarly, in the medieval Indian aesthetics (Kavya-Alamkara), the term Dhwani implied the subtle essence or the Rasa evoked by a poem or a gesture in a play or in dance. Anandavardhana regarded Dhwani as the soul of poetry- Kayyasya Atma. ]

Bhartrhari paid considerable attention to the whole sentence and the discussion of word-meaning rather than to constituents of a sentence.

The argument put forth here is that the sentence is an indivisible unit of communication; and, its meaning is grasped in a flash (sphota) through Prathibha (intuition). The complete and true meaning of a sentence is achieved only by means of such ‘intuitive perception’ (VakyaSphota). That according to Bhartrhari is the true and complete communication.

[In the later parts of this series we shall talk in a little detail about the levels of language and the concept of Sphota.]


The focus of the second Khanda (Vakya-khanda) is on the nature of relation between sentence and its meaningful constituents (words). The discussions here might be called as the study of linguistics.  But, in the course of its elaborate treatment the text covers several other topics dealing with the relationship between the Brahman, world, language, and the individual soul (Jiva).


The largest of the three Chapters is the third Khanda, which is divided into fourteen sub-sections (samuddesha-s) or collection of discussions on various grammatical topics in the context of Patanjali’s Mahabhashya. Most of the topics of this Khanda were discussed by Patanjali in his Mahabhashya in one context or another; but, not in a systematic manner. Bhartrhari, in this Khanda, organizes and presents the issues in the form of cogent discussions. He also brings in the arguments from other systems such as Mlmamsa to widen the scope of the discussions.

(1) Jati-samuddesa (concerning universal or genre ) ; (2) Dravya-samuddesa (about substance); (3) Sambandha-samuddesa ( on the concept of mutual  relations);  (4) Bhuyodravya-samuddesa [again concerning  substance); (5) Gunas-amuddesa (on quality); (6) Dik-samuddesa (of direction); (7) Sadhana-samuddesa (about participant producing an action); (8) Kriya-samuddesa (of action) ; (9) Kala-samuddesa (on concepts of time and tense); (10) Purusha-samuddesa (on the notion of grammatical person); (11) Samkhya-samuddesa (concerning numbers); (12) Upagraha-samuddesa (on distinctions between active and middle affixes); (13) Linga-samuddesa (about genders); , and  (14) Vrtti-samuddesa [about  complex formations , such as compounds, secondary nouns etc.)

Of these fourteen sections, some are small in size, while some like the section on complex formations and on participants producing an action etc. are fairly large.

With the aid of these Samuddesha-s , the third Khanda of Vakyapadiya goes into questions concerning the aspects of Pada (word), such as:  the nature of word; its true–spontaneous meaning; role of the verbs, nouns , particles and suffixes in a sentence;  the problems involved in deriving the meaning of individual word and sentence by artificial splitting them; and so on.  

In the last Book, Bhartrhari , among other things, makes a grammatical analysis to show that a sentence expresses a particular action or process, which is directly denoted by its main word, a verb,  He says , the function of most nouns is to show what means or accessories the action or process requires.  As regards the analysis of a sentence by breaking into parts, he insists, it is artificial; but, it might help to explain an indivisible word. Further, he says, the analysis of individual words abstracted from an indivisible sentence is unreal; as unreal as the stem and suffix similarly abstracted from an individual word.


Philosophy of language

The philosophy of language that Bhartrhari presents covers both the factual and the intuitive levels of language.

As regards the factual aspects, Vakyapadiya, presents an analytical study (parishkara) of various aspects and process ( prakriya ) of language (sound, sense, relation between sound and sense, and the purpose); its nature , modes and possibilities of communication (sentence and words); meaning of sentence and meaning of words, and their compatibility; how it is learnt; how languages relate to the world;  whether it can be a valid source of knowledge;  and, logical aspect of language based on the components (syllable) that go to form a word (stems and suffixes; meanings of the stems and suffixes; causes, and knowledge of the correct meaning of words) and other related subjects.

The discussions related to Grammar, Vakyapadiya also covers certain interesting issues that were not dealt in the earlier grammatical text. For instance; there are discussions here about: the distinction between Sabda (word) and Dhvani (sound); the question whether Sabda (word) signifies the general or the particular; and, what constitutes a meaningful-unit of language?

As  regards the philosophical aspects of language, Bhartrhari in his Vakyapadiya asserts the faith that by using correct speech (Sadhu) composed of apt linguistic units (words – Sabda) a human being can reach the limits of his conventional and spiritual capabilities. It enables, according to him, meditations centred on language: Vak-yoga or Sabda-purva yoga. For him, Grammar in its pristine form represents the efficient means to realise Brahman. Bhartrhari states that ‘the purification of the word is the means to the attainment of Supreme Self – ‘one, who knows the highest essence (paramo rasa) of speech, attains the Brahman’ (1.12). Ultimately, he says, speech is Brahman.

At the commencement of  Vakyapadiya, Bhartrhari declares that Sabda–tattva (Word-principle) is Brahman, the ultimate truth which is beyond space or time. It is: ‘the beginning-less and endless One; the imperishable (Akshara) of which the essential nature is Sabda, which transforms (vivartate) itself into speech, as words and as their meanings and into objects; and  , from which proceeds the creation of the universe’.

(Anadi-nidhanam Brahma sabda-tattvam yad-aksharam / vivartate artha-bhavena prakriya jagato yatahVP. 1.1)

[For Bhartrhari, Sabda Brahman (supreme word principle) is One (ekam eva) and is the highest Reality–Para Brahman. This marks his departure from Vedanta, where the supreme consciousness, Para Brahman, is beyond language.  The theistic traditions that came later also rejected the ultimate supremacy of Sabda Brahman. They, instead, chose to idealize the qualified Brahman with most adorable attributes. ]

Bhartrhari states that the essence of Brahman is the natures of Sabda (word). And, Sabda is identical with its meaning (Artha). According to Bhartrhari, the Sabda (word) expresses itself; and at the same time it also puts forth the meaning suggested by it. That is to say; Sabda is self-expressive; it is at once the subject and the object as well.

Further, Bhartrhari explains, though the word and word-consciousness (Logos- Shabda tattva – the ‘Word principle’, which he identifies with Brahman the Absolute) is unitary in its nature, it manifests itself in the diverse form of words that make possible the speech with its infinite varieties of expressions.

Thus, Sabda according to Bhartrhari is not merely the cause of the universe but also is the sum and substance of it. This is the central theme of Vakyapadiya.

 That fundamental idea is carried forward later in the text:

An absolute beginning of language is untenable. Language is continuous and co-terminus with the human or any sentient being. There is no awareness in this world without its being intertwined with language. All cognitive awareness appears as if it is interpenetrated with language. (VP. 1.123)

If the language impregnated nature went away from it, then a cognition would not manifest (any object), for that (language impregnated nature) is the distinguishing nature of our cognitive awareness. (VP. 1.124)

(Translation of B.M Matilal-  The Word and The World. India’s contribution to the Study of Language – 1990)

Sabda brahman.jpeg

Levels of Language

Bhartrhari in his Vakyapadiya explores language at two levels. The first deals with linguistic relationships from the point of view of everyday usage; and, the second with the same relationships from the point of view of ultimate reality.

At the empirical level, Bhartrhari is concerned with the process of communicating meaning. He talks about word-meanings and their relationships as in  everyday conversation. 

At another level, his theory of language deals with the metaphysical aspects of speech; and the ultimate purpose of life – the liberation from the bonds of Prakrti (relative existence).

But, reorganization of two levels of language does not imply dualism. Bhartrhari was essentially a Vedantin who viewed the universe as the emanation of the non-dual Brahman. He recognizes unity in diversity; and remarks: “All difference presupposes a unity; where there is a duality there is an identity pervading it. Otherwise one cannot be related to the other; each would constitute a world by itself”.

According to Bhartrhari, the language we speak is the medium of expression of the ultimate reality communicated through meaning-bearing words. It leads us across the external appearances and diversities to the core of the Reality which is the source and the underlying unity beneath everything. Here, the Real is the luminous Truth which needs to be rediscovered by every speaker and in every speech. The Real breaks forth (sphut) through the medium of speech (Sabda). And, Sabda is not mere means to the Reality, but it is the very Truth and Reality (Shabda-Brahman).



Extracting the precise meaning of a sentence in a text has been one of the concerns of most of Indian Schools of thought. Brihad-devata (a secondary Vedic text of 4-5th century BCE attributed Saunala) mentions about the rules that should generally be followed for interpreting a (Vedic) text. According to Brhad-devata, there are six factors that determine the sense or the import of an expression. They are: the objective to be served by the text (Artha); the relevance of subject matter under discussion (Prakarana); a reference to it in another portion of the text (Linga); aptness or its suitability of relevance (Auchitya); the geographical location (Desha); and, the contextual time (Kala).

Generally, it is the context in which a term is used that brings out the sense that it is trying to express. The context, in each case, is circumscribed by various factors. Elaborate sets of rules or guide-lines were drawn up by each School to identify such ‘context’ in each class of texts.  Among the traditional Schools of thought, Mimamsa took special care to lay down the ground rules in that regard. The Mimamsa method is generally followed by the other Schools as well.

According to Mimamsa , there are six means of ascertaining the correct meaning of a text: Sruti direct statement; Linga implication derived from another word or term; Vakya- syntactic connection; Prakarana – context of the situation; Sthana – location; and, Samakhya – meaning derived from etymology .

Mimamsa also laid down six factors for determining the purpose (Artha) of a text are: consistency in the meaning between the introduction and the conclusion; repetition of the main topic; the novelty of the subject matter; the result intended; corroborative and explanatory remarks; and, arguments in favour of the main topic.

Bhartrhari also lists out contextual factors which are similar to those listed in Brihad-devata; but, with slight medications and substituting Vakya   for Linga. His list of determinants or indicators to help determine the specific sense in which the words are used by speakers , broadly , cover the major factors such as : the sentence (vakya), the context (prakarana), the purpose (Artha), the propriety (auchitya), the place (Desha) and the time (kala).

According to him, the relation between the word and its meaning can be characterized in several ways: as the relation of capability to express a certain sense (yogyata); as a cause-and-effect relation (karya-karana-bhava) ; and as one of identification or superimposition (adhyasa or adyaropa). Such relations are permanent (nitya) in Grammar.

He pointed out that in many cases of language behaviour, the literal meaning conveyed by the expression is not the intended meaning and the contextual factors play a vital role in determining the intended sense of the passage. It is by gaining a thorough understanding, in each case, of context, the specific and the grammatical factors that determine the intended sense that one would be able to successfully avoid confusions and misrepresentations in reading a text.

Bhartrhari’s list is more elaborate:

 1.Samsarga (contact) or Sam-yoga (association): the connection known to exist between two things; 2. Viprayoga (dissociation): the absence of such connection; 3. Sahacarya (companionship): mutual association; 4. Virodhita (opposition): Antonym-opposite in meaning;  Artha: the objective or the intended purpose; 6. Prakarana: the context or subject under discussion; 7. Linga: indication from another place; 8. Sabda- syanyasya samnidhih  (nearness to  another word): similar to Samsarga ;  it restricts the meaning to a particular zone;  9. Samarthya  (capacity): capacity to express;  10. Auchitya (propriety or aptness): say, whether to take direct meaning or metaphorical meaning; 11. Desha  (place) the geographical region to which the text belongs; 12. Kala (time) the period in history in which the text is composed; 13. Vyakti (grammatical gender); and, 14.  Svara (accent) the tone and tenor of the text.

Apart from these, abhinaya (gesture) and apadesa (pointing out directly) are also taken as determining the exact meaning of an ambiguous expression.

All these factors discussed above can be classified under three broad groups: (1) Grammatical construction; (2) Verbal context, and, (3) Non-verbal situational- context.

Bhartrhari   emphasizes the importance of contextual factors in determining the meaning of an expression.


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

Bhartrhari  also states that Meaning in language is dependent on its usage; on the speaker-listener relationship; as also on their capacities to communicate and to comprehend – Sabdabodha (verbal cognition)- what has been expressed (śabdārthaḥ pravibhajyate).

vaktrānyathaiva prakrānto bhinneṣu pratipattṛṣu / svapratyayānukāreṇa śabdārthaḥ pravibhajyate  // VP:2.135//

The particular meaning of a word which is commonly used (prasiddhi) is considered by Bhartrhari   as its primary meaning. The secondary meaning of a word normally requires a context for its understanding, although sometimes the context may clarify only the primary meaning. Usually, the secondary meaning of a word is implied when a word is used for an object other than it normally denotes, as for example, the metaphorical use of the word

But his commentator Punyaraja dismisses such distinctions of primary and secondary meaning: the content of the speech is nothing but the intention of the speaker (tatparya); and, the classification of the meaning into primary and secondary, etc, is a fictitious analysis; and is meant only for the purpose of teaching the structure of language to ignorant persons.

vakyasya-arthát padarthanám apoddhare prakalpite I sabdantarena sambandhah kasyai kasyopapadyate I! VP.II.269.

upayáh siksamananám Baldnam apalapanah 1 asatye vartmani sthitva tatah satyam saniihate II VP.II.238.


Commentaries on Vakyapadiya

Numerous commentaries have been produced on the Vakyapadiya.

Bhartrhari himself is credited with preparing a detailed explanatory note (Vivarana or Vrtti or Tika) on the first two Khandas (Chapters) of the Vakyapadiya. The Vrtti though, technically, is a commentary, it is often regarded as an integral part or as an appendage of the Vakyapadiya.  At times, the name of a certain Harivrshabha is associated with the Vrtti. But, the scholarly interpretation is that ‘Harivrshabha’ could be a variation or reverse order (Hari +Brhat) of Bhartrhari, both the forms meaning: ‘great or powerful Hari’. The scholars generally tend to agree that Bhartrhari is the author of both the Vakyapadia (Trikandi) and the Vrtti. Bhartrhari’s main contribution to philosophy of grammar and philosophy of language is found in the first two Khandas of Vakyapadiya and their Vrtti.

Among the extant commentaries written in the earlier times the prominent ones are said to be the ones written by: Vrshabha or Vrshabhadeva; Helaraja; Punyaraja;  and, Nageshabhatta.

The early commentators interpreted Vakyapadiya mainly from the Advaita point of view; and, to a certain extent they were also influenced by Kashmir-Shaiva School. The earliest commentary available to us is that of Vrshabhadeva. And, commentaries prior to that are lost.

The earliest surviving commentary on the Vakyapadiya is the one ascribed to Vrsabhadeva, son of Devayasas and an employee in the court of King Vishnugupta of Kashmir. His time is said to be around 650 CE.  At the commencement of his Vakyapadiya-Paddhati, which is a commentary on the first two Khanda-s and the Vrtti, Vrsabhadeva mentions that earlier to him, many scholars had produced lucid commentaries on the Vakyapadiya. But, again, all those commentaries as also Vrsabhadeva’s commentary on the second Khanda are lost. Only his commentary on the first Khanda and on Vrtti has survived.

Helaraja (Ca.980 CE) who comes almost five hundred years after Bhartrhari is identified as the son of Bhutiraja who was a descendent of Laksmana, Minister in the Court of King Muktapida of Kashmir. (Some say that Helaraja was one of the teachers of Abhinavagupta.) Helaraja is said to have written a set of  three separate commentaries, one each on the three Khanda-s of the Vakyapadiya (Sabda-prabha; Vakya-pradipa; and, Prakirnaka-prakasha). However, his commentaries on the first and the second Khanda-s are, sadly, lost; and, only the commentary on the third Khanda (Prakirnaka-Khanda) has come down to us.

And, not much is known about Punyaraja either. His date is surmised as between the 11th and 12th Century. It is said; Punyaraja also hailed from Kashmir; and, was also known by the names Pullharaja or Rajanaka Suravarma. He was said to be disciple of Sasanka-sishya (Sahadeva) who wrote a commentary on Vamana’s KavyaAlankara-sutra-Vrtti, a text on poetics (Kavya-shastra). Punyaraja, it is said, studied Vakyapadiya under the guidance of his teacher; and later wrote a commentary (Vakya-khanda-Tika) on the second Khanda of Vakyapadiya. Some scholars, notably Dr. Ashok Aklujkar, have argued that this commentary is most probably a shortened version of Vakya-pradipa a commentary by Helaraja on the second Khanda, which is believed to have been lost.

There is also a commentary called Vakyapadiya-prameya- sangraha by an unknown author covering the second chapter of the Vakyapadiya. This actually is an abridgment of the commentary usually ascribed to Punyaraja.

Another commentator Nageshabhatta a well known scholar of the 17th century n his Vaiyakarana Siddhanta Manjusa is said to have commented on the Vakyapadiya .


During the last century there has been a remarkable upsurge in the studies on Vakyapadiya, both in the East and in the West. As Jan E.M. Houben, in the chapter on the Vakyapadiya and its interpretation remarks :

‘ One of the reasons for this must be that the subject matter of the Vakyapadiya is strongly consonant with crucial themes in twentieth century Western thought, in spite of the very different background and elaboration of the issues.’

Significant numbers of scholars have produced outstanding works. Just to name a few that I can quickly recall (Not in any particular order) : K A Subramania Iyer; Gaurinath Sastry; Mulakaluri Srimannarayana Murti; T.R.V. Murty; T K Iyer; Ashok Aklujkar; Jan E .M. Houben ; Harold Coward; K. Raghavan Pillai; Bimal Krishna Matilal; Bishnupada Bhattacharya; K. V. Abhyankar; Rau Wilhelm; Johannes Bronkhorst; Saroja Bhate; Madeleine Biardeau; Hajime Nakamura; K Kunjunni Raja; H.V Dehejia ; Akhiko Akamatasu;   P C Chakravathy; Hideyo Ogawa and many others.

 We all owe a deep debt of gratitude to these savants.

kitus flowers.jpeg

 In the next parts we shall try to know the concept of Sabda Brahman according to Bhartrhari; his theories on errors; his concept of time etc before moving on to Sphota.

 Continued in the next Part

References and Sources

  1. The Philosophy of the Grammarians, Volume 5 – edited by Harold G. Coward, Karl H. Potter, K. Kunjunni Raja
  2. Bharthari, the Grammarian by Mulakaluri Srimannarayana Murti
  3. The Study of Vakyapadiya – Dr. K Raghavan Piliai Volume I (Motilal Banarsidas; 1971)
  4. Being and Meaning: Reality and Language in Bharthari and Heidegger by Sebastian Alackapally
  5. Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Sound by Guy L. Beck
  6. Bhartrhari (ca. 450-510) by Madhav Deshpande
  7. Bhartrihari by Stephanie Theodorou
  8. The Sphota Theory of Language: A Philosophical Analysis by Harold G. Coward
  9. Speech versus Writing” In Derrida and Bhartahari by Harold G. Coward
  10. Sequence from Patanjali to Post _modernity by  V. Ashok.
  11. The Vedic Conception of Sound in Four Features
  12. Sphota theory of Bhartrhari
  1. Word and Sentence, Two Perspectives: Bhartrhari and Wittgenstein edited by Sibajiban Bhattacharyya
  2. Hermeneutical Essays on Vedāntic Topics by John Geeverghese Arapura
  3. Culture and Consciousness: Literature Regained by William S. Haney
  4. Of Many Heroes”: An Indian Essay in Literary Historiography  by N. Dev
  5. The Advaita Vedānta of Brahma-siddhi by Allen Wright Thrasher
  6. Bhartr̥hari, Philosopher and Grammarian: Proceedings of the First … Edited by Saroja Bhate, Johannes Bronkhorst
  7. Bhartṛhari – from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  8. Sri Venkateswara Univrsity Oriental Journal Volumes XXX-XXXi 1987 – 1988
  9. Studies in the Kāśikāvtti: The Section on Pratyāhāras : Critical Edition …edited by Pascale Haag, Vincenzo Vergiani
  10. Proceedings of the Lecture Series on Våkyapadiya and Indian Philosophy of Languages- (31.1.08 to 2.2.08)
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Music of India – a brief outline – Part sixteen

Continued from Part Fifteen – Lakshana Granthas– Continued

Part Sixteen (of 22 ) – Lakshana Granthas – Continued

8. Sangita-ratnakara by Sarangadeva


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 brought together various strands of the past music traditions, defined almost 267 Ragas, established a sound theoretical basis for music and provided a model for the later musicology (Samgita Shastra).

Sarangadeva’s emphasis was on the ever changing nature of music, the expanding role of regional (Desi) influences on it, and the increasing complexity of musical material that needed to be systemised time and again. Yet; Sarangadeva was rooted in the prevalent musical practices of his time. His stress was consistently on the Lakshya the music as practiced than on ancient theories which though he respects them highly

Sarangadeva gives some information about himself in the beginning of the work. Sarangadeva introduces himself as belonging to a family which hailed from Kashmir. His grandfather Bhaskara, an Ayurveda physician, moved Kashmir into the newly found Yadava capital Devagiri (Maharashtra) in the Deccan region at the invitation of King Bhillanna V (1173-1192). After the death of Bhillanna, his son Jaitrapala or Jaitugi ascended the throne and ruled for a short period. He was succeeded in 1200 by Singhana (1200-1247). He was a very powerful king and also a great patron of arts, literature, and science. It is during his reign that Sarangadeva was appointed in his father’s (Sodhala’s) post as the Royal Accountant (Sri-karana-agrani). Along with his work at the King’s offices, Sarangadeva continued to practice the family profession of Ayurveda. He is also said to have written an Vedanta work entitled Adhyatma-viveka. That work is not available now.

During his spare hours Sarangadeva was busy composing his monumental work on Indian music the Sangita Ratnakara, the Ocean of Music. It turned out to be one of the important and comprehensive Sanskrit texts on Music of India.

The Samgita Ratnakara of Sarangadeva is a great compilation,  not an original work, that ably brings together various strands of the past music tradition found in earlier works like Nāţyashastra, Dattilam, Bŗhaddēśī, Sarasvatī-hŗdayālańkāra-hāra and one that is greatly influenced by the commentary of Abhinavagupta  the Abhinavabharathi . But for Samgita Ratnakara, it may have been more difficult to understand Natyasastra and Brhaddesi and other ancient texts.   And, Samgita Ratnakara also established a sound theoretical basis for music related issues and practices. It also provided a model for the subsequent treatises to elaborate on music-theories and practices (Samgita Shastra).

By the time of Samgita-ratnakara, three divisions of Samgita (vocal, instrumental and imitative art) were well developed. Of these, the Vocal music was regarded as the essential, fundamental music through which all other forms of music were to be understood and interpreted.

Samgita Shastra as envisaged by Sarangadeva was a composite art consisting Gita (melodic forms), Vadya (instruments) and Nrtta (dance or limb movements). By the time of Samgita-ratnakara, three Angas (limbs) of Samgita were well developed. Of these, the Vocal music was regarded as the essential, fundamental music through which all other forms of music were to be understood and interpreted. Here again, Sarangadeva focuses on Desi Sangita, though he comments on aspects of Marga Sangita. On Dance (Nrttya) he offers clear picture of both Marga and Desi traditions, although in a concise manner.

Sangita Ratnakara is a standard and an authoritative text; and it hugely impacted  almost all the writers in the subsequent period. It is also a reliable source book on ancient music traditions and their authors. Sarangadeva, gives an elaborate resume of the general system of Indian music in theory and practice as had been developed in the centuries previous to the thirteenth. He gives detailed exposition of th jatis, and the grama-ragas, accompanied by actual notations.

But the most valuable information that this text conveys to us is as to the ancestry of several of the ragas, whose names occur for the first time in the Sangita Makaranda and which ragas must have acquired those names some time before, say about the eighth century. The text of Sarangadeva affords the only evidences as to the sources from which these well-known ragas derive their character and existence. But for Samgita Ratnakara, it may have been more difficult to understand Natyasastra, Brhaddesi and the other texts .

The text of Sangita Ratnakara has 1678 verses spread over seven chapters (Sapta-adhyayi) covering the aspects Gita, Vadya and Nritta: Svaragat-adhyayaRagavivek-adhyaya; Prakirnaka-adhyaya; Prabandh-adhyayaTaala-adhyaya; Vadya-adhyaya and   Nartana-adhyaya. The first six chapters deal with various facets of music and music-instruments; and the last chapter deals with Dance.

The first chapter deals with Nada (the sound); the second with Raga; the third with Prakirna (miscellaneous topics relating to music); the fourth with Prabandha class of Music ; the fifth with Marga and Desi Taala systems; the sixth with Vadya (musical instruments); and the seventh chapter  on Nartana dance.

In general, Sarangadeva follows Abhinavagupta very closely.

Chapter One – Nada: What seems rather unusual for a formal text on music is that Samgita-ratnakara opens with a lengthy chapter (Svara-gathadhyaya), divided into eight Prakaranas or Sections running into more than 170 verses purportedly dealing with Svara. It does not talk much about music.  But, it goes into elaborate details of human anatomy (according to the Ayurvēda) , the centers (Sthanas) in the body associated with  origin, development and articulation of sound  – heart (Hrid), throat (Kantha) and head region (Murdha) – in three varieties of pitches – Mandara, Madhya and Tara.

The third Prakarana of the first chapter is Nada-Sthana-Sruti-Svara-Jati-Kula-Daivata-Risi-Chanda-Rasa-prakarana. It also goes into the philosophical aspects of Nada, sound, which it regards as the manifestation of the undifferentiated, absolute principle Nada Brahman. Then it talks about two forms of Nada the un-struck or un-manifest (anahata) and the struck or the manifest (ahata). The sound in the human initially commences as an impulse or an idea in the mind with an urge to express itself. That idea is individualized and activated by the mind. It takes the aid of breath (Prana), the medium, to act as the vehicle to carry that idea. When the intention (idea or impulse) strikes (ahata) a bond with breath (Prana), the un-manifest turns into manifest Nada.

The, ahata, like its prior form (anahata) is neutral Svara, sound. It is only after passing through series of processes; the Svara is differentiated into Sruti (pitch) modulations.

Srutis are units of tonal interval with which the interval of a Svara is measured. Hence the Svaras are described next. After describing the intervals of the Suddha-Svaras those of the Vikrita-svaras are given. Suddha-svaras are those which conform to the arrangements of the seven Svaras of the Shadja-murcchana of Shadjagrama. Those which differ from this arrangement are the Vikrita-svara-s. There are 7 Suddha and 12 Vikrita-svaras.

The Sruti-s (pitch) are said to be of 22 kinds of time-intervals.  When certain of these are located along the chosen octave-continuum   , modified (sharp or flattened) from their normal and highlighted, a recognizable pattern of Svaras emerge.  Here, the Prana and certain body parts play vital roles to transform Sruti into Svaras. Body is considered as an arched harp with 22 strings activated by Prana (vital breath).

Three Gramas are described – Sahdja-grama, Madhyama-grama and Gandharva-grama. The names of the Seven Murcchanas in each Grama are also given.

The sixth Prakarana is on Varna and Alankara. Varnas denote the different kinds of movements that a melodic line can take.  Four Varnas are described:  Sthayi, Arohi, Avarohi and Sanchari. Alankara-s are ornamental patterns of Svaras that decorate a melodic line. Alankaras are classified under the four Varnas.

The seventh Prakarana is Jati-prakarana in which the lakshana (characteristics) of eighteen Jatis are given. The first seven are classified into Suddha and Vikrita; and the remaining eleven  as Samsaragaja. The characteristics or the laksana-s that are used for a describing a Jati are the same ten as mentioned in Brihaddesi.

The last Prakaraņa is called the Gīti-prakaraņa. Although it is named thus it takes up the treatment of certain musical forms called Kapāla and Kambala first and then goes on to Gīti-s. The Kapāla songs are based on some derivatives of Jāti-s and they are made up of words describing the fierce form of Lord Shiva.

Chapter Two – Raga viveka: is about the descriptions of the Ragas which are treated under two broad heads of Marga and Desi. He mentions six varieties of Marga Ragas: Gramaraga, Uparaga, Raga, Bhasha, Vibhasha and Antarbhasha. He also gives a list of purva-prasiddha (well established) and adhuna-prasiddha (recently established) Ragas. Many Ragas are illustrated in notation. There are also Sanskrit compositions in notation.

But, Sarangadeva’s focus is primarily on the Desi Ragas. He describes and discusses four types of Desi Ragas: Raganga, Bhasanga, Upanga and Kriyanga.

The Gramaragas resemble the Jāti-s closely and they are further classified on the basis of the different melodic styles. These styles are called Gīti. In this chapter, the five Giti-s, namely, Suddha, Bhinna, Vesara, Gaudi and Sadharini are described.

In this chapter Raga-viveka-adhyaya, Sarangdeva laid special emphasis on the specific times and seasons for the performance of ragas. He also makes mention of the allotted times and seasons for the rendition of the ancient Gram-ragas. For e.g. he says Shadjagrama raga is to be performed in Varsha ritu; Bhinna Kaishik in Shishira ritu ; Gaud Pancham in  Grishma ritu ; Bhinna Shadja in Hemanta ritu ; Hindol in Vasanta ritu ; and, Raganti in  Sharad ritu.

As described Prof. O C Ganguly in his monumental work Raga and Ragini (Nalanda Books, 1935)

Sarangadeva devotes a large section of his chapter on Ragas (raga-vivekadhyaya) to the Desi Ragas famous in ancient times (prak-prasiddha desi-ragah). He gives an historical survey of Ragas according to theancient scholars Yastika and Matanga. He then gives a preliminary list of eight Uparagas: Tilaka, Saka, Takka-saindhava, Kokila, Pancama, Revagupta, and Paficama-sadava. Next, he gives a general list of twenty Ragas , namely : Bhavana-pancama, Nagagandhara, Naga-pancama, Sri-raga, Natta, Vangala, Bbasa, Madhyama-sadava, Raktahamsa, Kollahasa, Prasava, Bhairava·dhvani, Megha-raga, Somaraga, Kamoda, Abhra-paficama, Kandarpa-desakhya, Kakuba, Kaisika, Natta-narayana.

He then enumerates, on the authority of Yastika, fifteen melodies-which are asserted as generic ragas from which the minor melodies bhasha (raginis) are derived- (Bhasanam Janakah panca-dasaite Yiastikoditah). These are: Sauvira, Kakubha, Takka, Pancama, Bhinna-pancama, Takka-Kaisika, Hindolaka, Vhotta, Malava-kaisika, Gandhiira-pancama, Bhinna-sadja, Vesara-sadava, Malava-pancama, Tana, Pancama- sadava.

Then he proceeds to enumerate the different bashas or derivative melodies affiliated to these ragas. In the next section, he describes the further subdivisions of the melodies into Ragangas, Bhashangas and Kriyangas on the authority of Kasyapa, son of Sodhala and enumerates thirtyfour melodies. “These 34 ragas are said to have been famous in early times.” Catus-trimladime ragah prak-prasiddhah prakirtiah.

 “Now,” says Sarangadeva, “I am proceeding to enumerate those which are famous in modern times.” (Athadhuna prasiddha namuddesah pratipadyate) “The aggregate numbers of these ragas amount to 264”. Kallinatha, commenting on this list explains Desaval as equivalent to Kedaragauda, and Tauruska as equivalent to Malavagauda

Chapter Three: Prakirnaka: deals with varieties of topics such as: Guna –Dosha (merit and de-merits) of Vak-geya-kara (composers who set their songs to music) ; Guna –Dosha  in voice culture of male (Gayaka) and female (Gayani) singers, articulation (Sabda) and resonance in voice (Sarira); improvisations in song-rendering  by application of  ornamentations (Gamaka) of fifteen kinds*;  expressions that manifest the feelings or effects associated with Raga phrases (Sthaya) , which are of ninety-six kinds; and, Alapi  free and improvised rendering of Raga and the song  of two sorts Raga-Alapi that is not bound (Anibaddha)  or  restricted by Taala ; Rupaka-Alapi , melodic improvisation done while rendering the text of the song.

[*He recognized fifteen varieties of Gamakas- Tiripa, Sphurita, Kampita, Leena, Andolita, Vali, Tribhinna, Kurula, Ahata, Ullasita, Humpita, Plavita, Mudrita, Namita and Misrita; and, three kinds of Yatis – Sama, Srotogata or Shrotovaha and Gopuccha.]

Chapter Four –Prabandha: is a detailed discussion on Prabandha class of Music that was dominant during the days of Sarangadeva.  He says: the Gayana (singing) is twofold – Nibaddha and Anibadda. That which is composed of Anga-s (limbs or elements) and Dhathu-s (sections) is Nibaddha Samgita. And Alapita which is free from such structures is known as Anibadda Samgita. Then he goes on to say that Nibaddha has three names: Prabandha, Vastu and Rupaka.

By the time of Samgita-Ratnakara, Prabandha 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. Sarangadeva described about 260 types of Prabandha-s with their variations.  Sarangadeva generally followed Manasollasa and Sangita-Samayasara.

He describes the four sections (Dhathu) of a Prabandha song (Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva, and Abogha) along with Antara the intermediary; and its six elements (Anga) or limbs (Svara, Birudu, Tenaka, Pata, Pada and Taala) . These comprehensively cover the three aspects of a song: the text, the Raga (melody) and Taala (rhythm).

Then he takes up the discussion on class of Prabandhas: Shuddha Suda, Salaga Suda, Alikrama and Viprakirna. Of these , Sarangadeva selects Salaga Suda for detailed treatment. Sarangadeva was the first to present the class of Suda systematically, lending it a theoretical base. For about 300 years thereafter, the terms and descriptions provided by Sarangadeva were adopted by all the later authors.

He discusses seven types of Salaga Suda songs: Dhruva, Mantha, Prati-mantha, Nihsaru, Addatala, Rasaka and Ekatali.

Chapter Five – Taala: deals with time units or rhythmic patterns Taala. Sarangadeva deals with Marga Taala and Desi Taala separately.  Under Marga Taala , Sarangadeva mentions five varieties : Caccatpuţa ;  Cācapuţa ; Şaţpitāputraka ; Sampakvēşţāka ; and Udghaţţa. Under these he discusses the different aspects of the Taala such as the time-units Laghu, Guru and Pluta; the Kriyā-s; the different forms of a Taala like Ēkakala, Dvikala and Catuşkala.

After the Marga Taala, 120 varieties of Desi Taala employed in Prabandha songs are discussed.

Chapter Six- Vadya: generally follows the discussions on Music instruments (Vadya) as elaborated in Natyashastra. Sarangadeva also describes various class of instruments in terms of : Tata (stringed) Susira (hollow) , Avadhana (Drum type) and Ghana ( solid like cymbals).

Under these, he names some specific types: Tata (Ekatantrī, Citrā, Vipañcī, Mattakōkilā, Ālāpinī, Kinnari); Susira (Vamśa, Kāhala, Şańkha); Avadhana (Huḍukka, Paţaha) ; and, Ghana(Kāmsyatāla, Ghaņţā).

He also talks about the construction of these instruments and ways of playing them.

Chapter Seven– Nartana: The seventh and the last chapter is in two parts.  The first one deals with Nartana. The term Nartana is a common term representing the arts of Nŗtta, Nŗtya and Nāţya. In describing the Marga tradition of Dance, Sarangadeva follows Natyashastra. As regards the Desi class of Dance he improves upon the explanations offered in Manasollasa of King Someshwara and Sangita Samayasara of Parsvadeva

Although he follows Bharatha in describing the movements of the body, he differs from Bharatha in dividing the limbs into three categories, Anga, Upanga and Pratyanga. he follows the Manasollasa in using the term Nartana for dance; dividing Nartana into three categories : Natya, Nrtya and Nrtta (SR. 7. 3).

He also differs from Natyashastra which identifies Tandava as Shiva’s dance and Lasya as Parvati’s. According to Sarngadeva, Nrtta and Nrtya can both be of two kinds, Tandava and Lasya (SR. 7. 28). Tandava requires uddhata (forceful) and Lasya requires lalita (delicate) movements (SR. 7. 29- 30).

Sarangadeva’s description of Cari, Sthana, Karana and Angaharas of the Marga type are as in the Natyasastra. But the Desi Caris, Sthanas and Utplutikaranas are the same as those in the Manasollasa of Someshwara.

Next described are Gaundali and Perani, the two dances commonly performed in  in the Desi tradition. Here he follows Sangita-Samayasara.

Sarngadeva explains the importance of aesthetic beauty, lays down the rules of exercise, and describes the qualities and faults of a performer (including a description of her make-up and costume), and those of the teacher and the group of supporting performers. Then he describes the sequential process of a performance, including the musical accompaniment, in the pure mode or suddha-paddhati.

After describing these two dance pieces, Sarngadeva deals with the qualifications of the Acharya (the teacher), the Nata (the actor), the Nartaka (the dancer), the Vaitalika (a general entertainer), the Charana (an expert in understanding gharghara) and the Kohlatika (a performer who specializes in Bhramari, rope-walking and dancing with a dagger). Next, he describes the audience and the sitting arrangements.

In the second part of this chapter, the author describes Rasas (nine in number), Sthayibhavas (thirty-three in number) and the definition of Sattva (the essence) and Sattvikabhavas (eight in number). Sarangadeva largely follows the explanations offered by Abhinavagupta on the theories of Rasa. The chapter concludes with final prayers

The significant commentaries on the text include the Sangitasudhakara of Simhabhupala (c.1330) and the Kalanidhi of Kallinatha (c.1430).

[ Ref : 1. Sangitaratnakara of Sarngadeva by Dr.N. Ramanathan ; 2. Sangitaratnakara  of Saringadeva  translated into English with detailed notes by Dr. C. Kunhan Raja, the Adyar Library, 1945. 3. Sangitaratnakara of Saringadeva by Natalie Savelyeva.  4. The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition by Mandakranta Bose ]



9. Swaramelakalanidhi of Ramamatya (1550AD)


Ramamatya who described himself as the maternal grandson of the learned scholar Kallappa Desika (Vidyanidhih Kallappa Desikaste matamaho) was a noted scholar and musician in the court of the Vijayanagar King Sadashiva Raya (1542-1570). It is said; that Ramamatya was requested by Venkadri, the brother of Rama Raja the Minister of King Sadashiva Raya, to write a book on Music, particularly to reconcile the tradition and the current practices. The result of his efforts was Swaramelakalanidhi having four Chapters Swaraprakarana, Veenaprakarana, Melaprakarana and Ragaprakarana with a total of about 328 couplets in Sanskrit. The text systematically deals with Svara, Veena, Mela system and Ragas.

Swaramelakalanidhi is a fitting introduction to the post-Sangita Ratnakara period in the history of South Indian Music. Ramamatya’s work   makes it evident that the Sangita of his time (1550) was yet to be influenced by the Muslim music. The Raga-vibodha of Somanatha (1609) supports this view, although Somanatha himself seemed to be getting familiar with Muslim music.

As desired by his patron, Ramamatya brings the theory up to his times, rationalizes music principles and practices). He speaks of two kinds of Music: the ancient Marga or Gandharva which was Lakshya oriented (pradhana) and the Desi Sangita which is in practice (Lakshya pradhana). He seemed to favor the practice of Music over the theory (Lakshya pradhanam khalu Gita-shastram).

Ramamatya describes various types of Veenas used in his day as well as their tuning. He distinguishes two main types: Veena with fixed frets which that allows all the Ragas to be played (Sarva-raga-mela-veena); and, Veena on which only one Raga could be played at a time (Eka-raga-mela-veena) and for playing another Raga the frets had to be moved and re-arranged.

Besides these he mentions three other types of Veena differing in in the tuning of their main strings : Shuddha-mela-veena (Sa, Pa, sa, ma); Madhya-mela-veena (Pa, sa, pa, sa) ;   and , Achutharaya-mela-veena (Sa, Pa, sa, pa) .

An interesting aspect of Ramamatya‘s description is the method of placing the frets. Ramamatya bases his technique in the principle of Samvadi Svaras as described in in ancient texts. . Applying this principle,he  introduced the concepts of Svayambhu-Svara (self-generating note, which some say is the equivalent of the ancient Samvadi- perfect consonant)  to all other notes . Based on this he determines the positions of all the frets on the Veena. He explains that the different Shuddha and Vikrtasvaras can be derived as the Samvadi-s of one another, starting with the basic Svaras viz. Sa, Pa and Ma to which the strings of the Veena are tuned, are termed Svayambhu-Svara. And in turn, he says, the other Svaras derived through Samvadi relationship are also called SvayambhuSvaras.

He also brought certain improvements into the technical aspects of Music. For instance; the ancient music-theories mentioned 22 Srutis, although only 14 were used as Svaras (notes). Ramamatya reduced the number of Srutis to 12, because, he said, the difference in pitch between Antara Ga and Cyuta Ma (prefix cyuta means lowered) and the notes were negligible. He specified the implementation of this tuning by describing the location of six frets on his Veena.  He clarified the distinction between abstract Mela ragas and Janya ragas. He then combined these three concepts to identify 20 Melas under which he classified about 64 Janya Ragas.

Ramamatya’s Swaramelakalanidhi marked the revival or a new  beginning of an era of classifying Ragas on purely music principles; and, methodically grouping them under what came to be known as Mela system. After Swaramelakalanidhi, numerous other works were written following Ramamatya‘s theories of classifying Ragas into Mela system. Thereafter, the 16th and 17th centuries grew into periods of great importance for production of Lakshna-granthas. Bringing to fore the method of classifying Ragas into Melas could be said to be the major contribution of Ramamatya.

It appears that by the time of Ramamatya, the method of deriving tunes from the complicated arrangement of Grama-Murchana-Jaati was no longer in use. Similarly, the ancient model essentials (lakshanas) for identifying a Raga based on ten criteria was no longer in practice. The ten ancient criteria (lakshanas) had then been reduced to five. Ramamatya, in his Svara-mela-kalanidhi classified the then known Ragas into 20 Melas. His classification of Melas was based on five criteria (Lakshana). That is, Amsa (predominant note); Graha (initial note); Nyasa (final note); Shadava (sixth note); and, Audava (pentatonic structure) were no longer considered necessary.  This meant that the ancient modal system was replaced by a scalar system. Nevertheless, individual Raga continued to preserve some of their ancient modal essentials (Lakshna), in certain case even until today.

Even prior to Ramamatya the method grouping the Ragas into Mela was in vogue. Mela is a Kannada word meaning gathering or grouping.  The practice of grouping (Mela) the Ragas according to their parent scale, it said, was initiated by Sage Sri 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). The intention of the Mela system was to organize then known Ragas that were in practice. Sri Vidyaranya’s work on Melakarta system was followed up and improved upon in later times by other scholars.

Following Sri Vidyaranya, Ramamatya in the fourth Chapter – Mela-Prakarana– of his Svara-mela-kalanidhi introduced the theoretical framework for classifying then known Ragas under 20 Melas (parent scale), the notes and names of which were taken from the prominent Ragas of that time.  This was an improvement over the system initiated by Sri Vidyaranya.

Treating Ragas in terms of a Mela was possibly the most significant approach and development in musical history. Mela refers to a collection of seven Svarasthanas (Svara postions). All Ragas are Janya Ragas, and janya Ragas that have a common set of Svarasthanas are placed in the same Mela. The name of the Mela was given to the Raga among the group that was most significant or popular. At this stage, the Raga that held the title for the Mela did not need to possess all the seven Svaras; and though the Mela was referred by its name, it was still a janya Raga.

Ramamatya lists 20 Melas: 1.Mukhari; 2.SriRaga; 3. Malavagaula; 4. Saranganata; 5. Hindola ; 6. Shuddha-ramakriya; 7. Desaki; 8.Kannadagaula; 9. Shuddanti; 10.Ahari; 11.Nada-ramakriya; 12.Shuddhavarjati; 13. Ritigaula; 14. Vasantha-bhairavi; 15.Kedaragaula; 16.Hejujji; 17.Samavarali; 18. Revagupti; 19. Samantha; and 20. Kambhoji.

[Later, Venkatamakhin pointed out that two of Ramamatya’s Melas – Saranganata and Kedaragaula – do not differ in their structure.]

Ramamatya gives details of Shuddha-svara-s and Vikŗta-svara-s occurring in each of the Mela, a list of sixty-four Janya Raga-s classified under each Mela, and the Sruti positions of Svaras in the Melas. Mukhari is established as the Shuddha-svara saptaka in this treatise (For more, please see Swaramelakalanidhi of Ramamatya by Dr. N. Ramanathan)  According to Tulaja The Karnataka Raga Mukhari (Raga as well as Mela) is the same as the ancient Suddha-sadharita.

In this scheme,  ten ancient model essentials (lakshanas) which had been reduced to 5 (the predominant note (Amsa); the initial note (Graha); the final note (Nyasa), the hexatonic structure (Shadava) and the pentanotic structure (Audava)) were no longer considered to be the criteria for classifying the Ragas. That meant that the ancient modal system was replaced by a scalar system. Nevertheless, individual Raga continued to preserve some of their ancient modal essentials (Lakshna) , in certain case even until today.

Such continuity in the Ragas is illustrated by the following Ragas: 1. The Karnataka Raga Mukhari (a Raga as well as a Mela) , which according to Tulaja is the same Raga as the ancient Suddha-sadharita; 2. Karnataka Raga Varali or Varati that is both Samavarali and Jhalavarali; 3.Hindustani Varari or Barai – Varati; 4.Hindustani Bhairava; 5.Karnataka Lalita; 6.Karnataka and Hindustani Dhanasri; and, 7.Hidustani Sindhubhairavi.

Ramamatya’s exposition of Mela, Raga and his technique of ‘Madya Mela Veena’ was a pioneering work in the systematic classification of Ragas. After his work, numerous others on Raga, Mela, Janya, etc were published.  Ramamatya was followed by:  Pundarika Vittala (16th century); Venkatamakhin (17thcentury); and his grandson Muddu Venkatamakhin (18th century).

Ramamatya’s work also enormously influenced Somanatha’s Raga Vibodha and Govinda Dikshitar’s Sangita Chudamani, two important works which deal with Ragas current at their time. Some regard Ramamatya, Somanatha and Govinda Dikshitar as the Trinity of Karnataka Sangita theory (Sangita Shastra).

Later scholars, that is after Ramamatya, started computing the maximum number of seven Svara combinations they could derive (melaprasthara) based on the number of Svara positions. Here, each author computed a different number of Melas based on the number of Svarasthanas he had theorised. For example, the Sad-Raga-chandrodaya Pundarika Vittala mentions a possible 90 Melas, while in Somanatha’s Raga Vibhodha there are 960 possible Melas. Even though they came up with this computation they found that only a limited number of these were actually used in the form of a Raga.  Therefore, Somanatha felt that 23 Melas would suffice to classify the 67 Ragas then in practice.

During the second half of the 16th century Pundarika Vittala (in his Raga-manjari) introduced Ramamatya’s Mela system in North India. But, he changed the names and scales of several Melas. Another South Indian musicologist who migrated North was Srikantha who wrote his Rasa-kaumudi at about the same time. He reduced Ramamatya’s 19 Melas (as Saranganata and Kedaragaula) were actually the same scale. This system resembled the contemporary Arabic system of 12 predominant modes (Maqam).

One of the most important texts in music of South India was Chatur-dandi-prakashika of Venkatamakhin (1660), which brought the Mela- Janya system on a rational basis. It classified the Ragas according to the system of 72 basic scales (Mela). This system still prevails in South Indian music, though with modifications.

In 1620, Venkatamakhin, son of Govinda Dikshitar, corrected Ramamatya’s Mela system by reducing the number of Melas from 20 to 19, because he said the notes of the two Melas Kedaragaula and Saranganata were the same. More importantly, in the Appendix (Anubandha) to his Chatur-dandi-prakashika, Venkatamakhin mentions the  possibility of classifying Ragas (Kanakangi to Rasikapriya) built on 12 Svara-Sthanas  under a  72 Mela-karta scheme made into two groups of 36 each (Shuddha Madhyama and Prathi Madhyama) . (It was at this time a theoretical possibility, since all those Melas were yet unknown.) The 72 Melas bear the names of prominent contemporary Ragas; and each of which is considered the basic scale of one or more Ragas.

It is believed that it was Venkatamakhin’s grandson Muddu Venkatamakhin, who gave the nomenclature for the Mela Ragas, (Kanakambari, and Phenadhyuti etc) in his Gitam called Raganga Raga Anukramanika Gitam (found in Sri Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (1904).  Shri TM Krishna observes:

‘The Muddu Venkatamakhin tradition, which uses the terms Raganga Raga (equivalent term to Mela-kartha) and Janya Raga, adopts the opinion that the Raganga Raga needs to be Sampurna in either Arohana or Avarohana but non-linear. Sri Muthusvami Dikshitar gave form to most of these Ragas through his compositions.’

Again, during late 17th – early 18th century, Govindacharya the author of Samgraha-chudamani changed the names of some Melas of Venkatamakhin. He expanded on Venkatamakhi’s Chatur-Dandi-Prakashika  by introducing the Sampoorna Melakarta scheme which has a complete (sampoorna) arohana – avaroha structure. as well as delineating Lakshanas for 294 Janya Ragas, many of which were till then unknown, with their Arohana and Avarohana. In this scheme, the Melakartas arise out of systematic permutation of the seven Svaras into the twelve svara sthanas.  

Govindacharya also gave lakshana gitas and lakshana slokas for 294 Janya Ragas. And, he also refined the Katyapadi prefixes by linking the Mela Ragas to their first two syllables of their names. This system of 72 Mela is the Karanataka Mela system of the present day.

As per Shri TM Krishna: ‘Mela started out as a way to organize existing Ragas but moved to creating scales as Ragas using the Mela structure. Probably for the first time in musical history theory influenced practice. This is probably why many Ragas in performance even today are only svara structures sans features that give a Raga an organic form’.

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

 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 system as expanded by Venkatamakhin (1660) in the Appendix to his Chatur-dandi-prakashika.

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 Sangita 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 Karnataka Sangita.


When you look back the long and interesting history of Raga in Karnataka Sangita stretching from Matanga to the present-day , you find that the system has evolved through several stages. If Matanga defined the Raga and lent it a sense of identity, it was Ramamatya that activated the process of binding the Ragas into structured groups. This has provided Karnataka Sangita a unique and a thorough theoretical foundation.

Thus, Swaramelakalanidhi of Ramamatya occupies a significant position in the history of the development of Karnataka Sangita. And, as Dr. N. Ramanathan remarks: Swaramelakalanidhi is an important work as the information contained in it is more relevant and related to the modern practice than the books written prior to it.

[ At the end of his work , Ramamatya says he does not treat the subjects of Taala and Prabandha because these had already been treated exhaustively by Sarangadeva .]

[Ref: 1. Swaramelakalanidhi of Ramamatya by Dr. N . Ramanathan;2. 3.;4.Indian Music: History and Structure by Emmie Te Nijenhuis]


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Posted by on June 5, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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SRI TYAGARAJA (1767 – 1847) – PART IV – Music continued

(For my friend Shri Kannan Rangachar)

Continued from Part III – Music


In the previous Part (Part III) while discussing about the music of Sri Tyagaraja , we familiarised ourselves with the music- scene that was prevailing in the Cauvery delta just prior to his time, as also with the developments that were taking place during his own time. In that context, we briefly touched upon Prabandha-s, Bhajanavali-s, Divyanama Samkitrana-s and Gita-Geyas inspired by the Nama Siddantha doctrine. And then, we came upon Kriti, the most advanced form of Karnataka Samgita which was perfected by Sri Tyagaraja and his contemporaries – Dikshitar and Shyama Shastry. Let’s now move on to Sangathi-s which is said to be Sri Tyagaraja’s own contribution to music rendering in South India


29.1. The practice of singing Sangathi (lit. putting together) – a set of variations on the shades of a theme, gradually unfolding the melodic (Raga) potential of a phrase (Sahitya) in combination with Swaras – is said to have been introduced by Sri Tyagaraja. Some say that Sri Tyagaraja adopted Sangathi-rendering from dance-music where variations are done for Abhinaya and for bringing out the different shades and interpretations of the basic emotion (Bhava). In any case, this was an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the Kriti format in particular and to the musical performances in general. Sangathi elaboration in Madhyama Kala, in the opening of a Pallavi, has enormously enriched the aesthetic beauty of Raga-bhava during Kriti-presentation in a concert.  With that, a Kriti is no longer static; but, it is a vibrant, living entity like language that is wielded with skill and dexterity. Sangathi passages also mark the virtuosity of the performer. Some of Sri Tyagaraja masterpieces open with a cascade of Sangathis (E.g.  Chakkani raja margamu; Rama ni samana; O Rangashayi; and Naa Jivadhara.)

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

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

Svara- sahitya

30.1. Another endearing feature of Sri Tyagaraja’s music is the Svara- sahitya he built into his major compositions, that is the Ghanaraga Pancharatna kritis which have long sentences, piled one upon another. Here, the Swaras (Notes) flow briskly, as if riding a wave, at even pace, in Madhyama Kala, weaving melody (Raga), rhythm (Taala) and words (Mathu) into grand patterns of beauty and delight. The Kritis are ideally suited for group singing (samuha –gana). Sri Tyagaraja’s poetic gifts in Sanskrit and Telugu too come to fore in these Kritis. The genius of Sri Tyagaraja was to insert Bhava even in a format where Swara and Taala are dominant. One cannot but admire the originality and daring of the Composer.


31.1. Sri Tyagaraja, as most of the other musicians of his time, followed Venkatamakhi’s scheme of 72 Mela-karta classifications of Ragas (from Kanakangi to Rasikapriya). Expanding on Venkatamakhi’s Chaturdandi-Prakasika (ca. 1635),  Govindacharya, in his Sangraha Chudamani (late 17th – early 18th century), introduced the Sampoorna Melakarta scheme as well as delineating  Lakshanas for 294 janya ragas, many of which were till then unknown . Thus, unlike the musicians of their past generations, Sri Tyagaraja and others had the benefit of a vast store of Ragas.

Musicologists who have analyzed Sri Tyagaraja’s  collected works say that his  700 odd known kritis  feature 212-5 ragas (including about 47 Mela-karta Ragas); and of these , as many as 121 ragas have only one composition each.

31.2. It is also said; Sri Tyagaraja seemed to favour Ragas with Shuddha-madhyama (Ma1). More than a hundred of his Kritis are in groups of Ragas under Kharaharapriya, Harikambhoji and Dhira-Shankarabharana. Then, under Prathi-madhyama (Ma2), there are kritis in: Varali (14); Kalyani (21) and Pantavarali (13).

31.3. The Raga he chose, in each case, is eminently suited to the Kriti. Sri Tyagaraja could express sorrow, turmoil and joy with great musical beauty. His kriti, generally, strikes a good   balance between form and structure. It not only captures the essence of the Raga, but also aptly conveys the Bhava, the inner meaning of the kriti.   The music of Sri Tyagaraja is, thus, complete in all respects.

31.4. Although Sri Tyagaraja has composed some songs in slow tempo (Vilamba kala), the medium one (Madhyama kala) is said to be his characteristic tempo. The Madhyama Kala goes well with the Sangathi– rendering of his Kritis. That style of singing his Kritis has provided a stable format for musical concerts; and, has come to prevail in the Karnataka music. As a result, even Sri Dikshitar’s Kritis eminently suited to Veena-play (Veena–vadana) in slow tempo, with Gamaka-s (tonal flourishes) as its main adornment, is also, at times, spurred up to the Madhyama or even to Dhruta tempo.

Some of Sri Tyagaraja ‘s  Madhyama-kala Kritis commence with Durita-kala (quick tempo) with a very lively, arresting impact on any audience; for instance: ‘Darini Telusukonti’ (Suddha Saveri) and; ‘Dorakuna’ (Bilahari).

 There are also Madhyama-kala Kritis with Madhyama or Druta – kala sahitya, as in Emi dova’ (Saranga); ‘Vallagadanaka’ (Harikambhoji); ‘Brochevarevare’ (Sriranjani); and, ‘Koluvaiyunnade’ (Devagandhari

31.5. Sri Tyagaraja is credited with composing Kritis in rare and uncommon Ragas, in each of which there is only one Kriti. Such Kritis are termed as: Eka-raga kritis.  And, these are the main source to ascertain the sanchara-s of such Ragas. Sri Tyagaraja is said to have composed about forty such Eka-raga kritis. Some instances of his Eka-raga Kritis are:  Ni Chittamu (Vijayavasantam); Varashiki Vahana (in Supradipam); Lilaganu Juche (in Dundubhi); Daya Jucutakidivela (in Ganavaridhi); Vachamagocharame ( in Kaikavasi ); and others.

31.6. There are also a few minor Ragas with limited scope for elaboration; but, have become popular mainly because of his compositions. By composing excellent kritis, Sri Tyagaraja breathed life to these ragas. [E.g. Jayantasena (vinata sutavahana); Kapinarayani (sarasa samadana); and Vijayasri (varanarada)].His initiative paved way for later generation of musicians to elaborate and present substantial pictures of such ‘minor’ Ragas.

[Among the songs of his early period, Giriraja Suta and Ravinchuvarevarura are set to European band tunes, which perhaps he heard at Tanjavuru court. These are similar to Nottu-swara songs of Sri Dikshitar.]

31.7. Sri Tyagaraja is also said to have introduced new (Vinta) Ragas (or the Ragas that were adopted into Kritis for the first time): Vagadeeswari (paramatmudu); Ganavaridhi (daya juchutakidi velara) and Manohari (paritapamu ganiyadina); as also Ragas with only four Notes in Arohana (Vivardhani and Navarasa Kanada). In his Kriiti Muccata brahmadulaku (Madhyamavathi), he refers to Vinta-Ragas (Vinta  ragamulna aalapamu seyaga)

In all these cases (including rare and vakra ragas), Sri Tyagaraja in his characteristic manner indicates the scale structure at the very opening lines of the song (Pallavi) and maintains the scale structure further in the Kriti.

[For more, please check the analysis made by Prabhakar Chitrapu in his The Musical Works of Thyagaraja at ]

32.1.  Sri Tyagaraja was not only a poet, a composer but was also a performer par excellence. This is another testimony to Sri Tyagaraja’s multitalented musical genius. His creative contribution in enriching Karnataka Samgita, in scope, content and excellence in its presentation , is truly immense.

Manasollasa (also called Abhjilashitarta Chintamani) ascribed to the Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (1127-1139 AD) is an encyclopedic work, written in Sanskrit, covering a wide range of subjects.  Its Chapter Three: Prakirnaka: deals with topics such as: Guna–Dosha (merits and de-merits) of Vak-geya-kara (composers who set  songs to music). The text grades the composers (Vak-geya-kara) into three classes. According to its classification,  the lowest is the lyricist; the second is one who sets to tune the songs written by  others; and, the highest is one who is the  Dhatu Mathu Kriyakari – who writes the lyrics (Mathu), sets them to music (Dhatu) and ably presents (Kriyakari)  his compositions.

 The sublime trinity of Karnataka Sangita : Sri Tyagaraja; Sri Dikshitar  and Sri Shyama Shastry were  indeed  Vak-geya-karas  of the highest order.]

33.1. As regards the Taala (rhythmic counterpoints), nearly half his compositions are set in symmetric Di-Taala of eight counts (matra). There are nearly a hundred each in Chapu, Desati and Rupaka Taalas.


: – Sanskrit

34.1. Telugu is mainly the language of Tyagaraja-kritis. However, out of his 700 and odd Kritis that are known, about 50 are in Sanskrit [E.g. Jagadānanda kārakā (Naata); Śhambhō mahādēva (Pantuvarali); Īśā pāhimā jagadīśha (Kalyani); Lalitē śrī pravr̥ddhē śrīmati lāvaya nidhimati (Bhairavi); Vara-līla gāna-lōla sura-pāla (Shankarabharanam) and many others]. It is said; for the purpose of his daily worship, Sri Tyagaraja wrote Divya-nama-sankirtanas as also Namavalis in Sanskrit.  Besides, in two of his plays –Naukacharitram and Prahlada Bhakt Vijayam – some slokas are in Sanskrit.  All his Telugu songs are replete with Sanskrit words and phrases.

34.2. His early education was in Sanskrit. He seemed to have learnt it well; and he used his learning with flair. His first (!) composition Namo Namo Raghavaya (Desikatodi), which is inscribed on the walls of his house, is in Sanskrit. The song celebrates the glory of the Lord in brisk series of His sacred–names (Divya-nama); and also pays tributes to the Valmiki who composed the most wonderful Ramayana epic (Satatha paalita adbhuta kavye).

34.3. His Sanskrit compositions enriched with skill and grace are spread over a wide range. There are some sweet-sounding songs that are meant for beginners. There are also elaborate and Grand (Pancha-ratna) Kritis with long winding sentences flowing out in brisk sequence.

34.4. And in his Sanskrit compositions, Sri Tyagaraja shows his literary skill and command over the language.  The songs are adorned with alliteration or word-play (pada-jala), rhymes (prasa), expressions that could be understood in two different ways (shlesha) and other literary devices. (For instance: Pada jala – gruha-anugruha-vigraha-navagraha –nigraha; Vidulaku-Koviduluku; and, Dehi tava paada Vaidehi. Shlesha: Janakaja-matha/Janka-jamatha; Palaya/Krupalaya; Taradhisha vadana/Taradhisha-damana)

He also plays with usage of rare words, some having obscure meaning; and compounds words coined by him by bringing together classical and colloquial words prevalent at that time.

Certain words that are rare in Sanskrit poetic usage have gained currency mainly because of his compositions. For instance: Samaja (elephant); Vivaha (one riding a bird, here Vi stands for bird. Vivaha, otherwise, commonly means ‘marriage’); Rakabja-mukha (One who is moon faced, here Abja stands for moon while it’s common usage is for lotus); Vanidhi (sea, here Va stands for water while Vana generally means forest)

Telugu: –

35.1. The Telugu of Sri Tyagaraja-kritis, simple and graceful, is nearer to spoken language. It is the sort of Telugu that is commonly spoken by emigrant Mulakanadu community. There is a certain felicity and homeliness to his lines.  And, it is not the high-pitched classic Telugu of court poetry. Yet, it is elegant and ornamented with terms and expressions derived from Sanskrit.

35.2. There is a touch of realism in the similes, proverbs and expressions which he picks up from day-to-day life. That vouches for his keen observation of the life around him. The humour, mock-anger, sarcasm and nuggets of worldly-wisdom enliven his Kritis.

35.3. In a large number of songs , Sri Tyagaraja outlines the character of  true devotion and of a true devotee; the futility of mere observing rites and rituals (Vratas); the meaninglessness of sacred baths and Puja without having either the moral qualities, or the purity of mind or devotion in ones heart (Manasu nilpa saktilekapote..). His kritis were as much a pleadings to the Lord as to the fellow beings asking them to delight in Bhakthi and to  give up attachment to lesser things.  The ways in which he conveys his message are rather fascinating.

Sri Tyagaraja very often employs conversation style lyrics (samvada-gati) in his Kritis as though he is carrying on dialogues with Sri Rama in different moods. Sri Tyagaraja was perhaps influenced by the Kirtana of Bhadrachala Ramadasa. He questions Rama about his unjust attitude, treating him like a stranger – ‘Anyayamu seyakura rama, nannu anyuniga judakura’ (Kapi); taunts Rama : ‘have you no sense of shame’-Manamuleda’ (Hamirkalyani).

There are some interesting expressions of mocking: naivety of a vessel trying to know the taste of milk it holds (Dutta palu ruchi dehyu samyame enta muddo); or foolishness of one holding a lump of butter in his hand and yet worrying about ghee (Vennaiyunda netikevvarama vyasana padura); or the futility of dressing up and decorating a corpse (Pranamulenidaniki bangaru baga chutti).

There are also expressions of humour: laughing at a woman rocking the baby with one hand and pinching it with another (Totla narbhakula nutuvu, tochinattu gilliduvu); or like trusting on fidelity of a ‘purchased wife’ (Rukalosagi konna sati— gara vimpa rada); or the restlessness of one going after money like the grams bouncing up and down on a frying pan .

There are some wisecracks that suggest saying that one’s merits and miseries in life are ones own making. There is not much sense in blaming others for your plight. He points out: “if the gold is not entirely pure why blame the goldsmith? If your daughter cannot bear the labour pains why blame the son-in-law? If you did no good in your past birth why blame the gods for your miserable lot? O Rama, my troubles are my own; I surely do hot blame you for that. (Mi valla guna dosha memi Sri Rama? Na valla ne gani Nalina-dala-nayan…).

There are many un-characteristic sharp jibes taking a dig at hypocrisy and fake – rituals: as that of a Somayaji performing havan while his wife is busy eloping with her lover; as that of a scholar who employs his learning to earn some money, like the one prostituting his mother; or to those who slave their devotion to a mortal just as a sex worker does.

Another type of   Kriti which was not tried out by Sri Dikshitar and Sri Shyama Sastry was the Ninda –stuti, taking the Lord to task in mock anger. These again are the shades of Ramadasa.  Sri Tyagaraja taunts Sri Rama: what is the point in calling you savior  of the world and remover of difficulties (Pranatartihara) if you do not come to my rescue despite  countless appeals I made to you:  Ilalo pranatartiharudanu’ (Atana); you became a famous king merely because Sita married you , and a hero because Sita did not burn Ravana into ashes by her angry looks : Ma Janaki chabattaga Maharaju vaithivayya  (Kambhoji); and , he then takes Sita to task for marrying a good looking but a heartless person : ‘Sari evvare’ (Sriranjani).

35.4. But, essentially Sri Tyagaraja was a Rama-bhaktha who was also a gifted poet and musician. He might have drawn comparisons from ordinary life, collective memory and common wisdom, perhaps to be accessible to the people of the world. But, inwardly he was a mystic yearning for liberation.  Sri Tyagaraja sang not merely for himself but for the liberation of all his fellow beings.


36.1. The varieties of forms, vast spread of contents and sheer volume of his creative works is truly amazing.

We have in Sri Tyagaraja an extraordinary collection of verities of musical forms and compositions, ranging from Divya-nama-samkirtanam and Utsava-sampradaya songs suited for group singing;  musical dance-dramas such as Nauka-Charitam and Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam; Kirtanas beseeching the Lord for help , kindness and love; and above all liberation; songs bursting out in sheer joy and ecstasy ; songs in playful mood , mocking Rama in jest and half-anger; and , there are , of course , the Grand Compositions grouped as Pancha-rathna-kritis representing the highest form of art music performed in formal classical concerts.

It is the spread in the variety of his creations that   marks Sri Tyagaraja among his illustrious contemporaries. The range of his music stretching from simple well set songs of melody, ease and grace that children love to sing , to edifying flood of Grand music is a testimony to Sri Tyagaraja’s manifold musical genius.

36.2. As regards the numbers, the exact number of Kritis/Kirtanas that Sri Tyagaraja created is still a matter of debate among the scholars. Some claim that he wrote as many as 22,400 songs, which number matches with the number of Slokas in Valmiki- Ramayana. That might be an overstatement.  According to the researcher Prabhakar Chitrapu, the known and authentic kritis/kirtanas of Sri Tyagaraja is 729 ( ).

His Utsava-sampradaya-kirtanas, a group of songs rich in melody and lyrics, number about 27. And, the Divya-Nama-samkirtanam– that celebrate the glory of the Lord and his name are about 72.

In addition, Sri Tyagaraja composed three musical plays in Telugu, of which two are available:  Prahalada Bhakti Vijayam and Nauka Charitam. The Prahlada Bhakti Vijayam is in five acts with 45 kritis set in 28 ragas and 138 verses, in different metres in Telugu.  The Nauka Charitam is a shorter play in one act with 21 kritis set in 13 ragas and 43 verses. The latter is more popular.

37.1. Chronology is yet another issue with Sri Tyagaraja’s works. The dates or the sequence of his various compositions are much debated. There is no definite information in that regard. His disciples Walajapet Venkataramana Bhagavatar and Tanjavuru Rama Rao who served their Master for long years, did make efforts to preserve the texts of his songs. We all have to be grateful to them for the service they rendered.  They wrote down the songs on loose sheets of paper or on palm leaves, without however mentioning the date or the year of their composition.

All that is surmised is:  either his Sanskrit song in praise of Sri Rama Namo Namo Raghavaya ( Desikatodi) or his Telugu song on Ganesha , Giriraja suta tanaya (Bangala)  is his first composition. Some explain it away by saying that while the former is his first Kriti in Sanskrit, the latter is his first Kriti in Telugu.

37.2. As regards his end-years, his wife Kamalamba passed away in the year 1845. A year after her death, on the night of Prabhava – Pushya shukla –Ekadashi (Dec 1846), Sri Tyagaraja had a dream. Immediately on waking up, Sri Tyagaraja burst into, the now famous, Kriti  Giripai nelakonna (in Sahana Raga) wherein  he declares with great joy that  in his dream he did see  Sri Rama, residing on hilltop ; and, he  did   promise  him Moksha within ten days (putlu). [Here, putlu could mean either a day or part of a day]

37.3. On 5 Jan 1847, Sri Tyagaraja, at the age of eighty, renounced the world and entered into Sanyasa assuming the name Nadabrahmananda. On the next day, that is on 6 Jan 1847, – Pushya Bahula Panchami (the fifth day after the full moon in the dark-half of the month of Pushya) of Prabhava-nama-samvathsara in the Kali-year 4948 – after offering his daily worship to his Ista-devata  Sri Rama installed in his house , he called on his disciples attending him to chant Rama-nama. Then, it is said, he burst into his last song Paritapamu ganiyadina (in Manohari Raga). Thereafter, Saint Sri Tyagaraja entered into Samadhi merging with the Para Brahman.

Thus, Giripai nelakonna and Paritapamu ganiyadina seem to be his last two Kritis.

Nadopasana and Rama Bhakthi

38.1. In many of his songs Sri Tyagaraja describes Nadopasana the practice of music (Samgita Sadhana) as an aid to cultivate devotion and contemplation. He says, neither mere talk nor modesty will help. Sadhana, ceaseless practice, with dedication will alone save you. For Tyagaraja, music was the means to salvation; and, he practised it with great sincerity.

38.2. He explains the seven notes (sapta-svara) that are the foundations of music as having emanated from the Pranava Nada (Aum). Here, he visualizes Nada the subtle and sacred vibration as the manifestation of Para Brahman, the Supreme Reality. He narrates his experience of deep absorption in the joy (Ananda) of Nada. He declares: ‘the joy of music  (Nada ) is itself the bliss of Brahman (Brahmananda) that the Vedanta speaks of’; and says ‘he who delights in Nada attains the bliss of Brahman’.  He, thus, upholds the highest spiritual ideal of music that is permeated with Bhakthi.

[For example: Sangita-jnanamu; Nadatanuma; Gitarthamu; Nadopasanace; Nadaloluni; Mokshamugalada and Svara-raga-sudha etc]

39.1. Ramayana was a huge influence in the life and outlook of Sri Tyagaraja. He not only revered the text deeply but also imbibed several of its episodes into his Kritis. In hundreds of his songs he celebrates the powers, the glory and the virtues of  Sri Rama. He calls out to Sri Rama in countless ways. And, some of the epithets he employs are related to music, addressing Sri Rama as: ‘Samagana-lola’; ‘Raga-rasika’; ’Sapta-swara-sanchari’; ‘Samgitasampradayakudu’ and such others. It is the Rama bhakthi permeating his Kritis that elevates his music to spiritual heights.

39.2. For Tyagaraja, Sri Rama his Ista-devata whose glory he celebrates in most of his songs is none other than Para Brahman, the Supreme Being. He repeatedly declares that Sri Rama is his favourite deity (Ista daivamu neve); Rama alone is his God (Vadera daivamu; Rama eva daivatam); there is none equal to Rama (Rama nee samanam evaru); he takes refuge in Rama (Ninne nera nammi nanu )  and so on.

For him, Rama is beyond the Trinity, Tri-murthy (Sri Rama Rama Jagadatma Rama; Manasa Sri Ramachandruni); Rama is Para Brahman. Rama is another name for Brahman- Raamaayani brahmamunaku peru (Its Sanskrit equivalent is: Rama padena asau param Brahma abhidhiyate). Therefore, he counsels, submit to Rama with Love (prematho) and true devotion (nija bhakthi); surrender to Rama in absolute faith; and, be immersed in Rama-bhakthi. And, he avers that such real Bhakthi alone is the right royal way to salvation (Chakkani raja margamu).

39.3. Thus, Music (Samgita Sadhana), absorption in the joy of melody graced with bhakthi, was for Sri Tyagaraja the Nadopasana the worship of Nada which is the very embodiment of Brahman.




Continued in Part V- Visit to Kanchipuram

Sources and references

Manaku Teliyana Tyagaraju:

Tyāgarāja and the Renewal of Tradition: Translations and Reflections by William Joseph Jackson

The Power of the Sacred Name: Indian Spirituality Inspired by Mantras by V. Raghavan

Spiritual Heritage of Sri Tyagaraja by Dr. V Raghavan and C. Ramanujachariar

History of Indian Music by Prof. P. Sambamoorthy

A Tribute to Tyagaraja by V.N. Muthukumar and M.V. Ramana

The Musical Works of Thyagaraja by Prabhakar Chitrapu Prabhakar

I acknowledge with thanks the images and other information from his site

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Posted by on February 22, 2015 in Tyagaraja


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