Tag Archives: Sahitya

Kavya and Indian Poetics – Part One

[I could not arrange the topics in a sequential order (krama) . You may take these as random collection of discussions; and, read it for whatever it is worth. Thank you.]


Kavya Shastra

The Indian Poetics over the centuries was known by different names at different stages of its development.  Valmiki in his Epic, Ramayana, refers to Poetics as Kriya-kalpa (kriya-kalpa vidashcha kavyavido janan– Uttara Kanda. 93.7).  Lalitavistara Sutra a Buddhist text believed to belong to the first or second century explains the term Kriya–kalpa as the rules  for creating poetic works  (Kavya-karana-vidhi) ; and says that  the term means  Kavya-alamkara , the poetics (kriya–kalpa iti kavya-karana-vidhi kavya-alamkara ithyarthaha).  Vatsayana  (Ca. second century) in his famous Kama sutra , while enumerating the fourteen types of arts (Kala) that a cultured urbane  person (Nagarika)  should cultivate , also uses the terms  chando-jñānamKavya-kriya-kalpa   to denote the Poetics  (Kamasutra 1.3.15). 

Jayamangala , in his commentary on Kamasutra, explains the term  Kriyakalpa as the science that determines  the nature of poetry (Kriyakapa iti Kavya-karana-vidhi , Kavya-alamkara ityartha).  The poet Dandin (6th-7th century) in his Kavyadarsha, a handbook of classical Sanskrit Poetics, calls Poetics as Kriyavidhi, the rules of poetry ( vācāṃ vicitra-mārgāṇāṃ nibabandhuḥ kriyāvidhim // 1.9 //)

But, by the time of Bhamaha (Ca.6-7th century) the term Alamkara or Alamkara shastra was in wide use.  he opens his work with words Kavya-alamka ityeshu yatha buddi vidiyate; and, follows it with the phrase Kavya-lakshana. Dandin also uses the term Kavya-lakshana.  It was believed that Alamkara the figurative speech or ornamentation was the principle virtue that lent Kavya its grace and brilliance (Kavya-shobha-karaan dharman alamkaran prachakshte). The titles of the books, of  his period and thereafter , on Poetics, therefore, were centered upon the term Alamkara , such as: Kavyalamkara (by Bhamaha, Ca.6- 7th century) ; Kavya-alamkara-sara- Samgraha (by Udbhata-8th century) ; Kavya-alamkara- sutra-vritti (by Vamana Ca. 8th ) and Kavya-alamkara (by Rudrata – c. 9th-century) .

The tendency to describe Poetics in terms of Alamkara went on for a considerable period of time. Though Alamkara was the general name for Poetics, the term Alamkara  referred  both to one of the principles of Poetics and  also to the specific expressions of   figures of speech like Anuprasa, Upama etc. And the concepts of Rasa, Guna, and Riti were also brought under the overall ambit of Alamkara principle.

Rajashekhara  (9th -10th  century)  the poet and scholar  treated  Poetics  as a Shastra; and , he named Poetics as  Sahitya Vidya; the finest essence of all the four Vidyas . And the poets who followed Rajasekhara began to describe Poetics as Sahitya.  For instance;   Vishwanatha named his book on Poetics as Sahitya-darpana ; Ruyyaka titled his book as sahitya-mimamsa ; and, Bhojaraja called Poetics as Kavya shastra.

[Sahitya derived from the root ‘Sahita‘ – being together or united – suggests a system that binds together Sabda (word) and Artha (its meaning).That relation is natural – Nisarga siddha sabda-artha sambandha.

And, Sahitya  generally represents the notion of literature – everything preserved in writing, or even in speech; but, here, practically it was a synonym for Kavya. (Perhaps Vangmaya – things made of language) could be a better term) ]

Thus, over the long period, from time to time, the Shastra of Poetics had been called variously  as Kriya-kalpa; Kavya-karana-vidhi; Kavya-kriya-kalpa; Kriya-vidhi; Alamkara Shastra; Sahitya Vidya and Kavya shastra.

The terms Kriya–kalpa, Kavya–vidhi etc went out of use quite early. And, the scope of the term Alamkara, since the time of Anandavardhana  (Ca.10th century)  got restricted to one of the elements of poetry , which is  the ornamentation and figures of speech like Anuprasa , Upama etc ; and,  it was scarcely used in its  wider sense of poetics.

The term  Sahitya which etymologically means to put together in the sense of  composition , coordination , balance , concord and contact , in recent times,  is used to cover all forms of literature (vangmaya) . It covers even Grammar, philosophy, logic, etymology, technical subjects like medicine , Law  etc; apart from  prose, poetry drama etc.

Therefore, the scholars generally opine that for Poetics, the term Kavya shastra seems more suited ( though some employed the grandiose term Kavya Mimamsa)  ; particularly since the term Kavya includes prose, poetry, Drama and all other forms of creative writings.  Besides, the suffix Shastra (Sahsanath shasanam) signifies the theory of practice as also the practice of theory. Further, the term Kavya Shastra sounds better than Kriya, Kapla, and Vidhi etc. And, Kavya Shastra was therefore used by writers like Bhamaha, Dandin, Vamana, Rudrata, Rajasekhara and others to denote Poetics. Since the Indian Poetics began to take a systemic form during the times of Bhamaha and Dandin, attempting to expound the essence of Kavya, its aesthetics and style and lucidity of composition etc, we may as well adopt their nomenclatures.  That is one view. And, there are other views too.


According to Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande (Bharathiya Sahityashastra, The Indian Poetics), the Indian Poetics developed in stages over a period of about two thousand years.  During these long centuries , the Indian Poetics attained maturity. He enumerates six stages of development : Kriyakalpa (around 2nd century BCE) ; Kavyalakshana (from Bharata up to 6th century AD) ; Kavya-alankara (600 AD to 850 AD) ;  Sahitya (say from 850 to 1100 AD); and, Sahitya-paddathi (1100 AD – 1650 AD).

Bharata’s Natyashastra , according to Dr. G.T. Deshpande , represents the first stage of Indian poetics (Kriyakalpa) where the diverse elements of arts, literature, music, dance, stage management and cosmetics combined harmoniously to successfully produce an enjoyable play- Drshya-kavya.

During the next (second) stage (Kavyalakshana) the poetics grew independent of the theater. The discussions during this period were mostly regarding the general nature of Kavya. This period is marked by the works of Bhamaha and Dandin, say up to 600 AD.

In the third stage (Kavya-alankara)   stretching from Bhamaha and Dandin up to Rudrata, say from 600 AD to 850 AD, the concepts of Alankara (embellishments) Gunas (characteristics) and Rasa gained a little more clarity. The characteristic beauty (Saundaryam or Shobha) associate with poetry and the means of creating highly enjoyable poetry came into discussion.

The fourth stage (Sahitya) was the period of analysis and understanding the basic concepts of literature and Grammar. This was the period from Mammata to Anandavardhana (say from 850 to 1100 AD). The questions raised during this period, basically, were : ‘What is truly Sahitya (literature)?’ ; ’Does it merely mean a combination of words and meanings? Or, is there anything more to it?’ ; ‘What are the special features of poetry?’ ;  ‘ Do the words in the poetry convey the same meaning as anywhere else?’ ; and ,  ‘How is the meaning  (Artha) of  poetry conveyed?’ etc.

It is in this period, the poetics (Kavya) became independent of the earlier concepts of Alamkara, Dvani etc.

And, the sixth stage (Sahitya-paddathi) was the methodical study of the poetry  in all its aspects . It was the period that stretched  from 1100 AD – 1650 AD, say ending with Jagannatha Pandita.



Main concerns – Sabda and Artha

One of the problems that engaged attention of the Grammarians and the philosophers alike was the subtle relation between the linguistic element (Sabda) and its meaning (Artha).  Sabda can roughly be understood as word, a sound, a meaningful unit of speech. Patanjali explained the term Sabda as that which when articulated gives out the meaning or intent the of the speaker.  And, Mandana Misra, in his Sphotasiddhi said: Sabda is the cause that produces the intended meaning.

According to Bhartrhari (4th or 5th century) “There is no cognition without the operation of words. All knowledge is illumined through words’’. In Bhartrhari’s scheme of things, the problem of meaning is basic. It is through the meaning conveyed by the words that knowledge is experienced.” “It is only the thought as expressed in words that can be understood, communicated and criticized. A language grows with the thought; or rather the thought grows with language. In the ultimate analysis they might even be identical.”

Two main concerns of the Sanskrit Poetics seemed to be: the word, and its meaning. The first one concerns how the word is treated in the text; and, mainly how it is formally used. It could be the elaborate embellishments (Alamkara) artistically arranged to enhance the beauty of the presentation; or it could be the elegance of the diction or even oblique ways of twisting. The other is about the shades or the layers of meaning that the word is capable of revealing. Generally, it was about the ways (vyapara) of achieving the objectives (phala) of the poet and his poetry.

The late-tenth-century philosopher and literary theorist Abhinavagupta felt that Kavya is not just about meaning, it is something more than that ; and, he put it  directly: “It is not the mere capacity for producing meaning as such that enables a text to be called Kavya. And that is why we never apply that term to everyday discourse or the Veda.”

Raja Bhoja (1011–1055) in his Srngaraprakasha says, that of the things made of language (Vangmaya) Kavya is one species. The elements that make the language are the words and meanings. And, word and meaning when  harmoniously  composed (sahitau) constitute Kavya. . Thus Kavya is a composition ( unity , sahitya) of word and meaning.

Then he goes on to say:

What, however, does the word “word” signify? It is that through which, when articulated, meaning is understood, and it is of twelve sorts, starting with base and affix and ending with sentence, section, and whole work.

“Meaning” is what a word gives us to understand, and it is of twelve sorts, starting with action and tense and ending with word-meaning and sentence-meaning.

And last, “composition” signifies the coordinated relation between word and meaning; and it, too, is of twelve sorts, starting with denotation and implication and ending with avoidance of faults, employment of expression-forms (guna), connection with factors of beauty (alañkara), and presence of rasa.

King Somesvara III (around 1130) of the Kalyana Chalukya dynasty in his Manasollasa, an encyclopedic work, says:

Words make up the body of a literary text, meaning is its life-breath, tropes its external form, emotional states and feelings its movements, meter its gait, and the knowledge of language its vital spot. It is in these that the beauty of the deity of literature consists.

Manasollasa vol 2-page 171 ( 225) verses 205-206

The scholars of Poetics, of course, need to be concerned with the beauty and elegance of expression; but, at the same time they also need to be exercised over the sense that such arrangements of words would produce. The Poetic-scholars realized that neither logic (Nyaya) nor Grammar (Vyakarana) would provide them with right answers. The position, simply put, is :

poetry in any of its forms does need words; and the arrangements of those words, however clever or elegant, do have to convey a sense or meaning. The poetic beauty does not solely dependent on the strict order of words or other conventions. It in fact goes beyond regulated regimens. It is only the right or judicious combination of the two – Sabda and Artha- that produces relishing aesthetic expressions and suggestive poetry. The ultimate merit of a Kavya is in its enjoyment (Rasa) by the Sahrudaya the reader endowed with culture and taste.

Now, regarding words:  according to Indian Poetics, a word has three functions: it signifies or denotes (abhida); it indicates (lakshana); and it suggests (vyanjana).  The meaning that is comprehended immediately after the word is uttered is its primary meaning (mukhya-artha). The meaning thus conveyed and its relation to the next word and its own meaning is a mutual relation of the signifier and the signified (vachya-vachaka). The power that creates the relation among words is Abhida-vyapara, the power of denotation or sense. The suggestive power of the word is through Vyanjana-artha.

The meaning of a word or a sentence that is directly grasped in the usual manner is Vakyartha (denotation or literal sense); and, the power of the language which conveys such meaning is called Abidha-vritti (designating function). The term Sabdabodha ‘verbal comprehension’ or ‘verbal cognition’ is also used at times. It is intended to denote meaning of a sentence as understood by the listener.

In certain cases where a particular word is not capable of conveying the desired sense, another power which modifies that word to produce the fitting or suitable meaning is called Lakshana-vritti (indicative function).

The primary sense Vakyartha is the natural (Svabhavokti) and is the easily comprehended sense of the word. When the perception of the primary sense is obstructed, the word conveys the sense other than the primary sense; but, the two meanings (somehow) seem related.  Thus, the secondary sense (lakshana) could even be called an unnatural meaning (Vakrokti) of the word.

For instance; when the word Purusha is uttered, one immediately understands it as a reference to a male member of the human race. It is the primary sense of the word. It might refer to an individual or to a generic attribute. In any case; the word Purusha and its meaning are related. It is a signified–signifier relationship; one pointing towards the other. This relationship is termed Abhida.

However, in the world we live, we do not always use a word only in its primary sense. Many times, the word in its primary sense may not be adequate.  Then, we attempt to attribute a sense to the word that is different or distinct from the primary sense. This would be secondary sense – lakshanika or lakshyartha – of that word. The word in its secondary sense is called lakshana. The relationship between the secondary sense and the word is described as lakshya-lakshya sambandha

Such process of superimposition (aropita) is called lakshana or indication. The three: the obstruction caused due to incompatibility of primary sense; the connection between the primary and the secondary sense; and, the convention (rudi) – are all interrelated. Here, there ought to be some justification for switching over to the un-natural meaning of the word; and, it should be generally acceptable (or should have gained currency in the common usage).

The indication (lakshana) is thus of two types: one, sanctioned by usage (rudi-lakshana); and , the other , where the speaker uses it for a specific or a specialized purpose (prayojanavato lakshana).

lotus design

As regards the Grammarians’ point of view, of the three functions of the word, the secondary or the indicative Lakshana-vritti is the most important and popular.  Three conditions for Lakshana are generally accepted by all schools of Grammar.

The first is the incompatibility or inconsistency of the primary meaning in the context, which produces a break in the flow of thought, forcing the listener to think in order to understand what the speaker would really have meant by the uncommon usage and why he has used the word in an irregular way.  The inconsistency could be either because of  the impossibility of associating the normal meaning with the other word meanings of the sentence ; or  it could be because  of the normal meaning’s unsuitability in the context.

The second condition is about the kind of relation between the primary (normal) meaning of the term and its meaning as intended by the speaker in a given context. This relation can be one of proximity to the alternate ( contrary) meaning or one of similarity or of mixed quality. The latter type is called Gauni Lakshana which the Mimamsakas treat as an independent function called Gauni. According to Mimamsakas, the real Lakshana is only of the first type, a relation of proximity with contrariety (oppositeness).

The third condition could either be acceptance of its meaning in common usage ; or it could be a meaning derived from the root of the word (Dathu) for a  special purpose intended for introducing the Lakshana. All faded metaphors (nirudha lakshana) fall into the former category, and metaphorical usages, especially by the poets, fall into the latter.

[The common examples given here are of Pankaja which in common usage means lotus; but literally means something born out of slush. The other is  the Ashva-karna a type of leaf , but literally the ears of a horse. In all such cases , it is the meaning in common usage that is  generally accepted ; and the literal meaning is treated as faded metaphor.]


[The Great Grammarian Panini did not accept Lakshana as a separate function in language. He did not consider the incompatibility etc., on which the Lakshana was based by other Grammarians as quite relevant from the point of view of Grammar. The sentences such as:’ He is an ass’ and ‘He is a boy ‘are both correct grammatically. Panini’s Grammar provides some popular examples of Lakshana; like ‘the village on the river’ (gangayam ghosah) by considering proximity as one of the meanings of the locative case. Similarly, Panini does not mention or provide for the condition of yogyata or consistency, which is considered by the later Grammarians as essential for unity of sentence. The expression Agnina sinchati (He sprinkles with fire) is grammatically correct, though from the semantic point of view it may not be quite proper, because sprinkling can be done only with liquid and not with fire.]

It does not mean that some words are merely vachaka and certain others are only Lakshya, and so on. The use of words, their role and the intended effect are context sensitive. The same word could be employed in any number of ways; each performing its role its own context. All the shades of meaning are necessary and relevant in poetry; but, each in its own context.

lotus design

Similarly, Riti, as put forward by Vamana, is an arrangement of words and meanings characterized by various Gunas. A particular Guna might be appropriate in a particular context. The verbal compositions could be tight knit and high flowing in a given context; but , a simple , lucid narration might be appropriate in  an  another situation. One may admire grandeur in one situation; and simplicity in another. It is the context that decides appropriateness of style.

Rajasekhara, therefore, says:  A sentence is an arrangement of words which embodies the content that the speaker wishes to convey

(pada-nama-abidhita-arthagrathanakarah sandarbhah vakyam – Kavyamimamasa (22) of Rajasekhara).

For instance; take the word Mother. The word in its primary sense is woman who has given birth to a child. In the specific context when one says ‘Kausalya is the mother of Rama’ you are referring to a particular person. And when one says , ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, one is not referring to a physical mother but to suggest the sense of ‘origin’. Here, the primary sense of the term does not work. Similarly, when the Saint Ramaprasad calls out to Devi in anguish as Mother, it suggests the intensity of his devotion and the depth of his longing for her love and protection. Devi is not the physical mother but a projection of the universal Mother principle as also the specific Mother deity. It is said; the  vibrations of the suggested meaning of the word are indeed truly powerful.


Then, there is the most interesting and much debated Vyanjana-artha which is the suggested sense or the essence of the word. This is founded in the principle that   the meaning of word is not limited to its literal sense; the word has the power to reach far beyond the obvious. In poetry, the word acquires another power Vyanjana-vritti the suggestive function. It is the    power which activates the potential hidden in the word. And, the word acquires a new glow. Through the suggestive function of the word, a new meaning emerges, transcending the obvious literal sense, far more beautiful and sensitive.

The word which connotes the suggested sense (through the suggestive function Vyanjana –vritti) is named Vyanjaka. The relationship between the suggestive word and the suggested meaning (Vyanjana-artha) is described as vyangya-vyanjaka sambandha.

The suggestive word, the suggested meaning, the power of suggestion; and their mutual relationship are virtually the lifeblood of Indian poetics.  In fact, this is what that distinguishes poetry from other forms of literature.

The suggested sense Vyanjana-artha, which, though not explicit, becomes the object of awareness is regarded the essence of poetry. The Dhvani School put forward by Anandavardhana, brought focus on the potential power of the word in a Kavya. Here, the word (Sabda) together with  its literal sense  (Vakyartha )  is said to form the body of Kavya , it is its  cloak .  But, the essence of poetry is elsewhere; it is not directly visible; and, that essence is the suggested sense of the word (Vyanjana-artha).

It other words: it is not the direct literal and obvious meaning that is explicit in poetry, but it is the suggested, indirect and emotive meaning that matters.  Hence, though the words of a Kavya and their  the literal sense must be given their due importance , they are  but a medium for emotive and indirect meaning flash forth . In good poetry, this suggested meaning dominates over the words and their literal meaning. As Anandavardhana put it: The latter are compared to a woman’s  body and the former to her grace and beauty which is a subtler manifestation  and a more profound meaning of the womanhood.

The primary meaning can be understood by all. But, the suggested meaning is understood only by those who are gifted with some imagination and a sort of intuition.

Here, the mere knowledge of the word alone is not enough to understand and enjoy the poetic import or the essence of the Kavya. It needs intuition or Prathibha. Mammatacharya calls Prathibha as – nava-navaonvesha-shalini prajna – the ever inventive and resourceful intellect. Prathibha is also called, at times, as Vasana.  Only those endowed with Prathibha can truly enjoy the essence and beauty of Kavya. That is why, it is remarked,  the Grammarians (unlike the goodhearted cultured reader the Sahrudaya) cannot truly appreciate and enjoy the Rasa of good poetry. They are incapable of looking beyond what appears obvious.

Anandavardhana, therefore, says that such suggested sense is not apprehended (na vidyate) by mere knowledge of Grammar (Sabda-artha-shasana-jnana) and dictionary. It is apprehended only (Vidyate, kevalam) by those who know how to recognize the essence of poetic meaning (Kavya-artha-tattva-jnana) – Dhv.1.7

It is said; in the highest class of Kavya, the denoted meaning (Vakyartha )  and  the denoting meaning (Lakshyartha)  is subservient to  revealing the suggested sense word (Vyanjana-artha); and , it is  called Dhvani by the scholars – Dhv.1.13

The suggested sense of the word designated as Dhvani (resonance or tone or suggestion) is regarded Anandavardhana as the soul of Kavya : Kavyasya Atma Dhvanih.

[The concept of Dhvani was said to be inspired by the ancient doctrine of Sphota. The term Sphota signifies:  bursting; opening; expansion; disclosure; the eternal and imperceptible element of sound and words; and , is the real vehicle of the idea which bursts or flashes on the mind when a sound is uttered.

Nagesha Bhatta identifies Vedic Sage Sphotayana, mentioned by Panini in one of his rules, as the originator of Sphota theory. Bhartrhari, however, states that Audumbarayana (mentioned by Yaska) had put forth views similar to the Sphota concept. In any case, the original idea of Sphota seems to go back to the Vedic age when Vak or speech was considered to be a manifestation of the all – pervading Brahman , and Pranava (Aum) was regarded as the primordial speech sound from which all forms of Vak were supposed to have evolved.

It was Bhartrhari (around 485 AD) in his great work Vakyapadiya (all about sentence and word) elaborated and established the Sphota doctrine in the realm of Grammar and in Philosophy.

According to Bhartrhari, the perfect perception is that in which there is identity between the object ( namely, words or the letters of sounds ) and the form of its cognition (namely, the Sphota) . This special kind of perception is held to be function of mind, rather than of the external senses.

This is a major subject; and deserves to be discussed separately.]

But, when one begins to talk of words (Sabda), naturally, it leads to Grammar (Vyakarana), which concerns itself with the arrangement of words into sentences. It does not account for the pattern of meanings.  The poetry on the other hand is not much concerned with the arrangement of words. But, it does strive to convey a meaning.

In the case of poetry, the arrangement of words (Sabda or pada) might be  logical but not necessarily grammatical. That is because; the poetic beauty does not solely dependent on the strict order of words or other conventions. It , in fact,  goes beyond regulated regimens. The unique virtue of poetry is that it provides space for experimentation, and to introduce hitherto unknown or unusual terms and expressions, regardless of their grammatical correctness. And at the same time , it was recognized  that the poetic beauty does not merely depend on ornate figures of speech or on the twisted or unusual expressions ; but , it is primarily  in the intrinsic merit of the poetry itself.

The combination of words or arrangement of words expressing the idea or the content which the poet intends to convey at a ‘single stroke’ is the sentence (Vakya) in the poetry. A sentence is defined by Rajasekhara as an arrangement of words which embodies the content that the speaker wishes to convey (pada-nama-abidhita-arthagrathanakarah sandarbhah vakyam – Kavyamimamasa (22) of Rajasekhara).

The meaning of a sentence expresses a complete idea. The sentence in poetry is called Vachana (Vakyam vachanam vyavaharanti – Kavyamimamsa). In poetry the terms Vakya, Vachana and Ukti are synonymous. A characteristic turn of expression attains the status of poetry (Ukti-visesah kavyam).

[Among the ancient Grammarians, neither Panini nor Gautama defined the sentence. Katyayana was perhaps the first to define a sentence. He called it ekatin, that which has one finite verb. Panini, however, seems to have held that a sentence can have many more than one finite verb.  The later Grammarians also seemed to accept Panini’s view. But, from Katyayana’s point of view such a sentence may be considered as a complex sentence made up of two or more sentences, but fundamentally forming one single sentence.]

The relation between Grammar and poetry is interesting. Poetry, in the Indian traditions, is often called vyakaranasya puccham – the tail piece or the appendix of Grammar. The Grammar determines the correctness of the words and their arrangement within a sentence. The poetry is however more concerned with the appropriateness and mutual relations among the words.  The poetry, as far as possible, follows Grammar. But , when it finds the rules of Grammar too constrained or suffocating , it switches over to other means of expressions that are more appropriate or conducive to its natural flow; or , it invents its own means. At times, when those inventive expressions of poetic suggestions are so charming and become so popular, they walk into Grammar per se; and, the Grammar must necessarily accept poetic inventions (svikara avashyakah).

Continued in

Part Two 


Sources and References

Glimpses of Indian Poetics by Satya Deva Caudharī

Indian Poetics (Bharathiya Kavya Mimamse) by Dr. T N Sreekantaiyya

Sahityashastra, the Indian Poetics by Dr. Ganesh Tryambak Deshpande

History of Indian Literature by Maurice Winternitz, Moriz Winternitz

A History of Classical Poetry: Sanskrit, Pali, Prakrit by Siegfried Lienhard

Literary Cultures in History by Sheldon Pollock



Posted by on July 9, 2015 in Kavya, Sanskrit


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

(For my friend Shri Kannan Rangachar)

Continued from Part III – Music


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


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

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

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

Svara- sahitya

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Among the songs of his early period, Giriraja Suta and Raminchuva Revarura are set to European band tunes, which perhaps he heard at Thanjavur court. These are similar to Nottuswara songs of Sri Dikshitar.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


: – Sanskrit

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

34.2. His early education was in Sanskrit. He seemed to have learnt it well; and he used his learning with flair. His first (!) composition Namo Namo Raghavaya (Desikatodi – a Janya raga of the 8 Melakarta Hanumatodi with Aroha – S G2 M1 P D1 N2 S/  and, Avaroha– S N2 D1 P M1 G2 R1 S ), which is inscribed on the walls of his house, is in Sanskrit. The song celebrates the glory of the Lord in brisk series of His sacred–names (Divya-nama); and also pays tributes to the Valmiki who composed the most wonderful Ramayana epic (Satatha paalita adbhuta kavye).

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

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

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

Certain words that are rare in Sanskrit poetic usage have gained currency mainly because of his compositions. For instance: Samaja (elephant); Vivaha (one riding a bird, meaning Vishnu, where Vi stands for bird. Vivaha, otherwise, commonly means ‘marriage’); Rakabja-mukha (One whose face is like a full moon; here Abja stands for moon while it’s common usage is for lotus); Vanidhi (sea, here Va stands for water while Vana generally means forest). In a similar manner, Vanaja and  Vanaruha  , where Vana stands for water mean , here,  lotus. And, Bha generally means light ; but , Sri Thyagaraja   uses the term Bharaja- mukha , to mean ‘moon -like face’. And,  so on..

Telugu: –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sri rama

Nadopasana and Rama Bhakthi

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

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

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

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

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


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

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




Continued in Part V- Visit to Kanchipuram

Sources and references

Manaku Teliyana Tyagaraju:

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

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

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

History of Indian Music by Prof. P. Sambamoorthy

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

The Musical Works of Thyagaraja by Prabhakar Chitrapu Prabhakar

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


Posted by on February 22, 2015 in Tyagaraja


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