Tag Archives: Venkatamakhin

Music of India – a brief outline – Part Nineteen

Continued from Part Eighteen – Lakshana Granthas– Continued

Part Nineteen (of 22 ) – Lakshana Granthas – Continued

 14. Venkatamakhin – Chatur-dandi-prakashika – Mela and Melakarta

 Note venkat

Venkatamakhin also referred to as Venkateshwara Dikshita and Venkatadhvari was the son of Govinda Dikshita, the author of Sangita Sudha and the minister of the Nayak Kings at Thanjavuru.

Venkatamakhin was said to be a distinguished Mimamsa scholar; and, is credited with Karmāntha Mimamsa, a work on the Mimamsa and Vrittikabharana, a commentary on Kumarila Bhatta’s work. Venkatamakhin is also said to have composed twenty four Ashtapadis on Lord Tyagaraja, the presiding deity at Tiruvarur temple.

Venkatamakhin shows enormous respect towards his father Govinda Dikshita, mother Nagamba and his elder brother Yajnanarayana Dikshita. He mentions that his elder brother Yajnanarayana Dikshita taught him Tarka (Logic), Vyakarana (Grammar) and Mimamsa Shastra, as also Music.  Yajnanarayana Dikshita, who also was in the service of Raghunatha Nayaka, was a renowned scholar of his times. He is said to have written a play Raghunatha-Vilasa and a Champu-kavya Raghunatha Bhupa Vijaya in honor of the King. Apart from that, Yajnanarayana Dikshita is credited with Shitya-Ratnakara a treatise on Sanskrit literature and Grammar.

Neelakantha Dikshita a minister in the Court of Nayak Kings was a disciple of Venkatamakhin. Neelakantha Dikshita was also a well known poet of his times; and is said to have written a Kavya Siva Leelarnava, which describes the Leelas of Lord Sri Meenakshi Sundareswara of Madura.

[The picture at the top of this post  is taken from a painting  made by Sri S Rajam. There is an interesting anecdote connected with it.  When Sri Rajam intended to provide an illustration of Venkatamakhin as an introductory painting for the Apr 2008-March 2009 calendar brought out by L&T, he had no earlier pictures of Venkatamakhin to guide him. His research into the archives of Sri Kanci Mutt led him to an interesting detail showing that Venkatamakhin who was also a skillful vainika wore his long hair in a coil such that it did not touch his body; he coiled it atop his head. Shri S Rajam then pictured Venkatamakhin with coiled locks of hair, rudraksha-mala; and surrounded by musical instruments such as Veena, Tambura etc. as also scrolls of ancient manuscripts, lending the picture an air scholarship and a spiritual aura.]


Venkatamakhin fame rests mainly on his work Chatur-dandi-prakashika, which he wrote (perhaps around the year 1650) under the patronage of the Fourth Nayaka King Vijaya Raghava who succeeded Raghunatha Nayaka and ruled up to 1672. Chatur-dandi-prakashika is a treatise on Music that illumines four forms of song-formats: Gita, Prabandha, Thaya and Aalapa (Gita-prabandha-sthaya-alapa-rupa-chatur –dandi) which seemed to have formed the pattern (or profile) for concert performances during 14-15th centuries. In that context, he makes frequent references to Gopala Nayaka (1205-1315) and to Tanappa-charya whom he calls Parama-guru ( Guru’s Guru) . Both of these were, perhaps, renowned performers of Charurdandi.Along with the text, Venkatamakhin is said to have composed Lakshana-gitas on a large number of Ragas.

The text of the Chatur-dandi-prakashika was said to contain ten Chapters (Prakarana), each dealing with: Veena, Sruti, Svara, Mela, Raga, Alapa, Thaya, Gita, Prabandha and Taala. Among these, portions of Prabandha-prakarana and the entire Taala-prakarana are lost. But, interestingly, it is the Appendix (Anubandha) to the main text that brought focus on Venkatamakhin.

The Veena-prakarana generally follows the concepts and techniques described in Somanatha’s Raga-vibodha and Ramamatya’s Svara-mela-kalanidhi ; and,  discusses about two kinds of fret-arrangements and tuning of the Veena-strings. Venkatamakhin mentions three types of Veena: Shuddha-mela-veena; Madhyama-mela-veena; and, Raghunathendra-mela-veena.

While describing the arrangement of the frets on each of the three types of Veena, Venkatamakhin follows the illustrations provided by Ahobala Pandita.  According to that, arrangement of frets could be done in two ways: One with fixed frets on which all Ragas could be played (Sarva-raga-mela-veena); and the other with frets specially placed to suit playing of a particular Raga (Eka-raga-mela-veena) .

Venkatamakhin informs that during those days, besides the common Shuddha and Madhya-mela Veena described by Ramamatya, there was also a Veena with a higher tuning, i.e. in this tuning the first three strings are ignored and the fourth one tuned to Shadja has frets for three Sthanas. It was named by Govinda Dikshita as Raghunathendra-mela-veena, in honour of the King.

In the Second Chapter dealing with Srutis, Venkatamakhin ,in the traditional manner,  talks about 22 Srutis and their distribution over Seven Svaras. He explains that the 22 Srutis are not placed at equal intervals, but are placed at specific intervals depending upon the  Svara structure in the Raga. For instance, he says, the Shadja and Shuddha Rishabha on the Veena should be divided equally into three parts ; and two frets be introduced and thus three Srutis of `ri’ are seen (Sa – – ri).

The third Chapter on Svaras explains the nature of Shuddha and Vikrita Svaras. He explains the Shuddha Svaras with the illustration of Mukhari Raga having Sa, Ma and Pa having 4 Srutis; Ga and Ni having 2 Srutis; and, Ri and Dha having 3 Srutis.

As regards Vikrita Svaras, Venkatamakhin asserts that in practice there are only five in number and not 7 or 12 as mentioned in the texts of Ramamatya and Sarangadeva.  The five Vikrita Svaras according to him are: Sadharana Gandhara; Antara Gandhara; Varali Madhyama; Kaishiki Nishadha; and, Kakili Nishadha.

Dr. N. Ramanathan explains: the one interesting feature of Venkatamakhin’s descriptions of Shuddha and Vikrita Svaras is that he considers the same Svara to be different if its interval from its previous Svara is altered.

Then, Venkatamakhin goes back to the ancient Gramas – Shadja, Madhyama and Gandhara; as also to the Murchana and the Tana. He also talks about Alamkara, Gamaka and Vadi-Samvadi Svaras. In all these, he refers to the descriptions as given in the older texts. As regards Vadi-Samvadi, he applies the ancient system to his contemporary practices and gives illustrations.

The Fourth Chapter is about his exposition of Mela scheme. He tried forming as many number of Melas as possible by permuting Shuddha and Vikrita Svaras. With this, he comes up with 72 Melas. Venkatamakhin asserts that his scheme of 72 Melas comprehends all the Melas that may have existed in the past and those that might be created in future.  Out of the 72 Melas, Venkatamakhin was able to identify the Ragas of only 19 Melas. Therefore, he could name only 19 Melas; the rest were not assigned any names. These (53) he considered as theoretical possibilities, but (then, at that time) non-functional since no known Ragas could fit in to his scheme of these Melas.

[  Accoring to Emmie Te Nijenhuis:  Venkatamakhin’s system of nineteen Melas closely resembles the Ramamatya’s Mela system: fifteen of Venkatamakhin’s Melas are almost identicle with Ramatya’s Melas. For instance; the Mela Bhairavi of Venkatamakhin corresponds to Hindola of Ramamatya. Similarly, Venkatamakhin’s Shankarabharanam corresponds to Ramatya’s Kedaragaula and Saranganata Melas.  However, Venkatamakhin’s Bhupala, Pantuvarali, Simharava and Kalyani are not found in Ramamatya’s system.]

While describing the 19 Melas, he also gives the Svaras and the 22 Srutis in each case. And , while naming the 19 Melas he also indicates each one’s position  (number) in his Grand scheme of 72 Melas. He starts with Mukhari which is his first Mela and also the first among the 72; 2. Samavarali (3); 3.Bhupala (8); 4.Hejjuli (13); 5.Vasanthabhiravi (14); 6. Gaula (15);  7. Bhiravi Raga (20); 8.Ahiri (21); 9.Sri Raga (22); 10. Kambhoji (28); 11. Shankarabharanam (29); 12. Somantha (30); 13. Desaki (35); 14. Naata (36); 15.  Shuddha Varali (39); 16. Pantuvarali (45); 17. Shuddha Ramakriya (51); 18. Simharava Raga (58) – an invention of Venkatamakhin; and, 19. Kalyani (65).

[The numbers mentioned in the brackets indicate the number assigned to the Mela in the overall scheme of 72 Melas.]

Venkatamakhin went by recognizing a Mela Raga if all the seven Svaras occurred in it, either in the Aroha or in the Avaroha. He did not insist that a Mela Raga should be a Sampurna Raga, with all the seven Svaras in both the Aroha and Avaroha. Further, during the time of Venkatamakhin the concept of Mela-karta had not yet evolved. All his discussions are in terms of the Melas.

While talking about his scheme of 72 Melas, Venkatamakhin makes very interesting remarks :

I have no doubt worked out the 72 Melas , but it might be said that this permutation is a waste , since, of these 72, only a few are known and found in practice; my reply is that I have devised a scheme which would comprehend all Ragas of all times and of all countries , Ragas now known and Ragas which might be created in future, Ragas which we do not know  at all and Ragas which are only in text books , Ragas that are Desiya Ragas and the already generally accepted Melas of those  Desi Ragas , such Ragas like Pantuvarali and Kalyani  and their generally accepted Melas – it is to comprehended all these that I have devised this scheme of 72 Melas . Wherefore should one fear that it will be futile?

[Source: Collected writings on Indian Music .Vol 2 .p.264-5 by Dr. V. Raghavan]

Yes, indeed; it was not a futile exercise at all , but a path breaking pioneering work that led to improvements and refinements of the entire theory and scheme of the Melas and their derivatives.

[Venkatamakhin’s Mela scheme was thoroughly revised later. (We shall talk about these in a little while). The concept of Mela-karta (Janaka) from which other ragas may be derived and of Raganga Ragas also came about after Venkatamakhin’s time. Following that, the rest 53 Melas which Venkatamakhin could not name were duly recognized and assigned names. And, finally 72 Mela-karta Ragas were identified and named. Along with coining names, a system of hashing (Ka-ta-pa-yadi) for identifying the Raga-number with the aid of the first two syllables of its name was also introduced.]

In the Fifth Chapter – Raga prakarana – Venkatamakhin recalls the ancient system of identifying a Ragas with ten characteristics (Lakshanas) – Graha, Amsa, Tara, Mandra, Sadava, Audavita, Aplatva, Bahutva, Apa-Nyasa and Nyasa. He again talks of the earlier classification of Ragas as Grama raga, Bhasha Raga etc.  He describes 55 Ragas picked on the basis Graha Svaras (the initial note – Adi-Svara).  He starts with Ragas having Shadja as Graha Svara, then the Ragas with Rishabha as Graha Svara and so on. In case of each Raga, he mentions the Mela to which it belongs  as also their Lakshana and Lakshya.

He gives a classified list (according to Graha, Nyasa etc) of 54 Ragas with their descriptions, their Svara structure and their Mela.

The Sixth Chapter, Alapa-prakarana talks of various stages in developing a Raga Aalapa.

The Seventh Chapter Thaya-prakarana is the briefest with only seven verses. Venkatamakhin describes Thaya (Sthaya) as a melodic phase with rich musical potential that forms the main ingredient in Raga elaboration.  AS Dr. Ramanathan explains : In the Raga-alapana , Thaya is that in which a particular Svara is taken as the stationary point from which phrases are built up encompassing four Svaras in the ascending direction and later in the descending direction and finally conclude on mandra -sa.

The Eighth Chapter Gita-prakarana is about the Gita (the song); and also about the Shuddha Suda and Salaga Suda class of Prabandha. The latter, the Salaga Suda, in particular is treated a Gita. Venkatamakhin describes seven forms of Prabandhas under Salaga Suda: Dhruva, Mattha, Pratimattha, Nisharuka, Attatala, Rasa, and Ekatali

The Ninth Chapter Prabandha–prakarana is the extension of its previous Chapter; but , it is incomplete.  Here, Venkatamakhin describes Prabandha in terms of Six Angas (limbs or elements): Svara, Birudu, Pada, Tena, Paata, and Taala;   and Four Dhatus (sections in a song): Udgraha, Melapaka, Dhruva and Abogha. Then, he goes into to the classification of Prabandha depending upon the (a) number of Angas and (b) number Dhatus of which they are composed.  He also provides number of illustrations.

The Tenth and the Last Chapter on Taala is lost.

When you look back you find that Chatur-dandi prakashika, basically, recalls the Music practise as they existed during 14th to 17th centuries.  It throws light on the history of those times and clarifies some issues. But, by the time Venkatamakhin wrote this text, many of the subjects he discussed, particularly the Prabandha, were fading away giving place to newer forms of song-formats and improvised ways of rendering the Raga and the song.

Venkatamakhin was criticized for making uncalled for remarks such as: Ramamatya could not even understand what a Sheppard could easily understand; and, that not even Lord Shiva can improve upon his Mela scheme. (He, of course, was proved wrong as his Mela scheme was revised and improved upon). During the early 20th century controversies raged over the Melas of Venkatamakhin. Some critics argued that the Kanakambari -Phenadyuti nomenclatures – the Mela names –  found in the Appendix to Chatur-dandi – prakashika though ascribed to Venkatamakhin are not actually his own** . It was also pointed out that Venkatamakhin’s Mela was already marked with Ka-ta-pa-yadi prefixes. And they said, it is not known who invented this ingenious system ; but, it could not be Venkatamakhin. Most of such controversies have now been put to rest.

[**Prof N Ramanathan in his article The Post-Sangitaratnakara Svara System (included under The Traditional Indian Theory and Practice of Music and Dance – Edited by Jonathan Katz) observes: It is unlikely that the Appendix was written by Venkatamakhin himself. One cannot sure that Venkatamakhin himself is the author of the names of the seventy-two Melas, Kanakambari, Phena- dyuti etc.,; their Janyas and their Lakshanas in Slokas.

In the Text proper, the Svaras of the Ragas Mukhari are mentioned as being all Shudddha; and, Mukhari is placed as the First Mela. However, in the Appendix, the names of the Melas are different; and, the First Mela, here, is Kanakambari. And, Mukhari Raga is listed under the Twentieth Mela. Further, under the First Mela, another different Raga (that is – Shuddha Mukhari) is given.  This seems to suggest that Shuddha Mukhari comprises only the Shuddha Svaras.

The conclusion that follows is: that in the intervening period between the writing of the Text and the writing of the Appendix, certain changes had taken place in the Svara system.  To illustrate: in the old system Ga was five Srutis away from Sa; and, in the new system, Ga was four Srutis away from Sa. Similarly, in the old system, Shuddha –rsabha was three Srutis, while in the new system it was two Srutis.  Hence, the old scale of Shuddha Svaras was different from the new one. ]

Chatur-dandi-prakashika is known and recognized today mainly because of the 72 Mela Scheme that he introduced. And, this exercised great influence in reorganizing the Ragas and the Music structure in Karnataka Sangita.  In that regard, Chatur-dandi-prakashika is a very important text.



Mela is a Kannada word that is still in use; and, it signifies ‘group’ or ‘gathering’. There have been many attempts, at various stages in the history of Karnataka Sangita, to organize the then known Ragas by groping them into categories. The earliest known such attempt was by the sage Sri Vidyaranya (1320-1380) who in his Sangita-sara   grouped about 50 Ragas into 15 Melas.

Following Sri Vidyaranya, Ramamatya in the Fourth Chapter – Mela-Prakarana– of his Svara-mela-kalanidhi (1550 AD) introduced the theoretical framework for classifying then known Ragas into 20 Melas, 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.

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.

Ramamatya gives details of Shuddha-Svaras 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

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, during the second half of the 16th century Pundarika Vittala (in his Raga-manjari) introduced Ramamatya’s 19-Mela system in North India. But, he changed the names and scales of several Melas. He wrote two treatises. One was Sadraga Chandrodaya, and the other  was Ragamanjari. In Sadraga Chandrodaya Pundarika Vittala gives 19 Melas  with  66 janya ragas ; but, in Ragamanjari he gives 20 Melas and 66 janya ragas. ( It is explained; in Ragamanjari Pundarika Vittala gives one extra Mela, because of the chatusruti Ri and kaisiki Ni combination). But, in his Sad-Raga-chandrodaya Pundarika Vittala mentions the possibility of 90 Melas.

Another South Indian musicologist who migrated to North was Srikantha who wrote his Rasa-kaumudi at about the same time. In classifying 37 important Ragas, he reduced Ramamatya’s 19 Melas to 11 or in fact to 10 as his scales of Malhara and Saranga were actually the same. His system resembled the contemporary Arabic system of 12 predominant modes (Maqam).

Then, following Ramamatya and Pundarika Vittala, Ahobala Pandita classified 122 Ragas under six Mela categories and three subdivisions: Audava (pentatonic), Shadava (hexa-tonic) and Sampurna (hepta-tonic). Hridayanarayana Deva who followed Ahobala Pandita, arrived at 12 Melas composed of two sets of six Melas depending on the number of Vikrita Svaras. Lochana Kavi also came up with 12 Melas. And, in Somantha’s Raga Vibhodha there are 960 possible Melas. Even though they all 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.

Thus, right from 14th century, Musician-scholars have been classifying and re-classifying Ragas into different sets of Melas, each according to his pet theory.

When you look back you will find that over a long period there had been a tendency to evolve as many numbers of Melas as possible.

The proliferation of Melas seemed to have come about because that instead of abstracting Melas from out of the Ragas in vogue, attempts were made to arrive at as many number of Svara-structures as possible out of the known Shuddha ( pure) and Vikrta ( modified) Svaras. This practice came to known as Mela –prastara (elaboration or spreading of the Melas). For instance; a Mela is basically a collection of seven Svaras. By permutation of these Svaras in varying ways one could arrive at a number of plausible Melas. Somanatha , as mentioned earlier, claimed that he could devise as many as 960  plausible Melas; but then , he found it reasonable to restrict the numbers to 23  abstracted from the then known Ragas.

This process of Mela-prastara went on till the number of Melas (or Mela-karta) settled down at 72.

[ For a detailed  and scholarly discussion on ‘The Mela Classification of Ragas ‘ with particular reference to Pundarika Vittala , please refer to Chapter 8 Mela system of Dr.Padma Rajagopals’s thesis.]


One of the most important texts in that context was Chatur-dandi-prakashika of Venkatamakhin (1650), which brought the Mela system on a rational basis. It classified the Ragas according to the system of 72 basic scales (Mela). The basics of system still prevail, though with modifications.

In 1620, Venkatamakhin also corrected Ramamatya’s system by reducing it to 19 from the original 20 Melas, because he found that the notes of the two Melas were similar.

But, 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-scheme made into two groups of 36 each (Shuddha Madhyama and Prathi Madhyama). It was, at this time, only a theoretical possibility, since all those 72 Melas were yet unknown. Out of such 72 Melas, Venkatamakhin was able to identify the Ragas of only 19 Melas. The rest (53) he considered as mere theoretical possibilities; and, non-functional since no known Ragas could fit in to his scheme of these Melas.  Therefore, he could name only 19 Melas; the rest (53) were not assigned any names.

[There is some interesting discussion on Todi, presently, a prominent Raga in Karnataka Sangita. Venkatamakhin calls Todi an ‘outhara’ raga. He does not include Todi in the 19 Melas called as ‘praak-prasiddha melas. According to his scheme of Asampurna paddhati, Todi is the eighth raganga raga known was Janatodi.

Some scholars do not however agree with Venkatamakhin’s treatment of Todi. They point out that Todi is not a ‘northern’ Raga; and, its traces can be found in the Southern music – say in the Divya Prabandhams as Mudirnda Kurinji – though it was fully developed in the period of the Trinities.

Prof. Sambamurthy also did not agree that Todi was an outhara raga; and, he described Todi as a ‘naya ragam’- the one that offers ample scope for alapana, niraval and swaraprasthara. He said Todi was a sarvaswara gamaka varika rakti raga. Dr. S.A.K. Durga called Todi as one of the ragas having most samvaaditva (consonance) or arguably the most consonant raga.

Todi which is sung often with shadja varja and panchama varja, seems to have been among the favourites of  Sri Dikshitar’s family. For instance; Ramaswamy Dikshitar composed a padam in Todi; Muthuswami Dikshitar’s dhyana kriti in his Navarana group is in Todi; Chinnaswamy Dikshitar’s popular pallavi ‘Gaanalola Karunaala vaala’ is in Todi; and, Baluswami Dikshitar’s chittaswarams for ‘Gajavadana,’ give the essence of Todi.

Todi – formally titled as Hanumatodi is the 2nd rāga in the 2nd chakra – Netra.  It is the 8th Melakarta rāga (parent scale) in the 72 Melakarta rāga system – Sampurna paddhati

Sri Tygaraja who followed Sampurna paddhati, has composed about 32 kritis in Todi, with each composition starting at every single note of the three octaves. It is a very popular raga, very often sung in the concerts. Yet; Todi is known to be a difficult raga, because of the complexity in its Prayoga (execution). That, perhaps, is the reason why beginners are not taught  Todi and Saveri. ]

It is said 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 (numbered as 15.14.1 in Sri Subbarama Dikshitar’s Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini (1904). Please check page  250 /664 of the web-page / page 207 of the Book .

In Muddu Venkatamakhin’s Ragalakshana a drastic shift takes place in the Mela-concept. He synthetically creates Janya Ragas for the remaining 53 Melas that were earlier considered non-functional. Here for the first time the Raga-description is based purely on its Svara-sthanas. It is also at this stage that the Raga Grammar or its characteristic is described in terms of its   Aroha and Avaroha Svaras.

(Please check here for Muddu Venkatamakhin’s Appendix (Anubandha) to Chaturdandi  Prakashika )

Some say, it is likely that Muddu Venkatamakhin’s scheme grew in two stages. In the second stage the Katapayadi prefixes were added to suit the Raga-names; or the other way. The Gitas in the Raganga (Mela-kartha) Ragas bear the names with their Katapayadi prefixes.

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 Aroha or Avaroha but non-linear (A-sampurna). It is believed that Muddu Venkatamakhin wrote Lakshanas for the Raganga (Mela) ragas and their Janyas.

Sri Muthusvami Dikshitar gave form to most of these Ragas through his compositions. As regards the A-sampura (not-sampurna) Ragas, Sri Muthusvami Dikshitar chose to change their structure in order to mitigate the ill-effects of direct Vivadi Svaras in their scale.

[Sri Subbarama Dikshitar while writing about the life of Sri Ramaswamy Dikshitar (father of Sri Mutthuswamy Dikshitar) says he learnt Mela system from Venkata Vaidyanatha Dikshitulu who was the maternal-grandson of Venkatamakhin (Vaggeyakara Caritramu, pg.25, SSP English Translation Vol.1). This Venkata Vaidyanatha Dikshitulu is identified by some as Muddu Venkatamakhi.

However, Dr. R. Sathyanarayana differs. According to the dates given by Dr. Sathyanarayana (Rāgalakaam of Śrī Muddu Venkatamakhin; Introduction, pg.9) Muddu Venkatamakhin may have been born around 1650 A.D and Venkata Vaidyanatha was a younger contemporary who taught Ramaswamy Dīkṣhitar at around 1750 A.D.]

Again, during late 17th – early 18th century, a person called Govindacharya the author of Samgraha-chudamani changed the names of some Melas of Venkatamakhin

[Sri  T R Srinivasa Ayyangar  , in his introduction to Sangraha Chudamani of Govinda , edited by Pandit Sri Subrahmanya Sastry  (Published by The Adyar Library, 1938) writes : The author of this work Govinda , popularly known as Govindacharya, to distinguish him from his famous namesake , does not seem to have been known otherwise to fame. Neither his place of nativity , nor his antecedents  , nor the time when he flourished can be traced with any accuracy.

Further , Sri Ayyangar mentions : a manuscript copy of Sangraha Chudamani  was in possession of Manabuccavadi  Venkata Subba Ayyar , an immediate disciple of Sri Thyagaraja; and, it had been copied by Maha vadidyanatha Sivan and  Pattanam Subrahmanya Ayyar..

It is , therefore, very likely that Sri Thyagaraja was familiar with the text and its Mela classifications.]

Govindacharya expanded on Venkatamakhin’s Mela concept   by introducing  the  Sampoorna Meladhikara (equivalent term to Melakarta) scheme which  has a complete (sampoorna) Saptaka : both in the Arohana and the Avaroha  structure; and importantly the Svaras are to be in linear order. In this scheme, the Mela-kartas arise out of systematic permutation of the seven Svaras into the twelve Svara-sthanas

Govindacharya is also said to written lakshana-gitas and lakshana-slokas (numbering in all 366) covering 294 Janya RagasAnd, it is believed, he refined the Katyapadi prefixes by linking the Mela Ragas to their first two syllables of their names. This system of 72 Mela is the Karnataka Mela system of the present day.

Some say; while devising the system of 72 Meladhikara-s, based on 22  Srutis,  Govindacharya  adopted the nomenclatures and characteristics that were used by the musicologist Akalanka  (later than Venkatamakhin?) in his Telugu  work Sangita sara sangrahamu.   Akalanka  had developed his system on the basis of the Sruti positions in a Rudra-veena ; and, had employed the Katapayadi mode of computation. In the system devised by Akalanka, the Melakartas were complete both in the Aroha and the Avaroha. Sri  Subrahmanya Sastry beleives that Sri Tyagaraja was the first Vakgeyakara to introduce Akalanka’s  Melakartas ; and to compose Kritis , illustrative of their principles.

[Please refer to the Sangraha Chudamani of Govinda, edited by the renowned scholar, Pandit Sri S . Subrahmanya Sastry; and, published by Adyar Library, 1938. Please do read the highly educative introduction written by Sri T R Srinivasa Ayyangar.

But , there is a dispute about the very name Akalanka. Dr. V Raghavan, in the introduction to Sangita Sara Sangrahamu Tiruvenga Dakaviedited by Dr. Narendra Sharma, remarks that the name Akalanka is ‘absolutely unreal’; and, Sri Srinivasa Ayyangar might have misunderstood the opening verse of the manuscript.  He surmises that its  author might have been one Tiruvenkata , who wrote it for a Lady named Kuntalamba (page ix).

Further , Dr.  Raghavan states : there is hardly any ground for asserting that this Telugu text, in rather untidy Telugu,  is the source for Govinda. ‘ –  Page xi]

In any case :

Govindacharya’s insistence on a Sampurna Arohana–Avarohana profile lent the Mela-karta a sort of elegance. And, seen from another view, the Mela-karta scheme appears as a product of mathematical abstraction. And, naming of the Mela, the ragas, the Svaras (and introduction of Vivadi Svaras) seem rather incidental to its technical process.

Sri Mutthuswamy Dikshitar followed Venkatamahin’s scheme (Kanakambari-Phenadyuti); while, Sri Tyagaraja gave forms to most of the Ragas in the other scheme (Kanakangi-Rantnangi).   The subtle but main difference between the two schemes appears to be the importance given to the linearity and non-linearity of the Svaras in Arohana and Avarohana.


Prof. Ramanathan explains : The difference between Mela-karta and Raganga-raga is that while the former (Mela-karta) had to have all the seven Svaras in both the Aroha (ascent) and in the Avaroha (descent); but, for the latter (Raganga-raga) it was sufficient if the seven Svaras were present either in Aroha or in Avaroha. Further , in Mela-karta , the Aroha and Avaroha the seven Svaras have to occur in their regular (krama) sequence ; while in the Raganga –raga , the  sequence of Svaras in  Aroha and Avaroha could be irregular (vakra) .

In other words; the Melakarta Ragas are all Sampurna Ragas, but the converse is not true, i.e., all Sampurna Ragas are not Melakarta Ragas

With these stipulations, the sequence of the Svaras in Aroha and Avaroha became the defining characteristic of a Raga. And , in about a century following the Chaturdandi-prakashika , the eminent composers , mainly the Trinity, composed Kritis in the Ragas classified under all the 72 Melas.

But , in the later period , the distinction between the Mela and the Raganga-Raga gradually faded away; and, the two concepts merged into one.

Thus, the formulation of the 72 Mela-prastara and the later auxiliaries greatly influenced the course of the South Indian classical music of the later period.

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’.


Raga Pravaham  a monumental work and a reference source of immense value to learners, teachers, musician and musicologists alike, is an Index of about 5,000 Karnataka Ragas, compiled by Dr. Dhandapani and D. Pattammal. The list of Ragas is given both alphabetically and Mela karta wise. The different kramas for the same Ragas and same scales with different names are also listed.

Apart from indexing Mela-karta Ragas, Janya ragas, Vrja and Vakra Ragas and their derivatives; the Raga Pravaham lists about 140 Hindustani Ragas, which are  allied or equivalent to Karnataka Ragas.

In his introduction to Raga Pravaham, the renowned musicologist and scholar Prof .Dr. S. Ramanathan (1917-1988)-(Wesleyan University, U.S.A),  wrote :

The Raga system in Carnatic music has a long and interesting history from the time of Matanga’s Brihaddesi, where you come across the definition of Raga. The system has evolved through the centuries. Ragas like Gaula, Takka etc. are mentioned in the Brihaddesi.

By the 13th century, the Sangita Ratnakara of Sarangadeva lists as many as 264 Ragas. Here, you come across Ragas like Sankarabharana, Sri Raga, Todi, Malavagaula (which is referred to as Taurushka), and Kedaragaula etc.

In the 14th Century Vidyaranya, in his musical treatise Sangeetha Saram gives a list of fifteen Mela Ragas ; and , by the year 1550, Ramamatya in his Swara Mela kalanidhi speaks of 19 Melas and several derivatives from each of them.

In the beginning of 17th Century, Somanatha’s Raga Vibhoda; and Govinda Dikshitar’s Sangita Sudha are two important works which deal with Ragas current at that time.

In the latter half of 17th Century, Venkatamakhi, son of Govinda Dikshitar appeared on the scene; and, in his monumental work Chatur-Dandi-Prakasika expounded the 72 Mela-karta schemes, which brought the Mela Janya system on a rational basis.

In this work, he only showed the possibility of 72 Mela  kartas. But, in his scheme, a Raga could be a Mela  only in case it had all the seven Svaras either in the ascent (arohana) or In the descent (avarohana). Kedara-Gaula which is Audava Sampurna was a Mela in his scheme.

It is believed that it was Venkatamakhi’s grandson Muddu Venkatamakhi, who gave the nomenclature for the Mela Ragas, (Kanakambari and Phenadhyuti etc) in his Gitam called Raganga-Raga-Anukramanika-Gitam (found in Subbarama  Dikshitar’s  Sangitha Sampradaya Pradarsini, 1904).

Later, Govindacharya, the author of Sangraha Chudamani gave the nomenclature Kanakangi, Ratnangi etc. to the 72 Mela karta Ragas. These Melas had all the seven notes in the ascent (arohana) and in the descent (avarohana) as well. He has also given Lakshana-gitas and lakshana-slokas for many Janya Ragas.

Though the arohana and avarohana krama of a Raga does not tell us everything about the Raga, it provides the frame work on which it is built. Ragas like Sahana, Ahiri, Neelambari, Devagandhari and Yadhukula Kambhoji defy definition. But for the majority of the Ragas, the Krama helps.


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 was improved upon by Venkatamahin; and later perfected by Muddu Venkatamahin and Govindacharya. These series of concepts and their refinements have provided Karnataka Sangita a unique and a thorough theoretical foundation.


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.

The Mela system also travelled North.  Pandit  Shri 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) and others  .

Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande Stamp

Bhatkhande also adopted the idea of Lakshana-geetas that Venkatamakhin and other scholars 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.

The ten basic Thaats (or musical scales or frameworks) according to the System evolved by Pandit VN Bhatkhande are (From Wikipedia):



[ It is said;Pundit Bhatkhande composed a Dhrupad (in Raga Purvi ; set to jhap tala)  in praise of Venkatamakhin and his  Chaturdandi Prakasika.

ab chatura dandi mata venkata sunave ||
dvadasa suran ke khata chakra banave || (ab chatura)
ra ga ra gi ra gu ri gi ri gu ru gu rachave ||
dha na dhi ni dha nu dhi ni dhi nu dhu nu manave || (ab chatura)
dva saptati mela prati madhyama so janita
raganga saba janaka ade kahave ||
aroha avaroha ke bheda ko sadha
bhashanga rupanga chatura upa jave || (ab chatura)

 Pundit Bhatkhande states in this composition that Venkatamakhin authored the work Chaturdandi Prakasika; and, that he modelled 12 chakras with the 12 tonal scale. He then goes on to state that Venkatamakhin  conceived of the different flavours of each of these positions (to constitute 16 swaras); he specifies three varieties of ‘ri’, ‘ga’, ‘dha’ and ‘ni’ and calls them out by name (ra, ri, ru, ga, gi, gu, dha, dhi, dhu, na, ni and nu). Bhatkhande then states that Venkatamakhin also explains the various combinatorial possibilities of ‘ra ga’, ‘ra gi’, ‘ra gu’, ‘ri gi’, ‘dha na’, ‘dha ni’, ‘dha nu’, ‘dhi ni’, ‘dhi nu’, ‘dhu nu’. In the sanchari, he states that Venkatamakhi conceived of the mathematical possibility of 72 families (melas) of ragangas (the janaka) raga-s taking into account the two madhyama possibilities (and the invariant Sa and Pa – not mentioned in the composition). Bhatkhande then states that Venkatamakhi spelled out (with authority and clarity) the murchanas (aroha-s and avaroha-s) of the various bhashanga-s and upanga-s that belonged to each family (raganga). The first and the last phrases of the composition contain the composer’s mudra (chapa) ‘chatura’. Bhatkhande adopted the pseudonym ‘Chatura pandit’ and all his compositions have the mudra ‘chatura’ built into them. This composition thus features two occurrences of the chapa. The dhatu and the matu of the composition blend extremely well and this dhrupad makes a powerful musical tribute to Venkatamakhin.

(Source  acknowledged with thanks :

[Please check here for a comparative study of Mela-kartas and Thaats - ]


The 72 Mela-kartas

Emmie Te Nijenhuis in her Indian Music: History and Structure explains the 72 Mela-kartas.

The 72  Mela-kartas are arranged in 12 series (Chakras) each having 6 Ragas. All are having the same tonic (Shuddha Sa) and fifth (Shuddha Pa). All the Mela-kartas in the Chakras from 1 to 6 have a perfect fourth (Shuddha Madhyama; abbreviated as Ma). And, the Mela-kartas in the Chakras numbering 7 to 12 have augmented fourth (Prati Madhyama; abbreviated as Mi). With respect to the other notes in the scale Chakras 7 to 12 duplicate Chakras 1 to 6 respectively.

For a list of the seventy-two Melakarta Ragas , classified under two broad categories (Shudda Madhyama and Prati Madhyama Ragas)  ; and,  enumerated under twelve Chakras , from Indu  (1) to Aditya (12) , please click here .

The name of each of the 12 chakra suggests its ordinal number as well.

:- Indu  stands for the moon, of which we have only one – hence it is the first chakra.(Eka Indu)

:-Nētra  means eyes, of which we have two – hence it is the second (Dve Neta)

:-Agni is the third chakra as it denotes the three divyagnis (fire, lightning and Sun).They could be the three Agnis viz. Aahavaneeyam, Anvwaaharyam & Gaarhapathyam. (Tri Agni)

:-Vēda  denoting four Vedas is the name of the fourth chakra (Chatus Chakra)

:-Bāa  comes fifth as it stands for the five bāṇaa of Manmatha (Pancha bana)

:-Rutu  is the sixth chakra standing for the 6 seasons of Hindu calendar(Shad Riru)

:-Rishi, meaning sage, is the seventh chakra representing the seven sages (Sapta Rishi

:-Vasu  stands for the eight vasus of Hinduism (Asta Vasu)

:-Brahma  comes next of which there are 9 (Nava Brahma)

:-Dishi The 10 directions, including akasha (sky) and patala (nether region), are represented by the tenth chakraDishi. (Dasha Dishi)

:- Rudra  Eleventh chakra  is Rudra of which there are eleven (Ekadash Rudra)

:- Aditya Twelfth comes Aditya  of which there are twelve (Dwadasha Aditya)

[Please do read Sri S Rajam’s most wonderful illustrations of the 12 Chakras and their 72 Melakarta-s.]

Each Chakra is determined by the lowest, middle or highest variety of the second (abr, Ra, Ri Ru) and third note (abr. Ga, Gi, Gu).

The six Ragas of each series are individually determined according to the lowest , middle and the highest variety of the sixth (abr. Dha, Dhi, Dhu) and seventh note (abr. Na, Ni, Nu).

In order to make a clear diction between the three varieties of notes –Ga, Dha and Ni, the vowels of these tone syllables are changed, a- indicating the lowest;  –i indicating the middle; and –u indicating the highest variety.

In short, the structure of the first (that is lower) tetrachord (purvanga) of a Raga is determined by its serial (chakra) number, while the structure of the second (the higher) tetrachord (uttaranga) is determined by the number of scale within the particular series (chakra) . Multiplying the serial (chakra) number (after having subtracted 1) by the number 6 and adding the number of the scale within the series, one arrives at the exact Mela (karta) number.

Mela Raga Chart 2

( Source : Raga Pravaham by Dr. Dhandapani and D. Pattammal)



The schemes of 72 Mela and Mela-karta employed a system of deriving the Mela-number by referring to the first two syllables of its name. This helped in easy tracking of a Mela from among the 72. The system of assigning a prefix number to each Mela was adopted from the ancient Katapayadi formula which classifies the letters of the Sanskrit alphabets in a specified manner. It is not known who invented the ingenious Katapayadi formula. But, the system seems to have been in use at least since 7th century.

It is also not clear who introduced the practice of numbering the Melas by means of the Katapayadi prefixes. In the earlier references to Mela system (either by Sri Vidyaranya or Ramamatya or Pundarika Vittala) the prefixes were not mentioned. But, in the Appendix (Anubandha) to the Chatur-dandi-prakashika the Melas were already marked by Katapayadi prefixes.


According to the scheme, the consonants have numerals assigned as per the above table. All stand-alone vowels like a (अ) and  (ऋ) are assigned to zero. In case of a conjunct, consonants attached to a non-vowel will not be valueless. The only consonant standing with a vowel is ya (य). So the corresponding numeral for kya (क्या) will be 1. There is no way of representing Decimal separator in the system.

Under this naming scheme, the number of a Mela-karta (Janaka) Raga is obtained by decoding the first two letters using the Katapaya scheme; and reversing it. For instance; For Divyamani – Di=8; and Va=4, giving 84. And reversing that you get 48, which is its Mela number. Once you get the Mela number you get its notes too

[ For more on that please check :]

Melakarta  File by courtesy of Sri Basavarjtalwar at ]



 Please click on the figure for an enlarged view.


Please do read the scholarly work  A Karnatik Music Primer by Dr. Parthasarathy Sriram at



References and Sources:

I gratefully acknowledge

  1. Caturdandiprakasika of Venkatamakhi by Dr. N.Ramanathan
  2. The Anukramaikā Gīta in the SSP by Sumithra Vasudev
  3. Indian Music: History and Structure by Emmie Te Nijenhuis
  4. The “ka-Ta-pa-ya” scheme
  5. A Brief Overview of the Evolution of Indian Music

6. Collected writings on Indian Music .Vol 2  by Dr. V. Raghavan



Posted by on June 12, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Eighteen

Continued from Part Seventeen – Lakshana Granthas– Continued

Part Eighteen (of 22 ) – Lakshana Granthas – Continued

12 . Samgita Parijata pravashika by Ahobala Pandita  

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

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

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

Ahobala derives his music theories and principles from Raga-tarangini of Lochana Kavi (15th century) and Raga vibodha of Somanatha (1609). The Raga-tarangini written by Lochana Kavi, also known as Lochana Pandita, a poet in the Royal Court of Maharaja Mahinath Thakur of the Khandwala dynasty of Mithila , discusses in detail several songs in Maithili dialect, set to Ragas and Raginis prevalent during that time. Lochana Kavi in the traditional manner lists 22 Sruti positions. He also described  twelve Mela Ragas  (starting with Bhairavi, corresponding to Kafi Thaat of the present-day, which is equivalent to Kharahara-priya of Karnataka Samgita) and seventy-seven Janya Ragas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are some often quoted passages of Ahobala Pandita.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

ahobala music


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


13. Govinda Dikshita – Sangita-sudha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

All pictures are gratefully  taken from internet


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Ten

Continued from Part Nine – Musical Instruments in Natyashastra

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

Anibaddha and Nibaddha

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 img-thing (1)

Manodharma Samgita

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Prabandha, Vastu and Rupaka

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Types of Prabandhas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


There are also countless other forms

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

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


Continued in Part 11


Sources and References

Indian Music: History and Structure by Emmie Te Nijenhuis

A History of Indian music by Swami Prajnanananda

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

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

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

Music and Musical Thought in Early India by Lewis Eugene Rowe

Kalātattvakośa: by Ramesh Chandra Sharma

Sangiti Sabda Kosa by Bimal Roy

Suladis and Ugabhogas  by  Mahamahopadyaya Dr. R .Sathyanarayana

Prathamopalabda Swarasahita Samkeerthana Sila Lekhanamu by I.V Subba Rao

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


Posted by on May 10, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Three

tinued from Part Two – Overview (2) North – South branches


Part Three (of 22) –  Overview (3)


Karnataka samgita

1.1. The Music of South India was referred to as Karnataka Sangita, perhaps, even slightly prior to 12th century. King Nanyadeva, a prince of a later branch of the Rastrakuta (Karnataka) dynasty who reigned in Mithtili (Nepal) between 1097 and 1133 A.D. in his Sarasvathi-hrdaya-alamkara-hara mentions Karnata-pata tanas.

Further, the Kalyana Chalukya King Someshwara III (1127-1139 AD) in his Manasollasa (also called Abhjilashitarta Chintamani) calls the Music of his times as Karnata Sangita . This, perhaps, is the earliest work where the name Karnataka Sangita is specifically mentioned .

Later, Thulaja the Nayak ruler of Tanjavuru in his ‘Sangita saramruta’ (1729 – 1735) calls the Music that was in vogue at his time as Karnataka Samgita. That was, perhaps, because the authorities and the Lakshana-granthas he quoted in his work were authored by Kannada-speaking scholars. 

Later, Sri Subbarama Dikshitar in his ‘Sangita-sampradaya-pradarshini’ (1904) refers to Sri Purandaradasa as ‘Karnataka Sangita Pitamaha’ (father of Karnataka Music).

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:- and,

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


1.3. The practice of grouping (Mela) the Ragas according to their parent scale, it said, was initiated by Sage Vidyaranya in his Sangita-sara (14th century). Govinda Dikshita (who reverently addresses Sri Vidyarana as: Sri Charana)   confirms this in his Sangita-sudha (1614).  Sri Vidyaranya classified about 50 Ragas into 15 groups (Mela).

Mela is a Kannada term meaning collection or group; and it is still in use (eg. sammelana – is meeting or conference). Sri Vidyaranya ‘s  work on Melakarta system was followed up and improved upon in later times by other Kannada–speaking scholars. 

For instance; Ramamatya, following Sri Vidyaranya, in his Svara-mela-kalanidhi classified the then known Ragas into 20 Melas. His classification of Melas was based on five criteria (Lakshana): Amsa (predominant note); Graha (initial note); Nyasa (final note); Shadava (sixth note); and, Audava (pentatonic structure).

Ramamatya was thereafter followed by:  Pundarika Vittala (16th century); Venkatamakhin (17th century); and his grandson Muddu Venkatamakhin (18th century).



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

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

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

power of Music

Music Terms

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

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

Teaching Methods

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

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

kanaka-vyasa-vadi ed

Contribution of Haridasas

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

3.5. Among the Daasa-kuta , Sri Purandaradasa (1484-1564) a disciple of Sri Vyasaraya was  , of course,  the most well known of all. He composed countless Padas (Ankita: Purandara Vittala). Though he is said to have composed gita, thaya, padya-vrata (vrittanama) and prabandha (much of which is lost), he is today known mainly by his Padas, Suladis and Ugabhogas.  

His songs cover a range of subjects such as: honesty and purity in ones conduct and thoughts; wholesome   family life; social consciousness and ones responsibility to society; philosophical songs; futility of fake rituals; songs preaching importance of devotion and surrender to God; prayers; narrative songs etc.

Sri Purandaradasa systematized the methods of teaching Music; and blended lyrics (Mathu), Music (Dhatuu) and Dance (Nrtya) delightfully. He is credited with introducing early-music lessons such as: sarale (svarali), janti (varase), tala- alankaras as well as the group of songs called pillari gitas.  These form the first lessons in learning Karnataka music even today. Sri Purandaradasa was later revered as Karnataka Samgita Pitamaha (father of Karnataka Music).


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

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


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

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


Pada, Suladi, and, Ugabhoga

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

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

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

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

Therefore, in Suladi, particular attention is paid to the Taala aspect. Sometimes Ragas are not prescribed for rendering a Suladi. Towards the end of the Suladi there is a couplet called Jothe (meaning ‘a pair ‘in Kannada).  Some speculate that Jothe might have been a reflection of Yati , an element of Vadya-prabandha that was sung after the Salaga-prabandha.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Trinity of Music


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

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

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


Today and tomorrow

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

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

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

Lotus Blossom_

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


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

floral design3

Continued in Part Four

Music of Sama Veda

Sources and References

ಕರ್ನಾಟಕ ಸಂಗೀತ’ದಲ್ಲಿ  ಕನ್ನಡ’

Important Treatises on Carnatic Music by Harini Raghavan

Haridasa s’ contribution towards Music

Kannada Suḷādi-s’ by Arati Rao

All images are from Internet



Posted by on April 22, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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Music of India – a brief outline – Part Two

Continued from Part One – Overview


Part Two (of 22) –

Overview (2) – continued

North – South branches

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

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

It is clear that by the time of Sarangadeva, the Music of India had moved far away from Marga or Gandharva, as also from the system based on Jatis (class of melodies) and two parent scales.  By his time, many new conventions had entered into the main stream; and   the concept of Ragas that had taken firm roots was wielding considerable authority.  Sarangadeva mentions names of about 267 Ragas.

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

Mughal Shamsa, smallest

The Persian influence


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

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

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

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


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

2.3. Yet; Music and its traditions did manage to survive and flourish in India despite the Muslim rule and its harsh attitudes towards Music in general and the Indian in particular. Persian Music along with Indian Music was commonly heard in Indian courts; and, the two systems of Music did interact. Amir Khsru, who served in courts of many patrons and assimilated diverse musical influences, is credited with introducing Persian and Arabic elements into Indian Music.

These included new vocal forms as well as new Ragas (Sarfarda, Zilaph), Taalas; and, new musical instruments such as Sitar and Tablas (by modifying Been and Mridamgam). Another modification of Been is said to be Tanpura  (or Tambura, Tanpuri) that provides and maintains Sruti. (Till then, it is said, flute – Venu – provided Sruti). 

Of the vocal forms that were developed, two are particularly important: Qaul, the forerunner of Qawwali, a form of Muslim religious music; and, Tarana a rhythmic song composed of meaningless syllables.

Sitar Tabla

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


2.4. Even during the Muslim rule, Music did enjoy some patronage. It appears Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq (1325-1351) had in his court as many as 1200 musicians. Many other Muslim rulers were also patrons of Music. And, some of them were themselves musicians.

For instance; Husyan Shah Sharqi (1458-1528) Sultan of Jaunpur*, a musician in his own right, is credited with introducing a new form of song–rendering, Khyal (Khayal) lending greater scope for improvisation and technical virtuosity than did the ancient Dhrupad.

And, Ibrahim Adil shah (1582-1636) of Bijapur (Karnataka), a poet and musician, in his Kitab-i-Nauras (Nava Rasa) compiled his poems set to music. He is also credited with bringing to fore the Raga-mala paintings, depicting pictorial representations to Ragas, their moods and seasons.

Similarly, it is said, the. Khyal singing came into its own due largely to the efforts of Sadarang and Adarang during the reign of Mohammad Shah Rangeela (1719-1748).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Taking positions

3.1. The periods of 16-18th centuries were rather confusing. While the songs of the Indian music were either in Sanskrit or in a regional language, the Muslim singers found it difficult either to pronounce the words or to grasp the emotional appeal.

Similarly, Hindu musicians found it difficult to render songs in Persian, some of which elaborated Muslim religious themes.

As a result, in either case, in the Music of North India, the words of the songs lost their importance or were of little significance to the singers, while all the attention was focused on voice culture, melodic improvisation and style of rendering the music.

Further, an increasing number of Music-scholars of the North discussed Hindustani Art Music and wrote their works in Persian, Urdu, Hindi and other regional languages, instead of in Sanskrit. Such an admixture of Indian-Persian-Muslim influences over a period of four centuries from the sixteenth resulted in the Hindustani music of today.

karnataka samgita

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

North- South interaction


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

For instance; Mahendra Varma Pallava (CE 600-630), who ruled from Kanchipuram in the seventh century, published some compositions of the North by having them engraved on the rocks on the hill at kudumiyanmalai, in Sanskrit (in Pallava-Grantha characters)  with footnote in Tamil. The inscription is actually an extract of Music lesson (Abhyasa gayana) for developing four types of finger–techniques (Chatush-prahara-Svaragama) for playing on the Veena. The type of the Veena is mentioned as Parivardhini.

The inscription which is in seven sections mentions Ragas such as: Madhyamagrama, Shadjagrama, Shadava, Shadharita, Panchama, Kaisikamadhyama   and KaisikiIt is said in the inscription that these lessons were ‘made for the benefit of the pupils by the King who is the devotee of Maheshwara the Supreme Lord and the disciple of Rudracharya’.


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

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

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

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

4.2. Till about the late 16th century both the South and North traditions followed the same set of texts.  Then, Pundarika Vittala (1583 approx) a musician-scholar from Karnataka (from around Shivaganga Hills about 50 KMs from Bangalore), who settled down in the North under the patronage of Muslim King Burhan Khan, wrote a series of books concerning Music of North India: Vitthalya; Raga-mala; Nartana-nirnaya; and his famous Sad-raga-chandodaya.

Later he moved to the court of the prince Madhavasimha and Manasimha, feudatory of Akbar. Here he wrote Raga-narayana and Raga-manjari.

In his writings, Pundarika Vittala carried forward the work of Gopala Nayaka (14th century) of grafting Karnataka music on to the newly evolving North Indian music.  In his work Raga-manjari, Pundarika Vittala adopted the parent scale (Mela) classification of Ragas as was devised by Ramamatya (Ca. 1550) in his Swaramela-Kalanidhi. (Ramamatya, in turn, is said to have taken the term Mela meaning ‘group’ and its concept from Sage Vidyaranya’s (1320-1380) Samgita Sara.) Pundarika listed 20 contemporary Ragas of North into Melas, which were not identical with their South Indian examples.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lotus reflection

South coming close to North

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

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

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


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

6.2. Further, after the disintegration of the Muslim empire the political structure of North India fragmented into numerous small states ruled by Nawabs and Maharajas. Each ruler competed with his rival in studding his court with famed musicians. It is said, rulers of some states borrowed heavily to get hold of top-notch performers. Each ruler was keen to establish the superiority of the Music of his court over that of others. Each would goad his musicians to come up with different styles and techniques of singing, such as: Taans, Murkis, Layakaari, Tayaari, and so on.

The Music across North India, thus, came to be stratified into styles of various court-music. Each was known as a Gharana (‘family’ or ‘house’), named after its patron (such as: Gwalior Gharana, Patiala Gharana, Jaipur Gharana and so on) . Each ruler desired to have his very own personalized Gharana of music. And if no particular geographical region could be identified then a Gharana would take the name of the founder; as for instance: Imdadkhani Gharānā named after the great Imdad Khan (1848 -1920) who served in the Royal Courts of Mysore and Indore.

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


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

Pandit Bhatkhande’s efforts


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

[Venkatamakhin classified the Ragas according to the system of 72 basic scales (Mela)].

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


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

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

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

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

[ Raga Pravaham is a monumental work; and reference source of immense value, is an Index of about 5,000 Karnataka Ragas compiled by Dr. Dhandapani and D. Pattammal. The list of ragas is given both alphabetically and Mela karta wise. The different kramas for the same Ragas and same scales with different names are also listed.

The Mela-karta Ragas, Janya ragas, Vrja and Vakra Ragas and their derivatives , together with their structures, have been Indexed.

In addition, the Raga Pravaham also lists about 140 Hindustani Ragas allied or equivalent to Karnataka Ragas  (pages 277-280 )

A Mela-karta-raga is a Sampurna-Raga (with all seven Svaras) where the ascent (arohana) and descent (avarohana) are in the same (reverse) order e.g. Sankarabharana

The Varja-Ragas are formed by leaving out either in arohana or avarohana or both, one or more Svaras; but keeping the other Svaras unchanged e.g. Hindola, Arabhi, Saramati.

The VakraRagas are formed when the order (Krama) of the Svaras are changed;  e.g. Ritigoula ( in addition one or more Svaras may be left out.]


Coming close again

Ragini Samgita

9.1. Some distinguished Rāgas (Kāpi, Deś etc.,) of the Karnataka Samgita seem to have come from other regions during Maratha rule; and, are hence referred to as Deśīya.

The Ragas having similar structure, which developed independently in the Karnatak  and Hindustani music traditions, have now been coming closer , tending to influence each other .

Thus, the majestic Darbāri Kāaa — associated with Tansen in Akbar’s court—has influenced the Southern rendering (the Dhaivata note) of the moving aa. With the Carnatic composers and Hindustani musicians popularizing once exclusive Rāgas across the North-South divide, the homogenizing process received a huge boost.

9.2 In the latter half of the 20th century the music of the North and the South did come closer, with the musicians of either branch trying to understand the approach and the idioms of the other.


On the performance stage, Ustads , Pandits and Vidwans began singing and  playing together (Jugalbandi) the Ragas common to both; Tabla virtuoso played alongside Mridanga artistes. Now, ragas such as Hamsadhvani, Abhogi and Kiravani became as much Hindustani as they were Karnataka.

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

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


Continued in Part Three

…. Overview (3) – continued

Sources and References

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

Indian Music: History and Structure   by Emmie Te Nijenhuis’

The Music of India  by Reginald Massey, Jamila Massey

History of Hindustani Classical Music

Origins of Indian Music – The medieval period




Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Music, Sangita


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