Tag Archives: Pundarika Vittala

The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Five

Continued from Part Four

Dance forms of India

ashtalakshmi2 (1)


Bharata, in his Natyashastra, discussed, in main, the Rupakas, the major forms of the Drama; and, the two genre of Dance formats – Tandava and Sukumara. His concern seemed to be, primarily, with the forms and styles that were dominant in the art-tradition of his time; and, particularly those that had the potential to display various modes of representations and to evoke Rasas. For him, the aspect of Rasa was central to the Drama.

Of the eleven essential elements of the Drama that he names, Rasa is of paramount importance; and deriving that Rasa is the objective of a theatrical performance. The other ten elements – from Bhava to Ranga – are the contributing factors for the production of the Rasa

rasā bhāvā hy abhinayā dharmī vtti pravttaya / siddhi svarā astathātodya gāna ragaś ca sagraha // BhN_6.10 //

Bharata, similarly, even in regard to Dance, described only those dance forms that he considered to be artistically well cultivated; leaving out the regional and popular varieties. In the process, Bharata did not deal with the many peripheral styles.

The Drama, a Drshya-Kavya, was formally known as Rupaka. Abhinavagupta explains Rupam as that which is seen by the eyes; and, therefore, the works containing such matter is Rupani or Rupaka. And, Dhananjaya in his Dasarupaka (ten forms of Drama)  explains :  it is called a Rupaka or a representation because of the acts put on by the actors (abhinaya)  by assuming (rupakam tat samaropad)  the forms of various characters  such as gods or kings  and men and women. And, it is called a show because of the fact it is seen (rupam drsyatayocyate). Thus, Drama is the reproduction of a situation (Avastha-anikrtir natyam), in a visible form (rupa),  in the person of the actors. Dhanika in his commentary , explains that the terms Natyam, Rupam and Rupakam can be treated as synonymous.

The Drama was classified into two types: Major (Rupaka) and Minor (Upa-Rupaka).

Under the Rupakas (major types of Drama) Bharata mentioned ten of its forms (Dasadhaiva). Of the ten, he discussed, in fair detail, only two forms –Nataka and Prakarana. Because, he considered that these two alone fulfilled all those requirements that were necessary for Rupaka (major type). According to Bharata, these two major forms alone depict varieties of situations, made up of all the four modes or styles (Vrttis) and representations. And, they alone could lend enough scope for display of Rasas (Rasapradhana or Rasabhinaya or vakya-artha-abhinaya). In contrast, the other eight forms of Rupakas deal with limited themes and rather narrow subjects; and, are also incapable of presenting a spectrum of Rasas. 

In the process, Bharata did not also discuss about the minor forms of the drama, the Uparupakas or Natyabhedas. These were a minor class of dramatic works, distinct from the major works; and, did not satisfy all the classic, dramatic requirements prescribed for a Rupaka or Nataka proper. Such minor class of plays (Uparupakas) handled only a segment of a theme or story (Vastu); and, not its full extent. It did not also, perhaps, employ all the four Abhinayas, in their entirety.


By the time of Abhinavagupta (Ca.11th century), the Dance had diversified into many more forms than were known during the time of Bharata. However, he mentions that even those innovative forms, indeed, continued to be rooted in the basic concepts laid down in the Natyashastra. And, in fact, he often cites idioms of dancing from such new categories, in order to illustrate Bharata’s concepts.

For instance; Abhinavagupta explains the nature of the delicate Sukumara Prayoga and of the gentle Kaisiki Vrtti, with reference to examples taken from Nrtta-kavya or Nrtya-prabandhas or Ragakavyas – musical compositions or narrative plays (classified under Uparupakas) beautified with  the elements of dance and music; and, which could be presented through expressive Abhinaya.

Abhinavagupta remarks; though the concept of minor dramas is absent in the Natyashastra, it is those minor classes of plays – Uparupakas, par excellence – in their varied forms, adorned with rich, melodious music, as also with graceful and delicate dance movements, which grew into becoming the main stay of the contemporary dance- scene.

Thus, Abhinavagupta, in his commentary, did mention the Upa-rupakas; but, he did neither define its essentials nor did he explain its features. He merely called them as Nrtta-kavya and Raga-kavya; meaning, the type of plays that are rendered through song, dance and interpreted through Abhinaya. In that context, Abhinavagupta mentions some plays of Uparupaka variety. He names them as: Dombika, Bhana, Prasthana, Sidgaka, Bhinika, Ramakrida, Hallisaka, and Rasaka. These minor dramatic works were of the nature of dance-drama, where the elements of music and dance were dominant.  But, Abhinavagupta had not discussed about those musical varieties.


Perhaps, the earliest reference to Uparupaka occurs in the Kama-sutras of Vatsyayana (earlier to second century BCE), which presents a guide to a virtuous and gracious living. Here, Vatsyayana mentions Uparupaka type of plays, such as Hallisaka, Natyarasaka and Preksanaka, which were watched by men and women of taste.

Rajashekara (8th-9th century) calls his Prakrit play Karpuramanjari, as a Sattaka type of Uparupaka. He explains that the play in question was not a Nataka, but resembled a Natika (a minor form of Drama). It was a single-Act play (ekankika); and, it did not contain the usual theatrical scenes such as: the pravesakas (entry-scenes) and viskambhakas (intermediary or connecting scenes). Here, in the Sattaka type of Uparupaka, music and dance were the principal mediums of expression. Even a major part of its spoken dialogues (Vachika) was rendered in musical form. And, the story of the play was composed by stringing together series narrative songs.

Bharata had also mentioned that  in a well rendered play, the song, dance,  action and. word follow one another in an unbroken flow; presenting a seamless spectacle as if there is neither an end nor a beginning , just as wheel of fire  (Alata chakra).

eva gāna ca vādya ca nāya ca vividhā aśrayam / alāta-cakra pratima kartavyayayoktbhi // BhN_28.7 //

That, in a way, sums up the characteristic nature of the dance-drama type of Uparupakas. Here, the stylized Natya-dharmi mode of depiction is dominant. And, even when Vachikabinaya is used, the emphasis is more on the Abhinaya rendered through gestures to the accompaniment of song and music; than on speech.

Such Uparupakas, while narrating an episode or a story, did use the elements of the Nrtta (abstract dance movements) along with the Abhinaya of the Nrtya. They were, thus, a specific form of Natya–  (Natyabheda) . They also provided ample scope for display of Bhavas and for evoking Rasa.

[ As Dr. Sunil Kothari observes in his research paper :

The technical distinction which Natyashastra makes between Rupakas and Uparupakas is that while the former presents a full profile of a Rasa with other Rasas as its accessories.  Further, in the Rupaka a full story was presented through all the dramatic requirements and resources fully employed. But in the Uparupaka only a fragment was depicted. And, even when a full theme was handled all the complements of the stage were not present; the Uparupaka lacked one or  the other or more of the four Abhinayas; thus, minimizing the scope for naturalistic features Lokadharmi and resorting increasingly to the resources of Natyadharmi.

Whereas this is true of several other forms of Uparupakas, it is not true of the dance-drama forms. They used all the elements of the Abhinayas; and,also  provided scope for display of Bhavas and for evoking Rasa.]


Coming together of the Marga and Desi traditions

By about the twelfth century, the classic Sanskrit Drama, in its major format, the Nataka, began to gradually decline. And, over a period, it almost faded away.

Though the Sanskrit theatrical tradition was tapering out, it did continue in the forms of minor or one-act plays – Uparupakas – mainly in regional languages, with a major input of dance and songs; but, with just an adequate stress on Abhinaya (acting) and Sahitya (script). These forms of dance-dramas were gaining ground.

The texts of the later period commenting on Natya and Alankara-shastra (poetics) could hardly afford to ignore the Uparupakas which were steadily gaining popularity. And, many scholars did formally recognize the Uparupaka class of dramatic works; codified their features; and assigned them a place within the framework of theory , as Nrtya-prabandhas.

By about the twelfth century, the differences as also the relationship between the Nrtta (pure dance) and Nrtya (Nrtta with Abhinaya) were clearly established. And, those dance formats, in combination with music, were suitably applied and integrated into the performance of the dance dramas.

Among the authors of the later period, Raja Bhoja ((10-11th century), Saradatanaya (12-13th century) and Vishvanatha (14-15th century) dealt at length with the Uparupakas. Raja Bhoja in his Srngaraprakasa discusses twelve types of Uparupakas; Saradatanaya in his Bhavaprakasa describes twenty-one forms of Uparupakas and also provides a gist of several definitions as given by the previous authorities ; and, Vishvanatha in his Sahityadarpana discusses in detail eighteen types of Uparupakas, with examples

For a detailed discussion on  the types of Uparupakas: please click here. And, go to pages 189 and onward for descriptions of those forms.


Such staged dramatic texts (Nrtta-kavya or Raga-kavya), narrating a story, composed of songs, set to music with instrumental accompaniment; and, choreographed with dance movements, came to be known by different names such as: Natyabheda (in Avaloka of Dhanika); Geyarupaka (in Kavyanusasana of Hemacandra): Nrtyarupakas or, simply as the ‘other plays’ anyani rupakani (as by Ramacandra and Gunacandra), in which music and dance dominate.

The period between the eleventh and the fifteenth centuries was a very highly significant phase in the evolution and development of Art in its varied dimensions. It was during this period that Dance, as Nrtya, gained recognition as an independent Art-form. And, Dance was no longer treated as a mere adjunct to drama. Similarly, vocal (Gita) and instrumental (Vadya) also began to flourish on their own.

The Dancing in India evolved by assimilating new forms and techniques; and, by moving away from its early dependence on Drama. In the process, it also widened its aesthetic scope beyond decorative grace; and, enlarged its content or repertoire to encompass depiction of emotional narrative themes. Now, the beauty of form walked in-hand with the richness of the lyrics and, with the depth of its emotional content; resulting in the growth of a complex art form.

During the period which spans the eleventh to the sixteenth century, many excellent works on Dance and music were written; and, new trends in Dancing were set. Now, many texts, exclusively devoted to Dance came into being (Say, Sangitaratnakara of Sarangadeva – Chapter seven;  the Nrtya-ratna-kosa of Maharana Kumbha ; the Nrttaratnavali of Jaya Senapati; Nartananirnaya of Pundarika Vittala).

The texts of this period , though rooted in the principles of Natyashastra, did recognize and discuss Dance-forms and styles whose technique and structure differed from the Marga class described by Bharata- During this period, the emphasis of the texts shifted away from Natyashastra’s Marga tradition ; and, moved towards the styles known , generically, as Desi , regional or improvised.

It was during this period that Uparupakas developed into a common ground where the classical Natya of the Shastra (Marga) met the regional (Desi) forms of Dance of easy movements; allowing more freedom and greater degree of improvisation, within the given framework. It was here that the sophisticated fused with the folk forms.

The noted scholar Dr. Raghavan, therefore, described the Uparupaka as the golden link (svarna-setu) or common ground where the classical met the popular; and, where the sophisticated took the folk forms.

This period was also marked by the efforts to codify the less acknowledged, but popular forms; and, assign them a place within the framework of theory.

In the process, the theories of Dance adopted the terms and principles that were prevalent in the Kavya, poetics. Those dance forms which adhered to the established regulations and conventions; and, which had a definite structure were termed and classified as Nibaddha. And, those free-flowing dance forms, which were spontaneous, unregulated, unstructured and not bound by any rules, were treated as Anibaddha. Such unfettered dance-forms were not restricted by the requirements of Taala and such other disciplinesand, it did not also need the support of compositions woven with meaningful words (Pada or Sahitya). Sarangadeva defines Anibaddha as that which is not bound or as that which lacks rules (bandha-hinatva).

The Anibaddha also meant allowing the dancer considerable latitude in devising body movements that best suited the aesthetic and emotional content of the theme.; And , it also  made room for enterprise to come up with fresh idioms of expressions.

At the same time, the texts, such as the Sangita-samayasara, the Sangitaratnakara and the Nartananirnaya, suggested body movements as that of  simulating the quiver of a drop of water on a lotus leaf, or the trembling of a flame etc.

Such process of reorganization  and innovation covered not only the well regulated dance forms ; but, it  also  extended even to  the individual and   the group dances like Daṇḍaras, Raslīlā and other folk dances of similar nature, some of which have survived as dramatic group presentations.


Dr. Mandakranta Bose in her Movement and Mimesis concludes : Our study of technique also shows that present day classical dancing in India is grounded more directly in the tradition recorded in the later dance manuals, especially the Nartananirnaya , than in the older tradition of the Natyashastra. This suggests that those styles which had marginal existence in Bharata’s time not only came to be admitted into the mainstream of dancing, but eventually became the dominant current. The evolutionary process is therefore one of dynamic growth rather than a static survival. Through the comparative analysis of the concepts and technique of dancing the present study attempts to mark the milestones of that process

As Dr. Sunil Kothari also observes in Part One of his research Paper  : the minor forms that were not specifically described by Bharata came into fore during the later periods. And, they have contributed greatly in the evolution of the dance concepts; and, in shaping and enriching the various dance forms, in their distinct regional milieu; as we see in contemporary India.



Dance and music have always formed an integral part of Sanskrit drama. But, it was the Uparupakas – minor class of drama- based in music and dance movements that eventually gave rise to the now living traditions such as KuchipudiBhagavata-Mela-Natakas, Yaksha-gana and Kuravanji    dance dramas.  Such forms of  Uparupakas  are very attractive formats, with the elements of the music and dance being predominant. And, most of them are based in dances accompanied by soulful songs, interpreting the emotional contents of the song through Abhinaya or gestures.

The Uparupakas also marked the emergence of dance-drama along with the solo exposition as a credible format of Dancing. Since then, dance-drama has come to stay and flourish side by side with the solo dance forms.


The key element of the musical dramas was delighting in the spectacle of presentation and the emotions displayed by the characters on display. Their themes were crafted around Raga and Kavya elements, which dealt with the characters, themes, plots, emotional situations rooted mainly in Srngara (lovely and graceful) and Bhakthi (devotion) Rasas. The Uparupakas were, therefore, said to be Bhavatmaka or dependent on emotions.

The Uparupakas were broadly classified according to the dance-situations that were involved and the Rasas, the emotions, they projected. Among the Uparupakas, the Rasaka, Hallisaka, Narttanaka, Chalika and Samyalasya gave importance to Nrtta, the pure dance movements, in their performance. And, Natika, Sattaka, Prakaranika and Trotaka (Totaka) gave prominence to emotional aspects and to Abhinaya.

‘The Lovers Radha and Krishna in a Palm Grove’; miniature painting from the ‘Tehri Garhwal’ <i>Gita ­Govinda</i> (Song of the Cowherds), Punjab Hills, kingdom of Kangra or Guler, circa 1775–1780


The most celebrated of the Raga-kavyas, Chitra-kavyas or Nrtya-prabandhas is the Gita-Govinda composed by Sri Jayadeva Goswami (about 1150 A.D), who was a court poet of the King Lakshmana of the Bengal region (12th century). It is the most renowned and the best loved among all the Raga-kavyas of the Prabandha class. Gita-Govinda occupies a preeminent position in the history of both the Indian music and dance.

The Gita-Govinda is a Khanda-Kavya, confined to description of some episodes. It comes under the Prabandha class of Kavyas. Jayadeva at the commencement of his Khanda-kavya 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.

from the Gita Govinda

This sublime Sringara-mahakavya, 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).

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, Prabandha or Ashtapadi, since twenty-four of such (but not all) employ eight couplets. Sri Jayadeva himself calls them as sweet and delicate Padavali-s (Madhura komala padavalim).

The Gita Govinda, permeated with intensely devotional and delicate Madhura Bhakthi, was one of the inspirations of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprbhu who was steeped in Krishna-bhakthi; and, it is now the primary text of the Gaudiya Vaishnava School of Bengal.

The popularity enjoyed by Gita Govinda is amazing. Each region and each language of India embraced it to its heart, with love and devotion; adopted it as its own; sang in its own chosen Raga; and, interpreted it in its own dance form.

The Gita Govinda also served as an inspiration or as a model for creation of dance-dramas, elaborating on parallel themes, in different parts of the country, in different languages. For instance; the dance sequences composed in the traditions of Kuchipudi of Andhra; the compositions of Sri Sankaradeva of Assam; Umapati of Bihar; Bhagavata Mela Natakas of the South; Yaksaganas of Karnataka ; and, Krsnattam and Kathakali of the Malayalam areas – were all inspired by the Gita-Govinda.

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Nauka Charitam

And, Sri Thyagaraja (1767- 1847) is said to have composed three musical dramas  (Geya-Nataka). Of these, only two namely: Prahlada-Bhakti-Vijayam and Nauka Charitam are available. But, the third – Sita Rama Vijayam – is sadly lost.

Nauka Charitam, mostly a product of Sri Thyagaraja’s imagination, improvising on an incident briefly mentioned in Srimad Bhagavatam, comprises twenty-one Daru songs set in thirteen Ragas (some of which follow folk tunes) . Its theme extols the virtue of absolute surrender to the Lord with Love and devotion. Nauka Charitam lends itself beautifully well for production of a Dance-drama.


Regional Dance forms

By about the sixteenth century, the Nrtya-prabandhas, set free from the confines of the Drama, began to flourish and to evolve further, by assimilating new forms, more creative modes of expression and techniques. In the process, their aesthetic scope grew beyond mere decorative postures. They refined their skills to communicate the emotive content of the lyrics, more effectively. Beauty of form was blended with meaningful expressions (Abhinaya). The Uparupakas having developed into a complex Dance-form came to occupy a central position within the contemporary world of Art.

Even in this format, the dance element continued to be divided into Nrtta and Natya on the one hand; and, into Tandava and Lasya on the other. Another significant factor was that even though the Dance was mainly based in the theoretical principles of the Natyashastra; yet, in practice, it inculcated styles and techniques that were peculiar to each region. In each of those regions, the Dance practitioners also developed their own local vocabulary. These gave rise to distinctive dance forms and technical terms.

Each of such derivative forms formulated a tradition of its own; such as Kathak, Odissi, Manipuri, and Kuchipudi and so on. And, each of those eminent dance forms rooted in its own regional and cultural background; anchored in its own philosophy and outlook, developed its own idioms of expressions.

There are also certain factors that are common to all those diverse types of dance forms. These, in brief, are : prominence to the narration of the theme;  the dominance of Natya-dharmi; performing to  the appropriate music, Laya (tempo) and Taala (time-units, beats) ; employment of all the four Abhinayas in varying degrees; in making a distinction between the Nrtta and the Nrtya, and maintaining their distinctive features while executing  the respective elements in the performance; taking care to see that the Nrtta aspect, particularly the individual dance movements and postures, are  governed by the special techniques developed by each school of Dance; and, recognition of both the  Ekaharya (solo – where a single dancer enacts the role of several characters) and Anekaharya (where several actors participate  to enact their respective role)  modes of presentation.

Yet, these Dance-forms have successfully retained their identity; and, have carried it forward to the present time.



As regards Kathak, its history as a performing art has to be viewed in the larger context of the history of the Dance forms of the North India. Kathak, in its earlier form had a long association with temple-dance. But, with the advent of Mughal rule; and with the influence it exerted on Indian life and culture, Kathak dance was remodeled into a different form.

For instance; it is said, by the time of Akbar (16th century), the Persian art and music had vastly influenced the cultural life of India, particularly the milieu surrounding the Mughal court. According to Pundarika Vitthala (Nartana-nirnaya), who had the opportunity to watch, appreciate and enjoy excellent presentations of the Persian oriented dance and music, the restructured Dance form of Kathak, was born out of the fusion of classical Natya with the dance of the Yavanas, (meaning, the Persians), which took place in the context of the cultural life of the Mughal inner court, during the time of Akbar.

Kathak, in its early period, had not only a special, unique manner of dancing, with its own phrases of Nrtta and Abhinaya; but it also had its own distinct structure of performance and philosophy. But, During the Mughal period, it became a source of recreation for those seeking escape from the day-to-day annoyances. Its purpose, then, was to provide sheer pleasure, entertainment and amusement. Thus with the advent of the Mughal rule there was a definite shift in its content as also in its emphasis. And, the elements of devotion, worship etc., that were there in its traditional form went into background. It acquired the epithet of Nautch.

Thereafter, with the fall of the Mughals, Kathak, somehow, managed to survive by shaping itself into a fine expression of a dance form aiming to please its newly acquired patrons, the rulers of small native states. It then branched into Gharanas named after the court that supported it ; like Lucknow Gharana , Jaipur GharanaRampur Gharana etc. (For more, please do refer to Kathak, Indian Classical Dance Art by Sunil Kothari )


Kathak , which follows Nartanasarvasva , has a unique feature of taal-prastuti (a systematic elaboration of a time-cycle of a chosen number of beats) that is not found in any other classical Indian dance-forms. It has also a distinct way of presenting the syllables and Bols used in the text of the songs. The variations of these Dance-forms are also recognized by their nature, even in case their style is classical, folk, or modern.

And since the post-Independence days, happily, the classical Kathak is rediscovering itself. It is liberated from the confines of the past feudalistic court associations. The framework and outlook of the present-day classical Kathak is chaste – aesthetically and spiritually.



In contrast; the classic Odissi was, essentially, a temple-dance, enacting a devotional poem. It is steeped in devotion; and, in the concepts of spirituality of the Vaishnava tradition. It is performed as a way of submitting ones service (seva) to Lord Jagannath. Odissi is a lyrical form of dance with subtlety as its keynote. It is known for its fluidity and grace. Its sculpture-like poses are executed with harmony of line and movement. Odissi has developed its own vocabulary of foot positions, head movements, eye movements, body positions, hand gestures, rhythmic footwork, turns and spins.

Odissi, again, is based in the principles of the Natyashastra. It also follows other texts such as Abhinaya Chandrika of Mahesvara Mahapatra and Abhinaya Darpana of Nandlkesvara. Dr. Mandakranta Bose opines that the techniques of Odissi are also derived from the Nartananirnaya of Pundarika Vittala.

The Odissi also observes the traditional formats of Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya, in their distinct forms.

The initial items, following soon after the invocation , the Mangalacharana, and Pushpanjali, are in the fast-paced, rhythmic pure dance movements of Nrtta class, known as Battu or Battu Nrtta. That is followed by Pallavi rendering in varied tempos.

The Nrtya segment of the Odissi is more elaborate. It consists narration of a theme; the interpretation of the words and sentences of the lyrics of the song; illustrating with grace Abhinaya articulated through elegant Bhavas, gestures and facial and eye expressions. Odissi is renowned for fluid, eloquent and gracefully charming movements and postures. The songs of Nrtya are, generally, in adoration of Vishnu, as Lord Jagannath. Apart from that, the Astapadis selected from Jayadeva Kavi’s Gita Govinda are the most popular numbers in it’s Nrtya repertoire. These soulful dance recitals celebrate the divine Love of Sri Radha and the eternal Lover Sri Krishna.

The Natya segment of a Odissi performance relates narration of a theme selected from the mythology, epic or a celebrated Kavya.



Similarly, Kuchipudi, the dance-drama  of the coastal Andhra Pradesh, is regarded as a religious art of the Vaishnava tradition, devoted to Lord Krishna (Bhama kalapam), where the dancer-actor narrates a story, conveying a spiritual message through expressive gestures, graceful body-movements and rhythmic footwork. In fact, a Kuchipudi performance commences with the recitation of the auspicious slokas extracted from Vedic texts; consecration of the stage with sprinkling of holy water (punyavachana); and , offering Puja to the Ranga Adidevata , the chief deity on the stage. That is followed by dance-offering to Ganapathi; prayers submitted to Goddess Tripurasundari, and to the Guru; and Naandi-stotra by the Sutradhara, the stage manager. The Kuchipudi Natyam is usually performed by a group or in some cases by a solo dancer who enacts, through dance movements, the roles of several characters.  The performance concludes with Mangalam, the benedictory verses; and, offering Aarati to gods.

The repertoire of Kuchipudi also follows three performance categories of dance forms; namely, Nrtta (Nrutham), Nrtya (Nruthiyam) and Natya (Natyam).  Here, ‘Nrtta’ is a technical performance where the dancer presents pure dance movements with stress on speed, form, pattern, range and rhythmic aspects without interpretive aspects. In ‘Nrtya’ the dancer-actor communicates a story, spiritual themes particularly on Lord Krishna through expressive gestures and slower body movements harmonized with musical notes thus engrossing the audience with the emotions and themes of the act. ‘Natyam’ is usually performed by a group or in some cases by a solo dancer who maintains certain body movements for specific characters of the play which is communicated through dance-acting.

(For more, please check Indian Classical Dances : Kuchipudi Dance )



Manipuri , of Eastern India, is a classical dance form narrating themes rooted in the Vaishnava Bhakthi tradition, depicting the Love between Sri Radha and Lord Krishna  , mainly through the re-enactment of the sublime  ‘Raas Lila’. It is also fused with the pre-Vaishnava tradition of Lai Haraoba and Thang-ta, which add variety and vibrancy to its repertoire of movements. Here, again, dance and music are interwoven with rituals and religious practices.

It is said; the repertoire and basic play of this dance form revolves around different seasons. The traditional style of this art form incorporates graceful, gentle and lyrical movements. The fundamental dance movement of Raas dances of Manipur is Chari or Chali.

Manipuri dances are performed thrice in autumn from August to November; and, once in spring sometime around March-April, all on full moon nights. While Vasanta Raas is scheduled in spring when Holi, the festival of colours is celebrated, the other dances are scheduled around post-harvest festivals like Diwali.

The themes of the songs and plays comprise of Love and association of Radha and Krishna in company of the Gopis namely, Sudevi, Rangadevi, Lalita, Indurekha, Tungavidya, Vishakha, Champaklata and Chitra. One composition and dance sequence is dedicated for each of the Gopis; while the longest sequence is devoted to Radha and Krishna.

The dance drama is performed through excellent display of expressions, hand gestures and body language. Acrobatic and vigorous dance movements are also displayed by Manipuri dancers in certain plays.



The Mohiniattam, a classical dance form that evolved in Kerala, is said to have been derived from the dance performed by Mohini, a female Avatar of Vishnu. It, again, is a temple-dance; but, with a predominance of graceful and gentle Lasya movements. The Mohiniattam dancers follow- among other manuals – the Balarama -bharatam as their guidebook.

Mohiniattam also comprises all the three elements of Nrtta (pure dance movements); Nrtya (narrating a theme with Abhinaya); and, Natya (enacting a play, usually by a group).

A performance of a Mohiniattam includes sequences commencing with invocation or Cholkettu; and then on to Jatisvaram, Varnam, Padam, Tillana, Shlokam and Saptam. Thus, Mohiniattam is aligned to what came to be known as Bharatanatya.

Its songs are composed with mixture (Manipravala) of Sanskrit and Malayalam words.

Traditionally, Mohiniattam is performed by a single dancer who enacts the roles of the other characters that feature in the lyrics of the song (Ekaharya Abhinaya). Of late, Mohiniattam is also performed as group dance.

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Dance forms

All these dance-forms, including Kathak, though they are basically individual performances, they are also enacted as group dances.

What is common to all these classical dances is that their roots are in religion, mythology and devotional stories. Central to these dances is the Nayika, the gentle heroine, who symbolizes the soul of the devotee. The spirit of Bhakthi permeates these dance forms. And, their traditions have been carried forward under the Guru-shishya –parampara, with each generation passing on to the next, with earnestness,  the knowledge, skill and the philosophy of its School.


The Dance forms, such as, Kathak, Odissi or Kuchipudi narrate a story or an episode  chosen from an Epic or mythology. Etymologically, the term Kathak is related to Katha, the art of storytelling. The Western ballet also tells a story. But there are some significant differences between these Dance forms, with regard to their nature and the manners in which they are danced. For example; classical Ballet is performed as a group dance , where different dancers play different roles or characters to build a story. This story is performed as a dance-drama, where various scenes unfold one after the other.

And, another is that unlike in the western dance, the Indian Dances are not set to leaps and gliding movements in the air. It strives to achieve a perfect pose that can be frozen in time. Its technique depends on the skillful management of time (Taala), in order to achieve a series of perfect poses.

In contrast to ballet; the Kathak and other classical dance forms are, traditionally, solo dance-performances. Its dancer enacts all the roles or characters involved in the story (Ekaharya). Here, the story is presented mainly with the help of Abhinaya that involves facial expressions and meaningful hand-gestures. Apart from telling a story, the dancer will have to meticulously follow the rhythmic patterns (Taal) as required by the lyrics and also the sol-fa and other dance syllables rendered in varying speeds (Laya).

Similarly, the Varnams and Padams in the Bharata Natyam are, usually, presented as solo performances.  While presenting the theme of the song that is to be interpreted, the dancer skillfully assumes (Natyadharmi) the role of  several characters (ekaharya) that figure in the lyrics, with appropriate Sancari- bhavas; say, the roles of the Nayika (heroine), her friend/assistant (Sakhi) or of the Nayaka (hero)’. This is achieved through a series of  variations of Angikabhinaya, in which each word of the poetry is interpreted in as many different innovative ways as possible.


Another significant point is that the present-day dance forms like Kathak, Odissi etc., are more related to medieval texts like Nartananirnaya than to the ancient manuals. This, in another way, could be taken to mean that certain dance-forms, which were marginalized in the Natyashastra, found a new life and due recognition as one among classical Dances of India. This again emphasizes the dynamic nature of Art, which rejuvenates and re-invents itself all the time.


Influence of Nartana-nirnaya

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

Dr. Bose, in her work, Movement and Mimesis: the Idea of Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition , points out that several technical terms used in Nartana-nirnaya match those used in Kathak today. And she goes on to say:

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

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


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

Nayana dutta


The School of Nrtya that is prevalent in South India is Bharata-natya. It has gained ground through the efforts of some dedicated stalwarts.

During the period of national movement for attaining India’s independence, there was a revival and resurgence of Dance forms; and re-assertion of its values.

With the advent of the Maestro Uday Shankar; and with the efforts of the aesthetes like Rabindranath Tagore, Poet Vallathol of Kerala and Rukmini Devi and E. Krishna lyer of Kalakshetra at Adyar, the ancient form of dance (Marga), as in Bharata’s  Natyashastra, was re-established, by renaming it as Bharata-Natyam.

Along with that, the other classical dance forms like, Kathak, Odissi, Mohiniattam and Manipuri were also revived.


Dance – Today and Tomorrow

Moving from temple to theater was a huge, a gigantic leap. During the last seventy-five years there have been tremendous changes in the arena of Dance, in terms of structure, content, theme, presentation techniques, teaching methods and so on. As it stepped into the open society and reached out to larger numbers of spectators, the well equipped huge auditoriums and theaters having excellent lighting and sound facilities and other means of technical support etc., also came up. With this, the reach of the Art expanded significantly. Now, not merely the well informed connoisseurs, but also the uninitiated audience began to have access to witness and enjoy Art performances. This has  been a very healthy and a robust development.

Up to the early 20th century, the songs to which dances were composed were exclusively those rich in Srngara bhava. In the post-independence India, the dance themes were diversified to depict subjects other than the usual mythological and religious themes and of a heroine pining for her hero.

This shift played an important role in prompting the dancers to re-think and seek new directions in Indian dance and its thematic content. The Dancers with imagination and with the ability to reflect upon the present-day issues, began to experiment; to innovate dance-expressions; to create new movements using space, different levels; and, to develop an impressive array of dance vocabulary.

In India, Dance has always been an activity associated with socially, culturally and ritually sanctioned practices. And, the present period is the age resurgence of Indian classical dancing, freed from its past associations. The youth who pursue classical dance are the educated middle class, both in India and elsewhere. Today Indian dances have crossed national borders; and, the exponents of Dancing in the Indian Diaspora have been  extending their dance horizons,  wherever they are.

In today’s world, the classical dance is an icon of high-art. It is also the representation of India’s preserved history, tradition and culture. It is a part of understanding our cultural heritage. The classical Dance as a specialized performing art draws fewer males than females. It, somehow, is essentially the domain of the females It is, therefore, the women who, mostly, have carried forward this form of traditional art.

These are interesting and vibrant days for Indian classical Dance in its varied forms. With that, it has to face new challenges; and, has to address itself to new questions. It has to look within to review the techniques, the structural principles and to reassess the internal strength of its traditional forms. And, it has also to look forward and project its future path; to explore new horizons. It has to gain power and strength to carry forward the various Dance forms; and, at the same time have the tenacity to preserve the purity of the essential principles of the classical Dance. It has to find resilient ways to reflect the contemporary progressive values; and, continue to be relevant to the society and the world we live in. And, at the same time, it has to devise safeguards to protect the Art against the dangers of the rampant commercialization, which might affect the standards and the quality of the classical dance forms. It is the shared responsibility of the Gurus, the learners and the art connoisseurs. And, it is indeed a very tall order.


Commencing from the next part, we shall briefly discuss each of the significant texts that defined the nature and practice of Dancing in India. We may, as always, start with Natyashastra; and, thereafter go to other texts, following their chronological order.

Nataraja big




Part Six

References and sources

All images are from the Internet


Posted by on October 4, 2018 in Art, Natya


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The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Four

Continued from Part Three

 Nrtta, Natya and Nrtya

B. During the Post- Bharata period

Bharata Natyam


The commentators of the middle period (say, around the tenth century and thereafter) interpreted some of the fundamental terms of the Natyashastra in a manner that was considerably different from perhaps what Bharata meant. They also brought in many concepts that were not envisaged by Bharata.

Just to recapitulate:

As per Natyashastra,

: – the Nrtta was pure dance. It was not a subsidiary or an auxiliary to Natya. It was an independent Art-form, which was performed mainly in the Purvaranga, before the commencement of the play proper, as praise offering to gods (Deva-stuti).

: – The Tandava was described as Nrtta (pure dance); and, it was not necessarily aggressive; nor was it performed only by men.

[The Tandava in the Natyashastra did not convey the sense of Uddhata (Vigorous). Further, the Tandava or Nrtta of the Natyashastra was in no way related to what later came to be known as Tandava-nrtta.]

: – The graceful dance (Sukumara-prayoga) with delicate, graceful (Madhura) movements (Angaharas) performed by Devi Parvathi (which Abhinavagupta named as Lasya) was not in contrast to Shiva’s Tandava. It was her own Dance.

[Sukumara-prayoga (or Lasya) did not mean a feminine style of dancing, as was interpreted later. Such distinctions, as between masculine and feminine dances, were not made in the Natyashastra.]

: – During the time of Bharata, there was no clear theoretical division of Dance into Tandava and what, later, came to be known as Lasya. They merely referred to the nature of the physical movements. And, the term Lasya, per se , does not also appear in Natyashastra, though the concept of the element of grace and beauty did exist; and, was named as Sukumara or Madhura.


But, during the Post-Bharata period, especially in the medieval times:

: – Nrtta was classified into Tandava and Lasya types. And, here, Tandava was described as forceful (Uddhata Angaharas), the fast paced furious Tandava Nrtta.

And Tandava Nrtta came to be idealized as an extremely angry and destructive type of dance.

: – Sukumara Prayoga was renamed as Lasya, the soft or delicate (Lalita) form of dance.

: – And, the two, were said to be related to masculine and feminine dancers; saying that Tandava is for men, while Lasya is for women.

[But, the Natyashastra had not made such distinctions. There, the dance movements were guided by mental and emotional states of the character. The principle for classification of dance movements was Guna, the quality and the nature of the feeling of the character (not gender).]

: – Although Bharata created a new and more expressive form of Dance form by combining the dance elements of the Nrtta with the Abhinayas, he had not assigned it a name. He did not also define the newly crafted Art-form.

But, in the later periods, it came to be known and celebrated as Nrtya. (The term Nrtya, as such, does not appear in the Natyashastra, though its conceptual essence was very much there.)

: – Further, certain new concepts which, of course could not have been there during the time of Bharata, also came into the vocabulary of Dance. Now the Dance and its forms came to be classified into categories, such as: Marga (pure or classical) and Desi (regional or improvised); and, as Nibaddha (structured) and Anibaddha (unstructured or free-flowing).

: – Another significant development was the steady drift away from the dance that Bharata talked about. Number of regional elements and techniques entered into the stream. And, that gave rise to many Dance –forms, in different regions of the country; each with its own ethos and techniques of presentation.


With this background, let’s take a look the statements made by some authors and commentators of the Post –Bharata period.

dance poses

Nrtta in the medieval period


Abhinavagupta (11th century) in his Abhinavabharati, a detailed commentary on the Natyashastra, brought in many concepts and practices that were not present during the time of Bharata.  He also discussed matters related to the Art of Dancing, keeping in view the practices prevailing during his time.  He also tried to interpret the Natyashastra in the light of his own experience and knowledge; as also according to the principles of his philosophical School.

And, many times, he differed from Bharata. And, in addition, he introduced many new factors. Abhinavagupta provided the details of dance forms that were not mentioned in the Natyasastra. For instance, Abhinavagupta speaks of minor categories of drama (uparupakas), such as nrtta-kavya and raga-kavya – the plays based mainly in dance or in music. The nature of such minor dramas was not specifically  discussed in the  Natyashastra

Abhinavagupta provided his own interpretations to such fundamental terms as Nrtta, Abhinaya etc.

Though Nrtta was later described by Dhananjaya and Dhanika, as one that is bereft of meaning or emotion (Bhava and Rasa) or even of Abhinaya; and, that it can only be a decorative Angikabhinaya element that beautifies the dance presentation (Shobahetu), Abhinavagupta asserted that Nrtta is capable of expressing meaning (Artha). His view prevailed in the subsequent periods.

Further, Abhinavagupta asserted that Nrtta is an integral part of the Drama (Natya). The Nrtta elements can be used both in the Purvaranga (preliminaries before the commencement of the play) and in the sequences within the Drama. He cites some instances where Karanas (the basic units of the Nrtta) are employed. He mentions: In Bhaṭṭa Nārāyaa’s Veī Samhāra, the actor playing the role of Aśvatthāman enters with the Sūci Viddha (needle-pierced) and Ūrdhvajānu (uplifted foot) Karaas. In Kalidāsa’s Vikramorvaśīyam, the hero Purūravas enters with the Alapallava and Sūci Karaas. Garua enters with Garua-plutam; Rāvaa’s entry is with Vaiśākha Recitam. In Svapna Vāsavadatta, Vatsarāja enters with Sambhrānta karana.

And, certain situations (say, those involving Srngara or Raudra) do need appropriate postures (Karanas) to illustrate the emotional states of the character.

Abhinavagupta’s influence has been profound and pervasive. Succeeding generations of writers on Natya were guided by his concepts and theories of Rasa, Bhava, aesthetics and dramaturgy.


Abhinavagupta, in a very elaborate manner, classifies Nrtta into two groups. The First group has three varieties; and, the Second has four. Thus, there are, in all, seven classifications.

In his rather complicated classifications and their protracted explanations of the Nrtta, Abhinavagupta brings in the elements Abhinayas, in its varying degrees.

The Nrtta types in his First Group have no Abhinaya. The Nrttas in the Second Group involve some element of Abhinaya (therefore, are aligned to what could be called as Nrtya). Here, the Abhinaya is classified into two types.


Dr. KM Varma in his scholarly and highly well researched work ‘Natya, Nrtta and Nrtya: their meaning and relation (pages 17-19) analyzes these seven classifications of Nrtta, in the light of Abhinavagupta’s hypothesis of two types of Abhinaya. And, he builds up the relationships among Nrtta (dance), Gana (song) and Vadya (musical instruments).


Abhinavagupta explains Abhinaya , broadly, as a process where the performer brings into his mind the meaning and the sentiment of the words of the song; and, puts it forth through facial expressions, movement of the limbs and such other means.

And, he classifies the Abhinaya into two distinct types.

Of the two types of Abhinayas; in the First one, the performer follows the general trend, without going into details; and, in the Second type, the performer interprets every word and every sentence of the song.

Here, in his classifications of the Nrtta, Abhinavagupta introduces into Nrtta many new factors that were not there earlier. For instance; he brings into the definition of Nrtta the elements of  Artha and Abhinaya (in varying degrees); the variations of Tandava (vigorous) and Lasya (soft) ; the concept of male and female forms of Nrtta ; and Rasas , the sentiments or emotions they express.

Thus, the concept and the content of the Nrtta, as in the Natyashastra, is almost entirely abandoned; thoroughly overhauled; and, given a totally new perspective and disposition.  In short; the Nrtta, here, is far faraway from its ancestor in the Natyashastra.  It is not the same.

[ The First Group belongs to the pure Nrtta type ; whereas, the Second Group relates to of what came to be known as Nrtya. Abhinavagupta, in his explanations, did not, however, use the term Nrtya.]

The First Group of Nrtta that Abhinavagupta formulated has the three types: (1) Shudda-Nrtta; (2) Gitakad-abhinayaonmukha –Nrtta; and, (3) Gana-Vadya –Talanusaii Nrtta.

Of these, the First one, Shuddha Nrtta, which consists Angaharas and Recakas, is the sort of Nrtta that is related to the Purvaranga, as in the Natyashastra.

The Second in this Group is Gitakad-abhinayaonmukha- Nrtta. Here, the performer’s physical movements are guided by the general trend or the broad sense of the song. But, she/he does not pay attention to the specific details of the song; such as, the meaning of each words and sentence of the song.

The Third in this Group; the Gana-Vadya –Talanusari Nrtta is similar to the earlier one; but, here the instruments (Vadya), songs (Gitam) and rhythm (Taala) are the leading factors. Here also, the performer follows the general trend of the song without going into its details.


The Second Group has four types: (1) Uddhata Nrtta ;(2) Masrana-Nrtta; (3) Misra Uddhata Nrtta; and,(4)  Misar-Masarna Nrtta.

All these four types do require Abhinaya (as in the Nrtya). Here in the Second Group, the Abhinaya, according to Abhinavagupta, is the action of the performer in sending forth (abhi) or  bringing the meaning of the song into his own mind and expressing it through the movement of  limbs , conveying  the sense of every word and every detail of the song or the  composition.

The First type in this Second Group, the Uddhata Nrtta is a furious dance with display of vigorous movements (Tandava) ; it is associated with Veera and Roudra Rasas. This is a masculine type of dance.

The Second type in this Group, Masrana-Nrtta is the softer type of dance (Lasya) aligned with Srngara, Karuna and so on. This is the feminine type of dance

The Third type Misra Uddhata Nrtta, in the main, is same as Uddhata; but, is mixed with the movements of the Masrana (Lasya) variety

And, the Fourth type in the Second Group, Misar- Masarna Nrtta is again a Masarna Nrtta, with emphasis on lighter; but, mixed with some elements of Uddhata



Dhananjaya perhaps belonged to the same region and to the same period in which Abhinavagupta lived.  By the time of Dhananjaya (Ca. eleventh Century), the meaning and the application of the terms Nrtta, Tandava and Lasya had all changed a great deal. Further, by then, the Natya and Nrtya had taken the center stage.

Dhananjaya, in his Dasarupaka, treats Nrtta, mainly, in its comparison with Nrtya.

Dhananjaya explains Nrtta, as dance, with emphasis on smart looking (shobhahetu) limb-movements, in tune with rhythm and tempo (nrttam tala-laya-asrayam). But, in itself, it is devoid of meaningful content; and, is valued for its mere visual beauty of body movements (gatrasya viksepaha). Nrtta is not an interpretive or expressive dance (though the dancer might perhaps wear pleasant smile on her face).

The Nrtta, according to Dhananjaya, does not also involve the elements of meaning or emotion (Bhava and Rasa) or Abhinaya (Abhinaya-sunya); nor does it evoke a mood or a sentiment (Rasa). It is one of the specific technical elements (Angikabhinaya) that beautify the dance presentation.

[Bharata had used the term Nrtta to denote dancing, in general. But, in the medieval period, the meaning of Nrtta was narrowed down to mean a mere decorative aid. It was just an aspect of the whole body of Dancing.]

As compared to Nrtta, Dhananjaya says, the Nrtya, principally, is the display of various aesthetic moods (Bhava) or emotional states (Bhava-asrayam nrtyam). The Angavikshepa, the throwing of limbs is, however, common to both Nrtta and Nrtya.

But, Nrtya, through its appropriate gestures, facial expressions and limb-movements, gives life and form to the meaning and the sensitivity of the individual words and the sentences of the song (Abhinaya-pada-artha-abhinayatmaka).

[Nandikeshvara (Abhinayadarpana.1-56) similarly distinguished Nrtya from Nrtta, thus: Bhava-abhinaya-hinam tu nrittamitya-abhidhyate;| Rasabhava-vyanjana adi yuktam nrityam ity uchyate]


Of these two, the Nrtya having emotional content is classified by Dhananjaya under Marga (the classic or pristine form of dance), a representation of the classic form of dance; while, Nrtta, with its stress, mainly, on rhythm and tempo, is classified under Desi, perhaps representing the popular regional or improvised dance form – (Adyam padartha-abhinayo Margo Desi tatha param).

Under each of these (Nrtya and Nrtta), Dhananjaya, again makes a two-fold division, as: Lasya, the graceful, gentle fluid and pleasing dance; and, Tandava, the vigorous, energetic, brisk and invigorating movements (lasya-tandava-rupena natakad-dyupa-karakam).

These are the dance-types that are performed during the course of the play, depending upon the nature/need of a sequence in the play.

Thus, Tandava, unlike in Natyashastra, is not necessarily a dance performed as a praise-offering to gods, in the Purvaranga, the preliminaries, before the commencement of the play. On the other hand, it is used in the play to depict aggressive tendencies (Uddhata) and their manifestations. Similar is the case with Lasya, the gentle dance (Lalita).

The distinction between Uddhata and Lalita also suggests a difference  between the masculine and feminine modes of expression; because of their physical characteristics, and also because of their association with a male and a female deity. In due course, the term Lasya came to mean a feminine style of dancing, which lends grace to stage actions.

[Following Dhananjaya, Sarangadeva also mentions that Nrtta and Nrtya can both be of two kinds: Tandava and Lasya (SR.7.28). Tandava requires Uddhata (forceful); and, Lasya requires  Lalita (delicate) movements (SR. 7. 29-30). He identifies Tandava as Shiva’s dance; and, Lasya as Parvati’s.]


According to Dhananjaya, Natya comprises both Nrtta and Nrtya. It is mentioned; that in Natya, the Nrtya is sometimes useful in expressing the Bhava introduced through the topic (Avantara-padartha), while Nrtta is useful as a beautifying factor that pleases the eye (Shobha-hetuvena)

Dhananjaya explains Natya as an Art-form that is based in Rasa- Natyam rasam-ashrayam (DR.I. 9). It gives expressions to the inner or true meaning of the lyrics through dance gestures – vakyartha-abhinayatmaka.

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

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


Dhanika says that Nrtya is Pada-artha-abhinayatmaka; and, Natya is Vakya-artha-abhinayatmaka

It is explained that the terms Pada (word) and Vakya (sentence) should not be taken in their ordinary sense. These have to be seen in relation that the words have with the sentence, of which they are a part.

Here, Pada-artha, word-meanings, is to be taken as Bhavas. And, Vakya-artha is to be understood as Rasa, which is produced by the combination of the Bhavas; just as a sentence is made up of several words.

In other words; the relation between Bhava and Rasa was said to be similar to that which exists between the word and the sentence.   It was said; Vakyartha stands for Rasa, which is similar to the sentence; and, Padartha stands for Bhava, which is similar to the word.


Following that, attempts were made to differentiate Nrtya and Natya on the basis of Bhava and Rasa.

In the process, Nrtya was equated with Padartha-abhinaya; and, Natya with Vakhyartha-abhinaya. And, in effect, according to Dhananjaya, it meant that Nrtya is rooted in Bhava (Nrtyam bhavashrayam); and, Natya in the Rasa (Rasashrayam Natyam). Thus, Nrtya is related to Bhava alone; and, Natya is related to Rasa alone.

Even in the later times, the authorities like Vipradasa (Ca. fourteenth century).  Rana Kumbha (fifteenth century) continued to go by the definitions provided by Dhananjaya/Dhanika; but, with slight modifications.

For instance; Rana Kumbha in his Nrtya-ratna-kosa explains Nrtta as made up of combination of Karanas and Angaharas (Karanam angaharani caiva Nrttam); Nrtya as Rasa (Nrtya sabdena ca Rasam punaha); and, Natya as Abhinaya (Natyena abhinayam). The Nrtya is classified as Marga; and, Nrtta as Desi.


Thus, according the medieval theories, Nrtta is all about beauty of form perceived by the eye; Nrtya expresses Bhava; and, Natya expresses Rasa.

But, such definitions and their import do not seem to be quite correct, at least in certain vital aspects.

Bhava and Rasa, even according to Bharata are intimately related. As Bharata had said; there cannot be Rasa without Bhavas; and vice versa – Na Bhavahino iti Raso; Na Bhavao Rasavargitah.

Na bhāvahīno’sti Raso; Na Bhāvo rasavarjita parasparaktā siddhi-stayor abhinaye bhavet NS.6.36

Apart from textual references, it is common experience that Rasa, the aesthetic pleasure, is evoked by both the Nrtya and the Natya. And, Bhava and Rasa are essential to both the Nrtya and the Natya.

And, therefore, to say that Nrtya is only about Bhava; and Natya is only about Rasa would be incorrect. The aim of both Nrtya and Natya is to provide Rasa; and, for which Bahavas are essential.  The expressions of Bhava are crucial to all the Art forms; as they contribute to the creation of Rasa enjoyed by the viewers, both in a general and auxiliary way (Samanya-guna-yogena).  Abhinavagupta argued on similar lines (though he did not use the term Nrtya, in particular).


And, similarly, Dhananjaya’s views on Nrtta and other issues were criticized by the later scholars.

To start with, it was mentioned that the concepts of the Natyashastra have to be understood in the light of the theoretical principles in which they are based. And, Dhananjaya’s view of Nrtta was restrictive, since it did not take many of its aspects into consideration.

Dismissing Dhananjaya’s classification of Nrtta as Desi, it was argued: the Nrtta as defined by Bharata is a proper art; a pure dance form, where the dancers need to be trained under competent Masters. Nrtta was meant to be performed during the Purvaranga as a prayer offering (Deva stuti). It was dear to gods (atyartham iṣṭa devānā).

Further, it was pointed out that Bharata’s phrase sobham janayati merely suggests that Nrtta is a beautifying factor; and, that does not mean Nrtta is auxiliary to Natya. The Nrtta is  independent, chaste and classical.

Marga, by Dhananjaya’s own definition, is an Art that is created by the Masters; while, Desi is that which is practiced by people of different regions, according to their taste.  And, therefore, to designate Nrtta as Desi is illogical; because, Nrtta as taught by Tandu to  Bharata was in indeed of the Marga class.

It was argued by the  scholars of the later period  that Dhananjaya’s statements do not project a fair view; because: Nrtta, which precedes Natya, in reality, is an art par excellence, which  can suggest meaning and evoke Rasa.

It was, therefore, indicated that it makes more sense to go by the concepts themselves, than be led only by the etymological explanations of the terms.

It was also said that Dhananjaya could have made a distinction between the Nrtta of the Purvaranga; and, the Nrtta type of group dances performed on happy cultural and social occasions. The dancers, here, do not need much training. And, there are also no restrictions with regard either to the mode of its dance or to the place of its performance. Only, such latter type of regional dances could have been classified as the popular Desi; and, not the entire Nrtta, as a class.


It was pointed out that Dhananjaya’s interpretation of Tandava as made of vigorous (Uddhata) Angaharas ; and Lasya as made of soft (Sukumara or Madhura) Angaharas , was not in accordance with the tenets of the Natyashastra.

Further, under, the interpretation provided by Dhananjaya, Nrtta was classified depending on the nature of the physical movements. It seemed that vigorous Tandava and soft Lasya were related to masculine and feminine dancers, respectively; suggesting that Tandava is for men, while Lasya is for women. But, the Nrtta in the Natyashastra did not envisage such discrimination.

Again, such an interpretation also suggests a distinction and between masculine and feminine modes of expression. And, that led to mistaking the term Lasya to mean a feminine style of dancing, which lends grace to stage actions.

It was argued that the dissimilarity of vigorous or soft is purely relative.  And, they are mere assumptions. It doesn’t make much sense to insist that women should be soft and gentle, even when they are angry or furious; and, men should be aggressive even when they are in grief or in love. It is also wrong to state that Lasya should be performed only by women; and Tandava is exclusively for men. The real principle for classification should be Guna, the quality and the nature of the feeling (but, not gender).


Next;   Dhananjaya’s  statements asserting that Nrtta is devoid of Bhava and Rasa (Rasa Bhava vihinam tu Nrttam itya abhijayate); and, Nrtta is only a technical element (Angikabhinaya) that helps to smarten the dance presentation; and it lacks the element of Abhinaya (laya tala matrapekso angaviksepo abhinaya sunyayh), were also refuted. And, downgrading Nrtta to an inferior (Adhama) position was also rejected.

Saradatanaya (1175 -1250 AD) in his Bhavaprakasana, disagreed with the views of Dhananjaya; and asserted that   Nrtta, the pure dance, is rooted in Rasa (Nrttam rasa-ahrayam). Saradatanaya’s definition meant that Nrtta not only beautifies a presentation, but is also capable of generating Rasa.

Further, Abhinavagupta, while dealing with Karanas, which are the basic units of Dance and classified under the Nrtta, emphasized that Karanas are capable of suggesting meanings.

Abhinavagupta opined that Kaisiki-vrtti, which is the medium or the style to depict Srngara, essentially requires Nrtta. Because, he says, Nrtta is the source that provides Valana, Vartana and other movements or stances. Further, he says that Nrtta as a beautifying factor helps to fill or cover up the gaps in the physical movements (chidra-chadana); and, to maintain continuity in action (alata-chakra-pratimata). And, therefore, Nrtta, like Nrtya and Natya, is capable of giving forth Rasa, although it is non representational.

Further, the statements such as ‘Nrtta is devoid of Bhava and Rasa’ (rasabhava-vihinam tu Nrttam itya abhijayate) were dismissed as being   rather harsh and unimaginative. That is because; Nrtta is an Art-form that provides the idioms and metaphors of beauty to  Nrtya , Natya and Shilpa. And, over the centuries, the Karanas of the Nrtta have inspired creation of wondrous sculptures with their visual beauty (Shobha), their distinctive poses and geometrical constructions. And, they do invoke certain admiration and pleasure (Rasa) in the hearts of the viewers. Same thing can be said about the basic dance poses and dynamic postures

[As compared to the restricted understanding of Nrtta by the medieval authors, the present-day acceptance and application of Nrtta is more comprehensive and highly useful. In the Bharatanatya and other classical dances of India, Nrtta forms an essential part of the dance performance, its structure; as also, in its training methods. That is because; Nrtta as per Bharata and also Nandikeshvara, is built of wide-ranging varieties of Karanas (Angavikshepa), which are the basic units. These are rooted in well thought out logical principles and geometric forms. And, they do invoke aesthetic pleasure (Rasa). Therefore, Karanas are ingrained into Nrtya.

Karanas are, thus, essential to the Grammar and structure of Nrtya in Bharatanatya and in other forms.  Going further back; Caris , which could be called as well knit ‘steps’ , is an alphabet of the Nrtta as also of  Natya. And, therefore, Nrtta is more relevant today, than it was in the days of Bharata. It has  received a special treatment from the point of view of choreography.]



The Natyashastra employs Natya as a generic term, which broadly covers drama, dance and music. Bharata’s Natya could also be understood as drama. And Ntta and other dance elements was one of the constituents that provided elegance to the theatrical presentations. It does not treat dance as a separate category of Art-form.

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

He mentions the eleven elements that constitute the Natya (Drama). These are: Rasa (sentiment); Bhava (states); Abhinaya (representation or acting); Dharmi (styles of presentation);Vrtti (styles of depiction); Siddhi (attainment of the purpose); Svara (musical notes); Atodya (orchestra or instrumental music); Gana (songs); and Ranga ( stage) .

Bharata later explains, of the eleven, Rasa is of paramount importance; and deriving that Rasa is the objective of a theatrical performance. The other ten elements – from Bhava to Ranga – are the contributing factors for the production of the Rasa,.

Rasā bhāvā hya abhinayā dharmī vtti pravttaya  siddhi svarās tathā atodyaṃ gāna ragaś ca sagraha  6.10

At another place, Bharata, in a nutshell, provides a sort of definition of Natya, which could be understood as Drama (Rupaka).

Bharata explains: when the experiences of the everyday world, mingled with pleasure and pain both, are conveyed through different Abhinayas such as, speech, gestures, costume, makeup, ornaments etc – (Angika, Sattvika, Vachika, and Aharya Abhinayas) –   it is called Natya. (NS 1.119)

yo’ya  svabhāvo lokasya sukha dukha samanvita  som gādya abhinaya ityopeto nātyam ity abhidhīyate  NS.4. 119

Bharata explained that object of the Natya  was to show men and women the proper way to live, a way in which one could live and behave, so that one might become a still better person.

“A play shows your actions and emotions. Neither gods nor demons are depicted as always good or always evil. Actually, the ways of the world as represented here are not only of the gods but also of yours. It teaches you good advice (upadisati); it gives you enlightenment and also entertainment. It provides peace of mind to those who afflicted with miseries, sorrow, grief or fatigue. There is no art, no knowledge, no yoga, and no action that is not found in Natya.”  (Natya-Shastra 1: 106-07; 112-16)

na tajjñāna na tacchilpa na sā vidyā na sā kalā  nāsau yogo na tatkarma nāye’smin yanna dśyate Ns.1. 116


Generally speaking, Bharata not only takes the experience of the individual human beings, but that of the world as a whole; and, considers Natya as the effective means of communicating those experiences. Included in this, are the elements of speech, poetry, music, dance and all those factors that lend beauty and grace to a theatrical performance. For Bharata, Natya is the very epitome of life.

According to Bharata, Natya is the experiences of the world when it is represented on the stage, in order to provide enjoyment and instruction, by means of acts of communication, which a person does not normally employ in the everyday life. The presentation of the play is dominated by the stylized modes of presentation (NatyaDharmi).

In other words, just the fact of one’s experiences in the world, as ordinarily noted or observed during the course of life, is not Natya.  It becomes Natya only when it is communicated through the means of Abhinayas and representation; and, presented on the stage.

The Abhinaya, on the stage, is expressed through Mano-vak-kaya (mind, voice and body), in terms of Sattvika, Vachika and Angika abhinaya-s. These are supported by Aharya (the costumes and stage props), the fourth element. Thus Abhinaya covers not only the movements of face and limbs; but, it also encompasses all the other elements and modes of supportive expressions.

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

Such well enacted Abhinayas induce in the minds and hearts of the Sahrudaya the sense (Artha) that is conducive for evoking proper Rasa. Without Abhinaya there is no drama; and, no Natya without representation

Bharata’s definition of Natya covers all these factors; and holds good even in the present day.

[Abhinavagupta also makes a distinction between the world of drama (Nātyadharmī) and the real but ordinary life (Lokadharmī). In the artistic process, where presentations are made with the aid of various kinds of dramatic features such as Abhinayas and synthetic creationswe are moving from the gross  and un-stylized movements of  daily life to more subtle forms of expressions and experiences; we move from individualized experiences to general representations (sadharanikarana) ; and, from multiplicity to unity.]

Abhinavagupta , in the context of Dance, explains Abhinaya as a process , where the performer brings into his mind the meaning and the sentiment of the words of the song; and, puts it forth through facial expressions, movement of the limbs and such other means. And, Abhinaya is the act of communication of an idea, a thought or the phase of an emotion or sentiment that one is experiencing.

 [It is explained that acting, in a sense, means to behave like someone else. And, it is not reality; because, it is not related to the actual life of the person who is acting. But, at the same time, it is not mimicry or imitation. Abhinaya should be understood as the actor’s effort to communicate and to convey the mental and emotional states of the character; and, its experiences. Abhinaya is bringing forth the Artha, the sense of the things, into the minds of the Sahrudayas. ]



Bharata used the term Nrtta to denote dance; and, the term Nrtya does not appear in the Natyashastra. Abhinavagupta also, adhering to the terminologies of the Natyashastra, avoids using the term Nrtya , as such.  He consistently uses the term Nrtta, while referring to Dance. Similar was the case with the authors earlier to his period. They also had not used the term Nrtya.

Further, in some editions of Natyashastra where the word Nrtya crept in, it is taken as a later insertion (unintended or otherwise) by the manuscript-copier (scribes).

That does not mean that the essence of Dance (with which we are now familiar as Nrtya) did not exist; or, was not yet created in the epoch of Natyashastra.

It only means that the specific term Nrtya was not then in currency.  According to some scholars, the term Nrtta along with Abhinaya covered what we now call Nrtya, as evidenced from some verses of the Abhinavabharati.

According to Abhinavagupta, it was Bharata who designed and created an Art form, which would adorn the Natya, by combining the dance element of the Nrtta and the Abhinayas. But, for some reason, Bharata did not see a need to assign a name to the resultant art form.

And, Bharata, in his characteristic way, puts it as if the suggestion came to him from Shiva, who had advised Brahma the ways to utilize the Nrtta in the Natya. Here, Shiva had said : you can very well communicate (Abhinayasi), by use of Nrtta (made beautiful by Angaharas consisting different Karanas), the things (Artha) out of which the songs are composed; the songs that are sung in the Purvaranga.

mayāpīda smta ntya sandhyākāleu ntyatā nānā karaa sayuktair agahārair vibhūitam4.13 pūrvaraga vidhā vasmistvayā samyak prayojyatām vardhamāna akayogeu gītevāsāriteu ca 4.14 mahāgīteu caivā arthān samyagevā abhineyasi yaścāya pūrvaragastu tvayā śuddha prayojita NS. 4. 15

That is to say; on taking the hint from Shiva’s statement, Bharata worked out the details of combining Nrtta with Abhinaya; and, that led to the birth of a new Art form – the Nrtya. The term Abhinaya, here, stands for the act of communication.

Sarangadeva in his Sangitaratnakara, says that by combining the Angikabhinaya of Nrtta with the Abhinayas (Satttvica, Angika, Vachika and Aharya abhinayas) the Nrtya was created – Angikabhinayai reva Bhavaneva vyanakti, yat, tan Nrtyam.


The statement that the combination of Nrtta and Abhinaya resulted in Nrtya, at the suggestion of Shiva, was supported by Abhinavagupta through two verses, which he ascribes to Kohala.

The quoted verses say:  In the past, on one evening (Sandhya), Narada was dancing in front of Shiva. And Narada then sang a song celebrating the victory of Shiva over the demon Tripura. And, Shiva, having been pleased with the song, began to dance; enacting (Abhinaya) the theme of the song. Later, Shiva asked Tandu to combine (yojana) the Tandava (meaning, Nrtta) with Abhinaya used in that dance.

Sandhyayam nrtyaha Shamboh bhakty-agre, Naradah pura gaavan Triporonmatham taccita stavata gitake cakra abhinayam pritas tatas Tandum ca so abravit natyokta abhinayenedam vats yojya Tandavam

Shiva’s Nrtta included Karanas and Angaharas. Yet; Shiva said that one can communicate through Nrtta when used in Natya.

Now, what does that mean?   It might perhaps mean that if Nrtta is performed with a given intention, following a method, then it might convey a meaning.


Dr. KM Varma in his scholarly and highly analytical work ‘Natya, Nrtta and Nrtya: their meaning and relation’, argues (page 32) that Nrtta came first; then Natya. And later, when Abhinaya was added to Nrtta, the idea of Nrtya emerged.

Thus, he says, Nrtta and Nrtya came into being at the suggestion of Shiva. But, both these forms were propagated by Tandu.

Though Bharata is responsible for the emergence of Nrtya, it did not receive special nomenclature or individual treatment in the Natyashastra. Bharata continued to treat it as Nrtta.

Although it developed to full extent soon after the time of Bharata,  the theoreticians and commentators until about the tenth century continued to follow Bharata; and, avoided using the term Nrtya, though they did describe its essential features, nature and techniques by use of other terms.

But, when the combination of Nrtta and Abhinaya, evolved, developed and prospered as an independent, well recognized, dance form; and, became so popular (prasiddha) , the latter authors could not afford to avoid the term Nrtya. And, Nrtya, eventually, became a part of the Grammar of the Dance.

The hypothetical question since when the term came into popular use is much debated. Many point out that though the term Nrtya was not employed by the commentators of the medieval period, it somehow, was in popular usage as early as in the fifth century.

That argument is supported by the fact that Amarasimha (fifth century), in his lexicon Amarakosa, while defining Nartana, included within its meaning, Nrtya as a synonym: ṇḍava naanaya lāsya ntya ca nartane (1.7.427).  That suggests; as early as in the fifth century Nrtya was well known; and, was in common use. And, the lexicographer could not avoid including the term Nrtya in his work. But, it is not clear when it actually acquired its name.


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

The key ingredient in the Nrtya is the elaborate gesture-language, Abhinaya (lit., to bring near; that is, to present before the eyes), the meaning (Artha) and the emotion (Bhava) of the lyrics. It is the harmonious combination of striking poses, eloquent gestures, lucid facial expressions, various glances, and meaningful movements of the hands, fingers and feet.

Though the performance of an Nrtya is tied with the interpretation of a lyric (sahitya) depicting a theme (prasanga), it combines in itself the expressive Abhinaya; and the stances, poses, postures and movements, of the pure Dance (Nrtta).  The Nrtya is regarded as the soul of any Dance-style. The Abhinaya and Nrtta elements it portrays demand the skill, grace and ingenuity of a well trained talented Dancer.

[The Abhinaya Darpana describing the qualities of a good dancer says: A dancer must have the inherent sensibility which can be enhanced by training. Agility, steadiness, sense of line, practice in circular movement, a sharp and steady eye, effortlessness, memory, devotion, clarity of speech, sense of music – these ten are the essential qualities of a dancer.

Javaha Sthiratwam Rekha cha /27/ Bhramari Drishti Shramaha; Medha Shraddha Vacho Geetham; Paatra pranaa Dasa Smruthaha/Ab. Da.28/]


Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya – their mutual relations

Sarangadeva remarks, when you take a broader view, Ntta is not distant from Nrtya; and, both of these are essential to Natya.  Thus, Dance, in both of its aspects (Nrtya and Natya), was a vital presence of Nrtta. All the three are interrelated.

The Āgika abhinaya or physical expressions, in both Nrtya and Natya, includes the  Ntta elements. But, Āgika abhinaya is of greater importance in the Nrtya.

The Nrtta is an integral part of the Nrtya; but, it also has its presence in the Natya. Thus, Nrtta has constructive relations with Nrtya as also with Natya. The three, in some measures, are bound together.


Nrtta and Natya

Bharata defines Nrtta and Natya on the basis of their techniques; and, their relevance. And, the two Art-forms were discussed independent of each other.

As between Nrtta and Natya, the former was said to be older. And Nrtta, which earlier was a pure dance performed in the Purvaranga as Deva stuti, later became a part of the Natya. The influence of Nrtta on Natya is more delicate.

Nrtta and Nrtya

And, when the dance elements of the Nrtta were combined with the Abhinayas – with its dance movements interpreting the meaning and sentiments of the words in the lyrics – it was transformed into a most delightful art form – the Nrtya. With this, the dance, in general, came to be known as Nrtya.

Though some texts continued to carry on theoretical discussions on Nrtta (pure dance-like movements) and Nrtya (the dance proper) as if they were two totally distinct dance-idioms; the two, in fact, are very intimately related. And, the defining characteristics (lakhaa) of Nrtta and Nrtya are the same.

But, Pundarika Vitthala, in his Nartana-nirnaya, throughout, uses the terms  Nrtta  and Nrtya  interchangeably, perhaps, because, both those dance forms involved, in some measure, the elements of Abhinaya or interpretative movements conveying a meaning (Artha). He was following the explanations put forth by Abhinavagupta. 

As Dr Kapila Vatsyayan observes, in the contemporary Indian dance scene, with the exploration of geometrical space at floor level and choreographic patterns, the elements of Nrtta, pure dance and Abhinaya, expression-full dance (Nrtya) are close-knit, cohesive.

The Indian classical dance of today, has, over a period, evolved its own Grammar and constructed its own devices. The Nrtta element too has changed greatly from what it meant during the days of Bharata. Its structure and style which are based in different units of Nrtta movements are well adopted into Bharatanatya in the form of Adavus etc.

Thus, in the later periods, particularly in the modern period, Nrtta became an essential ingredient of the Nrtya, in displaying its various stances, postures and movements.


Natya and Nrtya

As regards, Natya and Nrtya; the Natya is a deliberate art; and, Nrtya is representational art. The object of both the forms is to provide Rasa.  

The principles which govern the techniques of both the Natya (Sanskrit Drama) and the classical Nrtya are the same. Their ways of stylized modes of presentation (NatyaDharmi); and, the manners of depiction (Vrtti); the techniques of acting (Abhinaya); and, appearances in costumes and make-up (Aharya) are regulated by the same set of principles of the dramaturgy and its stage –presentation.

Even after Nrtya emerged as an independent Art-form, the later writers on the treatise dealing with the Nrtya and its varied forms, (either exclusively or otherwise), adopted the same set of norms and principles that once governed the Natya of the Natyashastra. The techniques of Dance continued to be discussed in terms of the various elements of Dharmis, the Vrittis and Abhinaya as prescribed by Bharata.

The tya-dharmi mode of dance was woven into the play-presentation. The sequences in the Drama were staged through the actors singing, speaking and dancing in their roles. The static and dynamic Ntta karaas were utilized as idioms to portray various emotional states. The Natya , in its production, made use of the  four-fold Dance phrases of body-movements (āgika); speech delivery (vācika); studied involuntary reaction (sāttvika); as also of costumes, make-up and scenery (āhārya).

Thus, in a way of speaking, the two – the Nrtya (Dance proper along with its Nrtta element) and Natya (Sanskrit Drama) – continue to be bound together, in one way or the other.


Both Nrtya and Natya make use of all the four kinds of Abhinayas. And, difference between Natya and Nrtya, is in their modes of using the different degrees of the elements of the Abhinayas.

The entire sphere of presentation in an Nrtya is predominated by Natya-dharmi, graceful gesticulations, stylized aesthetic suggestive expressions. There is no attempt to present things as they actually are. And, in the Nrtya that we know, those principles and conventions are being followed, even to this day, in their pristine form.

In Nrtya, its every movement should follow the Laya and Tala. It is said; the Nrtya inherits this quality from the Angika-abhinaya of the Nrtta. The Nrtya involves Gatra-vikshepa ‘throwing’ or movement of the limbs, to dance. And, almost throughout its performance, Nrtya is accompanied by music, the most enchanting of the art forms.

Nrtya is basically Drshya or Prekshya, a spectacle mainly having visual appeal. Though the performer follows the lyrics of the song, she does not actually sing; but, only provides the lip-movement while interpreting its words and sentences.

Many elements of Nrtta and Natya were absorbed into Natya. And, Nrtya, for a period, became a parallel form of Drama. But, in the Natya, the elements of Nrtya are incidental to its dance sequences. Dance as a part of dramaturgy was employed as an ornamental overlay upon a theatrical presentation.

In contrast to the Nrtya, the facial and body movements in Natya are slight or subtle – Kincit-chalana. Here, the speech (Vachika) is dominant; and, therefore, the need for Sattvikabhinaya  and the vrttis (styles of dialouge delivery) is greater, for communicating the mental and emotional states of the characters in the play. Further, unlike in Nrtya, the actors on the stage do actually sing.  Thus, in the Natya, both the visual and the audio are highly essential.

Thus, the Natya or Drama has an advantage over poetry, music and dance. Apart from bringing in the embellishment of spectacular the visual effects (Rupaka or Drishya-kavya), it has the power of music and speech.


In the later periods, Natya became rather stagnant; but, the Nrtya made rapid strides. While Natya was fading ; and, losing its universal appeal,  the Nrtya and its forms were evolving and developing swiftly as the most delightful and most engaging Art forms, popular among  all sections of the society.

In the process of its growth, Nrtya widened its scope and content by innovating and assimilating a range of stylistic variations; and, by moving away from its early dependence on Drama. Now, Nrtya is no longer an adjunct or accessory to Natya. It has also widened its aesthetic scope, beyond decorative grace to encompass emotive communication (Rasa) and narrative variations. It has evolved into a full-fledged system, a self-governing complex Art form; and, has established its identity. And, it has continued as highly popular classical dance form.

lasya (1)


The School of Nrtya that is prevalent in South India is the Bharata-natya.

In the initial years, there were debates raising questions concerning the name assigned to this Dance form, which, basically, is Nrtya. Many asked, why should it be called Bharata-natya; and, why not Bharata-nrtya.

In reply; explanations were offered to clarify that the suffix ‘Natya’ also stands for ‘Nrtya’, in its technical sense.  The arguments made out said  that as per the past authorities like Kumbha Rana and Vipradasa (fifteenth century), the term ‘Natya’ could also be used to denote ‘Nrtya’. Later, Pundarika Vittala (sixteenth century), in his work (Nartana-nirnaya), following the lead given by Sarangadeva, said that Nartana, a general class-name for Dance, covered the three forms of Dance: NatyaNrtya and Nrtta. And, much before that Amarasimha, as early as in the fifth century, had equated ‘Natya’, among other terms, with ‘Nrtya’.

But, there are no explanations anywhere as to when and why that equation was arrived at. The only other plausible explanation is that it might have come about by way of popular usage. But, in any case, since this form of dancing was created by Bharata, to name it as Bharatanatya, is truly justifiable.  As per Dr. Ananada Coomaraswamy,’ Indian acting and dancing, is a deliberate art; and, the same word, Natya, covers both those ideas. ‘

Thus, the Nrtya, known now as Bharatanatya is surely a continuation of the form and tradition of the Marga class of dance that was promoted by Bharata; although over the period, some elements have entered into it. Yet; no other School of Nrtya has a closer relationship with Natyashastra than Bharatanatya.


The Bharatanatya of today is such a refined form of Dance which has brought within its ambit the formats of Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya. This School of Art can be explained in almost every respect by Bharata’s theories. And, it follows Bharata’s techniques to a large extent.  It also contains the beauty of form as in the Nrtta. It excels in the aesthetic presentation of form and geometrical beauty; and in the richness of in variety of movements as no other dance form does. It has the gentle power of expression to communicate ideas and emotions through Abhinaya, as in Nrtya. It can also present a narrative theme as in Natya, where the dancer enacts the roles of varieties of characters (Ekaharya Abhinaya or Ekaharya Lasyanga)

Depending upon the nature of the dance item that is being presented, its balance in terms of Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya varies. But, in general, the dominant aspect of Bharatanatya is Nrtya.

As regards its practice, Bharatanatya draws upon its tradition persevered and passed on from generation to generation in orally transmitted and highly codified manuals (Shastra). Though it is, essentially, rooted in the principles of Natyashastra, it has also adopted many features and techniques from the regional dance traditions; and, has thus enlarged its repertoire and acquired many dimensions.

Though the emphasis is on the adherence to and to preserving the purity of the tradition; and, its continuation, it also has brought in some innovative techniques and refreshing modes of expression, in tune with the advancing times. These could be called as ‘context-sensitive interactions’

The difference between Bharatanatya and other Dance forms like Kathakali, Manipuri and others is mainly in the use of their Abhinayas and techniques. They all belong to the Nrtya class. Each has its own stylized manner of bringing out the essential meaning of the song. Each is delightful in its own way. The coexistence of multiple streams of Dance forms has surely enriched the Indian Art scene.


The way ahead…

Having said that; let me add that Bharatanatya, as an art, is a dynamic process. It needs to be rejuvenating and reinventing itself all the time. And, it should not stagnate. Though its theories are rooted in the Natyashastra of Bharata, in its practice, it derives its curriculum from several other texts. Most of those texts were written before the seventeenth century.  And, that makes it essential for Bharatanatya to innovate and look for newer modes and idioms of expressions; and, also try to move away, at least for a limited extent, from the traditional mythological themes.

All the Art forms that are practiced today cannot be explained only on the basis of Natyashastra; nor is it necessary to do so. Art need not always be confined to Bharata’s techniques. Even in the case of Bharatanatya, the theory as detailed in Natyashastra needs to be studied in the light of the current practices. And, that might, hopefully provide us an insight; and, suggest improved techniques, in order to rationalize and bring it closer to today’s environment.

If the dance forms that are practiced today have to come into their own, these should be explained on a rational basis.  It seems much attention is paid to the literal interpretation of the old texts. And, too much philosophizing is another factor. But, Art has its own philosophy, outlook and appeal; although many try to inject their own pet philosophy into the Arts.

If the Art has to be alive it has to be relevant to the times we live in; and, has to reach further levels of the society.

We are in the age of reconstruction. There many problems and issues – old and new-,  including commercialization, that need to be resolved. The ancient theories would not do for all our present needs and problems. A detailed study of present practices without always being tied down to the ancient theoretical works seems advisable.  What is needed is continuity with change. Both the ancient and the modern Art-forms and techniques need to be studied with equal earnestness.


In the next part, we shall briefly talk about various classical Dance forms of India, such as Kathak, Odissi, kathakali and Manipuri.

dance forms



Part Five


References and sources

All images are from the Internet

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Posted by on October 1, 2018 in Art, Natya


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Eighteen

Continued from Part Seventeen – Lakshana Granthas– Continued

Part Eighteen (of 22 ) – Lakshana Granthas – Continued

12 . Samgita Parijata pravashika by Ahobala Pandita  

Ahobala Pandita’s   Samgita Parijata pravashika (17th century) that follows the works of Pundarika Vittala is the other significant text that introduces the elements of South Indian music in the North. And, it is regarded by some as the earliest text of the North Indian Music.

Pandit V. N. Bhatkhande in his ‘A Short Historical Survey of the Music of Upper India’ writing about Ahobala and his Sangita Parijata described it as the most popular Sanskrit work of Northern India. The importance of Sangita Parijata again, I believe, can never be exaggerated. It is one of our great landmarks in the history of Northern Music. The Shuddha scale of Sangita Parijata is the same as that of our modern Kaphi Raga. This scale will correspond with the southern scale Kharaharapriya.

Pandita Ahobala who described himself as a Dravida Brahmana, the son of Samskrita Vidwamsa Sri Krishna Pandita, provides valuable information on the classification of North Indian Ragas. The Sangita Parijata is regarded as one of the source-books of Hindustani Music.

Ahobala derives his music theories and principles from Raga-tarangini of Lochana Kavi (15th century) and Raga vibodha of Somanatha (1609). The Raga-tarangini written by Lochana Kavi of Mithila discusses in detail several songs in Maithili dialect, set to Ragas and Raginis prevalent during that time. Lochana Kavi in the traditional manner lists 22 Sruti positions.

Following Lochana Kavi, Ahobala mentions 22 Srutis and 122 Ragas. According to Emmie te Nijenhuis; Ahobala listed 11340 Ragas. Following Ramamatya and Pundarika Vittala, Ahobala classified 122 Ragas under six Mela categories and three subdivisions: Audava (pentatonic), Shadava (hexa-tonic) and Sampurna (hepta -tonic). His scale of Shuddha notes corresponds to the current Kafi thath.

And, he describes 122 Ragas in detail mentioning the Svara structure, number of their Svaras, their time of performance and their characteristic melodic phrases. In his descriptions of the Ragas he emphasized the importance of understanding the nature and structure of the Raga. According to him, the movement of different Svaras (Svara-sanchara), as also the different places (Sthana) of the same Svara give each Raga its unique flavour.

[ Prof. O C Ganguly in his Raga and Ragini (Nalanda Books, 1935) remarks:

The most important feature of Sangita-Parijata by Ahobala Pandlta  is the fixing of the exact places of the Shuddha and Vikrta notes in terms of the lengths of the sounding string of the Veena, in the same manner as that of Hrdaya-kautuka of Hrdaya Narayana Deva.

Ahobala does not appeal to give any classification of the Ragas under any types of parent-scale (That) or otherwise, although he claims to describe the ragas according to the characteristics laid down by Hanuman- Laksanani vurve tesam sammatya ca Hantimatah.

But occasional references to Thats seem to indicate, that in his time, classification of Ragas under Thats had become current in the North. He gives a list of 122 ragas, which he describes with accurate notations – Dvavimsatya satam te ca prokta loka-sukhaya ca.

Ahobala Pandlta groups them according to the time and hours (prahara) assigned to their appropriate periods for singmg, dividing them into three groups, for the first, second or third watches, while a string of 19 ragas are grouped together as suitable for all hours (sarvada ca. sukha-prada).]

In his work , he  does not use particular names for the scales , but indicates the alterations (Vikrta Svaras) , flat (Komal) and sharp (Tivra or Tivratara) to be used in particular Ragas. And, the Shuddha scale he refers to is the same as the one in Raga-tarangini of Lochana Kavi. However, Ahobala’s Shuddha (unaltered) notes do not correspond with the notes of the Karnataka Mukhari Mela, but with those of the Hindustani Kafi That.  Ahobala treats Kafi as the principal scale.

[The modern Raga Kafi of the North is equivalent to Kharahara-priya]

[For several centuries the Saptaka that defined by the Svaras of Kafi Raga– and not that of Bilawal – was the Shuddha scale of the Hindustani system.    And, therefore,  Pandit Bhatkhande expresses surprise that post-Lochana, occurrences of Raga Kafi and its Lakshanas are found more in the works of Karnataka Shastras including Venkatamakhin‘s Chatur-Dandi-Prakashika  (17th century ) and Tulaja‘s  Sangeeta Saramrta (18th C), than in their northern counterparts.]



As regards Vikrit Svaras ( the Svaras which when displaced to higher or lower positions from their original positions cause either decrease or increase in the number of Srutis between them and their neighboring Svaras) , Ahobala identifies eight Vikrit Svaras : (1). Purva – Ra – at 5; (2) .Komal –Re- at 6; (3). Purva – Ga- at 7 ; (4). Komal – Ga- at 8; (5) . Purva – Dha- at 18; (6). Komal – Dha- at 19;  (7). Purva – Ni – at 20; and (8). Komal – Ni – at 21.

Ahobala reproduces the ancient theory of 22 Srutis. He states that all these Srutis could be used as notes (Svara) in various Ragas.

Shri TR Srinivasa Ayyangar in his scholarly critical introduction to Samgraha-Chudamani of Govinda remarks that Ahobala Pandita did not divide the 22 Srutis into equal intervals. Instead he recommended application of Shadja-panchama-bhava in fixing the intervals.

Shri Ayyangar quotes Ahobala Pandita:  “Kesagra-vyvadhanena bahvyo pi srytayah Srithah ; Veenayam ca tatha gatre samgita-jnani-nam mate. Madhya purvottara-bhaddha-Vinayam gatra eva va; Shadja-panchama-bhavena srutir dva-vimsatim jaguh”;

And says, with this Ahobala determined the length –value of Svaras on the strings of the Veena. He then names the 22 Sruti positions :  : Chandovathi 1; Dayavathi  256/243; Ranjani 16/15/; Ratika 10/9 ; Raudri 9/8 ; Krodha 32/27; Vajrika 6/5 ; Prasarini 5/4 ; Priti 81/64 ; Marjani 4/3 ; Keiti 45/32 ; Raktha 64/45 ; Samdipani 40/27 ; Alapini 3/2 ; Madanti 128/81 ; Rohini 8/5 ; Ramya 5/3 ; Ugra 27/16 ; Kshobini 16/9; Tivra 9/5; Kumadvathi 15/8 ; Manda 243/128 ; and Chandovathi 2.

[The Shuddha Svaras mentioned above belong to Shadja-Grama]

Although Ahobala recognizes 22 Srutis in the octave, he limits his discussion to 12 in order to describe his Ragas or to illustrate his examples.  He identified the 12 Svaras in terms of the length of the string of the Veena. Ahobala minimized the importance assigned to Srutis or to their numbers by comparing Svaras and Srutis with the snake and its coils, which truly are one but appear distinct only in their outward forms.

In order to determine the exact position on the string of each of these 12 Svaras, he mentions the ratios representing the divisions of the string. Pandit V N Bhatkhande writes:

There is another point on which Ahobala puts the whole musical world of India under his obligation and it is this. Ahobala was the first musician who distinctly saw the absolute necessity of calibrating the value of 12 Svaras in terms of the lengths of the speaking wire of the Veena. It should be noted here that Ahobala thus set an important precedent: not long afterwards, a South Indian  musicologist named Govinda Dikshita fixed the frets of the southern Indian Veena so that all ragas could be played . . . before this, the frets were movable, and their number varied.

Further, Pandit V N Bhatkhande writes: Ahobala Pandita described the octave relation as well as the seven notes and their inter relations, in terms of the string divisions and position of nodes

“The places (nodes) for each note are described on the Veena , which generates the note and which can be seen with the eyes. The nodes for upper Sa  or octave stands at the mid-point of the open wire, and that for Ma ( the fourth) should be taken mid-way between the two – the fundamental and the octave. Dividing the wire-length into three equal parts the Panchama (the fifth ) is obtained at the first division, near the top. The Gandhara (the third) is obtained mid-way between fundamental and its Fifth. The Re (second) is to be placed at the first (of three divisions) between Sa and Pa, while the Dha (the sixth) is to be placed between the Fifth and the octave. In turn , Nishadha is at the end of the second ( of the three divisions) between the Fifth and the Octave “ (In Ranade 1951 :p .177-178)

Ahobala’s descriptions of 68 types of Alamkaras or Vadana-bedha is said to be an improvement over Somanatha’s Raga-vibodha.

There are some often quoted passages of Ahobala Pandita.

: – Samgita in the ancient context was a composite art comprising Gita (singing), Vadya (instruments) and Nrtya (limb movements). It was only much later that Nrtya began to develop independently. And, in Music, Gita (singing) had importance over Vadya (instrumental music); and, instrumental music generally follows the vocal styles and nuances. . Ahobala Pandita   in his Samgita Parijata pravashika (17th century) says it is because of that reason the singing itself came to be known as Samgita (Samgita, Gita-vadhittra nrityanama trayam samgitam uccyate; Ganasytra pradhanatvat samgita mitiriyam).

: – Ahobala describes Mela as a combination of Svaras, and it has a power to create the Ragas. Therefore every Raga has a Mela for its basis or ground of origin – : “Mela svara-samuha syad raga-vyanjana-shaktim

: – His description of Kafi Raga: – arohe ridha-hinanyet pumasuddha svaratyukta gandharasvara purvasyat dhanairui madhyamantak

: – The distinguishing feature, the Lakshana of a Raga is its uniqueness: Asadharana- Dharmita.


Ahobala Pandita work not only influenced the music-practice of his times, but also had a great impact on other music-scholars. They all accepted the theory of Ahobala, his measure of 12 Svaras and Kafi Mela as the Shuddha Mela. For instance; following Ahobala Pandita, Hridayanarayana Deva wrote two books on theory (Hridaya Kautuka and Hridaya Prakasha); Bhavabhatta wrote three books (Anupa Sangita Vilasa; Anupankusha; and Anupa Sangita ratnakara); and Srinivasa in 18th century wrote his Raga-tattva-vibodha where both Vikrit and Shuddha Svaras were placed by measuring the length of the wire on the Veena, following the method of Ahobala Pandita. He accepted the 12 notes of Ahobala and Kafi Mela as the Shuddha Mela.

As can be seen; the 16th and 17th centuries were of great importance for Music-texts of India. Several important texts touching upon the Music of North India were also written during this period. Of these, the Raga-tarangini of Lochana Kavi; Sad-raga-chandrodaya and other works of Pundarika Vittala; Hrdaya-kautaka and Hrdaya-prakasha of Hrdaya–Narayana Deva (Ca.1660) and Sangita-parijata of Ahobala (Ca.1665) are considered important for their bearing on the present day music.

Ahobala Pandita‘s work Samgita Parijata pravashika earned great fame as a landmark text in the North Indian Music history.   Pandit Bhatkhande writes: While considering the history of music in the time of this Emperor – Shahjahan – (1627-1658 A.D.) it will be most convenient to take notice of that most popular Sanskrit work of Northern India which is known as Sangita-Parijata. It was written by Pandit Ahobala the son of Shri Krishna.

It is not therefore surprising that Samgita Parijata pravashika was translated into Persian and other Northern languages. The more notable ones are its Persian translations; one by Mirza Raushan Zamir (1666) as Tarjuma -i- parijatak, with his own comments ; and the other by Pandit Dinanatha ( son of Pandit Vasudeva) in 1724. The translation bearing the seal of the librarian of Emperor Mohamed Shah (1719-1724) is  said to be still in the collection of the Rampur State Library. 

Katherine Butler Schofield, King’s College London, based on  the works of Ahobala Pandta, Mirza Raushan Zamir, Iwaz Muhammad Kamilkhani , Ras Baras Khan, and Shaikh Abd al-Karim , has re-worked, on the string of the Been,   the scales of Hindustani Rāgas, according to Pythagorean ratios.

ahobala music


[ Ref  and sources : Semiosis in Hindustani Music by José Luiz Martinez ;  A Short Historical Survey of the Music of Upper India by Pandit v. N. Bhatkhande ;  Bhatkhande’s  Contribution to Music: A Historical Perspective by Sobhana Nayar; Musicological Literature by Emmie te Nijenhui ]


13. Govinda Dikshita – Sangita-sudha

govinda dikshitaGovinda Dikshita, a musician and a Kannada  speaking (Hoysala Karnataka Brahmin) scholar, philosopher, statesman and musicologist hailing from Mysore, served as a Minister of three successive  Kings of Thanjavuru, Achyutappa Nayaka (1560 AD-1614 AD), Raghunatha Nayaka (1600 AD-1645 AD) and Vijayaraghava Nayaka (1634 AD-1673 AD) , all of whom patronized Karnataka Samgita . Govinda Dikshita’s two sons Yagnanarayana Dikshita and Venkatershwara Dikshita or Venkatamakhin were both scholar- musicians.  All the three were in the service of the Kings of Tanjore.

Govinda Dikshita’s fame rests on the treatise on music and dance named Sangita-sudha which he wrote in 1614. The work may originally have had seven chapters (1.Svara; 2.Raga; 3.Prakirna; 4.Prabandha; 5. Taala; 6. Vadya; and, 7. Nartana). But, all available manuscripts contain only the first four Chapters. Govinda Dikshita in his work generally followed the model of Sarangadeva’s Sangita Ratnakara.

The colophon of the text implicitly states that it was written by Raghunatha Bhupa – Sri Raghunatha bhupa viracita Sangeetha Sudha“.  But, Venkatamakhin asserts that the text was , in fact, written by his father Govinda Dikshita ;and , submitted to his patron Raghunatha Nayaka.  In any case, the text is of great value to students of Karnataka Sangita; and, the introductory part of the text is an authentic source of the history of art and architecture of the age.

Sangita-sudha is an elaborate treatise, and treats of the Raga systems quite fully. The descriptions of the jati-ragas, including the composite jati-melodies, are illustrated with actual songs, with notations. Govinda Dikshita gives to the Suddha-jatis a picturesque name, viz Kapalani (skulls), associating their origin with Shiva, as he went about in his begging role (Bhiksatana vesa) with the skull as his begging bowl.

Improving on Matanga , he also takes for detailed elaboration ten main types of Ragas, classifying under them thirty Grama-ragas, eight Upa-ragas, twenty Upanga-ragas, ninety six Bhasha-ragas,   twenty Vibhasha-ragas, four Antarbhasha-ragas, twenty one Raganga-ragas, twenty Bhashanga-ragas, thirty Upanga-ragas, and fifteen Kriyanga-ragas. He also explains the concept of Alapana, the ways of elaborating a Raga.

[ Prof. O C Ganguly in his Raga and Ragini (Nalanda Books, 1935) remarks:

 While Svara-kala-nidhi cites 20 melas, (generic melodies which unify the derivatives under a genus-species system), Raga-vibodha cites 23 mela-karta ragas; by the time of Govinda Dikshita, 72 melas had been evolved. Though the system of Melakartas had been in existence before, Dikshiat gives it an emphatic status, and appears to have codified it, and given it a proper name, calling it, after the name of his patron, as ‘Raghuniitha-mela’. The author is said to have introduced some new ragas, e.g., Jayanta-sena and others.]

Govinda Dikshita in his Sangita-sudha confirms that the method grouping the Ragas into Mela was initiated by Sage Sri Vidyaranya in his Sangita-sara (14th century). Govinda Dikshita reverently addresses Sri Vidyaranya as: Sri Charana. According to Govinda Dikshita, Sri Vidyaranya classified about 50 Ragas into 15 groups (Mela) – commencing from Naata  and ending with Desaksi. The intention was to organize then known Ragas that were in practice.

Apart from writing, Govinda Dikshita improved upon the techniques of Veena tuning initiated by Somanatha and Ramamatya. He followed the illustrations given by Ahobala Pandita in fixing the position of the frets on the Veena so that all the Ragas could be played. (Before that, it appears, the frets were movable and their numbers varied).It is said; that his sons Venkatamakhin and Yajnanarayana Dikshita were also involved in his work.

Venkatamakhin informs that during those days, besides the common Shuddha and Madhya-mela Veena described by Ramamatya, there was also a Veena with a higher tuning, i.e. a fourth higher than the Madhya-mela Veena and comparable to the Madhyama Sruti tuning of the modern Karnataka Veena. It was named by Govinda Dikshita as Raghunatha Mela Veena, in honor of the King.

In the beginning of 17th Century, Somanatha’s Raga Vibodha, Ramamatya’s Svara-mela-kalanidhi and Govinda Dikshita’s Sangita-sudha were regarded as standard theoretical texts (Lakshana granthas) on Music. Some, therefore, look upon Somanatha, Ramamatya, and Govinda Dikshita as the Trio of Lakshanakara-s (theoreticians) of Karnataka Sangita theory (Sangita Shastra).

In the latter half of 17th Century, Govinda Dikshita’s son Venkatamakhin appeared on the scene with his monumental work Chatur-Dandi-Prakashika , suggesting the possibilities of the 72 Mela scheme, footing the Mela-Janya system on a rational basis. One could say that Govinda Dikshita and Venkatamakhin are to musicology what Ramaswamy Dikshitar and Mutthuswamy Dikshitar are to musical compositions.

Coin of the Nayak period With Govinda Dikshita's name on it.  Photo From the collection of T.M. Krishna

Govinda Dikshita‘s role in persevering and nurturing Karnataka Samgita is of historical importance. 

With the fall of the Vijayanagar Empire, scores of musicians and scholars migrated to the Tanjore region, seeking shelter and royal patronage. The kingdom of Tanjore of the Nayaka period (1530 -1674) was relatively safe, prosperous and a benign region of peace. The three Nayaka kings of this period – Achutappa (1560 -1614); Raghunatha (1600-1645); and, Vijayaraghava (1634-1673) Nayaka – were themselves the descendants of the erstwhile Vijayanagar Royalty.

It was during the reign of Achutappa Nayaka (1560 -1614) that the initial wave of immigrants from the Kannada region were granted asylum and resettled, mainly, in Unnatha-puri (Atchutapuram or Melattur) region. It was Govinda Dikshita, who himself was from Karnataka, that oversaw the arrangements for resettlement of the families, on behalf of Achutappa Nayaka.

It is said; Govinda Dikshita caused the renovation and extension of the Unnatha-puri-eswara temple; construction of a pond in front of it ; and,  formation of various Agraharams (residential quarters) around it. The temple tank was duly named after Govinda Dikshita as ‘Ayyan Kolam’.

Even though their reign was dotted with many wars with various other local rulers and later overtures by the English, the Nayaks of Tanjore provided unstinted support to the music and dance forms of the region; and , remained great lovers and patrons of art and literature. Their courts supported many a composer and musician and we see the results from the prodigious output of the famous trilogy of Thyagaraja, Shyama Shastri and Dikshitar.

Thus , it could be said , Govinda Dikshita played a significant role in shifting the centre of Karnataka Samgita from Vijayanagar to Tanjore.

Govinda Dikshita continued to be a minister in his court of Raghunatha Nayaka, as well. It is said; it was during this period that Govinda Dikshita composed the Sanskrit treatise on music, Sangita Sudha; and, ascribed it to his patron Raghunatha  

During his lifetime and even after, Govinda Dikshita was a highly respected person. He was affectionately called ‘Ayyan’. Later in his life, he is believed to have lived at Patteeswaram where he caused the renovation of the Devi temple. The sculptural images of Govinda Dikshita and his wife Nagamba standing in front of the deity with folded hands can be seen in the Mantap of the temple.


The presiding deity of the temple at Patteeswaram, the Lingam, is called ‘Govinda Dikshita Lingam’. The villages around the town he lived were named; Govindapuram, Ayyampettai etc in his honor.


[Ref: Musicological Literature by Emmie te Nijenhui; Wikipedia]

All pictures are gratefully  taken from internet


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Posted by on June 10, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Seventeen

Continued from Part Sixteen – Lakshana Granthas– Continued

Part Seventeen (of 22 ) – Lakshana Granthas – Continued

10. Pundarika Vittala

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hindola Mela is entirely different in both the systems.

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

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

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

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

1. Sadraga Chandrodaya

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Padma Rajagopal observes:

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

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

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

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


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

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

Male Raga: Suddha Bhairav

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

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

Male Raga: Hindola

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

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

Male Raga: Deshikar

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

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

Mela Raga: Sri Raga

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

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

Male Raga: Suddha Nata

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

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

Male Raga: Natta Narayana

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Ragamanjari

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


  Regarding Nartana-nirnaya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Dr. Mandakranta Bose observes:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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11 . Raga-vibodha of Somanatha

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The notations

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

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

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

Gamakas and Notations


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

Matanga, in his Brhaddeshi, while discussing about Raga-giti , one of the seven charming song-forms, he mentions that Ragagitis should be rendered with varied delicate Gamakas (lalithau–Gamakau-vichitrau); and should be adorned with Svara pronunciations, lucid, powerful and even (300); and that the Vibhasha–giti should be sung blending in the Gamakas that are pleasant on the ears (Gamakau–srotra-sukhadai-lalithairasthu) and are also delicate , according to the will of the singer (yadrucchaya samyojya)   to the delight of the people (lokan-ranjathe)- (308).

 Gamaka is any graceful turn, curve or cornering touch given to a single note or a group of notes, which adds emphasis to each Raga’s unique character. Gamaka, in short, is the movement of Svaras which bounce, slide, glide, shivers, rapidly oscillates or skips. It provides movement and animates Svaras to bring out the melodic character and expression (bhava) of a Raga. Each Raga has specific rules on the types of Gamakas that might be applied to specific notes, and the types that may not. Every Raga has, therefore, to be necessarily rendered with the appropriate Gamakas. They depend on the manner of quivering, oscillations or shaking that the Svaras can be endowed with.

Gamaka-rendering is a highly individualistic and a specialized skill. Not merely that the Gamakas are designed specifically for vocal music and for instrumental music, but also that each performer would, in due course, develop her/his own Gamaka-improvisations. And therefore, two Ragas with identical ascending (Aroha) and descending (Avaroha) Svaras and born out of the same parent (Janaka) Raga might sound totally different in character and expression, mainly because of the Gamakas that are employed. [In Hindustani Music, Meend and Andolan are similar to Gamakas.]

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dhyanas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part sixteen

Continued from Part Fifteen – Lakshana Granthas– Continued

Part Sixteen (of 22 ) – Lakshana Granthas – Continued

8. Sangita-ratnakara by Sarangadeva


Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara (first half of 13th century) is of particular importance, because it was written just before influence of the Muslim conquest began to assert itself on Indian culture.  The Music discussed in Sangita-ratnakara is free from Persian influence. Sangita-ratnakara therefore marks the stage at which the ‘integrated’ Music of India was before it branched into North-South Music traditions.

[Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara was published by Adyar Library in four volumes. Please click here for : Vol I; Vol II ; Vol III and Vol IV ]

It is clear that by the time of Sarangadeva, the Music of India had moved far away from Marga or Gandharva, as also from the system based on Jatis (class of melodies) and two parent scales.  By his time, many new conventions had entered into the main stream; and   the concept of Ragas that had taken firm roots was wielding considerable authority.  Sarangadeva brought together various strands of the past music traditions, defined almost 267 Ragas, established a sound theoretical basis for music and provided a model for the later musicology (Samgita Shastra).

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

Thus, Sangita-ratnakara not only provides materials for the study of the ancient music , but it also gives an insight into the then current practices. In his writing, Sarangadeva draws a clear distinction between the well established ancient (purva prasiddha)  and the contemporary  popular (adhuna prasiddha)  Ragas. He also gives descriptions of the  structures and temperaments of   musical instruments such as Veena and Vamsa (flute ) according to the practices of his times. 

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

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

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


The Sangita, according to Sarangadeva, is a comprehensive term. It includes vocal (Gitam) and instrumental (Vadyam) music; as also dance (Nrtyam) – Gitam, Vadyam tatha Nrtyam trayam Samgitam uccyate. The last one, Nrtyam, the dance, is composed of all the three elements.

 In his work Sangita-ratnakara, Sarangadeva devotes seven chapters for discussing these three components (Anga-s) of Sangita.

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

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

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

The Nrtya covers rhythmic limb movements as also eloquent gestures expressing emotions through Abhinaya. It is a harmonious combination of facial expressions, various glances, poses and meaningful movements of the hands, fingers and feet. Nrtyam, the dance, delightfully brings together and presents in a very highly expressive, attractive visual and auditory form, the import of the lyrics (sahitya), the nuances of its emotional content, to the accompaniment of soulful music and alluring rhythmic patterns (tala-laya).

 [Please also read the highly educative introduction written by the renowned scholar SriT R Srinivasa Ayyangar to the Sangraha Chudamani of GovindaEdited by Pandit Sri S .Subrahmanya Sastry ; published by Adyar Library, 1938.]


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

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

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

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

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

In general, Sarangadeva follows Abhinavagupta very closely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Vidushi Prof. Uma Garg in her Melodic Flavours According to the Season, observes: The ragas of the music (in the Hindustani system) have been categorized in many ways, such as Raga-ragini-paddhati; Thaat-raga paddhati; Raganga-paddhati etc. These classifications are technical by nature, involving the grammar of the concerned raga/ragas. But there is another classification of ragas, which does not involve the grammar of a particular raga. Instead, it focuses on its performance time. This concept is called the Time Theory of Ragas. According to this theory, performance of a raga is done in two-fold ways –according to the time of the day or according to the season of the year

The Time Theory of Ragas is a very unique concept in Hindustani Classical Music. It is a purely imaginative concept. It was developed over centuries in poetry, songs, as also in the texts of music. For instance; Nanya Bhoopala (11-12th century) in his Sarasvati-hrdaya-alamkara hara, while discussing seasonal Grama ragas, quotes Matang thus –yadah matang – 

sarve raga mahadeve samyak santoshkarakaha |hemant-greeshma-varshasu kaleshu gan-shasimiha | shadja-madhyam-gandhargrama geya yathakramam ||

All Ragas are dear to Lord Mahadeva. Yet; it would be proper to sing the songs  of shadja; madhyama ; and , gandhara gramas during winter, summer and rainy seasons.

Narada, in the third khanda of the chapter Sangeetadhyaya of his Sangeet Makranda, categorized ragas according to the suryansh (solar) and chandransh (lunar) groups, i.e. sun- and moon-based ragas. He further says –

evam kalavidhin gyatva gayedhyaha sa sukhi bhavet || ragavelapraganen raganan hinsako bhavet | yaha shrinoti sa daridri ayurnashyati sarvada

One who sings the raga-s according to their designated times, attains peace and prosperity. The raga-s themselves shall become violent and lose their attraction if sung off their times. Such (singers) become poor and live a short life

Following that tradition, Sarangdeva in his Sangeet Ratnakara, emphasized the importance of the performance of the ragas in their proper season and time.

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


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

Sarangadeva devotes a large section of his chapter on Ragas (raga-vivekadhyaya) to the Desi Ragas famous in ancient times (prak-prasiddha desi-ragah). He gives an historical survey of Ragas according to theancient scholars Yastika and Matanga. He then gives a preliminary list of eight Uparagas: Tilaka, Saka, Takka-saindhava, Kokila, Pancama, Revagupta, and Pancama-sadava.

Next, he gives a general list of twenty Ragas , namely : Bhavana-pancama, Nagagandhara, Naga-pancama, Sri-raga, Natta, Vangala, Bbasa, Madhyama-sadava, Raktahamsa, Kollahasa, Prasava, Bhairava·dhvani, Megha-raga, Somaraga, Kamoda, Abhra-paficama, Kandarpa-desakhya, Kakuba, Kaisika, Natta-narayana.

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

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

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


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

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

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

By the time of Samgita-Ratnakara, Prabandha had grown into thousands. Sarangadeva explained Prabandha as that which is pleasant; and that which is governed by rules regarding Raga, Taala, Chhandas, Vritta (Sanskrit verses) and Anga. Sarangadeva described about 260 types of Prabandha-s with their variations.  Sarangadeva generally followed Manasollasa and Sangita-Samayasara.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



9. Swaramelakalanidhi of Ramamatya (1550AD)


Ramamatya who described himself as the maternal grandson of the learned scholar Kallappa Desika (Vidyanidhih Kallappa Desikaste matamaho) – identified by some as Kallinatha (the author of a commentary on  Sarngadeva’s Sangita Ratnakara ) ; was the son of  Todarmalla Timmamatya (Todara-malla meaning  in Kannada – the hero-malla– who wears the honorific anklet – Todar).

Ramamatya was a noted scholar and musician in the court of the Vijayanagar King Sadashiva Raya (1542-1570). It is said; that Ramamatya was requested by Venkadri, the brother of Rama Raja the Minister of King Sadashiva Raya, to write a book on Music, particularly to reconcile the tradition and the current practices. The result of his efforts was Swaramelakalanidhi having five Chapters : Upodgata (preface),  Swaraprakarana, Veenaprakarana, Melaprakarana and Ragaprakarana with a total of about 328 couplets in Sanskrit. The text systematically deals with Svara, Veena, Mela system and Ragas. The date of the text is said to  be Shravana Shuddha 10th, Shaka year 1472, I.e, A.D. 1549.

[Please check  for the text in English script;  and here for the  text in Sanskrit  ]

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

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

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

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

An interesting aspect of Ramamatya‘s description is the method of placing the frets. Ramamatya bases his technique in the principle of Samvadi Svaras as described in in ancient texts.

Applying this principle, he introduced (svayambhuvah svara hyete na svabuddhya  prakalpitah)  the concepts of Svayambhu-Svara (self-generating note, which some say is the equivalent of the ancient Samvadi- perfect consonant)  to all other notes . Based on this he determines the positions of all the frets on the Veena. He explains that the different Shuddha and Vikrtasvaras can be derived as the Samvadi-s of one another, starting with the basic Svaras viz. Sa, Pa and Ma to which the strings of the Veena are tuned, are termed Svayambhu-Svara. And in turn, he says, the other Svaras derived through Samvadi relationship are also called Svayambhu-Svaras.(caturthasaryam samjatah svarah sarve svayambhuvah)

He also brought certain improvements into the technical aspects of Music. For instance; the ancient music-theories mentioned 22 Srutis, although only 14 were used as Svaras (notes). Ramamatya reduced the number of Srutis to 12, because, he said, the difference in pitch between Antara Ga and Cyuta Ma (prefix cyuta means lowered) and the notes were negligible. He specified the implementation of this tuning by describing the location of six frets on his Veena


The most important contribution of Ramamatya was in the formulation of a logical principle of classifiation of the ragas, on the basis of the common elements of their characteristic note structures. Following the precedent of Yastika (Bhasanam janaka panchca-dasaite Yastikoditah), whom he cites, he enumerates the fifteen major Ragas ; and, also indicates that these fifteen Ragas  are the father (janaka), that is to say, the genus of the minor melodies (bhasas).

This old janya-janaka system (corresponding to the raga-ragini-putra system of the North) is replaced by Ramamatya by an independent analysis of the Ragas; and, by a systematic classification based on a study of the common elements of the Svara compositions of the different varieties of Ragas, grouped (mela) according to their basic structural unity.

He clarified the distinction between abstract Mela ragas, Janaka ragas  and Janya ragas. He then combined these three concepts to identify 20 Melas under which he classified about 64 Janya Ragas.


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

It appears that by the time of Ramamatya, the method of deriving tunes from the complicated arrangement of Grama-Murchana-Jaati was no longer in use. Similarly, the ancient model essentials (lakshanas) for identifying a Raga based on ten criteria was no longer in practice. The ten ancient criteria (lakshanas) had then been reduced to five.

Ramamatya, in his Svara-mela-kalanidhi classified the then known Ragas into 20 Melas. His classification of Melas was based on five criteria (Lakshana). That is, Amsa (predominant note); Graha (initial note); Nyasa (final note); Shadava (sixth note); and, Audava (pentatonic structure) were no longer considered necessary.  This meant that the ancient modal system was replaced by a scalar system. Nevertheless, individual Raga continued to preserve some of their ancient modal essentials (Lakshna), in certain case even until today.

In chapter 5 , Ramamatya arranges the Ragas into three classes :  Uttama (pure or superior) suitable for singing (Giti) ,  for elaboration (Alapa) , phrasing (Taya) and for composing (Prabandha). The second was the Madhyama (middle one) Ragas suitable for singing segments of  compositions (prabandha khanda). And , the third being Adhama ( inferior)  the Ragas that are meant to dazzle the masses  ( pamara -bhramaka) ; but , unsitable for Alapa, Prabandha or Taya.

Ramamatya also mentions traditional characteristics (Lakshana)  of certain individual Ragas , such as the initial note (Graha) , the dominant note (Amsa), and the   the final note (Nyasa) ; the number of notes ( 5,6  or 7) ; and, recommended suitable time for performance.


The germ of the idea of the genus-species system was perhaps present long before Ramamatya. But, he was the first to introduce a chapter on Mela called Mela-prakarana. In this chapter, he enumerates, the Melakas (unifiers) and then explains their characteristics.

Even prior to Ramamatya the method grouping the Ragas into Mela was in vogue. Mela is a Kannada word meaning gathering or grouping.  The practice of grouping (Mela) the Ragas according to their parent scale, it said, was initiated by Sage Sri Vidyaranya in his Sangita-sara (14th century). Govinda Dikshita (who reverently addresses Sri Vidyarana as: Sri Charana)   confirms this in his Sangita-sudha (1614). Sri Vidyaranya classified about 50 Ragas into 15 groups (Mela). The intention of the Mela system was to organize then known Ragas that were in practice. Sri Vidyaranya’s work on Melakarta system was followed up and improved upon in later times by other scholars.

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

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

Following an older precedent, Ramamatya takes the Mukhari Mela, as the Shuddha scale and gives it the place of precedence. He said “Of all the Melas, Mukhari is the first. Other Melas are  followers” .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande (1860-1936), a scholar and a musicologist, in his colossal work ‘Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati’ reorganized the Uttaradi or North Indian Music, mainly,  by adopting the concept of Mela system as expanded by Venkatamakhin (1660) in the Appendix to his Chatur-dandi-prakashika.

Bhatkhande also adopted the idea of Lakshana-geetas that Venkatamakhin employed to describe the characteristics of a Raga. Bhatkhande arranged all the Ragas of the Uttaradi Sangita into ten basic groups called ‘Thaat’, based on their musical scales.  The Thaat arrangement, which is an important contribution to Indian musical theory, broadly corresponds with the Mela-karta system of Karnataka Sangita.


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

Thus, Swaramelakalanidhi of Ramamatya occupies a significant position in the history of the development of Karnataka Sangita. And, as Dr. N. Ramanathan remarks: Swaramelakalanidhi is an important work as the information contained in it is more relevant and related to the modern practice than the books written prior to it. It is not , therefore, surprising that Emmie Te Nijenhuis lauds Swaramelakalanidhi  as a landmark  in the history of Indian Music. 

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

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


 veena (1)


Sagītaśiromai is a compilation or a Handbook of Indian Music prepared by a group of scholars, based on number of older texts in Sanskrit. It is said; Sultan Malika Sahi, who ruled the region surrounding Allahabad, invited a group of scholars to his capital Kada, during the year 1428; and, asked them to prepare a large book on music  , to serve as the source / reference material,  by making use of considerable number of  ancient  texts he had collected.

The resultant work Sagītaśiromai, which to a large extent was based on Sarangadeva’s Sangitaratnakara, soon gained the reputation as a standard and a very valuable reference book on Music. And, various scholars and authors often quoted verses from Sagītaśiromai. But, in the later times, sadly, the portions of the book dealing with musical instruments and dance were lost.

Please do read the edited and translated version of the first fourteen chapters of the Sagītaśiromai, as rendered by the noted scholar Emmie Te Nijenhuis. Her edition of Sagītaśiromai: A Medieval Handbook of Indian Music is remarkable for its scholarly and detailed explanation / illustration of the principles of Indian music such as : Sruti (intonation); Svara (notes); Grama ( tone-system); Murchana (scales); Taana (tone-patterns); Sadharana (overlapping); Varna (melodic line); Alamkara (musical figures or graces); Jati (mode); Giti (styles of singing); Ragas – their  classifications and characterizations; and others.

The introduction, which Emmie Te Nijenhuis has scripted, is highly educative; and, students and scholars, alike, would certainly benefit, greatly, by reading it closely.]



Posted by on June 5, 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 was referred to as Karnataka Sangita, perhaps, even  slightly prior to 12th century. King Nanyadeva, a prince of a later branch of the Rastrakuta (Karnataka) dynasty who reigned in Mithtili (Nepal) between 1097 and 1133 A.D. in his Sarasvathi-hrdaya-alamkara-hara mentions Karnata-pata tanas. Further, the Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (1127-1139 AD) in his Manasollasa (also called Abhjilashitarta Chintamani) calls the Music of his times as Karnata Sangita . This, perhaps, is the earliest work where the name Karnataka Sangita is specifically mentioned . Later, Thulaja the Nayak ruler of Tanjavuru in his ‘Sangita saramruta’ (1729 – 1735) calls the Music that was in vogue at his time as Karnataka Samgita. That was, perhaps, because the authorities and the Lakshana-granthas he quoted in his work were authored by Kannada-speaking scholars.  Later, Sri Subbarama Dikshitar in his ‘Sangita-sampradaya-pradarshini’ (1904) refers to Sri Purandaradasa as ‘Karnataka Sangita Pitamaha’ (father of Karnataka Music).

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:- and,

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


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



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

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

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

Music Terms

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

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

Teaching Methods

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

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

kanaka-vyasa-vadi ed

Contribution of Haridasas

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


Pada, Suladi, and, Ugabhoga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trinity of Music


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

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

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


Today and tomorrow

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

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

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

Lotus Blossom_

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


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

power of Music

Continued in Part Four

Music of Sama Veda

Sources and References

ಕರ್ನಾಟಕ ಸಂಗೀತ’ದಲ್ಲಿ  ಕನ್ನಡ’

Important Treatises on Carnatic Music by Harini Raghavan

Haridasa s’ contribution towards Music


Posted by on April 22, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Two

Continued from Part One – Overview


Part Two (of 22) –

Overview (2) – continued

North – South branches

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

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

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

Mughal Shamsa, smallest

The Persian influence


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

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

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

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


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

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

Sitar Tabla

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Taking positions

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

karnataka samgita

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

North- South interaction

Hindustani Music

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lotus reflection

South coming close to North

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Bhatkhande’s efforts


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


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

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

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

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

Coming close again

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

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

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


Continued in Part Three

…. Overview (3) – continued

Sources and References

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

Indian Music: History and Structure   by Emmie Te Nijenhuis’

The Music of India  by Reginald Massey, Jamila Massey

History of Hindustani Classical Music

Origins of Indian Music – The medieval period


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Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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