From all of us at ICP, Shubha Yugadi, Shubh Chaitra Shukla Pratipada, Happy Ugadi, Shubh Thepna, Cheti Chand ki Shubhkamnayein, Gudi Padwa Shubheccha, Happy Sajibu Nongmapanba, Shubh Navreh, and finally Ugadi Subhashayagalu and Subhakaankashalu!
Ugadi comes from the Sanskrit term Yuga Adi, or new era. Continuing our convention this year of showcasing the various fonts of India, this year’s Yugadi greeting is in Telugu and Telugu Script.
In Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh & Telangana, Karnataka, and Goa it is celebrated as part of the sidereal (luni-stellar) calendar. In the land of Shivaji it is called Gudi padwa.
In Rajasthan, some communities notably celebrated Thepna to mark the same. In Kashmir, Hindus celebrate Navreh. Most of North India and Nepal mark it as Chaitra Shukla Pratipada.
Sindhis celebrated Cheti Chand as their New Year due to the importance of their Rashtra deva Jhulelal.
If we missed any, let us know in the comments!
While the Gujarati calendar celebrates New Year on/around Deepavali, and the Solar Tamil Calendar usually a few weeks after us, the Telugu/Kannada/Marathi New Year is based on the sidereal calendar (combination of Lunar, Solar and Stellar positions), and begins on this day.
In Andhra, it is traditional to have Ugadi Pacchadi (Yugadi Chutney). It consists of the Shadruchis or 6 different flavours (Sweet, Sour, Bitter, Salty, Spicy, & Pungent). Here is Andhra Cultural Portal’s Post explaining the Pacchadi and the Utsav in more detail.
Normally Ugadi coincides with Gudi Padwa, Chaitra Shukla Pratipada, etc, but due to astronomical reasons, the cultural exemplars of Andhra advised the following day.
In any event, we wish you all a happy Hevilambi Samvatsara!
Music is quite possibly the most powerful medium to not only communicate sentiments and feelings, but even ideas and philosophies. The spirituality inherent in the music of India, from the august sangeeta sabhas of Chennai to the lively village songs of Braj, is fragrant with this spiritual sense. Whether it is in communicating the everyday emotions or the most transcendental bliss, music of all echelons is an important and even critical aspect of culture.
To properly understand one’s Culture, it becomes crucial to evaluate the significance and centrality of our music, and even what makes it ours in the first place. And yet, in the engagement of Civilizations today, even music, a sacred bond among artistes and singers of different backgrounds and nationalities, is not above breaching this brotherhood.
Music and Indic Civilization is as old as the Sama Veda, and yet authentic Indic Civilization is at a crossroads. As has been researched and discussed by a respected author, there is a concerted attempted to deprecate and even deconstruct our traditional culture, and replace it with imports from other part of the world.
Sadly, even the realm of music, which should ideally bring people together, has been used by foreign “Indologists”, and their men “friday”, as a means to question the very existence of an Indian identity and an Indic Civilization, leave aside the classical tradition. Those of us raised in the tradition, in tune with modern realities and exigencies, know this assertion is ridiculous.
Much younger civilizations such as Europe and Persia, both of whom acknowledge borrowing much that is Classically Indic in origin, are self-servingly placed ahead of India, while India’s own Classical Music tradition is deconstructed and denied. This is the approach of “the developed world’s” Ivory tower, and its courtier magazines.
That is why the time has come to put aside hesitance for assertiveness, and academically rebut these preposterous propositions. While there are many different strands in the diverse Indic tradition, as anybody who is familiar with the Natya Sastra knows, it is the Sastra of Bharata muni which serves as the foundation for our Classical Arts, Music, & Literature. Desi and Marga lived in traditional harmony, much like Regional Language and Civilizational Sanskrit.
Therefore, this Series will primarily view Classical Indic Music through the tradition of Carnatic, as it is the most authentic and reflective of the native Indic spirit. Though periodic discussion of Hindustani and its Personalities, such as Bhimsen Joshi and Hariprasad Chaurasia, will take place, it is nevertheless important for readers to understand the difference between the syncretic and the authentic.
Sama Vedaaditham geetham-sujagraha Pithamahah ||
Pitamaha(Brahma)collected music from Sama Veda 
The Goddess Sarasvati, consort of Brahma, is herself considered the presiding deity of Music. Indic Music in general is often referred to as Gandharva Veda. The Gandharva Veda is one of the four main Upavedas and is attached to the Sama Veda. Named after those semi-divine beings famed for their divine music (Gandharvas), this upaveda is considered the origin of our sangeeta.
Thus, Saastriya Sangeeta is a very ancient tradition—one that laid the foundation for both styles (Carnatic & Hindustani) of what is referred to as Classical Indian Music. While Carnatic is generally dated to its Pitamaha Purandara Dasa of Karnataka, he himself in fact was merely the reviver of an older tradition of music that once connected both North & South. The matter of disjunction, however, is that Hindustani revolves around catering to the tastes of medieval Turks with persianised inclinations. It has very likely been promoted for precisely such reasons (much like urdu in bollywood) by the Lutyens crowd, to the detriment of others. What’s more, for a long time, rather silly JNU style theories were floating around that foreigners had taken the Vedic Chant tradition and given native Indians “sangeet”. This is a laughable notion for anyone who has studied the authentic Saastriya Sangeeta tradition. Carnatic has directly preserved this lineage from the time of Bharata muni and Rishi Tamburu down to the present day.
The reality is, so-called “Ganga-jamuni tehzeeb” is mostly Ganga-Jamuna and very little tehzeeb. Merely renaming melakartha ragas, cutting the Mridangam in half, and tweaking the Veena, does not a true Classical Tradition make. Panache and flamboyant flair! are fine for neophytes, but real rasikas will appreciate the refinement that goes into technique and training. Fusion styles are fine for artists and their sentimental leanings—the but the truly authentic is what is native.
As such, it is only natural that Carnatic will serve as the backbone for the rediscovery of the Authentic Indic Tradition, with due regard to key Northern performers, of course. And with that we begin.
In our country, originally there was only one form of music and that was Indian music. Only later the divisions came and South Indian music and North Indian music chartered a separate course [2, 13]
This is the background of Classical Indic Music.Contrary to contemporary proponents of “art music”, the tradition, both South and North of the Vindhyas, finds its common origin in Sastra. Saastriya Sangeeta is traditionally credited to Sage Bharata , author of the celebrated Natya Sastra. Nevertheless, the hymns of the Sama Veda are liturgically sung, and thereby take the origins of Sangeeta back to the Vedas themselves. Bharata himself draws the connection:
His assertion that he is creating a fifth Veda which will be accessible to all castes and classes at the same time likening it to the Vedas (i.e. creating a fifth Veda and the analogy of a ritual) transcends the accepted boundaries of hierarchy as also norms of inclusion and exclusion. [4, 21]
Foreigners too recognise the the place of the Natya Sastra and its criticality to the Classical Tradition.
The Bharata Natyasatra is our earliest Indian authority on these three arts [drama, music and dancing] and shows that by this time India had a fully developed system of music, which differed little from that of present-day ‘classical’ music. Anyone who has heard performance on the vina by a good South Indian musician has probably heard music much as it was played over a thousand years ago. [3, 382]
This was written not by some recent Indian scholar, but by Indologist A.L. Basham, in 1967. He further writes that over thirty ragas are listed in Bharata muni’s magnum opus, but these have expanded to hundreds over the course of millennia. Furthermore, there is strong reason to believe that Bharata himself was building upon the existing foundation of Gandharva Veda [emphasis ours]:
“The fact that there was a flourishing tradition of poetry, dance and music, even of architecture, sculpture and painting, is evident from innumerable references in the Vedas and epics. Patanjali’s Mahabhaasya and Arthasastras, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata provide interesting details of theatre halls, recitals, social status and training, but of the works of writers, Acaryas or rsis of the arts we learn little. Bharata provides a list of his gurus (teachers) and contemporaries. Apart from Pitamaha Siva and Mahesa, he mentions Kohala, Dhurtila (Dattila), Salikarn, Baadaraayana (Badari) and others.”[4, 114]
In fact, while there are those who continue to reduce the antiquity of Indian history and culture (to aggrandise their own culture and civilization), there is reason to believe that Natya Sastra is in fact much older than the date assigned to its composition. As Kapila Vatsyayan writes:
Many believe prior to its written composition, the Natya Sastra was transmitted orally. [1,29]
As such, one immediately sees the reason why mere documentary evidence alone cannot suffice. This is not only because destructive forces can burn down libraries (as was done at Alexandria and Nalanda), but also because some of the most ancient traditions and strongest memories are transmitted orally, whether it is the traditional four Vedas, or the metaphorical fifth.
In addition, contrary to current day self-proclaimed “secular” revisionists who decry Sastra as frozen and rigid, Basham wrote that
The Indian musician was, and still is, an improviser [3, 383]
But the notion that the “Classical Tradition” is something new, or regionally/temporally restricted, frozen, or limited to only Brahmins is patently false.
Works on Dance such as non-brahmin Jaya Senapati’s Nrtta Ratnavaliin the Medieval era pay homage to Bharata muni’s treatise (and Matanga muni’s text) from the ancient era, which in turn pays homage to the Vedas themselves. Senapati also wrote in great detail about music instruments and musical accompaniment in chapter 7 (239 verses on everything from vocalists to orchestras). As such, one can see the continuity of tradition beginning with the Vedas and going on to Maharishi Bharata to dance & music commentators such as Jayasena from Andhra, and all this before Carnatic or Hindustani even came into their own.
Contrary to newly invented narratives, the classical tradition is a continuous one that has merely evolved new styles and schools of music, in response to changing conditions. Incidentally, Jaya Senapati also authored the Geeta Ratnavali, which is now lost due to the pillage of Warangalby Delhi Turks. Here’s what one Delhi Turk hyperbolically credited with all of Hindustani music himself had to say:
Further, Jayasenahimself predates Bharatanatyam, Sadir, and Kuchipudi dances, demonstrating the importance of not only Thandava, but even Dakshinatyam as an intermediate style between ancient Bharata muni and modern Bharatanatyam (or its precursor Sadir). Similarly, Carnatic music may be credited to its Pitamaha Purandara Dasa of 16th Century Karnataka, but this style of Sangeeta itself was established amid changing conditions. He is also preceded by Annamayya of Andhra, who is nevertheless celebrated by Carnatic aficionados today.
This is why, contrary to foreign Indologists, it is not appropriate to refer to Classical as a time period, as though the musical or cultural tradition were dead like ancient Greece or Classical Rome. In fact, it is very much alive, and as widely respected scholars themselves have written, classical in regards to India culture, should have a different meaning:
As regards the recent use of the term sastra as adjective, sastriya nrtya or sangita, it suggests quality of performance, sometimes genre, with an implied translation of the term ‘classical’ in English, as a qualitative and not historical period category. [4, 43]
Furthermore, there are foundational characteristics of Indic music that can be found in all corners of Bharatavarsha.
“The evidence of Bharata shows that, as at the present day, the Indian of two thousand years ago preferred the throaty…style of music which comes more naturally than that which Europe has learnt to appreciate. The singing voice was often treated as a musical instrument, the vocalist performing long impromptu variations on a simple melody, sung to a single phrase, often an invocation to a deity. ” [3, 385]
This latter part becomes all the more important when one understands the inherent importance of spirituality in Indic music.
Carnatic music is basically governed by an abiding faith in God [2, 1]
Carnatic takes its name, according to various theories, from Karnataka. Karnataka Sangeeta Pitamaha Purandara Dasa is from that state and composed his keerthanas in Kannada. Yet another theory stipulates that the word ‘carnatic’ is connected to the Tamil word ‘karnatakam’, which ostensibly means ancient. Whatever it is, Carnatic may be comparatively new, but Saastriya Sangeeta itself is very old.
“After the foreign invasions commencing in the 12th century A.D. our savants in music were not only uprooted but many rare manuscripts were either lost or got thoroughly mutilated. In the [14th century A.D.] the rulers of the Vijayanagar kingdom with the help of vidwans and music lovers tried to trace these manuscripts. In this process, thanks to the great efforts of Vidyaranya who adorned the Sarada Sringeri Mutt as its Pontiff, some portions of the manuscripts were recovered but savants on music were not available. There were, however, a few great vidwans who could sing in the chaste traditional style.” [2, 14]
Furthermore, contrary to modern “Art Music” opinionistas, Carnatic music goes beyond Sacred music and already includes an Art Music (called Vinodham) and “Art Musical Forms”— Padam, Javali, and Thillana. Others forms include, Kalakshepam (singing of epics/Harikatha), Dance musical form, Opera musical form (Yakshagana), Secular music (songs on Niti, such as those by Siddhars), Folk Music (Jaanapaadam), Martial Music, Kalpitha music and Manodharma music (no prior preparation). [2, 45]
Whether it is the 1500s of Purandara Dasa or the 2010s of the recently deceased Balamurali Krishna, Carnatic music is the successor of an ancient inheritance that remains ever-adaptable to changing times.
Hindustani music’s origins remain somewhat controversial, irrespective of the “secular” consensus. Questions remain as to whether it owes its origins to a prejudiced Turk courtier in Slave Dynasty Delhi or the more venerable Tansen of the Mughal era. Either way, it too, like Carnatic, is the product of Saastriya Sangeeta, and was created (or re-packaged) on an earlier, authentically Indian foundation. In fact, this musician courtier himself is said to have brought Maharashtra musician Gopala Nayaka of Devagiri to Delhi.[9,27] This is said to have laid the actual foundation for what is known as the Hindustani School today.
As western Indologists themselves admit, Ancient India already had a fully developed system, with an orchestra of distinct instruments. The Sitar itself is a renamed and tweaked Tritantri Veena. [9, 31]
Therefore, irrespective of the various gharanas, or the Hindustani school itself, it is very much Classical Indic Music—just repackaged for foreign (and foreign-imposed) tastes. Despite how common (and cliche) it has become to talk of the contrasts and differences between Hindustani and Carnatic, there is far more in common than motivated scholars would like. But in order to recognise this, one must study the structure of Saastriya Sangeeta closely.
Having provided an introduction to the Saastriya Sangeeta Tradition, and some of the ongoing controversies regarding its epistemology, one can now more closely examine its Theoretical Structure and Musical aspects.
Sangeeta is historically classified according to four types. These are Marga, Suddha, Desiya and Salaka.
1.Marga Sangeeta—The Four Vedas, along with the Sapta Svaras, are called Marga and are considered to have come from Deva Loka.
2.Suddha Sangeeta—Singing withing the established framework of arohana (ascending notes) and avarahona (descending) according to the traditional manner.
3. Desiya Sangeeta—Regional (desa-pradesa) types of music according to the various provinces of India
4. Salaka Sangeeta—Singing without any traditional structure or guide, per one’s own inclination. [2,7]
Bharata muni wrote further on its classification and had this to say:
Sangeetham comprises Geetham, Vadyam and Nrutthyam. 
Interestingly, academic authority on the Natya Sastra, Kapila Vatsyayan, writes that
There is a theory that ‘Bharata’ is an acronym for the syllables Bha, Ra, and Ta (standing for Bhava, Raga, and Tala respectively). [4, 7]
Incidentally, all these three are all fundamental to Saastriya Sangeeta. Much of the terminology in Carnatic & Hindustani is either common or common conceptually:
In the Natya Sastra, and beyond, one can find the “foundations of a distinctive system of music—its micro-intervals (sruti), notes (svara), scales (graama), modes (murcchana), melodic forms (jaatis), rhythm (taala) and much else.” [4, 92] Despite the motivated critique that Bharatiya Sangeeta does not have harmony, this is by design. It emphasises Melody instead.
Bhava refers to the emotional state that produces Rasa.
Ragarefers to the melody produced by a sequence of notes.
Ragas are divided into Melakartha (parent)and Janya (derivative) Ragas.
Rama Amatya (Asthana Vidvan of the Vijayanagara Empire) refers to 19 melakartha ragas, Govinda Deeksitar mentions 20, and finally Venkatamakhi (second son of Govinda Deeksitar) mentions 72. The melakartha scheme equivalent in Hindustani is Thaat (which only has 10).
These 72 melakartha ragas are the modern standard. 36 are considered Suddhamadhyamam (or pure) and 36 are pratimadhyamam. The 5 svaras other than Ma and Pa are found in all 72.
Janya ragas are those born from melakartha ragas. These are divided into different categories.
Sampoornam-contains all seven svaras, Shaadavam-contains six swaras, Audavam for five, Svaraantham for four, Saamigam for three, Ghaathigam for two, and Aarchigam for one. Nevertheless, it is generally considered that to get a sweet and well-developed ragam, at least 5 svaras are required.
Just to understanding the level of evolution of these melodies, each melakartha raga has 483 janya ragas. This brings the total to 34,776 janya ragas in Carnatic Music. [2, 23]
Just to further demonstrate the commonality of the Ragams in Carnatic and Hindustani, here is an equivalency:
Carnatic → Hindustani
Mechakalyani Kalyan/Yaman Kalyan [2, 90]
Tala(thaala) refers to the beat that tracks time (Kaala) and determines tempo (Gathi ) and rhythm (Laya). It is the backbone of any composition. There is a saying that Sruthi (pitch) is the mother of music and Thaala (beat) is the father. There are 7 basic thaalas: Dhruva, Matya, Rupaka, Jhampa, Triputa (Adi), Ata, and Eka. When these are combined with the various jathis, were get 35 thaalas. When joined with gathis, the total reaches 175. Layam indicates the rhythm of the thaalam, and there are 3 kinds (Vilamba, Madhya, Duritha).
Laghu-finger movements. There are five kinds of jatis, and these form Lagu, which is the count of the finger movements. The counterpart to laghu is dhrutam (which is a one hand clap on the knee), of which there are five types as well.
Nada (naada), is the primordial sound that gives evocation to a musical note (Svara). It is the sound that is pleasing to the ear.
The fire that is burning in our stomach joins with the air that we breath[e] and goes upward through nav[e]l, heart, neck and finally the head. and comes out through our mouth in the form of a sound. This sound becomes Nadam. 
Nada is classified in to two types. There is Ahatha Nadam, which is the sound that is naturally formed but made sweet through man’s effort. When we sing or play an instrument in consonance with sruthi, this is called ahatha nadam.
The purely natural sounds called Anaahatha Nadam. Examples include the sound of raindrops on objects, or the notes of wind flowing through cut bamboo. Aum (Pranava) is considered the origin of both Ahatha and Anahatha nadam. [2, 9]
Perhaps nothing embodies Naada like the flute. Shri Hariprasad Chaurasia of the Hindustani school has become synonymous with the Bansuri. Here is a sample of his beautiful music.
Na Naadena vinaa geetham na naadena vina svarraha
Na naadena vina nruttham-thasmaath naadaathmakam jagath
With Sa as the base, the other six svaras RI-GA-MA-PA-DA-NI were created 
Svara literally means that which makes its own sweetness. The etymology is the combination of the two letters from the words svayam and ranjagam. There are seven svaras in total: Shadjam, Rishabham, Gandharam (or Gandharvam), Madhyamam, Panchamam, Daivatham and Nishadam. There is also a special symbolism to this number seven, as there are seven seas, seven rishis, seven days, etc. [2, 9]
The heptatonic scale finds its earliest form in Classical Indic Music.
Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Da Ni
These seven notes central to our tradition find their analogue in the West as follows
Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti
It is no surprise, therefore, that many European Classical Composers appreciate Carnatic Music in particular (as it preserves the technical sophistication of traditional Saastriya Sangeeta).
Sthayi refers to Octave. Per Carnatic, there are five in number: Anumandra, Mandra, Madhya, Thaara, Athi.
The integral unity of the Saastriya Sangeeta System is therefore seen clearly here. Not only common terminology but also common concepts and common performance organisation. Perhaps nothing embodies this more than this common sloka.
Brahmaa thaala dharo-hariccha patahee
Veenaa kara bhaarathee ||
Vamsagnyow sasi bhaaskarow
Srrthi dhaaraha ||
Siddhaap Saraha kinnaraahaa
Nandee Bhrungiritaadi mardala dharaha ||
Samboho nruttha karasya mangalathanoho ||
Naatyam sadaa paathunaha ||
With Brahma providing the beat, Vishnu playing on the mridangam, Sarasvathi playing the Veena, Surya and Chandra playing the flute, Devas and Apsaras providing the Sruthi, Nandi and Brungi playing other instruments, Narada singing melodiously, every one enjoyed the celestial dance of Siva. 
Nada is therefore connected to Svara and Sruthi, and Sangeeta to Gaana and Naatya. These connections are further embodied in the system of scales used in our sangeeta.
This is the centrality of not only the Saastriya Sangeeta Tradition to modern Indian music, but also the central importance of Bharata Muni and his Natya Sastra.
“Bharata displays an extraordinary knowledge of material in the making of musical instruments (four types) and of the nature of sound, notes, consonance, assonance, dissonance and melodic forms. He establishes a system of correspondence between each category and its potential for arousing emotion; he develops it to establish patters of configuration of ‘notes’ in melodic forms and emotive states. He distinguishes between vocal and instrumental music.
He further divides vocal music into two types—one, consisting only of notes and the other, with words (varna and geya). He provides details of different types of instruments and their respective characteristics. He returns to an elaboration of the category of dhruva songs which he had mentioned in many earlier chapters. He identifies a category of music called gaandharva and distinguishes it from gaana. Bharata enumerates the different types of taala (time measures—rhythm, metrical cycles). In short, he lays down the foundation of a distinctly Indian syle of music with its scales and modal structure.” [4,92]
In fact, here again, in the use of instruments, we find commonality between North and South. Attodya or instruments of Saastriya Sangeeta are divided into four categories. These are Sushira (wind), Avanatta (leather percussion), Ghana (metal), and Thatha (string). While there were and are many string instruments…
The chief musical instrument was the vina, usually loosely trans-lated ‘lute’. [3, 384]
Veenais by all accounts the national instrument of India. It came in many varieties, one of which was the precursor to the Sitar. It was the instrument not only of the Goddess of Knowledge but of the Great Indic Emperors of yore.
Maharajadiraja Samudra Gupta with Veena and Vaana
In tandem with Sarasvati’s instrument, is the Tambura (now known as Tanpura in the North). It is primarily used to keep Sruthi and is most famously seen in that roaming celestial bard, Narada Muni. There is also the Mridangam, which in popular lore at least, was cut in half, and tweaked to create the percussion instrument Tabla. The bamboo Murali (also known as Venu, Vamsee or Bansuri) is the flautist’s delight and is also common to both North and South India. Finally, there is the Nadasvaram (Nagaswaram) of the South. This wind instument corresponds to the Shenai of the North. There are, of course, many other instruments to discuss, but these mainstays of the Indic orchestra (vaadyabrnda) demonstrate the Tradition of Saastriya Sangeeta in both schools.
Finally, there is the matter of various musical forms and composition types.
Krithis & Keerthanas
Pallavi, Charanam and Anupallavi are the key determinants of the compositions known as Krithis and Keerthanas. These are both the typical standards in Carnatic music.
Pallavi is the first line (or refrain) of the song, Anupallavi the following lines, and Charanam is a stanza. [5, ix]
A Keerthana will have only a Pallavi and Charanam. A Krithi will have all three.
This is considered the theme of any performance. The word Pallavi is itself derived from three words: Padam, Layam, and Vinyasam. “In Carnatic music, pallavi singing is the most important part. Here is an opportunity provided to the vidwan to exhibit his knowledge and mastery and imaginative power. It consists of three parts- Ragam, Thanam and Pallavi“. [2, 58] Thanam is where special emphasis is placed on one of the names of the Lord.
Padam is a term that has various meanings. It can refer to a line, a stanza, or a full composition. While Odisha’s Jayadeva referred to stanzas in his Astanaam Paadanaam Samhahaara (Ashtapadis), Andhra’s Annamacharya composed 32,000 padams (of which 14,328 are extant), which were compositions. While in some cases, such as Annamayya, these are purely devotional, the more commonly accepted definition is that padams are imbued with Sringararasa (as evidenced by the Odisha’s Jayadeva).
In any event, Padam is a very ancient musical form. Bharata muni defines Padam in his Natya Sastra as follows:
Gaandharvam yan mayaa proktam svara taala padaatmakam
Padam tasya bhaved vastu svara taalanu bhavakam
Yat kincid akshara kritam tat sarwam pada sanjnitam
Nibaddham ca anibaddham ca tat padam swividham smrtam ||
Gandharva comprises of svara, taala and padam.
In this, padam is evocative of svara and taala.
Any meaningul syllabic composition can be called a padam.
It is of two kinds, Nibaddha (bound) and Anibaddha (unbound)
It can also be with taala or without taala. NS XXXII, 25-27 [5, vii]
Along with Padam, another musical form focused on Sringara rasa, is Javali. However, these are typically not given patronage as they are considered inauspicious and coarse. It is only in modern times that some have chosen to perform them at sangeeta salons. The object or subject of romance is not always maritally unattached, and thus, considered improper. Nevertheless, the existence of Padam (as defined by Bharata) and Javali is emblematic of how Carnatic music, and Saastriya Sangeeta in general, is not merely about devotional music. The current conservativism in the Katcheris of Coimbatore and Chennai may prefer the purely spiritual, but historically this was not the case, and along with the religious, more material and romantic topics also featured in performances, for the King or audience’s pleasure and relaxation.
This is where there are various jathi combinations, but little or no saahithya. Here is an example of a Thillana.
These are the most basic form of songs. There are Sanchari and Lakshana geethams. Sanchari is where the lyrics are simple, there is no pallavi, anupallavi, or charanam. Lakshana geetham is more complex, and may have alapana (exposition of the ragam). [2, 56]
A mukhari is an instrumentalist, and a Mukya-gayaka the main singer. A vaggeyakaara is one who authors a lyric and sets it to music. This word is a close analogue to but ultimately much wider than the english term ‘composer’. [5, vii]
There are of course other forms, such as the Dhrupad of Hindustani (which was originally called Dhruvapada). However, these are best dealt with elsewhere, in greater detail. The theory behind Saastriya Sangeeta is indeed very sophisticated, and will necessitate a separate post on the topic. Nevertheless, this overview summarises the basics for the casual reader, and should give a foundation for deeper studies in the future.
What does become obvious to the objective person, however, is that there is a common tradition across the Indian Subcontinent from which regional and local variations draw from. Whether it is spiritual, material, or folk, Saastriya Sangeeta is the common fountain providing identifiable patterns of musical structure from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.
But don’t take our word for it. Again, here are the eminent experts in their studies.
We notice three trends, one of adherence to some key principles of the Naatyasaastra, another of introduction of new categories and, a third, specially in the second period of the eleventh century onwards, of descriptions of fully developed regional schools and styles. This is a pan-Indian phenomenon. [4, 119]
Sangeetaraja & Sangeet-krama-dipaka by Maharana Kumbha (Rajasthan), 1400 CE
Sangeeta Kaumudi (Odisha)
Svaramela-kalandhi by Rama Amatya, 1500 CE
Raaga Vibodam by Somanatha, 1500 CE
Sangeetha Sudha by Govinda Deeksitar, 1600 CE
Chaurdandi Prakaasikai by Venkatamakhi, 1600 CE
Sangeeta-paarijaata by Ahobila, 1600 CE
Krishna-leela-tarangini (Andhra), 1600 CE
Sangeetha Saaraamrutham by Tuloji Maharaj (Maharashtra/Tamil Nadu), 1700 CE
From Matanga Muni to M.S.Subbulakshmi, Saastriya Sangeeta has an ancient heritage and an All-India influence (much like Adi Sankaracharya whose bhajan is being sung above). It is the Pan-Indic, genre-transcending nature of this music that has made it so central to our culture and civilization.
Correctly understanding Indian Music and its (true) origins, necessitates understanding the tradition of Saastriya Sangeeta. Sastra is the foundation from which spiritual, worldly, and folk music all draw from (to varying degrees). Ancient India, and even parts of medieval India (notably the South) preserved an indigenous musical system that is both continuous and civilizational in nature. From common origin to common texts to common terminology, the integral unity  of this variety of musicology is obvious to all earnest students and scholars.
For those who believe Bharata and his musicology as disconnected from the masses, here is some food for thought for “art music” advocates:
“To return to the inheritance to the lineage of Bharata, as also those who inherited from him—we have already referred to Bharata’s indebtedness to the Vedas, the Upanisads and Brahmanical yajna practices. He incorporates the system of puja later codified in the aagamas, draws freely from contemporary practice, and considers loka, the ‘people’, as the final authority.” [4,113]
The people are the final authority to this tradition.They improvise, invent, and re-invent new styles and new modes of expression, but the source of inspiration finds expression through the unifying mechanism of Sastra. That is why it is so amusing to find juvenile foreign theories of foreigners bestowing music upon Indians (when the reverse is in fact far more likely).
“To say that they pertain to, or have been influenced by, the Arab or the Persian system shows a very superficial knowledge of the subject. These systems, originally mostly derived from Indian music, have become so reduced and impoverished in comparison with it that no one can seriously speak of their having had any influence on its development.”
(Alain Danielou in Northern Indian Music. Praeger, 1969. volume I, p. 1-35)
In the name of promoting the syncretic, the authentic is being denigrated, demoted, and debased. Much like the modern Persian who laments at the arabisation of Pahlavi, the modern Indian finds himself wondering why foreigners are forever trying to persianise his own native tradition. Let Persia be Persia and let India be India. Tweaking our music to suit foreign tastes may be vaunted as syncretism, but persianisation and arabisation are not equivalent to sanskritisation. There is a difference not only based on nativity, but also due to inherent nature.
Syncretism vs Symbiosis
What the present narrative conveniently elides is that Sastra is the foundation for not only Carnatic but Hindustani as well. It is rather odd that the current discourse appears to imply that even music was brought from outside India, ironically by those who condemned music and banned it. Kapila Vatsyayan illuminates this point further:
The Ain-e-Akbari relies heavily on the Sangeetaratnaakara in its music and dance chapters. So does the later work—Risala-i-Raagadarpana. Both adherences and changes can be discerned in the later works, such as, Sangeeta Mallikaa of Mohammed Shah (seventeenth century) and Kitabe Nau Rasa of Adil Shah. [4, 120]
Sangeeta-ratnaakara, a work by Sarngadeva, a Kashmiri Pandit in a Maharashtrian King’s court, is credited as influencing all these exemplars of “Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb” & “Hindustani”. Even the alleged eminence grise of the Ganga-Jamuni brigade noted how native Classical Indic Music was beyond the grasp of persianised Central Asian invaders. As Kapila ji notes “The basic foundations were laid by Bharata“. [1, 120]. Unlike the parasitic nature of so-called “syncretic” traditions that are colonial in etiology, symbiosis is endemic to the Sanskritic (traditionalists would in fact assert that it is not only symbiotic but organic, as Sanskrit is the mother of all these Indic cultures).
Sastra and Saastriya sangeeta rejected homogenisation and birthed a diversity of not only languages and traditions, but styles of dance and music. Sastra was the standard that all looked to, but all sought to express their own identity within the guidance of given standards. Urdu continues to kill off lovely dialects of Hindi such as Braj and Avadhi, and even robust languages like Kashmiri, Sindhi, and Punjabi. In contrast, Sanskrithas, with its grammar and vocabulary, enriched regional languages, whether North or South, while preserving the parlance of the people. Ask any Kashmiri how many people speak his mother tongue today, then compare with a Kannadiga.
Classical Indic Music is no different. The traditional high culture (marga) music birthed or preserved the regional (called desi) variations and enriched the (janapada) folk variations. This beginning is made apparent in the Natya Sastra itself. And for our caste-conscious casteists, even non-brahmin regional Natyacharyas such as Jaya Senapati of medieval Andhra looked back to Bharata muni and maintained this tradition of Marga and Desi living side by side. And this tradition continued under such figures as modern Telangana’s Nataraja Ramakrishna. Folk performers throughout united Andhra Pradesh saluted him for his contribution to reviving their art forms, while he revived the classical Perini Thandava.
Further, the Pan-India connections rise beyond Sarngadeva, as Shahaji, the Maratha King of Thanjavur, patronised many Carnatic musicians at his Tamil Nadu Court and Tuloji himself authored a text.
What actually destroyed these folk and classical dances and styles of music however, our omniscient and infallible indologists (and their loyal native informants) will never tell you (hint: also medieval). Unlike the perso-turkic syncretic, the symbiotic sanskritic nourished, revived, and revives the full spectrum of musical voices, whether desi or marga, male or female, mass or elite & regional or civilizational.
From the Dattilam of Dattila to Sarngadeva and his Sangeeta-Ratnakara, Saastriya Sangeeta is a very ancient tradition that is very native in nature. The time has come to fully revive this cultural treasure not only in the South, but in the North as well, so the authentically Indic will get its due place again. Syncretism and Fusion are fine and dandy for “art music” dandies, but Classical Indic Music is the Core of our Musical Culture, and that is the relevance of Saastriya Sangeeta.
Ultimately, most of you “modern”, “progressive” types may be wondering, why any of this matters. After all “we are all global now“. Well, here was a “global” historian writing on why simply “getting degree” and “getting job” isn’t enough…
This was not the case in India’s greatest days, when a knowledge of music was looked on as an essential attribute of a gentleman. [3, 384]
Those who wish to appear educated, sophisticated, and urbane would do well to understand what real culture is.Pop culture hits and bollywood beats may be all the rage today, but comprehension of the system of music and musicology that made them possible is the true sign of cultural refinement.
All in all, while many new regional, sub-regional schools and even individual styles developed, the basic foundation of a ‘modal’ system of music was not demolished. The living traditions of the several schools[,] the gharanas and the sampradaayas of Hindustan and Carnatic music bear testimony. The continuous flow of the tradition, as also the infinite number of possibilities of change and creativity is obvious. [4,121]
The tradition remains at the core, while the various schools and styles emerge from it. At a time when its originality (and even existence) are being challenged, perhaps its time to revisit what exactly makes the modes of Saastriya Sangeeta, truly Indic and truly Classical. This is something even Western Classical Composers have recognised:
Appa Rao, P.S.R. A Monograph on Bharata’s Natya Sastra. Hyderabad: Natyakala Press.1967
Iyer, A.S. Panchapakesa. Karnataka Sangeeta Sastra: Theory of Carnatic Music. Chennai: Ganamrutha Prachuram.2008
Basham, A.L. The Wonder that was India.New Delhi: Rupa & Co. 1999
Vatsyayan, Kapila. Natya Sastra. Bharata: The Natyasastra. Sahitya Akademi.2007
Pappu, Venugopala Rao. Fragrance of Padams. Kakatiya Heritage Trust. 2014
Bharatanatyam artist Prakruti Prativadi recently published a book ‘Rasas in Bharatanatyam’. ICP’s daughter portal shared an interesting introductory article written by the author. I got a copy of the book from Amazon.com a couple of weeks ago and ended up reading it multiple times. The work is an outcome of several years of research and a first-person experience of living the tradition. The book is intended to be the first of a series.
The author states that the book is aimed at the serious Bharatanatyam artist and connoisseur, and is also beneficial to those who want to learn more about Indic art traditions. An in-depth discussion of the different elements of Bharatanatyam including Abhinaya, Rasa, and Bhava is provided. The book also presents a brief and well-researched history of Bharatanatyam and related traditions in Hinduism, a topic which has endured much distortion and confusion in recent years. The author goes deep into the ancient roots of natya, and succinctly explains the concepts relying on primary sources in Sanskrit and Indic languages. The clarity and authority required to write in a crisp question-answer format, the shraddha, the attention to technical detail, and the reinforcement of key learning points give the book a stamp of authenticitythat perhaps only a dedicated practitioner and teacher can produce.
Where to Buy
Readers can set up a discount code ($8.00 off) which is available only from the Createspace page (not the amazon.com page) by following these steps:
Add the Book to the Cart, this will take buyers to the checkout page
Add this discount code: PYTKY7GV in the ‘Discount Code’ field and click ‘Apply Discount’ to get a discount, the price of the book will be $28.99.
Please note: Users will have to sign up for a Createspace account (if they don’t have one). Createspace is owned by Amazon.
Bharatanatyam: Embodied Learning & Direct Experience
Poet, Indic scholar, and computer scientist Prof. Subhash Kak has said that the best way to understand India is through its art , and the book reaffirms this point. Why art? India is the land of Vedas, so can’t one read Vedic text?
The author discusses the worldview underlying Bharatanatyam and notes that direct experience is central to Hinduism. Through sadhana and shraddha, potentially anyone can transcend their ordinary level of consciousness . This is an amazing and powerful discovery by India’s ancient seers. The armchair-acharya (like the theoretical martial artist and air guitarist) tries to convince us otherwise, but Hinduism recognizes that textual knowledge is useful but it cannot fully delineate the scope of Dharma and Vedas, and we provide two independent explanations regarding this.
Prof. Kak quotes Yaaska , the author of the ancient Sanskrit treatise Nirukta: “One who reads the Veda but does not know its meaning is like a draught animal”, and explains that “the idea of knowing the Veda is not merely to read it, but to understand its meaning in one’s heart. This is paradoxical, since one cannot understand the text unless one has already had the experience of its deepest intuitions. The text of the Veda cannot in itself be used for instruction”. We have Bharata Muni’s Natya Sastra, revered as the fifth Veda, that has the wisdom of the four Vedas embedded within, which is available to all people, cutting through all barriers of social and economic status, gender, race, and geography.
In his book Indra’s Net , Rajiv Malhotra poses a related question: “How did the rishis ‘see’ the shruti in the first place? Unlike the Abrahamic religions, in which prophets hear from an external God, in the Vedas there is no external voice. There is no entity equivalent to Yahweh who speaks the Vedas to the rishis… Vedas are a-purusheya, i.e., beginningless and authorless. They existed before the rishis ‘saw’ them…Hinduism does not regard the rishis as inherently different in substance or essence from the rest of us…. each human has the same potential as the rishis, and that this potential is realized through disciplined sadhana (the inner sciences of adhyatma-vidya)”. In the Indian context, Rajiv Malhotra coined the term ‘embodied knowing’ to refer to adhyatma vidya, and Indic art forms that employ this inner science surely occupy a pride of place in India’s grand narrative . The deepest authentic ‘ideas of India’ are embedded in Bharatanatyam. We owe a debt of gratitude to dedicated artists who tirelessly practice, promote, and preserve India’s sacred art forms.
Bharatanatyam as Yajna
The book has a brief but insightful discussion of Bharatanatyam as Yajna, which has been explained as a sacred process that establishes links (bandhus) between the inner and the outer world . The material world is not considered separate and discarded but is harmoniously united with the spiritual within Bharatanatyam. Indic art forms are rooted in this Vedic view where consciousness is the basis of ultimate reality itself . Such a Bharatanatyam is unacceptable to the enticing “sweet-speech” Charvaka School  that totally rejects Yajna, Puja, Bandhus, and the transcendental domain since they believe that consciousness emerges from neural matter . Bharatanatyam is also incompatible with the irreconcilable duality of history-centric Abrahamic dogma that accepts the transcendental and the transactional domains but keeps their existence independent and infinitely apart .
Actively participating in Yajna leads to an internal transformation that is like undergoing a ‘rebirth’ . This leads us to a second, and equally remarkable observation that anysensitive and attuned viewer (Sahridaya) immersed in a Bharatanatyam performance  can also potentially attain a higher state of consciousness and transcendental bliss, and this communication is possible due to Rasa. The book explains this process in-depth.
Dharmic thought employs a finite and limited number of levels to manage quantities/qualities that may appear to be unlimited or huge in number, or even indivisible or continuous. How does it work?
On Rasa, Prof. Kak remarks : “An aesthetic attitude is a combination, in varying measures, of the different essences (rasas) of it. It is one of the great insights of the Indian tradition that these essences are supposed to be discrete, and perhaps this idea emerged from the Vaisesika atomic doctrine as well as the idea of Nyaya that mind operates sequentially”. Like Panini and his rules of grammar, Bharata, using only a finite number of sutras, covered the profound topics of Rasa and Bhava and spanned the virtually unlimited expanse of dance and drama.
Paanini has been credited for a grand unified theory of language, and Bharata too can be credited for a similar theory of aesthetics thousands of years ago. The author notes how a danseuse can skillfully conjugate various dance elements such as movements, gestures, etc. mentioned in the Natya Sastra to generate innumerable permutations and combinations to artistically express the myriad emotions and situations that has occurred, or will occur in the future, and convey that meaning to the audience. Bharatanatyam does not limit but encourages unselfish self-expression.
Rasa Awakening in the Audience
In her book, Prakruti ji takes us on a fascinating journey through the Rasa awakening process in Bharatanatyam. The idea of Rasa is ancient and present in the Upanishads . According to the author “Rasa is the supreme aesthetic experience and absolute aesthetic relish that the audience feels when witnessing an artistic performance… Rasa is a heightened state of consciousness and bliss… This experience is called Rasasvada, which is akin to Brahmasvada, a supreme knowledge… Rasa is a Sanskrit word that no equivalent word in English”. A simplified arrow-diagram view of the Rasa awakening sequence/combination given in the book can be described as follows (the interested reader should refer to the book to obtain a complete and correct picture).
(Author dancing selected Paasurams from the Vaarinam Aayiram)
In Bharatanatyam, for example, the process can be triggered by witnessing the Abhinaya of the skillful artist, and given the right conditions, culminate in a heightened state of consciousness within a receptive audience. In an interview, Dr. Ramachandran Nagaswamy confirms this important point about Rasa while correcting the mistaken conclusion of a western Indologist.
Another crucial point made by the author is that the generation of Rasa in a performance is not guaranteedand it requires the harmonious integration of multiple inter-connected factors. The author likens it to a complex and rich recipe. Rasa is not awakened by sensory stimuli such as personal sadness experienced in mundane life, or by artists using the stage to make purely political and social statements. And even if the performance is of the highest caliber, it still requires an attuned viewer (Sahridaya)  within whom the ‘aesthetic vibes’ of the performance can resonate. The author quotes Bharata “without Rasa, there can be no meaningful communication”.
Engineering Design Example
Natya Sastra ideas can find applications in diverse fields, including entertainment, advertising, public-service messaging, etc. Given its integral view, teaching Natya Sastra concepts authentically in schools and colleges will benefit not only young artists, but also engineers and scientists. As an analogy and example, modern highway design relies on the PIEV theory of driver response to visual stimuli:
PIEV is used to measure the perception-reaction time of a driver. Triggered by observing an event, the driver first perceives (something happened), grasps the implications (danger to self/others), and this triggers one or more emotions (what to do?), before converging on a final, stable action (brake, steer, or accelerate). PIEV duration differs for a distracted versus fully conscious driver. When deciding where and how to install and calibrate a traffic light, one has to evaluate the combination of all inter-related factors – PIEV, visibility, topography, traffic conditions, etc., in order to maximize the percentage of drivers that will have sufficient time to go through PIEV and make the right decision. PIEV and Rasa may be two different things (although when in danger, even the most materialistic passenger and driver will invoke the divine transcendent charioteer to ensure fast PIEV so they can remain in their transactional world); however, there appear to be similarities – the importance of an integral perspective, a scientific approach, and understanding the roles of emotional states, cognition, and consciousness.
Bharatanatyam & Artificial Intelligence
Today, Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems can generate cooking recipes, write mournful poetry, and has even started writing musical scores. Can machine-generated artistic performances evoke Rasa?Can it replicate the transcendental leap  that is possible through a Yajna? These are interesting questions to be answered by experts. Machines are not conscious because they cannot have Bandhus , and their art output appears to be generated by algorithms using preset rules distilled from prior art, which were created by highly skilled human artists, not machines. The book has clearly established that the Rasa awakening process and the dance elements of Bharatanatyam are not mechanical.
While machine art may match humans and eventually do better in terms of purely materialist aesthetics, the sacred Indic art-as-Yajna rooted in an integral unity via bandhus that bind the inner and outer worlds, will not only survive, but thrive and give humanity a sense of hope and a glimpse of divinity. This makes it all the more important that Bharatanatyam and classic Indian art be preserved and taught in their authentic form and context. Prakruti Prativadi’s book is a welcome step in this direction.
From all of us at ICP, Holi ki hardik Shubhkamnaye! Happy Holi!
The Festival of Colours is here! Water should be used wisely throughout the year, not just on a single day because some silly celebrity says.
So celebrate this ancient festival with gusto, whether you grew up with the tradition or embraced it after. Modern Holi is part of Ancient Vasant Utsav, which celebrates spring and nature, the way we were meant to.
It is also possible to be safe in the use of gulal. Here is a video with some safer, eco-friendly, natural ways to make colours for Holi.
Sabhi ko Holi ki Shubhkamnayein! A very Happy Holi to all our readers celebrating day 1 of this exciting festival today.
Holi’s roots are in fact very ancient in origin. Though today it is primarily celebrated in Northern India, it was once part of an all India, vast, virtual month of Festivities known as Vasanta Maha Utsava.
Spring has a definitive place in the minds of most people and most cultures. It not only signifies the end of winter, and the end of the previous year, but also a time of renewal, rejuvenation, rebirth, and revelry. It is truly a celebration of life, youth and the young-at-heart alike.
Vasanta Mahotsava, Vasantha Utsava, or Vasant Utsav or Basant, is the ancient Spring Festival of Indic Civilization. It is mentioned in many old works from the Kathasaritasagara to the Kamasutra. Vatsyayana refers to it as Suva-santaka. Kalidasa’s Malavikaagnimitra and Sriharsa’s Ratnavali both include this festival, and the latter, in fact celebrates it in the opening act. [1, 353]
Vasanta Mahotsava was, therefore, a seasonal festival celebrated at the approach of the vernal equinox. [1, 353]
“The new year begins with Spring around the vernal equinox. But the poem begins with Summer so as to end with Spring; and auspicious ending, for Spring is renewal. The old year is dead and the advent of Spring is welcomed with song and dance and religious ceremonies. In ancient India this was known as theSpring Festival or the Festival of Love and it was celebrated with uninhibited revelry in a carnival atmosphere. New plays were written and staged as part of the festivities. The prologue to Kalidasa’s first play Maalavikaa and Agnimitra mentions it as the new play presented at the Spring festival.”[2,18]
But while the modern North excels in celebration and festivity, it is important to note that Vasant was once an all-India festival. Here is an account of its celebration in the Reddi Kingdom of Andhra:
“Beautiful descriptions of this spring festival are furnished by the Telugu works Simhaasanadvaatrimsika, Bheemesvara Puraanam and Kaaseekhandam produced in this age. These works give us a clear idea of the celebration of the festival and the different ceremonies practiced on this occasion. As the authors of these works lived in this age when the spring festival was at its zenith of popularity, we may be certain that, much influenced by the realistic grandeur of this carnival, they introduced it into their works, and provided us a good picture of the festival, as it was in vogue” [1,355]
There was a great carnival and the King would go to a park specially decorated for Vasant. There would be a pandal for Kama & Rati, Vishnu &Lakshmi, Siva & Sakti, and Sachi & Indra. Perfumes such as camphor, musk, civet, saffron, sandal were used, rosewater was freely sprinkled on people along with water mixed with turmeric. A bamboo water soaker was used (like the pichkari in holi). People mixed freely and the Reddikings gave it royal grandeur. The king and queen were sprinkled with saffron-water by passersby. [1, 357]
The Reddi King Kumaragiri himself so came to embody this celebration that he received the title Vasantaraya (Emperor of Spring).
The Rayas of Vijayanagara were Emperors in their own right, and Vasant is famously featured in temple sculptures of this Empire in Karnataka.
“The festival of Holi also finds a reference in the sculptures on walls of old temples. A 16th century panel sculpted in a temple at Hampi, capital of Vijayanagar, shows a joyous scene of Holi. The painting depicts a Prince and his Princess standing amidst maids waiting with syringes or pichkaris to drench the Royal couple in coloured water” 
It is likely that what is being referred to as Holi above was in fact the grand festival of Vasantha Utsava, as listed elsewhere:
“Vasantotsavam was celebrated in this mandapa [Mahanavami Dibba] during Tirumala-raya’s period.” [2,11]
There are of course attempt to digest and appropriate Vasant Utsav as “Basant” by Sufis. But the Vasant Utsav itself is far more ancient, and in contrast with Sufism (a velvet glove for an iron fist), our Utsav is far more in line with the Indic Dharmic view of balanced relations between the genders anyway. Recent sufi attempts to digest Holi are even more risible and show the importance of understanding authentic Indic culture, rather than obsessing over the colonising syncretic.
As such, it is far better to understand the significance, sanctity, and symbolism behind our traditions and culture, rather than merely exulting in “being recognisedby global!“.
In any event, Vasanta Maha Utsava is the traditional two-week long Spring Extravaganza in Bharatavarsha. Here are the components and the significance in detail.
Vasant Utsav is not merely 1 or even 2 days, but in fact extends over several weeks. While there are references tracing it back to Vedic times, it is almost certain that its celebration was documented in mid-first millenium BCE.
Traditionally, there are four navratras, the most famous being in Sharad. The Chaitra Navratri, true to its name, is also celebrated over nine days, and honours the Goddess Durga. Here is a description of it and the other components of Vasanta Mahotsav.
As most know the famous story, Holi signifies the evil Holika’s defeat by the devout Prahalad, a great Vishnu Bhakta. Holika was the sister of Hiranyakashipu, the rakshasa king who had grown powerful and full of arrogance, demanding all worship him instead of Vishnu. His son Prahalad was obedient, but refused this command, saying despite his father’s accomplishment, Vishnu was Supreme, and thus, should be worshipped. Hiranyakashipu’s ahankar was wounded, and thus commanded Prahalada to sit on Holika’s lap in a fire, to demonstrate whether Vishnu would save him. While the evil Holika (who was also a cannibal) had a saree that could protect her from fire, Prahalad had no such defence, and only his devotion to Vishnu. Nevertheless, he was saved and escaped unharmed from the fire.
Elsewhere, it is said that Lord Krishna killed Poothana (another killer of infants) on this day. Thus, Holi has acquired its importance and grandeur on account of these successive defeats of evil. It is thus traditionally divided over two days, starting with Choti Holi (on Chaturdashi) and ending on Phalgun Phurnima (full moon).
Choti Holi/Holika Dahan
This is the day that the bonfire is prepared. This is called Holika dahan, and articles from the past year are also burnt, signifying a fresh start for the upcoming year.
Interestingly, parts of the South celebrate this Holika Dahan as Kamuni Dahamu, signifying the burning away of all wrong passions and impulses and baggage of the previous year, and renewing ourselves in the New Year.
This day needs no introduction in most of the world. From the colours (gulal) to the pichkaris (bamboo water soakers) to the dance and revelry, this is quite possibly the most fun festival in the entire world.
People from all classes and backgrounds freely mix and spread cheer and song in the name of Spring and the triumph of good over evil. More traditionally, one can find some additional rituals, especially in the villages of Northern India, which further underscore the mixture of the sacred with the festive.
“Some women in the village offer special puja during Holi. Small twigs of the ‘Kamal’ tree are painted in red and yellow and then laid out in little bamboo baskets (khartoo) along with thread, kumkum, jaggery and roasted grams. The women carry this basket and little pots of coloured water in their hands and go for the Puja”. After it is offered, Holi is then played. [4,226]
Despite the calendrical variations, the two main divisions in the Hindu Luni-solar calendar celebrate New Year on the same day. Most of North India uses the Purnimanta Calendar. This Calendar ends every month with the full moon. The Amanta or Amavasyat Calendar starts every month with the new moon. Due to this discrepancy, Holi, which would normally align with the two-week long Vasant Mahotsav now has a month-long gap.
Restoring the Amanta calendar in the rest of India would restore the two week-long celebration. Interestingly, because the Purnimanta calendar starts with Krishna paksha, the Chaitra Sukla Pratipada (first day of the Bright half of the moon) is on the same day in both calendars. That is the reason why Ugadi/Gudi Padwa and Nava Varsha/Navreh are all celebrated on the same day, by both calendars.
When we say Navratri, most people think of the 9 days leading up to Dasara. But this is in fact just 1 of 4 (some say 5) Navratris, other than the famous Sharad Navratri. There is also the Magha, Ashvin, and relevant for Vasant utsav, the Chaitra Navratri. All of these celebrate the glory of Shakti.
Chaitra Navratri, in particular, is significant as it ends with the Sri Rama Navami. This is all the more symbolic as the original reason for this Navratri involved Ayodhya. Prince Sudarshana, one of Rama’s ancestors, was driven from his rightful throne. Through worship of the Devi, and her bija mantra, he was able to get married and become king. Bhagavan Rama too worshipped Shakti, and the timing of his defeat of Ravana is on Dasara (the tenth day of Durga’s Victory). As such, Chaitra Navratri ending with Sri Rama Navami is highly significant.
Sri Rama Navami
The Mahotsav appropriately closes with one of our most Sacred Days, Sri Rama Navami. This is the day of Lord Rama’s birth in Ayodhya. As he renewed our Dharma in the previous Treta Age, Spring renews our commitment to Dharma in the present one.
The overarching vision of Vasant Utsav, however, contrary to sepoys (LW and RW), is not unrestrained license or debauchery. Rather, it is a celebration of life in a tasteful yet enthusiastic manner. The full spectrum of all things, rather than mere obsession with the lower chakras. It is about celebrating all aspects of creation, whether personal or cosmic.
In ancient times, this was arguably the most exciting of Indian festivals, with a large part of the subcontinent featuring a carnival atmosphere, of music, dance, food, socialising, and general celebration. With so many days of significance, from Holi to Yugadi to Sri Rama Navami, it is only natural that this Utsav would become a Mahotsav.
Holi, of course, needs no explanation on how to celebrate. The only suggestion is to play safe and to use safe organic gulal. There are plenty of healthy natural colour-based options that individuals can draw from. They are not only “eco-friendly” but are also made by people who actually care about the festival and passing on our traditions.
Vasant Utsav in general is celebrated in many ways. Beyond Holi and its famous festivities (an article in and of itself), there are many spring sports, with music, theatre, and dance.
“After the termination of the sports, the king with his queens went to a lotus pond nearby and sported in the water for a while. Re-turning from the lotus tank he gave audience to the public and rewarded poets and artists according to merit. Dramas were put on boards; dance recitals were given; musicians, showed their skill in music, both vocal and instrumental; and magicians and others proficient in other kalaas or vidyas, came there in search of patronage, and displayed their feats of strength, skill and sleight of hand. It was a grand occasion for patronising Arts and Letters.” [1, 358]
Dandiya Raas (from the Sanskrit Dandaraasakam) is played , especially during the nine nights of Navratri. Puja is also done, especially for Devi, via the Ghatasthapana Muhurta, which has to be done at a specific time during the day. Doing so will activate the positive energy of Shakti via the kalasa (sacred pot).
Finally, Vasant Utsav is often associated with Kama Deva, the God of Love, whose friend and ally is literally the personification of the month of Spring, Vasanta. Kalidasa himself famously celebrated this month in his Rtusamhara.
Above all, however, Vasant Utsav was a great coming together of all sections of society, in fun and frolic. Spring is a time for renewal, not only of relationships and spirits, but of values and societies. And it should be once again.
Vasantamahotsava was the major festival of those days, which exercised great influence on the people culturally and socially. It was occasions like this that advanced the knowledge and culture of the common people. [1, 358]
M.Somasekhara Sarma. History of the Reddi Kingdoms.Delhi:Facsimile Publ. 2015
Rao, V. Kameswara.Temples in and Around Tirupati.1986.p.11