Tag Archives: Samgita

The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part One


Natya Sastra (1)

Lakshana-granthas – texts concerning the performing arts of India

Some time back – as a part of the series on the Music of India  – I had posted brief profiles of some of the well known texts on Samgita-shastra (Musicology), which established a sound theoretical basis (Lakshana) for the structural framework of the classical Music traditions; and, their practice (Lakshya). Those texts, produced over a long period of time, described, in precise terms, the concepts of   Music; its concerns; how it should be taught, learnt and performed; and, how it should be experienced and enjoyed.  It was an evolutionary process cascading towards greater sophistication.

Those Lakshana-granthas projected their vision of how the Music should develop and prosper in future, at the same time retaining the pristine purity of the time-honoured tradition. In the process, those texts, produced over the centuries, defined and protected the principles; as also, guided and regulated the performance of the chaste Music of India.

Some friends and readers inquired whether I could write, on similar lines, about the texts concerning the evolution of the principles and techniques of the performing arts of India; and, particularly , about Dance , which  is the most enchanting form of them all; rich in elegance and beauty ; comprehensive; and highly challenging.

Various thinkers and writers of the Lakshana granthas, over a long period, have put forward several theories based on their concept of the essential core, the heart or the soul of the art of Dance (Natyasya Atma).

In the series of articles that are to follow, I have attempted to trace the unfolding of the principles and practice of the performing arts of India, as discussed in various texts spread over several centuries.

In the present installment of the series, let’s take an overview of the texts of the Indian Dancing traditions. In the subsequent parts, we may discuss each of the selected texts, in fair detail.

This may also be treated as a sort of General Introduction to the theories of Indian Dancing.


The Natyashastra

It is customary to commence with Natyashastra, when it comes to any discussion related to the art-forms of India. To start with, we shall, briefly, talk about the text of the Natyashastra, in general; and, then move on to Natyashastra in the context of Dance.

The Natyashastra of Bharata is regarded as the seminal and the earliest text extant text, represents the first stage of Indian arts where the diverse elements of arts, literature, music, dance, stage management and cosmetics etc., combined harmoniously in order to produce an enjoyable play. It is the source book for all art forms of India. The yaśāstra, surely, is a work of great antiquity. Yet; the scholars opine that looking at the way the text has been compiled and structured; it appears to be based on earlier works.

It is said that the text which we know as Natya-Shastra was based on an earlier text that was much larger. That seems very likely; because, the Natyasastra, as we know, which has about 6,000  karikas (verses), is also known as Sat-sahasri. The later authors and commentators (Dhanika, Abhinavagupta and Sarada-tanaya) refer to the text as Sat-sahari; and, its author as Sat-sahasri-kara. But, the text having 6,000 verses is said to be a condensed version of an earlier and larger text having about 12,000 verses (dwadasha-sahasri). It is said; the larger version was known as Natya- agama and the shorter as Natya-shastra.


And, again, According to Prof. KM Varma, there were three types of works which preceded the Natyashastra that we know: (1) Sutra – a work on Natya; (2) Bhashya – a commentary on it; and (3) Anuvamsya – a collection of verses , from which Bharata often quotes.

He also points out that Bharata mentions in the Samgraha (the table of contents to Natyashastra) that the subjects to be discussed in the text have reference to what is stated in the Sutra and the Bhashya. That leads to the conclusion that a comprehensive theory of Natya existed much before the time of Bharata; and that he incorporated some of that into his work – the Natyashastra.


Further, Panini also suggests there were texts on Natya even much prior to Natyashastra.

Panini (Ca.500 BCE) the great Grammarian, in his Astadhyayi (4.3.110-11), mentions two ancient Schools  –  of  Krsava and Silalin – that were in existence during  his time –Parasarya Silalibhyam bhikshu nata-sutreyoh  (4.3.110); karmanda krushas shvadinihi  (4.3.111)It appears that Parasara, Silalin, karmanda and Krsava were the authors of Bhikshu Sutras and Nata Sutras. Of these, Silalin and Krsava were said to have prepared the Sutras (codes) for the Nata (actors or dancers). At times, Natyashastra refers to the performers (Nata) as Sailalaka -s. The assumption is that the Silalin-school, at one time, might have been a prominent theatrical tradition. Some scholars opine that the Nata-sutras of Silalin (coming under the Amnaya tradition) might have influenced the preliminary part (Purvanga) of the Natyashastra, with its elements of worship (Puja).

However, in the preface to his great work Natya-shastra of Bharatamuni (Volume I, Second Edition, 1956) Pundit M. Ramakrishna Kavi mentions that in the Natyavarga of Amara-kosha (2.8.1419-20) there is reference to three schools of Nata-sutra-kara: Silalin; Krasava; and, Bharata.

Śailālinas tu śailūā jāyājīvā kśāśvina bharatā   ityapi naāś cāraās tu kuśīlavā

It appears that in the later times,  the former two Schools (Silali and Krasava) , which flourished earlier to Bharata , went out of existence or merged with the School of Bharata; and, nothing much has come down to us  about these older Schools. And, it is also said, the Bharata himself was preceded by Adi-Bharata, the originator and Vriddha (senior) Bharata. And, all the actors, of whatever earlier Schools, later came to be known as Bharata-s.

All these suggest that there were texts on Natya even before the time of Bharata; and, by his time Natya was already a well established Art.


The Natyasastra, that we know, is dated around about the second century BCE . The scholars surmise that the text was in circulation for a very long period of time, in its oral form; and, it was reduced to writing several centuries after it was articulated. Until then, the text was preserved and transmitted in oral form.

The written text facilitated its reach to different parts of the country; and, to the neighboring states as well. In the process, each region, where the text became popular, produced its own version of Natyasastra; in its own script. For instance, Natyasastra spread to Nepal, Almora to Ujjain, Darbhanga and also to the Southern states. The earliest known manuscripts which come from Nepal were in Newari script. The text also became available in many other scripts – Devanagari, Grantha, and several regional languages. It became rather difficult for the later-day scholars, to evolve criteria for determining the authenticity and purity of the text, particularly with grammatical mistakes and scribes errors that crept in during the protracted process of transliterations. Therefore, written texts as they have come down to us through manuscripts , merely represent the residual record or an approximation to the original; but, not the exact communication of the oral tradition that originated from Bharata.

It is the general contention that the text of the Natyashastra, as it is available today, was not written at one point of time. Its form, as it has come down to us, includes several additions and alterations. It is also said; many views presented in Natya-Shastra might possibly have been adopted from the works of other scholars. That seems quite likely; because, there are frequent references to other writers and other views; there are repetitions; there are contradictory passages; there are technical terms, which are not supported by the tradition.

And, in regard to Dance, in particular, the Chapter Four (Tandava-lakshanam) is the most important portion, as it details the dance-techniques. The editor of  ya Śāstra, Sri. Ramaswami Sastri, however remarks  that ‘this section of ya Śāstra dealing with Karaas, being of a highly technical nature, was less understood and was rendered more difficult by numerous errors committed by the scribes as well as by the omissions of large portions in the manuscripts’.

Though such additions, deletions and alterations have not been pinpointed precisely, some scholars, particularly Prof. KM Varma, surmise that the verses of a long portion of the Fourth Chapter beginning from Sloka number 274 and ending with the chapter seem to be interpolated.  These verses do not also fit into the context. Abhinavagupta also admits the possibility of their insertions.

Further, Prof. KM Varma also mentions that the portion from the Samanya-abhinaya chapter (Chapter 22) to the beginning of the chapter on Siddhi; as also the portions beginning after the chapter on Avanaddha to the end of the present text, are the later additions.

And, by about the tenth century, two recessions of the yaśāstra were in circulation. One was the longer version; and, the other the shorter. There have been long drawn out debates arguing which of the two is the authentic version. Abhinavagupta in his commentary of the yaśāstra used the shorter recession as the basis of his work; while some authors of the medieval period like Raja Bhoja used the longer version. However, Pandit Ramakrishna Kavi, who examined as many as about forty Manuscripts of the text, opined that the longer recession seemed to be ancient, although it contains some interpolation. But, in any case, now, both the versions are treated as ‘authentic’; and, are used depending upon the choice of the commentator.


Natyashastra in the context of Dance

Natyashastra was mainly concerned with successful play-production. And, the role of Music and Dance, in conjunction with other components, was primarily to beautify and to heighten the dramatic effects of the acts and scenes in the play. These were treated as enchanting artistic devices that articulate the moods of various theatrical situations in the Drama. The Dance, at that stage, was an ancillary part (Anga) or one of the ingredients that lent elegance and grace to theatrical performance. That is to say; though Music and Dance were very essential to Drama, neither of the two, at that stage, was considered as an independent Art-form.

Further, for a considerable length of time, say up to the middle period, both music and dance were covered by a single term Samgita.  The term Samgita in the early Indian context meant a composite art-form comprising Gita (vocal singing), Vadya (instrumental accompaniments) and Nrtta the limb movement or dance (Gitam, Vadyam, Nrttam Samgita-mucchyate).  The third component of Samgita, viz., Nrtta, involved the use of other two components (Gita and Vadya).

Thus, the term Samgita combined in itself all the different phases of music, including dance. For Dance (Nrtta), just as in the case of vocal (Gita) and instrumental (Vadya) music, the rhythm (Laya) is very vital. The Dance too was regarded as a kind of music. This is analogous to human body where its different limbs function in harmony with the body’s rhythm.

It was said; all the three elements should, ideally, coordinate and perform harmoniously – supporting and strengthening each other with great relish. And, the three Kutapa-s, in combination should suggest a seamless movement like a circle of fire (Alaata chakra); and, should brighten (Ujjvalayati) the stage.

Thus, till about the middle periods, Dance was regarded as a supporting decorative factor; but, not an independent Art form.

Shiva dancing Halebidu

Coming back to Natyashastra, the Dance that it deals in fair detail is, indeed, Nrtta, the pure dance movements – with its Tandava and Sukumara variations – that carry no particular meaning.  The Nrtta was described as pure dancing or limb movements (agavikepa), not associated with any particular emotion, Bhava. And, it was performed during the preliminaries (Purvaranga), before the commencement of the play proper. The Nrtta was meant as a praise offering (Deva-stuti) to the gods.

And, later Bharata did try to combine the pure dance movements of Nrtta (involving poses, gestures, foot-work etc.) with Abhinaya (lit., to bring near, to present before the eyes), to create an expressive dance-form that was adorned with elegant, evocative and graceful body-movements, performed in unison with attractive rhythm and enthralling music, in order to effectively interpret and illustrate the lyrics of a song; and, also to depict the emotional content of a dramatic sequence.

But, for some reason, Bharata did not see the need to assign a name or a title to this newly created amalgam of Nrtta and Abhinaya. (This art-form in the later period came to be celebrated as Nrtya).

Even at this stage, Dance was not an independent art-form; and, it continued to be treated as one of the beautifying factors of the Drama.

Bharata had not discussed, in detail, about Dance; nor had he put forward any theories to explain his concepts about Dance. The reason for that might be, as the scholars explain, Bharata had left that task to his disciple Kohala; asking him to come up with a treatise on dancing, explaining whatever details he could not mention in the Natyashastra. In fact, Bharata, towards the end of his work says: ‘the rest will be done by Kohala through a supplementary treatise’ – śeam-uttara-tantrea kohalastu kariyati (NS.37.18.)

But, unfortunately, that work of Kohala did not survive for long. And, by the time of Abhinavagupta (10-11th century), it was totally lost.


Texts concerning dance

When it comes to the texts concerning dance there are certain issues or limiting factors.

There is reason to believe that many works on dancing were written during the period following that of Bharata. But most of those works were lost.

For instance; the ancient writers such as Dattila or Dantila (perhaps belonging to the period just after that of Bharata) and Matanga or Matanga Muni (sixth or the seventh century) who wrote authoritatively on Music, it appears, had also commented on Dance. But again, the verses pertaining to Dance in their works, have not come down to us entirely. Some of those verses have survived as fragments quoted by the commentators of the later periods; say , for example, the references pertaining to Taala and Dance from the Brihaddeshi  of Matanga .

Similarly, between the time of Natyashastra (Ca. 200 BCE) and the Abhinavabharati of Abhinavagupta (10-11th century), several commentaries were said to have been produced on the subject of Drama, Music, Dance and related subjects. Some of such ancient authorities mentioned by Abhinavagupta are: Kohala, Nandi, Rahula, Dattila, Narada, Matanga, Shandilya, Kirtidhara, Matrigupta, Udbhata, Sri Sanuka, Lottata, Bhattanayaka and his Guru Bhatta Tauta and others. But, sadly the works of those Masters are lost to us; and, they survive in fragments as cited by the later authors.

Abhinavagupta, states that much of the older traditions had faded out of practice. And he says that one of the reasons, which prompted him to write his work, was to save the tradition from further erosion.


Texts on Music etc., which also dealt with Dance

There are not many ancient texts that are particularly devoted to discussions on Dance, its theories and techniques.

In the earlier texts on Dance, the techniques of Dancing are seldom discussed in isolation. It invariably is discussed with music and literature (Kavya).  Similarly, the treatise on sculpture (Shilpa) , Drama(Natya), music (Gitam) and painting (Chitra) , do devote a portion , either to Dance itself or to discuss certain technical elements of these art forms in terms of the technique of Dance (Nrtya or Nrtta). For instance; the  treatises on painting discuss the Rasa-drsti in terms of the glances (Drsti) of the Natyashastra; and, the  treatises on sculpture enumerate in great detail the Nrtta-murti (dancing aspects) of the various gods and goddesses(prathima-lakshanam) , and discuss the symbolism of the hasta -mudra in terms of the hasta-abhinaya of the Natyashastra.

The Vishnudharmottara emphasizes the inter relation between the various art forms.  Sage Markandeya instructs : One who does not know the laws of painting (Chitra) can never understand the laws of image-making (Shilpa); and, it is difficult to understand the laws of painting (Chitra) without any knowledge of the technique of dancing (Nrtya); and, that, in turn, is difficult to understand without a thorough knowledge of the laws of instrumental music (vadya); But, the laws of instrumental music cannot be learnt without a deep knowledge of the art of vocal music (gana).


Therefore, most of the texts and treatise which dealt with Music, primarily, also talked about dance, in comparatively briefly manner, towards the end. For instance:

[Here, in this portion, I have followed Dr. Mandakranta Bose, as in her very well researched paper ( The Evolution of Classical Indian Dance Literature: A Study of the Sanskritic Tradition )  . I gratefully acknowledge her help and guidance.]

(1) Visnudharmottara Purana (Ca. fifth or sixth century) a   text encyclopedic in nature.  Apart from painting, image-making, Dancing and dramaturgy, it also deals with varied subjects such as astronomy, astrology, politics, war strategies, treatment of diseases etc. The text, which is divided into three khandas (parts), has in all 570 Adhyayas (chapters). It deals with dance, in its third segment – chapters twenty to thirty-four.

The author follows the Natyasastra in describing the abstract dance form, Nrtta; and, in defining its function as one of beautifying a dramatic presentation. The focus of the text is on Nrtta, defining its vital elements such as Karanas, Cari etc., required in dancing. In addition, the author briefly touches upon the Pindibandhas or group dances mentioned by Bharata; and, goes on to describe VrttiPravrtti and Siddhi; that is – the style, the means of application and the nature of competence.

(2) The Abhinavabharati of   Abhinavagupta (11th century) though famed as a commentary on Bharata’s Natyasastra, is, for all purposes, an independent treatise on aesthetics in Indian dance, music, poetry, poetics (alakāra-śhāstra), art , Tantra, Pratyabhijnana School of Shaiva Siddanta etc.   Abhinavabharati is considered a landmark work; and is regarded important for the study of Natyasastra.

Abhinavabharati is the oldest commentary available on Natyasastra. All the other previous commentaries are now totally lost. The fact such commentaries once existed came to light only because Abhinavagupta referred to them in his work; and, discussed their views. Further, Abhinavagupta also brought to light and breathed life into ancient and forgotten scholarship of fine rhetoricians Bhamaha, Dandin and Rajashekhara.

Abhinavagupta also drew upon the later authors to explain the application of the rules and principles of Dance. As Prof. Mandakranta Bose observes : One of the most illuminating features of Abhinavagupta’s work is his practice of citing  and drawing upon the older authorities critically , presenting their views to elucidate Bharata’s views ; and , often rejecting their views , putting forth  his own observations to  provide evidence to the contrary.

Abhinavagupta, thus, not only expands on Bharata’s cryptic statements and concepts; but also interprets them in the light of his own experience and knowledge, in the context of the contemporary practices. And, therefore, the importance of Abhinavagupta’s work can hardly be overstated.

He also discusses, in detail, the Rasa-sutra of Bharata in the light of theories Dhvani (aesthetic suggestion) and Abhivyakti (expression). And, Dance is one of the subjects that Abhinavabharati deals with. As regards Dance, Abhinavabharati is particularly known for the explanations it offers on Angikabhinaya and Karanas. The later authors and commentators followed the lead given by Abhinavagupta.

(3) The Dasarupaka of Dhananjaya (10-11th century), is a work on dramaturgy; and, basically is a summary or compilation of rules concerning Drama (Rupaka), extracted from the Natyashastra of Bharata. As regards Dance, Dhananjaya, in Book One of his work, which provides lists of definitions, mentions the broad categories of Dance-forms as: the Marga (the pure or pristine); and, the Desi (the regional or improvised). And, under each class, he makes a two-fold division: Lasya, the graceful, gentle and fluid pleasing dance; and, Tandava, the vigorous, energetic and brisk invigorating movements (lasya-tandava-rupena natakad-dyupakarakam.). The rest of his work is devoted to discussion on ten forms of Drama (Dasarupaka)

(4) The Srngaraprakasa of Raja Bhoja (10-11th century) is again a work; spread over thirty-six chapters, which deal principally with poetics (Alamkara shastra) and dramaturgy. In so far as Dance is concerned, it is relevant for the discussion carried out in its Eleventh Chapter on minor types of plays (Uparupakas) or musical Dance-dramas.

(5) The Natya-darpana of Ramacandra and Gunacandra (twelfth century) is also a treatise, having four chapters, devoted mainly to dramaturgy; discussing characteristics of Drama. The text is useful to Dance, because in its third chapter while discussing Anigikabhinaya, it lists the names of the movements of the different parts of the body, as well as extended sequences and compositions.

(6) Another text of great interest from the twelfth century is the  Manasollasa (also called Abhjilashitarta Chintamani) ascribed to the Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (1127-1139 AD). It  is an encyclopedic work, divided into one hundred chapters, clustered under  five sections, covering a wide variety of subjects, ranging from the means of acquiring a kingdom, methods of establishing it, to medicine, magic, veterinary science, valuation of precious stones, fortifications, painting , art, games ,  amusements , culinary art and so on . 

As regards Dance, the Manasollasa deals with the subject in the sixteenth chapter, having in 457 verses, titled Nrtya-vinoda, coming under the Fourth Section of the text – the Vinoda vimsathi- dealing with types of amusements.

Manasollasa is also the earliest extant work having a thorough and sustained discussion on dancing. It is also the earliest work, which laid emphasis on the Desi aspect for which later writers on this subject are indebted. Another important contribution of Nrtya Vinoda is that it serves as a source material for reconstruction of the dance styles that were prevalent in medieval India. For these and other reasons, the Nrtya Vinoda of Manasollasa, occupies a significant place in the body of dance literature. 

Someshwara introduces the subject of dancing by saying that dances should be performed at every festive occasion, to celebrate conquests, success in competitions and examinations as well as occasions of joy, passion, pleasure and renouncement. He names six varieties of dancing and six types of Nartakas. The term Nartaka, here, stands for performers in general; and, includes Nartaki (danseuse), Nata (actor), Nartaka (dancer), Vaitalika (bard), Carana (wandering performer) and kollatika (acrobat).

Manasollasa is also significant to the theory of Dance, because it classified the whole of dancing into two major classes:  the Marga (that which adheres to codified rules) and Desi (types of unregulated dance forms with their regional variations).  Manasollasa also introduced four-fold categories of dance forms: Nrtya, Lasya, Marga and Desi.

At another place, Someshwara uses the term Nartana to denote Dancing, in general, covering six types: Natya (dance), Lasya (delicate), Tandava (vigorous), Visama (acrobatic), Vikata (comical) and Laghu (light and graceful).

 The other authors, such as Sarangadeva, Pundarika Vittala and others followed the classifications given Manasollasa.

In regard to Dance-movements, Someshwara classifies them into  six Angas, eight Upangas and six Pratyangas. The last mentioned sub-division viz. Pratyanga is an introduction made by Someshwara into Natya terminology; the Natyashastra had not mentioned this minor sub-category.

The other important contribution of Someshwara is the introduction of eighteen Desi karanas, (dance poses) that were not mentioned in other texts.

 (7) A work from this period, but not dated with certainty, which deal with drama is the Nataka-laksana-ratna-kosa of Sagaranandin. The text, as the name suggests, discusses, in detail, the nature and characteristics of Nataka as well as other varieties of drama. This work is of interest to Dance insofar as it lists and describes ten types of Lasyanga that are used in the Lasya variety of dance.

(8) The Bhavaprakasana of Saradatanaya (1175 -1250 A.D.) containing ten Adhikaras or chapters, is a compendium of poetics and dramaturgy based on the critical works written right from the period of Natyashastra. Its relevance to dance is in its discussions on glances that express Bhavas, as given at the end of the fifth chapter. And, the tenth and final chapter explains the distinction between Nrtta and Nrtya; and, between Marga and Desi.

He contradicts Dhananjaya; and, asserts 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. This, during his time, was, indeed, a novel view.

(9) The Sangita Samayasara of Parsvadeva (a Jain Acharya of 12th or early 13thcentury) is an important work, which is devoted to musicology. It is its seventh chapter that is of interest to Dance.  It is not until the Sangita Samayasara that we find any description of a complete dance.

The Sangita Samayasara, though it deals, mainly, with Music, is of great relevance to Dance. The Seventh Chapter is devoted entirely to Desi dance (referred to as Nrtta); its definition; and, the Angas or body movements (Angika), the features of Desi dances (Desiya-Angani).

This text not only describes specific Nrtta dance pieces (such as: Perana, Pekkhana, Gundali and Dandarasa), but also adds a number of new movements of the Cari, the Sthanas and the Karanas of the Desi variety, all of which involving complicated leaping movements. Here, Parsvadeva describes the utplatti-karanas, needed for the Desi dances; eleven Desi karanas with different Desi-sthanas; and, five Bhramaris.

Towards the end of the Seventh Chapter, Parsvadeva describes the requirements of a good dancer; her physical appearance; and, the way she should be dressed etc.

(10) By about the 13th century, dance had its own existence; and was no longer an ancillary to drama, as it was during the time of Natyashastra. The concept of Nrtta was still present; Nritya as a delightful art form was fully established; and, the two forms retained their individual identity. And, both were discussed along with Natya.  This is reflected in the appearance of numerous works on the art of Music, Dance and Drama, the most significant of which was the Samgita Ratnakara of Sarangadeva 

The Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara (first half of 13th century) is one of the most influential works on music and dance. The Sangita-ratnakara is a great compilation, not an original work, which ably brings together various strands of the past music traditions found in earlier works like Nāţyashastra, Dattilam, Bŗhaddēśī, and Sarasvatī-hŗdayālańkāra-hāra. It is greatly influenced by Abhinavagupta’s    Abhinavabharati. But for Samgita-ratnakara, it might have been more difficult to understand Natyasastra, Brhaddesi and other ancient texts. But, while dealing with Desi class of Dance, Sarangadeva follows Manasollasa of Someshwara.

The text of Sangita-ratnakara has 1678 verses spread over seven chapters (Saptaadhyayi) covering the aspects of GitaVadya and NrttaSvaragat-adhyaya; Ragavivek-adhyaya; Prakirnaka-adhyayaPrabandh-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. Sangita-ratnakara’s contribution to dance is very significant.

Chapter Seven– Nartana: The seventh and the last chapter, is in two parts; the first one deals with Nartana.  Sarangadeva, following Someshwara, uses a common term Nartana to denote 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.

According to Sarangadeva, the Nrtya covers rhythmic limb movements (Nrtta) 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 rhythmic patterns (tala-laya).

Although he follows Bharata in describing the movements of the body, he differs from Bharata in dividing the limbs into three categories, Anga, Upanga and Pratyanga.

He also differs from Natyashastra which identifies Tandava as Shiva’s dance and Sukumara (Lasya) as Parvati’s. According to Sarangadeva, Tandava requires Uddhata (forceful) and Lasya requires Lalita (delicate) movements.

Sarangadeva’s description of Cari, Sthana, Karana and Angaharas of the Marga type are the same as in the Natyashastra. But the Desi Caris, Sthanas and Utputikaranas are according to Manasollasa of Someshwara.

Sarangadeva explains the importance of aesthetic beauty; and also lays down the rules of exercise. He also 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.

(11) The Sangita Upanishad Saroddhara  is a treatise on music and dance written in the fourteenth century (1350 A.D.) by the Jaina writer Sudhakalasa. The work is in six chapters, the first four of which are on Gita (vocal music), Vadya (musical instruments) and on Taala (rhythm). The fifth and the sixth chapters are related to dancing.

The term he uses for dance is Nrtya. His understanding of the terms Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya varied from that of his predecessors. According to him, Nrtta is danced by men, Nrtya by women, while Natya is Nataka, performed by both men and women. And, his treatment of the movements of the feet (pada-karmas) and the postures (Sthanas and Sthanakas) differs from that of other texts. According to him, Sthanas are postures meant for women; while, Sthanakas are postures meant for men. Karanas, according to Sudhakalasa, are components of Lasyangas and Nrtya. Obviously, he was recording the contemporary practice, without specific reference to the earlier texts and traditions.

(12) The Sangitacandra is a work containing 2168 verses by Suklapandita, also known as Vipradasa (Ca. fourteenth century). He explains the procedures of the Purvaranga; and classifies its dance Nrtta into three categories:  Visama (heavy), Vikata (deviated) and Laghu (light). Such classification of Nrtta and such terms to describe Nrtta had not been used earlier by any author.

He then, initially, divides Nrtya, the dance, into two classes: Marga-nrtya which expresses Rasa; and, Natya-nrtya, which expresses Bhava. And, then, brings in the third variety of Nrtya, the Desiya Nrtya, the regional types. Thereafter, he divides each of the three varieties of Nrtya into Tandava and Lasya.

Again, Vipradasa‘s understanding of the terms and concepts of Dance and their treatment; and, emphasis on the Desi dances, reflect the contemporary practices of the medieval period.

(13) A major work of the medieval period is the Sangita-damodara by Subhankara (ca. Fifteenth century).  Although the Sangita-damodara is principally a work on music and dance, it includes substantial discussions on drama as well. Of its Five Chapters, the Fourth one relates to Dance. Here, dancing is discussed under two broad heads:  Angahara (Angaviksepa, movements of the body) and Nrtya (the dance proper).

Under Angahara, the author includes Angikabhinaya, as related to Drama, because it means acting by using the movements of the limbs. As regards Nrtya, he treats it, mostly, as Desi Nrtya, the regional dances. Nrtya is divided into two types: Tandava, the Purusha-nrtya, danced by men; and, Lasya, the Stri-nrtya, danced by women.

Under Natya, Subhankara includes twenty-seven major type of Dramas (Rupaka) and minor types of Drama (Uparupaka). He classifies them under the heading Nrtye naksatramala, the garland of stars in Nrtya.

Thus, the concept of dance in its male and female forms had crept in. And, the Dance-drama, based in music, was treated as a form of Nrtya. The Nrtya was generally understood as Desi Nrtya.

(14) Another important work from this period is the Nrtyadhyaya of Asokamalla (Ca. fourteenth century). The Nrtyadhyaya consisting of 1611 verses follows the Desi tradition of dance, as in Sangita-ratnakara and the Nrtta-ratna-vali.

The text describes, in detail, the hand gestures followed by the movements of the major and minor limbs, that is, Anga, Upanga and Pratyanga.

It also describes Vicitra-abhinaya (various ways of acting), dividing it into elements of Bhava-abhinaya (expressions displaying emotions); and, Indriya-abhinaya (gestures through use of limbs), resembling the Samanya-abhinaya and Citra-abhinaya, as in Natyashastra. The author also describes one hundred and eight Karanas of Bharata. The text ends with descriptions of Kalasas, generally understood as dance movements with which a performance concludes.

(15) The Rasakaumudi of Srlkantha (a contemporary and student of Pundarika Vitthala – 16th-17th century) is again a work of general nature that deals with vocal music (Gana), instrumental music (Vadya), Dance (Natya) , Drama (Rupaka) and aesthetics (Rasa) etc. The text is of interest to Dance, mainly because of the contemporary scene of dancing it portrays.  It mentions ten divisions of Natya as: Natya, Nrtya, Nrtta, Tandava, Lasya, Visama, Vikata, Laghu, Perani and Gaundali. But, he calls only the first variety Natya as being authentic.

But, the main contribution of Rasakaumudi is the introduction of the concept of ‘Prana’ or the essential elements of the performance; the summation of what a dancer should aim at, while performing. The ten Pranas listed are : the line (Rekha); the steadiness (Sthirata); the swiftness (Vega); the pirouettes (Bhramari), the glance (Dristi); the desirous smile (Smita); the pleasing appearance (Priti); the intellect (Medha); the speech (Vachya); and , the song (Gitam) – RK. 5. 162.

(16) The Sangltadarpana of Chatura Damodara (a poet at Jahangir’s court, which places him in the seventeenth century) is, again, a work on music and dance. Its seventh, the final chapter, is related to dancing; and, it generally follows Nartananirnaya of Pundarika Vittala. It also adopts Nartana as the general name for dancing; and, mentions Nrtta, Nrtya, Natya, Tandava and Lasya as the types of Nartana. It then divides Nrtya into five sub-divisions: Visama, Vikata, Laghu, Perani and Gaundali, all of which are Desi forms.

There is greater emphasis on Desi forms, in its discussions. And, the authors of this period followed and adopted the views of the Nartananirnaya; and, there was a steady drift taking the discussions away from the concepts and terminologies of the Natyashastra.

(17) Sangitanarayana by Purusottama Misra, a poet at the court of Gajapati Narayanadeva of Orissa (seventeenth century), in its four chapters deals with music and dance. For a greater part, it reproduces the concepts and terms of dancing as in the other texts, particularly Nartananirnaya.  The new information it provides relates to the enumeration of the names of twelve varieties of Desi-Nrttas; five varieties of Prakara-Natya of the Desi type; eleven varieties of Marga Natyas and sixteen varieties of Desi Natyas – dramatic presentations ; and, names of thirty-two Kalasa-karanas

(18) The Sangita-makaranda of Vedasuri (early seventeenth century) follows Nartananirnaya of Pundarika Vitthala. The new information it provides is with regard to the Gatis. He treats each Gati like a dance sequence; and, describes each Gati with all its components of movements. For instance; while describing the Marga-gati, the author gives all the movements necessary for its presentation, such as the appropriate Karana, Sthanas, Cari, the hand-gestures, the head movements and glances.

He seems to have been interested mainly in the structure of dance compositions as combinations of smaller movements. He describes these movements step by step; and, includes with each movement the appropriate rhythm and tempo that it should go with.


Texts dealing mainly with the theory and practice of Dance

There were also texts and treatise, which were wholly devoted to the discussions on the theory, practice and techniques of Dance. The numbers of such texts are not many; but, are relevant to the contemporary Dance training and learning. The following are the more significant ones, among them:

 (1) The date of the Abhimaya Darpana of Nandikeshvara is rather uncertain. The scholars tend to place it in or close to the medieval period; because, it divides dance into three branches: Natya, Nrtta and Nrtya. But, such distinctions did not come about until the time of Sangita-ratnakara (13th century). Also, the Abhinaya Darpana views Tandava and Lasya as forms of masculine and feminine dancing, which again was an approach adopted during the medieval times.

Abhinaya Darpana deals predominantly with the Angikabhinaya (body movements) of the Nrtta class; and, is a text that is used extensively by the Bharatanatya dancers. It describes Angikabhinaya, composed by the combination of the movements of Angas (major limbs- the head, neck, torso and the waist), Upangas (minor limbs – the eyes, the eyebrows, the nose, the lower lip, the cheeks and the chin), Pratayangas (neck, stomach, thighs, knees back and shoulders, etc) and the expressions on the countenance. When the Anga moves, Pratyanga and Upanga also move accordingly. The text also specifies how such movements and expressions should be put to use in a dance sequence.

According to the text, the perfect posture that is, Anga-sausthava, which helps in balancing the inter relationship between the body and the mind, is the central component for dance; and, is most important for ease in the execution and carriage. For instance; the Anga-sausthava awareness demands that the performer hold her head steady; look straight ahead with a level gaze; with shoulders pushed back (not raised artificially); and, to open out the chest so that back is erect. The arms are spread out parallel to the ground; and, the stomach with the pelvic bone is pushed in.

The techniques of dance, body movements, postures etc. described in this text, is a part of the curriculum of the present-day performing arts.

The emphasis on Angikabhinaya in Nrtta requires the dancer to be in a fit physical condition, in order to be able to execute all the dance movements with grace and agility, especially during the sparkling Nrtta items according to the Laya (tempo) and Taala (beat).

(2) Closely following upon the Sangita-ratnakara, the Nrtta-ratnavali by Jaya Senapati was written in the thirteenth century A.D. This is the only work of that period, which deals exclusively with dance, in such detail. Nrtta-ratnavali devotes all its eight chapters to dance; and, discusses vocal or instrumental music only in the context of dance.

The first four chapters of the text discuss the Marga tradition, following the Natyashastra; and, the other four discuss the Desi.

The Marga, according to Jaya Senapati, is that which is faithful to the tradition of Bharata; and, is precise and systematic. While dealing with the Marga, although he broadly follows the Bharata, Jaya Senapati provides specific details of the execution of the Karanas and Caris.  He also quotes the views of earlier writers, in order to trace the evolution of Dance and its forms.

The First Chapter describes the four modes of Abhinaya, i.e., Angika, Vachika, Aharya and Sattvika; as also the six forms of dancing – Nrtta, Nrtya, Marga, Desi, Tandava and Lasya.  The Chapter Two deals with Abhinaya, describing in detail the movements of the major and minor limbs: six Angas, six Pratyangas and six Upangas. The Third Chapter is on Caris (movements of one leg); Sthanas (postures); Nyaya (rules of performance); Vyayama (exercise); Sausthava (grace); more Sthanas and Mandalas (combinations of Caris). The Fourth Chapter describes Karanas (dance-units) and Angaharas (sequences of dance-units); and, ends with Recakas (extending movements of the neck, the hands, the waist and the feet) mainly following their descriptions as given in the Natyasastra.

The second half of the text is devoted to the Desi tradition.  The more significant contribution of Nrttaratnavali is in its detailed descriptions of the Desi Karanas, Angaharas and Desi Caris. And, of particular interest is its enumeration and description of Desi dance pieces.

The Fifth Chapter defines the term Desi; and, goes on to describe the Desi sthanas, Utpati-karanas (Desi karanas) and Bhramaris (spin and turns). The sixth chapter deals with movements of the feet, Desi Caris. Jaya Senapati then describes forty-six varieties of Desi Lasyangas, which include the Desi Angas, following the Sangita-samaya-sara. The Gatis or gaits are described next. The Seventh Chapter mainly deals with individual Desi dance pieces, Desi-nrtta. These include Perani, Pekkhana, Suda, Rasaka, Carcari, Natyarasaka, Sivapriya, Cintu, Kanduka, Bhandika, Ghatisani, Carana, Bahurupa, Kollata and Gaundali. The Eighth and Final Chapter , provides information regarding presentation in general, the recital, the appropriate time for its presentation, the arrival of the chief guest and the welcome accorded the king, other members of the audience, the qualities required in a dancer, her costume, the orchestra, the sitting arrangements, the entrance of a dancer,  the use of three curtains on the stage and their removal. The Chapter ends with advice on honoring the dancer, the musicians and the poet.

(3) The Nrtya-ratna-kosa of Maharana Kumbha (a scholar king of the fifteenth century), is part of a larger work, the Sangita-raja, which closely follows the Sangita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva. It is the Fourth Chapter of Sangita-raja; and, deals with Nrtya. The Nrtya-ratna-kosa is divided into four ullasas or parts; each consisting of four pariksanas or sections. It is mostly a compilation of the concepts, definitions, theories and practices concerning Dance – both Marga and Desi– culled out from earlier texts, particularly from Sangita-ratnakara. While describing various types of dance-movements, the emphasis is more on the Desi types.

The first section of the first part describes the origin of the theories of Natya (shastra); the rules of building the performance-hall; the qualifications of the person presiding; and, of the audience. It also offers definitions of certain fundamental terms.

Raja Kumbha defines the terms Nrtta, Nrtya and Natya. According to him, Nrtta is made up of combination of Karanas and Angaharas (Karanam angaharani caiva Nrttam); Nrtya is Rasa (Nrtya sabdena ca Rasam punaha); and, Natya is Abhinaya (Natyena abhinayam).

The Nrtya is classified as Marga; and, Nrtta as Desi. The Pindibandhas or group dances, performed by sixteen female dancers as part of the preliminaries are included under Nrtta.

The rest of the verses are devoted to Angikabhinaya or the movements of the body. The text discusses, in detail, about limb movements like Pratyangas, Upangas etc.; and, also about Aharya-bhinaya or costume, make-up and stage properties.

There are also descriptions of Marga and Desi Caris, Shanakas or postures, meant for men and women, for sitting and reclining. Similarly, the Karanas are classified as Shuddha karanas (pure) of the Marga class; and, as Desi Karanas.

That is followed description of four Vrttis or styles and six kalasas (dance movements with which a performance concludes), with its twenty-two sub-varieties.

Towards the end, it enumerates the qualities and faults of a performer.  It discusses make-up; different schools of performing artists; their qualities and faults; the Shuddha-paddhati or the pure way of presentation; and, states the ways of imparting instructions to performers.

(4) The Nartana-nirnaya of Pundarika Vitthala (16th-17th centuries) is a very significant work in the history of Indian Dancing. Till about the time of Raja Kumbha, the Dance was discussed mainly in terms of Marga and Desi. Pundarika Vitthala 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. Even though the later texts on dancing generally followed the Sangita-ratnakara, they did take into consideration Nartana-nirnaya’s classification of Bhaddha and Anibaddha, as a part of their conceptual framework. His classification of Dance forms into Baddha and Anibaddha was a significant theoretical development.

The Nartana-nirnaya was written in the sixteenth century, while Pundarika Vitthala  (or Pandari Vitthala) was in the service of the Mughal Court. It comes  about five hundred years after Sangitaratnakara. This period between these two texts was marked by several interesting and rather radical changes and transformations that were taking place in India , in the field of Arts.

The Nartananirnaya was composed in an altogether different ambiance.  The courts of Raja Man Singh, Raja Madhav Singh and Akbar provided the forum for interaction between the North and South Indian traditions on one hand; and between Indian and Persian practices on the other. This was an interesting period when diverse streams of Art came together.

Pundarika Vittala mentions that he wrote the Nartananirnaya, concerning music and dance, at the suggestion of Akbar, to cater to his taste – Akbara-nrupa rucyartham

The subject matter central to Nartana-nirnaya is dancing. The technical details of dance as detailed in the Nartananirnaya are an important source for reconstructing the history of Indian music and dance during the middle period. This was also the time when the old practices were fading out and new concepts were stepping in. For instance, by the time of Pundarika Vittala, the 108 Karanas were reduced to sixteen. At the same time , dance formats such as Jakkini, Raasa nrtya were finding place among traditional type of Dances.

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

The chapter titled Nartana-prakarana, dealing with Nrtta and Nartana, is relevant to Dancing. The Nrtta deals with the abstract aesthetic movements and configuration of various body parts. And, Nartana is about the representational art of dancing, giving expression to emotions through Abhinaya. The Nartana employs the Nrtta as a communicative instrument to give a form to its expressions.

Another chapter, Nrttadhikarana is virtually about the Grammar of Dance. It describes the Nrtta element of Dancing with reference to the special configuration of the static and moving elements of the Dance, such as: Sthanaka, Karana, Angahara, Cari, Hasta, Angri, Recaka, Vartana etc.

Then the text goes on to enumerate the items of the dance recital: entry of the dancer (Mukhacali, including Pushpanjali); Nanadi Slokas invoking the blessings of the gods; the kinds of Urupa, Dhavada, Kvada, Laga and Bhramari. It also mentions the dance forms originating from various regions: Sabda, Svarabhinaya, Svaramantha, Gita, Cindu, Dharu, Dhruvapada, Jakkadi and Raasa.

Some of these are classified under Bandhanrtta, the group dances with complex configurations and formations. These are also of the Anibaddha type, the graceful, simple dances, not restricted by the regimen of the rules etc.

The Nartana-nirnaya is indeed a major work that throws light on the origins of some of the dance forms – particularly Kathak and Odissi – that are prevalent today

[We shall discuss many of the texts enumerated above, in fair detail, later in the series.]



All the texts enumerated above deal with the subject of dance in some detail; exclusively or along with music, drama and poetics.

When you take an over view, you will notice that three texts stand out as landmarks, defining the nature and treatment of dance in the corresponding period. These three are: Natyashastra of Bharata (Ca. 200 BCE); Abhinavabharati of Abhinavagupta (10-11th century) and Sangita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva (13th century).

Natyashastra is, of course, the seminal text that not only enunciated the principles of Dancing, but also brought them into practice. Though the emphasis of Natyashastra was on the production and presentation of the play, it successfully brought together the arts of poetry, music, dance and other decorative elements, all of which contributed to the elegance of the theater.

The Dance that Bharata specifically refers to is Nrtta, pure dance, which was primarily performed before the commencement of the play proper (Purvaranga) as a prayer offered to gods. The elements of the Nrtta were also brought into Drama by fusing it with Abhinnaya. Though the resultant art-form was not assigned a name by Bharata, its essence was very much a part of the theatrical performance. And, this delightful art form came to be celebrated as Nrtya, during the later periods. And, in its early stages, Dance was not considered as an independent Art-form.

Several commentaries on the Natyashastra that were produced between the period of Bharata and Abhinavagupta are lost. And, the Abhinavabhatarati is the earliest available commentary on the Natyashastra; and, is, therefore, highly valuable. Abhinavagupta followed Bharata, in general; and, adhered to his terminologies. For instance, while discussing on Dance, Abhinava consistently uses the term Nrtta; and, avoids the term Nrtya (perhaps because it does not appear in Natyashastra). During his time, dance, music and dramatics were continued to be treated as integral to each other, as in the times of Natyashastra.

Yet; Abhinavagupta, brought in fresh perspective to the Natyashastra; and, interpreted it in the light of his own experience and knowledge. His commentary, therefore, presents the dynamic and evolving state of the art of his time, rather than a description of Dancing   as was frozen in Bharata’s time.  As it has often been said; Abhinavabharati is a bridge between the world of the ancient and forgotten wisdom and the scholarship of the succeeding generations.

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. No writer or commentator of a later period could afford to ignore Abhinavagupta.

The commentaries written during the period following that of Abhinavagupta continued to employ the terminologies of the Natyashastra. But, the treatment of its basic terms such as, Nrtta, Natya, Tandava and Lasya was highly inconsistent. These terms were interpreted variously, in any number of ways, depending upon the understanding and disposition of the author; as also according to contemporary usage of those terms and the application of their concepts. Standardisation was conspicuous by its absence.

A significant development during this period was assigning greater importance to the regional types of Dances. Though based on the Natyashastra, these texts recognized and paid greater attention to the dance forms that were popular among the people of different geographic regions and of different cultural groups. In the process, the concepts of Marga, which signified the chaste, traditional form of Dance as per the rules of Natyashastra, came to be distinguished from the regional, popular, free flowing types of Dance, termed as Desi.

By about the 13th century, dance came into its own; and, was no longer an ancillary to drama, as was the case during the time of Natyashastra. Yet; the Dance, in this period, continued to be discussed along with the main subjects such as Music and Drama.

The concept of Nrtta continued to exist and Nritya was established; each with its own individual identity. The term Natya which signified the combination of Nrtta (pure dance) and Abhinaya (meaningful expressions) had come into wide use.

The Sangita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva marks the beginning of the period when Dance began to be discussed in its own right, rather than as an adjunct to Drama. It was during this period, the Desi types of Dance along with its individual forms were discussed in detail.  And, the other significant development was the fusing of the special techniques of Angikabhinayas of both the Nrtta and the Desi types into the graceful Natya form. And, new trends in Dance were recognized.

Though the ancient terms Nrtta, Tandava, Lasya and Natya continued to be interpreted in various ways, the term Nartana came to be accepted as the general class name of Dance, comprising its three sub-divisions: NatyaNrtya and Nrtta.

In the period beginning with the sixteenth century, Pundarika Vittala introduced the new concept of classifying dance forms into two separate classes, as the Bhaddha (structured) and Anibhaddha (neither bound nor structured). The later texts, while discussing Dance, apart from following Marga and Desi classification, also took into consideration Nartana-nirnaya’s classification of Bhaddha and Anibaddha, as a part of their conceptual framework.

It was during this period, the Persian influence, through the Mughal Court , entered into Indian dancing, giving rise to a new style of  Dance form, the Kathak.  This period was also marked by the emergence of the Dance forms that were not specifically mentioned in the Natyashastra – the Uparupakas. This genre of musical dance dramas not only came to be admitted into the mainstream of dancing, but eventually became the dominant type of performing art, giving rise dance forms such as Odissi, Kuchipudi etc.

The emphasis of the later texts shifted away from the Marga of the Natyashastra; but, leaned towards the newer forms of Desi Dances with their improvised techniques and structural principles. Apart from increase in the varieties of regional dance forms, a number of manuals in regional languages began to appear. These regional texts provide a glimpse of the state of Dance as was practiced in different regions.

Dr. Mandakranta Bose observes:

Bharata’s account represented only a small part of the total body of dance styles of the time. When new styles became prominent in the medieval period they had to be included in the descriptions of dancing. Such a widening of frontiers meant a great increment of technical description in the texts.

The distinction between the Natyashastra and the later texts is not merely one of detail. Of greater significance is the fact that unlike the Natyashastra, the later texts recognize different styles. These are distinct from the one described by Bharata, the main path or Marga tradition of dancing. The later texts concern themselves more and more with other styles, known, generically, as Desi, whose technique and structural principles are sufficiently different from the style described by Bharata..


Further, the principle of Anibaddha allowed the dancer a considerable degree of freedom, encouraging her to search far and to create, through her ingenuity, novel aesthetic expressions. This was a major departure from the regimen that required the dancer to rigorously follow the prescriptions of the texts. The opportunities to come up with artistic innovations, within the framework of the tradition, helped to infuse enterprise and vitality into dance performances. The dance became more alive.

At the same time, the Natyashastra continues to be the authoritative source book, which lays down the basic principles of the performing arts; and, identifies the range of body movements that constitute dancing.

The Bharatanatya of today represents such a dynamic phase of the traditional Indian Dancing.  It does not, specifically, have a text of its own; its roots are in the principles, practices and techniques that are detailed in Natyashastra, Abhinava Darpana and such other ancient texts. Though it is basically ingrained in the principles of Natyashastra, it delightfully combines in itself the Angikabhinaya of the Nrtta; the four Abhinayas of the Natya (Angika, Vachika, Aharya and Sattvika); the interpretative musical narrative element of the Uparupakas, for enacting a theme; and the improved techniques of the later times.

Besides, the Bharatanatya developed its own Grammar through Dance idioms such as: Adavus (combination of postures – Sthana, foot movement – Chari, and hand gestures-Hasta); Jati (feet movement in tune with the Sollakattu syllables); Tirmanam (brilliant bursts of complicated dance rhythms towards the ‘end’ section of the dance). Besides, the Bharatanatya, in the context of its time, enriched its repertoire of the Nrtta by items such as Alaripu, Jatiswara and Tillana.

Thus, the evolution of Indian Dance system is a dynamic process that absorbed new elements and techniques without compromising its basic tenets. It, thus, demonstrates the time-honored Indian principle of growth: continuity along with change.


Before we discuss Dance and its forms, let’s take a look at the Art and Art-forms, in general.




Part Two

References and sources

1.Movements and Mimesis: The Idea of Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition  by Dr.Mandakranta Bose

2 . Literature used in Dance/ Dance Sahitva

3. Natyashastra


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Fourteen

Continued from Part Thirteen –Forms of Karnataka  Samgita  

Part Fourteen (of 22 ) – Lakshana Granthas


1.1. As said before, the evolution of Music of India in all its forms, including the sacred music, art music, dance music, opera, instrumental music and other recognized forms (Gita prabandha, Vadya prabandha, Nritya prabandha and Lakshana prabandha) is a long process spread over many centuries. It took a long time for music to come to its present-day form. What we have today is the result of a long unbroken tradition and the fruit of accumulated heritage of centuries, stretching from the notes (Svara) of Sama-gana to the Mela-kartas of Govindacarya.

1.2. What is remarkable about the Music of India is its systematic way of developing musical thinking that aimed to organize and arrive at a golden mean between melody (Raga) ,the structure of the compositions (Sahitya) and the rhythm (Taala) . These had to be in harmony with the emotional content (Bhava) of the song. Such well thought out structuring has lent our music an inner-strength and an identity of its own.

1.3. There followed a very long period stretching over a thousand years – from Natyashatra to Chaturdandi prashika – which produced most wonderful texts providing substance , structure and a sense of identity to what we now call as Classical Music. These texts on Samgita-shastra (Musicology), classified as Lakshana-granthas, brought together the various strands of the past Music traditions; established a sound theoretical basis for the structural framework Music, its related issues and practice.  Each genre of these texts also provided a model for the subsequent treatises to elaborate on music-theories and practices (Samgita Shastra).

1.4. The authors of ancient Indian musical texts seemed to be concerned with precise ways to describe Music as it should be; how it should be taught, learnt and performed; and, how it should be experienced and enjoyed.  It was an evolutionary process cascading towards greater sophistication.

The Samgita shastra was at once the theory that laid down concepts and rules to be brought into practice; and it was also the practice that remodeled the theory. It was a two-way mode of progression. It was said:  Shastram iti shaasanopaayam. The Shastra was not merely a theory but it was also a tool (upaya) for perfecting the Vidya. The theory (lakshana) had to have a purpose or a target (lakshya). The test of a theory was in its application, Viniyoga.

1.5. The Lakshan-granthas, the text lying down theoretical aspects of Music, authored by various  musician-scholars,  are the fruits  of their systematic study of the art-forms as they existed in the past and as it was practiced during their times. The texts also projected their vision of how the Music should develop and prosper in future. Thus, the Lakshana-granthas over the centuries have defined, protected and guided the Music of India.

Though the forms and formats of Music over the centuries changed to suit their adopted environments, the essential principles behind the Music have remained true and lasting. Like in other Indian traditions, continuity and change go hand in hand in Music. That happy union, I reckon, is mainly due to the brilliant series of Lakshana-granthas.

Before we go on to the  notable among the texts of ancient and medieval India that deal with Music, briefly lets briefly look at Naradiya Shiksha  perhaps the oldest of Music-texts.

  1. Naradiya Shiksha

Shiksha is a branch of Veda lore (vedanga); and, it deals with elements of chanting and phonetics. According to Taittereya Upanishad (1. 2), the elements of chanting includes six factors: Varna (syllable); Svara (accent or note); Maatra (duration); Balam (articulation or stress); Sama (even tone) and Santana (continuity). The first four deal with correct pronunciation of individual syllables; and the last two with the recitation of the entire line or the verse.

Om̃ śīkṣāṃ vyākhyāsyāmaḥ । varṇaḥ svaraḥ । mātrā balam । sāma santānaḥ । ityuktaḥ śīkṣādhyāyaḥ ॥ ॥

Briefly, Varna is the correct pronunciation of every isolated syllable, combination of consonants and ovals and compound letters. Svara is how a syllable has to be pronounced in one of the three accents (udatta, anudatta and svarita). Maatra is the time duration for pronouncing a syllable. There are of four types: hrasva– a short one – duration for short ovals; dhirga –  two unit-duration for long vowels; plutam- longer than two–unit duration; and, the fourth is ardha- maatra, half unit, meant for consonants not accompanied by vowels.

Some of the well-known Shiksha texts are: Paniniya, Yagnyvalkya, Vashisthi, Katyayani, Manduki and Naradiya.  The last one is  associated with Sama Veda.

[ As regards the name ‘Narada’ ; and many persons associated with it, please take a look the explanation provided in the comments section, in response to a comment made by prachidublay]


Naradiya Shiksha, composed, for the most part, in the Anustubh Chhandas; and based, mainly in the theories and practices of singing   Sama Veda, is an ancient text that deals mainly with the musical notes and the pronunciation of the words in the Vedic language.  It is regarded as an authentic source of references on the development of Indian Music from the Vedic times to the period of the Shiksha literature.  The Naradiya Shiksha, is believed to pre-date Bharatha’s Natyashastra (second century BCE). Some scholars also believe that Bharat might have been familiar with Naradiya Shiksha.

One of the reasons for that inference is that the Naradiya Shiksha discusses the Gāndhāra Grāma, its Mūrchanas and Tānas; but, by the time of Bharata’s Natyashastra, the Gandhara Grama had become obsolete. Further, it is believed that a verse of the Natyashastra (33. 227) seems to reflect verse (1.3.13) of Nāradiya-śhíkhā, which, in effect, says:

Acharyah saamam icchanti; padath chhedantu panditah / striyo madhuram icchanti , vikrustam itare janah//

Those well versed in musical art, appreciate melodious and tuneful singing (sama); the scholars look for clear pronunciation of the words (pada) of the song; the women love the sweetness of voice of the singers (madhuram); and, the rest demand a loud, full-throated singing (vikrustam). 

It is also said; one couplet in Patanjali’s   Maha-bhashya (dated around 200 BCE) closely resembles the one in Nāradiya-śhíkhā:

mantro hīna svarato varato vā mithyā prayukto na tam artham āha sa vāgvajro yajamāna hinasti yathendraśatru svarato ‘parādhāt //

A mantra which is uttered with a defective accent or bad pronunciation does not carry the proper meaning. It is a thunderbolt of speech and kills the yajamāna (sponsor of the Yajna) just as it was done by the wrong accent of (the compound) ‘indra-śatruḥ’.

The opening phrase of the relevant verse in Patanjali appears as ‘dṛṣṭa śabda ‘in place of ‘mantro hīna in the Naradiya Shiksha

For these and other reasons, the Naradiya Shiksha is considered to be a text that is not later than 200 B.C.  Some scholars assign  this Shiksha-text a much earlier period.


Apart from discussing the system of music (Svaramandala) of his times, in terms of SvaraGramaGrama-ragas, Murchanas, Tanas, sthana (registers), Jati-srutis etc , Narada in his Shiksha gives information about the ten different methods of singing (gunavrittis) according to different Vedic recessions; and, ten desired qualities of a good singing (dasha-vidha gunavram). Narada also introduces number of interesting concepts and notions with regard to music, such as: associating each Svara with a color or with a god or with other beings.  The text attempts to derive each Svara from the sounds made by a bird or an animal. It visualizes the origination and the placement of Svaras in different parts of the human body. The text suggests, based on Sama Gana, the ways to intonate the Svaras with the help of fingers of the right-hand. The text also offers some details about the string instruments (Veena) like Daravi and Gatra, which were used in the Samagana and Gandharva -gana.

Further, apart from specifying the charecteristics of correct and melodious singing, the text also suggests the ways and the disciplines needed to improve the singer’s voice-culture.

But, its most significant contribution that has vitalized Indian Music is that of aligning the Vaidika (Sama) and the Laukika – Flute (Venu) Svaras; and, rearranging the Sama svaras of the descending order into ascending order of the Laukika svaras as we know it today.


It is said; in the beginning, the (Rig) Vedic priests used only three notes called Udatta, Anudatta and Svarita.  It is explained that Udatta meant the highest Svara, acutely accented (uchchaih); Anudatta, was the lower, gravely accented (nichaih) ; and Svarita was the summation of the two, with Udatta in the first-half. It is called a circumflex-ed accent.

The singers of the Sama Veda discovered some more notes and extended the range from three Svaras (Udatta, Anudatta and Svarita) to seven Svaras.

Narada (NarS 1.1.12) identifies the seven Sama Svaras (Vaidika) as: Prathama; Dvitiya, Triya; Chaturtha; Mandra; Krusta; and Atisvara.

Prathamasca dvitiyosca tritiyosca chaturtacaha / Mandram krustho hyu atisvarah yetan kurvathi saamagah /1.1.12/

And then, he correlates the Sama Svaras used by the Saman singers with the notes of the flute (Venu) – according to the Laukika music (NarS 1.5.1).

He says:  Prathama, the first Svara of the Saman singers is the Madhyama Svara of the Venu (flute); Dvitiya, the second, is GandharaTritiya, the third, is traditionally the RsabhaChaturtha, the fourth, is said to be ShadjaPanchama, the fifth, is DhaivataSasta, the sixth, is considered to be NishadhaSaptama, the seventh, is the Panchama.

Yo Samaganam prathamah sa venur Madhyamah Svarah / yo dvitiyah sa Gandharas, trias tu Rsabhah smrtah // Chaturthah Shadja ity ahuh Panchama Dhaivato bhavet / sastho Nishadho vijneyah, saptamah Panchama cmrtah // NarS 1.5.1//

[ The fifth, sixth and the seventh Svaras of the traditional Vaidika music are also indicated by names: Mandra, Atisvarya and Krusta. These correspond to Dhaivata, Nishadha and Panchama of the Venu Svaras]


Narada offers an explanation that from the ancient Udatta the Svaras Nishada (Ni) and Gadhara (Ga) were derived; from Anudatta, the Svaras –  Rsbha (Ri) and Dhaivata (Dha); and, from Svarita emerged three Svaras:  Shadja (Sa), Madhyana (Ma) and Panchama (Pa).

udātte niāda gāndhārāva anudātte  ṛṣabha dhaivato / svarita prabhavā hyete adja madhyama pañcamā  //


Swami Prajnanananda in his A  History of Indian Music remarks that Narada  has rendered a valuable service to the music world, by discovering a connecting link between the tonal pitches of seven tones of both Vaidika and Laukika music. He has said that the pitch-value of the tone, prathama of the Vedic music is equal to that of the tone, madhyama of the Laukika music; and in this way, it can be shown that the tones, prathama, dvitiya, tritiya, chaturtlha, panchama, shastha or atisvarya and saptama or krusta are equivalent in their sound values to those of the tones, madhyama, gandhdra, rishabha, shadja, dhaivata, nishada and panchama of the Laulika music.

Thus, the   Naradiya Shiksha relates the Sama Svaras to the notes on the flute (Venu) as: Ma, Ga, Ri, Sa, Dha, Ni, and Pa.


       Sama Svara                      Venu Svara
01 Prathama Madhyama Ma
02 Dwithiya Gandhara Ga
03 Trithiya Rishabha Ri
04 Chathurtha Shadja Sa
05 Panchama Nishadha Ni
06 Shasta Daiwatha Dha
07 Sapthama Panchama Pa


But, the Sama Svaras were of Nidhana prakriti or Vakragati, arranged in a diminishing order, following Avaroha karma, a descending order (uttarottaram nicha bhavanthi). The order of the Svaras in Sama-music was: Ma, Ga, Ri, Sa, Ni, Dha, and Pa.

Since the Sama notes were in a descending order there was not much flexibility in music.

Naradiya Shiksha redefined the concepts and terms of the Sama Gana. It revised and recast the descending order of the Sama scales into the natural ascending order – Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni   – as we are familiar with it today.

Because of that re-orientation of the Sama scales a well-structured system of music could be erected and developed during the later ages.

This, surely, is one of the most significant contribution of the Naradiya Shiksha to the growth and vitality of Indian Music in all its forms.


Naradiya Shiksha (1.5.3; 1.5.4) explains that each Sama-svara was derived from the sounds made by a bird or an animal in its appropriate season. For instance; the peacock’s cry was Shadja (Sa); the bulls roar was Rishabha (Ri); sheep-goat bleat was Gandhara (Ga); kraunchaka’s (heron) cry was Madhyama (Ma); koel’s (cuckoo) melodious whistle was Panchama (Pa); the neigh of the horse was Dhaivata (Dha); elephant’s trumpet was Nishadha (Ni). Please see the table below.

Shadjam vadati mayuro, gavo rambanti ca Rsabham / ajavike tu Gandharam, kraunco vadati Madhyamam // pushasaddarane kale kokilo vakti Panchamam / avas tu Dhaivatam vakti, Nishadam vakti Kujarah // NarSh 1.5.3-4 //

The peacock cries Shadja; the bulls moo Rsabha; the she-goat and the sheep Gandhara; the curlew cries Madhyama. And, in the spring time, the cuckoo calls Panchama; the horse produces Dahaivata; and, the elephant, the Nishadha

[ Note: Here, Narada has named the Laukika Svaras, and as compared to the Svaras of the Saman, they correspond as:  Madhyama = Prathama; Gandhdra, = Dvitiya; Rishabha= Tritiya; Shadja = Chaturtha; Dhaivata = Mandra; Nishada=Atisvarya; and, Panchama= krusta.]

Name in Sama Music Symbol Sama Veda Svara Bird/animal



Madhyama Ma svarita heron
Gandhara Ga udatta goat
Rishabha Ri anudatta bull
Shadja Sa svarita peacock
Nishadha Ni udatta elephant
Daiwatha Dha anudatta horse
Panchama Pa svarita koel


Narada (NarS. 1.5. 7-11) explains how and why the five Svaras – Shadja, Rsabha, Gandhara, Madhyama, and Panchama– came to be named as such .

Shadja (Sa): Because, it is situated in the nose, the throat, the chest, the palate, the tongue and the teeth; and, because it springs from these six , it is traditionally called Shadja.

Nasam, kantham, uras, talu jihvam, dantams cha samsritah / sadbhih sanjayate yasmath tasmath Shadja iti smrtah //

Rsabha (Ri):  Because, the air, rising from the navel and striking the throat and the head, roars like a bull, it is called Rsabha.

Vayuhu samutthito nabheh kantha-sirasa samahath / nardaty Rsbhavad yasmath tasmath Rsbha ucyate //

Gandhara (Ga): Because, the air, rising from the navel and striking the throat and the head, blows smells to the nose and is delicious; for that reason it is called Gandhara.

Vayuhu samutthito nabheh kantha-sirasa samahath / nasam gandhavah punyo gandharas ten hetuna//

Madhyama (Ma): Because, the essence of the Madhyama is in the air, which rising from the navel, striking the chest and the heart, reaches the navel as abig sound.

Vayuhu samutthito nabhir urohrdi samahath / nabhim prapto mahanado madhyamavatam samasrute //

Panchama (Pa) : Because, the air , which rising from the navel and striking the chest, the heart, the throat and the head springs from these five places , is accounted to be the essence of Panchama

Vayuhu samutthito nabhir urohrtkantha-sirohatah / panchastsnotthitasyasya panchamatvam vidhiyate //


Naradiya Shiksha (NarS.1.5.5-6) mentions several parts of the human body as origins of the seven svaras on the scale:

Shadja springs from the throat; Rsabha springs from the head; Gandhara from the nose; Madhyama svara from the chest; and. Panchama svara springs from the chest, the head and the throat; Dhaivata from the forehead. As regards Nishadha, it springs from the combination of all parts of the body.

Kanthad uttisthate Sadjah; Sirasas iv Rsabha smftah / Gandhars iv anunasikya; uraso Madhyama svarah / lalatad Dhaivatam vidyan Nishadam sarva-sandhijam


The Naradiya shiksha, following the practice of the Saman singers’  intonation of the musical Svaras they were singing, mentions the positions of the Svaras on fingers of the right hand. As for example:

Krusta (Panchama) is situated on the top of the thumb; Prathama (Madhyama) on the thumb (Angusta); Gandhara on the index finger (Tarjani) next to the thumb; Rshabha on the next to it (Madhyama) (middle finger); Shadja on the ring finger(Anamika) next to the middle one; Daivata on the little finger(kanisthika) ; and , the top of the little finger is Nishada.

Angusthasyottame krushto angushthe tu prathamah svarah/ Pradeshinyam tu gandhara-rishabhas tadanantaram // Anamikayam shadjastu kanishthikayam cha dhaivatam | Tasya adhastat cha yo nya stu nishadam tatra nirdiset //

The thumb was made to move and touch the other fingers, and thus help the singers to sing with proper intonation.

[ Note: Here, Narada has mentioned about the Laukika Svaras: and, it should be remembered that Madhyama = Prathama; Gandhdra, = Dvitiya; Rishabha= Tritiya; Shadja = Chaturtha; Dhaivata = Mandra; Nishada=Atisvarya; and, Panchama= krusta.]


The Naradiya shiksha, also mentions the practice of the Saman singers of touching parts of the body with the fingers on the right-hand to indicate the Svaras they were singing. 

The Saman singer will touch, respectively:  the middle part of his head, forehead (lalata) to indicate Krusta (Panchama); the middle part of the eyebrows (Bhruvormadhye) to indicate Dvitiya (Gandhdra); the ears (Karna) to indicate Tritiya, (Rishabha); the throat (Kanta) to indicate Chaturtha(Shadja); the thigh (uru) to indicate Mandra (Dhaivata); and, the heart (hridisthanam) to indicate Atisvarya, (Nishada) .

Krustasya murdhani sthanam lalate prathamasya tu/ Bhruvormadhye dvitiyasya tritiyasya cha karnayo// Kanthasthanam chaturthasya mandrasyorasituchyate / Atisvarasya nichasya hridisthanam vidhiyate //

[ Note: Here, Narada has mentioned the Vedic Svaras of the Saman, as compared to the Laukika Svaras, and, here:  Prathama =Madhyama; Dvitiya= Gandhara; Tritiya = Rishabha; Chaturtha= Shadja; Mandra= Dhaivata; Atisvarya = Nishada; and, krusta =Panchama.]

Now, the hand and finger poses (mudras) that are adopted in the religious functions (puja) and others (updsana-mudras) as well as the gestures adopted in the art of dancing (nartana-mudras), are all evolved from the Mudras employed by the Saman singers.


Naradiya Shiksha (NarS. 1.1.7) mentions three voice registers (sthanas) in connection with the recitation of the Sama Gana: chest, throat and the head are the three voice-registers (urah kanthah siras chaiva sthanani trini vanmaye)

At another place (NarS. 1.7.1-2) , Narada mentions seven registers, each one being used for each of the seven notes (svara) of the Sama Gana (head, forehead, between eyebrows, ears, throat, chest and in the heart-region).

While listing the seven registers, Narada mentions the Vedic Svaras, as:  the registers of Krusta (i.e. the Panchama of the Laukika) is the head; of Prathama (Madhyama) in the forehead; of Dvitiya (Gandhara) between the eyebrows; of Triya (Rsabha) in the ears; of Chaturtha (Shadja) in the throat; of Mandra (Dhaivata) in in the chest; of the low Atisvara (Nishadha) in the heart region.

(The Laukika Svaras are given within brackets, for reference).

Krustasya murchani sthanam lalate prathamasya tu / bhrur-madhye dvitiyasya; tritiyasya tu karanayoh / kanthasthanam chatturtasya; mandrasyo urah utcyate / atisvarasya nicasya hrdi sthanam vidhiyate //


Naradiya Shiksha (NarS. 1. 5. 13-14) associates the Svaras with certain gods and with Gandharvas – Narada and Tumburu; and says: The Shadja svara (Sa) is sung by Agni; Rsabha (Ri) is uttered by Brahma; Gandhara (Ga) is sung by Soma; the Madhyama svara (Ma) is sung by Vishnu; the Panchama svara (Pa) is sung by Narada the great person (mahatmana); the Dhaivata and Nishadha are sung by Tumburu

Agni gitah svarah Shadja; Rsabho Brahmanoyate / Somena gito Gandharo, Vishnur Madhyamah svarah // Panchamo tu svaro gito Naradena mahatmana / Dhaivatas cha Nisadas cha gitau Tumburuna svarau //

According to Naradiiya Shiksha (NarS. 1.7.6-8), the gods live on the Svara Krusta (=Panchama); human beings on Prathama (=Madhyama); cattle on Dvitiya (=Gandhara); the Gandharvas and Apsaras on the next note (Triya= Rishabha); the birds (Andaja – others born from an egg) and the Pitris (ancestors) on Chaturtha (= Shadja); the Pisachas (goblins), Asuras and Rakshasas (demons) on Mandra; and, the others on Atisvara (= Nishada).

According to (NarS. 1.2.15), the Shadja delights the gods (Devanam); Rsabha the seers (Rshinam); Gandhara the Pitris (Pitrnam); Madhyama the Gandharvas (Gandharvanam); Nishadha, the Yakshas (Yakshanam); Dhaivata the other living beings(Praninam)


In the Naradiya Shiksha (NarS. 1.4.1), the Svaras are also said to be related to certain colors. It says: Shadja has a reddish colour like lotus; Rsabha has a reddish – yellow color like a parrot; Gandhara is gold colored; Madhyama is colored like jasmine; Panchama has a bluish-black color; Dhaivata is said to be yellow; and, Nishadha has all colors. These are the colors of the Svaras.

Padma-patra prabhah Shadja, Rsabhah sukapinjarah / kanakabhas tu Gandharo, Madhyamah kundasaprabhah // Panchama tu bhavet Krishna pilakam , Daivtam viduh / Nishadah sarvavarnas tu ity etah svaravarnatah // NarS 1.4.1


As regards other music-terms and their concepts:

Narada in his Shiksha talks about the system of music (Svaramandala) of his times, in terms of SvaraGramaMurchanas and Tanas. He mentions the number of Svaras as seven; Gramas as three; Murchanas as twentyone; and, the Tanas as fortynine.

Sapta-svaras; trayo grama; murcchanat ekavimshatih | Tana ekonapanchashadityetat – svaramandalam

Narada mentions the Svaras as seven –Svara saptaka. And, he defines Svara as: that which is pleasant to be heard, that which is sweet and of a pleasing character ; that which spontaneously charms the mind of the listener is called Svara.

Srutyanantarabhavi yah snigda anur anandatmakah / svato rajayati srotrcittam sa svara ucyate.


Narada mentions the three Gramas as Shadja, Madhyama and Gandharva; and, each Grama as having seven Murchanas (a total of 21 Murchanas – (NarS.; and, states their origin as: The Earth for Shadja grama; the intermediate space (atmosphere) for Madhyama grama; and, heaven for Gandhara grama. It also mentions that Gandhara grama is only in heaven (svarga); and, is not found anywhere else. (It does not elaborate on the Gandhara grama)

Shadja- Madhyama-Gandharas trayo gramah parkirtitah / bholokad jayate Shadjo; bhuvar lokac cha Madhyamah// svargan nanyatra Gandharo //

Nardiya shiksha (NarSM. 1.1.49) explains the Grama by comparing it to Murchana (Gramah svara-samuhah syan Murchana tu svarasraya).

According to the renowned  shcolar  Shri M S Ramaswami Aiyar (The Question of Gramas – JRAS, 1936, p.632 ) : Grama is described as a group of scales consisting all the Shuddha and Vikrta svaras, collected together; and, preserved for the purpose of selecting, from that group scale, any desired set of seven svaras with a Graha, the starting point – which set , when sung in the natural order of ascent and descent was called as Murchanas ; and, which when a harmonic individuality was established with the help of Amsa , Nyasa, Vadi and Samvadi etc took the name of Jati.

And another version says: A Grama is a collection of svaras; a Murchana is closely connected with or based upon the svaras (Gramah svara-samuhah syan Murchana adi samashrayah)

Kallinatha (15th century), commenting upon this line, explains: ‘the word – adi (meaning etc)’ is meant to indicate the regular order (krama) of svaras, series of svaras (Taana), ornamentation (Varna), grace (Alamkara) and mode (Jati) ‘- atra adi shabdena karma Taana – Varna -Alamkara- Jati adyayo grahyante.


Murchana was described as the elaboration of the closely connected series of Svaras (kramayutah) in their  proper  (krama) ascending and descending forms. Each type of Murchana was said to possess its own special aesthetic merit.  It was said; the set of Murchanas related to Gandharva Grama were meant to please Devas; and, the other two to please Pitris and Rishis. Though Narada mentioned the Gandharva grama, yet it had become obsolete during his time; and, Bharata too did not mention about it in the Natyashastra.

Matanga  also explains Murchana as:  the ascent and descent of the seven svaras in a regular order is called Murchana (Kramadi svaranam saptanam arohas cha avarohanam / murcchanady ucyate). That is to say; Murchana is something more than the scale; because, it enhances the quality of the Jati (melody-types of the recognised kind).

Nardiya shiksha (NarS. 1.2.4-9) mentions 21 Murchanas which can be divided into three Gramas.

The seven Murchanas of Gandhara grama are said to belong to the gods (Devanam) : Nandi, Visala, Sumukhi, Chitra, Chitravati, Sukha, and Balaya;

the other seven Murchanas  of the Madhyama grama are said to belong to the ancestors (Pitrnam) : Apayini, Visvabhrta, Chandra, Hema , Kapardini, Maitri , and Barhati (Chandramasi) ;

and , the next seven Murcahnas  called Laukika or common are said to belong to Seers (Rishi) : Uttaramandra, Abhirudgata, Asvakranta, Uttarayata, Rajani, Sauvira and Hrsyaka .

[ The aja Grāma gaves rise to seven Mūrchanās such as Uttara-maudrā, Rajanī, Uttarāyatā, Śuddhaajā, Matsarīktā, Aśvakrāntā and Abhirudgatā

The Madhyama Grāma gave rise to seven Mūrchanās: Sauvīrī, Hariāśvā, Kalopanatā, Śuddhamadhyā, Mārgavī, Pauravī and Hṛṣyakā.

The Gāndhāra Grāma also gave rise to seven Mūrchanās. But, since this Grāma had become obsolete at the time of the Natya Śhastra, their name were not mentioned.]

According to Nardiya shiksha (NarS. 1.2.13) the Gandharvas practice the seven Murchanas of the gods (Devanam) – Upajivanti Gandharva Devanam sapta Murchanath.

The Yakshas practice the seven Murchans of the ancestors (Pitrnam) – Pitrnam Murchanadh sapta tatha Yaksha na samsayah.

And, the seven Murchanas of the Seers (Rishi) are in common practice – Risinam Murchanah sapta yas tv ima laukikah smrtah.

Narada arranges the the third set of Murchanas – that is of the Rishis in ascending order: Uttaramandra stands on Shadja; Abhirugata on Rsabha; Asvakranta on Gandhara; Suvira on the Madhyama; Hrsyaka on Panchama; Uttarayata on Dhaivata; and, from Nishada one knows Rajani.

[ Bharata’s enumeration of the third set of Murchans varies slightly from that of Narada; and is also arranged in a descending order.

Though Narada talked about twenty-one Murchanas, Bharata mentions fourteen (dvai gramikshcha- turdasha).  And, by different arrangements of seven Svaras (sa ni dha pa ma ga ri), a total of 84 (7 X 12=84) variations of Murcchanas might have evolved.

Matanga in his Brihaddeshi, said, Murchana was of two kinds: one, having 7 Svaras; and the other, having 12 Svaras (Sa murcchana dvivida; sapta-svara-murcchana, dvadasha-svara-murcchana chcti).

[  However, the Murhcana of 12 svaras  had gone out of practice even before the time of Sarangadeva.]

And, the Murchana with 7 Savras was further divided into four parts: purna, shadava, auduvita, and sadhdrana. The purna or heptatonic contained seven svaras; shadava, the hexatonic, six svaras; auduvita, petnatonic, panchama, five svaras; and, the sadhdranahad two displaced (vikrita) svaras – antara-gandhara and kakali-nishada.

The Murcchana with 12 tones manifested in three registers (sthana), low, medium and high (mandramadhya and tara).]


Narada has mentioned six Grama-ragas like Shadava, Panchama, Madhyama-grama, Shadja-grama, Kaishika and Kaishika-madhyama, which remained in use till about the 7th century A.D.


In the ancient music theory, the function of a Varna is to manifest a song; and, therefore, it is known as the Ganakriya. The Varna is said to be of four kinds: arohi, avarohi, sthayi and sanchari. Different alamkaras evolved from those four Varnas. Now, from the arohi-Varna evolved 12 alamkaras (varnalamkara) such as, vistirna, nishkarsha (together with its gatravarna), bindu, etc. From the avarohi and sthayi varnas similar alamkaras evolved; and, from the sancharivarnas evolved 25 alamkaras.


The relation between the Srutis and the intervals (svara) is a very important aspect of the theory of the ancient Indian music.

The Nardiya shiksha also describes five Jati-srutis (parent srutieslike dipta (excited, bright, radiant); ayata (extended, broad, wide); mridu (soft, tender, mild, gentle); Madhya (central, proper tolerable, middling); and, karuna (sympathetic, compassionate, tenderness, merciful).

Narada remarks: One who does not know the distinctions of the Sruti such as Dipta, Ayata, Karuna, Mrudu, and Madhyama, is no teacher at all.

Dipta, ayata, karunanam mrudu, madhyamayos tatha srutinam yo visesajno na sa acharya ucyate (NarS. 1.7.9)

Bharata, later arranged twenty-two Srutis on the basis of five parent shrutis as indicated by Narada: tivra; kumudavati; manda; chandovati; and, dayavati, which were termed as Jatis or Adhara or parent Srutis.

And much later, Sarangadeva (1.3.27) lists the names of these twenty-two varieties (vidha) of the five parent Srutis:

Tivra; Kumudvati; Manda; Chandovati; Dayavati; Ranjati; Ratika; Raudri; Kroda; Vajrika; Prasarini; Priti; Marjani; Ksiti; Ratika; Samdipani; Alapini; Madntika; Rohini; Ramya; Ugra; and Kshobini.

[ In the Naradiya Shiksha, the Sruti is taken as a subtle sound. It explains , just  as fire remains in the wood, ghee remains in the curd, Sruties remain in the Svaras.

However, there are discussions on the authenticity of the twentytwo Surtis; Some say that Sruti is but a theoretical concept. And, Srutis could be any number; not merely twenty-two. It is only talked about in the older texts. But, among the practicing muscians of the present day, ‘Sruti; just denotes ‘pitch’; and ‘off Sruti’ means that one is ‘out of tune’. The term Adhara Sruti refers to the pitch which a performer has chosen as the most apt and convenient for his voice, instrument or the song he is just about to render.  Quite often, even the raga-s have their notes established on sruit-s, rather than the usual notes

But, Dr.  Vinod Vidwan , in his scholarly research paper , on the basis of the research and experiments he conducted , asserts that the five types of shrutis mentioned in Naradiya Shiksha and their applications; as also, Bharata’s `Shruti Nidarshanam’ experiment is a conclusive proof of the equal temperament twenty two shrutis .]


In the Nardiya shiksha ( II. 8), Narada said that 20 Tanas, series of notes which formed the basis for various musical forms., are evolved from the Madhyama Grama; 14 from the Shadja Grama; and, 15 from the Gandhdra Grama; that is a total of 49 Tanas.

Though Narada  mentions Gandhara Grama , it had gone out of use by the time of Bharata. However , Pundarika Vittala , in his Ragamanjari ,  makes a mention of  two types of Gandhara Grama – one according to Yastika ; and , the other as mentioned by Sarangadeva. For more please check here.

[ But, during Bharata’s time, 84 Taanas were evolved (chaturashiti NS. 28.33). Bharata states that Taanas depend on the Murchanas. In Murchana all the seven svaras should be in krama – aroha/avaroha. In Taana, the svaras can be in any order. The Taanas which depend on the Murcchanas are eightyfour in number. (Tatra Murcchanad samsritas Taanas chaturasitih / tatra ekona pancha sat svarah, pancha trimsat panchasvarah – NS 28.36)

According to Bharata, these 84 Taanas comprised 49 Taanas with six svaras; and 35 Tanas with five svaras. And, it was said; besides these, there exist Tanas with 7 itones (sampurna-tana). Bharata also talked about the Taanas, as applicable to musical instruments (veena, etc.), and they were divided into pravesha (low or soft) and nigraha (touch).

And, Dattila said that besides the simple Taanas, there evolved gradually thousands of intricate or kitta tanas in the later period, from different methods of plucking the strings of ‘the musical   instruments like veena, etc (krama-niutsrijya tantrikam). ]

[ According to some texts (Samavidhana Brahmana and Arseya Brahmana)Sama-Gana employed seven Svaras (notes): 1. Prathama; 2. Dvitiya; 3. Tritiya; 4. Chaturtha; 5. Panchama or Mandra (low); 6. Shasta or Krusts (high); and, Antya or Atiswara (very high). ]

 Please also check  the article on Gandharva for more on Taana]


There is also a brief description of the string instruments (Veena) like Mahati, Daravi and Gatra, which were used in the Samagana and Gandharva -gana.

 Daravi gatra-veena cha dve veene gana-jatisu | Samiki gatra-veena tu tasyah shrinuta lakshanam [ | Gatra-veena tu sa prokta yasyam gayanti samagah|

It is said that the Gatra-veena possessed a gourd and a wooden stem, having five or six or seven gut strings for tones. It used to be played by holding it in a recumbent position, with the help of the fingers; and, was used to be placed on the thighs of the player. Narada gives a description of the method of playing the Veena.

Narada (NarS.1.6.5) while explaining the Gatra Veena, which accompanies the singing of the Saman, says: Gatra Veena is furnished with notes and ornamentation (svara vyapti janasmyukta) ; and, by playing with  with all the fingers stretched, one should be able to produce the range of notes – prasarya cha angulih sarva ropayet svaramandalam.


Narada has mentioned about the ten different methods of singing (gunavrittis) according to different Vedic recensions. He also enumerates ten factors that enhance the quality of rendering of the songs (Gitis ) – (dasha-vidha gunavram); and, emblish the compositions (sahitya) as well as the melodies of the songs – both Vaidika and Laukika  –  like raktam, purnam, alamkritam, prasannam, vyaktam, vikrusfiam, shlaknam, samam, sukumaram and madhuram, 

Ganasya tu dasavidha guna vrtti sadaya-

Raktham, purnam, alamkritam, prasannam, vyktam, vikrustam, shlaknam, saman, skumaram, madhuram iti gunah //1.3.1//

These are the ten good qualities with regard to the performance of a song (gita-guna), namely: harmonious (surakta), complete (purna), ornate (alamkrit),   clear (Prasanna), distinct (vyakta), evocative (vikrusta ) , smooth (slaksna) ,  even (sama), lovely  and delicate ( sukumara),  and charming (madhura) .

Narada also offers explantions for each of the said ten qualities of good rendering of a song.

Raktham:  This is called Rakta (harmonious) because of the harmony of notes (svaras)   of both flute (Venu) and lute (Veena)  with the singer  –  tatra raktam nama venu veena svaranam ekhibhave raktam ity ucyate

Purnam: Purnam stands for completeness. That is called Purna; because, it contains in itself all the notes (Svaras), Srutis and combines with the Chhandas (meters) , lines  of the verse (Pada)  and syllables ( akshara); and , all these are clearly and completely pronounced  – Purnam nama svar sruti purna chandah pada aksharam yogyat purnam ity ucyate.

Alamkrit:   It is Alamkarta, when the song is ornate (alamkrtam) with the beauty of the three voice-registers (sthana) emanating from singes’s chest, head and the throat; appropriately producing the high, low and mid notes as required – alankrtam namorasi sirsi kanthayuktam ity alamkrtam

Prasanna: Prasannam is that which is uttered without stammering and understood with clarity (prakatartham) –  Prasannam nama vagat agadagada nirvitiankam prasannam ity ucyate

Vyakta:  it is Vyakta (distinct) , when the text (patya) with its syllables, grammer, tense, gender, vibhakti etc are clearly pronounced; and, the listener understands it properly – Vyaktam jneyam ativyaktaih prakripratyayaksaaih

Vikrusta:  It is evocative. The lyrics sung in fast, medium and slow speeds , should be pronounced loudly and clearly – vikrustam ucchairuccarad drute Madhya vilambite

Slaksnam:  The term Salkhana means a collection of high and low plutas (elongated syllables of three matras or time-units) in a quick and not in slow speed with hela ( a sort of dramatic grace)and upanayana ( introduction) etc which are effective. This is called Slaksanasalaksana nama drutam avilambitam uccanicapluta samaharam helalaupanayanddibhir upapadanabhih slakshanam ity uchyate

Sama: The term Sama means even, where there is no disparity or conflict (a -vaisamya). Saman also means combination of the positions of the hand indicating the rhythym, avapa nirvapa pradesa and pratyantara – This is called Sama – Saman nama vaapanirva pradesha pratyantara sthananam ity saman uchyate

Sukumara: It is called Sukumaram, when the music is delicate (sukumara);  is full of lovliness (Lavanya guna purnam); and, when the voice (gatra), flute (Venu) and the Veena  are in harmony  –   sukumaram syad venu veena gatra dhvaniyaika yuktam

Madhura:  The term madhuram means that which is abundantly endowed with natural, graceful and pleasing (manoharam) words, syllables and merit (guna) – Madhuram nama svabhavopanita Lalita pada akshara guna samruddham madhuram ity ucyate


Bharata follows the explantions offered by Narada; and, in his Natyashastra 32.492 , mentions the desired qualities of a song-rendering. In his list, Bharata included Six of the qualities mentioned by Narada (NarS .1.3.1 )- ( viz. purna, rakta, sama, slaksna, alamkrita and madhura).

According to Bharata:

That which fully includes the svaras, varnas; and, is emblished by instruments, relates to three voice -registers (sthana), three Yatis (speeds) , three matras ( time-units) , gives joy , is harmonious (sama) and delicate (sukumara)  , contains alamkaras , is performed with ease , and has sweetness is called Gana (song) .

Purna svaram, vadya vichitra, varna tri sthanagami trilayam trimargagam / raktam sama slaksnam alamkrtam ca mukham prasastam madhuram ca ganam


And again , in Chapter 14 ; verses 75-81 of Saṅgītaśiromaṇi , a text compiled in 1468 by a group of scholars , as  edited  and translated by Emmie Te Nijenhuis , the qualtyies of excellent singing are summarized , based on the earlier texts .

When a song is complete in respect of its words (pada), notes (svaras), section (anga) , variations (prayoga) , melody (raga), and poetical meter (Chhandas) , it  is called Purna ( complete)

When its meaning (artha) is clear (prasanna), the song is meaningful. When it fascinates the listener, it is charming (madhura).

When it is full of qualities of lovliness; and , when it is delicate (sukumara); when it is colourful in three voice-reisters (sthana), it should be regarded as ornate (alamkrita).

It is distinct (vyakta), when its syllables clearly show its basic pattern.

Harmonious (surakta) indicates that the flute (venu), the lute (veena) and the singers voice (gatra) are perfectly in tune with each other. Surakta implies that in accompaniment there are no disharmonies (vaisamyaa varjitam) with the sounds produced by the singer.

Evocative (Vikrusta) means that the song is loud in the fast, medium and slow tempos.

Smooth (slaksna) means that the melodic lines (varna) can be clearly heard in the lower as well as in the higher parts. Even (sama) means that there is no conflict (avisamya) in the melodic lines (varna), the registers (sthana) and in the speeds (laya).

These are the qualities of the good rendering of a song (iti gita-gunah).

Tatra purnam padah svarah angaih prayogaih sampurnam ragena chandsapi cha / prasannam prakatartham syan / madhram syan manoharam  //

Lavanya guna purnam cha sukumaram / nu ranjakam tri-sthana sambhavam yat syat tad vijneyam alamkritam//

Vyaktam jneyam ativyaktaih prakripratyayaksaaih/ sukumaram syad venu veena gatra dhvaniyaika yukta //

Suraktam yatra gatrottha dhvani vaisamyaa varjitam / vikrustam ucchairuccarad drute Madhya vilambite //

Nicoccayos cha varnanam sravyatve slaksnam ucyate / varna sthana laya adi naam avaisamye samam matam iti gita-gunah //


Narada suggests;   an ardent student of music must lead a disciplined and well-regulated life; meditate at proper times. He should learn to pronounce the Mantras clearly and crisply. He recommends consumption of Tri-phala-churna (a powder) mixed with salt for digestion, memory and lucid pronunciation. He also recommends breathing in of its smoke and also have honey (Madhu). He says, for securing a clear and sweet voice and attractive teeth, one should use the slick of a mango or wood-apple. Either for learning Vedas or Music, it is essential to have clear voice, self-control, attention, sound approach.  A student of Music should learn to recognize the divinity in the Svaras.

[Ref: Dr. Lalmani Mishra ; A  History of Indian Music  by Swami Prajnanananda ; and,   Vaidika sahithya Charithre by Dr, NS Anantharanga Char; Dattilam: A Compendium of Ancient Indian Music edited and translated by Emmie te Nijenhuis ;;]


2. Dattilam

Dattilam, believed to be the work of Dattila or Dantila or Dattilacharya, is one of the earliest works after Natyashastra. (It is otherwise an untitled treatise said to be by Dattila) .And, as it usually happens in the Indian texts, not much is known about the author of Dattilam or his period. It is surmised that Dattila was contemporary or a follower of Bharatha since Dattilam is closely connected with Natyashastra. The ancient authorities referred to in the Dattilam are Khohala, Narada and Visakhila. Dattila is counted as one among the five-Pancha Bharathas: Nandikesvara, Kohla, Dattila, Bharat and Matanga. And, the later authors of the medieval times, in turn, quote Dattilam. It is therefore surmised the Dattilam might belong to the first or second century of Common Era.

Dattilam is a fairly short text of about 244 Karikas or stanzas, spread over 12 Chapters. Judging from the brevity of its structure and its style, the scholars opine that the edition of the text that has come down to us might be an abridgement of a more extended work. The author, in fact, remarks that he will desist from discussing Veena-playing (Veena-vadana) for fear of making the treatise too lengthy. Similarly, Dattilam does not deal with dramaturgy (Nrtta, Natya), perhaps because that was dealt in the original extended work.

Dattilam takes a significant position in the history of Indian Music. It is the bridge between the Sama Gana the ritual music of Yajna , and the pious Gandharva songs, which later transformed into the Desi Sangita that has come down to us through series of transformations.

The Gandharva totally remodeled the Music structure. In the Gandharva, the original descending Sama Veda scales were recast into new ascending and descending seven Svara (note) structures. These seven notes of the Gandharva (Svara-saptaka) are in use even today.

And , therefore, as Emmie te Nijenhuis remarks : The Dattilam is a very suitable starting point for study of the Ancient Indian Music , as it is a concise compendium of almost all the Musical terms.

A major part of 244 verses of Dattilam is about Gandharva. Dattilam calls Gandharva as Avadhana, conscious (samyag baddha) melodic employment of Svara, Taala and Pada. In Verse three of the Dattilam , Gandharva is explained as a collection of notes (Svara) which is based in words (Pada- thatha–Svara sanghtah ) ; which is  measured by  time-units (Taala) ; and, which is  performed with diligence (prayukthas savadhenena) is known by the name of Gandharva , (Gandharvam abhijayate  )

Pada – thatha- Svara sanghtah Talena sumitas thatha  I Prayukthas savadhenena Gandharvam  abhijayate  II

In verses 5 and 6 of Dattilam , the author mentions that he would cover topics such as : Sruti (micro-intervals ), Svara (notes), Grama (two-note system) , Murchana (scales) consisting series of notes (Taana) , Sthana (registers) , Vritti (styles) ,  pure instrumental music (Shushka) , singing along with playing (Giti), Sadharana (two ways of overlapping of notes), Varna (movement of Svaras) and Alamkara (ornamentation ) etc.

Dattilam also explains those music-terms of its period. For instance;  Dattilam (9) explains Sruti as the difference in sounds (dvani visesha) produced by striking on the strings on the upper end of the Veena (Uttarottara-taras tu veenayam) and that produced by striking on the  lower end (adharottarah) of the Veena . And, Abhinavagupta explains the term Sruti as the sound (sabda) produced (prabhavita) when struck at appropriate position (śruti-sthāna-abhighāta) on the Veena.

Dattilam says Svaras are seven , starting with Shadja ( Svarah shadjadyah sapta gramo shadja madhyamo – Dattilam .11) ; and they are of four types:  Vadi (sonant); Samvadi (consonant); Anuvadi (assonant) and Vivadi (dissonant). Vadin is the note that produces the melody. As Vadin is repeated often, the other notes are used in relation to it . For instance; the two Svara-s with an interval of eight or twelve Sruti-s between them  are called Samvadi of each other. Ni and Ga are Vivadi (discordant) to other Svaras. The Svara following a Vadi Svara is called Anuvadi.

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

(Abhinavagupta adds a word of caution; and remarks that Dattila’s analogy just as any other analogy is rather brittle; and, should not be pressed very hard.)

Murchana is described as the ordered or the sequential arrangement of the seven Svaras. The Svaras of the Murchanas of the Shadja Grama are seven (Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, and Ni). If the commencing Svara (initial note – Graha) is changed, but the intervals between the Svara (Sruti) is kept unchanged, it then is called Graha–Bedha. It was through this method, it is said, Murchanas were derived from Gramas.

Dattilam (22-24) explains that the Murchanas of Shadja Grama are, generally, seven (Uttaramandra; Rajani; Uttara-ayata; Shuddha-Shadja; Matsarikruta; Ashvakranta; and, Abhirudgata). The Murchanas of the Madhyama Grama were also seven (Sauviri; Harinasva; Kalopanata; Shuddha-madhyama; Margi; Pauravi; and, Hrsyaka). The Murchanas of the two Gramas add up to fourteen.

Natyashastra mentions eighteen Jaati-s  (melodic structure). Of these, seven are called Shuddha Jaati-s. These are the Jaati-s which have the Svaras (notes) after which they are named, such as: Graha, Amsa and Nyasa. To this, Dattila adds Apa-nyasa. The Nyasa of Shuddha Jaati is Mandra. And, the remaining ones, originating from a mixture of these (suddha jatis) are modified (vikrita).

The Shuddha–Jaati had all the seven Svaras. When any one or more of these was  dropped, excepting the Nyasa (final note), the Shuddha Jaati would become Vikrta (modified). By the combination of the two or more Jaatis the eleven  Samsargaja–Vikrta would be formed.

Dattilam (55) lists the ten characteristic of Jaati as:   Initial note (graham), dominant (amsa), high (tara) and low (mandra) registers, hexatonic (sadava) and pentatonic (auduva) in due order, rareness (alpatva), prevalence (bahutva), final note (nyasa) and secondary final note (apanyasa).

Graha amsau tara mandarau ca shadava audava kramath / alpatvamcha bahutvamcha nyaso apanyasa eva ca // 

Then Dattilam goes on to explain:

This is the tenfold characterization of jati according to class (i.e. according to each jati). The accurate description of these ten (characteristics) will be set forth briefly.

There is the initial note (Graha), which is the starting note (adisvara) of a song. The high register (Tara) is considered to consist of five notes, rising (upwards) from the dominant.

it is recommended that in nandayanti jati the limit is not further then the dominant, with the final note as its limit, or even beyond (i.e. lower than) this one, that is the low register (mandra).

hexatonic (sadava) and pentatonic (auduva), respectively, are songs which are based on six or five notes. Rareness (alpatva) and prevalence (bahutva) depend on the rare or frequent use of certain notes.

Nyasa if the final note of a song. In the same way, the note which occirs in the middle, that is to say, in a section (vidari), as a final note, is the secondary final note (apanyasa). I will mention them according to the jatis

Verses 62-95 are about descriptions of 18 jatis.

Similarly, Natyashastra had earlier listed thirty-three types of Alamkaras. But, Dattila abridged the list to thirteen. Matanga who followed Natyashastra reckoned thirty-three Alamkaras.  However, in later times the list grew up to eighty-eight types of Alamkaras.

Dattila’s list of thirteen Alamkaras , which is  regarded as the basic was: 1. Prasanna-adi, begins with low note; 2. Prasanna-anta, ends with low note; 3. Prasanna-madhya, low note in the middle; 4. Prasanna-adyanta, begins and ends with low note; 5. Bindu, higher note touched like lightning; 6. Nivrtta-pravrtta, lower note touched quickly; 7. Prenkholita, even swing between two notes;  8. Tara-mandra-prasanna, gradual rise followed by sudden drop; 9. Mandra-tara-prasanna, sudden rise followed by gradual descent; 10. Sama, even ascent and/or descent; 11. Kampita, quiver in low register; 12. Harita, quiver in middle register; and, 13. Recita, quiver in high register.

Even the vocal styles were defined based on the relation between singing and playing the song on Veena. When one plays on the Veena ( following the vocal style) but without singing it is then known as Shuska or A-gita . And, when one plays on the Veena and sings the song as he plays m it is known as Giti.  Abhinavagupta in his commentary explains it further, saying: every type of Giti can be played on Veena. And, there are three types of Giti:   Tatva, Anugata and Ogha. When the Gana (singing)  is prominent and the Veena follows Gana completely , it is Tatva; when the Veena follows Gana in some part and then shows its own craftsmanship , it becomes Anugata; and , when the playing techniques becomes A-nibaddha and the Karanas become more prominent  and the Gana becomes secondary then the Giti becomes Ogha . Thus in the rendering of the Giti, Veena performs an important role.

Similarly, Murchana and Taana variations to provide pleasure to the listener as also to the performer were explained with reference to Veena. Dattilam (36) mentions about the techniques of improving Taana-s on the Veena (Taana-kriya). Dattila says: The Taana-kriya is twofold (Taana-kriya dvidha tantryam): Pravesika and Nigraha. Pravesika (entering) is raising the lower note or lowering the higher note. And, Nigraha (abstaining) is not touching the string (asamsparka tu nigrahat)

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

Thus, along with Natyashastra, Dattilam is a fundamental Lakshana-grantha, a text that defined and explained the theory and practice of Indian Music. It put in a clear language the concepts and terms governing the Music of its time. Though some of its terms such as Jaati, Murchana, Grama etc are no longer in use, their essential principles have percolated to the present-day through a series of transformations.

[Ref: Dattilam: A Compendium of Ancient Indian Music by Emmie te Nijenhuis ; and , Natalie Savelyeva ; ]



 3. Brihaddeshi

Brihaddeshi is another landmark text that spans the period from Natyashastra/Dattilam to Sangita-ratnakara. It carries forward the tradition of Natyashastra and Dattilam; and, at the same time , it establishes the Desi Sangita on a firm pedestal. Brihaddeshi bridges the Marga and the Desi class of Music; and, it also provides the basis for the emergence of the Mela system of classifying the Ragas.   One could say; Brihaddeshi gave a new birth to Indian Music; and, revitalized its creative genius by bringing the concept of Raga into the very heart of the Music traditions and their sensibilities.

Brihaddeshi also serves as a reference to many earlier authors whose works are now lost, such as: Kashyapa, Kohala, Durgasakti, Maheshwara, Yastika, Vallabha, Vishvavasu   and Shardula.

The text is attributed to Matanga or Matanga Muni or Matanga-Bharatha (as he is regarded one among the five-Pancha Bharathas: Nandikesvara, Kohla, Dattila, Bharatha and Matanga) takes a very important position between Bharatha (Ca.2nd century BCE) and Sarangadeva (Ca.13th century). It is surmised that Matanga perhaps lived during sixth or the seventh century.

The edition of Brihaddeshi, as it has come down to us, is an incomplete text. Only about five hundred of its verses are available. Those available verses and chapters deal only with Music; and, conclude with the remark that the next Chapter will deal with Musical instruments (Vadya).  Sadly, that and subsequent Chapters, if any, are not available. However, some commentators of the later periods cite from Brihaddeshi the references pertaining to instruments, taala and dance.

In the available chapters, the first portion starts with the definition of Desi.  The term Desi, here, refers to all art forms that are related to songs; and, in particular,  it comprehends the three arts of Gita (song), Vadya (instruments) and Nŗtta (dance). One of Matanga’s major contributions is his scholarly focus on the regional element in music.  The title Brhaddeshi (Brihat + Desi) , thus , stands for a masterly compilation of the music traditions of the various regions (Desha).

Next, the concept of Nada is described as the most subtle vibration , which is the basis for speech, music, dance and all other forms of activities. Then, the text goes on to discuss two Grama-s: Shadja-grama and Madhyama-grama. From these, Grama-s the music elements Sruti, Svara, Murchana, Tana, Jaati and Raga are derived.

Matanga deals with Grama, Murchana and Jaati, rather briefly. According to Matanga, twenty-one Murchana-s evolved from the three main Grama-s: Shadja, Madhyma and Gandharva. Murchana were of two kinds: one, having seven Svaras and the other having twelve Svaras (sa-Murcchana dvi-vidha; sapta-svara-Murchanat dvadasha-svara-Murchana cheti).

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

And, the Murchana with twelve Svaras manifest in three registers (Sthana): low, medium and high (Mandra, Madhya and Tara).

The text then discusses Sruti (silent intervals between Svaras), Svara intervals in the two Grama-s and other terms and concepts such as, Tana, Varna, Alamkara, Jaati, Gita and Raga.  Various other aspects including the popular melodies of his time are given in the other chapters.  As its name suggests, it is a huge work ;and, is also highly informative.

Following the steps of Bharatha, Matanga also recognized Shadja-grama and Madhyama-grama as two basic Grama-s (groups or clusters). From these Grama-s he derived Sruti, Svara, Murchana, Tana, Jaati and Raga. He says that the Aroha (ascending) and the Avaroha (descending) pattern of Svaras form the Murcchana of a Raga.  The Murcchana, in effect, describes the string of notes which, with further embellishments (Alamkaras) of thirty-three varieties, constitutes the core of a Raga. These Alamkaras are indeed the musical excellences that adorn the songs.

After allotting a chapter to the Jaati-s, Matanga devotes a special chapter to the Ragas.  Here, he deals with Grama-raga; and the Desi-ragas: Bhasa, Vibhasa and Antarabhasa. These Desi-ragas are again classified into four categories as : Raganga, Bhashanga, Kriyanga and Upanga.

Indeed, it is in this chapter of the Brhaddeshi we first come across the definition of Raga as given by Matanga. And , it  is his  definition that has guided  all the later literature (lakshana grantha) on Classical Music. In the history of the Ragas, Brhaddeshi  is, therefore, a landmark text.

The term Raga seemed to have been in use even prior to 7th century. But, it was not used in Music or in Music-theories in the way we know it and  in the way use it now.  It is, therefore, difficult to say that the concept of Raga as it is  understood today, had fully evolved and was recognized as such in the period prior to Matanga  ; say, at the time of Natyashastra ( second century BCE)

Which is to say; the notion of melodies that are created by artistic and ingenious arrangement of ascending and descending Svaras had been there for a very long time.  But, it was a rather an amorphous concept; its structure had not been determined; and, was waiting to be defined in a clear language. This , precisely, is what Matanga did.


Matanga says :

The nature of the Raga system (Raga-margasya- lit. path) has not been explained by Bharatha and others (Bharathadi); and, it is going to be explained (Nirupayate) by us, according to the theory (lakshana) and also the  practice (lakshya)– (279).

Raga-margasya vad rupam yannoktam Bharathadibhih I Nirupayate tasmad abhir lakshya –lakshana –samyuktam II

Then he goes on to explain: It is that particular quality or distinction of melodic-sound (dhwani-bhedaya) which is created by the combination or the arrangement of Svaras and Varnas (Svara-varna visheshena); and, that which delights (Ranjyate) is recognized by the wise as Raga.

Svara-varna visheshena dhwani-bhedaya va punah Ranjyate yena yan kashichit sa ragah samsthatham   II 280

Or (Athava), it is that particular sound which is adorned by Svara and Varna; and , that which delights the minds of the people is called Raga by the wise.

Athava – Yo asya dhwani vishesathu svara varna vibhushitaham Ranjako jana-chittanam sah ragah kathitho vidhuv II 281

[Following Matanga, Sarangadeva in his Sangeeta-ratnakara described Raga as: ranjayati itihi rāga-  Raga is that which delights .]

After defining Raga, in two way:  as that particular  arrangement or ornamentation  of Svara and movement of Varna (Svara-Varna vishesha ; vibhushitam ); and , as the distinction of melodic sounds (Dhwani-bhedana)  which delight the minds of people (Ranjako jana-chittanam) , Matanga takes up  the etymological  explanation  of the term Raga and its origin (Utpatthi).

Matanga says: this is how the word  Raga is derived (Ithevam raga-shabdasya utpatthir abhidiyate). He explains through illustrations; saying that the word Asvakarna when it is derived from its root might literally mean the ears of a horse. But, in practice (rudi), Asvakarna is generally understood as the tree whose leaves resemble in shape the ears of a horse. Similarly, the word Pankaja literally means one that is born (ja) out of mud (panka). But, Pankaja in convention and common usage refers only to the lotus-flower.

In a like manner, he says, the word Raga has etymological as well as special conventional meaning like the word Pankaja. He explains: whatever might be its other meanings, the word Raga (derived from the root ranj = to please), effectively suggests, here, as that which generates delight: Ranjana-jjayate ragau.

Ithevam raga-shabdasya utpatthir abhidiyate Ranjana-jjayate  ragau utpatthih samudahrutah II 283 Ashva-karnadi vidha rude yaugikau vaapi vachakah Yogarudosthva raage jneyam pankaja-shabdavat II 284

Along with defining Raga and explaining its concept, Matanga takes up the question of its identity. He says that the identity of Raga is conceived in two ways (dvivida matham):  through its general (Samanya) classification; and, through its special characteristics (visheshacha lakshana). He mentions the general categories as four (Chatur vidha tu samanya); and, that the Raga’s special identity lies in Amsa and other features (vishesha cha Amshakadhikam).

Samanya cha visheshacha lakshana dvivida matham Chatur vidha tu samanya vishesha cha Amshakadhikam II 282

As regards the four broad categories (Chatur vidha tu samanya) that Matanga mentioned, he, perhaps, was referring to Desi ragas that are classified into four categories as : Raganga, Bhashanga, Kriyanga and Upanga. These ragas are the basis for all musical forms presented in the later Samgita traditions and forms.

[But, during the later times,  the connotation and interpretation of these terms underwent thorough revision. The Ragas came to be classified into Janaka and Janya. And, Janya ragas were further classified into : Sampurna — Varja; Krama- Vakra; Upanga — Bhashanga: Nishadantya, Dhaiva- tantya and Panchamantya. ]

During the time of Matanga, the Amsa was said to be the prominent or predominant Svara through which the Raga manifested (raga-janakatvad vyapakatvaccha Amsasya pradhanyam).  And, the term Amsa and Vadi were used alternatively. Kallinatha in his commentary has said that both Amsa and Vadi  were used to convey the idea of creating the pleasing sensations of the Ragas (Sa vadi tyogyatavashdt amsha syat rakti-vyanjakatvat).

Along with Amsa, nine other characteristics of Jaati (melodies) were listed in Natyashastra (28.74) as also in Dattilam (55) as : Graha, Amsa, Tara, Mandra, Sadava, Audavita, Aplatva, Bahutva, Apa-Nyasa and Nyasa.

In the explanations offered by Matanga, he mentions Svara, Varna and Alamkara etc.

According to Matanga, Svara is the sound which has a certain musical quality that creates melody. When the interval between the notes (Sruti) is raised or lowered, the musical quality gets altered

And, Varna refers to special note sequences, which indicate different kinds of movement. The function of Varna in a Raga is to manifest a song; and, it is, therefore, known as gana-kriya. The Varna-s are said to be of four kinds, depending on the movement of Svara. They indicate the general direction of the melodic line.  When a note remains more or less at the same level it is called Sthayi-varna (stable); when the notes are ascending or descending these are known as Arohi and Avarohi. And, a mixture of the three is sanchari-varna, wandering, back-and-forth.

Natyashastra had earlier listed thirty-three types of Alamkaras. But, Dattila later abridged the list to thirteen. Matanga who followed Natyashastra reckoned thirty-three Alamkaras.  However, in later times the list grew up to eighty-eight types of Alamkaras.

Matanga, in his Brhaddeshi, speaks about  Gamakas. For in instance; while discussing about Raga-giti , one of the seven charming song-forms, he mentions that Raga-giti should be rendered with varied delicate Gamakas (lalithau–Gamakau-vichitrau); and, should be adorned with Svara pronunciations, lucid, powerful and even (300); and 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).


One can appreciate the contribution of Matanga when you realize that with the advent of Raga changed the whole phase of Indian Music.  With its coming,  the ancient music-terms and concepts such as Jaati, Grama , Murchana etc no longer are relevant in the Music that is practiced since say, fourteenth century. Since then Raga has taken the center stage; and, it is the most important concept in music composition, music performances and even in music-listening.

The proliferation of Ragas led, in the South, to systematic ways of classifying or grouping them based on the technical traits of their scales (Svaras). Classification of Ragas plays a major role in Indian Music theories. Matanga’s work became the source-text for the musicologists of the later periods for developing Mela-karta (parent scale) system of classifying Music;

 [Ref: Rāga-s in Bhaddēśī: English translation of the verses and the prose passages describing the Rāga-s, in the Bhaddēśī of Mataga by Dr. Hema Ramanathan; Brhaddasehi of Matanga by Dr. N. Ramanathan; A Brief Overview of the Evolution of Indian Music ]


Continued in

Part Fifteen


Posted by on May 30, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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