Tag Archives: Pada

The Meaning of ‘MEANING’ – Part Seven

Continued from Part Six


The Word and the Sentence

Grammar and the philosophy of language

Grammar (Vyakarana) was recognized from the earliest times in India as a distinct science, a field of knowledge with its own parameters, which distinguished it from other branches of learning/persuasions. It was regarded as the means to secure release from the bondage of ignorance : Vag-yoga ; Sabda-yoga; or Sabdapurva-yoga.

The overall aim of Sanskrit Grammar was not to list out the rules and to standardize the language; but, to aptly bring out the intended meaning of the structure of words. As Yaska puts it in his Nirukta (the oldest available Indian treatise on etymology, philology and semantics) the aim was to get the meaning of the uttered word (arthanityah parikseta-Nir: 2.1.1). Thus, Sanskrit Grammar was an attempt to purify (samskruta), to discipline and to explain the behaviour of the spoken language, so that the inner meaning could shine forth unhindered.

During the periods following the three Great Sages (Munitraya) – Panini, Katyayana and Patanjali – the question of perceiving the intended meaning of the spoken word engaged the attention of the Grammarians and the philosophers of the language. The more significant of such Scholar-Grammarians, among others, were: Mandana Misra, Kaumarila Bhatta, Kunda Bhatta, Abhinavagupta and Bhartrhari. In particular, Bharthari’s major work, Vakyapadiya, discusses the ways in which the outer word-form could unite with its inner meaning. 

Each of those giants, in his own manner, addressed the question about ‘’the meaning of ‘meaning’ ‘’; debated vigorously on various theories of meaning as being fundamental to linguistic studies.


In the Grammar-traditions of ancient India, protracted debates were carried out on the question: ’what is the basic unit of the language that gives forth a meaning (Artha)?  Is it the alphabet (Varna) or the word (Pada) or the sentence (Vakya)?’ Though the discussions took several routes, it ultimately arrived on the fact that the letters constitute a word; and, the words come together to form a sentence. It was pointed out that just as a word has no separate entity without its constituent letters; similarly, a sentence has no separate entity without words that give it a structure. It was also said; though the words are parts of a sentence, the meaning of the sentence does not independently arise out of them. Meaning is the function of the sentence as a whole. Though the distinction between a sentence and its parts (words and letters) was recognised, it was said to be mainly, for day-to-day purposes (loka-vyavahara) and for analytical studies undertaken by the grammarians.

This position was, in a way, formalized when Yaska mentioned that ‘from the Vedic mantras we come to know that ‘language started with sentences and not with individual words’. He described the sentence as the entity that manifests meaning (vak punah prakasayaty-arthan– Nir.9.l9); and, as a fixed combination of words (niyata-vacoyukti) which is unchangeable (niyata-vacoyuktayo niyata-anupurvya bhavanti – Nir.I.l5).The meaning of a sentence remains un-altered even with a shift in the position of the words.

The Next question was whether the words have an independent existence of their own or whether they are merely segments of a sentence which, in truth, is an indivisible entity producing a definite meaning.

There was a line of argument (Pada-vadin) which asserted that a word though being a part or a segment (Khanda) of a sentence is, indeed, an independent unit of thought and meaning; it enjoys its own existence and characteristics; and, it is only the harmonious unity of such meaning-bearing words that lends a purpose to the sentence. The School which supported this line of argument, upholding the independent nature of the word, came to be known as Khanda-paksha.

The other School , which opposed the above standpoint, emphasized that the sentence is the fundamental, indivisible (A-khanda) linguistic unit; words are just the components of a sentence; and, mere words without reference to a sentence are abstractions and unreal; and do not convey a definite meaning. The thrust of this argument  (Vakya-vadin) was that a sentence is an indivisible, integrated unit; and, in the absence of a structured sentence, the individual words, by themselves, do not communicate a sense or the intent of the speaker. It asserted; the meaning of a sentence, as a whole, is an indivisible entity. The School which advocated this argument   was known as the A-khanda-paksha.

Thus, even at the very early stages in the development of Vyakarana (Grammar) we find two fundamental approaches to the study of the problem of meaning: the khanda-paksha and the A-khanda-paksha.



The Khanda-Paksha is about the primacy of the word (Pada or Sabda). Khanda-paksha treats the word as an autonomous unit of thought and meaning.  Here, the language study is primarily based on words; and the sentence is taken to be an assembly of such words. The Khanda-paksha confined its enquiry to the meaning of the words by treating words as self-contained and self-explaining units. It did not pay much attention to the sentence, its structure and its overall meaning. It simply said that a sentence is nothing more than a group of words; and its meaning is just the sum of the meanings carried by its words.

 In the context of the Vedas, the Pada or Sabda is just not the pronounced or uttered word; it is indeed the Vac the eternal speech itself, existing before creation of the worlds.

Though the riks of the Rig-Veda were expressed in the form of sentences, great importance was paid to its constituent words. It is said; Sakalya (Nir. 6. 28), the earliest known historical figure who dealt with linguistic studies, therefore, took up the task of compiling the Pada-paatha of Rig-Veda, where the sentences of the Samhita Paatha (the original text, as it is) were broken down into words (pada) and arranged in sequential order; and, the process also involved breaking up compound words into their elements.  The intention was to clearly bring forth the meaning (Artha) and the denotive power (Shakthi) of individual words in the sentence. Sakalya’s service to the study of Vedic text is acknowledged by Panini the Great Grammarian. 

Yaska-charya (earlier to 5th century BCE), the great etymologist of the ancient India, believed that every Vedic word has an expressive power to denote a certain sense. And, as a signifier (vacaka), every word is eternal (vyaptimattvat tu sabdasya – Nir.I.2); and, is critical in arriving at an unerring meaning of a statement. Thus, the word, the meaning and their mutual relations are eternal.  In his remarkable work Nirukta (etymology or Nirvacana shastra) – a commentary on Nighantuka, a sort of glossary – Yaska attempts to establish the proper meaning of certain selected Vedic words (including their prepositions and the particles), in the context of ‘how, where, when and why’ it is stated. For the purpose of his study, Yaska chose about 600 stanzas from the Rig-Veda; and created a well organized glossary to understand and to interpret, particularly, the archaic, uncommon words used in the Vedic texts.

His study also included a system of rules for forming words from roots and affixes. According to Yaska, every word is derived from a root; and by analysing the root, its tendency and the suffix, it is possible to establish the relation between word and meaning. In the Nirukta, Yaska has tried to explain those selected Vedic words from the perspective of the various linguistic aspects, parts of speech (padajatani) such as:  noun (naman), verb (akyata), preposition (upasarga), and particle (nipata) – (chatvari padajatani nama-khyate –upasargani-paatascha  …Nir .l.l) ; in additions to taking up  general definitions, special definitions, synonyms, homonyms (words that share the same pronunciation but convey different meanings), common and obscure grammatical forms, words and their meanings, and the etymology of these words. Yaska terms such analytical method as samaskara (treatment) or sastrakrto yogah (grammatical combination)

[ Of the four parts of speech (chatvari padajatani) Yaska gives greater importance to nouns and verbs (naman, akyata), which are employed independently , than to prepositions (upasarga) and particles (nipata) which cannot present a clear meaning when detached from nouns or verbs.

When that logic is extended, it leads to say:  the phonemes and syllables are not independent entities conveying their own meaning; nevertheless they are parts of the word; but, the meaning of the word does not solely arise out of them. Meaning is the function of the word as a whole.

Between the noun and the verb, Yaska treats the verb as the nucleus of a sentence. According to him, Verb (Akhyata) is the vital unit of language through which we express our intentions and actions; and, a sentence without a verb serves no purpose (tad yatrobhe bhavaeradhane bhavatah – Nir. l. l).]


It is interesting to note that the ancient Grammarians did not devote as much attention to sentence and its structure as they did to the word. Among the ancient writers, neither Panini nor Gautama defined the sentence and its essential characteristics. Jayanta Bhatta (in his Nyayamanjari) remarks that the absence of such discussion might be because that Mimamsa and Nyaya Schools considered the sentence to be merely a combination or a sequence of words ; the word as  nothing more than a combination of phonemes (Varna) ; and , the syllables as independent units. The syllables (having a vowel)   by themselves may not convey meaning; but, they are capable of conveying meaning when they combine.

[Generally, the ancient Indian Grammarians and Logicians took a word as the unit of speech and considered a sentence as a combination of words for the purpose of communicating a meaning.

 According to abhihita-anvaya-vada (of Bhatta Mimasa), each word in a sentence conveys its primary and individual meaning by virtue  of primary denotation (abhidha). And then the meaning of the sentence arises from the combined construed (anvaya) meanings of its words.

Another view anvita-abhidhana-vada (of Prabhakara Mimamsa), instead, says that individual words do not convey meaning except when they are associated (anvita) with or indicate an action (kriya). And, no word can be understood as having independent meaning when it is isolated from a sentence.

 According to the monist view, the meaning of the sentence is grasped by the listener as a whole, in a flash. The individual word-meanings appear as parts of a sentence; but, the whole is simply not the sum of parts.

The question: how could a series of isolated words uttered one after another could together produce a unity that makes meaning – continued to engage various schools of Grammarians and philosophers alike.]

Among the Grammarians, Katyayana was perhaps the first to define a sentence (Akhyatam savyaya-karaka-visesham vakyam). In his Vartika, he called a sentence (Vakya) as an eka-tin-vakyam; meaning: a cluster of words having a single finite verb together with a noun and a qualifier. Panini, however, seems to have accepted the possibility of a sentence having more than one finite verb (tinn atinah – 8.1.28).  Mimamsa tried to explain the difference between the two positions as that of Akanksha, the intention (Artha) of the speaker (Arthaikyad vakyam ekam vakyam sakanksam ched vibhage syat – Jaimini Sutra: 2.1.46).

According to Dr. Kunjunni Rajah (Indian Theories of Meaning) : Mimamsa put forward their theory of understanding the clear meaning of synthetic units of a sentence mainly based on three norms: Akanksa, Yogyata and Samnidhi.

Akanksa or the mutual expectancy of the words consists in a word not being able to convey a complete sense in the absence of another word. Literally, it is the desire on the part of the listeners to know the other words or their meaning to complete the sense. A word is said to have Akanksa for another, if it cannot, without the latter produces knowledge of its inter-connection in an utterancen.

In a sentence, every word necessarily requires another word to complete the sense. To convey the meaning of noun in a sentence, a verb is always needed.

Yogyata is the logical compatibility of consistency of the words in a sentence for mutual association; and, whether it makes sense. When we utter a sentence, if the meaning of a sentence is not contradicted by experience, there is a Yogyata or consistency between the words.

If the words in a sentence should be contiguous in time, it is known as Samnidhi or asatti of a sentence. Words uttered at long intervals cannot produce the knowledge of any interrelation among them even if Akanksa and Yogyata are present there. If a man utters a word a long interval after the first word, then the connection of the meaning cannot be understood

[The Mimamasa said that a group of words serving a single purpose (artha) forms a sentence, if on analysis the separate words are found to have mutual expectancy (akanksha). It says : “ so long as a single purpose is served by a number of words , which on being separated , are found to be wanting and incapable of effecting the said purpose , they form one syntactical unit – one complete Yajus-mantra”.

Prabhakara explains that in this sentence, ‘artha’ stands both for meaning and purpose; and the two are related. Kaumarila Bhatta says that it is possible to take artha as meaning in order to allow a wider scope to the principle.

[The distinction between Katyayana’s definition and Mimamsa’s explanation was discussed by Bhartrhari in his Vakyapadia (2. 3-4).]

Source: The Encyclopaedia of Indian Philosophies, Volume 5: The Philosophy of the Grammarians By Harold G. Coward, K. Kunjunni Raja-page 25]


The later Grammarians accepted Panini’s view. But, from Katyayana’s point of view, such a sentence may be considered as a complex sentence made up of two or more sentences; but, fundamentally, forming one single sentence.

The  main concern of Panini the Grammarian (Ca.500 BCE) – who might have been a junior contemporary of Yaska or might have lived within a century after Yaska – was not the sentences but words (Sabda), His celebrated work Astadhyayi (the eight chapters)  – also called  Astaka , Sabda-anushasana  and Vrittisutra –  sought to ensure  correct usage of words by  purifying  (Samskrita)  the  language (bhasha)  – literary and spoken ( vaidika –  laukika) –  that  was in use during his days.

Panini’s  goal (lakshya) was  building up of Sanskrit words (pada) from their root forms (dhatu prakara), affixes (pratyaya), verbal roots; pre-verbs (upasarga); primary and secondary suffixes; nominal and verbal terminations ; and , their function (karya) in a sentence. The underlying principle of Panini’s work is that nouns are derived from verbs.

Patanjali, who in the Grammar-tradition (Vyakarana parampara) is regarded as next only to Panini, also focussed on words.  According to him, the basic linguistic unit is a word – provided it generates a meaning. However, Mimamsa opposes this view; and asserts   that any aggregation of letters with or without meaning could be a word.

Patanjali’s Mahabhashya, a commentary on Panini’s Astadhyayi, commences with the statement ‘atho sabda-anu-shasanam’:  here begins the instruction on words (or, let us now discuss the rule governing the words). The three important subjects that Patanjali deals with are also concerned with words: formation of words; determination of meaning; and, the rela­tion between a word (speech sounds – Sabda) and its meaning. He also stresses about the need to learn Grammar and to use correct words; to understand the nature of words  whether or not the words have fixed or floating meanings and so on.


The Astadhyayi of Panini, as per its working scheme, attempts to produce words and sentences based on their verbal roots (dhatu), nominal themes (prathipadika) and suffixes (pratyaya). These constituent elements are invested with meaning. Derived from these elements, in their various combinations, words and sentences are formed to express collection of meanings as held by these elements.

But, according to Mahabhashya of Patanjali, the basic purpose of a grammar is to account for the words; not by enumerating them; but, by writing a set of general (samanya) rules (lakshana) that govern them and by pointing out to exceptions (visesha).These general rules, according to him, must be derived from the usage, for which the language of the ‘learned’ (shista) is taken as the norm.

[Though both Panini and Patanjali discussed about words and their relevance in Grammar, their approach differed significantly.

For Patanjali, it is the words themselves and not its constituents that produce a meaning.  According to him, the Grammar analyzes the words, thereby arriving at their constituent elements, though such parts may not be the true bearers of the meaning. This perhaps is the reason that many understand Grammar as Vyakarana, in the sense of analysis.

For Panini, on the other hand, Grammar proceeds differently. It is a way of synthesis. His Grammar does not divide the words into stems and suffixes. On the contrary, it combines the constituent elements with a view to form words. So, Grammar here is understood as ‘the word formation’ or as an ‘instrument by which forms are created in various ways’ (vividhena prakarena akrtayah kriyante yena).]



The A-khanda-paksha on the other hand, argued that the sentence is one fundamental linguistic unit (samvit). The sentence is indivisible (A-khanda); and, as a whole expresses a certain meaning; and, its meaning is not reducible to its parts. Thus, the meaning is not in the individual words which are mere parts; but, is in the sentence as a whole, in its entirety (A-khanda). That is to say; the sentence employs certain units in order to arrive at a definite meaning. The meaning so arrived at is because of the unity or integral nature of the sentence; but, not because those units are meaningful in themselves.  The meaning of a sentence remains un-altered even if the positions of the words within it are altered.

As mentioned earlier, the thrust of this argument was that a sentence is an indivisible, integrated unit; and, in the absence of a structured sentence, the individual words, by themselves, do not communicate a sense or the intent of the speaker. Mere words without reference to a sentence are abstractions and unreal; and do not convey a definite meaning. It asserted; the sentence and its meaning, as a whole, is an indivisible entity (A-khanda). The sentence, though it is indivisible (A-khanda), it has the power o£ manifestation through various letters and words.

Bhartrhari’s contribution

The champion of the A-khanda Paksha Vada was none other than Bhartrhari. He assigned a greater priority to sentence. Bhartrhari regarded the sentence as a single ‘integral symbol’ (Sphota); an indivisible unit of communication; an integral sentence the meaning of which is grasped by an instantaneous flash of understanding or perception through of intuition (Prathibha). 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.

“there is no phonemes (Varna)  in the word; and, nor are there any parts of the phonemes.  It is entirely not possible to separate words from the sentence”.

pade na varṇā vidyante varṇeṣv avayavā na ca /
vākyāt padānām atyantaṃ pravibhāgo na kaś cana // VP:1.74 //

That is to say; a sentence alone is the unit of utterance; a single indivisible entity with a single undivided meaning that is grasped as a whole in a flash of insight (Prathibha).

Sphota in the ordinary conversation, according to Bhartrhari refers to a spontaneous process where a latent idea or thought arising out of the consciousness or the mind of the speaker is manifested by the sounds (Dhvani) of the spoken words employed in the sentence; and, it is directly grasped, through intuition (Prathibha), by the mind (Buddhi) of the listener.

Bharthari’s position has come to be known as Sphota-vada, the doctrine of Sphota. The term Sphota derived from the root Shput conveys the meaning of:  ‘to burst forth’ or in the context of Bhartrhari’s text to suggest ‘bursting forth of light or a flash of insight’. For Bhartrhari, the Sphota is an indivisible and changeless unity.

The Sphota concept was developed over long periods; but, it was fully put forward by Bharthrhari. He gave it a substantial credible form; and, provided it a philosophical basis. He maintained that the primary function of the words was to combine into a sentence, in its complete utterance, to give forth a meaning. We understand the meaning of a sentence wholly immediately only after the speaker utters the sentence. And, therefore, the sentence is the primary meaningful unit; and, the words extracted from the sentence analytically are only its component parts. Bhartrhari does not decry the value or the validity of words; but, only points out their status of being a part and never a whole.

Thus, Bharthrhari emphasized that the fundamental linguistic unit is indeed the complete utterance of a sentence. Just as a letter or a syllable has no parts, so also the sentence is to be taken as complete integral unit (Vakya-sphota); and, not as a collection of smaller elements.

 Bharthrhari argued that for the purpose of linguistic analysis, study of language and its grammar it might be fine to split the sentence into abstracted pieces, such as: the words, then into the roots and suffixes of the words, syntaxes etc;  and discuss about their position in the sentence. Such analytical splitting is artificial (Vikalpa); does, not have much significance. He said; “it is only those who do not know the language thoroughly that analyze it into words, in order to get a connected meaning.” But, such fragmented approach is surely not suitable in the real world where men and women live, communicate and transact. In a speech-situation where the speaker communicates ones ideas and the listener grasps his/her speech, it is necessary that the utterance has to be complete.  The speaker communicates and the listener understands his/her utterance as a single unit.

Bhartrhari explained that, initially, the thought exists in the mind of the speaker as a unity – Sabda or Sphota – intending a certain meaning. When uttered, ( in an effort to convey that thought through a sequence of sounds (Dhvani) that follow one after the other) , it produces certain specific sound-patterns (Nada). It might look as though the articulated word-sounds are separated in time and space. However, though the word-sounds reach the listener in a sequence, the listener eventually grasps the completed sentence as a single unit, as its meaning bursts forth (Sphota) in a flash of understanding or insight (prathibha). The same Sphota which originated in speaker’s mind re-manifests in listener’s mind, transmitting the meaning. Understanding of the meaning must be the immediate and intuitive grasp of the sentence as a whole. Thus, while the articulated sounds (Dhvani, Nada), apparently having divisions and sequence, are the external forms; Sphota is the inner unity conveying the meaning.

Various other scholars have offered their own interpretations of the Sphota theory in the light of Bhartrhari’s elucidation. The concept of Sphota is one of the significant contributions of India to the philosophy of Grammar. As the noted scholar Bimal K. Matilal observes:

”It is rather remarkable that Bhartrihari’s recognition of the theoretical indivisibility of the sentence resonates with the contemporary linguistic view of learning sentences as wholes “;

 “In modern terms Sphoa can be understood as having constant distinctive phonetic features, whereas Dhavni is of a phonic nature. Sphoa is that which is to be manifested (vyagya), and the Dhvani is manifesting (vyañjaka). Sphoa is not uttered but it is perceived by the hearer”;

“The word does not generate the meaning; the word itself is transformed (Vivartate) into meaning. The relation between the word and its meaning is not that of ‘generator – generated’; but, that of ‘signifier-signified’. The word and its meaning, in essence, are identical;

“The Sphoa can be seen as a communication-device based on recognition of the truth of existence through a word/text in the hearer speaker, (sattā). It therefore is of a psychological nature, as any human speech is, for the recognition of the meaning of the text is perceived by a consciousness which lies beyond the analytic capacity of the external mind, and carries in itself all meanings; and as such, its proper understanding requires a psychological experience”;

“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”.


Development of the concept

It is acknowledged that it was Bharthrhari who fully developed the doctrine of Sphota in all the fields of Grammar, philosophy of Grammar and philosophy. But, it was not his invention – as he himself candidly clarified. The idea had been mentioned in various texts, much before the time of Bhartrhari, though not precisely or technically defined. For instance:

: – Panini mentions one Sphotayana, who spoke about the word and its meaning (Avan sphotanyanasya), as the one who originally came up with Sphota concept.

: – Another sage Sakatayana (a grammarian who perhaps was a contemporary of Panini – ?) is also mentioned by some as the author of the Sphota–theory. And, Sakatayana is also said to have held the view that all words must be derived from verbal roots (Nir. 1 3. 12). Some scholars recognize Sakatayana as the author of Unadisutra (a supplement to Panini’s Grammar, providing additional set of rules to derive nouns from their verbal roots). Though, at the same time, Gargya (descendent of Sage Garga, as mentioned in the Nirukta 1.3.12-13) and others are said to have remarked that all nouns cannot be traced to verbal roots.

[The other ancient Grammarians such as Vyadi (author of the lost text Samgraha Sutra; and a contemporary of Panini) as also  Patanjali, the author of Mahabhashya (Ca. 2nd century BCE,) had all developed certain ideas regarding the concept of Sphota.]

:- Before Panini, Yaska  , the etymologist ( earlier to 500 BCE), had  incidentally mentioned that another ancient authority – Audumbarayana, had put forward a theory which basically said that a sentence or an utterance is a primary and an indivisible unit of language; and,  reaches the faculty of the listener as a whole (Nirukta: 1-2)  . Audumbarayana, it appears, had also not agreed with the four-fold classification of words into: noun (naman), verb (akyata), prepositions (upasarga) and particles (nipata) – (indriyanityam vacanam Audumbarayanah tatra chatustam no papayate -Nir.1.1)

[But, apparently, Yaska himself had not agreed with Audumbarayana’s view of a sentence being  a primary and an indivisible unit; and, had gone on to talk about a totally different concept, Bhava – the being and becoming (Bhu) of verbs from their roots. Yaska, in that context, mentions six modes or forms of transformations (Sad bhava vikarah) of Bhava-s from the indistinct (A-vyakta) to explicit (Vyakta) and then to disappearance (vinasa). These phases are:  coming into existence (jayate); existence (Asti); transformation (viparinamate); growth (vardate); decay or wane (apaksiyate); and, ceasing to exist (vinasyati).

These are the six phases of changes (parinama) do occur in all forms of life or of any entity.

Yaska further explains that a Verb (Akhyata) is mainly concerned with Bhava (action), whereas the Nouns (Naman) have Sattva (substance or existence – Asti) as the chief element in their meaning (Bhava-pradhanam akhyatam; sattva-pradhanani namani – Nir. l.l). Here, Sattva is the static aspect of the meaning (as it exists); and, Bhava, the dynamic aspect, is action (Kriya) as it takes place in temporal sequence – (bhavah karma kriya dhatvartha ityanarthantaram).

Thus, Sattva and Bhava are two aspects of the same existence seen from the static and dynamic points of view. It is said; the six modes of Sattva (static) and Bhava (dynamic) are found in every aspect of creation.

Yaska credits the entire doctrine of Bhava and its classification to a certain Varsayani, another ancient Vedic scholar (Nirukta.1.2). But, nothing much is known to us about this Varsayani [He or She could have been a descendent of Varsa, an adept in Varsa Saman (chant)].

Sad bhava – vikara bhavantiti varsayanih- Jayate-asti-viparinamate- vardhate- apaksiyate- vinasyatiti – Nir.1.2]

: – But, Bhartrhari, in turn, cites Yaska as saying that Audumbarayana outlined the Sphota theory. And, asserts that Audumbarayana and also Varttakas held views similar to his Sphota-vada; and claims that their views support his theory.

: – The later eminent grammarians, such as Nageshabhatta (7th century), the author of Manjusha and Shpota-vada; as also Haradatta the commentator (10th century), however, attribute Sphota-vada to the sage Sphotayana, as mentioned by Panini.

: – Now, going back in time, Patanjali also talked about Sphota-like concept. He said; even though the words uttered follow one after the other and do not co exist in time or space, they do converge in the mind of the listener conveying a meaning. Sphota, he says, is a permanent element in the word; and, in fact is the essence of the word. The permanent unchanging Sphota is manifested by changing sounds (Dhvani). Here, Dhvani is the uttered sound heard by the listener; and, is but an aspect of Sphota. Thus, according to Patanjali, Sphota has an internal and an external aspect. The inner aspect is the innate expression of the word-meaning; while the external aspect is a vehicle to manifest the internal aspect; and is perceived by the sense organs of the listener.

But, for Patanjali, Sphota may be a single letter or structured pattern of letters; not necessarily sentence as a whole (in contrast to the stand taken by Bhartrhari).

:- Much before all these ;  Sage Kapila of the Samkhya School after discussing the concept of Sphota ( described as single, indivisible; as distinct from individual letters, existing in the form of words, and constituting a whole) dismisses it  totally : ‘What necessity is there for this superfluous Sphota? If, on the contrary, it does not appear, and is elusive; then , that unknown Sphota can have no power of disclosing a meaning, and consequently it is useless to suppose that any such thing as Sphota exists’(Sutra .57). All this talk of unity of meaning etc is largely an illusion; for it is the word, its articulated elements (Varna) that make the unity.

Antye tv ajniata-spkotasga nasti artha- pratydyana-saktir iti vyartha sphota-kalpana ity arthah / Pur- vam vedanam nityatvam pratisMddham / idanlffi varna-nityat- vam api pratishedati

: – Similarly, the Mimamsa School had also discussed the Sphota concept; and, had rejected it. Sabaraswamin (Ca. first century BCE) the celebrated Mimamsaka in his comments on Mimamsa sutra (1.1.5) dismisses Sphota-vada, since it is not consistent with the Mimamsa faith in reality of Vedic words. According to Sabara, a word is nothing more than a combination of phonemes (Varna) and the syllables are independent units. The syllables, by themselves, might not convey the meaning; but when they combine they do convey a meaning. He did not see a need for a Sphota.

: – The renowned philosopher Upavarsha (a senor contemporary of Panini – Ca. 500 BCE) had also rejected the Sphota-vada; and, had remarked: all this talk of unity of meaning etc. is largely an illusion, for it is the words, its articulated elements (Varna) that make the unity.

Upavarsha, in turn, had come up with his theory of   Varna-vada; according to which the smallest phonetic units that can carry the meaning (phonemes =Varna-s) alone are real constituents of a word.  He said: what is called as a ‘word’ (Sabda) is its individual letters – (for instance the word ‘gauh’ – cow is made of ‘g’, ’au’ and ‘h’). He decaled sounds are only Varna -s; and, there is no need for a Sphota.

[We shall talk more about Upavarsha and of Sri Sankara who followed Upavarsha, later in the series]


In any case, all this was just to   show that even in the ancient Vedic and in little later times the concept of Shpota was widely debated and various types of its interpretations were offered. Some orthodox Schools which recognized Vak or speech as a manifestation of the all – pervading Brahman, and Pranava (Aum) as the primordial speech sound from which all forms of Vak were deemed to have evolved, acknowledged the need to perceive the sentence as a whole and not merely as a collection of words.

At the same time there were also many others who dismissed the idea of Sphota as being far-fetched, superfluous and useless; and, remarked that such unreal, Sphota can have no power of disclosing a meaning.


In the next part let’s discuss about the Sphota doctrine as expounded by Bhartrhari in his Vakyapadiya; as also the views of its critics and supporters.


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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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Thirteen

Continued from Part Twelve – Desi Samgita  

Part thirteen (of 22 ) – Forms of Karnataka Sangita


The Journey

1.1. As you have seen from the articles posted so far that, over the centuries, the Music of India has passed through many significant milestones on the way to its full development. Though the several forms of Music generated over the long periods differ in their form, content and intent, they do in fact represent a continued progression of a hoary tradition, each inspiring its next format. The Music of India, just as its philosophies and branches of art-forms, follows the path of continuity blending in the changes, without compromising its fundamentals.

1.2. The journey of this rich and varied Musical tradition could symbolically said to have commenced from the Riks of the Sama Veda associated with conduct of Yajnas , which then was improved upon by the Shiksha branch of the Vedas (Vedanga). That was followed the pure and chaste form of Music Marga or Gandharva with its gentle appeal to the gods. Then came the Gana of the Natyashastra with its several song-forms to suit various sequences that occur during the course of a Drama.

2.1. Thereafter the somber and rather inflexible Marga gave place to a comparatively relaxed art-music – Desi – derived from different regions of the country, aiming to delight the hearts of men and women. The Desi in its wake established the concept of Raga which in due time revolutionized the theories and practices of Indian Music. And, Raga became the central and predominant melodic concept in Indian music.  Over a period and with the proliferation of the Raga,  the systems of classifying the various Ragas into groups (Mela)  based on the technical traits of their scales (Svaras) came into vogue.

2.2. There arose various theories of characterizing the Ragas according to the mood or the season they seemed to represent,  and the  ideal time (  day , evening or night) to sing  the Ragas. And, the Ragas even came to be personified, treating them as male or female,  each endowed with its own individual traits and appearance. A large number of music-treatises were concerned primarily with the iconography of the Raga; and, were eager to connect the Raga with a deity or a season or a mood or even an environment.

2.3. Emmie Te Nijenhuis observes : For a full understanding of the development of musical forms in India one has to consider not only the technical elements of a composition, such as: its phrasal elements (Taala, Pada, Svara, Pata, Virudu and Tena), its main musical section (Dhatu) or its poetical metre, but also its general character, its subject matter and social environment . Unfortunately the Sanskrit texts do not contain information on some these aspects.

One has to therefore go behind the texts and try to understand their cultural and social background , fathom their inspirations   as also motivations

3.1. Much before the theories and concepts of Raga were fully developed, one of the major forms of Desi Sangita that came to fore was the Prabandha, which in its myriad forms dominated the Music scene of India for more than about thousand years till the end of the seventeenth century. In between, the Persian influence remodeled the forms and the ways of singing classical Music in North India. The ancient Dhruva-pada (Dhrupad) a Desi form of Prabandha gave place to improvised lyrical Khyal and other popular modes of singing.

3.2.  In the South India, the Prabandha which was getting rather rigid gave place, by about the end of seventeen century, to varieties of musical forms that were free flowing and not unduly constrained by rules of Grammar and meter. Though the form and the presentation of the songs took new shapes, they still retained, in one way or the other, the basic elements of the ancient Prabandha. This has helped to keep alive the ancient traditions.

4.1. By the second half of the 17th century the ancient Music that figured in Natyashastra was no longer in practice. The system of 17th century was closer to the one in present day. The texts of this period usually began with the traditional description of the scales (Svara) in terms of the 22 Srutis   and associated Ragas.

4.2. The eighteenth century could be said the golden age of Karnataka Sangita. The period not merely gave birth to significant texts that re-defined Music theories (Lakshana) and practices (Lakshya) but also witnessed the flowering of various Music forms such as : Kirtana, Kriti, Daru, Varna , Padam , Javali, Thillana, Naamavali  and so on. The most fortuitous occurrence or the heavenly blessing of this period was the sublime Music created by the Trinity of Karnataka Sangita who flourished around the same time.  It is, fundamentally, their Music that has given form substance and identity to the Karnataka Sangita and all other related art-forms that are practiced today. We all owe those Great Masters a deep debt of gratitude.

Let’s try to gain brief familiarity with some of the art-music that branched out of the Prabandha. Among those forms, I reckon, Daru seems to be older. Let’s begin with Daru.



Dance Drama

5.1. It is said; the Daru songs were derived from the ancient Dhruva songs (stage-songs) described in the thirty-second chapter of Bharatha’s Natyashastra.

During the times of the Nayaks of Tanjavuru the Yakshagana, Bhagavatamela Nataka and such other dance dramas were popular. And, Daru songs were widely employed in all these forms of dance dramas (geya-nataka). Some of the earliest Daru songs that have come down to us are from Vijayaraghava Nayaka’s Yakshagana Vipranarayana Charita (1633 – 1673).

Daru that is commonly used in Dance Dramas, is basically a story-song (Akhyana or a ballad) narrating an event. Therefore, lyrics (Sahitya) are an essential part of Daru song.

5.2. As regards their format, some Darus may have Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and Charanas; while some others may just have only the Pallavi and Charanas (i.e. without Anu-pallavi). All the Charanas may have the same Dhatu, the musical element. The Tempo (Laya) of a Daru is usually the Madhyama-kaala; but, some are also sung in Vilamba-kala to suit the dramatic event. As regards the Taala, the Chapu Taala is most favored in Geya Natakas (say, as in Nauka Charitram of Sri Tyagaraja).  The other Taalas used were Adi and Jampa.

5.3. The music of Daru songs is usually simple with no elaborate improvisations such as Raga Sancharas or Sangathis.  The Rakthi Ragas are mostly used to bring out the mood and emotion of the scene. The Saurastra Raga seems to have a favorite of the composers.

Classification of Darus

6.1. Darus have been classified into various types depending on their functions. For instance; Svagatha Daru is for a character musing aloud (sotto voce) or a soliloquy speaking to herself/himself softly, aside, rather in a private manner.  Pralapa Daru is for sorrowing or wailing situations. Heccarika Daru is for heralding the entry of the King, alerting the assembled courtiers. Paada-vandana Daru is for respectfully approaching the deity in a temple, as also for retreating, step by step. And, Samvada Daru is for conversations in musical form between two main characters.

6.2. Jakkini Daru has an interesting format. It commenced with Jaati-Svaras (series of notes, sol-fa); and, the words (lyrics) were in the second section of the song. Jakkini was a popular form of Daru during the time of Nayaks. And, in due time, Jakkini Daru gave raise to Tillanas.

6.3. Some Darus (like Tendral Daru, Vennila Daru and Manmatha Daru) were love-songs portraying erotic moods (Sringara Rasa).   Such Darus in lighter moods were the forerunners of the later Javali dance songs.

6.4. Sri Melatturu Venkatarama Shastry who was a senior contemporary of Sri Tyagaraja  is said to have composed as many as twelve  Dance Dramas (Bhagavatha Mela Nataka) employing the Daru-songs. And, the Kuchhipudi dance dramas also employ Daru-songs in their narratives.

6.5. Among the Trinity of Karnataka Music, Sri Tyagaraja in his Dance Drama ‘Nauka Charitram’ used Daru-songs. For instance; one of its Daru –song ‘Indu kemi’ set to Varali Raga in Chapa Taala is of Samvada Daru type. Here, two characters speak alternatively (Uttara – pratyuttara) through songs.

[Independent of the dance dramas, Sri Tyagaraja is said to have composed a Daru (Nee saathi) in Raga Sriranjani. But, its authorship is questioned.]

[And, none of Sri Tyagaraja’s disciples seem to have attempted a Daru.]

Sri Mutthuswamy Dikshitar has also composed a Daru in Sriranjani Raga ‘Na sari sati’ set to Rupaka Taala; and, it is in Telugu. It is one of Dikshitar’s rare compositions in Telugu. The Anuprasa (rhyming) is delightfully phrased in the terms valabu, solabu and kolabu etc. There is an allusion to an anecdote related to churning of the sea that gave forth Amrita (divine nectar)   in the phrase: ’vasavadi amarulella Vamri svarupametti Vasudeva garvamanji’.

Among the later composers, Sri Harikesanallur Muthayya Bhagavatar who was musician in the court of Sri Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the Maharaja of Mysore, has composed four Daru Varnas, Two of which are in Telugu; and, the other two are in Kannada. They contain Jaatis, Svaras as well as Sahitya. Here, the first passage in Svaras is followed by Jaati, which then are followed by Sahitya. Of these, the Daru-Varna in Kannada set to Khamas Raga and Chapu Taala (Mathe Malayadwaja pandya samjate matanga vadana guha) is very popular.

[The name of the Raga Khamas when sung repeatedly in succession sounds ‘Sukhama’].

[For more; Please see: Darus in Carnatic Music by Dr. Gowri Kuppuswami and Dr. M Hariharan; Published in ‘Shanmukha’, October 1986 (Vol.XII; No.4)]



7.1. Until about the beginning of the eighteenth century, Prabandha was the dominant form of Music. It also played an important role in the development of dance and dance-drama. Prabandha, essentially, is a tightly structured (Nibaddha Samgita) musical composition that is governed by a set of rules. Venkatamakhin in his landmark work Chaturdandi Prakasika (ca. 1635) describes Prabandha as a composition having specific characteristics; and, that which is well composed – ‘prabandhayeti Prabandha’. However, the definition was narrowed down to include only those compositions which are made up of Six Angas or elements (birudu, pada, tenaka, pāta and tāla) and Four Dhatus or sections (Udgrāha, Melāpaka, Dhruva and Abhoga).

The structure of a Prabandha, by its very nature, had to adhere to a prescribed format. In general, the emphasis appeared to be more on the text than on the musical content. The faithfulness to the form was, at times, carried to its limits. And, the Prabandha form, in due course, grew rather rigid.

And, Prabandha, naturally, had to give place to improvised, easier and innovative (manodharma samgita) forms of music having distinctive features of their own. Yet; it is the basic elements of Prabandha that provide guidelines even to the modern composers of classical music.

[Most of the medieval Prabandha-s eventually disappeared because of the stiffness of their musical construction. Yet; it should also be mentioned that Prabandha helped the Karnataka music, enormously, in ensuring continuity of its ancient tradition.]

7.2. With the steady decline of Prabandha and rise of regional languages, a range of musical compositions and rhythmic variations began to take place. Those with lighter and attractive musical content set in simpler words easy to understand gained popularity as Kirtana-s or Padas. And, those Prabandha-s composed in high literary style and loaded with religious themes passed into realm of religion.

7.3. As said; the Kirtana form of Music that began to flourish towards the end of fourteenth century was basically devotional Music aiming to invoke Bhakthi in the hearts of common folk. Its Sahitya (lyrics) clothed in simple music abounds in Bhakthi-bhava. It usually is a prayer or a Namavali (stringing together various names and epithets of the deity) or is a song ideally suited for group singing (Samuha-gana or Bhajana).

7.4. The Kirtanas do have musical sections such as Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and usually more than two Charanas. The entire Kirtana is usually set to one traditional and melodious Raga in simple Taala; and is rendered in Madhyama-kaala.   In a Kirtana, Music per se is neither explored nor interpreted. Music, here, is but a charming, delightful vehicle to convey the devotional content of the song.

7.5. Among the Saint-poets and composers (Vak-geya-kara) who composed Kirtanas in soul-stirring music preaching devotion and submission to the Lord, the prominent were: Sri Sripadaraya (1403-1502), Tallapakkam Sri Annamacharya  (1408 to 1503), Sri Vyasaraya (1447-1539), Sri Vadiraja (1480-1600) , Sri Purandaradasa (1484-1564) , Kshetrayya (or Kshetragna) (1600–1680), Bhadrachalam Ramadasu (1620-1688)   and  Sri Raghavendra Tirtha (1623- 1671) . However, the original tunes of many of their songs are lost to us.



8.1. As said, Kirtana was the popular form of Music during 15-17th centuries. It was followed by the Kriti format which eventually stabilized and attained perfection by about the middle of the 18th century.

Kirtana and Kriti are often used as alternate or interchangeable terms. But, they are not the same; and, there are differences between the two. But, these two together form the major corpus of the main stream of Karnataka Sangita.

8.2. A Kriti is explained as that which is constructed (yat krtam tat kritih). It is primarily a pre-composed music (kalpitha Samgita), which aims to delineate the true nature of a Raga in all its vibrant colours.  In Karnataka Samgita, a Kriti comprising Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and Charanas, honouring the disciplines of Grammar and Chhandas, and set to appropriate Taala is the most advanced form of musical composition.

8.3. If Kirtana evokes Bhakthi Rasa, Kriti aims at perfection of Gana-Rasa. Kriti depicts shades of various emotions and Rasa-s including Bhakthi. Kriti can express even sorrow-Karuna (e.g. Evari mata–kambhoji); wonder–Adbhuta (Enta muddo– Bindumalini); frustration or disgust – Jigupsa (Chedi buddhi – Adana); resignation or despairBibhatsa (Eti Janma – Varali). And, the expansion of such emotions is more complex, subtle and technically almost perfect.

8.4. The elaboration of a Kriti is complex for other reasons too. It might involve many Kaala-pramanas (tempos). And, quite often, a Kriti may be composed in rare or untested Ragas perhaps because the composer either strives to demonstrate his technical virtuosity or to match the subject and the text of the Kriti with a Raga of an equally aesthetic quality. Many times, a Kriti assigns the Raga greater importance than to its words. It might be trying to employ the Raga with its Gamakas to express the intent (bhava) of its Sahitya more effectively. Further, Kritis are also often structured in complex Taala patterns.

And, it is up to the genius of the performer to bring out the various facets of the Kriti as well as she/he could achieve.  Therefore, a Kriti can effectively be rendered as a solo rather than as group-song (in contrast to the Kirtana).

9.1. Kriti is conceived as a well chiselled work of art; an ideal harmony of Mathu (words) and Dhatu (music-element).  In an excellently well composed Kriti, the bhava of the words has to fuse with the bhava of the Raga, and the two have to become one.  Therefore, the performer is not expected to meddle with it or deviate from the structure laid down by the composer. And yet; a Kriti provides ample scope to the performer to draw out her/his creative (Mano- dharma), innovative expressions in Raga and Laya. A gifted performer transforms a Kriti into his own inspired self-expression, investing it with his creative skill, well crafted Gamakas and Alamkaras.

9.2. Having said that let me also add there are varieties of Kritis. There is no prescribed number of sections or prescribed the length to define a Kriti. Some are short as in the case of some of Sri Dikshitar’s Kritis where the Anu-pallavi and Charanam are fused into one Samasti-charanam. Sri Tyagaraja, on the other hand, at times, adds extra Charanams. At the same time, in some of his Kritis the last two lines of the Charanam are rendered just like the Anu-pallavi.


9.3. Kritis are set in different speeds, Ragas, Taalas, lengths and levels of proficiency. Some Kritis allow scope for elaboration while others are crisp. Some are scholarly, while some others just project sweet melody with simple words of devotion (Madhura Bhakthi).

9.4. While the Kritis in Karnataka Sangita are generally rendered in Madhyama Kaala, some of Sri Dikshitar’s Kritis commence in Vilamba Kaala, but, brisk and enlivening passages are built into the Kriti towards the end. Similarly in the case of Kritis of Shyama Shastry a performer can do justice only if she/he grasps the delicacy of Gamakas of his Ragas and renders in slow, contemplative tempo.

9.5. It is also said; A Kriti can also be sung with or without Sangathi or Niraval or Svara Kalpana. Because, it is said, a Kriti should essentially be beautiful by itself; and, should sound sweet even without elaborations and ornamentation (nirabharana saundarya).

10.1. One of Sri Tyagaraja’s significant contributions to Karnataka music is the perfection of Kriti format, which was, at that time, evolving out of the shadows of the older Prabandha and its immediate predecessor Kirtana or Pada. Amazingly, Sri Tyagaraja as also Sri Dikshitar and Shyama Shastry, independent of each other, all contributed to the development of Kriti form, although they did not seem to have met or corresponded.

[Prior to the time of Sri Tyagaraja (say, 17th century) composers of great reputation such as Muthu Tandavar and Margadarsi Sesha Ayyangar had experimented with the Kriti format. And, it was the celebrated Trinity of Karnataka Samgita that, later, perfected it. ]

10.2. Sri Tyagaraja in his song Sogasuga mridanga talamu (in Raga Sri Ranjani) provides an outline of how a Kriti should be, in its form and in its content. In this song, he says that a  Kriti should be couched in words ( nija vākkulatō ) conveying the pure spirit of the Upanishads (nigama siro-arthamu) ; should have correctness of musical notes (swara śhuddhamutō)  of the ragas in which they are set; should have pleasant (sokkajeya ) rhythm that is enjoyable (Sogasuga mridanga talamu ); should be marked by beauties of alliterations and successive increases and decreases of notes and syllables , as also pauses (Yati Visrama) ; it’s  literary expressions should nurture  cultivation of true devotion (Sadbhakti ) and dispassion (virati ); and, it  should be adorned with  grace and simplicity embodying  all the nine (nava) Rasas or aesthetic moods.

10.3. In number of his other songs; he explains how Music is indeed the expression of the primordial Nada; how music originates in mind and body; and, how music should be presented. According to him, enjoying music is Sukhanubhava – a tranquil delight.


11.1. One of the innovations of Sri Tyagaraja to improve the aesthetic beauty of Kriti –rendering was the Sangathi.  A Sangathi (lit. putting together) is essentially a set of variations on the shades of a theme, gradually unfolding the melodic (Raga) potential of a phrase (Sahitya) in combination with Svaras. 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).

11.2. 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.)

11.3. Though the 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 kaala 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)].

11.4. 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 Svaras, 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 –Svaras.

Raga Taana and Pallavi


12.1. Raga Taana Pallavi is regarded the most mature form of presentation in Karnataka Sangita. Raga here stands for Alapana or elaboration, the Anibaddha Sangita. It is the Music that is not fettered by words, meters or Taala.  Its excellence is limited only by performer’s virtuosity.  The performer after a slow contemplative phases delves into the depths of the Raga explores its various dimensions through his creative endower; and, ends on a high note.

12.2. After the Alapana the performer takes up Taana (comparable to Jor –Jhala in Hindustani Dhrupad and instrumental music). This involves boundless play on meaning-less syllables such as ta, na, nom, tum or tanam, etc. Taana is unique in the sense that with the rise in tempo, the performer improvises and builds into the melody various patterns of rhythms, without, however, the element of Taala. The Veena players invariably perform Taana; and, it is most delightful.

12.3. The third part is Pallavi, which is Nibaddha, structured by words, sections and Taala. Here the percussion player join in and do enjoy a greater role. The Pallavi ends in a series of kalpanaswaras.


[The Varna or Varnam that we are about to discuss is different from the technical term Varna (special note sequences that indicate different kinds of Svara- movements) we talked about earlier. The Varna or Varnam in the following paragraphs refers to a class of musical composition in Karnataka Sangita.]

13.1. Varnam is a short, crisp and tightly knit music-piece that aims to encapsulate the main features and requirements of a Raga. These are finely crafted exquisite works of art. The creation of a Varna calls for delicate craftsmanship, thorough knowledge of the Raga, its sanchara (movements) in various Kaala (tempos) , grasp over Taala and an overall sense of beauty and balance.

13.2. Varnams have been composed, since about eighteenth century, in all the major Ragas and most of the minor Ragas, in all the principal Taalas. Many Masters of Karnataka Sangita have composed Varnas. The prominent among them are: Pachchimiriyam Adiyappayya, Sonti Venkatsubbayya, Shyama Shastri, Swati Tirunal Maharaja, Patnam Subrahmanya Iyer, Ramnad Srinivasa Iyengar and Mysore Vasudevacharya.

[Varna is unique to Karnataka Sangita. The Hindustani Music does not seem to have its counterpart.]

13.3. Varna lays out the Grammar of a Raga. That is to say, it specifies the features and rules regarding the movement of the Raga (raga-sanchara), its scale, how each note of the Raga should be stressed and so on. A Varnam is therefore a fundamental form in Karnataka Sangita. It needs to be practiced well both by the learner and the experienced performer.

14.1. A Varnam is structured in two Angas (sections) : The Purvanga ( first section) comprises  Pallavi, Anu-pallavi, Mukhayi Svara; and The Uttaranga ( the latter section)  comprises a Charana that acts as a refrain for the latter part of the Varnam and Charana-svaras (Chittasvara) that are alternated with the Charanam.  Each section of a Varnam elaborates an aspect of the Raga (raga-svarupa).

14.2. A Varna does include Sahitya (lyrics); but, its role is secondary, merely supporting the music-content of the Varnam. The focus of a Varnam is on the Raga, its individual Svaras and Svara phases of various lengths and speeds. It is said; Varnam does not need the distraction of Sahitya.

14.3. The movement of a Varnam is strictly controlled; and, it’s rendering demands discipline.  Its focus is on the Graha Svara (initial note of the Raga), the Gamakas, the Sanchara (movement) of the Raga according to the prescribed format.

14.4. The Pallavi of a Varna starts on the lower end of the scale stressing on the most important Svara (Jiva Svara) in the opening phase of the Pallavi. The Anu-pallavi deals with the higher end of the scale . And, the Mukhayi Svara and Chittasvara – consist of meandering (Sanchari) chains of Svaras that explore both the upper and lower reaches of the Raga.

14.5. The rendering of a Varna employs all the three tempos. The first Charana Svara is rendered in Vilamba kaala (slow tempo) and each Jiva Svara must be highlighted. After which, the rest is sung in Madhyama kaala (half-time). Some musicians insert their own kalpanaswara passages. In the third Charana Svara, the Svaras are short and made into groups (avartanam) of four. Thus, in Charana, there are two or three Svaras of one avartanam, one Svara of two avartanam-s and finally one Svara of four avartanam-s.


15.1. As said earlier, practicing Varna is much required for the student as also for the experienced performer. For students, the Varnams that are taught at the intermediary level are useful for learning the Svaras of various Ragas, singing in multiple speeds rapidly; as well as learning the appropriate Gamakas.  Advanced students are taught Varnas in multiple Ragas or Taalas. They introduce the student to the proper combinations of Svaras for each Raga and inculcate discipline that is needed for singing.

Varna- rendering also helps to develop voice culture and in learning to maintain proper pitch and control over rhythm. The instrumentalists too can gain control over playing -techniques.

Among the early Adi Taala Varnams a student usually learns are: Ninnukori in Raga Mohana by Ramnad Sreenivasa Iyengar; Samininne in Shankarabharanam by Veenai Kuppaiyer; Evvari Bodhana in Abhogi by Patnam Subramania Iyer; and many others. In the later stages all student do learn to sing the celebrated Viriboni, in Bhairavi, set to Ata Taala by Pacchimirium Sri Adiyappayya.

15.2. In the concerts, a Varnam is most often the first or the second piece to be rendered. Though some consider it as a warm-up exercise, the correct rendering of Varna requires complete knowledge of the Raga.

16.1. Varnams are of three sorts: Daru Varnam, Pada Varnam and Taana Varnam. . The theme of these Varnams is usually Bhakthi (devotion) or Sringara (love).

We just spoke about Daru Varnam in the previous paragraphs of this article. Daru Varnams are special type of Varnams in whose Mukthayi Svaras; there are first the Svara passages, followed by the jatis which are then followed by the Sahitya.

16.2. Pada Varnam: As its name indicates there it has a greater element of Sahitya (Pada or words). Pada Varnams with elaborate Sahitya are difficult to grasp especially when set to difficult Ragas and Taala. But, Pada Varnams are in greater use in Bharatanatyam. Because, it’s Sahitya, expressions and Svaras in moderately slow pace is said to be suitable for choreography.

16.3. Taana Varnam: This does not have Sahitya for Svaras. It usually is of fast tempo (Druta and Tisra Gati). It is the sort of Varna that is meant as pure music, without the intervention of words. It therefore has fewer words than the Pada Varna. The difficult Taana Varnams are commonly chosen for rending in the concerts. The artists enjoy greater elaborations of Taana Varnams studded with Kalpana-svaras to enhance to beauty of the Raga.

Gitam, Svarajati and Jatisvaram

17.1. Just as the Varnam, the Gita and Svarajati have rhythm matching each syllable of the Sahitya to one Svara.

17.2. Gitam is the simplest type of composition. Taught to beginners of music, the Gitam is very simple in structure with an easy and melodious flow of music set in simple Taala.

17.3. Svarajatiis are learnt after a course in Gitams. More complicated than the Gitams, the Svarajati prepares the student for the Varnams. . It consists of three sections, called Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and Charanam. Svarajati does not offer much scope for elaboration of neraval etc since it is in a tight knit form. It bound by rules. Its Svara patterns are aligned with Sahitya in a graded manner. It was the genius of Shyama Shastry that endowed Svarajati with Raga bhava.

17.4. Jatisvaras are similar to the Svarajati in musical structure. However, – Jatisvaram-has no sahitya or meaningful words. The piece is sung with sol-fa syllables. its rhythmical excellence and the jati pattern used in it are its strength.  . This is a musical form belonging to the realm of dance music. In some Jatisvarams, the Pallavi and Anu-pallavi are sung to Jatis and the Charanas are sung to a mixture of Svaras and jatis. There are also Ragamalika Jatisvarams.]

Pada or Padam


[Pada hereunder does not merely refer to ’word’; but, it also refers to a type of song that was prevalent during 17th-18th century.]

18.1. Pada or Padam were sung during Dance as they offered scope for subtle expressions through face and gestures (Abhinaya). During the times of Nayaks of Tanjavuru, Dance and Dance related music were popular because of their sweet music and aesthetic appeal. Most of the poets, musicians and Natyacharyas attached to the King’s Court were engaged in scripting songs and composing music for dance related music-forms such as Pada, Jakkini, Javali, Chintamani, Perani etc than with the art-music. Almost all forms of dance related compositions that are in vogue today are derived from this period. Its form has remained almost unchanged.

18.2. Most of the Padams were composed in regional languages, majority of them in Telugu and some in Tamil. The theme of a Padam would usually be Madhura Bhakthi devotion colored with tender love or suggestive romance. Theoretically, this sort of Bhakthi tinged with Sringara was projected in its two aspects: Antar Sringara, the unseen sublime relation between the Universal Soul (Paramatma) and the Individual Soul (Jivatma) that is guided by the Guru, the spiritual mentor; and, the Bahir Sringara was the explicit romantic relation between the Hero (Nayaka) and the Leading Lady (Nayika) that is aided and abetted by the Lady’s maid (Sakhi). Though all the nine Rasas (Nava Rasa) were portrayed in a Padam, the Srinagar (erotic or romantic love) was the dominant Rasa and the theme.

[The terms Pada and Kirtana seem to be used synonymously in this period .And, later the compositions with Sringara content came to be known as Pada; and, those with element of Bhakthi as Kirtana.]

19.1. The music   of the Padam is generally slow-moving, arousing with an appeal to ones delicate sensibilities. The natural flow of music goes along with tender and evocative words of the song. The Padam aims to blend the music, the words and Abhinaya the dance expressions into a harmonious and very enjoyable art-experience.

19.2. The Padam, when sung, presents an epitome of the raga in which it is composed. Ragas specially noted for evoking typical rasa bhava are commonly employed in Padam. They usually are the mellow and serene Ragas such as: Anandabhairavi, Sahana, Nilambari, Ahiri, Ghanta, Mukhari, Huseni, Surati, Sourashtram and Punnagavarali.

19.3. The Taala of a Padam is rather subdued, not intruding into the mood or the bhava of the song. The Sangathi too are gentle and elaborate; and, not vigorous or energetic.

A Padam also has the sections: Pallavi, Anu-pallavi and Charana.

20.1. Among the Pada composers, Kshetrajana is renowned for his Sringara Pada-s. Some of the poets in the Maratha Court at Tanjavuru like Giriraja Kavi were also noted Padam composers. He is said to have composed many Sringara Padas employing Desi Ragas like Brindavani.  He was followed by Vasudeva Kavi, Soma Kavi and Rama Bharathi.

Kshetrajna- Indian Music composer

20.2. The Maratha kings themselves (Thulaja I, Ekoji II, Sarabhoji II and Shahaji) are said to have composed several Padas, musical operas, Kuravanji’s, Daru, Yakshagana Natakas etc.


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21.1. Javali in its nature is similar to Padam. The Javali too involves the characters of Nayaka, Nayaki and Sakhi; but, unlike in Padam, there are no symbolisms here. The Sringara portrayed in Javali is overt. It is meant to titillate the patron.


21.2. They are basically dance-songs set in Madhyama kaala with attractive tunes and crisp Taala. Lighter Desi Ragas like Paraz, Kapi, Khamas, Behag, Jhinjhoti, Tilang, etc that   are simple and melodious are used in Javalis. They are not burdened with technical complexities as alapanaineraval or kalpanaswaras; and, in a concert they are sung towards the end as a way of relaxation.



22.1. Tillana, again, is a dance oriented song format. It makes use of Mrudanga Jathis in Pallavi and Anu-pallavi. The emphasis is on brisk rhythm, lively movement and not on Sahitya or Manodharma. Percussions have greater role to play in Tillana. It is said; the life of a Tillana is in its rhythm (Laya). The composers played around music-sounds such as tha, thai, theem, thakadhimi, or kitathakatharikitathom, quite generously.

22.2. The Jathis are articulated throughout the piece. The Charanam has usually epithets (Birudu) saluting the deity or the patron. It is tight knit composition that is rendered in just the way it is composed. Tillana exude with joy, celebration or exuberance; and, it is not meant for other Rasa such as sorrow etc.

22.3. The Tillana corresponds to Tarana of Hindustani music. It is a favorite of Veena players.   In a concert Tillanas are sung towards the end, before the Mangalam (benediction), just to make up the variety.



23.1. The forms of song-formats in Indian Music, right from Sama-gaana to the present-day, are truly countless, as we have seen from this and the earlier posts in the Series. As Dr. Ramanathan observes; form is actually a codification of various musical aspects that has been abstracted from Musical structures and prescriptions as given in the texts.

23.2. To repeat; though the several forms of Music generated over the long periods differ in their form, content and intent, they do in fact represent a continued progression of a hoary tradition, each inspiring its next format. The Music of India, just as its philosophies and branches of art-forms, follows the path of continuity blending in the changes, without compromising its fundamentals

23.3. That is to say the Forms in Karnataka Sangita are the representations or the expressions of theoretical principles that governed each stage of its evolution over the centuries. The Forms and formats change to suit their adopted environment; but, the principles behind them remain true and lasting.

In the next two parts, lets briefly take a look at the various Lakshana Granthas (from Dattilam to Chaturdandi prakashika) that have defined, guided and protected Karnataka Sangita.



Lakshana Granthas-1

Sources and References

  1. 1. Darus in Carnatic Music by Dr. Gowri Kuppuswami and Dr. M Hariharan; Published in ‘Shanmukha’, October 1986 (Vol.XII; No.4)
  2. The charisma of composers BY T.M. Krishna
  1. Form in Music by Prof. Dr. N. Ramanathan
  2. 4. Carnatic Classical Music – Centre for Cultural Resources
  3. Carnatic music
  4. All pictures are taken from the Internet. I gratefully acknowledge the sources.

Posted by on May 27, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Eleven

Continued from Part Ten – Anibaddha, Nibaddha and Prabandha

Part Eleven (of 22) – Prabandha

As said earlier, the major types of Prabandha were counted as four: Shuddha Suda, Salaga Suda, Alikrama and Viprakirna.


1.1. The two major types of Prabandha – Shudda and Salaga – are usually mentioned with the suffix Suda. However, it appears the term Suda was not in use during the early stages, say in the 5th century. For instance; Matanga in his Brhaddeshi does not employ the term Suda. He merely lists out the phrases: Ela, Karana, Dhenki Vartani, Jhombada, lambaka, Rasaka and Ekatali

But, the term Suda has been in active use since 11-12th century in the works of Somesvara (Ca, 1130), Haripaladeva (Ca.1175), Prasvadeva (Ca.1200) and other writers who preceded Sarangadeva (13th century).

And, Sarangadeva  was the first to present the class of Suda systematically, lending it a theoretical base.  (However, he did not seem to have defined the term Suda). For about 300 years thereafter, the terms and descriptions provided by Sarangadeva were adopted by all the later authors.

2.1. Later in the 15th century, Kallinatha (Ca.1440) in his Sangita kalanidhi explains the term Suda as a Desi shabda (regional or vernacular term) that signifies a particular group of songs (Gita-vishesha-samuha-vachi) –

Suda iti Gita-vishesha-samuha-vachi Desi sabdah.

Venkatamakhin (Ca.1650) also describes Suda in almost similar terms, calling it Deshiya Sabda (vernacular term) which stands for a type of songs –

Suda ityesha desiya-shabdo gitaka vachakah.

There is another explanation where Sudu is said to be a Kannada term meaning ‘ a small bundle of grass’ ; and it signifies knotting together (  ekatra-gumpham ) of different Taalas .

2.2. Mahamhopadyaya Dr. R .Satyanarayana surmises that since both Kallinatha and Vekatamakhin hailed from Kannada country, Suda may have been an Old -Kannada term derived from the root Sul (meaning sound in old Kannada). And, Suda denoted a group of certain type of songs.

The elements of   Prabandha – Anga and Dhatu


prabandha (1)


General features

3.1. Prabandha in the early texts has been explained or identified with reference to its general physical features.

Parshvadeva  (10-11th century) defines Prabandha as the Giti-s (songs) that are made of four Six Angas or Avayava (limbs or organs) and four Dhatus (substance or elements) –

chaturbhir- dhatubhih shadbhishcha-angairyah syat prarbandhate tasmat prabandhah”.

3.2. Somesvara (Ca. 1126–1138 CE) in his Manasollasa confirms and expands further. And, Sarangadeva (Ca.1230) in the fourth Canto of Sangita-ratnakara sums up the formal features of Prabandha as: Six Angas (Svara, Birudu, Pada, Tena, Paata, and Taala) which like the limbs of a body are the integral parts of a configuration called Prabandha; and four Dhatus (Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva and Abhoga) which are like substances or elements that regulate the proper working of the body.

3.3. Among the Angas: Svara signifies the notes (sol-fa passages); Birudu stands for  words of praise, extolling the subject of the song and also including the name of the singer or the patron;  Pada the meaningful  words; Tena or Tenaka are vocal syllables , meaningless and musical in sound with many repetitions of   the syllables like Te and Tna conveying a sense of  auspiciousness (mangala-artha-prakashaka); Pata vocalized drum syllables  or beats of the percussion and other musical instruments; and,  Taala is musical meter or the cyclic time units.


4.1. The Angas and Dhatus were explained with reference to organs and elements of the human body

Of the  six Angas, it was said :  Tena and Pada, reflecting auspiciousness and meaning respectively are its two eyes; Pata and Birudu are the two hands because they are produced by the hands, the cause being figuratively taken for effect; Taala and Svara are the  be two feet as they cause the movement of the Prabandha.

As regards the Dhatus – Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva and Abhoga – were said to be  like the Dhatus ( energies or Doshas) of Vata (wind), Pittha (bile) and Kapha (phlegm) that support (Dharana) and sustain (Bharana)  body functions and the physical constitution; and, Prakriti   which is the basic nature of body.

Thus Prabandha, like a well functioning human body, with its textual, melodic and rhythmic components was conceived as  a well structured musical composition.

5.1. The Prabandha was also classified (Prabandha-Jaati) depending on the number and type of Anga-s that went into its structure. For instance; the Medini Jaati Prabandha has all the six Angas. The Anandini Jaati has only five Angas (in which pada and Taala along with any three other Angas are present).  Similarly, the Dipani Jaati four Angas (in which pada and Taala along with any two other Angas are present); the Bhavani Jaati  three Angas (in which pada and Taala along with any one other Anga are present;  and the Taravali Jaati has only two Angas ( in which pada and Taala are present) . No Prabandha could be conceived with only one Anga.

Similarly, Prabandha was also classified according to the number of Dhatu-s : Dvi-dhatu (Udgraha and Dhruva); Tri-dhatu (Udgraha, Dhruva and Abogha);  and Chatur-dhatu (Udgraha , Melapaka, Dhruva and Abogha).


6.1. The term Dhatu has many meanings such as substance (dravya), thing (Vastu) , element , layer, constituent part, ingredient, element etc. In the present context, Dhatu could be taken to mean an element or a  section or sections of a Prabandha composition.

6.2. Somesvara in his Manasollasa explains the four Dhatu-s:

: – Udgraha is the commencing section of the song. Here the song is first grasped (udgrahyate), hence the name Udgraha.

Udgraha is said to consist a pair of rhymed lines, followed by an ornamental passage; and, then by a passage of text describing the subject of the song. Thus there should be pair of lines in the Udgraha and also in the third section.

: – Melapaka is the bridge, the uniting link between the two Udgraha and Dhruva.

The Melapaka should be rendered adorned with ornamentation (Alamkara).

: – Dhruva is the main body of the song and that which is repeated. Dhruva is so called because it is rendered again and again(refrain); and, because it is obligatory or constant (dhruvatvat).  [It is also said ’the Dhruva is in the Udgraha itself – Udgraha eva yatra syad Dhruvah]

: – and, Abhoga is the conclusion of the song. Abhoga gets its name because it completes (Abhoga) the Dhruva. It should mention the name of the singer.

Once the Abhoga has been sung, Dhruva should be repeated.


6.3. Among the four Dhatus, the two – Udgraha and Dhruva – are essential and indispensable. And the other two, Melapaka and Abhoga may or may not be included.

6.5. In addition, there is an optional fifth Dhatu called Antara (or Antara-marga, the intermediate note) which connects Dhruva and Abhoga. (Antara was used exclusively in Salaga Suda).

[Antara-marga is described as an intermediate note which occurs somewhere in the midst of Jaatis. It is not a dominant note; and, it is employed rarely (alpatva) in the middle (madhye-madhye alpatva yujam). And when it is used it is not repeated much (anabhyasa). It brings in variety (vichitratva-kariny). And, as a rule it occurs in the modified (Vikrta) Jaati (krta sa antara-margah syat prayo vikrta Jaatishu).]

Rendering of a Prabandha

7.1. The scholars surmise that a typical Prabandha might have been rendered in the following sequence.

The opening Udgraha will begin with a couplet set to mater (Chhandas), in meaningful words (Pada) setting out the main theme of the song and continuing with elaboration of the melodic syllables (Svaras). Then, in the interlude which functions as the bridge (Melapaka), one may or may not have passages of Tena. Then comes the main section Dhruva set in meaningful words (pada) and meter (Chhandas) with appropriate Taala cycles. Here, the rhythmic element of the song gets more intense. Then, one could have an optional section (Antara) perhaps with rapidly recited Pata syllables – before coming to the concluding section. For the concluding section (Abogha), the Anga Birudu is required as the signature (Mudra) of the composer or singer or as a dedication to the patron. The performance could conclude with repletion (refrain) of main lines from Dhruva.

[Udgraha and Dhruva are taken to be the equivalents of the present-day Pallavi; Dhruva is also be the body of the Kriti. Melapaka is the bridge just as  of Anu-pallavi; and Abhoga as that of the concluding charana (stanza) with the Mudra (signature) of the composer.]

[The Dhrupad (Dhruva-pada) evolved from Salaga Suda Prabandha, which had five Dhatus namely Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva, Antara and Abhoga. Of these, the Abhoga, being very long was split into two sub parts the Sanchari and the Abhoga. The Dhruva was also dropped. The Dhatus of the Dhruva-pada-prabandha thus became Udgraha, Melapaka, Antara, Sanchari and Abhoga. Later Udgraha and Melapaka were combined into one division called the Sthayi.  Thus the modern Dhrupad has four divisions: Sthayi, Antara, and Sanchari Abhoga.]

Shuddha Suda

8.1. As mentioned, the ancient Prabandhas were arranged in four classes: (1) Shuddha Suda – the pure or the classic type; (2) Alikrama, the intermediate type to be inserted in Shuddha Suda ; ( 3) Salaga Suda the pseudo-classical  songs of mixed nature intended for art-music,  theatre and dance; (4) Viprakirna, separate or different type of songs.

8.2. Of these, the songs of the Shuddha Suda, governed by strict rules, were regarded as the classical musical suit of the middle ages. They had to conform to the prescribed Raga, Chhandas and Taala in addition to the other criteria as specified- (Ragadi –anyatyad asya shuddhatvam ishyate).

8.3. The Shuddha Suda was divided into eight types: Ela, Karana, Dhenki, Vartani, Jhombada, lambaka, Rasaka and Ekatali. While rendering, it had to consist between four and eight songs from among these eight types.  They were sung in Jaatis and Grama Ragas and their derived archaic Ragas.

9.1. It appears the Shuddha Suda songs were mainly prayers and songs that eulogise various virtues.


For instance; in the Ela the first song of the Shuddha Suda  , which have Chhandas, Alamkara and Rasa etc , praise the virtues of detachment (hana or vairagya), generosity (audarya), benevolence (saubhagya), heroism (shaurya) and courage (dhairya). The Ela songs were said to be blissful to the performer and to the person who figured as the main character in the song. It was said that by singing the Ela with devotion (bhakthi) and sincerity (shraddha) one would be blessed with the grace of the goddess Sarasvathi .And Varahi would increase the passion, Durga the ferocity and Indrani the regal valour.  It appears that Ela was not sung separately but as a part of suit of cycles (Suda) . It is said; Ela in praise of Goddesses Sarasvathi and others were sung in Raga Takka, Sriraga, Vasantha, Hindola, Malavakaisika and Kakubha. But, sadly no example of a suit having at least four songs ahs come down to us.


And, Jhombada compositions were rich in figures of speech (Alamkara). Several types of Jhombada which had ornate similes in which the dispositions and emotions the main character were described in terms of the idioms of experiences of the legendry (Puranic) figures. For instance ; the pains and pangs of separation in love were described through the suffering of Rama and Sita (Rama-jhombada); the joy of the lovers in their meeting as the love of Krishna and Malathi (Madhava jhombada); love in sublime union as of Vishnu and Lakshmi (Purushottama jhombada); , anger and fury of the king destroying enemies as that of the Rudra (Rudra jhombada) ; and,  the victorious  King returning from the battle glowing with  pride as the  glory of Shanmukha the Commander of the Divine forces (Shanmukha jhombada)  and so on

Some jhombada songs were meant for special occasions, such as : Nandi jhombada to please gods at the beginning of a theatrical performance to please gods; Sapeksha jhombada : to seek special favours from  the King  etc


The Rasaka songs under Shuddha Suda were similar in structure to Jhombada song. They also had the first section (Udgraha), bridge phase (Melapaka), refrain (Dhruva), conclusion (Abogha) , and again  refrain– punar-punar-upadana –   (Dhruva) or Udgraha; and in addition it would also have  an improvised introduction Aalap.

Srimad Bhagavatha (Canto 5, Chapter 31) provides rare examples of the Rasaka songs (of both the Shuddha Suda and Salaga Suda cycles) . They celebrate the celestial dance and songs of Krishna and the Gopis.


Karana songs had three Dhatu-s: Udgraha, Dhruva and Abogha (But not the Melapaka) . Dhruva was made of Pata (vocalized sounds or beats of the percussion) ; and auspicious (mangala)  sounding words  or  sounds like tenna-tena-tom . Karana was said to be of nine kinds.


Dhenki songs were set to combination of different Taala-s. In contrast, the stanzas Vartani songs were different Ragas.


The Ekatali songs of the Shuddha Suda consisted of Udgraha , Dhruva ,Abogha and Dhruva again. The first section of the Udgraha could have the structure of an Aalapa.

Salaga Suda

10.1. Salaga is the Apabhramsa (or the localized name) for Chayalaga (suggesting that it is a shadow of the Shuddha variety).  Salaga Suda was Niyukta Prabandha and belonged to Taravali Jaati because it had only two Angas– Pada and Taala. It also had only three Dhatus:  Udgraha, Dhruva and Abhoga (but not Melapaka). Hence, the Salaga Suda came to be known as Tri-dhatuka Prabandha; and, was considered pseudo-classical. And, the Salaga was set to Desi Ragas (Desi-ragadi-samabandat Salagatvam api smrtam). Yet, the Salaga Suda ranks high among the ancient type of refined songs.  Venkatamakhin, in his work, takes up only the Salaga Suda for the discussion on the Prabandha-s.

10.2. The seven types of Salaga Suda songs that Sarangadeva mentions in his Sangita –ratnakara are: Dhruva, Mantha, Prati-mantha, Nihsaru, Addatala, Rasaka and Ekatali. A similar classification is mentioned in Sangita-siromani and in Kumbha’s Sangita-raja.

Here, excepting Dhruva, all the other song-types are named after their Taala.

The Rasaka and Ekatali songs of the traditional Shuddha Suda re-appear in the Salaga Suda. Their Taala is still the same. but the musical setting of the main section  has changed.

In the Rasaka of Salaga Suda, the Udgraha (initial) section itself could be rendered as Aalapa or the Aalapa phrases could be used at the beginning , in the middle or  at the end of the Dhruva section.

In the Ekatali of the Salaga Suda, the Antara , which in the other songs of this class functioned as an optional section following the Dhruva, became obligatory and was sometimes performed with Aalapa phrases.

[  It is interesting to see how the Taala of the medieval mixed suit Salaga Suda found their way into the South Indian Music. In his treatise Sangita-sudhakara (Ca.1179) the Gurjara King Haripala describes seventy-six Prabandha songs. Among these songs one may recognize some compositions of the Salaga Suda class: Dhruva, Mantha, Jhampa, Addatala and Ekatala, but also other songs such as Rupaka and Tivida (= Triputa). The names of the seven songs called after their Taala correspond to the names of the seven Taalas of the modern Karnataka system.

In the songs of the medival Salaga Suda each Taala variety is associated with a particular Rasa.]


11.1. Of these seven varieties of the Salaga Suda compositions, the Dhruva type was  the prominent one.  And, the Dhruva was different from the others in its construction. The others also had similar structures but they lacked the invisible-auspicious benefits (adrustaphala).

11.2. Dhruva, in the context of Natyashastra, initially meant stage-songs, which formed an important ingredient of the play. Natyashastra mentions different types of Dhruva-s and their uses in different dramatic sequences. It is said; these were called Dhruva-s because their words, Varnas, Alamkaras and Jaatis were are all regularly (Dhruvam) connected with one another. . Dhruva is also explained as Nityatva and Nischalatva having a character of stability. Natyashastra describes five kinds of Dhruva-s : Praveshika, Nishkamanika, Prasidita , Akshepita , and Antara. They were, of course, employed depending upon the context in dramatic situations.

But, in Prabandha, the Dhruva Prabandha refers to a rigid and tightly knit structure consisting three sections or Dhatus (Udgraha, Dhruva and Abogha) and an additional section Antara, if needed.

Sangitaratnakara lists sixteen types of Dhruva Prabandhas:  1.Jayanta; 2.Shekhara; 3.Utsaha; 4.Madhura; 5.Nirmala; 6.Kuntala; 8.Chara; 9.Nandana; 10.Chandrashekhara; 11.Kamoda; 12.Vijaya; 13.Kandarpa; 14.Jayamangala; 15.Tilaka; and, 16.Lalita. The objectives of these songs were ,generally, the  attainment of auspicious (mangala–prada) things in life, such as : longevity, worthy progeny, progress in life, growth in luster, enhancement of intellect, enjoyment, victory, and securing ones desires etc.

Kallinatha in his commentary suggests a correction to the general rule. He tries to view the virtue of a composition in terms of its ‘meaning-content’- Akshara-artha and Pada-artha. He remarks that a composition which is ‘irregular’ (aniyama) in regard to the number of its syllables (akshara-sankhya) could still be considered as Dhruva Prabandha, if the Pada aspect is according to the rules. And, even otherwise, when the composition is irregular in regard to the number of words in the text (Pada-sankhya) , it can also be considered as Dhruva Prabandha if it is endowed with other virtues (guna) such as Rasa, Taala ,etc.  That perhaps was to suggest that the evaluation or classification of a composition did not entirely depend on the presence/absence of  certain structural components.

11.3. Dr. R. Satyanarayana explains that while rendering a Dhruva Prabandha a particular order was followed: First Udgraha containing only one section (only one Dhatu), then a pause. Thereafter, the melodic element Dhruva is sung twice (refrain). If there is no Antara, Dhruva is followed by the Abhoga, sung once. This is followed by the Dhruva on which the song rests.

If there is an Antara, it is sung in any order at the pleasure of the singer; but, it should be followed by Dhruva, Abogha and Dhruva each rendered once in the same order.

[In the Ekatali song of the Salaga Suda, the Antara (which in other cases was an optional section) became obligatory and was sometimes performed with Aalapa phrase.

In the Rasaka of the Salaga Suda, the Udgraha section itself could be performed as Aalapa or the Aalapa phrases could be used at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of the Dhruva section.]

12..1. Dr. R. Satyanarayana explains that till about the 12th century, a Salaga Prabandha was often named after its Taala, since the Taala provided the rhythmic description of the song. In this manner, he says, we have Varnas which signify the names of a Nrtta, Vrtta, Taala and Prabandha.

Dhruva Prabandha, he explains, was unique in the use of Taala-s in that it employed nine separate Taalas, while they were sung as a series of separate songs. Thereafter, there came into vogue a practice of treating each song as a stanza (or charana as it is now called) of one lengthy song. And, it was sung as one Prabandha called Suladi. Thus, the Suladi was a Taala-malika, the garland of Taalas or a multi-taala structure.

There was also a practice of singing each stanza of a (Suladi) Prabandha in a different Raga. Thus, a Prabandha was a Taala-malika as also a Raga-malika.

12.2. Matanga mentions about Chaturanga Prabandha sung in four charanas (stanzas) each set to a different Raga, Taala and language (basha). Similarly, Sharabha-lila had eight stanzas each sung in a separate Raga and Taala.

12.3. Sarangadeva mentions several types of Prabandhas which were at once Raga- malikas and Taala-malikas: Sriranga, Srivilasa, Pancha-bhangi, Panchanana, Umatilaka, and Raga-kadamba.

12.4. The Raga malika, Taala malika and Raga-Taala- malika concept was adopted and improved upon by the Haridasa (Sripadaraya, Vyasaraya, Vadiraja, Purandaradasa and others) to produce series of Suladi songs.


13.1. It is said; the term Ali denotes a line or a row; Krama indicates the ordered sequence. It appears, the Ali when rendered along with or inserted into the Shudda was called Alikrama. The Alikrama Prabandha is, thus, a series of systematically arranged Prabandhas, perhaps ordered according to syllables (Varna) or Matraka (Akshara). It was believed such singing was equivalent to chanting the Mantras. The origin of such practice must have served a ritual as well as an artistic purpose. Manasollasa provides instances of the arranged Ali Prabandhas.

13.2. The Ali Prabandhas were twenty-four in number (Varna, Varnasvara, Gadya, Kaivada, Angacharini, Danda, Turangalila, Gajalila, Dvipadi etc. and when the Ali Prabandhas were combined with Suda they were said to be thirty-two. Several Ali Prabandhas were fused together to form a single Prabandha (in contrast to Viprakirna which were scattered and rendered individually).

13.4. Many songs of the Ali Krama were named after their Chhandas. In the Ali Krama songs some well known types of Chhandas from classical Sanskrit poetry, such as Arya, Totaka and Dvipatha as well as their Prakrit equivalents (Gatha, Dodhaka etc) were employed.

14.1. Some instances of Ali Prabandha are mentioned.

: – Krauncha-pada was a type that opened with Svaras (sol-fa syllables) in its Udgraha section followed by words in the Dhruva section. The Abhoga section carried words conveying the Prabandha name and the two signatures (Mudra).

: – The Svara-artha Prabandha of Alikrama had the seven Svaras arranged in such a manner that it would form a meaningful sentence in which the Prakrita words were also, often, used.

:- The Dhvani-kuttanl was a type of Ali Prabandha, in which two different Taalas were used in its two sections (Dhatu) , as a result the Laya also varied in its tempo. The sections were separated by a brief pause.

: – The Pancha-Tala -Svara Prabandha s of Alikrama class used to commence with an Aalapa. Five Padas out of all the Padas were repeated twice. The instruments such as Mujara-vadya ( a type of percussion) were used along with Pata (vocalized drum beats) . After each Khanda (section) of singing a different instrument was used.

: – The Raga-kadamba  Prabandha of the Alikrama class employed different types of Taalas with different Chhandas ( meter) while presenting a series (garland ) of Ragas.



15.1. Viprakirna conveys the sense of being scattered, disbursed, dishevelled or extended. The Viprakirna or the mixed class of Prabandhas were separate pieces of songs set in simple Chhandas and in simple words. Many Viprakirna songs were in the regional languages.

In the Viprakirna Manthaka songs, particular variety of Mantha Taala was used in combination with other musical metres or other varieties of the same Taala in each of the sections. The names of the songs indicate their subject: Lakshni-kirti, Hara-smaraka, Gauri-priya, Madana-vallabha .etc. There were also other   popular types of songs praying: for fortune (Sriprada, Srikara, and Sampathkara); for begetting sons (Putra-prada), for begetting daughters (Tanaya-prada), for mental peace (Mati-vilasa), for good for destruction of enemies (Shatru-mardana).

Several of the of the above mentioned auspicious Manthaka songs were performed in special Ragas. For instance ; Lakshmi-kirti in Raga Mallara; Hara-smaraka  and Gauri-priya  in Raga Kedara; Putra-prada in Panchama; Satpitaputra in Gurjari; Srikara in Sri Raga ; Tanaya-prada in Vasantha or Lalitha ; Rati-lila in Saurastra Raga and Shatru-mardana in Varali raga.

In due course, the Viprakirna replaced ancient complex songs of Shuddha Suda and Alikrama suits.

15.2. It is said; the North Indian poetical pieces such as Doha (Dohada) couplets and Caupai (Chatus-padi) the four lined songs were derived from the Viprakirna Prabandha. Similarly, in the South the devotional poetry of Kannada adopted meters of Tripadi and Shatpadi. In a like manner, each linguistic region of India developed its own types and forms of poetry, especially in devotional music.

16.1. The Viprakirna Prabandhas were said to be of thirty-six types, such as shrirariga, tripadi, chatushpadi, shatpadi, vastu, vijaya, Tripatha, Rahadi, Virasri, Srivilasa   etc.

Some instances of the Viprakirna Prabandha are mentioned.

: – Rahadi songs of the Viprakirna class were composed describing battle sequences in Vira Rasa.

:-In the Virasri of Viprakirna one stanza was composed in the spoken language (Basha pada) and the next was made of Birudu , the epithets or expressions of admiration.

: – Srivilasa songs of the Viprakirna employed five Ragas and five Taalas; while the Saranga songs were set in four Ragas and four Taalas.

:- Tripatliaka had three Dhatus (sections) composed of syllables of Vadya (Pata), words of praise (Birudu) and Svaras, in a serial order (karma).

: – Chaturanga was composed of four Dhatus (sections) each section was in different language, different Chhandas,  different Raga, different Taala .

:- Caccari songs were sung during the spring festival (Vasanthotsava) composed rhyming couplets in regional languages (Prakrit), set to Hindola Raga and Caccari –Taala or Krida-Taala. The rhythm was  of importance in these songs that were sung  with group dances.


Gita Govinda

TOP_EventCategory_Gita Govinda topband121214105922 (1)

17.1. While on the subject of Prabandha, I cannot resist talking about the most enchanting Gita-Govinda of Sri Jayadeva Goswami (about 1150 A.D). It is the most celebrated and the best loved among the Prabandha class.

17.2. Though it is recognized today as the sublime Shringara-mahakavya that lovingly describes the emotive sports of Sri Radha the Mahabhava highly idealized personification  Love and Beauty; and  Krishna the eternal lover (Sri Radha-Krishna lila) , it is basically a Prabandha composed of Anga, Dhatu, Sahitya, Raga, Taala, Murchana, Rasa and Bhava.

Sri Jayadeva at the commencement of his Khandakavya states that he is composing a Prabandha Kavya (Etam karoti Jayadeva kavih prabandham). The Ashtapadi (eight footed) is a Dvi-dhatu Prabandha, i.e. consisting two sections (Dhatu):  Udgraha and Dhruva.

The Gita Govinda abounds in a large number of song-sequences; and, each is titled as Prabandha viz. Prabandha-I, Prabandha-II etc. Yet; it is nearer to the Prabandha songs than to a Kavya (classic poetry).

Gita Govinda is the most enchanting collection of twelve chapters (Sarga). And, each Sarga commences with soulful a Sloka followed by one or two songs arranged in couplets. These songs are known as Giti, Prabhand or Ashtapadi, since most (but not all) employ eight couplets. Sri Jayadeva himself calls them as sweet and delicate Padavali-s (Madhura komala padavalim).

17.3. Gita Govinda in simple, delightfully lucid Sanskrit is one of the finest Khandakavya-s that is classified as a Prabandha.  At the same time, it is permeated with intensely devotional and delicate Madhura Bhakthi. The Gita Govinda was one of the inspirations of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprbhu who was steeped in Krishna-bhakthi; and, it  is the primary text of the Gaudiya Vaishnava School of Bengal.

The Gita Govinda one of the principle texts of the Bhakthi movement has also been a unique phenomenon in Indian music. This evergreen lyric sequence is set to music and rhythm by the poet himself. And, musically, each of the twenty-four songs or Prabandhas in Gita Govinda is set to a Desi Raga and a Taala. Sadly, we, now, do not know how the Raga mentioned therein actually sounded or what their scales were. His Ragas were : Malava, Gurjari, Vasantha, Ramakari, Malavagowda, Karnata, Desakya, Desivaradi, Gowdakari, Bhairavi and Vibhasa. And his Taalas were: Yathi, Rupaka, Eka, Nissara and Ashta.

There are many legends associated with Gita Govinda. For instance; in the nineteenth Ashtapadi, Krishna requests Sri Radha: The poison of love has gone to my head, Place your tender rose-colored feet on it to let the poison recede (Smara garala khandanam, Mama sirasi mandanam, Dehi pada pallava mudaaram).

After he wrote these lines, Sri Jayadeva wondered whether it was appropriate for Sri Radha to place her foot on the head of the Lord. Then, he promptly scored out those lines. And, next morning to his wonder and amazement those very lines appeared again in his script. Sri Jayadeva took that as the Lord’s blessing and approval of his Prabandha.

Jayadeva Goswami

17.4. The immense popularity of Gita Govinda is phenomenal . Each region and each language of India embraced with love and devotion; adopted it as its own; sang in its own chosen Raga; and, interpreted it in its own dance form.

Several poets , inspired by the Gita Govinda, have created lyrical poems in Sanskrit and in the regional languages, elaborating on parallel themes.

The most noted of such delicately beautiful poems (Madhura komala padavalim) are; Sri Krishna Lila Tarangini of Narayana Thirtha (Ca.16th century); Mahakavi Vidyapati Thakur’s (15th century) love-poems in Sanskrit and in Maithili; and, hundreds of Padavali-s in regional dialects by Vaishnava saint-poets.



Prabandha in Historical perspective

18.1. The Prabandha served as an extremely versatile, resourceful and ever changing musical format allowing scope for many of regional variations.  Prabandha as a class of Music had a very long and useful life spread over centuries. It was the dominant form of Music, Dance and other poetical works for more than a thousand years ending by 1700 AD or a little later.

The term Prabandha almost went out of use after the 17th century. And, in its later stages, Prabandha came to be understood as the final component of a four-fold system (Chatur-dandi) devised by Venkatamakhin: Raga; Thaya; Gita; and Prabandha.

[Strangely, it appears that while the Chatur-dandi was being written, Prabandha as a class of Music was almost on its way out.]

18.2. Although, Prabandha, as a genre, has disappeared, its influence has been long-lasting, pervading most parts, elements and idioms of Indian Music – both of the North and of the South. The structures, internal divisions, the elements of Meter (Chhandas), Raga, Taala and Rasa , as also the musical terms that are prevalent in the Music of today are all derived from Prabandha and its traditions. Many well-known musical forms have emerged from Prabandha.  Thus, Prabandha is, truly, the ancestor of the entire gamut of varieties of patterns of sacred-songs, art-songs, Dance-songs and other musical forms created since 17-18th century till this day.

18.3. For instance; the Dhrupad (Dhruva-pada) of the Hindustani Sangita Paddathi, which insists on maintaining purity of the Ragas and the Svaras, evolved from Salaga Suda Prabandha, which had five Dhatus namely Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva, Antara (optional) and Abhoga. Of these, the Abhoga, being very long was split into two sub parts the Sanchari and the Abhoga. The Dhruva was also dropped. The Dhatus of the Dhruva-pada-prabandha thus became Udgraha, Melapaka, Antara, Sanchari and Abhoga. Later Udgraha and Melapaka were combined into one division called the Sthayi. Thus the modern Dhrupad , rooted in Prabandha, has four divisions: Sthayi, Antara, and Sanchari Abhoga.

Dhrupad retained the essential nature of the Prabandha tradition of deep introspection in elaboration of the Raga and in expanding the rhythmic patterns.  Accordingly, the Dhrupad has continued to maintain the distinctions of Anibaddha (un-structured) and Nibaddha (structured) Gana through its Aalap and Bandish sections.

In the Prabandha, Tena or Tenaka , one of its  Six Angas, described as vocal syllables, meaningless and musical in sound with many repetitions of   the syllables or sounds like tenna-tena-tom, conveying a sense of auspiciousness(mangala-artha-prakashaka), was sung after rendering Ragalapti; but, before the main section of the Prabandha i.e. the Dhruva which was set in meaningful words (pada) and meter (Chhandas) with appropriate Taala cycles.

A similar practice was adopted in Dhrupad.  The Tena of Prabandha became the Nom tom of Dhrupad. It was elaborated after rendering the Alap but before taking up the Bandish.  The latter part of Alap slides into the more rhythmic nom-tom section, where the Raga develops with a steady pulse employing meaningless syllables such as nom tom dir tana etc, but without the binding of the Taala.

The counterpart of Nom tom in the instrumental music is the Jor –Jhala of Sitar.

Now, the term Bandish meaning the structure of the song is the re-formed name for Bandha of the Prabandha Music.  And, similarly, Vastu of Sangita-ratnakara took on the Persian name Chiz to denote either a text, or a text and its melodic setting.

The latter part of Bandish is the series of Improvisations executed mainly through playing on the words of the text by breaking it up, but keeping  the group of words , so formed distinct. This division of words synchronized with the beats and cross rhythms is called Bol- Bant. In addition, melodic ornamentations, such as meend and Gamaka are also employed for improvisation. And , with Pakhawaj  , Laya –bamt , an improvised and playful rhythmic patterns are woven in an enterprising manner.

18.4. In a similar manner , in the Karnataka Sangita , the Udgraha and Dhruva of the Prabandhas took on the name of Pallavi , while Melapaka , the bridge, came to be known as Anu-pallavi (that which follows the Pallavi).  The length of Dhatus (sections of the song) was extended by introducing the Antara as the second theme into Anu-pallavi. At the same time, the large number of sections (stanzas) was reduced. And, Abhoga the concluding section of the Prabandha became the last charana (stanza) of the Kirtana or Kriti accommodating the Mudra (signature) of the composer.

Tena that were originally used in the Tena-karana of the Prabandha lost their mystique nature and became meaningless musical syllables- Taana-s.

In the Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi , particularly in Veena , the Tanam , was derived from the Tena-karana  which was meant to be played on the Veena in the Nanda type of songs of the Viprakirna class of Prabandha. The  Taanam (played soon after the latter part of the Alapana)  is a particularly endearing segment of the Veena play of the Karnataka Sangita.

Svaras which had been prominent in the ancient Vartani and Svara –karana songs of the Shuddha Suda  and in Ali Krama  song Svarartha  re-appeared as Chitte Svara in Karnataka  Kritis;  and asSapta tan in Khyal of Hindustani Music.

The Neraval of Karnataka Sangita is similar to Bol- Bant of Dhrupad.

The application of the Drum syllables (Pata) once the a characteristic feature of the Paata and Bandha–karana of the ancient Shuddha Suda and of the vernacular Sukanku song of the Viprakirna led to the creation of new forms such as Hindustani Tarana and the Karnataka Tillana.

The simple devotional form Viprakirna type of Prabandha served as the model for various types of Padas, songs etc. In addition to the regular words (Pada) , the tone-syllables (Svara) , drum-syllables(Pata) , epithets (Birudu) , invocatory syllables (Tena) and musical meter (Taala) were used again for composing many song-forms in regional languages .

The Suladi and Ugabhoga songs of the Haridasa-s were derived from Salaga Suda Prabandha. And, Suladi Taala-s were also derived from the Prabandha practices.

The epithets Birudu which once had been the important element in the Birudu Karana of the Shuddha Suda and which mainly constituted the famous lauds (Namavali stotra) of Sanskrit literature (in the musical treatise called Stavana manjari) became the basic element of the Namavali and Divya nama Kirtanas of the Karnataka sangita.

As regards the Taala of the ancient Shuddha Suda, they found their way to the Karnataka Kirtana and Hindustani Dhrupad through the mixed forms of Salaga Suda, perhaps during the second half of the 12th century.

Thus, almost all musical forms in the realm of Karnataka sangita owe their origin to one or other types of Prabandhas. Many elements of the Prabandha found their re-birth in various musical forms such as Kriti, Kirtana, Varnam, Padam, Daru, Javali, Tillana etc.

19.1. By about the end of 17th century a realisation dawned on the musicologists and composers that Prabandha format had grown very rigid, laying more emphasis on the text than on the musical content; and, that the faithfulness to the form was, at times, carried to its limits.

19.2. And, Prabandha, naturally, had to give place to improvised, easier and innovative (manodharma samgita) forms of music having distinctive features of their own. Yet; here too, it is the basic elements of Prabandha that provided guidelines to modern composers of classical music.

19.3. Most of the medieval Prabandha-s eventually disappeared because of the stiffness of their musical construction. Yet; it should also be mentioned that Prabandha helped the Karnataka Sangita, enormously, in defining its  concepts and terms, specifying the structures of its songs , refining its Grammar  and in ensuring continuity of our ancient tradition.

In the next segment lets talk about the Desi Sangita and the Ragas.


Continued in Part Eleven

Desi Sangita



Sources and References

Indian Music: History and Structure by Emmie Te Nijenhuis

A History of Indian music by Swami Prajnanananda

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

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

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

Music and Musical Thought in Early India by Lewis Eugene Rowe

Kalātattvakośa: by Ramesh Chandra Sharma

Sangiti Sabda Kosa by Bimal Roy

Suladis and Ugabhogas  by  Mahamahopadyaya Dr. R .Sathyanarayana

Prathamopalabda Swarasahita Samkeerthana Sila Lekhanamu by I.V Subba Rao

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


Posted by on May 10, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part seven

Continued from Part six – Gandharva

Part Seven ( of 22 ) – Music in Natyashastra




Gandharva and Gana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let see this in a little more detail:

Svara, Taala, Pada and Phala


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


Before we speak of its Samgita a few words about Natyashastra

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[For more on Natyashastra please click here.]


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

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

[For more on Abhinavabharati please click here.]



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

9.2. The ‘Music’ that the Natyashastra talks about is indeed the Samgita. The term Samgita in the early Indian context denoted a composite art-form comprising Gita (vocal singing), Vadya (instrumental accompaniments) and Nrtta or Nartana the limb movement or dance (Gitam, Vadyam, Nrtyam Samgita-mucchyate). In the latter times, the scope of the term Samgita narrowed down to what we now call ‘music’. Dance became a separate art form. And, within Music the vocal remained the more dominant aspect. The instrumental music follows what is rendered vocally.

[The third component of Samgita (that is Nrtta, the limb movement) involves: Natya which refers to its physical aspects); and, Nrtya the expressive dance movements- in contrast to pure, abstract style of dancing.  The key ingredient in these is the elaborate gesture-language Abhinaya (lit. To bring near, that is to present before the eyes) which involves pose, gesture and facial expressions, finger movements foot work etc.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


Continued in Part Eight

— Dhruva Gana

Sources and References

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

By Ganesh Hari Tarlekar

Sonic Liturgy: Ritual and Music in Hindu Tradition

By Guy L. Beck

Poetics of performance by TM Krishna

Language of Sanskrit Drama Language of Sanskrit Drama by Saroja Bhate

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

Pictures are from Internet

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Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Three

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


Part Three (of 22) –  Overview (3)


Karnataka samgita

1.1. The Music of South India has come to be referred to as Karnataka Sangita, perhaps, since the 12th century. The Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (1127-1139 AD) in his Manasollasa (also called Abhjilashitarta Chintamani) calls the Music of his times as Karnata Sangita . This, perhaps, is the earliest work where the name Karnataka Sangita first appears. Later, Thulaja the Nayak ruler of Tanjavuru in his ‘Sangita saramruta’ (1729 – 1735) calls the Music that was in vogue at his time as Karnataka Samgita. That was, perhaps, because the authorities and the Lakshana-granthas he quoted in his work were authored by Kannada-speaking scholars.  Later, Sri Subbarama Dikshitar in his ‘Sangita-sampradaya-pradarshini’ (1904) refers to Sri Purandaradasa as ‘Karnataka Sangita Pitamaha’ (father of Karnataka Music).

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:- and,

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


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



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

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

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

Music Terms

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

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

Teaching Methods

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

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


Contribution of Haridasas

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

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



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

They all have contributed immensely to the development of Karnataka Samgita.

Pada, Suladi, and, Ugabhoga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trinity of Music



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

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

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

Today and tomorrow

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

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

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



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


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

power of Music

Continued in Part Four

Music of Sama Veda

Sources and References

ಕರ್ನಾಟಕ ಸಂಗೀತ’ದಲ್ಲಿ  ಕನ್ನಡ’

Important Treatises on Carnatic Music by Harini Raghavan

Haridasa s’ contribution towards Music


Posted by on April 22, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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