Tag Archives: Sangita

The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Eighteen

Lakshana Granthas Continued

Continued from Part Seventeen

12. Nartana-nirnaya of Pundarika Vittala – Part Two




The central theme or the focal point of the Nartana-nirnaya is the Nartaka, the Dancer and his performance (Nartana); and, all the other participants – the Taladhari (Cymbal player), Mrudangi (Drummer) and the Gayaka (Singer) – are ancillary to that. And, even the Nataka (Drama) is said to be a mere device to showcase his excellence.

The efficacy of the Nartana , the dance, is determined (Nirnaya) by the performances, the combined excellence and coordination  of  the Dancer (Nartaka) and his troupe (Vrnda), consisting the Singer (Gayaka), the Cymbalist (Tala-dhari), the Mrdangam-player (Mrdangi), flute-player (Mukhari), and the Dance-composer (Nattuva). These components, together, are the determinants (Nirnaya-kari) of the Dance (Nartana); hence the title of the text is Nartana-nirnaya.


The text Nartana-nirnaya is, at times , called as Nartaka-nirnaya , which some scholars opine is also quite appropriate; because , its principal  subject is the Nartaka (dancer); while the Taladhari (cymbal player); the Mrdangi (Mrdangam player), and the Gayaka (singer)  merely support  the Nartaka  as ancillaries.


Thus, in a Dance performance, the Nartaka is the most important performer. The next to him, in importance, is the Gayaka, the singer. He is followed, in the diminishing order of importance, by the Mrdangam player and the Taladhari.

Bharatnatyam Music Player

The Nartana-nirnaya comprises four Chapters (Prakarana) each devoted to a type of participant, Viz., Taladhari (Cymbal player); Mrudangi (Mrdangam player); Gayaka (Singer); and, the Nartaka (Dancer). Thus the treatise focuses on the role of the artists involved in presentation of a Dance performance.

But, the very heart of a dance performance is the Nartaka, the Dancer. The other supporting artists supplement the Dance performance, by way of rhythm (Nattuvanga, Taala and Mrudanga); Melody (Raga); and Lyrics (Prabandha). The final Chapter is the very heart of the text; while the earlier three Chapters are about the infrastructural or ancillary support to the Dancer.


At the beginning of the first Chapter, the author declares his plan to write on five topics:  Taala (rhythm); Vadya (instrumental music); Gita (vocal music); Nartana (Dance), and Natya (Drama) – NN. 1.3.


However, for some reason, he did not write the fifth Chapter, relating to Natya. The text of the Nartana-nirnaya, as it has come down to us, has only four Chapters, ending with the Prakarana on Nartana, the Dance.


The text begins with a set of 34 verses, written in a variety of metres, in praise of the Moughal Emperor Akbar and his ancestors.

Nartana-nirnaya is characteristically different from other works on performing Arts, in regard to the arrangement of the subject-wise chapters; the Divisions and Sub-divisions; organization of the supporting material and exposition.

The Nartana –nirnaya adopts a logical, coherent and a consistent approach in the arrangement and depiction of its subject.

Each Chapter contains considerable, original, conceptual and descriptive matter. Even where it is largely indebted to earlier authorities, it achieves a remarkable degree of ingenuity, clarity by judicious aesthetic arrangement of its topics.



The four Chapters of the text are arranged in what is known as Sopana-marga (or arohana-krama), in the ascending order of importance of the subject matter, like climbing up the stairs. Such a method of exposition; and, the arrangement of its subjects is said to be unique to Nartana-nirnaya.

Accordingly, the Chapter on Taladhari (the Cymbal-player), the one who keeps time and beats (Tala and Jati), appears first; and, is prior to the one on the Mrdangin (Mrdamgam player). And, Chapter on Mrdanga precedes the one on Gayaka.  Finally the performance of the Nartaka (the Nartana) ; and, the Dance, in general (Nrtta) are discussed in the Fourth Chapter.

Following such scheme of arrangement, each chapter (beginning with that of the Cymbal-player) leads on to the next Chapter, which deals with the more important aspect of Dance.  Here, the first two Chapters are concerned with the auxiliary of Dancing, viz., the rhythmic content (Nattuvanga, Tala and Mrdanga); the next (third) Chapter deals with the melodic content (Raga) and the lyrics of the song (Prabandha). The final and the most important Chapter is about Nartaka and Nartana.

The first Chapter, consisting of 260 verses, is on Taladhari, the Cymbal player, who provides rhythm; and, the second Chapter, in 116 verses, is on Mrdangam, the drums.

The Mrdangam and the Tala (Cymbal) provide the rhythm and time-units in terms of Tala and Laya. Of these two, the former is more important; because, his performance is more visible to the spectators – prekshitamukha (NN.2.7a). The Mrdangam player, in a sense, is the leader of the percussion instruments; and, the other percussion instruments look up to him for the lead. He is assigned 116 Slokas. The Chapter on Mrdangam follows that on the Tala.

But, the size of the Chapter on Taladhari is more than twice that on Mrdanga. That is merely because; the former includes about 144 slokas on Marga and Desi Talas and Tala-pratyayas.  Otherwise, both the chapters are almost equal in extant – 127 and 118 Slokas respectively

The next in importance of the  dance performance, is devoted to the Gayaka, who provides the textual and melodic framework for the Dance, in the form of the words, their content and the music (He is assigned 578 Slokas , in two segments concerning Raga , the melody (234 Slokas) and the Prabandha , the text (344 Slokas).

flute player

The role of the flute-player (Mukhari), who just follows the singer and provides the ambiance; but, has no independent function in the dance recital; is described in just 38 Slokas in the Chapter on Dance.


Eventually, following the hierarchical arrangement of the components of Dance , proceeding in the successive stages of importance, the earlier three Chapters lead to the Fourth and Final Chapter which deals with the most important component of Dance, the Dancer, the Nartaka, himself, the central figure of the performance.

The fourth Chapter, the largest one, having 913 verses, is devoted to Nartaka and his performance. This Chapter starts by defining Nartana, a term used by the author to mean Dance, in general. The Dancer’s (Nartaka) performance is presented in its two aspects: Nartana (dance in general combined with Abhinaya-237 Slokas); and, the Nrtta (pure dance- 676 Slokas).

Here again, the Nartana is said to comprise three kinds: Natya, Nrtya and Nrtta (Natyam Nrtyam Nrttam iti trividham tat prakirtitam); of which, the last is again divided into three types: Visama (difficult, acrobatic), Vikata (hideous) and Laghu (light).

Natya, as the wise explain, is adorned with a narration, teaching, Vritti, Bhava and Rasa; and, is complete with four kinds of Abhinayas (NN.4.3-4)

Nrtya is Dance that is beautiful in all its four components and delighting the hearts of the spectators.

Nrtta is that which provides aesthetic pleasure enjoyed by the people; it is resplendent and spectacular in all its aspects (Angas) through the display of the movements (Vikshepa) of the hands, feet etc., although it is bereft of the Abhinaya –element (NN.4.5-6)

All the types are defined; and, the author reproduces in the first ten verses of the Nartana-Adhikarana, the Sangita-ratnakara’s view that Nrtya and Nrtta may both have varieties of Tandava and Lasya.

Nartananirnaya contents


Each Prakarana (Chapter) of Nartana-Nirnaya gives, at its commencement, a summary of its content. Further, Each Prakarana begins with a definition of the respective performer, in terms of his function, merits and defects.  It then proceeds to describe and discuss the materials of the performance medium; the techniques; and, the forms of compositional repertoire.

[The exception to this rule is the Chapter Nartana-adhikarana (4.1). Its summary is given at the beginning of Chapter Three at 3.1 and 3.2, thus treating both the Adhikaranas as a single Chapter. ]

Separate lists of the contents for the Tala, Raga, Prabandha, Pratyanga-abhinaya, compositional structural elements etc., are given in the respective Adhikaranas, before taking up their definitions, descriptions or discussions


The contents of treatise

Taladhari Prakarana


Pundarika Vittala commences his treatise with a prayer to his favorite deity (Ista-Devata) Sri Krishna, the most sublime of the Dancers, sporting the divine Rasa Dance (NN. 1.1.-3. Mangala charanam):

big1.1957997.1 crop

I bow to that my Lord Sri Krishna, who is the final recourse (Upetu) of all devotees (Yati) for bestowing liberation (Moksha) ; one who is the abode of all classes of mortals; and, one who is immersed in the Rasa Dance  . With that Lord residing in my heart, I shall proceed to narrate the Nartana-nirnaya.



At the commencement of his treatise – Chapter One – Taladhari Prakarana – Pundarika Vittala states that the roles assigned to the Taladhari (Cymbal player); the Mrudangi (Mrdamgam player); the Gayaka (singer), the Nartaka (Dancer); as also the substance of the play, form the components of Nartana-nirnaya (NN.1.3)

Then, he says: I shall describes these five elements of Nartana, in an ascending order, starting with the Cymbal player.

nartananirnaya cnotent sloka

The opening Chapter on Taladhari is divided into the following thematic clusters:  the player; his instrument, which is the Cymbal; his stance; performing techniques, varities of the instrumental compositions (Tala- Tala pratyaya tala sadhana) etc. It also lists:

  • The desired qualities of the Cymbal bearer;
  • Paatas (sound syllables) of percussion instruments;
  • Desi Talas
  • Alamkaras, Kavita , likewise the ten sancharas ; performing postures; the method of performing on the Cymbals –Stuti-sabda
  • The composition named Gajara; then Ota; Vakya-sruti bhushana, patachali ; then rudrabhushana , panchadathu
  • Sudakarma (compositions) ; Yati and other Prabandhas , Prahelicas (percussive conundrums), Talas, and other devices ( exact knowledge of them)

As regards the merits (Guna) of the Taladhari, it is said:

  • He should be handsome; having pleasant contours; and, assume an attractive posture while playing.
  • He should be an expert in percussive –instrumental syllables, skilful in string the Cymbals,
  • He should be well conversant with Yati, Prasa, Tala and tempo (Laya). He should have sound knowledge of Graha , such as Sama , specialized in performing soft and harsh ( percussive) syllables; light of hands ( dextrous in playing the Cymbals)
  • He should have adequate skill in picking up in picking up (Graha), in resting (Moksha) during Nattuvanga, corresponding to the vocalized syllables. Similarly, he should be an expert in ten Sancaras, having adequate stamina, and intense attentiveness
  • He should be skilled in Desi Talas; have the capacity to create aesthetic appeal, ability to please and win over the spectators.


Mrdangi Prakarana

mrdanga Siva

And, the Chapter on Mrdangam is also similarly treated. It enumerates the merits (Guna) and defects (Dosha) of the Mrdangam player; his appropriate stance; techniques in use of fingers, palms; varieties of instrumental compositions; repertoire for accompanying Dance performances ; the merits and defects of his own  performance etc.

The topics described here cover:

  • Varieties of Mrudanga –players called Bharika;
  • Merits and defects of the Mrdangam player;
  • Descriptions of the Mrdanga;
  • Hasta-paatas ; drum syllables;
  • Mrudanga vadana karma – methods of playing the Mrdanga ( concert repertoire); and,
  • performing stance and style of the Mrdangam player


Gayaka Prakarana


The Chapter on Gayaka, the singer, has two segments (Adhikaranas) : one dealing with the melodic aspects (Raga-adhikarana); and, the other with the lyrics and varieties of its compositions (Prabandha-adhikarana).

Gayaka Prakarana – Raga-adhikarana

The first segment (Raga-adhikarana) commences with the definition of the singer;  the role and the importance of the singer in a Dance performance ; his merits and defects; modes of singing; ways of rendering melodic elements in a song – Ragalapa; establishing a Raga.

Here, it is said; the true singer is one who is proficient in Shudda and Chayalaga (Ragas and Prabandhas); one who understands the Murchana, Grama and Tana; and, one who possess profound knowledge of Tala; and , sings with aesthetic delight   – Ranjaka Gitam (NN.2.1).


Pundarika lists the merits (Guna) of a singer

  • He should be an expert in Graha and Moksha – competently following and managing  the beginning and end of  the song in Laya and Tala
  • Conversant (Alapti-kovida) is various kinds of Alapti, Sravaka (melodious and heard even from a distance), Sampradayika (traditional);
  • Specialist in bringing out the delicate nuances (Dhvani) of Ragas and Prabandhas , in pleasing and well cultured (Ayatta-kanthavan) sweet and rich voice (Susarira) even while rendering in high( loud) or low ( soft) tone –Savadhanaka; with inflexion curvature  in tone (Kaku); and, skilled in employing
  • Understands and follows closely the Dancer’s movements and the appropriate vocal support the situation needs.
  • Thorough familiarity with both the Marga and Desi Music


As regards the merits of a song (Gita-guna), they are said to be ten : Vyakta (clarity in the combination of syllables); Purna (complete in all its limbs and Gamaka); Prasanna (readily intelligible); Sukumara (tender , soft); Alamkritam ( endowed with poetic beauty); Sama (evenness in the distribution of the rhythm and pitch); Surakta ( in harmony with the sounds of the Veena); Slakhna (smoothness in the movement from low, middle and high pitches ; and slow and fast tempo);  Vikrasta ( high , distinctly audible); and , Madhura ( sweet, graceful and highly pleasing) – (NN.2.229-230)



The desired qualities of a composer are said to be: through knowledge of Grammar (Vyakarana), figures of speech (Alamkara); prosody (Chhandas); diction, style and a vast and rich vocabulary.

He should have the capacity to compose different varieties of songs; and, have the skill to set the words to match with the music.(NN.2.338)



Then, the text moves on to lay down the framework or the structure of the melodic content, the tone-curvatures (Kaku) of the Raga-alapa. That is followed by the varieties of the Alapti, establishing the nature and the mood of the Raga; the lists of the Raga and the descriptions of the Raga, and the descriptions of the Raga-raginis and Ragaputras that are commonly used; their descriptions; appropriate tones and curvatures while rendering the words of the song bringing out its delicate nuances etc.

In this section, Pundarika Vittala largely follows Sarangadeva while enumerating the merits and defects of a Singer , in the matter of presenting various elements  of music and their  facets such as : Nada- Sthana; Sruti; Svara, Grama, Murchana; Tana ; Prastara, Varna; Alamkara; Gamaka; Alapti etc.  That is followed by an exposition on the Ragas; their descriptions and classifications. Here, Pundarika discusses in detail the characteristics of the Raga-families such as: Shudda-bhiravi; Hindola; Desikara; Sriraga; Shuddha-nata; and Nata-narayana;


Gayaka Prakarana –Prabandha-adhikarana

The segment on Prabandha (Prabandha-adhikarana) – musical compositions following the definitions prescribed for Desi Ragas – deals with two aspects of the song: word (Mathu) and the Music (Dhathu). It is also called as Gana. (NN.3.1)

The segment on Prabandha (Prabandha-adhikarana) – musical compositions following the definitions prescribed for Desi Ragas – deals with two aspects of the song: word (Mathu) and the Music (Dhathu). It is also called as Gana. (NN.3.1)

dhatu matu

Its word-content (Vasthu or Mathu) is analysed into syllabic structures. There is also a mention of the fruits that may accrue to the performer and the patron form their use.

And, the musical content (Dhatu) consists of Raga and Tala. The former is treated in the preceding Raga-Adhikarana; and the latter in the very first Chapter (Taladhari Prakarana); because, it is essential to dance, music and also to song.

That is why Prabandha follows Raga and Tala; and, precedes Nartana


The Prabandha, here, is first analyzed into melodic and structural elements; and, is classified through them. Pundarika discusses the Six Angas (components) of a Prabandha: Svara (seven musical notes); Birudu (laudatory phrases); Pada (one that expresses meaning); Tenaka (tena-tena sounds); Paata (instrumental sounds); and, Tala (time-units).  It is explained; among these Angas; Tena and Pada are the eyes; Paata and Birudu are the hands; and, Tala and Svara constitute the feet of a Prabandha. The Tena (tena-tena) sounds are the manifestations of auspiciousness (Mangala-kara)- (NN.3.10)


Here, Pundarika Vittala, supplements his explanations with illustrations from the contemporary materials derived from various regions/provinces.

Then, the ancient Prabandhas – textually and orally transmitted – are listed and described. As with the Tala, the Raga, and the Dance forms; the author concludes the topic with the description of the contemporary material taken from different parts of the country. The Chapter concludes with an account of the merits and defects of the song rendering and the music composition.

Here, again, Pundarika Vittala follows Sarangadeva and Kallinatha, while describing the varieties of Prabandhas and their characteristics, in terms of their structure and textual elements. He cites with illustrations, 75 types of Prabandhas spread over:  8 of Shuddha Suda class, 24 of Alikrama, 36 of Viprakirna, and 7 of Salaga Suda variety. Pundarika Vittala provides explanations for their applications in different parts of song –composition.

In the process, he describes eleven Prabandhas that were unique to the traditions of Karnataka:  Chandraprakasha; Suryaprakasha; Navaratna; Vira-srngara; Rudraprakasha; Ranaranga; Dasavatara; Sarabhalila; Caturanga; Rtuprakasha; and, Srngarahara.



adavu harini

The Chapter titled Nartana-prakarana is highly relevant to Dancing. And, it is the most important Chapter of the text; and, it is, in fact, the prime factor of the treatise, as it provides the very basis or the cause of its title Nartana-nirnaya.

This Chapter accounts for almost half the size of the text.  And, it is devoted to Nartana, which is presented in two Adhikaranas:  one, dealing with Nartana, the dance form endowed with emotive content, the representational art of dancing, giving expression to emotions through Abhinaya ; and other, with Nrtta which provides aesthetic experience derived from pure form of Dance through disposition, movement and configuration of the various parts of the human body,  employed as a communicative instrument to give a form to its expressions. Here also, Pundarika, largely, follows the explanations provided by previous authorities; such as   Bharata, Abhinavagupta, Kallinatha and Sarangadeva.

Nartaka Prakarana – Nartana_ Adhikarana

This Adhikarana relating to performance of dance – Nartana-prakarana – also deals with the persons involved in the presentation of Dance, such as: Nartaka, Patra, Nartaki, the supporting instrumentalists, the Patron, the audience (Sabha-sada) etc., their merits and defects.

Next, the orchestra in which only the flutist and the flute are discussed, since the other members , viz., Taladhari, Mrdangin, and Gayaka are already discussed in the previous Chapters

Also in the list are the dance-hall, the characteristics of a good dancer, Rekha or the lines created by the movements of the body, the Lasyangas or features of Lasya, Sausthava or standing without any movement, Citrakalasa or concluding movement, Mudra or natural grace, Pramana or harmony, the audience, the person presiding, sitting arrangements, the troupe of musicians, the flute, the entrance of a dancer and various dance-sequences. The actual discussions of these topics are in verses 245 to 656.  Most of the material comes either from the Natyashastra or the Sangita-ratnakara.

While enumerating the desired qualities (Guna) of a Nartaka (Dancer), it is said; he should have a thorough knowledge of all the four forms of Abhinaya;  the requisite skill in maintaining Laya, Tala and Yati; the knowledge of Graha and Moksha; and, above all should have humility, the keen desire to learn and the attractive grace to win the hearts of the spectators.. Besides these, a Dancer of merit should have the capacity to follow vocal and instrumental music; ability to express Rasa and Bhava articulately. (NN.3.325-327)

Then the text goes on to enumerate the items of the dance recital: the opening dance item, entry of the dancer (Mukhacali, including Pushpanjali and various Gatis-strides); Nanadi Slokas invoking the blessings of the gods; the kinds of Urupa, Dhavada, Kvada, Laaga and Bhramari.

Finally the contemporary dance forms from various regions (Desi) are enumerated. These include 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.

Under Bandha-nrtta, Pundarika includes Mukhacali; Urupa; Dhuvada; Vidulagava; Sabdacali; (also discussed as Sabda-nrtta); Sabda-prabandha; Svara-mantha; Gitapra-bandha; Cindu; Dharu and Dhruv-apada. Their descriptions in verses 668 to 874 show them to be highly structured dance pieces. A group of five Bhramaris is also discussed (in Verses 794 to 98) inserted between the discussions on Vidulagava and Sabda-nrtta.

Next, Anibandha dance is discussed in verses 875 to 898 with its forms given, namely, Namavall; Yati; different Neris; kaivartana; Rnuru, Talariipaka; Gundala; Kamala; Natajanuka; Mandi; Mudupa; Murandari; Kudupa; Tiryakarana; Lavani and Vatu. These have fewer details compared to the discussion of the Bandh-anrttas.

At the end of these descriptions the author refers to these sequences as Anibandha – Urupas, evidently using the term Urupa to denote a broad category of dance. The term Urupa is described in only two works:  in this text; and, in a later work, the Sangita-makaranda of the scholar Vedasuri.



Like most works before it, the Nartana-nirnaya also discusses the various types of Abhinaya (that which carries the intent or meaning of the performance to the spectator), namely, Angika-abhinaya, Sattvika-abhinaya and Aharya-abhinaya; and in doing so it follows the Natyashastra as interpreted in the Sangita-ratnakara.

Generally, the representation of meaning – descriptive and representational – is called Abhinaya; and, it is accomplished in four modes: verbal (Vacika), body-movements (Angika), emotional (Sattvika), and costumes as well as make up (Aharya). But in the Nartana-nirnaya, the Vacika, is not discussed; because, it is not much employed in Nartana.  Similarly, there is not much discussion on Aharya.

In verses 11 to 206, Abhinaya is discussed, with the Sattvika, and Angika types of Abhinaya described in detail. The Citrabhinaya is then described in verses 207 to 238.

The Dance is presented through idealistic and dramatized mode of communication (Natya-dharmi) following the theatrical conventions, in preference to the realistic, day-to-day expressions (Loka-dharmi). These two Dharmis together constitute Chitrabhinaya (special representation).

The external objects are suggested through appropriate gestures (Bahya-vastu-anukarani). And, the implicit and symbolic representations are presented through Chitta-vrtti-arpika.

Krishna Holding a Flute and Dancing on a Lotus

Nartaka Prakarana – Nrtta _adhikarana

The segment (Adhikarana) on Nrtta deals with the abstract aesthetic movements and configuration of various body parts. It 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., with reference to the appropriate Anga or Pratyanga.


According to Natyashastra, for the purpose of Dance, the human body may be divided into six major members or Angas: the head; the trunk; the Arms and the legs together with their respective subdivisions or minor members (Pratyangas). For instance; the Pratyangas of the head are: eyebrows, eyes (eyelashes and eyeballs); nose (nostrils); cheeks, chin, teeth, as also facial colour. Similarly, the Pratyangas of the Arms are: the shoulders; elbows; forearm; wrists; palms (back of the hand); and fingers.

The Nrtta-adhikarana may be treated as the Grammar portion of Nartana-nirnaya where the various movements of the Angas and Pratyangas are comparable to the alphabets, the word formations, phrases, clauses and sentences (in which the conjunctions, prepositions and syntactical rules or conventions are invoked).

However, Pundarika Vittala does not classify the movements of the limbs as those specifically pertaining either to Anga, Upanga or Pratyanga.  But, in verses 239 to 244, where he lists his topics of discussion, he mentions the movements of the parts of the body which, in his view, are of importance. These include the movements of the head, the eyes, the eyebrows, the arms, the hand-gestures and other actions of the hands, the waist and the feet. He also discusses the function of the colour of the face. The list further includes more complicated movements generated from the combination of the movements of the parts of the body, such as the Sthanas or postures; Caris or the movements of one leg; Karanas or dance-units ; and, the  Recakas or oscillating movements.

However, instead of following the usual practice of reproducing the descriptions of the 108 Karanas and the 32 Angaharas details as given in the Natyashastra and the Sangita-ratnakara, the Nartana-nirnaya selects only 16 of the Karanas as those needed in Bandh-anrtya, of which it describes several varieties. The text then proceeds to describe the distinctive features of the various kinds of Anibandha-nrtya. From these descriptions of dance compositions there emerge striking similarities with the classical dance styles of the present time, such as Kathak and Odissi.  Thus, Nartana-nirnaya may thus be regarded as the link between the older and present day traditions of classical Indian dancing

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


Nartana-nirnaya describes in Pratyanga-abhinaya, 19 movements of the head (Shiro-bedha); 36 of eyes (Akshi-bedha); 7 of eyebrows (Bhru-bedha); 4 complexions (Mukha-raga); 16 movements of the arms (Bahu-bedha); 6 of the hips (Kati-bedha); and, 13 of the feet (Anghri-bedha).

These correspond, in name and number, to the enumerations made in Sangita-ratnakara.  But, Pundarika Vittala offers a slightly different set of applications of these Pratyangas.

This is also true of Recaka; Karakarana; Calaka; Hasta-pracara; and, Karakarma.

Nartana-nirnaya has adopted from the Sangita-ratnakara all of the 6 Purusha Sthanakas; but, only 3 of the 7 Stri Sthanakas (excepting the Gatagata, Valita, Motita and Vinivartita)

As regards the Desi-sthanakas, except the Parsni-parsvagata; Eka-prasvagata; Eka-janugata; and, Pravarta are included.

Among the 9 Upavista- sthanakas, the Utkata-sthana has been omitted. It has also omitted all the Supta-stanakas.  Thus, in all, Pundarika selects only 27 among the 51 Sthanakas enumerated in the Sangita-ratnakara.

Again, Sangita-ratnakara describes 86 Caris, classified into 16 Bhumya (touching the ground); 16 Akasha (Aerial); and, 35 Desi Bhumya and 19 Desi Akasha Caris.

But, Nartana-nirnaya gives only 84 of these under Bhumya and Akasha divisions; but , not classified as Marga or Desi Caris.

As regards the Hasthas ( the hands) , as against the 24 single Hasthas (Asamyukta), 13 combined Hasthas (Samyukta) and 30 Nrtta Hasthas ( 67) of Sangita-ratnakara, the Nartana-nirnaya adds 38 more single Hasthas; 17 combined Hasthas; and 32 Nrtta Hasthas

Pundarika Vittala describes only 16 Karanas among the 108 given by Sarangadeva. According to Pundarika, it is only these 16 Karanas that are useful in performing Bhanda-nrtya, structured Dance forms.

Generally, Pundarika follows the descriptions given in the Natyashastra and the Sangita-ratnakara, in regard to the depictions of the Sthanakas, Caris, Hasthas and the Karanas. But, his treatment of these subjects differs, considerably, from that of the others.

Finally, Pundarika Vittala ends the work with two more dance sequences, Jakkadi and Rasa, which he includes under Anibandha dance (875 to 912).

Throughout these descriptions the terms Nrtta and Nrtya are used interchangeably.



krishna dance

Pundarika Vittala had commenced his treatise Nartana-nirnaya with an invocation to his Lord Sri Krishna; and, appropriately, he ends his treatise submitting his prayers to Sri Krishna, the very heart and essence of Rasa Dance.


And; he concludes the Nartana-nirnaya with a description of Rasa Dance – Rasa-nrtya (NN. verses 664 -672)  that Sri Krishna performed with the Goips amidst the mango and Kadamba groves along the banks of the gentle flowing Yamuna under resplendent full moon of the spring season, celebrating the Vasantha festival.

As the Muraja and other musical instruments play, the pairs of four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two or sixteen pairs of players (Patra) of men young men and women dance in rhythm ; following the Tala and Laya; ; holding in their hand coloured sticks of sixteen Angulas in length, bound with gold and other metals at both ends; perform delightful Caris and Bhramaris; moving around in circles; weaving amazing geometric patterns (mandalibhuya); singing delightfully; then it is called as the most fascinating Dandarasa

And, the same dance performed without sticks is Rasa-nrtya.



The last four verses of the Fourth Chapter contain Pundarika’s concluding remarks (Upasamhara) ; his observations on the general state of Dance; his efforts to bring clarity into a rather muddled practices; and, a final prayer. He says:

The theory and practices (Lakshya-Lakshana) Dance which had become ambiguous (Sandignam) and had shrunk (Sangata) because of the blind traditions has been rescued and rendered simpler by the efforts of Pundarika Vittala.

I have composed this treatise (Sangita), which is much varied in both the aspects of theory and practice of Dance; and is much simpler and easy to follow; in order to please (ruchyartham) Emperor Akbar. May this bring great joy to the hearts of you all, my friends (Suhadam Hrdaye Sukham Bhuyath).

By studying (Drstva) this excellent (Lokottara), varied (Bahutara-bhedam) , beautiful (Sundara)  Nartana-nirnaya, composed by Pandari Vitthala; as also by judicious use of the Art of Sangita as prevailing, may the learned scholars (Pandita) become the Gurus of the new-age and guide along the right path the aspirants desirous of learning and become experts  (Chatura, Agrinam)  in the Arts of Tala, Mrdanga, Singing (Gana), flute playing (Vamsa), and Dancing (Nrtya).

Thus ends the Fourth Chapter entitled Nartaka-Prakarana in Nartana-nirnaya composed by Pandarika Vittala of the auspicious Karnataka region (Karnata-jatiya).




Sources and References

The primary source on which I have depended upon is Nartana-nirnaya (in three volumes) edited and commented upon by the renowned scholar Prof. Dr. R. Satyanarayana. For Volume Three ; please click here

 For Volume One :please click here

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

Also refer to Pundarika Vittala by Dr. Padma Rajagopal


And to Musicological Literature by Emmie te Nijenhuis


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The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Seventeen

Lakshana Granthas Continued

Continued from Part Sixteen

12. Nartana-nirnaya of Pundarika Vittala – Part One

dance posedance


In the textual traditions of the Indian Dancing, the Natyashastra; the Brihad-desi and the Sangita-ratnakara are regarded as seminal works; both in regard to the theory and to the practice of Dance, in its various forms. The Nartana-nirnaya of Pundarika Vittala, coming almost four hundred years after Sangita-ratnakara, is another major work

The Nartana-nirnaya is considered a highly significant and an influential text of its period (sixteen-seventeenth century); and, is classed along with the Sangita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva in regard to the quality, the range and the depth of its discussion; and, also in regard to the extent of influence it exerted on the theory and practice of Dancing of the later periods.

The Sangita-ratnakara, in a concise form, had earlier summarized the changes that took place in the field of Sangita (Gita, Vadya and Nrtta) between the time of Bharata and the thirteenth century. In the process, it provided a theoretical basis and a textual authority for further discussions on the theories and practice (Lakshana-Lakshya) of Music and Dance.

The Nartana-nirnaya, following the Sangita-ratnakara, laid the foundation for further several interesting and radical changes that later took place in the practice of the Art forms, especially the Dance.  At the same time, it set aside, many theories and practices that had become obsolete. Thus, the Nartana-nirnaya went beyond the Sangita-ratnakara.

In a similar manner, the Nartana-nirnaya went beyond the Natyashastra.  Like most of the works prior to its time, the Nartana-nirnaya too discusses various types of Abhinaya (Angika-abhinaya, Sattvika-abhinaya and, Aharya-abhinaya) according to Natyashastra, as interpreted in the Sangitaratnakara. However, instead of merely following or reproducing the Natyashastra‘s descriptions of the 108 karanas and the 32 Angaharas, the Nartana-nirnaya selects only 16 of the karanas as representing the essential characteristics of a Bandha-nrtya, a well regulated Dance-form.

 In contrast to that, the text then goes on to describe the distinctive features of the various kinds of Anibandha-nrtya , the free flowing , innovative dance sequences. The Nartana-nirnaya thus covers both the pristine (Marga) as also the improvised, spontaneous regional (Desi) dances, which are now a part of the ’classical dances’ of today.

All the types are defined; and, the author reproduces in the first ten verses, the Sangita-ratnakara’s view that Nrtya and Nrtta may both have varieties of Tandava and Lasya.

To sum up; apart from its deep concern for preserving the past traditions, Nartana-nirnaya presents a clear picture of the state of Arts during the contemporary times. It also introduces many new elements, components, techniques and terms into the theory and practice of Dancing. Thus, the Nartana-nirnaya not only encapsulates its past and its contemporary scene; but also serves as a guide and an inspiration for the Dance forms to follow. Therefore, the Nartana-nirnaya could be said to  a path –finder; and a golden link (svarna-setu) that brings together the older and present day traditions of classical Indian dancing.



The Nartana-nirnaya comes about four hundred years after Sangita-ratnakara. 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 Nartana-nirnaya was composed in the sixteenth century, while Pundarika Vitthala (or Pandari Vitthala) was in the service of the Mughal Court.   Pundarika Vitthala, a versatile artist, scholar and an author, had the opportunity to witness and experience the diverse regional traditions of India as also the newer practices derived from Persia. Pundarika Vittala mentions that he wrote the Nartana-nirnaya, concerning music and dance, at the suggestion of Emperor Akbar, to cater to his taste – Akbara-nrupa rucyartham idam krutam (NN.4.2.675)

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

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

The Royal 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 surely was an interesting period when diverse streams of Art came together and fused into enterprising new forms; and, therefore, it is aptly termed as the watershed period of Indian Music and Dancing.

This was a vibrant period in the development of Music and Dance, in general. It was during this period that the standardization of Ragas, their classification into major groups (Melas) based on the structure of their notes (Svras); theoretical principles interpreted in terms of the position of the frets on the Vina (Vina-mela); ten types of Tala ( time-units)

Thus, the Nartana-nirnaya came into being in a fascinating, invigorating and an altogether different ambiance, providing opportunities and a forum for interaction between the different Schools of the North and the South; as also between the Indian (Desi) and Persian (Yavana) practices.  Each of its Chapters reveals flashes of originality, innovation and ingenuity in adopting the newer, contemporary trends and practices into the traditional formats.

Though it is primarily based in the Natyashastra and the commentaries of Sarangadeva and Kallinatha, it, in essence, is an original treatise on Indian Music and Dancing. The Nartana-nirnaya is, therefore, regarded as an authoritative and a creative text. As regards Music, it set new trends into motion by bringing together the best in the Karnataka Sangita, Hindustani Music and the Persian Music.  And in dance, it brought into the fold of what could be called Classical Dance, the techniques of Persian Dance as also the idioms of folk dancing.



The subject matter central to Nartana-nirnaya is Dancing. The technical details of Dance as detailed in the Nartana-nirnaya 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.

dance shakthidance rasasdance yamini

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 India

dance forms333

NatyaNrtya and Nrtta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Nandikeshvara (Abhinayadarpana-1. 15-16) had earlier distinguished Nrtya from Nrtta, thus:

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

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

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

Nrtta Nrtya Natya

Bhaddha – Anibhaddha 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


(2) The Nartana-nirnaya marks a major conceptual departure, primarily by following the structural principle of classifying Dance forms into two divisions: namely, Bandha, or styles that rigidly adhered to set rules of composition; and Anibandha, styles that did not do so and allowed innovations by the dancer. The texts of the earlier period, including Sangita-ratnakara, followed the approach of the Natyashastra. But, in the post-Nartananirnaya period, the classification of Dance forms along the lines of Bandha and Anibandha became part of their conceptual framework.


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

According to Matanga’s classification:  Anibaddha Gita is free flowing music that is not restricted by Taala; it is also   free from disciplines of Chhandas (meter) and Matra (syllables); and, it does not also need the support of compositions woven with meaningful words (Pada or Sahitya).

In fact, neither Taala, nor Grammar, nor lyrics – has a role to play in the Anibaddha Samgita. Sarangadeva explains Anibaddha as Aalapa, which is not bound or which lacks rules (bandha-hinatva) – Alapir bandha-hinatvad Anibaddham itirita (Sangitaratnakara: 4.5).

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


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

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

Dr. Mandakranta Bose observes:

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


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

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

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


All the other dance forms were drought under Anibandha Dance form. The principle of Anibaddha allowed the dancer a considerable degree of freedom, encouraging her to search for 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.

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

rasa mandal


Fresh perspective

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

The emphasis of the later texts tended to shift away from the Marga of the Natyashastra; but, lean 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…

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.


Historical significance

Now, as regards the historical significance of Nartana-nirnaya; many scholars, after a deep study of the text, have observed that there is enough evidence to conclude that the text marks the origin of two major styles of India today, namely, Kathak and Odissi. 

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

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


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 also eventually became the dominant type of performing art, giving rise dance forms such as Odissi, Kuchipudi etc.

Dr. Bose also concurs that such connection seems highly plausible. The text, according to her, was part of the cultural world of the Mughal court that nurtured Kathak. She points out that several technical terms used in Nartana-nirnaya match those used in Kathak today. And she goes on to say:

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

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


As regards Odissi, Dr. Bose observes:

The Bandha-nrtta as practiced in the Odissi style is very similar to the descriptions given in the Nartana-nirnaya.  And, the basic standing postures prescribed in the Odissi style: Chauka and Tribhangi. (Chauka and Tribhangi are the two main basic stances in Odissi. Chahka is a stable-wide stance, with weight of the body distributed equally on both the sides; and, the heels facing the centre. It is said to be a masculine posture.  Tribhangi, is a graceful feminine posture, with the body bent in three-ways). These are comparable to vaisakha-sthana and Agra-tala-sanchara-pada of the Nartana-nirnaya. 

Further, some acrobatic postures that are still in use are: danda-paksam, lalata-tilakam and nisumbhitam (the foot raised up to the level of forehead), and several others are found both in Odissi and in Chau dance of Mayurbhanj region of OrissaFurther, there is in the Nartana-nirnaya, the description of a dance called Batu involving difficult poses; and it is very similar to the Batunrtta, a particularly difficult dance in the repertory of Odissi.



Pundarika Vittala

Before we move on to a brief discussion on the structure and contents of the Nartana-nirnaya, let’s take a look at its author: Pundarika Vittala, a renowned a musician-scholar.

Pundarika Vittala (16th century) describes himself as a person hailing from Karnataka – Karnata Desiya – born in the village of Sathanur, situated near the Shivaganga Hills (about 50KMs from Bangalore).

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

He refers to his father as Vitthalarya (Vitthalayya) of Jamadagni Gotra – (Tarta Vitthalaryo bhavad amitaya sa sadgunakhya; tat suno ragachandrodaya iti bhaja-SC.3, 57)

He gives his mother’s name as Demaka (RJ.2.77) (Demaka janani-nijasuta Vittalakrta Ragamanjarike yam)

The shrine of Vitthala-raya-swami located about ten KMs from the town of Magadi is believed to be family deity (Kula-devata)


Pundarika Vittala was a remarkable link between the Art traditions of the South and of the North. After moving away from his native country, Pundarika Vittala settled down in the North, initially under the patronage of Muslim King Burhan Khan  in Anandavalli  (near Nasik) in the district of Khandesh. He then moved on to other Royal Courts in the Western and North India.

He was an expert in what is today known as Karnataka Sangita, Hindustani Music, Dancing, Lexicography and Dramaturgy. He later got familiar with Persian Music. He describes North Indian Music forms such as Dhrupad, Jakkari and Raasa etc. He wrote a series of books concerning Music of North India. He exhibits a broader view of the contemporary Arts and their practices in various regions of the country.

While in the Court of Burhan Khan of Khandesh, at Anandavalli, during 1560-1570, Pundarika Vittala wrote his famous work – Sad-raga-chandodaya – having three Chapters titled as: Svara-prasada, Svara-mela prasada, and Aalapi-prasada.  It is a very extensive text, covering almost all the aspects of Music. In this work, Pundarika deals with both the Southern and Northern systems of Ragas ; and, classifies them under nineteen Thats or parent scale, viz.: Mukhari, Malava-gaula, Sri, Suddha-natta, Desaki, Karnata-gauda, Kedara, Hijeja, Hamir, Kamode, Todi, Abhiri, Suddha-varati, Suddha-ramakri, Devakri, Saranga, Kalyana, Hindola and Nada-Ramakri.

In this text, Pundarika Vittala introduced; and, almost adopted Ramamatya’s system of 19 Melas (as in his Svara-mela-kalanidhi) to the North Indian Music. He was, perhaps, the first Musicologist to undertake such an exercise. Out of these nineteen original (Mela) Ragas, he attributes five of them to their respective derivative forms (janya-raga). But, he changed the names and scales of several Melas.

Of the 19 Melas listed by Pundarika Vittala, 11 are identical with those mentioned by Ramamatya:  Mukhari, Malavagaula, Sri, Shuddhanata, Desaksi, Karnatagaula, Kedaragaula, Abhiri, Shuddhavarali, Shuddharamakri and Nadanamakri. As regards the other eight Melas either their notes are different or their names as well as their names are different (few of them have only one note different).  For instance; Ramamatya‘s Hejuri becomes Pundarika’s Hijeja. Similarly Vasanthabhairavi becomes Todi; and, Saranganata becomes Saranga.


His next treatise named Ragamala, was probably, written under the patronage of the Jaipur princes, Madho Singh and Man Singh Kacchwas. It is believed; Ragamala  was written during 1576 for one Kapila muni (Srimath Kapilamuniyarthe  kriyate Raga –maalikah) ,

Here, Pundarika Vittala classifies the Ragas (Raga-Ragini Parivara) under six male Ragas. And, attributes to each Male raga, five Raginis – ‘spouses’ (bharyyas) and five ‘sons’ (Raga putra) — totalling 66 Ragas. He also gives the details related to their Svaras, such as:  graha, amsa, nyasa etc.  He also explains the Raga structures in terms of:  nada, sruti, svara, sthana, grama, murchana, tana, etc.

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


Later, when he moved to the court of the Prince Madhavasimha and Manasimha who ruled from Jaipur as the feudatory of Akbar, Pundarika Vittala wrote his third treatise:  Raga Manjari 

In his writings, Pundarika Vittala carried forward the work of Gopala Nayaka (14th century) of grafting Karnataka music on to the newly evolving North Indian music.  Raga Manjari shows a further leaning towards North Indian Music, although the set of twenty Melas is the same as in his earlier Sad-raga-chandrodaya. He adopts the typical North Indian classification of Ragas as: Male (Purusha), female (Stri) and infant (Putra) Ragas.

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

(1) Rahayi – Deva-gandhara (2) Mahur – Saranga (3) Desh – Ahanga (4) Suhaya – Kedara (5) Huseni – Jijavanta (6) Yaman – Kalyana (7) Deshkar – Vakhrej (8) Devangyo – Devagandhara-Mushakakya (9) Kanara – Nishavara (10) Jangula – Bangala (11) Vara – Malhara (12) Danasya – Irak (13) Sarparda – Bilaval (15) Malave – Muslik (16) Asavari – Hijjeja

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

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


However, the fame of Pundarika Vitthala rests mainly on Nartana-nirnaya concerning Dance and dramaturgy, composed, in the sixteenth century, while he was in the service of Emperor Akbar.


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

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

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

And, at the outset, Pundarika states that along with the various regional styles of dancing he would be describing the dance of the Yavanas, (meaning, the Persians). Pundarika Vitthala, with great sensitivity, lays down a framework for bringing about structural changes in the fields of Indian Music and dance.

The Nartana-nirnaya is indeed a major work that throws light on the origins of some of the dance forms – particularly Kathak and Oddisi – that are prevalent today. But, it is sad that Nartana-nirnaya has not received the level of attention and depth of study that it rightly deserves.


In the next part, let’s take a look at the structure and the contents , in brief, of the Nartana-nirnaya.



In the

Next Part


Sources and References

The primary source on which I have depended upon is Nartana-nirnaya (in three volumes) edited and commented upon by the renowned scholar Prof. Dr. R. Satyanarayana. For Volume One, please click here. For Volume three please click here.

For Volume One :please click here

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

Also refer to Pundarika Vittala by Dr. Padma Rajagopal


And to Musicological Literature by Emmie te Nijenhuis



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Posted by on May 4, 2019 in Natya, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Ten

Continued from Part Nine – Musical Instruments in Natyashastra

Part Ten (of 22) – Anibaddha, Nibaddha and Prabandha

Anibaddha and Nibaddha

1.1. In the early Indian systems of music, there were two broad categories of musical rendering: Anibaddha Gita and Nibaddha Gita. The terms Anibaddha and Nibaddha could roughly be translated as un-structured (un-bound) and structured (bound).

Nibaddha and Anibaddha are two related terms which have a long history. In the Natyashastra, while describing the three aspects of Pada (verbal syllabic structure) it is said: one that is governed by Chhandas and Taala signifies Nibaddha. And similarly, the absence of these is Anibaddha (NS. 32.28-29).

Sarangadeva defines Anibaddha as Aalapi which is not bound or which lacks rules (bandha-hinatva) – Alapir bandha-hinatvad Anibaddham itirita (Sangitaratnakara: 4.5).

1.2. Thus, Anibaddha Gita  is free flowing music that is not  restricted  by Taala; it is also   free from disciplines of Chhandas (meter) and Matra (syllables) ;  and, it does not also need the support of compositions woven with  meaningful words (Pada or Sahitya) . In fact, not one of these – neither Taala, nor Grammar, nor lyrics – has a role to play in the Anibaddha Samgita.

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

[ Bharata mentioned Pathya in the Natyasastra (17. 102); and, said:  “pathyam prayunjitam sad-alamkara-samyuktam” – the Sahitya of a song is called the Pathya, when it is embellished by six Alamkaras.  Abhinavagupta in his Abhinava- bharati explains that when any composition (sahitya) possesses six Alamkaras and sweet tones, it is known as a Pathya. These six Alamkaras are: Svara, Sthana, Varna, Kaku, Alamkara and Anga.  (Note: kakus are the variations of the vocal sound for expressing different ideas). Bharata considered Pathya under two heads:  Samskrita and Prakrita. Abhinavagupta followed Bharata in this respect.]

1.3. There is a mention of another way of classifying Nibaddha. It is said; there are two classes of Nibadda: Niryukta and Aniryukta. The Niryukta Prabandha was to be sung only to certain specified Taala, Chhandas, and Rasa etc. And, Aniryukta was free from such restrictions. Parshvadeva mentions a third variety called Ubhayatmaka Prabhanda in which some aspects of the song are fixed while others are optional.

[By about end of the 19th century, the terms Anibaddha Gita and Nibaddha Gita went out of use; and, were promptly replaced by the terms Manodharma Samgita and Kalpita Samgita. The revised names are very much in circulation today. Though the nomenclatures underwent a change, the principles behind the terms remained almost the same but with little variations.

Manodharma Samgita (just as the Anibaddha Gita) is improvised music that is not pre-composed. And, Kalpita Samgita is rendering a composition, which has already been constructed, with much practice and discipline. ]

1.4. In any case, whether be it Anibaddha/ Manodharma or Nibaddha/ Kalpita, the music that is created must be permeated with the fragrance of artistic beauty; and, at the same time, it must respect the norms and disciplines of the tradition in which the music that is played or sung is rooted. Improvisation could be understood as a means of self-expression, where the virtuoso artist brings in her/his own unique genius to adorn and to enhance the beauty and virtuosity of her/his presentation.  In other words, Improvisation is a means to upgrade the quality of presentation and give it a stamp of individuality; and yet, it will have to work within the bounds of the system, honouring its norms, disciplines and traditions.

2.1. The most well-known form of the Anibaddha type is the Aalapa (Raga Alapti)The Aalapa rendering is free from set words and Taala too. It is elaborate but delicate and precise presentation of a Raga.  It demands from the musician maturity, skill; complete understanding of the Raga and its nature; as also creative imagination.  It calls for patience and sensitivity in performing, if it has to evoke the listeners’ admiration and enjoyment. It is the Aalapa that, often, is regarded as a benchmark of a performer’s excellence.

2.2. The absence of Taala in Aalapa does not mean absence of Tempo. Aalapa generally follows a pattern of presentation.  It is said to be spread over in four stages. It usually has a rather slow introspective beginning (vilamba) in lower octaves (Mandra), followed by elaborations of the basic theme of the Raga in medium tempo, Madhyama-kaala, building into faster Tempo (Druta) leading to a crescendo (Ati-Druta). Indeed, Aalapa is one of the deeply moving, sublime experiences of the Indian music.

2.3. Apart from Aalapa, there are also other forms of Anibaddha type of music that are not pre-composed; that are not based in words; that are not played to a Taala; but yet , are the expansive elements of music. The most notable of that genre of singing/playing is Taana.

Taana or Taanam in Karnataka Samgita (comparable to Jor –Jhala in Hindustani Dhrupad and instrumental music) is played after the Aalapana, but before the commencement of the structured Kriti.  In Karnataka Samgita, Taana is performed both in vocal and instrumental music (but, particularly in Veena playing). These are unique in the sense that with the rise in tempo, the performer improvises and builds into the melody various patterns of rhythms, without, however, the element of Taala.

[Ugabhoga of the Haridasa-s, Shlokas and Ragamalikas, perhaps, fall in between Nibaddha and Anibaddha forms of music.  Here the Sahitya and the Bhava are important. But, these pieces are not set to Taala. And, the singer is also free to choose any Raga/Ragas to bring out the literary and musical values of the composition. The absence of Taala, somehow, seems to aid in enhancing the import of its Sahitya.]

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Manodharma Samgita

3.1. In this context, we may also talk about Sangathi, Neraval, Kalpana Svaras and such other elaborations in Karnataka Samgita. At the outset, I reckon these improvisations cannot strictly be considered as Anibaddha.

3.2. Sangathi is a way of weaving patterns elaborating certain lines of a Kriti. The Sangathi technique was, it is said, introduced by Sri Tyagaraja by adopting it from the Dance. In some of Sri Tyagaraja’s compositions, the Sangathi-s appear in the earlier segment (Pallavi) of the text (Sahitya).  But, it has since become a regular part of rendering of Kritis of other composers as well. The Sangathi is, usually, pre-conditioned variations of a phrase or a line of a song. And, the composer would already have envisaged briefer and finer variations of Sangathi-s into his work. The performer brings in her/his own improvisations to elongate the Sangathi-s.

3.3. Neraval, unlike Sangathi, is a small and flickering variation of a melody-filled line of a Kriti or a Pallavi. In Neraval, the Sahitya and its melody is spread out in various ways; and yet, keeping intact the original structure. The Neraval could also be expansive improvisation of the Raga-bhava. Creativity and spontaneous outpouring characterize an enjoyable Neraval.

The Neraval is comparable to the ancient Rupaka Alapti (as compared to Raga Alapti) where one line or the whole of the composition was taken up for melodic elaboration without , however, changing the text.

The Neraval of the present-day Karnataka Samgita is an aspect of the improvised Manodharma Samgita. And, in a concert, it precedes the Svara Kalpana.

3.4. Kalpana-Svara or Svara prastara is the expansion on the rhythmic patterns of the Svara (Sa, Re, Ga, Ma etc). It is a free-rendering. And, is a highly improvised presentation, often playful, that appears in the latter part of the song-rendering.  An entertaining Kalpana-Svara rendering calls for enterprising variations, often involving the accompaniments (Violin and the percussion instruments) in a good-humoured interplay (saval-javab). It, therefore, has great popular appeal.

3.5. As can be seen, Sangathi, Neraval or elaborations of the rhythmic patterns (Svara –prastara) are all based in Taala and are tied to the words in the text (Sahitya) of the composition. Though these provide immense artistic freedom to elaborate and to improvise in varied imaginative patterns, I reckon these are not strictly of the Anibaddha type.


Prabandha, Vastu and Rupaka

4.1. Sarangadeva (13th century) in the fourth Canto of his Sangita-ratnakara says: the Gayana (singing) is twofold – Nibaddha and Anibadda. That which is composed of Anga-s (limbs or parts) and Dhatu-s (elements or sections) is Nibaddha Samgita. And Alapita which is free from such structures is known as Anibaddha Samgita.

Then he goes on to say that Nibaddha has three names: Prabandha, Vastu and Rupaka. (But, he does not go into details of their internal differences.)

4.2. Parshvadeva a Jain musicologist (9-10th century) in his Sangita-samaya-sara (Ca.10-11th century) described Prabandha as a Giti (song) formed of four or six musical elements (Dhatu-s) –

(Chaturbhir-dhatubhih shadbhishcha-angairyah syat prarbandhate tasmat prabandhah).

He also recognized the classifications of Prabandha, Vastu and Rupaka.   In the fourth Chapter of his Sangita-samaya-sara, he explained the Prabandhas like Dhenki, Lambaka, Rasaka, Ekatali, etc. together with eleven kinds of Dhruva, and the process of singing (ganakrama), the Giti.

4.3. Sangita–shiromani (said to be a compilation by a group of scholars in the 15th century) says: One should know that Prabandha, Vastu and Rupaka are the three names of composed music based on Pada and other elements (Anga and Dhatu). Their internal structure is slightly different (13.6)

5.1. When the main sections of the composition contains all the Anga-s and Dhatu-s, either separately or in combinations, it is considered to be a Prabandha composition (13.7) .

5.2. As compared to Prabandha which has all the Angas, something which is exclusively composed of regular words (Pada) and musical metre (Taala) is said to be Vastu (lit substance or thing). It has the freedom to omit some of the Anga-s.

Kumbha (15th century) in his Sangita-raja (2.4-6) explains Vastu as one in which there is (vasanti) always (nityam) some Dhatu and some Angas (Dhatavo Angani kinchit); and its good sound is important (sad-vastu-dhvani-mukhyena). It is also said; that which ends in Apanyasa, Amsa and Nyasa (or else samnyasa), is Vastu.


Amsa the dominant note is the note in which the Raga resides (ragas ca yasmin vaasati) and manifests (raga-abhivyaktir bhavathi); and from which the movement of the low (mandra) and high (Tara) registers of five Svaras starts. Amsa is a Vivadi Svara.

Nyasa is the final note which occurs at the end of a section of the composition (Anga) – Nyaso hy Anga-samaptau. It is the note on which the song is fixed and ended. The final note is also described as the ‘name-giver’ as it gives the Jaati its name – Nyasas tu Svra-jaatishu namakrt.

As compared to Nyasa, Apanyasa is the penultimate note. It occurs before the final note (Nyasa), in the midst, which is to say in the Anga (section) – Anga-madhye.

Samnyasa is the final note of the first part of the song (Vidari); and, it is not a Vivadi Svara (dissonant)

Vidari is the section of a song. It is twofold: Mahathi and Avantara. That which fills up the Vastu is Mahathi. The others which are completed at the end of the episodes (Varna) are Avantara. Of both the kinds of Vidari, the final note is in the Vastu, the dominant. ]

5.3. Rupaka, derived from ‘Rupa’ (form), later was used as a general term for all dramatic compositions. In fact, Rupaka is the proper name for Sanskrit Drama; and, not Nataka.[And, Nataka is one of the ten recognized forms of Rupaka.]

The Dramatic compositions based in music (Geya-prabandha) also termed as Drshya Kavya ( a poem that is to be seen as also heard) were arranged as Rupaka  and Upa-Rupaka (minor forms of Rupaka). It is said; there were ten types of Rupaka-s and eighteen types of Upa-Rupakas (depicting a short theme or a self-contained section taken from a larger theme).

In Music, when there is scope for developing the melodic form (Raga) and other elements (ragadya-aropa) in a dramatic form, such composed music is called Rupaka (lit from) (13-8). It is explained by the later scholars that in Rupaka Alapti, either one line or the whole Prabandha is taken up and melodic variations are sung with the lyrics of the Prabandha.

[And, this perhaps resembled the Neraval of the present-day music].


6.1. Sangita–shiromani (15th century) says the song (gana) which has been written by composers (Vaggeyakara), which has special musical character (lakshana), which is based in Desi Ragas and which pleases people is Nibaddha (13.3)

Such composed music (Nibaddha) which is formed with Anga (phrasal elements) like: Pada (passage of meaningful words), Svara (tone syllables or passage of sol-fa syllables),Birudu (words of praise, extolling the subject of the song and also including the name of the singer or the patron), Taala (musical meter or time-units ),  Paata (vocalized drum syllables) and Tenaka (vocal syllables , meaningless and musical in sound with many repetitions) are known as Prabandha (13.5) ; and that which has in its main sections Dhatu-s (elements) : Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva and Abogha.

6.2. Thus, the best and the most well established form of Nibaddha Samgita is Prabandha. During the 5-7th centuries they were described as a form of Desi composition of varied nature and forms (Desikara- Prabandho yam), such as : kanda, vritta, gadya, dandaka, varnaka, karshita-gatha, dvipathaka, vardhati, kaivata, dvipadi, vardhani, dhenki, ekatali, etc

However, in the context of Music, Prabandha is a comprehensive term which refers to a well-knit composition. And, within in the gamut of Music itself, the Prabandha stands for a particular, specified form of songs constructed according to a prescribed format.

6.3. As said earlier, the Prabandha is conceptualized as Prabandha Purusha, a living organism , consisting six limbs , which function harmoniously as do the limbs of a healthy human body. Thus,  Prabandha could be understood as  a type of harmonious musical composition set to words, Raga, Taala, Chhandas, Vrtta; and governed by six Anga-s (Svara, Birudu, Pada, Tena, Paata and, Taala) and four sections-Dhatu-s (Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva  and  Abhoga).

6.4. Prabandha is basically a variety of Khandakavya (not particularly associated with Drama); and, at the same time it is also a song. And, therefore, the Chhandas and Taala rather than the musical element were central to the composition (perhaps with the exception of Geya prabandha s).

7.1. Prabandha-s do not figure in the earlier texts like Nāţyashastra and Dattilam.  They are dealt with in the texts  written after the 5th -6th century  , such as : Brihaddeshi (Ca, 5th century); Sangita-Samayasara ( Ca. 11th century); Manasollasa (Ca,12th century); Sangita-ratnakara (Ca,12-13th century) Sangita –samayasara (12-13th century) ; Sangitadamodara (Ca.14th century)  ; Sangita–shiromani (15th century);  Chaturdandi Prakasika (c.1635 CE) and  others. These texts describe the nature and the varieties of Prabandha, the salient features of their variations and the elements that are involved in the construction of Prabandha songs.

7.2. Prabandha as a class of Music was, perhaps, first mentioned in the final Canto of Matanga’s Brihad-deshi (Ca.5th century). Here, he described Prabandha simply as Prabhadyate iti Prabandhah (that which is composed is a Prabandha); and, classified it under Desi Samgita (a collection of many song types then popular in various regions). Matanga explains Desi Samgita with the aid of about forty-eight Prabandha songs. However, Matanga remarks that the Prabandhas are indeed countless; and ‘their complexities are beyond the understanding of weaker minds’.

Some of the Prabandha- types mentioned in this text are: Kanda, Vŗtta, Gadya, Catushpadī, Jayavardhana, Ela and Dhenaki. (He pays particular attention to Ela) And, while describing the nature of Prabandha-s, Matanga did not employ terms such as Dhatu and Anga, as was done in the texts of the later periods.

7.3. Prabandha received a detailed treatment in the fourth Chapter Prabandha-adhyaya of Sarangadeva’s Samgita-Ratnakara which appeared about five centuries after Matanga. By the time of Samgita-Ratnakara, Prabandhas had grown into thousands. Sarangadeva explained Prabandha as that which is pleasant; and that which is governed by rules regarding Raga, Taala, Chhandas, Vritta (Sanskrit verses) and Anga. In his work, Sarangadeva described about 260 types of Prabandha-s with their variations.

7.4. Sangītasiromai (15th century) in its Chapter Eight presents a wealth of details on the Prabandha-s. It describes the four classes or cycles (Shuddha Suda, Ali karma, Salaga Suda and Viprakirna) of the Prabandha songs; the criteria of six elements (Anga-s – Taala, Svara, Pata Birudu, Tena and Pada) and four substances or Dhatu-s (Chhandas, Raga, Varna, and Gamaka).

7.5. Later, in his monumental work Chaturdandi Prakasika (c.1635 CE) Venkatamakhin gathered various music-forms under a fourfold system (Chaturdandi) comprising Gita, Prabandha, Thaya and Aalapa. Here also, Prabandha was described as ‘prabandhayeti Prabandha’ – that which is well structured (Nibaddha) is Prabandha.

However, the definition of Prabandha was narrowed down to include only those compositions which are made up of Six Angas (shadbhirangaisca) and Four Dhatus (chaturbhidhaturbhischayah). He also names the six Anga-s or elements of the musical Prabandha-s are Svara, Birudu, Pada, Tenaka, Paata and Taala. The four Dhatus are Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva and Abhoga.

“Ucyate shadbhirangaisca chaturbhidhaturbhischayah I Nibaddah swarasandarbhastasminneva hibhūriśa I Prabanda iti lokānām vyavahāro nirīkśyate” II “śadangāniitichedbrumaha swaraschabirudam padam I Tenakah pātatālau cetyetānyangāniśatpunah II


[Strangely, by the time Chaturdandi Prakasika appeared, the Prabandha, as a class of Music, was already on its way out.]

8.1. The Prabandha, generally, appeared to be highly ornate, varied compositions formed out of many sections (Dhatu) . They were ornate both in their elaborate poetical diction (Alamkara) and abundance of rich language (Sabdalankara) adorned with meaning (Arthalankara).  They were varied in the sense that many songs featured a mixture of different languages (Bhasha), Taala-s, Ragas; and frequent alteration between meaningful text and meaningless syllables. They were sectional in that Prabandhas were divided into distinct formal divisions and components with many changes of tempo, Raga and Taala. The word-play (pada-jala) was also prominent in the repertoire with clever use of alliteration of letters (anuprasa); alliteration of words (pada prasa), ambiguous use of a word where it conveys different meanings depending upon the context (latanu-prasa), play of pun (slesha or sabda slesha), change of voice (kaku) , and  poetic subversion  or deviant expression (vakrokthi) etc. The word (pada), meter (Chhandas) and Music (gana) were well structured and coordinated.

Prabandha was the dominant song-form for about thousand years or a little more till about the 17-18th century, which is until the advent of the Trinity of Karnataka Samgita.

[In the later stages, Prabandha merely came to be understood as the fourth component of the fourfold system (Chatur-dandi) of: Raga, Thaya, Gita and Prabandha.]

Types of Prabandhas

9.1. As   Matanga   remarked, the Prabandhas are indeed countless; and, ‘their complexities are beyond the understanding of weaker minds’.   Yes; it is a virtual jungle.

9.2. Parshvadeva (Ca.10-11th century), a Jain musicologist, in his Sangita-samaya-sara divided the Prabandha-s into three classes: Suda, Alikrama and Viprakirna. And, later in the 13th century, Sarangdeva split the Suda into Shuddha Suda and Chayalaga (the Apabhramsa or colloquial form of Chayalaga is Salaga Suda).- [ The Chayalaga or  Salaga Suda – as a class of Prabandha – was not mentioned either  in Matanga’s Brihaddeshi, or in Someshwara’s Manasollasa (1131).]

With that, the major types of Prabandha were counted as four: Shuddha Suda, Salaga Suda, Alikrama and Viprakirna.

: – The Shuddha Suda was again divided into eight parts: Ela, Karana, Dhenki Vartani, Jhombada, lambaka, Rasaka and Ekatali.

: – And Salaga Suda was divided into seven parts: Dhruva, Mantha, Pratimantha, Nisaruka, Addatala, Rasaka and Ekatali.

: – Several unclassified types were grouped under Alikrama Prabhanda; and it was divided into 24 parts: Varna, Varnasvara, Gadya, Kaivada, Angacharini, Dandaka, Turangalila, Gajalila, Dvipadi and so on

: – The Viprakirna was divided into Sriranga, Tripadi, Chatuspadi, Shatpadi, Vastu, Vijaya etc.

9.3. There is also mention of several other types of Prabandhas such as:

: Virashringara, Chaturanga, Sharabalita, Suryaprakasha, Chandraprakasha, Ranaranga, Nandana and Navaratna. (There are no clear descriptions of these types Prabandhas)

: Divya Prabandha, Naga Loka Geya Prabandha and Bharati Prabandha etc

: Gita Prabandha, Vadya Prabandha, Nrtya Prabandha, Taala-Prabandha, Geya Prabandha , Rupaka Prabandha, and Lakshana Prabandha etc

: Kanda, Varana, Vichitra, Vastu, Chachari, Chakravala, Bhanjani, Pratigrahnika, and   Tribangi,


There are also countless other forms

10.1. It is virtually not possible here to discuss all or even the most of the Prabhanda varieties. For the limited purpose of this post let’s, therefore, confine to the main or the better known types of Prabandhas.

Let’s take a look at the major types of Prabandha, their structure, elements and their other components in the next Part.


Continued in Part 11


Sources and References

Indian Music: History and Structure by Emmie Te Nijenhuis

A History of Indian music by Swami Prajnanananda

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

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

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

Music and Musical Thought in Early India by Lewis Eugene Rowe

Kalātattvakośa: by Ramesh Chandra Sharma

Sangiti Sabda Kosa by Bimal Roy

Suladis and Ugabhogas  by  Mahamahopadyaya Dr. R .Sathyanarayana

Prathamopalabda Swarasahita Samkeerthana Sila Lekhanamu by I.V Subba Rao

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


Posted by on May 10, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part One


Part One (of 22) – Overview


1.1. It is said; Music and musical thoughts are the expressions of a range of diverse emotions that co-exist within the hearts or in the inner worlds of a community. It has its roots in its total cultural context, in its traditions, in its philosophy of life and in its aspirations. A  Music can truly be understood and appreciated only when it is viewed as part of the integral experience of that community.

1.2. That is particularly true with regard to India where Music had been woven into the fabric of its various philosophical, religious, cultural and literary traditions for over long ages, stretching back to the forgotten periods of its un-recorded History. Apart from this, a special branch of study devoted to the theory and practice of Music (Samgita-shastra) was developed and enlarged, in stages.  Samgita-shastra, right from the ancient times, is deemed as an integral part of the broad framework of ideas that systematically explain the philosophical basis of sound (Nada); the Grammar and language of Music; and, the aesthetics of Music,

Thus, Music and its study have flourished in all the intellectual traditions of India. Here, Music was valued not only as a delightful sensory experience but also as a vision (Darshana) providing a glimpse of the reality that is beyond the reach of the senses. It is, therefore, held in high esteem and invested with an aura of spiritual pursuit (Sadhana) leading to liberation from earthly-attachments. It is said; for both the performer and the good-hearted listener (sah-hrudaya), pure-music (Samgita) can be a fulfilling blessed experience. Some traditions even elevate Music to the level of sacred lore, the Vedas; calling it as the fifth Veda (Panchama-veda).

1.3. Sage Yajnavalkya (Yajnavalkyasmrti-III-4-115) describes Samgita as the most sublime of all the fine-arts that pleases and has the potential to convey all shades of emotions (). It is a Vidya that, if practiced diligently, can lead the aspirant towards liberation- mokṣamārgaṃ niyacchati

vīṇāvādanatattvajñaḥ śrutijātiviśāradaḥ / tālajñaś cāprayāsena mokṣamārgaṃ niyacchati // Yj_3.115 //

gītajño yadi yogena nāpnoti paramaṃ padam /rudrasyānucaro bhūtvā tenaiva saha modate // Yj_3.116 //

As regards the virues of the Samgita : Abhinavagupta quotes verses (26,27 and 28 of Chapter 36) of the Naytashastra :

The recital of poetry, performance of dance (drama) along with songs and instrumental music are equal in merit to the recitation of Vedic hymns.

pāṭhyaṃ nāṭyaṃ tathā geyaṃ citravā aditrameva ca । veda-mantrārtha-va-canaiḥ samaṃ hyatad bhaviṣyati ॥ 26॥

 I have heard from the god of gods (Indra) and even from Shankara (Shiva) that music (vocal and instrumental) is indeed purer and superior to taking a ceremonial dip in a river and repeating a mantra (Japa) a thousand times.

śrutaṃ mayā devadevāt tattvataḥ śaṅkarāb-ddhitam । snāna japya saha srebhyaḥ pavitraṃ gīta vāditam ॥ 27॥

Whichever places that reverberate with the auspicious sounds of songs and music of Natya will forever be free from inauspicious happenings.

yasmin nātodya nāṭyasya gīta pāṭhya dhvaniḥ śubhaḥ । bhaviṣyatya śubhaṃ deśe naiva tasmin kadācana ॥ 28॥

Later, the Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (1127-1139 AD ) in his Manasollasa (also called Abhjilashitarta Chintamani )  describes  chaste Music as that which educates (Shikshartham), entertains (Vinodartham), delights (Moda Sadanam) and liberates (Moksha Sadahanam) – Shikshartham Vinodartham Cha, Moda Sadanam, Moksha Sadhaanam Cha.

1.4. Rabindranath Tagore speaking of the Music of India said: “To me it seems that Indian Music concerns itself more with human experience in its relation to God and nature, than with the day-to-day world of common living. The mystic world of Indian Music, like the starry night, has certain serenity, pure, deep and tenderness about it. The Indian Ragas stir our imagination and move us away from mundane towards the ideal. For us, Music has a transcendental significance. ”



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

The earliest form of singing  that we know about is the Sama-gana or the Saman, the musical way of rendering Sama Veda. That was followed by Gandharva or Marga, an ancient type of sacred music making a pleasant appeal to the gods. Gandharva or Marga or Margi, tended to be rather intellectual; leaving little room for flexibility and imagination. These limitations had to necessarily bring in several changes. Gandharva, therefore, underwent considerable transformation. And, more importantly, it gave place to Gana, a form of art-music (laukika) that aimed to entertain the spectators at the theater.

2.2. Gana was the Music of the songs – Dhruva Gana – sung during the course of play by the actors on the stage as also by the musicians behind the curtain to the accompaniment of instrumental music. Natyashastra deals elaborately with the theoretical and practical aspects of the Dhruva Gana – its various types, structures, grammar, as also the type of songs to be sung in various contexts in a play.

2.3. Desi  category of music that flourished from around 5th century onwards , in contrast to Margi, was essentially a music springing out of inspiration derived  from various regional musical forms and tones , each having a unique flavour of the sub-culture in which it was rooted. Desi, which is enjoyed by all, is said to be the music of the people, as it is, relatively, free from strict adherence to rules. Desi Music flowered in various ways; it initiated or refined the concept of Raga; developed it further; classified Ragas according to the system of Mela or Melakarta (basic Raga) and its derivatives; and, it introduced new sets of instruments into musical performances.

2.4. For about a thousand years thereafter, which is till about the 17th century, the musical scene of India as also the dance-drama (geya-nataka) was dominated by a class of regulated (Nibaddha) Music called Prabandha, in its various forms. Prabandha is a variety of Khandakavya bound by certain specified elements (Dhatu and Anga). It is a tightly structured (Nibaddha Samgita) song format having specific characteristics that are governed by a set of rules. At times, the faithfulness to a prescribed format was carried to its limits. And, the Prabandha form, in due course, grew rather rigid; and, had to give place to improvised, easier and innovative (manodharma samgita) forms of music, such as Kriti and Dhruvapada (Drupad).

2.5. In the Music of South India, the churning of the Prabandhas and the Padas gave rise to a music format called Kriti (sometimes also called Kirtana, though there is a subtle difference between the two). Though several composers of repute prior to 17th century experimented with the Kriti format, it was the celebrated Trinity of Karnataka Samgita that, later, perfected it during the 18th century.  A Kriti which is explained as that which is constructed (yat krtam tat kritih) is primarily a pre-composed music (kalpitha Samgita), comprising pallavi, anu-pallavi and charanas, set to Taala.  And, it is the most advanced form of musical composition in Karnataka-samgita.

A Kriti is also the ultimate test of a composer. The Raga of Kriti should be in harmony with its structure, its lyrics and its musical content. Generally, a Kriti should strikes a good   balance between its words, its structure and its music (Mathu and Dhathu). A good Kriti should succeed in not only capturing the essence of its Raga, but also in aptly bringing out the inner meaning, the Bhava, of its lyrics (Sahitya).

Such a Kriti provides ample scope to the performer to delineate the true nature of a Raga in all its vibrant colours and also to draw out his creative (Mano- dharma), innovative expressions in Raga and Laya. The Musical performances of the present day are dominated by Kriti-rendering along with expanding on Raga-Alapa and Laya vinyasa (Taala or rhythmic patterns).

Along with the Kriti several other song formats with special reference to dance (Varna, Svarajit, and Javali etc) have come into being.



3.1. A landmark step towards the evolution of the Raga was taken when the concept of Raga was introduced into Music of India by Matanga and others. The music-treatises of the second half of the 17th century were concerned primarily with the iconography of the Raga and were eager to connect the Raga with a deity or a season or a mood or even an environment.

3.2. The Music of Ragas, as we know it today, is the culmination of a long process of development in musical thinking that aimed to meaningfully organise melodic and tonal material. During the earlier times, Sama-gana gave way to Gandharva – gana as the mainstream of the sacred music. And, by the second half of the 17th century the ancient Gandharva Music that figured in Natyashastra was no longer in practice. The system of 17th century was closer to the one we have in the present day.

A familiarity with the traditions within the larger canvas of musical changes over centuries will help us to gain a better understanding of our Music.

musical instruments



4.1. 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.

4.2. What is remarkable about the Music of India is its systematic way of developing musical thinking that aimed to organise and arrive at a golden mean between melody (Raga) and the structure of the compositions (Sahitya). This has lent our music an inner-strength and an identity of its own.

4.3. 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 practise.  Each genre of these texts also provided a model for the subsequent treatises to elaborate on music-theories and practices (Samgita Shastra).

4.4. 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.

5.1. The most notable among the texts of ancient and medieval India that deal with Music, briefly , are:

: – Bharatha’s Natya-shastra (Ca.200 BC) – though it treats Music as ancillary to theatre production;

: – Dattilam (around first century), which follows Bharatha closely, ascribed to Dattila marks the transition from Sama-gana to Gandharva, describing musical elements of Svara (scales), Sthana (base notes) and Grama (tonal framework) in terms of Sruti (micro-tonal intervals);

:- Brihadesi ascribed to Matanga (around 5th century) , a landmark text, that established the concept of Raga , dealt with Raga as a special subject,  spoke of Nada as (sound) in metaphysical terms , recognized Desi Music and established it in place of Margi , and became the source-text for the musicologists of the later periods for developing Mela-karta (parent scale) system of classifying Music;

: – Sangeeta Makaranda by Narada (11th century), is virtually a compendium which enumerates 93 Ragas and classifies them into  Raga (masculine) and Ragini ( feminine)  species;

: – Manasollasa (also called Abhjilashitarta Chintamani) ascribed to the Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (12th century) covers a wide range of subjects related to Music (e.g. the desired qualities of a singer, voice culture, ways of elaborating a song etc) besides clearly stating the structure and the components of a class of Music called Prabandha which dominated Indian Music till about the end of 17th century;

: – Sangita-Cudamani of Jagadekamalla (1138 to 1150 AD ) –   son of king Someshwara ,  author of Manasollasa –  covers many topics related to music , such as  : Alapana  and Gamaka;   the desired qualities of a singer, of a composer; the voice culture; design of  the auditorium, and so on .

:- Sangita Samarasya of Prasavadeva, a Jain (monk?) of 12-13th century, which discusses various topics relating to Nada (sound), Dhvani (pitch), Shaarira  ( resonating musical voice) , Gita (song), Alapti ( free flowing elaboration of Raga), Sthaya (phrases), Varna ( lines) , Taala (rhythm) and Alamkara (ornamentation)  . It is said; Prasavadeva explained Gamaka as: “When a note produces the colour of Sruthis other than those which are its own, it is known as Gamaka.”

:- the 13th century monumental text Samgita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva ( perhaps the last of the integral Music texts of India before the distinctions of North and South appeared) , which brought together various strands of the past music traditions, defined almost 264 Ragas, established a sound theoretical basis for music and provided a model for the later musicology (Samgita Shastra);

:- Swaramela-Kalanidhi  by Ramamatya (Ca.1550) a poet-scholar in the court of Vijayanagar , which laid the foundation for the theoretical framework for classifying Ragas according to 19  Mela (parent scale) and 166 Janya (derived ) Ragas – this is said to be an improvement over Sage Vidyaranya’s  (1320 – 1380)  initiative  , in his Sangita-sara , to group (Mela ) about 50 Ragas according to their parent scale;

:- Raga-vibodha of Somanatha (1609 A.D) pays special attention to Alamkara (ornamentation) or Vadana-bedha – the techniques of plying on stringed musical instruments (Veena) – such as deflections, slides and others. His exposition of Vadana-bedha (finger-techniques), emphasizing the subtleties of the instrument, is said be based mainly on the vocal techniques of Gamaka-s and Sthaya-s (components of a raga) as described in Sangita-Ratnakara of Sarangadeva (13th century). He is also said to have brought into vogue the practice of writing notations (Raga-sanchara).

:- the fundamental treatise of present Music, Chaturdandi-Prakasika  by Venkatamakhin (ca. 1635) corrected Ramamatya’s Mela system from 19 to 17  and  , more importantly , in its appendix (anubandha) introduced the  possibility of classifying Ragas (Kanakangi to Rasikapriya) under a  72 Mela-karta scheme made into two groups of 36 each (Shuddha Madhyama and Prathi Madhyama)  ;

:- Sangraha Chudamani  by Govindacharya (late 17th – early 18th century),  which  expanding on Venkatamakhi’s  Chaturdandi-Prakasika introduced the  Sampoorna Melakarta scheme as well as delineating  Lakshanas for 294 janya  ragas, many of which were till then unknown, with their Arohana and  Avarohana , and also refined the Katyapadi prefixes  by linking the Mela Ragas to their first two syllables;

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

In addition, there were numbers other Lakshana-granthas of great merit that were written by musician-scholars spread over long periods.

5.2. These works, with the exception of Sangita-parijata, follow the Mela system of classifying the Ragas. For this reason, these texts are closer to the present day than those that were rooted in Murchanas, the important Amsa and the final note Nyasa (which is followed in Sangita-ratnakara).

{We will briefly talk about each of these texts, separately, later in the series]

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

Continued in Part Two

–  Overview (2) continued



Sources and References


Music and Musical Thought in Early India by Lewis Rowell

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

Early Indian musical speculation and the theory of melody by Lewis Rowell

Abhinavagupta’s theory of musical transcendence

Important Treatises on Carnatic Music by Harini Raghavan


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Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Sangita


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