Tag Archives: Sarangadeva

The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part Sixteen

Continued From Part Fifteen

Lakshana Granthas Continued

11. Sangita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva


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

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

And, please click here for the Sanskrit text of the Nartana-adhyaya]

The Sangita- ratnakara (the ocean of Sangita) describes the varied aspects of Sangita. The Sangita that the text refers to is indeed a composite term. The Sangita, according to Sarangadeva, is a comprehensive Art-form, composed of three elements (taurya-trika): the vocal (Gitam) and instrumental (Vadyam) music; followed by the third, the dance (Nrtyam) – Gitam, Vadyam tatha Nrtyam trayam Samgitam uccyate. 

The last one, the Nrtyam, is comprised of all the three Angas:  the elements: song, instrumental music, and, Dance.


Here, the first element (Anga) of Sangita, the Gitam, the song format, is a fusion of Nada (sounds) and Akshara (a composition made of words). Its musical element is named Dhathu; while its lyrics or composition made of words is called Mathu. Locana Pandita, in his Raga-tarangini, explains the term Gitam, as:

Dhatu-matu-samayauktam Gitam iti uccyate budhaih; tatra nadatmako dhatur mathur akshara sambhavah

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

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

Thus, the Sangita Shastra as envisaged by Sarangadeva was a composite Art consisting Gita (melodic-forms); Vadya (instruments); and, Nrtta (dance or limb movements). 

By the time of Sangita-ratnakara (13th Century), three Angas (limbs) of Sangita were well developed. Of these, the Vocal music was regarded as the essential, fundamental music through which all other forms of music were to be understood and interpreted. Here again, Sarangadeva focuses on Desi Sangita, though he comments on aspects of Marga Sangita as well. On Dance (Nrtya), he offers clear picture of both Marga and Desi traditions, although in a concise manner.


In his work Sangita-ratnakaraSarangadeva devotes seven chapters (Sapta-adhyayi) for discussing these three components (Anga-s) of Sangita; but, mainly about the first two. These seven Chapters covering varied aspects of Sangita are:

(1) Svara-gata-adhyaya ; (2) Raga-viveka-adhyaya (3) Prakinaka-adhyaya (4) Prabhandha-adhyaya (5) Tala-adhyaya; (6) Vadya-adhyaya; and,  (7) Nartana-adhyaya

The first six Chapters discuss, what is now known as Music – vocal and instrumental – (Gitam and Vadyam); and, these Chapters, together, are reckoned among the longest works on Music, in Sanskrit, covering all its vital aspects. The First Chapter deals with Nada (the principle of sound);  the Second with Raga (musical modes); the Third with Prakirna (miscellaneous topics relating to music); the Fourth with Prabandha (structured composition); the Fifth with Marga (classical) and Desi (regional) types of Taala (rhythm); and, the Sixth with Vadya (musical instruments).

Apart from these, the Sangita-ratnakara highlighted the ever changing nature of music; the expanding role of regional (Desi) influences on it, and the increasing complexity of musical material that needed to be systemised over a period. Yet; Sarangadeva was rooted in the prevalent musical practices of his time. His stress was consistently on the Lakshya, the music as practiced than on ancient theories (Lakshana), which though he respects them highly.

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

Therefore, the Sangita-ratnakara is regarded as a standard work or an authoritative text, on which the later scholars and commentators drew upon copiously.


[There are two well known commentaries on Sangita-ratnakara: the Kalanidhi of Chatura Kallinatha (c.1430); and, the Sangita-sudhakara of Simhabhupala (c.1330). Most of the editions of the Sangita-ratnakara are published along with these two commentaries, with the description:

Sangitaratnakarah, Chatura Kallinathaya virachitaya Kalanidhdya tikaya; Simhabhula virachitaya Sangitasudhakara tikaya cha samethah

Of the two, the Kalanidhi of Kallinatha (c.1430) is considered almost as a supplement to Sangita-ratnakara; as it expands on the text by citing verses of other authorities, and also introducing some new elements. For instance; Kallinatha, while commenting upon the descriptions of the Arm-movements, adds an entire section on the Vartana of which he describes thirty-one varieties (SR.7.270 to 286; Pages 105 to 110). Again, he adds another section on fifty types of Calanas or Calakas, another type of arm movement (pages 111 to 124). Further, Kallinatha quotes from the ancient authority Kohala, on the subject of Caris; and adds a new a new type Cari called Madhupa-cari (SR. pp.313-17)

The King, Simhabhupala, of the Recherla dynasty of Rajachala in Andhra, in his commentary Sangita-sudhakara (c.1330), written about a hundred years earlier Kallinatha’s Kalanidhi, tried to clarify the topics dealt by Sarangadeva in a clear manner. It provides some valuable information culled from the older texts. He cites from a certain text named Prayogastabaka, said to be a commentary the Dattilam ascribed to Dattila (Ca. First century); but, its manuscript, so far, has not been found.]


The Seventh and the last Chapter (Nartana-adhyaya) of the Sangita-ratnakara is about the third component of the Sangita, which is Nartana, the Dance format which includes Nrtta, Natya, and Nrtya. Here, Sarangadeva follows King Someshvara (Manasollasa) who had divided Nartana into three categories: Nrtta, Natya and Nrtya.  Though the Chapter on Dance is titled Nartana, it discusses mainly its Nrtta and Natya aspects.

On the subject of Dance, Sarangadeva has less information to offer than his contemporary Jaya Senapati (Nrtta-ratnavali, 13th century). But, what he offers is concise and systematic, presenting a clear picture of two Dance traditions – Marga and Desi – as were practiced dancing in the author’s time. And, the Seventh Chapter, the Nartana-adhyaya, with 1678 Verses, is the longest Chapter of the text.

And, so far as Dance is considered, Sangita-ratnakara marks the stage when Dance came to be viewed and treated as an independent Art-form; and, not as a mere ingredient adding beauty to a theatrical presentation. And, another significant feature was that the regional, the Desi style of Dance was given due importance, along with the classical Marga. Here, Sarangadeva was following the trend set by King Someshvara, in his Manasollasa.

Now, we are mainly interested in the last and the Seventh Chapter Nartana-adhyaya, dealing with Dance.


Sarangadeva / Sharangdeva (1175–1247) gives some information about himself in the beginning of the work. Sarangadeva introduces himself as belonging to a family which hailed from Kashmir. His grandfather Bhaskara, an Ayurveda physician, moved from Kashmir into the newly found Yadava capital at Devagiri (Maharashtra), in the Deccan region, at the invitation of King Bhillanna V (1173-1192). After the death of Bhillanna, his son Jaitrapala or Jaitugi ascended the throne and ruled for a short period. He was succeeded in 1200 by Sevuna (Yadava) King Simhana/Singhana (1200-1247). He was a very powerful king and also a great patron of arts, literature, and science. It was during his reign that Sarangadeva was appointed in his father’s (Sodhala’s) post as the Royal Accountant (Sri-karana-agrani). Along with his work at the King’s offices, Sarangadeva continued to practice the family profession of Ayurveda. He is also said to have written a Vedanta work entitled Adhyatma-viveka. That work is not available now.

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


The Nartana-adhyaya opens with the famous verse, which is commonly associated with the Abhinaya Darpana of Nandikeshvara.

Angikam Bhuvanam sloka

Angikam Bhuvanam Yasya, Vachikam Sarva Vangmayam, Aaharyam Chandra Taradi, Tam Namah Saattvikam Shivam 

Whose bodily movements is the entire universe; whose speech is the language and literature of the entire Universe; whose ornaments are the moon and the stars; Him we worship, the serene Lord Shiva. ..!

There is, in fact, a protracted debate about the original authorship of the first forty verses of the Nartana-adhyaya.

Dr. K. Kunjunni Raja, in the introduction to the Fourth Part of the Sangita-ratnakara, edited and translated by him (published by Adyar Library, 1976), observes , it appears that nearly forty-two  verses in the introductory portions of the Seventh Chapter of the  Sangita-ratnakara , are almost the same as the introductory verses found in the Abhinaya-Darpana ascribed to Nandikeshvara.

The question is who borrowed from whom?

At the outset, it appears as though Sarangadeva borrowed these portions from the Abhinaya-Darpana.  However, the commentators, King Simhabhupala (c.1330), author of the Sangitasudhakara; and Kallinatha (c.1430) author of the Kalanidhi assert that the introductory verses of the Nartana-adhyaya are genuinely Sarangadeva’s own verses. If that is so, then the date of the Abhinaya Darpana would be pushed further down.

But, the Abhinaya Darpana mentions that these verses are the teachings of the older authorities – Yetani purva-shastra-anusarena ukthani ve maya (AD.47)

It is also likely that Nandikeshvara and Sarangadeva, both borrowed from a common source.

Yet; the question is still open.


In the introductory section of the First Chapter, Sarangadeva lists a number of earlier authorities, the essence of whose views, he states, he is presenting in his work.

Sarangadeva’s Sangita-ratnakara is a great compilation, not an original work, which ably brings together various strands of the past music traditions found in earlier works like Nāţyashastra, Dattilam, Bŗhaddēśī, and Sarasvatī-hŗdayālańkāra-hāra. It is greatly influenced by Abhinavagupta’s Abhinavabharati and Someshvara’s Manasollasa. But for Sangita-ratnakara, it might have been more difficult to understand NatyasastraBrhaddesi and other ancient texts.

Chapter Seven, which is the last Chapter, is in two parts.  The first one deals with Nartana. The term Nartana is a common term representing the arts of Nŗtta, Nŗtya and Nāţya (SR. 7. 3).

In describing the Marga tradition of Dance, Sarangadeva follows Natyashastra. In fact, the whole of the Seventh Chapter draws most of its material from Natyashastra and its commentaries. Many of the passages narrated therein (say, verses 78 to 89) are straightaway taken from the Ninth Chapter of Natyashastra. Even the definitions offered in this Chapter are adopted from other sources.

As regards the Desi class of Dance he improves upon the explanations offered in Manasollasa of King Someshvara and Sangita Samayasara of Parsvadeva.

In the second part of this Chapter, the author describes the Bhavas  (states or moods) and the related Nine Rasa-s, namely, Śrńgāra, Vīra, Hāsya, Raudra, Adbhuta, Karuņā, Bhayānaka, Bībhatsa and Shānta.


Sarangadeva commences his exposition on Dance with the statement that the Natya-Veda is, indeed, threefold: Natya, Nrtya and Nrtta (Natya, Nrtya tatha Nrtta tridha tadipi kititam- SR.7.3)

[Here Sarangadeva is following the classification as given in the Manasollasa; except that he does not use the term Nartana, as Someshvara did to represent the Dance , in general.]

Of these three, Sarangadeva explains the term Natya as that through which Rasa manifests (Natya sabdau Rase mukhyo Rasabhivyaki karanam – SR.17.18) . It connotes Abhinaya, through which the import of the Drama is expressed by the actors, in varied ways, providing uninterrupted joy to the spectators (SR.7.19).

He explains Nrtya as that which expresses Bhavas (various states and moods) through Angika-abhinaya; and, it is of the Marga class (SR.7.26)

And, Nrtta, he says, is only the movements of the body (gatra-vishepa matra), devoid of Abhinayas (sarva-abhinaya vargitam) SR.7.28.

Then, Sarangadeva mentions three varieties of Nrtta: Visama (acrobatic, dancing around with ropes etc.,); Vikata (comical or ludicrous in ungainly dress and movements; and, Laghu (of Ancita and other easy Karanas) – SR.7.31.32

The Natyashastra had earlier described Tandava as the Nrtta performed by Shiva; and Sukumara (Lasya) as Parvati’s dance. And, Bharata had not qualified these dance types as either being aggressive or gentle. There was, of course, mention of Nrtya.

But, here, Sarangadeva differed from Bharata. He classified both the Nrtta and Nrtya into two kinds: Tandava and Lasya (SR.7.28). Further, he said that Tandava requires Uddhata (forceful, aggressive) and Lasya requires Lalita (delicate, gentle)   movements (SR. 7. 29- 30).

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

As mentioned earlier; with exception of some elements, the treatment of the Angika-Abhinaya in the Sangita-ratnakara, to a large extent, follows the Natyashastra of Bharata. But, Sarangadeva made some changes in the arrangement of the limbs, within the three groups of limbs: Anga, Upanga and Pratyanga. Here, Sarangadeva followed the Manasollasa of Someshvara – (Verses 38 to 42). For instance;


SR Anga

Bharata, under the category Anga, the major body-parts, had listed six parts as: the head,  the chest, the sides, the hips, the hands and the feet.

Here, Sarangadeva, following the general pattern as laid down by Bharata, adopts, under the Anga, the six body parts: the head; the two hands; the chest; the sides; the hips and two feet. In addition to these Six, he adds the shoulders also.

Here, Sarangadeva differed from both Bharata and Someshvara [who had included shoulders and belly in place of the hands (Hasthas) and the feet (Padas)].


SR PratyangaBharata, under the Pratyanga, had mentioned six parts as: the neck, the belly, the thighs, the shanks and the arms.

Sarangadeva included all these six parts under the Pratyanga; and, in addition he also counted the knees and wrists. Here, Sarangadeva followed the classification made by Someshvara.



And, under Upangas, Bharata had included nine elements , such as : the eyes; the eyebrows; the eyelids; pupils; the nose; the lips; the cheeks; the chin and the mouth; in addition to facial colors.

[Sarangadeva enumerates thirty-six varieties of glances, as did Bharata. And, he remarks: these may be taken only as illustrations; but, in fact, its possibilities are innumerable, depending upon the actions of the brows, pupils and the eyelids.]

SR UpangaSarangadeva, in addition to the nine Upangas in the head, as mentioned by Bharata, brought in the elements of the breath, the teeth and the tongue. However, Bharata had not considered these three as Upangas.

Apart from the twelve Upangas located in the head, Sarangadeva counted the heels; the ankles; the fingers of the hand; the toes; and the soles of the feet. Here he was clearly deviating both from Bharata and Someshvara. Because, Someshvara had included only the tongue and teeth as Upangas, in addition to those mentioned by Bharata; but, he had not included those parts with other limbs as Upangas. Obviously, Sarangadeva adopted these details from some other source.



As regards, the colours of the Face (Mukha-raga), Sarangadeva adopts the four colours as mentioned in the Natyashastra: Svabhavika (natural); Prasanna (clear); Raktha (red); and, Shyama (dark) Verses 527-528


As regards the position of the hands (Kara-Pracara), Bharata had classified these into three kinds: Uttana (facing upward); Adhomukha (facing downward); and , Parsvagata (turned to the sides). Sarangadeva , however, adds twelve more  positions of the hands as sub-classification of  the three mentioned by Bharata: Agratastala (palm facing forward); Svasamm-mukhatala (palms turned to oneself); Urdhva-mukha (pointing upward); Adho-vadana (pointing downward); Paran-mukha (pointing outward); Sammukha (pointing toward oneself); Parsvato-mukha (pointing to the sides) ; Urdhvaga (moving up); Adhogata (moving down); Parsva-gata (moving to the side) ; Agraga (moving forward); and, Sammukha-gata (moving toward oneself). (Verses 532-537, Page 182)

flower design

Sarangadeva mentions (in Verses 42 to 48, Pages 16-17) that henceforth, in the Chapters to follow, he would be describing:

Sarangadeva mentions (in Verses 42 to 48, Pages 16-17) that henceforth, in the Chapters to follow, he would be describing:

: – The positions of the hands (Kara-Pracara); the movements of the hands (Kara-Karana); the actions of the hands (Kara-Karma); the places for the hands (Hastha-kshetra);

:- The descriptions of the two-fold Karanas , the Marga and the Desi Nrtta karanas,  those accompanied by jumps (Utpluti); the Angaharas along with their Recakas ; the Caris , with their Marga and Desi variants; the Sthanakas; the Vrttis; the Nyayas , with their Pravicaras , the Mandalas of all kinds;

: – The descriptions of the Lasyangas; the Rcakas;

: – The procedures for practice (Srama) of Dance ; the definition of a person fit for Dancing (Patra); the qualifications of a Nartaki, the qualifications of the Dance-teacher; the merits and de-merits of the Dance troupe;

: – The descriptions of the Acharya, the Nata, the Nartaka, Vaitalika, Carana, and Kolhatika;

: – Particulars of the rules relating to Gundali; the correct description of Peranin and his style;

: – The descriptions of the assembled spectators, the leader of the assembly, and the location of the assembly; and,

: – The descriptions of the Nava Rasa-s and Bhava-s;

Sarangadeva , generally, follows the descriptions provided in the Natyashastra and the  Manasollasa , while enumerating the different  positions and movements of the various elements and components of the body; the Caris, Sthanas,  Karanas and the Angaharas of both the Marga and the Desi types; the Lasyangas; qualities of the Dancers; qualities of the Dance teacher; the Desi Nrtta and its various forms ; and , discussions on the Rasas , Bhavas etc.


Sarangadeva’s description of Caris, Sthanas, Karanas and Angaharas of the Marga type are as per the Natyashastra.

[Sarangadeva explains Cari as the combination of the beautiful movements of the feet, shanks, thigh and the hips, performed in coordination. The term Cari, he says, is derived from root Car ( to move); and, by adding the suffix i (n) and ni , at the end.]

But, the Desi styles of Bhumi (36 types) and Akashi Caris (19 types); six Sthanas for men, seven Sthanas for women and twenty-three Desi Sthanas; nine sitting and six reclining Sthanas (altogether fifty-one Sthanas); the four types of Vrittis; the Bhumi and Akashi Mandalas; the Desi Lasyangas; and the 36 Utpluti-karanas from regional traditions, which demand strenuous physical exertion and perfect control of the limbs, are the same as those in the Manasollasa of Someshvara.

Some of the thirty-six Utpluti-karanas in the Sangita-ratnakara are also the same as in the Manasollasa, which lists eighteen karanas of the Desi variety (Manas. 16. 4. 1384-99).


As regards Bhramaris, in the Natyashastra, the Bhramari was the name of a Cari; and, it was not a particularly complicated revolving movement.

In the later times, many types of Bhramaris were developed; all of them being variations of the whirling movements. Gradually, as these diversified into more elaborate movements, they came to be recognized as constituting a distinct class. The earliest text to do so was Parsvadeva’s Sangita-samayasara (7.193) a treatise on Desi music and dance prevalent in 13th century; and, it describes eleven Desi karanas; along with five Bhramaris.  

The Abhinaya-Darpana (289- 98) also regards the Bhramaris as a distinct group.

Here, Sarangadeva was following Parsvadeva, who had described Utpluti-karanas needed for the Desi Nrtta along with eleven Desi Karanas with different Desi Sthanas; and, five Bhramaris.

These Bhramaris are included among Utpluti-karanas by Sarangadeva, also. And, it indicates that by his time, the Bhramaris were so developed and so important as to be regarded as a form of Karanas.


After the description of the Sthanas which include sitting and lying postures that are appropriate to drama, the author discusses the four types of vrttis (caturdha Vrtti) , the modes of depiction and styles of presentation : Kaisiki; Sattvati; Arabhati; and, Bharati. Bharata regarded the Vrttis or the Styles as one among the most important constituent elements of the play. In fact, he considered the Vrttis as the mother of all poetic works – sarveāmeva kāvyānāṃ-mātkā vttaya smḥ (NS.18.4).

This is followed by a description of Mandala (combination of Caris); and then of ten Lasyangas of the Desi variety.

Jaya Senapati (Nrtta-ratnavali), who was a contemporary of Sarangadeva, gives a list of forty-six Lasyangas; and, Parsvadeva, who preceded both, had listed twenty Desi Angas.

But it is Sarangadeva’s list of ten Lasyangas that was cited by the  later authors.


Next, Sarangadeva describes the Gaundali and the Perani, the two dances commonly performed in the Desi tradition.  Here, Sarangadeva follows Sangita-Samayasara of Parsvadeva.

Parsvadeva, had mentioned Perana, Pekkhana, Gundali and Dandarasa, as forms of the Desi-Nrtya. He had also discussed the Sthanas and Caris needed for these Desi types of dances; and, in particular, the five elements or components (Angas) of Perana Dance: Nrtta, Kaivara, Ghargara, Vagada and Gita.

Parsvadeva had described Nrtta as consisting Lasya and Tandava aspects , which are based rhythm and tempo; Kaivara as praising the king through praising his ancestors; Gharghara as rhythmic stamping of feet , with bells tied to the ankles; Vagada as miming of ludicrous characters; and, Gita as a song sung according to the rules of a pure or mixed raga, complete with Alapa.

In that context, he had given the details of the instrumental music, drumming in particular, needed for four kinds of Desi dances, namely, Perana, Pekkhana, Gundali and Dandarasa. Parsvadeva had also indicated the requirements of a good dancer, her physical appearance; and, the way she should be dressed etc.

Sarangadeva, following Parsvadeva, also talks of the qualities and appearance of the Peranin a male dancer; and, says that the Peranin should : have his body covered with white coloured ash ; have his head shaved, leaving a small tuft of hair (Shikha); wear number of shining anklet-bells (Ghargharika); have a good voice ; be clever; be an expert in Tala and Laya; and, should be an attractive dancer (Verses 1301-3, Pages 384-85)

He also explains the sequential process of a performance, including the musical accompaniment, in the pure mode or Shuddha-paddhati, and the Gaundali of the Desi tradition (Verses 1316-25, Page 389). Here, Sarangadeva follows Manasollasa, entirely

The Gaundali and the Perani  seemed to have been the most common Dance-items in Desi tradition; because, they are mentioned in all the texts from the Sangita-samayasara in the twelfth/thirteenth century down to the Siva-tattva-ratnakara of Basavabhupala of Keladi (1684 A.D.-1710 A.D.)

And, Perani was popular, particularly in the Andhra region. And, Jaya Senapati had discussed it in fair detail. Its popularity is attributed to its fast movements; and, to the use of ankle bells.

Pekkhana or Preksana, a Desi Dance with Lasya and Gaundali are described with accompanying vocal and instrumental music. The Gaundali dance certainly survived till the eighteenth century; but,  later, it seemed to have faded away.


After describing these two dance pieces, Sarangadeva enumerates the qualifications of the Acharya (the teacher); the Nata (the actor); the Nartaka (the dancer); the Vaitalika (a common entertainer); the Charana (an expert in understanding Gharghara, a distinctive feature of the Desi dances of the Dravida region); and, the Kolatika (a performer who specializes in Bhramari, rope-walking and dancing with a dagger). Next, he describes the audience and the sitting arrangements.

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

The Chapter offers guidelines for dance practice; dancer’s merits, credentials and shortcomings; and, the description of the music/performance hall. In doing so he combines the material from the Natyashastra with that from later works; and , presents a coherent view not found in previous works.


In the second part of this Chapter, the author describes Rasas , the Nine Rasas (Nava-rasa), thirty-three Sthayi-bhavas, eight Sattvika-bhavas , thirty-three Vyabichari  Bhavas; and the definition of Sattva. Sarangadeva largely follows the explanations offered by Abhinavagupta on the theories of Rasa.

Sarangadeva mentions that all the eight kinds of states or Sattvika-bhavas (temperamental states) can appear in any of the Rasas. And, in a Drama one Rasa must be made prominent; and, other Rasas should be supplementary.


The Seventh and the Final Chapter concludes with the Verse wherein Sarangadeva avers that he did not compile this work out of pride of his learning or knowledge; but, as a means to reach out and to seek a place in the hearts and minds of the learned.

Na vidya-darpato grantha pravrttirmam kim tvidam / Vidvan manasa –vasaya gantu patheyam asthitam // SR.7.1678 , Page 476 //



In the Next Part, we shall move on to another text.



The Next Part


References and Sources

  1. Movement and Mimesis: The Idea of Dance in the Sanskritic Tradition by Dr Mandakranta Bose
  2. Sangita ratnakara
  3. Sangita ratnaj -kars :
  4. All images are from Internet


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The texts of the Indian Dance traditions – Part One


Natya Sastra (1)

Lakshana-granthas – texts concerning the performing arts of India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Natyashastra

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Śailālinas tu śailūā jāyājīvā kśāśvina bharatā   ityapi naāś cāraās tu kuśīlavā

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Natyashastra in the context of Dance

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

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

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

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

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

Shiva dancing Halebidu

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

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

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

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

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

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


Texts concerning dance

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

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

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

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

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


Texts on Music etc., which also dealt with Dance

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He contradicts Dhananjaya; and, asserts that   Nrtta, the pure dance, is rooted in Rasa (Nrttam rasa-ahrayam). Saradatanaya’s definition meant that Nrtta not only beautifies a presentation, but is also capable of generating Rasa. This, during his time, was, indeed, a novel view.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The text of Sangita-ratnakara has 1678 verses spread over seven chapters (Saptaadhyayi) covering the aspects of GitaVadya and NrttaSvaragat-adhyaya; Ragavivek-adhyaya; Prakirnaka-adhyayaPrabandh-adhyayaTaala-adhyaya; Vadya-adhyaya and   Nartana-adhyaya. The first six chapters deal with various facets of music and music-instruments; and, the last chapter deals with Dance. Sangita-ratnakara’s contribution to dance is very significant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Texts dealing mainly with the theory and practice of Dance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(4) The Nartana-nirnaya of Pundarika Vitthala (16th-17th centuries) is a very significant work in the history of Indian Dancing. Till about the time of Raja Kumbha, the Dance was discussed mainly in terms of Marga and Desi. Pundarika Vitthala introduces a novel feature (hitherto not tried by anyone else), which is the principles of Bhaddha (structured) and Anibhaddha (neither bound nor structured) for stratifying the dance forms into two separate classes. Even though the later texts on dancing generally followed the Sangita-ratnakara, they did take into consideration Nartana-nirnaya’s classification of Bhaddha and Anibaddha, as a part of their conceptual framework. His classification of Dance forms into Baddha and Anibaddha was a significant theoretical development.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Abhinavagupta’s influence has been profound and pervasive. Succeeding generations of writers on Natya were guided by his concepts and theories of Rasa, Bhava, aesthetics and dramaturgy. No writer or commentator of a later period could afford to ignore Abhinavagupta.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Mandakranta Bose observes:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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




Part Two

References and sources

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

2 . Literature used in Dance/ Dance Sahitva

3. Natyashastra


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Twenty-two

Continued from Part Twenty one – Dhrupad Part One

Part Twenty two (of 22) – Dhrupad – Part Two



Dhrupad flourished as the principal  music format during the 16th century in the Mughal Courts.  During its affluent times, Dhrupad developed into four distinct melodic forms known as Vani or Bani. It might be rather incorrect to call them as ‘styles’.  Because, apart from the ways of rendering the songs many other  complex elements were associated with each Bani, such as :  the ideology ( spiritual or otherwise) , the intent, devotion, melodic types, nature of compositions, repertory , ways of transmitting orally from generation to generation, how they viewed their own Music and how they like the world to view their Music  etc. And, above all there was the question of tradition; because, for a Dhrupad performer Tradition is of prime importance. According to their traditions, Dhrupad is a body of spiritual and mystical knowledge to be practiced with devotion (Bhakthi) and dedication (Shraddha). It is primarily an act of submission to ones indweller; not a tool for entertainment.

During the time of Akbar four classes of Bani-s seem to have gained prominence. Though they might have been distinct in their initial stages, later each assimilated some aspects of the other Bani-s.  Therefore, by about the 17-18th century they almost had merged into one ancient tradition.

A Dhrupad singer of Akbar’s time was addressed as Kalawant. The Kalawants identified themselves with a  Bani, which they came to regard as their tradition.

The four Bani-s of Akbar’s time were: Govarhar, Khandahar, Nauhar and Daguar, each named after the place of its origin or its originator.

 [ Giti-Bani

 Before going further, lets talk a bit about Gitis.

Giti is a familiar concept in the ancient Indian music; and, is associated with Alamkara and Gamaka.  The very ancient scholars such as Kashyapa, Yastika, Shardula, Durga Shakthi, Bharata and Matanga; and, later Sarangadeva, all have discussed about Gitis.

These Gitis were not Ragas or similar forms. Here, in these texts, Giti was understood as the methods or styles of producing a song; as various styles of rendering Grama Ragas and regional tunes ;   singing  the songs composed in deśa-bhāā; also rendering the songs coming from various regions and people. In general, Giti could be taken to have meant charming song-forms; or as modes of singing a piece of music combining poetry, melody and rhythm.

Kashyapa mentions two Gitis (Bhasha and Vibhasha); according to Bharata Yashtika spoke of three Gitis (bhasha, vibhasha, and, antar bhasha);but, Matanga says that Yashika mentioed five Gitis (Shuddham, Bhinna, Vesara, Gaudi and Sadharita) ; Shardula recognized only one Giti (bhasha); Durgashakti accepted five Gitis (shuddha, bhinna, gaudi, raga (vesara/ vegasvara), sadharana); and, Bharata talked of four (pada) Gitis (magadhi, ardha magadhi, sambhavita, prithula).

Matanga, in his Brihaddeshi (302-308), discusses, in fair detail, the seven kinds of Gitis: (1) Shuddha; (2) Bhinnaka; (3) Gaudika; (4) Raga-giti; (5) Sadharani; (6) Bhasha-giti; and, (7) Vibhasha—gitis.  

Of the seven classes of Gitis, it is said; the Shuddha and the Bhinnaka have each five varieties; Gauda has three varieties; Ragas are of eight varieties; Sadharani is of seven varieties; Bhasha is of sixteen kinds; and, Vibhasha as of twelve kinds.

He also relates the various Gitis to the Shadja grama and Madhyama grama Ragas,current in his time; and explains the Ragas with reference to these seven classes of Gitis.

Matanga talks about the Gitis in association with Alamkaras and Gamakas. For in instance; while discussing about Raga-giti, one of the seven charming Gitis; the fourth in his enumeration (Raga-gitis-caturthika); and, with attractive ” svara compositions, with beautiful and illuminating graces”, he mentions:

 :- Raga-giti , adorned with ( shobhane bhavath) delightful Svara articulations of lucid, powerful (raurasau), of even quality (sama), should be rendered with varied delicate Gamakas (lalithau–Gamakau-vichitrau); and, should be ornamented with delightful Svara articulations in all the four melodic movements ( chaturnamapi varnanamthat are  lucid (prasanna) , powerful (raura) and even (sama) (300-301);

:- Shuddha Giti is that which  is full of Svaras and Srutis that are straight ( samaihi) , delicate  (lalita) and steady  (ruju) in the mandra, madhya (lit. not mandra) and Tara  ranges (shruthibhi purna), (291-2)

:- Bhinna Giti is that which consists subtle, quick moving, turning, swinging, scattered, (sukshmashca prachalai vakra sullasita prasaritau ) delicate (lalitha)  Svaras, high (Tara) and low (Mandra)- ( 292-293)

:- The three Gauda (melodies) are beautiful (shobhanah) with Svaras rendered with delicate Ohala (a type of shakes) , made up of  sounds like ‘haa-s’ (ha-kara)  and ‘ooh-s’  (U-kara). The Õhali gives expression to mandra tones, with the chin resting on the chest (chibukam hrudaye –nyasya).

The delicate Ohali should be rendered  by expert singers ( geyo-vidhuhu)  in quicker and quicker tempo ( druta-drta-taro), full of shake (saha kampane pidita), rendered both by distinct and barely visible hand movements ( drusta-drustena panina) (on the Veena?) with karanas over the three octaves ( tristhana) and full of movement over the entire octave range  ( svara-sthana-chalanakula). (293-299)

:- Sadharana Giti, according to experts on Giti ( Gitignau) , should be made up of a judicious combination (su–yogitau) of straight and delicate, a little subtle (sukshma-sukshmaischa), a little plain, pleasant (su-shravya), slightly quick paced (irsha-druta), soft ( mrudu) and gentle (lalita) , movements and Svaras, that are smooth, with subtle variations in tone (kaku misrau) . Thus, Sadharana Giti is understood (jneyo) as resting on all the Gitis (sarva-giti-samashrayah). (302-303)

:- Bhasha  Giti is defined by the experts on the Giti ( Giti-vichakshnau) , as being characterised by movements that spring from the throat (gatrajau), smoothly (lakshanau), drenched with expression ( kakurakthau), well-structured (suyogitau), shaken delicately ( kampitai)  and powerfully, imbued with Prakrit intonations coming from Malva region  (Malavi )   (Malavi kaku nanchitau), and expressed in gentle, soft ovements  ( lalitha sukumarascha) in a controlled manner (samyate)-( 304-306).

:- Vibasha Giti should be rendered blending in the Gamakas that are pleasant on the ears (Gamakau–srotra-sukhadai-lalithairasthu), following public taste (rajyate lokah) , with delicate as well as bright (lalitau bhrahubhi diptau), strong shakes   ( kampitai)  and plain (samaihi)movements, shooting up to the Tara and Atitara  ranges, and softened as well as flaming ones in the middle range ( madhyama diptau) , incorporating gamakas that are pleasant to the ear and delicate ( srotra–sukhadai lalitai astu), according to the singer’s will (yadrucchaya samyojya)  , and to the delight of the people  (lokan ranjate) – (306-308).

But , Sarngadeva accepted just five out of the seven Gitis:  shuddha, bhinna, gaudi, rag (vesara/ vegasvara), and sadharani.  He was just before  the period that came under Persian influence.

Perhaps , because of that reason, during the early Mughal times too, these five types of Gitis continued to be recognized; and, each type of Giti was associated with a group of Ragas.

Now, Giti meant the way of singing (Gita), giving a form to the Ragas.  During the Mughal times, it is said,  Shuddha Giti (the pure) used straight and soft notes; Bhinna Giti (innovative) with articulated, fast and charming Gamaka phrases (Alamkara); Gaudi Giti (Eastern) sonorous with soft , unbroken mellow stream of singing in all the three tempos (Kaala) Mandara (slow), Madhya ( middle) and Tara ( upper) with appropriate Gamaka Alamkaras;  Vesara or Vegasvara  Giti (fast notes) suited  for speed or fastness in rendering the notes (Svaras) ; and, the Sadharani or Sadharan Giti  (General) combined in itself the virtues and merits of the other four Gitis.

[ Matanga also describes Sadharana Giti (302-303) as  the universal of form of Giti , combining in itself the merits the other four Gitis.  He described Sadharana Giti as that which is sung with svaras that are smooth and fine (Lalita); is gentle, pleasant to the ear, slightly quick, and soft. And, when rightly produced, it is related with all types of Gitis. It is therefore universal or Sadharana. And, in this way, it is considered to be connected to all the Gitis.

Rujubhir lalitah kinchit suksmasuksmais cha susravaih / isaddrutais cha kartavya mrdubhir lalitais tatha / / prayogair masrnaih suksmaih kaku misraih suyojitaih / svaraih sadharana Gitir gitijanaih samudahrta / evem sadharana jneya sarva giti samasraya // 302-303// ]

[ King Nanyabhupala (who reigned in Mithila between 1097 and 1133 A.D) in his Bharatabhashya, connects each type of Giti to specific hours (yamas) of the day. For instance; the two Gitis, shuddha and bhinna, are assigned to the first yama or prahara (a three-hour period) of the day. The Giti, gaudi, is placed at mid-day; vesara is in the first part of the day; and sadharana is said to be common to all hours of the day.

Nanyadeva was referring to Gitis in association with the Ragas with the time of singing. He extended the concept to the relations between the seasons and the Ragas. For instance, Nanyadeva , in his Sarasvati-hrdaya-alamkara hara, while discussing seasonal Grama ragas, quotes Matanga thus – yadah matanga – 

sarve raga mahadeve samyak santoshkarakaha |hemant-greeshma-varshasu kaleshu gan-shasimiha | shadja-madhyam-gandhargrama geya yathakramam ||3

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

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

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

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

Nanyadeva recommends :  Hindola raga is best in spring; Pancama in summer; Sadjagrama and Takka during the monsoons; Bhinnasadja (Bhairava) is best in early winter; and, Kaisika in late winter

Somesvara (Manasollasa 1131 CE) is said to be the earliest to codify the tradition of allocating the six Ragas to the six seasons: (1) Sri-raga is the melody of the Winter (2) Vasanta of the Spring season (3) Bhairava of the Summer season (4) Pancama of the Autumn (5) Megha of the Rainy season and (6) Nata-narayana of the early Winter.

Following that tradition, Sarangdeva (12th century) in his Sangeet Ratnakara, emphasized the importance of the performance of the ragas in their proper season and time.

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

Sarngadeva  also mentions the hour of the day against every Raga that he describes, using phrases like geyo’hnah prathame-yame (to be sung during the first yama or prahara of the day); and, madhyama’hnogeyo (to be sung during mid-day). He associated pure and simple ragas to early morning; mixed and more complex ragas to late morning; skillful ragas to noon; love-themed and passionate ragas to evening; and , common (sadharani)  ragas to night. Sarngadeva also connects the Ragas to seasons.

In the later times, the idea of linking the ethos or character of a Raga with the hour of the day was carried on by many writers.

This concept was explained and systematized by Pandit VN Bathkhande by establishing the relation between the pattern of Svaras and hour of the day/night; and, its impact on the singer and the listener. He also putforth a system of forging a relation between Vadi Svaras, Tivra Madhyama and PurvangaUttaranga Ragas with the time of the day/night. For more please click here ]

Source :The Dictionary of Hindustani Classical Music by Bimalakanta Roychaudhuri ]


During the Mughal period,  each type of Giti came to be associated with a particular Dhrupad Bani ( akin to the different gayakis of present-day) ,  in its rendering of Alaap. In that process, Shuddha Giti corresponded with Daagar Bani; Binna Giti with Khandar Bani; Gaudi Giti with Gaudhara or Gobarahara Bani; and Sadharani Giti with Nauhar Bani. As regards the Vesara Giti, it corresponded with songs of any type of Bani that need to be rendered with speed. ]


Govarhar or Shuddha Bani:

Tansen is said to be the originator of this Bani. It is said; he was originally a Gauda Brahmin (Ramtanu Pandey). And therefore, his style came to be known as Gaudiya or Govarhari Bani. This Bani was characterized by its smooth glides, almost linier in character. Its gait was slow and contemplative; spreding a feeling of repose and peace.

Gauhar Bani was described as Shuddha Bani that is chaste and pure. Its rendering was straight and simple with the gaps between the words and between the stanzas , bridged by aans or meands. It iwas    ideally suited for compositions in slow tempo (Vilamba kala) portraying Shantha, Gambhira and Bhakthi Rasas.

Khandahar Bani:

Raja Samokhan Singh was a famous Beenkar. He belonged to Kandahar region. Thus, his style of singing came to be known as Kandahar Bani. This Bani was rich in its variety. Its gait was majestic and robust, using heavy and vigorous Gamakas, expressive of valor. In contrast to Gaudiya or Govarhari Bani , it usually was not sung in slow tempo.

Khandar Bani was prominent in Jor Alaap of the Rudra Bina.  Along with bewildering pattern of vigorous Gamakas, it could also bring out soft and delicate notes. The Dhrupad compositions of this Bani were set mostly in Madhya and Dhrut laya, with the singer innovating series of Bol-tans in rhythmic patterns along with the Pakhawaj. The Bani was  best  suited for expressing   the fast and furious Vira Rasa.

Nauhar Bani:

Its founder was Rajput Shri Chand who belonged to Nauhar. It style was characterized by quick, jerky passages employing a variety of Gamakas. It usually moved in quick successions, moving as it were in slow deliberate curves from the first to its third or fourth note, and then changing course . Thus, the Nauhar Bani with its jumpy chhoots (short, quick musical run) surprised the listeners at each of its movements.

Nauhar Bani was  technically called Chhoot style with predominance of Madhya laya , spacious Dhrupad  compositions .It  was ideally suited for depicting the joy and wonder of Adbhuta  Rasa of songs set to smaller beats.  This style of rendering is very popular with wandering minstrels singing songs of love and war.

Daguar Bani:

It said to have been founded by Braj Chand who belonged to a place called Daguar. Hence his style came to be known as Daguar Bani. It was characterized by its delicately executed meends (glides) with Gamakas. It was marked by correct intonation, purity of design, simplicity of execution and a massive structure. It adopted the contemplative elaboration of Govarhar.

 The rendering of the songs and Dhrupad in  Daagar Bani  was  mostly in Vilambit and Madhya laya, providing greater scope for portraying various Rasas in different Taalas .It was well suited for Dhamar songs. And, in its medium tempo it judiciously blended in the Kandahar Bani to add color to its performance.

(Source : Bimal Mukherjee in his Indian Classical Music – Changing Profiles outlining the characteristics of the Banis )

The following stanza pithily captures the salient features of each of the four Bani-s.

Jor Jor se Kandhar gave; Madhu bole se Nauhar leve; Saans badi hai gauhar ki;  Alaapchari hai Dagur ki.

The poem indicates that Kandahar Bani became famous due to its voice culture; broad and high pitched tones , forceful expression   and the smoothness of its style.

The Nauhar Bani was famous for its sweet and delicate expression. Its attention was on the bol-bant.  The Bol-banav must have developed , here ,  in Layakari.

The Govarhar Bani was known for its deep and sustained breath control.

And, the Daguar Bani developed great expertise in Alapchari, with much attention on the treatment of the Svaras.

During the later centuries when the Gharanas came into being, each Gharana adopted into its own style one or more features from among the four Bani-s. The Bani-s gradually lost their distinctive qualities. For instance; the Gayaki of Ustad Alladiya Khan of Jaipur – Atrauli Gharana was influenced by Govarhar Bani through its contemplative elaboration , deep breath and smooth glides; the Agra Gharana derived from Nauhar Gharana adopted most of its features, specially the sweetness in its essence;  And, the family of Daguar singers and the Beenkars, of course, adopted the Daguar Bani with its insistence on purity and delicately executed meends;   The Kirana Gharana seems to be influenced by Daguar Bani.   The voice culture of the Kandahar Bani is , of course ,  a desired virtue of all Gharanas. Thus, in Dhrupad the concept of Gharanas seemed to operate as crystallization of ideas about the ways of combining musical styles and features of the bygone Bani-s.

Mughal Shamsa, smallest


With the disintegration of the Mughal Empire, the political structure of North India fragmented into numbers of small states ruled by Nawabs and Maharajas. With that, the historical tradition of Music of India was rudely disrupted, as the Musicians denied of patronage had to move from Court to Court in search of a livelihood. And, the Musicians were forced to leave behind the theoretical aspects of their  Music, but to practice Music as a craft to please their new–found patrons.

Raja Aniruddh Sing

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

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

[ A noted musician Ustad Hameed khan explained that, ‘In order for a Gharānā to come into existence, the same style of musical esthetic ideology and collection of musical knowledge should be maintained by a family of musicians at least for three generations. The musical knowledge passed to members of the family and blood relatives under strict manners’. The necessary criteria to recognize a Gharānā is that, the musical knowledge should preserve and only transformed to family members. But it is also accepted that in such cases where the continuity of generations lacks, in that cases Gharānās were continued through the lineage of prime disciples who has complete knowledge particular Gharānā.

 Chapter iii.pdf – Shodhganga]

The Musicians who suffered most under the changed circumstances were the Dhrupad singers. All along their history they were sheltered by the patronage of Royal Courts.  And, their Classic Music of contemplative devotional nature was not favored by the new breed of Nawabs   who were looking for entertainment. And, Dhrupad, rigid and somber as it was, they said, surely was not entertainment. Dhrupad was hard put to survive in a Music world that was dominated by the attractive Khyal, Thumri, Tappa and such other popular styles. The Been and Pakhawaj which were closely associated with the Dhrupad also found it hard to secure patronage.

If Dhrupad as a class of pristine pure Music has survived to this day it is primarily due to the dedication, faith , steadfastness and sacrifices of certain families who selflessly dedicated their lives , generation after generation, in protecting , preserving and propagating the ancient Music they inherited from their ancestors in its pure and traditional form. We all owe these families a deep debt of gratitude.

The Classical Dhrupad is today represented by descendents of five major families, each preserving its stylistic music tradition. These have come to be known as the Gharanas of Dhrupad.

Daguar Gharana


The most well known among the Dhrupad traditions or Gharanas is the Daguar Gharana , which is said to have been initiated by the sixteenth century musician Nayak Haridasa Daguar.  And , it was preserved and continued since the eighteenth century by  a Pandeya Brahmin from Rajasthan,  who converted to Islam  under the influence of the Sufi Saints.  The Dhrupad of the Daguars’ is said to represent the Daguar Bani of the 16th century. Its performance is characterized by very restrained, contemplative Raga elaboration. It pays much attention to the purity of its music and voice production. The primary emphasis is on accurate, exhaustive and meditative exploration of Raga in  the Alap. The composition (Bandish) is often given a lesser amount of time. The overall ambiance of Daguars’ Dhrupad is contemplation, grandeur and a deep sense of devotion.

The singers of the Daguar Gharana are renowned for their high standard of voice culture and purity of vocal delivery. Their   presentation   is  governed by theoretical rules and norms.  Most of its singers are well acquainted with music-theories (Shastra).

In the modern times , the Dhrupad of Daguar Gharana is represented the four senior  exponents : Ustad Nasir Aminuddin Daguar of Calcutta, Ustad Rahim Fahimuddin Daguar of Delhi, Ustad Zia Fariduddin Daguar of Bhopal and Ustad Hussein Sayeeduddin Daguar of Pune.

Dharbhanga Gharana

The Dharbhanga Gharana is said to have been founded by two brothers Radhakrsna and Kartarama, Gauda Brahmins from Vraja, who later found patronage in the Court of Dharbhanga, in North Bihar.

Dharbhanga Gharana is said to have adopted the Gaurahara Bani as its basic style. But , it also combines in its tradition the  robust voice culture of Kandahar Vani and the swiftness of the Nauhar Bani.  The distinctive feature of the Dharbhanga Gharana is, therefore, powerful and expressive vocal delivery, combined with very lively, joyful style of performance, skilful Layakari improvisation. There is not much emphasis on restrained, meditative slow movements or on voice culture and such other technical aspects.

The senior musician of the Dharbhanga tradition is Pandit Vidur Mallik of Vrindaban who succeeded the legendry Pandit Ram Chatur Mallik (1906-1990).

Talvandi Gharana

Talvandi Gharana from North-West India is purely a Muslim tradition founded by Chanda Khan and Suraja Khan from Punjab; and, it appears, it is continued in Pakistan.

Since the Talvandi Gharana descended from Muslim tradition, the conventional designations of the various stages of the Alap elaboration and the names denoting Dhrupada performance are in Urdu terms. The entire performance is regarded as an offering to Allah. Yet, the repertoire includes some Hindu devotional songs along with the majority Muslim religious themes. In the Talvandi Gharana, there is full-length Raga Alap ;but  , the improvisation in the rendering of the pre-composed Bandish is rather restricted.

Its leading exponent is Ustad Hafiz Khan Talvandivale of Lahore.

Betiya Gharana

The Betiya Gharana of Dhrupad is from Eastern India ; and , it is associated with Royal Court of Betiya in Bihar.  It flourished mainly during the nineteenth century, after it was founded by Kathakas (story-tells or bards)   from Varanasi (Banaras). A Muslim teacher from Kapi, a disciple of Ustad Haidar Khan of Lucknow, is also associated with the Betiya Gharana.

The Betiya Gharana gathered strength in Eastern India because of its association with the Vishnupur Gharana, a tradition of Dhrupad and Khyal that emerged from the Court at Vishnupur in West Bengal. The Dhrupada of Betiya and Vishnupur Gharana influenced the devotional music that developed in Bengal during 19th century (e.g. Brahma-samgit).

Because of the congregational nature of its rendering, the emphasis of the Dhrupad of the Betiya Gharana is on the composition and the clarity in its presentation. The Alap is kept to a minimum, while the improvisation (Layakari, Bola-bamta) is hardly attempted.

Mathura Gharana

The Mathura Gharana originates from the Dhrupad music of the Vaishnava temples in the Vraja region. The originators of this branch of Dhrupad are said to be Chaturvedi Brahmins from Mathura who having been trained in the temple-music lore and tradition entered the mainstream of classical music.

The Mathura Gharana, similar to the Dharbhanga Gharana, focuses on the composition and on its presentation in powerful, vigorous manner. And, just as in Betiya Gharana, here too the Alap is very short. But, it allows for improvisation though in a limited, straightforward manner. Because of its primary association with temple-rituals, there is a strong emphasis on the clarity in the presentation of the text; the words take preference over musical features.


Over the centuries, the ancient Dhrupad as a musical genre and a structural model has inspired generations of traditions as a classic art -Music and also as a sublime devotional over pouring. If Dhrupad has survived its misfortunes and re-emerged as a form of chaste Music despite the encircling callousness and neglect verging on destitution, it is mainly because of three factors.  One; it is the intrinsic merit, power, the purity of form and intent of the pristine Dhrupad.  The other is commitment, dedication and sacrifice of generations of families that have protected preserved Dhrupad in its purity; and ensured its propagation as a living tradition. The parallel, Vaishnava temple – rituals have  also helped Dhrupad  to continue as a  strong tradition.

Rendering of Dhrupad


The musical objects in singing Dhrupad are the exposition and development of Raga;  the expressive rendering of the composed text with its  melody; and , the demonstration of the melodic sensitivity, rhythmic dexterity and the vocal technique of the singer.

Dhrupad is therefore normally performed by a soloist or by two singers who improvise alternately and combine in performance of the composed song. A solo melodic instrument (traditionally Veena, but now a Sarangi or harmonium may also accompany, in a subdued manner.

The essential accompaniment is the  Tanpura or Tambura which provides the Sruti drone throughout the performance. Then there is the Pakhawaj which plays a very significant role in performance

The rendering of Dhrupad which is bound by tradition follows a certain prescribed format in its  performince- sequence.

The broad pattern of Dhrupad performance consists two phases. The opening and the major phase is Alap which elaborately explores the chosen Raga in great detail, developing each note with purity and clarity and unfolding the Raga in slow, medium, and fast tempos. Alap usually occupies over two-thirds of the entire performance.  In the second phase, a Dhrupad composition is sung to the accompaniment of the Pakhawaj.

The Raga development begins in slow (Vilambit) contemplative elaboration of the Svaras (notes) of the Raga in meditative tones, leading to expansion in the medium (Madhyama) tempo and finally cascading in fast (Dhrut)  role of notes. The Alap is the soul and substance of a Dhrupad performance. Alap is performed in stages, with each stage developing the notes in progressively higher notes; but, it is difficult to demarcate the stages.

Ragalipita According to Sarangadeva


Sarangadeva  ( 13th century)  in  the Third Chapter (Prakirnaka Adhyaya)  of his Sangita Ratnakara  describes two forms of Raga elaborations: Ragalapti  which is Anibaddha –  unstructured , not bound either by meaningful words (pada)  or by Taala (time units) – free-flowing improvised development and exploration of the Raga (similar to Alap of the present-day) ; and , the other being, Rupakalapti  , which is Nibaddha , where melodic improvisation is done with the aid of the words of the song and the Taala ( similar to Bandish of Dhrupad).

Sangitaratnakara (3.189-196) gives the earliest known descriptions of the formal structure of Alap (Ragalapti). According to Sarangadeva, Ragalapti or Ragalapana is the demonstration of the Raga , with  emphasis on  the important notes and ornamentation  of the Raga.  And, it has to be developed in four stages. Then he goes on to provide the technical details of Ragalapti. Here,  some of the terms he employs  have either since  gone out of use  or have acquired different meanings or connotations.

He says, the Svara (note) on which the Raga is established is known as Sthayi (yatro-praveshyate ragah Svare). This note functions as the initial (Adi-Svara), sectional final (Apa-nyasa, note with which a section of the song ends –Vidari); and final (Nyasa)-  (SSR 3.191). 

[Here, the term Sthayi term should not be confused with modern Sthayi or the first section of the Dhrupad composition.]

Then he says, the fourth note from this (Sthayi) should be called Dvayardha. There should be a phrase (chalanam – movement) called the opening phase (mukha-chala) about a note lower than the fourth. This is the first section. (SSR.3. 192)

Having made the movement (chalanam) about the fourth (Dvayardha) ,  there should be an increase in tempo (gati)  . This is the second section. The eighth note from the Sthayi is called the Dvi-guna (octave) – (SSR.3.1.193).

The Svaras (notes) occurring between the fourth (Dvayardha) and the eighth (Dvi-guna) are called Ardha-sthita (intervening notes).  After having made movements (Chalanam) about the Ardha-sthita, there should be an increase in the tempo (gati). This is the third section. (SSR.3. 194)

Progressing further,  there should be an another increase in the tempo   . This is the fourth section. Thus, Ragalapti is held by the learned as having these four sections- (SSR.1.195).

Thus, the establishment of the Raga should be made by means of very gradual, clear, circuitous ornamentations (Gamaka or Sthaya) ; and should be pervaded by the vital notes (jivasvara) of the Raga- (SSR.1.196).

In the four sections of Ragalapti as described by Sarangadeva, the Raga development takes place through  Sthayi, i.e. from below the fourth (Dvayardha) , around the fourth in the Purvanga  and proceeds on to    Dvi-guna the eighth note in the Uttaranga.

It is clear from Sarangadeva’s descriptions that the gradual extension of the range from the region of Sthayi the initial note   to the eighth note (Dvi-guna) , in a number of stages , with increase in tempo at stage [ moving from the slow tempo (Vilambit)  of Sthayi  to the fast tempo (Druta)  of Dvi-guna] , was the most prominent feature of Ragalapti .

This was, perhaps, the format over which the Alap of the Dhrupad was developed in later times.

Present Practice

The Classical Dhrupad of the present times is usually rendered in three segments :Alap. nom-tom and Bandish (composition).



Alap is often the most extended part of the Dhrupad performance. Because, it is here that the performer enjoys full freedom to develop and improvise the various facets of the musical elements of the Raga. Alaap is developed in three stages, in three tempos (Laya) : Vilambit (slow) , Madhya (medium) and Drut (brisk) .

The Alap in Vilambit Laya (slow tempo) begins in contemplative, meditative elaboration of the notes (Svara) from the lower octave (Purvanga).

The basis of the North Indian Raga is the scale of five or more notes of which Shadja (Sa) is the Adhara Svara (ground note). The melodic expression of the Raga depends on it. Since the Alap is the exposition of the characteristics of the Raga, Shadja is sustained throughout the performance as a drone (together with the fourth or the fifth note). The singer begins each stage by first singing the note Shadja from the middle octave and then proceeds to establish the mood of the Raga by singing the various notes forming that particular Raga. Thus, the development of the Raga proceeds in several phrases each of which returns to the Shadja.  Therefore Shadja plays an important part in the structure of the Alap.

The absorbing resonant peaceful musical sounds suggest to the listener the essential nature of the Raga; and then gradually the complete picture is uncovered. The Alap is a free floating pure rendition of the Raga, not fettered by words or time-units. The performer, however, takes the aid of meaning-less musical sounding syllables (om, num, re, ri, na, ta, tom) as a prop to support his elaboration of the Raga and to lend it a personality.

The second stage of Alap would be in Madhya Laya (medium tempo) . Its melodic span and structure are similar to the Vilambit Alap.  The singer , here,  embarks  on the notes of the middle octave.  And, the melody will now acquire a faster tempo- Dugun (twice)

The third stage of Alap would be in Drut Laya (brisk tempo).

This is called the Drut  Alap. Its melodic structure can be similar to the Alap in medium tempo. but the melody is rendered to a distinct fast tempo-  Tigun (thrice) and Chaugun ( four times).; and it escalates into a crescendo as it nears the conclusion.

In the second and third stage the singer may not , however , use  the notes of the lower octave ,but keep to the middle and higher octaves. But,  this would depend on the nature of the Raga whether it is  Uttaranga or Purvanga  Pradhana   (oriented) Raga.

To sum up ; in the Dhrupad performance, the tempo changes a number of times. As said earlier; initially, the singer begins in slow tempo, which is then quickened as the performance progresses. This is done in stages. The initial tempo is called Thah-Laya; and it is increased in multiples.  That tempo, when it escalates   is known as Dugun (twice) , Tigun (thrice) and Chaugun ( four times). Sometimes this increase can also be in fractions such as ½ (Adi) or even 1/1-4 (Khud).

[ Please do read a scholarly article on the structure  and rendering of the Alap written by Acharya Dr Chintamani Rath .]

Nom tom

The Alap then slides into the more rhythmic nom-tom section, where the Raga develops with a steady pulse , employing meaningless syllables such as nom tom dir tana etc; but, without the binding of the Taala.

Nom tom of Dhrupad is derived from Tena, which is mentioned as one of the Six Angas (limbs or elements)  of Prabandha : Svara, Birudu, Pada, Tena, Paata, and Taala.

Tena or Tenaka was described as vocal syllables, meaningless and musical in sound with many repetitions of   the syllables or sounds like tenna-tena-tom, conveying a sense of auspiciousness (mangala-artha-prakashaka). It was sung after Ragalapti; but, before the main section of the Prabandha i.e. the Dhruva , which was set in meaningful words (pada) and meter (Chhandas) with appropriate Taala cycles. A similar practice of singing nom tom after rendering the Alap , but before the Bandish   came into vogue in Dhrupad.

In the instrumental music, Tena was meant to be played on the Veena in the Nanda type of songs of the Viprakirna class of Prabandha. It gained prominence as  Tana or Taanam (played soon after the latter part of the Alapana) in the Veena play of the Karnataka Sangita. The equivalent of Tena in Hindustani instrumental music (particularly Sitar) is the Jor.

The Jor in instrumental music and   the Nom tom of Dhrupad both have a simple pulse; but , with no well-defined rhythmic cycle.

The melodic outline of non tom usually echoes the rising and falling arches of the Alap although less attention is paid to development of individual notes. The individuality of nom tom rests mainly on style and vocal technique , rather on form.



Prabandha is defined by Matanga as a type of composition that is well structured (Prabhadyate iti Prabandhah).  The term Bandish is the re-formed name for Bandha of the Prabandha Music. Bandish in Dhrupad refers to a well structured composition where the words (Pada), music (Raga) and rhythm (Taala) are fixed (Dhruva or Sthayi) in relation to each other, with an even stress on all the three components.

The ancient Salaga Suda class of Prabandha compositions usually had four divisions or sections (Dhatu): Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva and Abhoga. And Antara was an additional optional section.

Udgraha is the commencing section of the song. Here the song is first grasped (udgrahyate), hence the name Udgraha; Dhruva is the main body of the song and that which is repeated. Dhruva is so called because it is rendered again and again (refrain); Melapaka is the bridge, the uniting link between the two Udgraha and Dhruva; and, Abhoga is the conclusion of the song. Abhoga gets its name because it completes (Abhoga) the Dhruva. Once the Abhoga has been sung, Dhruva should be repeated.

Since the Dhruva-Prabandha originated from the Salaga Suda class of Prabandha, the two have similar structure. The Dhruva-Prabandha was cyclic song with the formal structure of Udgraha, Dhruva and Abhoga and an additional section Antara, if needed. Here, Antara was in a high register; the first phase of Dhruva served as refrain, repeated at the end of the song and also at the end of the first and the second sections.  In all these aspects, the Dhruva Prabandha somewhat resembles the modern Dhrupad.

The Dhrupad (Dhruva-pada) which evolved from the Dhruva Prabandha of the Salaga Suda Prabandha split Abhoga, which was quite lengthy,   into two sub parts the Sanchari and the Abhoga. The opening Udgraha and Melapaka were combined into one section called as Sthayi. Thus, the present-day Dhrupad composition usually consists four sections (Dhatu): Sthayi, Antara, Sanchari and Abhoga.

Sarangadeva’s descriptions of Dhruva Prabandha illustrate the remarkable continuity in the musical form over a period of six to seven hundred years, a period during which many changes took place in North Indian Music.

The four Dhatus (sections) of a Dhrupad composition are, briefly:

: – Sthayi – The initial or the opening section of the composition; and, that which establishes the Raga in Madhya and Mandra octaves (Saptaka). Sthayi is often repeated during the performance.

: – Antara–follows immediately after the Sthayi and explores the Raga more extensively, especially accentuating the upper half of  the Madhyama ( middle octave) and in the upper half of  the octave (Uttaranga) , which is then repeated

: – Sanchari- Allows free movement to explore the Raga fully.

: – Abhoga – Gives a sense of completion to the elaboration ; and rounds off the development stage of the composition.


The percussion accompaniment, the Pakhawaj joins the performance at the commencement of the composition-rendering. Dhrupad compositions are usually set in Chautaal (12 beats cycle) generally performed in slow or medium tempo; those set to Sultaal (10 beats cycle) are performed at a lively  brisk tempo ; Tivrataal (7 beats cycle) ; Dhamar (14 beats cycle) or Aditaal (16 beats cycle). A composition in Dhamar Taal is called Dhamar; and the one set also set in Dhamar Taal, performed in medium tempo, describe the Krishna-Gopis enactment of Holi festival is known as Holi Dhamar. And, the composition set to Jhap Taal is known as Sadra


After going through the structured sequential rendering of the composition, the performer delves into series of variations and rhythmic improvisations. this section of the performance is marked by  a lively interplay between the vocalist and the Pakhawaj player, weaving out patterns of rhythmic improvisations. The playful rivalry  or lively dialogue (sawal –javab)  between the singer and the instrument player, one kindling and inspiring  the other to do one better, is a very entertaining part of the performance.

Improvisations are executed mainly through playing on the words of the text by breaking it up , but keeping intact  the group of words   so formed . This division of words  that synchronize  with the beats and cross rhythms is called Bol- Bant. In addition, melodic ornamentations, such as meend and Gamaka are also employed for improvisation and adornment .

Both non tom and Bamt have counterparts in Karnataka Sangita. Nom tom which is derived from the jor and Jhala style of plucked string instruments and from the use of meaningless nom-tom syllables, is analogous to Tanam , a delightful  idiom of the Veena  which features prominently in the performance of the Ragam-tanam-pallavi and in the instrumental  (veena  in particular) rendering of Kriti ( but not often in vocal music).

The strict diminution of Laya-bamt has its counterpart in the South Indian Anuloma which may also involve augmentation. The Neraval technique, in which the melody is varied while the rhythm and words of the song remain intact, perhaps bears some resemblance to Bol-bamt of Dhrupad.

The sonorous Pakhawaj contributes brilliantly to the final effect. But, all variations and improvisations must end and come together at the Mukhda, the initial melodic phase ends on the sum.

The Dhrupad concert concludes with auspicious sonorous long drawn out Hari Omkara in a prayerful mood of submission and fulfillment.



Generally, the Classic Dhrupad is distinguished by strict adherence to a performing sequence.

[But in the present times the formats are adopted depending on the performance – duration, class of audience and for other reasons. Following are some of the format options:

(a) A 3-tier Alap, followed by a Chautala composition.

(b) A 3-tier Alap, followed by a Chautala composition, and then by a Dhamara composition in the same Raga.

(c) A 3-tier, or even a single-tier (Tier 1) Alap, followed by a Dhamara composition.

(d) A 3-tier or a single-tier (Tier 1) Alap, followed by a Dhamar composition, and then by a Sula Taal composition in the same Raga.

(e) A 3-tier Alap, followed by a Chautala composition, and then a Sula Taal composition in the same Raga. ]

Shamsa with name of Shah Jahan, Mughal, 17th c, India

Gharanas of Instrumental Music

The instrumental music of Sarod, Sitar and Surbahar developed their own system of Gharanas. And, almost all of them flowed from the line of Tansen, his sons and daughter. The more well known of such instrumental-music Gharanas were :

(i)  Gulam Ali Sarod Gharānā founded by Gulam Ali (1775?-1850) – disciple of Pyar Khan of Tansen’s son line;

(ii)  Jaipur sitar Gharānā of  Amrit  Sen (1813-1893) , great grandson of Masid Khan of Tansen’s son line;

(iii)  Indore Beenkār Gharānā of  Bande Ali Khan (1826-1890)  , disciple of Nirmal Shah of Tansen’s daughter line;

(iv)  Vishnupur Gharānā of Gadhadar Chakravarti (18-19th century ),  disciple of Bahadur Khan of Tansen’s son line;

(v)  Imdadkhani sitar, surbahār Gharana of  Imdad Khan (1848-1920) , disciple of Amrit Sen of Tansen’s son line;

and (vi) the  Senia Maihar Gharānā of Ustad  Allauddin Khan(1881-1972), disciple of Wazir Khan of Tansen’s daughter’s line (Chapter iii.pdf – Shodhganga)

However during the later times ( say from late 19th  century) the separating walls have melted down.   The playing of each instrument searched for and adopted the best possible techniques suited to that instrument. And, across instruments each has influenced other instruments.  Senia musicians, in particular, spread all over India encouraged inter-mingled experiments with other musicians- Indian and Western. They were more open to various aspects of rendering music as well as new musical instruments and their performance methods.



I cannot resist talking about Beenkars despite the length of this post. Let me put it briefly.

Though Dhrupad is basically a vocal tradition, many musical instruments, particularly the Veena, are closely associated with its music. The Rudra Veena players, generally called as Beenkar Kalawant, made the Dhrupad way of rendering as completely their own style of playing. They took up to elaborate expansion of Raga – Alap- in slow, resonant, long drawn out pure (Shuddha) notes in a grand manner. The Jor – Jhala on Been was developed wonderfully well with improvised and exhilarating rhythmic patterns. The rendering of the structured composition was systematically executed with enterprising variations to synch with contrasting Taala-s to the accompaniment of Pakhawaj.

The Been was associated with the Gwalior singers who came to Akbar’s court. Tansen (1520-1589), the most celebrated of them all, was initially in the service of Raja Man Sing Tomar of Gwalior.  Along with the Dhrupad-singing, Tansen had learnt to play on Veena from his Guru Swami Haridas of Vrindaban. Dhrupad was said to be at its peak while Tansen was in the Court of Akbar. It is said; the Dhrupad performers of those times sang as they played on the Veena.

It is said; Tansen’s daughter Saraswathi became a leading player of the Veena, which was her father’s favourite instrument.  Her husband, Prince Misri Singh of Rajasthan, a pupil of Swami Haridas, was also an eminent Veena player.

Their descendants were Beenkars as well as Dhrupadiyas. And, they carried forward and developed the traditions of instrumental music (particularly of Veena and Sitar) as well as Dhrupad singing. They came to be known as Seniya Beenkars; and, established what is now known as Seni Beenkar Gharana, the most important musical family in North Indian Classical Music.

The descendents of Bilas Khan (Tansen’s son) were Rababiyas (players of Rabab) and also Dhrupadiyas. The Sarod tradition originated from the Rababiyas.

These two branches, together, constitute the Seni Gharana. All their members are Beenkars (Veena Player) and Dhrupadiyas.

Apart from Seniyas and their disciples, there were other streams of the Been tradition in different courts of North India. The prominent among them were the Courts at Lucknow, Gwalior and Jaipur. But, all that ended abruptly in 1856 when the British deposed the princely rulers and annexed their states. By the end of the 19th century, Rampur was the only state that supported Musicians; and, was considered – the most important seat of Hindustani classical music.

Miyan Himmat Khan kalāwant, chief hereditary musician to the last of the Mughal emperors Akbar Shah and Bahadur Shah Zafar

 Miyan Himmat Khan kalāwant (d.c.1845), chief hereditary musician to the last Mughal emperors Akbar Shah (r. 1806–37) and Bahadur Shah Zafar (r. 1837–58).


[Been and Rabāb , playing Dhrupad music, were the prime instruments in Indian music about two centuries after Tansen ; and that lasted  until 18 century,. But with the change s in the socio-cultural scenery, Been and Rabab which were based in serious and difficult Dhrupad music lost their   position to Sitar and Sarod which were amenable to experimentation.

Sarod seems to have appeared in mid-eighteenth century, which is later than Sitar. But, it quickly it acquired the place of the traditional Rabāb which had many limitations for performing khayāl based music.]

With the loss of patronage, change in life-styles and tastes in music, the Beenkars and their art lost their relevance. Been was considered cumbersome, and its music ‘old-fashioned and unattractive’. Its Music had no ‘demand’. The agony was exacerbated with the Beenkars, coming from traditional background, were hopelessly ill-equipped to adapt to the strange new world outside of the Royal Courts.

In modern times, only a few of the most dedicated Beenkars have been able to survive and preserve their traditions.

Given the long and rigorous training required to gain mastery over the instrument; and, bleak prospects   of making a living as a Dhrupad singer or Beenkar, few would venture to take a leap into the unknown.

Even though there has been a revival of sorts in listening to Dhrupad and Dhammars over the past few years, the appreciation for this music remains rather tepid. Many therefore feel the future of the Been does not seem particularly bright, unless a Chamatkar occurs.

[For more on Beenkars , please check Peter Weismiller’s very informative article at: ]


References and Sources

  1. Singing the praises of the Divine by Selina Thielemann
  2. Music and Tradition: Essays on Asian and Other Musicsby D. R. Widdess, R. F. Wolpert
  3. Tradition of Hindustani Music by Manorma Sharma
  4. Social Mobilisation And Modern Society by Jayanti Barua
  5. Music Contexts: A Concise Dictionary of Hindustani Musicby Ashok Damodar Ranade
  6. Sagītaśiromai: A Medieval Handbook of Indian Musicedited by Emmie Te Nijenhuis
  7. Sangitaratnakara :Vol IVol II ; Vol III and Vol IV
  8. Sangitaratnakara : Sanskrit text of the Nartana-adhyaya

Posted by on June 21, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Twenty-one

Continued from Part Twenty – Lakshana Granthas – Sri Subbarama Dikshitar and Sangita –Sampradaya-Pradarshini

Part Twenty one (of 22) – Dhrupad – Part One

 A Musical Anthology of the Orient - India IV - front

Prabandha to Dhruva-pada

As discussed elsewhere in the series, 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).

Natyashastra explains: one that is governed by Chhandas and Taala signifies Nibaddha. And similarly, the absence of these is Anibaddha (NS. 32.28-38).

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. He clarifies Anibaddha as Aalapi which is free from such structures, which is not bound or which lacks rules (bandha-hinatva) – Alapir bandha-hinatvad Anibaddham itirita (Sangitaratnakara: 4.5).

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, none 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)

Sarangadeva says that Nibaddha has three names: Prabandha, Vastu and Rupaka.

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.

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 Prabandha-s are indeed countless; and ‘their complexities are beyond the understanding of weaker minds’.

Prabandha received a detailed treatment in the fourth Chapter Prabandha-adhyaya of Sarangadeva’s Samgita-Ratnakara. 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.

Prabandha was the dominant song-form for about thousand years or a little more till about the 17-18th century.

Parshvadeva (Ca.10-11th century), a Jain-musicologist- Acharya, in his Sangita-samaya-sara divided the Prabandha into three classes: Suda, Alikrama and Viprakirna. And, later in the 13th century, Sarangadeva split the Suda into Shuddha Suda and Chayalaga (the Apabhramsa or colloquial form of Chayalaga is Salaga Suda). With this, the major types of Prabandha were counted as four: Shuddha Suda, Salaga Suda, Alikrama and Viprakirna.

Among these, the Shuddha Suda was considered pure but rather rigid.  It had to contain by six Anga-s or limbs   (Svara, Birudu, Pada, Tena, Paata and, Taala) and four sections, Dhatu-s (Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva and Abhoga).

In contrast, Salaga Suda set to Desi Ragas (Desi-ragadi-samabandat Salagatvam api smrtam) was a more popular form of Prabandha. It was simpler in structure. It belonged to Taravali Jaati (class) of Prabandha and needed only two Angas  : Pada and Taala. It also had only three Dhatus:  Udgraha, Dhruva and Abhoga (but not Melapaka), and an Antara if needed. Hence, the Salaga Suda came to be known as Tri-dhatuka Prabandha; and, was considered pseudo-classical. Yet, the Salaga Suda ranks high among the ancient type of refined songs.


Before we go further, let’s get familiar with the constituents of the Anga and Dhatu.

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


Dhatus are the sections (divisions) of a song. Four Dhatus are described.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once the Abogha has been sung, Dhruva should be repeated (refrain).

[Note: Here, If there is no Antara, Dhruva is followed by the Abogha, sung once. This is followed by the Dhruva on which the song rests.

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

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

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

Of these seven varieties of the Salaga Suda compositions, the Dhruva type was the prominent one.  And, the Dhruva was different from the others in its construction.




Some explanation on the term Dhruva:

Dhruva, in the context of Natyashastra, initially meant stage-songs, which formed an important ingredient of the play. And, Natyashastra says:  without songs the Drama is incapable of providing joy (NS. 32. 282). Therefore, much importance was assigned to Dhruva Gana. Natyashastra devotes one entire and a lengthy chapter (Chapter 32) for discussing the Dhruva songs.It is said; these were called Dhruva-s because they are steadfast (Dhruva) in the principles of Pada (words), Varna (syllables) and Chhandas (meter); and, are all regularly (Dhruvam) connected with one another. Dhruva is explained as Nityatva and Nischalatva having a character of stability.

Abhinavagupta explains that the type of these songs was called Dhruva ( = standpoint ; locus of reference)  because in it, the Vakya (sentence), Varna (syllables) ,  Alamkara ( grace notes),Yatis ( succession of rhythm patterns) , Panyah ( use or non-use of drums) and Laya ( beats) were  harmoniously fixed ( Dhruva) in relation to each other (anyonya sambandha) .

Vakya –Varna–Alamkara yatyaha -panayo-layah I   Dhruvam-anyonya sambandha yasmath smada Dhruva smrutah II

He further says, the composition (pada samuha) structured as per a rule (niyatah) and that which supports (adhara) singing could be called Dhruva (Dhruvah- Gitya-adhara niyatah pada –samuha).

At another place, Abhinavagupta explains Dhruva as the basis or the support (adhara) on which the song rests. Abhinavagupta soya: just as the painting is supported by wall, the Dhruva song is supported by Pada (word). And, Pada in turn is supported by, the Chhandas (meter) – (Abhinavagupta: NS.32.8).

Thus, in the Dhruva Gana the words of the song are regulated by Chhandas. And, the words are then set to appropriate tunes and Taala-s.

Abhinavagupta explains that the Dhruva songs help to enhance the artistic sense of the important themes that occur in various situations in a play.


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

Another instance cited in Srimad Bhagavata Purana (Chapter 33 of the Tenth Book) mentions of Gopis of the Vraja singing in chorus, but in a way that ‘the notes did not harmonize’. Yet Krishna showed his appreciation. And, when another Gopi sang the melody measured to a beat (Dhruva) Krishna was much pleased (Tad eva Dhruvam unninye tasyai maanam ca bahvadat– SBP.10.33.10). This reference is taken to mean that Gopi sang a melody set (Dhruva) to Chhandas. ]


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

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

For instance; the Dhrupad (Dhruva-pada) of the Hindustani Sangita Paddathi, which insists on maintaining purity of the Ragas and the Svaras, evolved from Salaga Suda Prabandha, which had four Dhatus namely Udgraha, Dhruva, and Abhoga; and an Antara (optional). [Here, Udgraha and Melapaka ( of Shuddha Suda) were combined into one division called the Sthayi.]

Of the three Dhatus that resulted (Sthayi, Dhruva and Abhoga), the Abhoga, being very long was split into two sub parts the Sanchari and the Abhoga. The Dhruva was also dropped. Thus the modern Dhrupad, rooted in Prabandha, has four divisions: Sthayi, Antara,  Sanchari and Abhoga. And the entire song was named Dhruva-Pada (Dhrupad).

Dhrupad retained the essential nature of the Prabandha tradition of deep introspection in elaboration of the Raga and in expanding the rhythmic patterns. To put it simply, the essential nature of Dhrupad is its somber atmosphere and emphasis on rhythm.  Accordingly, the Dhrupad has continued to maintain the distinctions of Anibaddha (un-structured) and Nibaddha (structured) Gana through its Aalap and Bandish sections.

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

Thus, Dhrupad, which is derived from Salaga Suda class of Prabandha, has a long and a distinguished history. And, it is among the most ancient forms of Music that are in practice.


Dhrupad in Royal Courts

Though Prabandha has been in existence even prior to 5th century AD, it seems to have come into prominence in North India during the fifteenth century. Legendry figures such as Swami Haridas, his Guru, Vyasa Das, and Nayak Baiju, popularly known as Baiju Bawra are considered its main exponents. The pupil of Swami Haridas, Tansen emerged as the most famous performer of his times.  Tansen (born at Behat, Gwalior,  in 1493 or 1506 as Ramtanu Pandey – died in 1586 or 1589 as Tansen) gained  renown as the chief musician of Akbar’s court . During those times, Dhrupad was the principal type of Music in the Mughal Courts.

But, the initial driving force behind the preservation and consolidation of Dhrupad Gayan indeed came from Raja Man Singh Tomar of Gwalior (1486-1516). He rejuvenated the ancient form of Dhrupad and brought it into the main stream of Music by replacing traditional Sanskrit verses by songs in the language of  his region (Madhya-Desha). The language of the Madhya-Desha (Madhya-deshiya-bhasha) which was later termed as Braj Bhasha developed into the main the language of Dhrupad songs.  Tansen was initially in the Court of Gwalior, before he migrated to the Mughal Court of Akbar. It was mainly the support and patronage lent by Raja Man Singh that gained a pride of place to this genre of Music.

Raja_Man_Singh (1)

Raja Man Singh, a generous patron of the arts, is also credited with composing three volumes of songs: (i) Vishnu-pada (songs in praise of lord Vishnu), (ii) Dhruva-pada, and (iii) Hori and Dhamar songs associated with the color festival of Holi. He is also said to have caused the compilation of a comprehensive treatise on music in Hindi, Man-kutuhal.  Later, Fakir Allah is said to have translated it into Persian during the time of Aurangzeb. Man-kutuhal was the basis of the Raga-mala concept. Some of its songs are included at the end of the Adi Granth Sahib, the 1604 revision of the Holy Guru Granth Sahib.

During the Mughal period, and especially under Akbar’s reign, the traditional devotional music took a back seat; and Darbar Sangeet (Court Music) came into limelight. Abul Fazl (1551- 1602 AD) a courtier in Akbar’s Court mentions that there were numerous musicians in the court, Hindus, Iranians, Kashmiris and Turks; both men and women.  With that, the fusion of the Persian and Indian music gained encouragement.  It is said; at the initiative of Tansen the Rabab (a plucked instrument from Central Asia) was fused with the traditional Indian stringed instrument, Veena to create Sarod which does not have frets ; and, the  sounds of which are  very close to the vocal style .

Abul Fazl reports that nineteen singers were divided into seven groups; each for day of the week.  There were also instrumental players. And the entire team headed by Tansen.

Tansen_of_Gwalior._(11.8x6.7cm)_Mughal._1585-90._National_Museum,_New_Delhi. (1)

And, Tansen apart from being a great singer was a well accomplished musicologist (Lakshanika) and a composer. He is credited with Music texts such as Sangeeta Sara, Ragamala;  as also Shri Ganesha Stotra , and many Dohas (couplets) outlining the Lakshana (characteristics) of several Ragas. According to some scholars, Tansen is said to have reduced about 4000 Ragas and Raginis of his time into a system of 400. He is also said to have reduced the number of Taalas to 12. Many well-known and popular Ragas with the prefix Mian or Mian ki   owe their origin to Tansen.  Just to name a few :  Miyan Malhar, Miyan ki Todi, Mian ki Mand, Mian ka Sarang etc. in addition he is said to have created  major Ragas like , Darbari-Kanada, Darbari-Todi, and Rageshwari. 

Tansen’s School of Music, Senia later branched into two: one under his elder son Bilas Khan who headed the Rabab-players; and the other, under his second son Suratsen who headed the Sitar-players. His daughter Saraswathi and her husband Misri Singh are said to have initiated the tradition of Beenkars.

[ Katherine Butler Schofield , professor of Music in King’s Collage, London, briefly talks about the great seventeenth-century savant of Indian music – Khushhal Khan Kalāwant ‘Gunasamudra’, the ‘Ocean of Virtue’.  Khushhal Khan was the Great-grandson of the most famous Indian musician of them all, Tansen. He was one of the most feted Mughal court musicians of his time, as a virtuoso classical singer of exceptional merit; and, as one who wrote extensively on music. He was also the chief musician to the Mughal emperors Shah Jahan (r. 1627–58) and Aurangzeb (r. 1658–1707).

Mughal nobleman Inayat Khan ‘Rasikh’ (1753 in his biographical dictionary (takira) of Hindustani musicians—the Risāla-i ikr-i Mughanniyāni Hindustani Bihisht-nishīn, writes briefly about Khushhal Khan.

wedding procession of Dara Shikoh

In the portrait of the wedding procession of Dara Shukoh (1633), Katherine Butler Schofield identifies the person dressed in pink/red and singing with other renowned court musicians, as Khushhal Khan.]

Texts and traditions


One of the earlier texts of the Dhrupad tradition is Anupa Sangita-ratnakara written in Sanskrit by Bhavabhatta, a musician-scholar in the court of Raja Anup Singh of Bikaner. It deals with various aspects of Dhrupad Music; the language, melodic structure, Raga improvisation, Taala, the intent and ethos of Dhrupad singing etc. Three other similar works credited to Bhavabhatta are Anupa Sangita Vilasa, Dhruva-pada Tilaka and Anupankusha (Bhava-manjari). The latter work refers to Dhrupad songs related to Dance.

[ please also click here for  a note ( below Para 2.5) on translations of music texts into Persian and other Indian languages , undertaken during Mughal period. ]

There is of course a large collection of Dhrupad songs (Pada-sangrah and Padavali)  in the Braj Bhasha most of which are devotional songs as also songs related  to Krishna and Gopis . In addition there were Dhrupad songs compiled by various Court musicians during the 16-17th centuries.  Among these were, the Hazar Dhrupad or Sahasra a compilation of 1004 Dhrupad songs by Nayak Bakshu at the instance of Shah Jahan (mid 17th century); and, an anthology titled Kitab-i-Nauras attributed to Ibrahim Adil Shah are notable.

Another type of collection of Dhrupad songs relates to the devotional songs of the Vaishnavas in and around Mathura and Brindavan region.  These are the Dhrupad songs in the Vaishnava temples both in performance of congregational worship (Samaja-Gayana) and as solo songs (Haveli Dhrupada) accompanying the daily worship. The temple songs have to follow a strict regimen (there is not much freedom as is allowed in classical Dhrupad). For instance: the early morning song for awakening the deity (Suprabatha) has to be in Raga Bhairava; the forenoon songs have to be in Bhilaval, Ramkali etc  ; during the mid-day offering of the Rajabhoga , Dhrupad songs in Todi, Sarang and Dhanasri are to be sung; in the afternoon when the deity wakes up from  siesta (Uttapana)  songs  are to be in Puriya or Purvi; the evening songs are to be in Hamira and Yaman; and , at the conclusion of the day’s worship sequences the deity is put to sleep after Sayana-Arati with a song in Raga Bihag.


There are also large numbers of seasonal songs, religious dramas of the Vraja region on themes related to Krishna’s childhood games, Rasalila group-dance songs, Holi color festival (Hori-Dhamar) etc. There are also Dhrupad songs related to the life-events of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (Chaitanya-Lila).

[Apart from the Haveli Sangeet , the music associated with the Radha-Vallabha Sampradaya (a Vaishnava tradition devoted to Sri Krishna , founded in the sixteenth century by Sri Hita Harivamsa of Vrindavan) , the Samaja Gayan is said to be the most significant form of  devotional music based in Drupad and Dhamar . It is an attractive , inter active choral music that demands long years of study and practice. The Samaja Gayan is rendered in Ragas , appropriate for the season and for the hour of the day , set to attractive Talas. The compositions of the Samaj Gayan are , usually, sung in call-and-response (sawal-javab) style, to the accompaniment of musical instruments, such as : harmonium, Pakhawaj and cymbals. The Samaja Gayan is special to the Braj area.]


The difference between the art music of Classical Dhrupad and the Dhrupad-Dhamar tradition of the Vaishnava temple appears to be that: the former was performed mainly for entertainment within the ambiance of the Royal Court under the patronage of a Ruler, with the devotional content of the traditional Dhrupad mostly taken out. And, when the Royalty and its patronage vanished the performers were left adrift, rootless seeking a livelihood elsewhere. And therefore, Dhrupad did suffer, particularly after the advent of the more popular Khyal.  Whereas in the case of the temple oriented Dhrupad, it has been continuing, without a break, as a matter of tradition with religious flavor.

That does not mean the two forms are disconnected. There is a living interaction between the two classes of performers. And, the descendents of the Court Musicians such the Dagar and the Mallik families as also those coming from the Haveli Samgit tradition of the temples are  both responsible for the survival of the Dhrupad traditions, even during these times.


Continued in Part Two

References and Sources

  1. Singing the praises of the Divine by Selina Thielemann
  2. Music and Tradition: Essays on Asian and Other Musicsby D. R. Widdess, R. F. Wolpert
  3. Tradition of Hindustani Music by Manorma Sharma
  4. Social Mobilisation And Modern Society by Jayanti Barua
  5. Music Contexts: A Concise Dictionary of Hindustani Musicby Ashok Damodar Ranade
  6. Sagītaśiromai: A Medieval Handbook of Indian Musicedited by Emmie Te Nijenhuis
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Posted by on June 21, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part sixteen

Continued from Part Fifteen – Lakshana Granthas– Continued

Part Sixteen (of 22 ) – Lakshana Granthas – Continued

8. Sangita-ratnakara by Sarangadeva


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

In general, Sarangadeva follows Abhinavagupta very closely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



9. Swaramelakalanidhi of Ramamatya (1550AD)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


 veena (1)


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

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

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

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



Posted by on June 5, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Twelve

Continued from Part Eleven –Prabandha

Part Twelve (of 22 ) – Desi Samgita  

Marga – Desi

1.1. The term Desi, very often, is used along with or in contrast to another term Marga. Both these terms -Marga and Desi- refer to traditional systems of Music of India.

Marga or Margi or Gandharva is the ancient class of Music that precedes the time of Natyashastra (say, before second century BCE). Marga (the path or the tradition) signifies something that which is chaste and classical. And, Shiva himself is said to have taught this Marga Music, on his Veena, in his Sri Dakshinamurthy form, to the sages sitting around him.

The early Marga songs were in praise of Shiva (Shiva-stuti). And, during the times of Natyashastra, Marga songs were traditionally sung for offering worship to gods, in the preliminaries (purvanga), that is, before the commencement of the play proper. Bharatha explains Marga or Gandharva as the Music dear to gods (atyartham iṣṭa devānā), giving great pleasure to Gandharvas; and, therefore it is called Gandharva.

(atyartham iṣṭa devānā tathā prīti-kara puna | gandharvāā ca yasmād dhi tasmād gāndharvam ucyate || (NS Ch. 28, 9).

Marga Music was both sacred and well regulated (Niyata).And, by its very nature; Marga was rather somber and not quite flexible.

1.2. While Marga was the sacred Music devoted to please the gods by submitting gentle appeals, Desi was the art-Music that set out to hold a charming appeal to human beings. It was said; Desi is that which delights the hearts of humans (hrudaya-ranjaka), enchants common folks, cowherds, women, children and nobility alike; and, reflects the range of emotions and tunes springing from different regions. In other words, it was meant for ‘pleasing the hearts of the people’; its nature varied from Desha to Desha – region to region. It was basically the Music of the regions (Desha = region).

Deshe-Deshe jananam yadruchya hrudaya-ranjakam I Gitam ca vadanam nruttam tad Desi  ethyabiyate  II

Abala-bala-gopalaihi kshitipali nirjecchaya I Giyate sanuragena svadeshe Desir ucchate  II

[Sangita-ratnakara of Sarangadeva ;  Chapter One  about Svara  ; Verses 23 and 24 ;  pages 14/ 15 – edited by Pandit Subrahmanya Sastri]

[ The verse Abala bala – appears at: Brihaddeshi – First Chapter) (Desha-utpatti prakaranam) – Verse 13]

Desi the music of the land was rooted in the music of the regions, capturing the unique flavors of the regions and sub-regions; and, giving expression to the moods, joys and sorrows of common people. The term Desi encompassed all forms of created songs (Gita); and even the art forms of instruments (vadya) and dance (Nŗtta).

Nana videshu deshshu jantunam sukhado bhavet Tat pratibhuti likanam narendranamydruchayat Desha desha pravratsau dwanirdeshiti sanjjnatah

As compared to Margi, Desi was relatively free, less rigid and improvised music of the countryside.

1.3. But, it would not be correct to equate Desi with folk (jaana-pada) and tribal songs.

Desi music was in strict conformity with the lakshana-s (theoretical principles) and the lakshya (practices in vogue) of the then established classical or well regulated (Niyata) Music of its times.  Desi Music was perhaps more relaxed in its approach; and its form opted for a lesser regimen of the Grammar.

Chatura Kallinatha (15th century) in his Kalanidhi, a commentary on Sangita-ratnakara, states that of the ten older types of Grama-Ragas, the Raganga, Bhashanga, Kriyanga and Upanga were regarded as Desi Ragas. He remarks that in these Desi Ragas though some liberty was taken, the rules of the Marga-Ragas were not totally disregarded.

1.4. Matanga also says that Desi is modeled after the Marga; and both allow scope for structured (Nibaddha) and un-structured (Anibaddha – like Aalapi) Music. He says, Ragas are classified according to the number of notes composing them; such as odava (pentatonic) using five notes; shadava  (hextatonic) using six notes; and, sampurna (heptatonic) using all the seven notes.No classical melody (marga) can be composed from less than five notes.

According to Matanga, no  Marga or Desi Raga can be composed of four Svaras (notes) or less. He remarks: those with less than five Svaras are used by tribes such as Savara, Pulinda, Kambhoja, Vanga, Kirata, Valheeka, Andhra, Dravida and forest dwellers. 

The exception being a class of stage songs called dhruvas, which though regarded as classical melodies, are found to be composed of four notes.

Catuh-svarat prabhrti na margah svara-pulinda-kamboja-vanga-kirata-vahlika-andhra-dravtda-vanadisu prayu;yatel /Tathacaha Bharatah:-‘shat-svarasya prayogo’sti tatha panca-svarasyaca  catuh-svara-proyage’pi hyavakrista-dhruvasvapi” //

[Thus, Raga is technically penta-tonic. And, usually there is an upper limit of seven notes. But in Hindustani Music, Ragas with nine Svaras are common; and a few mixed Ragas have even twelve Svaras (say, Basant Bahar).]

Obviously, Desi was conceived as a chaste classical music, well regulated but not too rigidly. It was the art-music of the land. It was different from the tribal or folk music of the rural mass. Sarangadeva did not also equate Desi with folk music or Loka or Jaanapada sangeet.

Similarities and differences

2.1. Just as there are similarities between Marga and Desi, there are also differences. To put these in a summary form:

2.2. Marga was the classical phase of the ancient Indian music. It was basically a sacred class of music; and in theatre it was sung to offer prayers to gods during the purvanga the preliminaries before the commencement of the play per se. It was somber and also not flexible. Marga was the icon of the Higher tradition. Its songs were composed in chaste Sanskrit following the rules of Chhandas (metre) Vyakarana (Grammar).  Its music was based in the Jaati-s (melodies) and in Shadja and Madhyama Grama-s (groups of melodies).

2.3. Desi was the art-music of the regions. It represented the flowering of the Prakrit (other than Sanskrit) phase that began to flourish by around 4th century. Songs of Desi Sangita were in Sanskrit as also in Prakrit and other vernacular languages.  They were modeled upon incidental music of the early theatre. Desi music was free flowing, vigorous and attractive; appealing to ones heart (hrdaya-ranjaka); as also providing scope for improvisation.  Its melodic portfolio could be expanded to include all other types of melodies and Ragas.

2.4. One could say that the distinction of the two – Marga and Desi- is largely historical. The transmission from Marga to Desi was a progression from a regimented few towards a spectrum of wide choices. With the growth in art and art forms many styles of music sprang up in diverse regional traditions. The ways of musical expressions also diversified and grew in abundance. For instance; eighteen Jaati-s, two Grama-s and seven Grama Ragas expanded into more than 250 Ragas by the medieval times. Alongside, the varieties of rhythmic patterns, time-units and the entire system of Taala also grew very appreciably. Thus, the advent of Desi and its rapid development greatly enlarged the boundaries of ancient musical structure; opened up new horizons; and, altered and brightened the future course of Indian Music.

2.5. The classification of the Music of India into two strata – Marga Samgita and Desi Sangita – dates back to at least to the eighth or to the ninth century, mainly through the treatise Brhad-Desi by Matanga.

[I wonder whether Marga and Desi are shifting or dynamic concepts. They are not fixed. What was Desi of ancient times could as well be called Margi of the present day. Let me explain. The Karnataka Sangita as it is practiced and performed today honors the theoretical principles, rules, disciplines and the hoary traditions. It is contemplative and devotional in its nature. The chaste and pure classical music of today has taken the place of Marga. The other popular form of music – sugam-sangget, loka-sangeet and film-sangeet etc – that quickly attracts with its catchy tunes and beats is the Desi of today. This is just a muse. ]


[Classical and folk music

3.1. Before we get back to Matanga, let’s digress for a short while, and talk about classical and folk music.

(i). In all literal art forms, two conventions (dharmi) or two streams of expressions are recognized; one is the Loka-dharmi and the other is the Kavya-dharmi.  Similar conventions or forms exist in, music, dance or art. Loka-dharmi in poetry stands for a localized or an individual’s expressions of her/his experience or emotions. Kavya–dharmi is when an individual’s emotions are turned into a song or into a poem; and it is enjoyed by all as a beautiful piece of poetry. Here, an individual’s intimate emotions are shared by all as a work of art, independent of the poet’s localized circumstances that caused the poem. The poem that is enjoyed by its listeners/readers is far removed from its original Desha (location), Kaala (circumstances) and Karana (the cause that triggered the emotion). The emotional content (let’s say, love)  in the poem is no longer limited to poet’s or to one particular person’s experience , but is  generalized and shared by all as the idiom of expression of the entire gamut of  that emotion (love).

In the present context, perhaps, one could (roughly) equate the folk music with Loka-dharmi and the Classical music with Kavya–dharmi.

(ii). The folk music is essentially the outpouring of the elementary, subjective human emotions. It generally is about purely personal emotions limited to an individual. It is spontaneous; and its purpose is to fulfill an immediate need to give forth to an emotional experience that is tied to a specific incident in one’s life or to an occasion, time, and place. In other words, folk music is immediately relevant for the emotions of only a small group, a community with a shared background and emotional state.

Folk music is spontaneous and does not require training in a developed musical system.

Folk music is certainly significant and pleasing; and is a powerful emotive language of a people. It is the medium through which shared feelings are communicated and experienced by the community.  But, it is the innocent expression of basic, natural feelings, limited to the context of a particular time and situation. And, it is rather undeveloped or underdeveloped; is without structure, grammar or classifications; and does not require training in creating a song-form.

In comparison; Classical music is not the simple expression and an instant gratification of a basic human emotion. It is a highly developed and complex art form ; and its creation is involved not merely with musical genius of the composer , but also with the intellectual processes and sensitivities that determine the quality of the creation in terms of musical contents of melody , rhythm;  the structure and the Grammar  of the composition;  and its appeal.

Here, the personal impressions or feeling of the composer are sublimated into a classical form that goes beyond subjective self. The composer’s or the performer’s individual identity is left behind. The created music is universal and is for all, instead of being limited to a specific individual’s personal feelings or to an occasion.

Thus, both the folk and the classical are genuinely powerful and qualitatively rich in aesthetic value. They both aim to interact with human minds and hearts, each in its own way. One is elementary, subjective and localized; and, the other is developed, objective with its own sensitivities and is almost universal. The difference appears to be in the purpose of their creation, which defines their context and relation with the rest of mankind.

For a detailed discussion, please check:  ]





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

4.2. Matanga’s fame rests mainly on his outstanding treatise Brhaddeshi. It carries forward the tradition of Natyashastra and Dattilam; and at the same time it establishes the Desi Sangita on a firm pedestal. Brhaddeshi bridges the Marga and the Desi class of Music; and also provides the basis for the emergence of the Mela system of classifying the Ragas.   One could say, Brhaddeshi gave a new birth to Indian Music; and, revitalized its creative genius by bringing the concept of Raga into the very heart of the Music traditions and their sensibilities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.5.  He says that the Aroha (ascending) and the Avaroha (descending) pattern of Svaras form the Murcchana of a Raga. Murcchana, in effect, describes the string of notes that, with further embellishments (Alamkaras) of thirty-three varieties, constitutes the core of a Raga. These Alamkaras are indeed the musical excellences that adorn the songs.

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

5.7. Indeed, it is in this chapter of the Brhaddeshi we first come across the definition of Raga as given by Matanga, and as understood by all later literature on Classical Music. In the history of the Ragas, Brhaddeshi is, therefore, a landmark text.



8.1. The term Raga conveys many shades of meanings ranging from color, hue, tint, dye, love, desire, passion, emotional attachment  (as opposed to it is Viraga– detachment)  , beauty, melody and so on .

But, in the context of music it had a special connotation; and, it had been in use many centuries, even prior to Matanga. Bharatha in his Natyashastra used the term Raga in compound terms in association with Jaati raga, Grama raga. And, he perhaps meant ‘Raga’ in the general sense to suggest color or aesthetic appeal or enjoyment or pleasure. He employed the term Jaati to indicate melodies, but also used the term Grama Raga. But, somehow, he did not explain the terms Jaati and Grama-raga and their mutual relationship.

8.2. There was also the Murchana which was described in Natyashastra as the string of seven Svaras used in an order (krama) in their fixed positions. Later, in the Gandharva, Murchana came to be understood as an arrangement having a gradual Aroha (ascent) and Avaroha (descent) of the seven Svaras (notes). Different musical expressions were derived from the Murchanas by permuting the seven Svaras in any number of ways.

8.3. Further, the term and the concept of Grama-raga was in common use, as evidenced by the seventh century rock inscription at kudumiyamalai in South India. The inscription which basically was meant as lessons for the pupils mentions seven verities of melodies or Grama-ragas :

  • (1) Madahyama-grama;
  • (2) Shadja-grama;
  • (3) Sadava;
  • (4) Sadharita;
  • (5) Paricama;
  • (6) Kaisikamadhyama-grama ; and
  • (7) Kaisika.

These seven seem to correspond to the Grama-ragas in the Naradiya-shiksa the text said to belong first or second century BCE.

8.4. The term Raga seemed to have been in use even prior to 7th century. For instance; Poet Kalidasa (5th century) had suggested Raga Saranga (Madhyamadi) for rendering the introductory song to the first Act of his play Abhijnana Shakuntalam. And, in a fable appearing in the fifth volume of Panchatantra (5th century or earlier), a donkey poses as a musician and explains Gramas, Ragas etc.

8.5. Following the steps of Bharatha, Matanga also recognized Shadja-grama and Madhyama-grama as two basic Grama-s (groups or clusters). From these Grama-s he derived Sruti, Svara, Murchana, Tana, Jaati and Raga. The Aroha (ascending) and Avaroha (descending) pattern of Svaras, according to Matanga, formed Murchana of a Raga.

[It needs to be mentioned here that Bharatha’s concepts of Jaati, Murchana and Giti continued to be in use even during the time of Matanga. He uses these terms and offers his explanations with illustrations from Natyashastra.

Matanga regards Ragas as one of the seven classes of songs (gitis, melodies) current in his time: (1) Shuddha; (2) Bhinnaka; (3) Gaudika; (4) Raga-giti; (5) Sadharani; (6) Bhasha-giti; and, (7) Vibhasha—gitis.  Of the seven classes of gitis, it is said; the Shuddha and the Bhinnaka have each five varieties; Gauda has three varieties; Ragas are of eight varieties; Sadharani is of seven varieties; Bhasha is of sixteen kinds; and, Vibhasha as of twelve kinds.

The Raga-gitis are the fourth in Matanga’s enumeration (Raga-gitis-caturthika). He defines the various classes of gitis, and describes Raga -gitis as: “Attractive note compositions, with beautiful and illuminating graces.”

He also mentions that the eight varieties of riigas went by the name of (1) Takka, or Taku; (2) Sauvira; (3) Malava-panchama; (4) Shadava or Khadava ;(5) Votta·raga; (6) Hindolaka; (7) Takka-Kaisika; and,  (8) Malava-Kaisika

Taku-ragasca; Souviras-tatha; Malava—pancamah/ Khadavo; Votta-ragasca; tatha Hindolakah parah// Taka-kasika ityuktas tatha Malava-Kaiskah I Ete ragah samakhyata namato muni-pungavaih// 314-15//

Here then we have the first enumeration of eight of the earliest ragas known by name. Some of them may have been derived from the 18 jatis described by Bharata.

And, then he recommends the Raga-giti for singing in dramatic sequences. He quotes Bharatha and says: Madhyama-grama (Ma Grama) melodies be used in the Mukha (opening of the drama); the Shadja-grama (Sa Grama) melodies in Prati-Mukha (progression of the play); the Sadharana (mixed scales) in the Grabha (development stages); and, Panchama-Jaati melodies for the Vimarsha (pauses)- (NS: 28.41-45)

Further, even among the music-related terms of the older (Marga) Sangita that he explained, the term Raga was used]


[In the meantime:

There is a remarkable text which the scholars have neither been able to date nor understand it fully. It is titled Gitalamkara; and, is said to have been written by an author who, for some reason, called himself Bharatha. The book aimed at controlling or disseminating the arguments of the rivals (Vadi-mattagaja-ankusha) . In its Chapter 14, the book cites thirty-six ‘Ragas’ (which are named here as Varna or colors).They are classified into three groups: Purusha (male); Stri (female) and Apatya (descendents). This, by a long stretch of time, foreshadows the Raga-Ragini-Purta concept that came about in later times. The scholars suggest that Varna might have been the older name of Raga (which also suggests color).

The Gitalamkara treats the three ancient Gramas (Nandyavarta, Jimuta and Subhadra) in an un-usual manner. Instead of treating them as basic scales, as others did, it merely lists characteristic series of four Svaras (tetrachord) for each of them. This perhaps goes back to the period before the three Gramas: Shadja, Madhyama and Gandhara Gramas came to be recognized.

It is bit confusing to say the least. For more, please see:  Le Gitalamkara by Alan Danielou; and, Musical Literature by Emmie te Nijenhuis.]

9.1. Yes; it seems the word Raga with its multiple meanings was in use even from early times. But, it was not used in Music or in Music-theories in the way we know it and use it now.  It is, therefore, difficult to say Raga as it is understood today, had fully evolved and was recognized as such at the time of Natyashastra.

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

That is, precisely, what Matanga did.



10.1. The chapter titled Raga-lakshanam (characteristics of Raga) in the Brhaddeshi commences with two questions and a request: ‘What is meant by the word Raga? And, what are the lakshana-s of a Raga? You must please explain the origin and nature   of Raga clearly ’.

Kim ucchyate raga-shabdena ? kim va ragasya lakshanama  ? I  Utpatthi lakshanam-tasya yathavad vaktum arhasi     II (278)

Matanga replies:

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

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

10.2. Then he goes on to explain: A Raga is called by the learned, as that kind of sound composition (dhwani-bhedaya), which is adorned with musical notes (Svara), in some peculiarly (visesena) , stationary (sthayi) , or ascending (aroha), or descending, (avaroha) or moving values (varna), which  are capable of affecting the mind with peculiar feelings or of colouring ( Ranjyate ) the hearts of men. A Raga is that which delights: Ranjana-jjayate ragau..

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

10.3. Or (Athava), it is that particular sound (dhwani vishesa) which is adorned by Svara and Varna (svara varna vibhushitaham); and that which delights the minds of the people (Ranjako jana-chittanam) is called Raga by the wise.

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

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

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

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

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

Ithevam raga-shabdasya utpatthir abhidiyate I  Ranjana-jjayate  ragau utpatthih samudahrutah II 283

Ashva-karnadi vidha rude yaugikau vaapi vachakah I  Yogarudosthva raage jneyam pankaja-shabdavat II 284

[ Among the many  tools (Nyaya) employed in the olden days to extract and to explain the meaning of the words and terms ,the  Samabhirudha Nyaya derived the meaning of a word from its root;  and , Vyavaharika Nyaya  interpreted the word through conventions (rudi)  and its common usage (paddathi)  in day-to-day life (Vyavahara).

The words Asvakarna and Pankaja are common illustrations of these Nyayas. And, Matanga’s argument is based on similar lines.

There are many other similar words, such as:  Mantapa which normally is understood as an open-hall; but, its etymological meaning could be ‘one who drinks scum of boiled rice (Ganji)’. And, the term Kushala is generally used to denote an expert or a highly skilled person (pravina); but, its etymology analysis would lead to one who is ‘good at cutting grass (kush). And, similarly, Ashva-gandha is literally ‘smell of the horse; but in common usage it refers to a medicinal herb.

 Bhartrhari, in his Vakyapadiya emphasizes the importance of contextual factors in the determination of the meaning of expressions. Etymology is without doubt important in its own context; but, in the day-to-day conversations the conventional meaning (Vyvaharica artha) takes precedence over the etymologically derived sense. Panini the Grammarian also recognized the fact the people who spoke the language and used it in their daily  lives were better judges in deriving, meaning of  the words

Therefore, the generally accepted rule in the Indian poetics is that the conventional meaning overrides the etymological derivation.  It is said; the conventional (rudi) meaning is grasped immediately and directly while its etymological sense has to derived indirectly through analysis. And, the essential nature of the word lies in its power (Skakthi) to signify directly. ]

10.5. Thus, the term Raga, in its etymological and technical sense, means a particular combination or sequence of Svaras and Varnas which delights, charms or colors  (in broader sense ) the mind. Therefore, every Raga, while it delights also creates an emotional mood which colors or influences the mind in its own unique manner. It colors different minds in different ways. That is why a single Raga can yield divergent expressions, associations and experiences.

General and Special characteristics

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

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

11.2. General (Samanya) classification

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

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

[There is another interpretation which says that the four general categories mentioned by Matanga might refer to : Purna, Shadava, Audava, and Sadharana, The Purna contained  Svaras (hexatone ) ; Shadava , six Svaras(heptatone ) ; Audava , five  Svaras (pentatonic ) ; and the Sadharana , two displaced (vikrita} Svaras :  antara-gandhara and kakali-nishada.]

Amsa and other characteristics

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

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

These are briefly:

: – Graha – It is the initial note –Adi-Svara– used at the beginning of a song;

: – Amsa – It is the prominent note (key note) in the song. The melodic expression of the song depends on it;

: – Tara – It is the high register; the upper limit of the notes to be used. It is the fourth note from Amsa which belongs to middle sthana;

: – Mandra –It is the low register; the lower limit of the note to be used;

: – Sadavita –Six notes are used omitting one;

: – Audavita -Five note are used dropping two.

: – Alpatva – It is the use of a note or notes in small measure. It is twofold: by skipping over the particular note or notes; and by non-repetition;

:- Bahutva – It is of two kinds: by using the notes fully or by repeating it often

: – Apa-nyasa– It is before the final note (penultimate) . It is note with which a section of the song ends –Vidari;

: – and, Nyasa – It is the note with which the song ends.

[ In the introduction to his work Ragas and Raginis, Prof. O C Ganguli writes:

The starting note (graha) and the terminating note (nyasa) have now almost lost their significance. But the Amsa (predominant note) is of great importance. It is also called the Vadi (lit. the speaker, or announcer) i.e. the note which indicates, manifests, or expresses the peculiar character of the raga; and, receives the greatest emphasis in the structure of the raga. It is also called the jiva, or the soul of the raga. Just as the Vadi note determines the general character of a raga, the Vivadi or the dissonant note, distinguishes and differentiates it from other forms of ragas, by avoidance of the Vivadi note. For, this dissonant note destroys the character of the melody. The Vivadi note gives the negative element, and, the other three, the positive determining elements of a raga. Every raga has its special types of a serial of notes for ascent (aroha) and descent (avaroha) which determines its structure. The degree of insistence or importance of particular notes lends flesh, blood, color, and life to the scale and creates a Raga (Ranjayati iti ragah- ‘that which colors, is a raga).]


Svara, Varna and Alamkara

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


12.2. The Svara, here, indicates the arrangement of five or more ascending and descending notes. According to Matanga, Svara is the sound which has musical quality that creates melody. When the interval between the notes (Sruti) is raised or lowered, the musical quality gets altered.

Depending on their level of importance in a Raga, Svaras are classified under the four categories Vadi, Anuvadi, Samvadi and Vivadi (sonant, assonant , consonant  and dissonant). Bharatha defines these in his Natyashastra. here , the Vadi is the most important Svara to a Raga. It is repeated often and used as a fundamental note  upon which the raga sculpture is erected. Sa, shuddha ri, antara ga or pa are examples of Vadi Svaras. When sung with the Vadi Svaras, only certain Svaras have a pleasant or concordant effect. These are Samvadi Svaras, and they generally have nine or thirteen shruti intervals between them and their corresponding Vadi Svara . The Anuvadi Svaras help in adding substance to a Raga, and they are not emphasized. Vivadi Svaras are those which are discordant and create a displeasing effect when rendered with the Vadi Svara. The space between these two is usually one Svara, though it is often more than two Sruthi differences.

[ Sruthi is derived from Sru (to listen) Srunyanta iti srutayah –that which is heard is Sruti. Matanga , quoting Khohala , says – Srutis are infinite varieties of sounds in the Universe, comparable to the ceaseless waves produced when the ocean is struck by great winds.]


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


12.4. Alamkara (adornment or ornamentation) refers to graces and flourishes in the music. Alamkara contributes to enhancing the artistic beauty in the presentation of Music.  It has been a vital aspect of the creative process even from very early times. Bharatha, in a famous verse, remarks that “A song without Alamkara will be like a night without moon; a river without water; a creeper without a flower; and, a woman without any ornament.”

Shashina rahiteva nisha, Vijaleva nadee lata, Vipushpeva avibhooshitheva cha kantha, geethir-alamkara-viheena syath.

The Alamkaras are associated with Varna (appearance, color, word, and syllable). It is said; if Varna is the architecture or the structure, then the Alamkara is its decoration bringing out and enhancing its natural beauty. In Music,the term Alamkara represents the combinations of progressions and ornamentation. The harmonious blending of structure and decoration is basic to all forms of Indian art.  And, in early Music, probably, no precise distinction was  made between Varna and Alamkara.

Alamkaras, as recurring patterns of variations formed out of Svaras, were associated with each of the four Varnas. They were classified according to the Varna underlying them. Accordingly, there were four broad categories of Alamkaras:

Sthayi -Varna –Alamkara; Arohi-Varna-Alamkara; Avarohi-Varna-Alamkara; and, Sanchari-Varna –Alamkara.

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

Dattila’s list of thirteen Alamkaras , which is  regarded as the basic contained :

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

[Source: As listed in Early Indian musical speculation and the theory of melody by Lewis Rowel]


13.1. Karnataka Samgita has developed an intricate system of Alamkara with subtle variations.  It is celebrated as Gamaka. And, Gamaka, as such, was not mentioned in Natyashastra. But, the text does talk about different types of Alamkaras as that which add beauty and aesthetic value to Music.

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

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

Tripa; Spurita; Kampita; Lina; Andolita; Vali; Tribhinna; Kurula; Ahata; Ullasita; Plavita;  Gumpita; Mudrita; Namita; and, Misrita.

स्वरस्य कम्पो गमकः श्रोतृचित्तसुखावहः | तस्य भेदास्तु तिरिपः स्फ़ुरितः कम्पितस्तथः ||लीन आन्दोलित वलि त्रिभिन्न कुरुलाहताः | उल्लासितः प्लावितस्च गुम्फ़ितो मुद्रितस्तथा || नामितो मिश्रितः पञ्चदशेति परिकीर्तिताः |

Sarangadeva’s descriptions are closer to our understanding of Gamaka.

  1. Tripa: Playing one of the notes of a phrase with some stress.
  2. Spurita: wherein the lower note is faintly heard and the second note is stressed.
  3. Kampita: A slight tremble oscillating between two Svaras.
  4. Lina: Merging of a note softly into another note.
  5. Andolita: A free swinging. Holding on a note for some time and then pulling the string or gliding on it so as to reveal a higher note.
  6. Vali: deflecting the string in a circling manner for producing the chhaya of two or three notes from the same Svara-sthāna.
  7. Tribhinna: Produced by placing the left-hand fingers on a Svara-sthāna so that the fingers are in contact with three strings, and then by plucking the three strings with the right hand fingers either simultaneously or successively (only in fretted instruments).
  8. Kurula: production of a note of another sthāna with force
  9. Ahata: Sounding a note and then producing another note without a separate stroke (only in Veena).
  10. Ullasita: Glide. Starting on a note and reaching a different (higher or lower) note by gliding over the intermediate notes.
  11. Plavita: This is a variety of Kampita.
  12. Gumpita: The tone is slender at the start and goes on increasing in both volume and pitch- in vocal music.
  13. Mudrita: Produced by closing the mouth and singing – in vocal Music.
  14. Namita: Singing in a slender tone –vocal Music.
  15. Misrita: Mixture of two or three of the other varieties.

[For more: please check ]

[Various commentators on Indian music have mentioned different numbers of Gamakas. For example, Narada in Sangeeta Makaranda describes nineteen Gamakas; and, Haripala in Sangeeta Sudhakar describes seven Gamakas. There is also a mention of Dasha-vida Gamaka, which is slightly different from that of Sarangadeva. Please check: ]

14.1. In today’s Karnataka Samgita, Gamakas are essential aspects of Manodharma Sangita. Gamaka is much more than an ornament to Karnataka Sangita. It is a very essential constituent of its musical element and its elaboration.

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

14.3. Gamaka-rendering is a highly individualistic and a specialized skill. Not merely that the Gamakas are designed specifically for vocal music and for instrumental music, but also that each performer would, in due course, develop her/his own Gamaka-improvisations. And therefore, two ragas with identical ascending (Aroha) and descending (Avaroha) Svaras and born out of the same parent (Janaka) Raga might sound totally different in character and expression , mainly because of the Gamakas that are employed. One could say that Karnataka Sangita is Gamaka oriented. And, it is, perhaps, because of such extensive use of Gamakas, it has not been easy to commit Karnataka Sangita to notation system.  Gamakas can be taught and practiced only by oral method, through Guru-Shishya interactions.

[In Hindustani Music, Meend and Andolan are similar to Gamakas.]

15.1. Other Angas of Karnataka Sangita

Apart for the above mentioned,  there are certain other Angas (limbs) that are essential to the song formats in Karnataka Sangita. These are:  Pallavi, Anu-pallavi, Chjttaswaram, Mukthayiswaram and Charanam .

The Pallavi is a sort of introduction to the piece; and, it must establish the RagaTaala and bhava of the entire song. The Pallavi is rendered usually, in the middle octave (madhyama sthayi), though Sangathis take it to the higher and lower octaves at times. Pallavi is the counterpart of Udgraha of the Prabandha compositions.

The Anu-pallavi links the Pallavi to the Charanam.  It is analogous to Melapaka of the Prabandha. The Anu-pallavi is usually sung in the higher octave. The Charanam provides the climax of the Sahitya aspect of the song. Neraval and Kalpanaswara often resolve in the Charanam, though this is not a rule. The Charanam has a range from the lower to the middle to the higher octaves, thus having the widest range of the angas of a song.


16.1. For Indian Music, Sruthi and Laya are said to be the parents of music: ‘Shruthi Matha Laya Pitha ’ . The term  Laya  (to be one with) denotes Taala (rhythm).  Sarangadeva remaked that music, vocal , instrumental, and dance  are based on units of time-measure, or Taala: ‘gitam vaadyam thathaa nrtyam yatasthale pratishthitham.’ Bharatha said that without a sense of Taala, one could neither be called a singer or a drummer. Earler to that , Bharatha  had further elaborated on Taala in the 29th chapter of the Natyashastra, saying that it is a definite measure of time upon which Gana, or song, rests: ‘ganam talena dharyathe’.

16.2. While Raga dictates the appearance and characteristics of a melody, it is the Taala that sets the rhythm and beat of any piece in Indian music. All Taalas of Karnataka Sangita are cyclical in nature, i.e. a single unit is taken and repeated to form the Taala pattern or rhythm. There are different units of Taala. An important unit, one of the smallest, is the akshara (lit. Alphabet) . The akshara is not defined in terms of absolute duration ; but it is conceived as  a variable that changes according to the mood of the composer, the piece and the performer involved.

The akshara is further divided into Svaras. And, the Svaras are of five different measures – Tisra (3), Chatusra (4), Misra (7),Khanda (5) and Sankeerna (9). The smallest measure of Svaras is Tisra. Strangely enough, two is not taken as the smallest number, perhaps because two is too small a number to stand on its own as a beat. The number divisible by 2 that is used instead is four, in Chatusra.

These Svara divisions are made easier to remember with the help of the meaningless syllables used primarily in dance or percussion training. For Tisra, the syllables ‘Tha Kita’ are used. Chatusra is denoted by the syllables ‘Thakadhimi’; Khanda – ‘Thaka Thakita’; Misra -‘Thakita Thakadhimi’;and , Sankeerna – ‘Thakadhimi Thaka Thakita’.

16.3. The means and materials of Taala according to Bharatha in his Natyashastra are ‘laya, yati and pani’. The Laya, or tempo, is divided into fast, medium and slow speeds, i.e. Druta, Madhya and Vilambita.  And, Yati is a kind of method of application of laya. It is of many kinds; the three of which are sama, srotogata and gopuccha. The sama-yati possesses three units of tempo: one in the beginning, one in the middle and one in the end. The srotogata contains three units of tempo, as well: the first is slow (vilambita), the second is medium (Madhya) and the third is fast (druta). The gopuccha-yati consists of three units of tempo, where in the beginning of the song the tempo is fast, then it becomes medium and in the end it becomes slow.

16.4. The present day Karnataka Sangita has a Taala System based on the scheme of Sapta Taala (seven Taala). In order to facilitate easy and accurate methods of reckoning these Taalas, the shadangas (six parts) are used. There are symbols to denote these angas. Except for the anga known as ‘laghu,’ the others have fixed time measures.

[For more, please check A Brief Overview of the Evolution of Indian Music]




17.1. It is very essential to understand that Raga is not merely a scale or a mode. To limit a Raga to the confines of a scale might not be quite correct. A Raga has dimensions that go beyond its scales, such as swaroopalakshana and bhava. One might ordinarily,   even, say, a Raga is not a tune, nor is it a ’modal’ scale, but rather a continuum with scale and tune as its extremes. But, Ragas are actually more complex than this limited definition. How the musical sounds are conjured up and configured in such a way as to produce that tender or powerful but indescribable feeling in the listener is truly a very complex process.  The artistic transformation of a scale into Raga is a phenomenon that is unique to the Music of India,

17.2. Indeed, Raga is basically a feeling, an emotional experience shared by the performer and the listener. The expression of the Raga is essentially  through the combination of certain notes and twists of melody. But, Raga is more than its structure. Raga is an icon. It is  indeed a living, fluid, organic entity.

The raga bhava is visualization of the Raga in a seemingly tangible form that draws the listener into the music.

In the introduction to his work Ragas and Raginis, Prof. O C Ganguli writes:

According to Matanga, an ancient authority, : A Raga is called by the learned, as that kind of sound composition (dhwani-bhedaya), which is adorned with musical notes (Svara) , in some peculiarly (visesena) , stationary (sthayi) , or ascending (aroha), or descending, (avaroha) or moving values (varna), which are capable of affecting the mind with peculiar feelings or of colouring ( Ranjyate ) the hearts of men. A Raga is that which delights: Ranjana-jjayate ragau.

If the combinations, growing out of the component members or elements (svaras) of a raga-composition, have any significant qualities, or functions, the ensemble of the raga-form must spell and express some particular states of feelings and emotions.  Indeed, they are believed to represent particular moods, association, or atmosphere of the human mind, or of nature, and to be able to call up and invoke a distinctive kind of feeling answering to the state of the mind, or its physical environment, for the time being.

 Ragas have, therefore, the power of producing certain mental effects and each is supposed to have an emotional value, or signification which may be called the ethos of the raga. Ragas may be said to stand for the language of the soul, expressing itself variously, under the stress of sorrow, or the inspiration of joy, under the storm of passion, or the thrills of the expectation, under the throes of love-longing, the pangs of separation, or the joys of union.

17.3. Ragas keep changing shape; their rendering vary from time to time ; and, new ones are born while others are forgotten. They gain full status when they are repeatedly played and heard. Their main features have to be established and tested by experienced performers whose knowledge and interpretation contributes to the very  understanding  of the raga-bhava. In this context, Indian musicians often speak of a ‘raga grammar’, sets of rules and patterns that determine the selection of intervals and characteristic melodic movements. This practical knowledge is orally transmitted ; it  guides the melodic development of every performance; and,  it also forms the  essential framework for the manifestation of each raga’s personality as developed by the performer.

While Raga lakshana is the Grammar of a Raga, the theoretical that define the characteristics of a Raga, Raga Prayoga is movement of the Raga through Aroha (upward sequence of Svaras) and Avaroha (downward sequence of Svaras) that give its identity along with the application of Gamakas

17.4. Each raga has its own definite personality; and can easily be recognized.  A musician may compose in the same Raga many number of times; and, yet it is possible that new tunes can be composed using that Raga. That is to say, though a given Raga has certain melodic phrases, their forms and expressions are truly unlimited. And yet, a Raga can be recognized in the first few notes, because the feelings produced by the musician’s execution of these notes are intensely strong. The effect of Indian music is cumulative rather than dramatic. As the musician develops his discourse in his Raga, it eventually colors the thoughts, elevates and delights the listeners.

18.1. Raga is the central and predominant melodic concept in Indian music. Raison d’être of a classical music performance is projecting the entity of a Raga in its fullest splendor, so as to offer to the listeners an aesthetic experience which only that Raga can generate ( that is, Raga–specific) .

18.2. Raga-bhava-rasa is a continuum. The Raga ambience creates a mood that binds together the performer and the listener. The elaboration of the idyllic tender passages manifests or becomes (Bhava) the emotive world; and, it creates is an experience shared by the creator and the enjoyer (rasika). In that we, somehow, touch the very core of our being. And, that out-of –the world (alaukika) subjective ultimate aesthetic experience (ananda) is not a logical construct. As Abhinavagupta says, it is a wondrous flower; and, its mystery cannot really be unraveled.


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

19.2. The proliferation of Ragas led, in the South, to systematic ways of classifying or grouping (Mela) them based on the technical traits of their scales (Svaras). In North India, Ragas are classified according to such characteristics as mood, season, and time of the day or night. Classification of Ragas plays a major role in Indian Music theories.

Though the present-day system is evolved from the structure suggested by Venkatamakhin, it has many differences. For example, Venkatamakhin did not believe parent melakarthas must contain sampoorna (complete) Aroha and Avaroha as long as they contained the seven notes in some form or the other. The idea that they should have these seven notes in their complete form in the ascending and descending sequences of Svaras is attributed to Govindacharya, who, in the late 18th century, re-organized the melakartas making them all sampoorna so that a certain mathematical elegance could be maintained

[We shall talk about Mela-system later in the series]

In the next segment of this series let’s take a look at the various forms of Karnataka Sangita.



Forms of Karnataka Sangita


Sources and References

  1. Third Quarterly Report – SIPA Textbook Committee

  1. Rāga-s in Bṛhaddēśī: English translation of the verses and the prose passages describing the Rāga-s, in the Bṛhaddēśī of Mataṅga by Dr. Hema Ramanathan
  2. Brhaddasehi of Matanga by Dr. N . Ramanathan
  3. History of Indian Music by Swami Prajnananda
  4. Music and Musical Thought in Early India by Lewis Eugene Rowell
  5. Comparative Musicology and Anthropology of Music: Essays on the History of … By Bruno Nettl, Philip V. Bohlman
  6. Essays on Indian Music by Raj Kumar
  7. Emergence of the Desi tradition by T.M. Krishna
  8. Raga:
  11. A Brief Overview of the Evolution of Indian Music

Posted by on May 21, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Eleven

Continued from Part Ten – Anibaddha, Nibaddha and Prabandha

Part Eleven (of 22) – Prabandha

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Suda ityesha desiya-shabdo gitaka vachakah.

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

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

The elements of   Prabandha – Anga and Dhatu


prabandha (1)


General features

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

5.1. The Prabandha was also classified (Prabandha-Jaati) depending on the number and type of Anga-s that went into its structure. For instance:

  • the Medini Jaati Prabandha has all the six Angas;
  • the Anandini Jaati has only five Angas (in which pada and Taala along with any three other Angas are present);
  • similarly, the Dipani Jaati has four Angas (in which pada and Taala along with any two other Angas are present);
  • the Bhavani Jaati  has three Angas (in which pada and Taala along with any one other Anga are present;  and,
  • the Taravali Jaati has only two Angas ( in which pada and Taala are present) .

No Prabandha could be conceived with only one Anga.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Rendering of a Prabandha

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

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

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

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

Shuddha Suda

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

Salaga Suda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

14.1. Some instances of Ali Prabandha are mentioned.

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Some instances of the Viprakirna Prabandha are mentioned.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gita Govinda

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17.1. While on the subject of Prabandha, I cannot resist talking about the most enchanting Gita-Govinda of Sri Jayadeva Goswami (about 1150 A.D) who was a court poet of the King Lakshmana  of the Bengal region ( 12th century ) . It is the most celebrated and the best loved among the Prabandha class.

It is a semi-dramatic  composition of twelve episodes (Adhyayas ) consisting monologues in sixty slokas and twenty-four songs of eight lines (Astapadi).   

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

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

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

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

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

The Gita Govinda one of the principle texts of the Bhakthi movement has also been a unique phenomenon in Indian music. This evergreen lyric sequence is set to music and rhythm by the poet himself. And, musically, each of the twenty-four songs or Prabandhas in Gita Govinda is set to a Desi Raga and a Taala. His Ragas were : Malava, Gurjari, Vasantha, Ramakari, Malavagowda, Karnata, Desakya, Desivaradi, Gowdakari, Bhairavi and Vibhasa. And his Taalas were: Yathi, Rupaka, Eka, Nissara and Ashta.

Sadly, we, now, do not know how the Raga mentioned therein actually sounded or what their scales were. Therefore, their correct interpretation and rendering are lost to us.   The Astapadis in the modern days are rendered in Karnataka and Hindustani Ragas currently in use  . 

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

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

Jayadeva Goswami

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

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

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



Prabandha in Historical perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Continued in Part Eleven

Desi Sangita



Sources and References

Indian Music: History and Structure by Emmie Te Nijenhuis

A History of Indian music by Swami Prajnanananda

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

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

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

Music and Musical Thought in Early India by Lewis Eugene Rowe

Kalātattvakośa: by Ramesh Chandra Sharma

Sangiti Sabda Kosa by Bimal Roy

Suladis and Ugabhogas  by  Mahamahopadyaya Dr. R .Sathyanarayana

Prathamopalabda Swarasahita Samkeerthana Sila Lekhanamu by I.V Subba Rao

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


Posted by on May 10, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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