Tag Archives: Music

Literature: Dattilam of Dattila

As an appropriate aside to our recent article on the History of Sangeeta, is a Post on a particular work of Literature said by some to pre-date the work of the great Bharata Muni himself.

The Dattilam of Dattila is an oft-cited but little known work on Ancient Indian Music that, even more than the music theory it covers, is critical for what it actually represents.


In his seal for brevity, Dattila becomes so laconic in his descriptions that they often read like obscure mathematical formulae. Fortunately, Bharata and also later authors have given details enabling us to interpret Dattila meaningfully. [1, 143]

Not much is known about the eponymous author of the Dattilam.  Though the composer ends with a standard colophon announcing his name, he does not provide the traditional background and lineage one is used to encountering in such works. Like Bharata before (or after) him, he is more concerned with the content.

One of the reasons for the ambiguous speculation regarding Dattila’s contemporaneity with Bharata is because Bharata muni himself refers to the text Dattilam. At the same time, one of the one hundred sons list by him includes a Dattila. Was this a namesake of the original or the original himself? All this leads to the conclusion that it is best to avoid assertion where nothing is concrete.

Nevertheless, we know Dattila and his text are indeed authentic and influential as none other than the great Acharya Abhinavagupta refers to him and even quotes from the Dattilam. [1, 49]

The author sets out to describe not only what gandharva is but its purpose as well. He tells us of 18 jatis (proto-melodies) and 7 gitikas (structured song forms) and the importance of pada (words) and taala (beat pattern).

We see many of these common elements in Natya Sastra as well indicating the common tradition from which both Dattila and Bharata were working from.



The work begins with the traditional invocation to deity. It too ultimately is constructed upon the foundation of the Saama Veda.

Consisting of 244 slokas, Dattilam is divided into a preamble, two sections, and twelve chapters, with topics ranging from technical aspects of tala and varna to methodology suggested by others. It is a terse and aphoristic treatise, that reads as a manual for experts, rather than an introduction to students. As the translator of the current edition himself notes, it not only requires the use of later texts (such as Natya Sastra or Sangeeta Ratnakara) but also begs a commentary. So concise is the text that a number of scholars have suggested that it is only part of a greater work. Irrespective…

The Dattilam is a very suitable starting point for research into the theory of ancient Indian music, as it is a concise compendium of almost all the musical terms. [3, 5]

The manuscriptology behind the Dattilam is an interesting story in and of itself. Found in a collection sponsored by Travancore’s Royal Family, it was discovered by the curator, Pandit K. Sambasiva Sastri. The manuscript he came upon was attached to a copy of the Sangeetasamayasaara. It is said to have been written in Sanskrit with Malayalam script.

The first translation into English was by a Dutch scholar named Nijenhuis. A subsequent one also conducted by a Dutchman, with the present one completed by Mukund Lath. All of them are in effective agreement however that…

Dattilam assumes a series of purvacaryas, preceding masters, and specifically names three: Narada, Kohala and Visakhila. [1, xii]

This is an important point as it establishes the existence of a tradition prior to even Bharata muni (who himself refers to previous musical masters). Dattila, does not refer to Bharata, leading to the conclusion that they were both from the same time period, or Dattila was likely senior. While Natya Sastra is presently dated to 400-100 BCE, the Dattilam is at least as older if not older.

Further evidence adduced to this point is that the text is seen as rather independent of Bharata. Nevertheless…

gandharva stands for ‘music’—all music. But the gaandharva Dattila speaks of was a specific body of music, a sacred form. It was conceived as akin to a musical yajna, and like a yajna, it could result in transcendental merit (adrsta) leading to svarga. [1, xiii]

As such, whether it is Bharata or Dattila, it is clear that the sacred is not only the origin of music, but very much immanent in the Indic musical tradition.

Another point of interest is Dattila’s reference to various regions and musical aspects attached to regions. He makes frequent mention of jatis called udeecyava (meaning from the north), and also refers to andhri (Andhra), takka raga (from NW Punjab), maalavi (from Malava/Malwa), kambhoji (from ancient Kambhoja), gaudi (from Gauda/Bengal), and gandhara jatis, in verses 70-79. [1, 117]

Other concepts beyond jati discussed include varna. “Varna was the general term used to indicate musical or melodic movement over notes.” [1, 125] Varnas are inextricably linked to padas (words) in a gita (song). In contrast, a jati is of pure note structure, laying the foundation for later ragas. Tala (a term meaning beat or beat pattern) is also discussed. It is a time measure based on beats ensuring the note (svara) was saamya (in equilibrium).

Dattilam is a fine example of a saastric text and is of living value to us in that respect. It has striking affinities of approach and spirit with many other saastras, such [a]s those of Paanini on grammar, Pingala on the science of metrics and Tandu on the dance-form taandava. [1, xiv]



I. [Pranamya paramesaanam] Brahmaadhaamscha gurumstatha |

Gaandharva-saastra-sankshepah saarathoyam mayochyathe || sl. 1

[After having made my obeisance to the Supreme Lord] and to all the gurus, the first of whom is Brahmaa, I shall now enunciate in its essence the saastra concerning gaandharva in a concise form.  [1, 1]

II. Gandharvam naaradaadibhyah pratthamaadhau svayambhuvaa |

vidhidan-naaradenaatha prithivyaam-avathaaritam || sl.2

The origin of gaandharva

Svayambhoo (the self-born one) gave gaandharva to Naarada and other sages. Narada, then, duly brought it down to this earth. [1,1]

III. Padasthah svarasamghaathas thaalena sumithas thathha |

Prayuktas-chaavadhaanena gaandharvam-abhidheeyathe || sl.3

What is gaandharva

A group of svaras, well-measured through taala and set to padas (words) when rendered with due attention (avadhaana) is called gaandharva. [1,1]

IV. Sruthayotha-svaraa graamau moorchanaas-thaana-samyuthaah |

Sthaanaani vruttayaschaiva sushkam saadhaarane thathha || sl.6

Jaathayaschaiva varnascha naana-alangkaara-samyuthaa |

Esha svara-gathodhreshah samskhepenaatha nirnayah || sl.7

Next, micro-intervals(sruthi), notes (svara), the two-tone systems (graama), scales (moorchanaa) consisting of series of notes (taana), the registers (sthaana), styles (vrtti), pure instrumental music (sushka), and the two ways of overlapping

modes (jaati) and ways of ornamentation (varna) connected with various graces (alamkaara). This is a mere description of the things relating to the notes…[3,2]

V.  This exposition is no more than a pointer towards the system of the earlier acaryas. The knowing expert (sudhee) should look up their views and reach his own conclusions if he still has any doubts. sl. 244

Iti Dattilam samaaptam

Dattila (thus) composed a saastra known by the name Dattilam [1, 47]

Click here to Buy this Book today!!!

  1. Lath, Mukund & Ed. Kapila Vatsyayan. Dattilam. Delhi: IGNCA.1988
  2. Prajnanananda, Swami. A History of Indian Music. Volume 1. Calcutta: Ramakrishna Vedanta Math. 1997
  3. Nijenhuis, Emmie te. Dattilam: A Compendium of Ancient Indian Music. Utrecht. 1970

Classical Indic Music II: History of Sangeeta

In the preliminary article in our Series on Classical Indic Music, we re-asserted the native canon of Saastriya Sangeeta and its historical Pan-India nature. The next installment will discuss the history of Sangeeta itself, and how the various regional notes compose the classical national scale.


First off, why a survey of Indian music chronology at all? The antiquity of Ancient Indian Music may be difficult to calculate, but it is foolish to contest. As previously established, the indigenous classical canon of India is a matter of great discussion, but its integral unity cannot be denied. Ironically, the greatest revisionists of Indian Music history and even Indian history itself, accuse others of historical revisionism. Everything from the sitar to the tabla to classical music itself has been projected as being introduced by outsiders—eager to establish their own primacy and dominance. That foreign accounts can be given greater credence than native ones is the greatest sleight-of-hand of present times. All this makes a study of the History of Sangeeta all the more relevant to our times.

The ancient history of Indian Music is funda-mentally the history of her people, civilization and culture. The continuity of Indian civilization and culture, from the most ancient time uptil now, has one of its sources in the geographical configuration of the country. Many historians are of the opinion that as Hinduism was a common faith and the Hindu kings were in power, there was a religious and cultural unity and affinity among the Indian people as a whole.” [4,1]

As such, to properly understand ourselves and where we are going, we must first properly understand who we were and where we came from. Music History is crucially important to this.

Second, what is a history of music? A history of music is, therefore, a systematic and chronological records of musical thoughts and materials that evolved in different ages in a gradual process. It requires collection, arrange-ment and preservation of the facts and findings relating to music in a systematic order. ” [4, 9]

Rather than mere recitation and regurgitation of what has been taught by self-appointed “eminent experts”, it necessitates an investigation of the facts as available to us. This means not only questioning existing factoids, but questioning existing paradigms as well.

Third, what is the nature of a history of music?A history of Indian music is a saga of musical thoughts of the Indian people, as written in their subconcious mind. It has its birth, growth and progress in Indian society, and has religious and spiritual out-look. A history of Indian music is a wide subject, the range of which is extended from remote antiquity upto the present time.” [4, 9]

Thus, a proper history of Indian music must be a history of music rooted in Indian society and values and especially Indic Civilization. This then leads to the matter of valid sources of history.

Historical materials can be gathered from the following in order of descending importance:

  1. Various texts and treatises of music compiled from various authors across the ages
  2. Archeological evidence. These include rock and architectural inscriptions, copper-plate proclamations and tablets from various kings and aristocrats, coins and paintings.
  3. Private diaries of the local musicians and local folklores, including anecdotal evidence.
  4. Foreign accounts as well as the history of music from other nations

The native accounts must be given highest priority. Foreign accounts, which lack the insider understanding of a culture or civilization, can only be used to fill gaps or facilitate in the verification of facts.

Most of the historians both of the East and the West admit that many of the civilized nations of the world are indebted to India for their materials of civilization, art and culture. India does not lack in authentic materials for constructing a history of music of her own, for putting before the admiring gaze of the world, her glorious heritage in the field of art education and culture. [4, vii]

This then leads us to the imperative of challenging the false notion of indigenous Indian music being only ritual temple chants. Since apparently anything favourable to ancient India is considered jingoistic these days, let us turn then to the foreign-sponsored’s favourite sources: foreign: “From the writings of the Greek historians we come to know that in the Royal courts of Champaa, Raajgriha, Koshala, Vaishaali, Kau-shamvi, Paataliputra, Kalinga (in Southern  Orissaa), classical dances and music were fully encouraged… even the ladies of the Royal household allowed to culture dance and music. In the 2nd century B.C.” [4, 99]

Indeed, as far back as Paanini (presently dated to 500 BCE) and Patanjali (3rd Century BCE), we find descriptions of the practice of music and use of various musical instruments. In the Mahabhasya, there are a multitude of musical instruments listed including the mridanga, veena, and dundubhi. From the Buddhist canon we find Avadanas, Jatakas, and Pithakas reffering to music, musical instruments, and mudras. Hymns such as the thera, theri and sthavir were sung by Bhikkus. 107 poems and 1279 gathas make up the theras.

Further, we know from our own sources that music was highly encouraged, particularly within certain conventions, to virtually all classes. “In the 2nd century B.C., Vaastyaayana has mentioned about 64 kinds of art including dance music, and has said that they were freely cultured even by the married and unmarried girls“. [4,99] Whatever the traditional rules between castes, it appears that within castes—particularly the most orthodox—there were fewer taboos regarding performance of sangeeta and natya. This also provides further illumination into the nature of the conservatism of Hindus in the medieval period.

But a proper history is more than just a mere chronology or chronicle. It provides a systematic understanding and analysis of the nature and origin of events and realities. To properly do so, one must study the theoretical foundations.

Theoretical Foundations

The materials for history of Indian music of the ancient period can be collected from the Vedas and specially from the Saamaveda, the womb of music, the Shikshaas and the Praatishaakhyas, the Naatyasaastra and its commentaries, the classical Sanskrit dramas and literature, the Buddhist literature and the Jaatakas, the Brihaddeshi and the Sangitasamayasaara, the Silappadikaram and the Tevaram and other ancient Tamil literature, as well as from the rock-cut instructions and sculp-tures, chiselled on the railings, facades and walls of different Buddhist, Hindu and Jain Stupas, Vihaaras and temples. [4, 4]

Traditionally, Indian music has been divided not only into marga and desi but also vaidika and laukika. The Sama Veda in particular is considered the root of all music.


The Vedas are considered by the orthodox to be apaurusheya, that is, without human origin. Therefore, dating a specific period according to the conventional Western timeline becomes difficult. This is because they are considered the very embodiment of the Divine itself, hence all the rules and rituals related to paaraayanam (chanting).

In the Ka[u]shitaki-braahmana (29.5), it has been stated that the arts of dancing, singing and playing the musical instruments formed and important part of certain Vedic rites“. [4, 90]

Nada-brahma is considered the origin of the Universe and Paraa-Barahman emanating from the vibrations themselves. There is a famous quote in Matanga Muni’s Brihaddesi on precisely this point. Along with the Shruthi (Veda) is the notion of shruti (harmony/micro-tones.

The microtones (shrutis) are the minute percep-tible (“shravanayogya”) tones or musical sound-units that constitute the structures of seven tones like shadja, rishabha, gaandhaara, madhyama, pan-chama, dhaivata and nishaada (corresponding Vedic tones, chaturtha, mandra, atisvaarya, krusta, pra-thama, dvitiya, trituya).” [4,15]

Saamagaana is considered the earliest systematic method of singing in india. It had three base tones (anudaatta, svarita, and udaatta). According to Professor Sambamoorthy, “The Rigveda was recited to the three notes, udaatta, anudaatta and svarita, corresponding to ri, ni and sa of frequencies.” [4, 19] These partial and middle tones are considered the nucleus of the Classical Indic Scale (thaata, mela/melakarta).

Interestingly while the Sapta svara of Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Da Ni which is dated to Bharata Muni (6th-3rd centuries BCE, if not much earlier), the solfa system of Europe dates only to the 10th century CE, credited to Guido d’Areezzo. [4, 20]

Saama Veda is considered the foundational source of all music. It is divided into the purvaarchika and uttaraarchika. Songs of common people were known as graamageya, songs of the forest people known as aranyageya, and those of the mystics, rahasyageya.

The saamagaana or singing process of the saamans was divided into six or seven categories, and they were (1) humkaara, i.e., the priest will utter ‘hum’ (yes) at the beginning of the singing: (2) prastora i.e., which the Prastotris (prastotri—priest) used to sing at the beginning of the saamagaana: (3) udgitha, i.e., which the Udgaatris used to repeat to the tune of the saamagaana; (4) pratihaara, i.e., the Pratihaatris used to sing the part of the song after the third stanza of the saamagana; (5) upadrava, i.e., which the Udgaatris used to sing at the end of the third stanza; (6) nidhaana, i..e., that used to be sun by the sacrificial priests at the end of the saamans; and (7) pranava, i.e., omkaara. The saama-gaana sued to be sung in this way before the blazing fire on the sacrificial alt[a]rs, invoking the presiding deities.” [4, 93]

However, all this remains in the realm of the sacred. What of the material world and the inclination to sing and celebrate the world and worldly things? This is where the Divine descends into the semi-divine and celestial.



Sometimes attached as an upaveda, Gandharva Veda is often simply known as Gandharva. Such is its connection with those semi-divine beings.  Per the tradition it is reputed that the microtones were devised by Brahma or Brahmabharata, the first promulgator of the gandharva type of music, and afterwards it was made perfect by Naarada and finally Bharata muni. [4, 16]

Considered to have been collected from the Sama Veda, Gandharva Veda since took on a character of its own. In line with the pleasure-seeking ways of the Gandharvas it is named after, it adapted to the tastes and needs of more material humans. It created pleasure and enjoyable auditory sensations and good vibrations for all. It is the original systemised form of the systemised form of music we have today.

Nevertheless, it is considered the origin for the laukika (material world) music that has definite historical records dating back to 600 BCE, if not long before. Interestingly, the Ramayana makes reference to the tradition of wandering bards skilled in the science of gandharva, when it mentions Lava and Kusha singing of their parents travails. This ultimately brings us to saastra.



Although there are works and personalities considered anterior to this magnum opus and its composer, the Natya Sastra is considered the foundational text of Saastriya Sangeeta, and takes us from the realm of Sacred History to Pure History.

Bharata Muni propounds the existence of 22 microtones with associated jatis. The seven svaras (notes) each cover a set of these shrutis. For example tivraa, kumudvati, manda, and chandovati shrutis are all attached to the preliminary svara Sa. This division of shrutis is accepted by the Carnatic System to this day.

This then leads to the 10 essentials, or dasa-lakshanas, for qualities in determining the genuine nature of ragas. These are initials (graha), sonant (amsha), higher (taara), lower (mandra), concluding (nyaasa), medial (apanyaasa), rare (alptva), abundance (vahutva), hexatonic (shaadava), and pentatonic (audava).  Through these qualities, raagas can be examined and their real forms ascertained. All of these date back to Bharata Muni, though he himself says he is indebted to Brahma. All of these are also better discussed in detail in a future article. For our purposes, however, the saastric understanding of raaga is important.

A raaga is the product of permutation and com-bination of tones which creates sweet and sooth-ing impressions (samskaara) in the mind. This definition we get from Matanga’s Brihaddeshi [4, 33]

The 72 melakartha ragas have been listed in the introductory article of this series. What is interesting here for our purposes is when the gandharva or marga type of music began formalising the various ragas. The Ramayana (parsimoniously dated to 400 BCE) contains 7 jaati-raagas in its gaana. “Jaatis are the causal or basic raagas, from which evolved all kinds of raagas, maarga and desi“. [4,35] In the Mahabharata and Harivamsa we find 6 graamaraagas.We see these extend into the Naatya Saastra, where 18 jaatiraagas are mentioned.

Incidentally graamaraagas are found in Naarada’s Sikshaa as well as in Pallava dynasty rock inscriptions, attributed to King Mahendravarman, at Kudumiaamaalai in Tamil Nadu. [4, 36] Interestingly, we see that 2 of the 18 jati-raagas are named after regions (Andhri and Gaandhara-panchami). As such, we see not only a continuity, but a Pan-India pervasiveness, literally from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. By the time of Sarngadeva, a Kashmiri residing South of the Vindhyas at the Maharashtrian court, we find a total of 264 raagas evolving from the original melodic structures.

This of course leads to another modern concocted controversy over the origin of the melakartha system (or thaat of the North). Ever eager to find a foreign origin to all things Indian (even Indians!), Europeans and their current sepoys-at-arms have attributed a Persian background to the thaat on account of the name and the first emphatic definition of mela coming from Pandit Somanatha in the 1600s. But this is a risible notion, as Swami Vidyaranya, known for his native orthodoxy and revivalism, had formulated 15 melas by the 1300s itself. Somanatha asserted that 960 melas could be evolved, though eventually 72 were settled upon by Venkatamakhi.


Indian Instruments

The history of Classical Indic Musical Instruments could be an article, or series of articles, in and of itself (incidentally, we already started one here). Nevertheless, no discussion of the History of Music is complete without mention of the vaadya or atodya of Sangeeta.

Basic stringed instruments are found in Lothal dating at least to 2000 BCE and are described in great detail not only by Natya Saastra, but reverential commentators on it, such as the Andhra Nayaka, Jaya Senapati in his Nrtta Ratnavali. [8, 437]

Generally classed as sushira (winds), thantri/thatha (strings), avanadha (percussion), ghana (metal), here are the most traditional of traditional vaadyas in the Indian vaadyabrnda (orchestra).


Veena—Arguably the most ancient and most Indian of all Ancient Indian instruments, the veena is the vaadya of legends. Said to have evolved from the dhanuryantram (a bow instrument), it has since multiplied into varied forms and types. The shata-tantri is a 100 stringed veena, and the vaana veena is one with grass. These are known in the Kalpasutras with the former fittingly called kaatyaayani-veena. The sitar is itself a chitra-veena, tweaked for Turkic tastes.

Dundubhi—A very ancient and imposing atodya, the Dundubhi is associated with war drums of old and often foretells of a coming cataclysm. Often shaped from the hollow trunk of a tree and covered with leather skin, it has a deep and resonant sound that captivates audiences and armies alike, as it can be heard from great distances. The bhumi-dundubhi form is thought to be the oldest of percussion instruments.

Mridangam—The most pervasive of the classical percussion vaadyas is the mridangam. Still used today in carnatic, it is part of the standard repertoire of classical conclaves and katcheris. A related instrument is of course the Damaru, but this is better discussed elsewhere. Interestingly, there is an old folk story about how the tabla is merely a mridangam cut in half.

Tabla—Believe it or not, the tabla is not as young as we’ve been told. Whatever cute little ‘syncretic’ stories have been concocted by communist ‘mythologists’, the tabla is not a recently rendered percussion instrument. It very likely doesn’t even date to the medieval period. “These drums are known as pushkara. The two drums of identical-size, that have been depicted in the temple-halls of Muktesvara and Baadaami are the forebears of the modern tabal and baayaan, which are erroneously taken to be the two halves of the mridanga (or paakhawaaj), introduced…by Amir Khusrau“.[4, 106] While final confirmation of the modern tabla originating in the ancient pushkara drums found in these sculptures and bas-reliefs of Late Antiquity, one can quite obviously see that seeing foreign influence in all things Indian is more than a little suspect.

Tambura—Erroneously called “tanpura”, Tambura has a lineage of great antiquity and is associated with the Rishi Tamburu. It is used by Sages such as Narada, to keep sruthi. In modern times, the violin has taken its place, but the time may be approaching to restore the prominence of Tamburu’s namesake.

Venu—The bamboo flute, also known as vamsee or now bansuri (in Hindustani), rose to everlasting fame through that eternal romantic of Vrindavan. The murali may be forever associated with Lord Krishna, but its use is even more ancient.

Karathaala—These are the famed castanets of Narada Muni. They are still prominently used in Rajasthani folk music, and are called Khartal.

However, we know them better today, not in India, but among those Indic people properly called Romani (commonly known as Gypsy). This instrument has taken a distinctly romantic flavour in the flamenco music of Spain. But of course, as wikipedia will currently tell you…place of origin is…”unknown”…


Known as the Nagaswaram in the South and the Shehnai in the North, Nadasvaram is the original and is a pan-Indian pipe-reed instrument that can stop even the bagpipe in its tracks.

If nada is the origin of the universe, this instrument gives us a glimpse into why.

There are numerous other instruments that could be discussed. Nevertheless, for historical purposes, these serve for now.

But along with understanding the foundations and instruments is gaining a grasp of the common Indic terminology.


  • Shruti—(literally sound, generally Vedas, but in music specifically, microtones).
  • Svara—Notes or tonal sounds. Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Da Ni
  • Sthaana—Registers in music
  • Geethi—Musical rendering
  • Geetha—Song
  • Sangeetha—Music
  • Jati—Pronounced jaathee. Organised tones. Depending on context, proto-melodies. A tune type or species. [5, 19]
  • Raga—Pronounced raaga, it is defined as “‘ranjayata it raaga.’ i.e., that, which produces pleasing and soothing impressions in the mind, is a raaga.” [4, 98] It is the basic melody of music and made up of various permutations and combinations of tones. There are 72 melakarta ragas.
  • Murcchana—elaboration of the seed-form of a raga. This is made possible when 7 tones of a raga manifest themselves via ascent (arohana) and descent (avarohana). It possess a unit of aesthetic sentiment. Bharata states there were 14 murcchanas.
  • Tana—Pronounced thaana. Similar to murcchana. The difference is that tana only has arohana [5, 69]
  • Varna—Manifesting of a song. There are 4 kinds: aarohi, avarohi, sthaayi and sanchari. They typically consist of pallavi, anupallavi, charanam, muktayisvara and chittasvara. [1, 57] The term is also used to refer to the syllables of a svara.
  • Kaaku—variation of vocal sounds. These are used to express the Nava Rasa.
  • Tala—Pronounced thaala, it means beat. While traditionally these reached as high as 108 different types, in Carnatic there are now 35 (i.e. dhruvaa, mantha, rupaka, jhampa, triputa, adda, ekataala) and are made up of different maatras (finger positions).
  • Laya—Rhythm or tempo. These are generally divided into 3: vilambita (slow), madhya (medium) and druta (rapid). [4, 73]
  • Vaadya/Atodya—Musical Instruments.
  • Vaadyabrnda—Orchestra. Also known as kutapa, the vaadyabrnda is distinctly mentioned in Saastra. The Indian orchestra is certainly nothing new, only has a different set of instruments.
  • Sangeetha-shaala—Music hall for singing and dancing. Found since at least the court of Pushyamitra Sunga.
  • Prekshagriha—Threatre auditorium for dramatic performances, musical and otherwise. The first Sunga ruler had a separate premises for these as well.


Personalities in the History of Music are myriad and manifold. Indeed, many are bracketed in the category of ‘mythological’. Being concerned with serious history, we will merely make reference to those sacred historical figures as legendary, and begin with  Bharata, Kohala, and Dattila as the first confirmed historical figures with associated texts.


Nandikeshvara is known by many names and must be mentioned as he is the originator of one of the three original sampradayas of Sangeeta. The texts Nandikeshvara-samhita, Bharataarnava, Abhinaya-darpana, Kaishikaavritti are credited to him, but do all of them refer to the same person?  It is indeed very possible that there were many so-called historical (and human!) Nandis who were responsible for the texts associated with this figure, and yet, they have not been confirmed or even fully theorised. As such, Nandikeshvara along with Lord Brahma will have to be placed, rather than in the purely historical, in the realm of the sacred instead, but with textual attributions intact, much like the son of Brahma himself.

Narada Muni

Much like Nandeeshvara, many are reluctant to consider conflating the mythical Narada muni with the texts associated with him: Naaradi Sikshasaastra, Sangita-makaranda, Raaga-nirupana, and the Gandharva-rahasyam (on dance, drama, and music). Is he the great Sage of our stories, forever singing the glories of Lord Vishnu, or were there many ‘historical’ Naradas? When in doubt, it is better to preserve the chronology assigned in the tradition, and merely assert what has been confirmed by historical evidence. It is also important to catalogue his contributions as he is the second of the great sampradaya founders.

Bharata Muni

The third and most historical of the three founders of the original schools of Sangeeta, Sage Bharata is a storied name in not only music, but literature, dance, drama, poetry, and indeed, aesthetics itself. Though he mentioned only 8 of the Nava Rasas, the theory of 9 sentiment itself is said to commence with him.

Muni Bharata brought a renaissance in the domain of dance, drama and music, and scientifically devised laws and priciples of twenty-two mircortones (shrutis) or subtle tones on the basis of five mircrotones (jaati-shrutis), as promulgated by Naarada of the Siksha.” [4, 118]

Most important of all, this sagacious sage propounded his theory of Sangeeta for the purpose of Natya. There are a number of musicologists considered to have been either immediate contemporaries or successors to Bharat. These include Kohala (wrote Sangitameru), Durgashakti, Yaashtika (Sarvaagama-samhita), Shaardula , Svaati (considered the inventor of the pushakara drum), Vaayu, and Vishvavasu. One name associated with the significantly later King Vikramaditya of Ujjain is Matrgupta (appointed to rule Kashmir in the name of his Avanti overlord). Nevertheless, the most immediately relevant name is one who is often thought to perhaps even precede Bharata.


The eponymous work Dattilam is the legacy of this sage. He is said to have continued in the tradition of Bharata, and discusses sangeeta in the context of natya. He lists 18 jatiraagas, various murcchanas and 66 thaanas. Not much is known about him, but he is considered to be a contemporary of Bharata Muni.


The contemporary paradigm parsimoniously dates this great musicologist to the 5th or 7th centuries CE; however, to traditional Hindus, he is no mere Matanga, but Matanga Muni. Considered an ancient Sage, his background dates back, in all likelihood, to not too much after the Natya Sastra himself. He makes references to the most ancient commentators, including Bharata Muni, Kohala, and Dattila. Where he stands out, however, is in his treatment of the desi ragas and styles of music (hence the name of his work Brihaddesi, discussed below).

Though he is clear on the central nature of Marga, Matanga nevertheless discusses the different regional and national styles of music. For those wondering whether the orthodox ever admit to foreign influence, it is here that contemporary yet conservative commentators of India note that while the classical marga style of saastriya sangeeta remains indigenous, different national styles such as those of the Sakas found their way into myriad quilt of desi regional music and folk music. [5]

Emperor Samudra Gupta with Veena


It is a long gap between Matanga Muni and Maharaja Bhoja, but given the antiquity of Indian history, a single article Chronology is better focused on the reified names of history, rather than those who are still being confirmed. Though Fa Hien records the splendour of Indian music during the Gupta Period (no doubt due in no small part to the great veena playing Emperor Samudra), musicologists and evidence of direct contribution will better help mark the historical record.

Maharaja Bhoja Paramara

King Bhoj of Dhar is one such contributor. The storied lord of Dhaarangagari was arguably the most talented and scholarly of Royal Commentators on the Arts, including music, and is considered a true polymath. Though better associated with literature and architecture, his contributions to sangeeta cannot be gainsayed. Sringara-Prakasa is a work of his containing precepts of dramaturgy. Though only some of his 84 books are known to have survived, he was considered an authority on music by Maharana Kumbha.


Undoubtedly one of the towering polymaths of Indian history, the great Kashmiri  Acharya Abhinavagupta widely commentated on everything from Tantra to the Arts. His commentary on the Natya Sastra, is known as Abhinava Bharati. This Bharatabhasyam elaborates the various issues pertaining to drama, dance, and music. He not only cites Bharata Muni, but also Kohala, considered an ancient authority in naatyaadhikaara and geyaadhikaara. His 1000th Birth anniversary took place this past year.


He is credited with the Sangita-ratnamaalaa, and is dated to the 11th century. Also hailing rom Kashmir, he categorised raagas per the janya-janaka (genus-species) method. He lists a number of principal ragas suh as karnata and maalava. [4, 158]


In a long list of names, stands this prominent Jain musicologist who wrote Sangeeta-samayasaara. Thought to  date back to between the 9th and 11th centuries, Parshvadeva gives us a full description of various kinds of prabandhas. These were further elaborated upon by Sarngadeva. Nevertheless, the prabandha-gitis took inspiration from the ancient form of dhruvapada and eventually is known today in Hindustani as the dhrupad. The dhrupad is a shortened name for the saalaga-suda dhruva-prabandha, given patronage by Raja Man Tanwar. [4, 56] In Maharashtra, we find abhangas as the prized musical form instead.


Better known as King Nanyadeva, he is one of many royal comentators on music. A descendant of the Kannada Rashtrakuta dynasty, his kingdom was situated in land straddling Bihar and modern Nepal. Nanyadeva is notable for his commentary on Bharata’s Natya Sastra, called Sarasvati-hridayaalankaara. Other influences include Naarada, Yashtika, Kaasyapa and Matanga. He discussed various raagagitis and jati-ragas

Someshvara III

Author of the Abhilasha-Chintamani, the Chalukya Emperor Someshvara more closely associated with the alternate name of the same work: Manasollasa. This veritable encyclopadia deals with many topics ranging from Classical Cuisine to Music. He is considered one of the prominent Royal authorities on Natya and Sangeeta.


Subject to a great war between Odias and Bengalis, as on the rasagolla front, Jayadeva the musical and literary personality appears almost certainly to go in favour of Odisha as well. His ashtapadis were heavily popularised at the court of the Odia King Prataparudra Deva Gajapathi. Jayadeva’s great Gita-Govinda had an impact as far as western India, with none other than Maharana Kumbha later commentating on it.

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu

One undeniable Bengali, however, is Chaitanya Mahaprabhu of the 16th century. His impact extended beyond the Gaudiya Vaishnavism, a guru-sishya parampara that extends to that founder of the Hare Krishna movement, Srila Prabhupada (whose translation of the Gita remains the most widely read today). Nevertheless, it was the founder of his own parampara, who would have the greatest impact on the folk music of Eastern India. The Bhakti songs of Bengal very much bears the stamp of Sri Chaitanya to this day.


Known as ‘Nissanka’ (one who is doubtless), Sarngadeva was born in Varshagana gotra to Soddala Deva. His grandfather was Bhaskara, a Kashmiri Pandit who settled in Maharashtra.

He is regarded as an outstanding Sanskrit scholar and wrote the Vedanta work called Adhyatma Viveka. But he is best known for his Sangeeta Ratnakara (13 th century), which he wrote while residing at the Seuna Court at Devagiri. This soon became the classical standard in the medieval period, influencing both Hindustani and Carnatic.

Gopala Nayaka

Maharashtra musician Gopala Nayaka of Devagiri was eventually  to Delhi some time in the late 13th century. [9,27] This is said to have laid the actual foundation for what is known as the Hindustani School today.

Swami Vidyaranya

Considered by many to be a foundational influence on Carnatic music, the Vijayanagara Samrajya Sthapanacharya made an incalculable contribution to the revival of Saastriya Sangeeta at a time when Saastriya Samskruthi was under threat. His Sangeeta-Saram of the 1300s mentions 50 janya ragas originating from 15 melakartha ragas.  The head of the Sringeri Peetham, he oversaw a commission of scholars to revive traditional sangeeta that was under threat from destruction by invaders.


A musicologist from the Vijayanagara Court, he wrote an authoritative commentary on Sarngadeva’s influential work.



One of the most beloved classical musicians of Andhra, Annamacharya (1408-1503 CE) remains one of the critical bridges between the ancient Saastriya Sangeeta of old and the birth of the Carnatic Tradition.

Though his story and advocacy for upanayana for women and lower caste temple entry is what he had been remembered for throughout history by the masses, it was only recently that his keerthanas were rediscovered and set to music by Carnatic stalwart, Nedunuri Krishnamurthy.

The sheer volume of Annamacharya’s contribution remains virtually inmatched. Though less than half of his estimated 32,000 padams have been found, compositions such as this one below, reverberate throughout the Telugu states to this day.

Purandara Dasa



Karnataka Sangeeta Pitamaha Purandara Dasa is a name known to all South Indians, and is one that should soon be known to all Indians. He re-established the native canon of authentic Classical Indic Music at a time when it was subject to many external influences and even outright corruptions.

Born Srinivasa Nayaka in 1484 at Pandaripur (Karnataka), he became the disciple of Sri Vyasa Teertha in 1525. He composed thousands of songs and codified the Carnatic Music Tradition. He passed away in 1564.

Maharana Kumbha

Image result for maharana kumbha

If ever there were proof that a fierce warrior, gifted general, and dignified king could be talented musician and musicologist as well, it is Maharana Kumbhakaran Singh of illustrious Mewar. Dreaded by his opponents, beloved by his subjects, and honoured by his scholars, one of Mevaad’s most ferocious veeras was also the author of the Sangeeta-raja and Sangeeta-krama-deepika.

He is also credited with re-setting the tune to Jayadeva’s Geeta-Govinda. Though Jayadeva was considered singularly skilled poet, the ragas he set his poems to were re-adjusted in what is widely considered to be a Rajasthani improvement on the Odia original. In any event, the skilled deputee of Eklingji held Jayadeva in high esteem, and thus, is credited with a commentary on the Gita-Govinda.

Narayana Teertha

Narayana Teertha Yatindra is the author of Sri Krishna Leela Tarangini. Living in the 16th century, he was another stalwart of Andhra, hailing from its Krishna district.

Krishna Leela Tarangini is considered a standard of Sanskrit opera. It is composes in 12 cantos with its various songs preceded by slokas and short prose passages. KLT is ranked with Geeta Govinda as work of Sringara. Its theme is the story of Krishna and Rukmini. [6, 83]


Celebrated across divides and boundaries, Tansen is often considered to be the real founder of the Hindustani tradition. Born to Makarand Pandey at Gwalior, he learnt music from Swami Haridas. Rajput royals such as Rani Mrignayani (also of Gwalior) and Raja Sanmukhan Singh of Ajmer, were classmates. He later went to the Agra Court in the 1600s and wrote the Sangeeta Sara and Rajmala.

Tansen is said to have standardised 300 ragas in Hindustani. Miyan ki Todi is one of the ragas attributed to him. He had 5 children including a daughter named Sarasvati, who was a veena player. His sons played the rhabab—a string instrument modified by the great musician himself. [9]


Ramamatya, Somanatha and Venkatamakhi consti-tude a group by themselves. They are respectively the authors of the following standard works in Sanskrit on Karnatic music: Svaramelakalanidhi, Raga Vibodha, and Chaturdandi Prakasika” [6, 85]

Ramayamatya is the earliest, dating back to the 1500s. At the request of Emperor of Vijayanagara, he wrote the svaramela kalanidhi and enumerated 20 melas and their janya ragas. He rejects Sarngadeva’s theory of 12 vikrta svaras in favour of 7.

Somanatha was another traditional scholar from Andhra desa. His Raga vibodha picks up from where Ramamatya left off. In contrast, he elected to posit a scheme of 960 melas with 15 vikrta svaras.

Finally, the most impactful of the 3 was Venkatamakhi. The second son of Govinda Dixitar, he studied under his brother Yajna Narayana. He later came under the tutelage of Tanapapacharya, a famous musician from Northern India. With the patronage of Vijaya Raghava Nayaka, Venkatamakhin wrote the Chaturdandi Prakasika in 1660. This Comprehensive work covers the gamut of the usual traditional concepts, but is credited most for standardising the 72 melakarta ragas used in Carnatic music today. [6, 86]


Meerabai & khartal

Mewar’s musical contribution to India includes the female as well as the male. The storied Princess Meerabai gave up all for her love of Lord Krishna. She is remembered today not only for her skill with the tambura and khartal, but for her voice as well. This songstress of Sri Krishna is known for devotional ballads such as these.


Lochana Kavi is another notable scholar. Hailing from Mithila (in Bihar),  he is best known for his Raga Tarangini, which deals with Indian music in a time of great change. He mentions 12 janaka melas and uses 12 svaras to describe his ragas. A fitting homage to the historical Rajatarangini is the musical Ragatarangini. It is considered a useful study on the music of Northern Indian during a time of foreign ascendancy.


A celebrated composer of Telugu padas, Kshetreyya was born in Muvvapuri graamam, near Chandragiri (Chittoor district). He was a tremendous singer, scholar, and litterateur. Dedicated to Lord Gopala, he worth 4000 padas in honour of his ishta devata. He travelled throughout peninsular India, and made his greatest impacts at the court of Madurai and Thanjavur.


The most famous of the Carnatic Trinity, Thyagaraja was born as Kakarla, Thyagabrahmam in a Telugu Brahmin family that migrated to Thiruvaiyaru from Prakasam district in 1767. He received his early music lessons from his guru Sonti, Venkata Ramanayya.

Thyagayya composed close to 24,000 kirthanas in his life time but only 700 kirthanas survived the vagaries of time. He also wrote two musical plays in Telugu “Prahlada bhakthi Vijayam” and “Nauka Charitram”. His Pancharatna (five gems) Krithis are considered finest gems of Carnatic music.

Every year in the month of January and February a music festival, Thyagaraja Aradhana, is held in Thiruvaiyaru to celebrate and honour his musical genius. On Pushya Bahula Panchami thousands sing his Pancharatnas together. Now it’s a worldwide event, Thyagaraja aradhana is conducted world wide by the patrons and practitioners of Carnatic music and attended by thousands of music lovers and devotees.

The language of Thyagaraja compositions is simple but yet beautiful, and the choice of words in the compositions add to the melody of raga and the rhythm of tala to create the ecstasy of bhava and rasa.

Syama Sastri


Syama Sastri hailed from the Vadamar community connected to Tamil Nadu, but originally hailing from Andhra. He was born in Thiruvarur to Visvanatha Iyer, in 1762. He was a friend of Thyagaraja and guru to the third of the Carnatic Trinity, who will be discussed subsequently.

Syama Sastri’s achievements in classical music include around 300 total compositions, 9 kritis to Meenakshi Devi, and humbling a number of court musicians in sangeeta contests. His works are known for their intricate taalas. Above all, he refused royal patronage and never deigned to engage in nara-stuti, saving his musical talents to sing the praises of the Divine. He was a great sangeeta and spiritual power, the like of which rarely walks in this modern world. His most famous composition is considered to be Devi Brova Samayam Idhe.

Muthuswami Dixitar

The most famous student of the second of the Carnatic Trinity is the only true blue Tamilian among 2 Telugus. Nevertheless, he set a tradition that would continue on to make his home state the greatest patron of Saastriya Sangeeta in this era. This legacy continues on to the present day in the great Carnatic sabhas of Chennai.

Rajas Shahaji & Tuloji

The Maratha rulers of Madurai would continue the outstanding legacy of its previous Nayak rulers, and become tremendous patrons of Sangeeta themselves.

Tuloji (1765-1787) wrote the treatise Sangeeta Saramritam in 1770. He too was a great supporter of Saastriya Sangeeta.

Raja Swati Thirunal

The ruler of the Kerala kingdom of Travancore between 1829 and 1847, he is considered one of the great Royal composers of Saastriya Sangeeta (in both Carnatic & Hindustani schools). He was a poet, scholar and linguist, with songs credited to him in the Sanskrit, Malayalam, Marathi, Hindustani, Tamil, and Telugu languages. Considered a genius and generous patron of music, his court was adorned with musicians such as Paramesvara Bhagavatar, Govinda Marar and Vadivel.  He is highly respected for his technical beauty (svarakshara) and composed more than 300 kirthanas, padas, varna, thillanas, and raga mallikas under the ankitam Padmanabha. [6, 71]

There are, of course, many, many more personalities who could be discussed. But the ones above have had the most noted impact on Saastriya Sangeeta across the spectrum.

Let us now commence with a more detailed survey of the Important Texts of the Classical Indic tradition.

Important Texts


Natya Sastra, 400 BCE (or earlier) [2,8]

The Naatya Saastra has already been discussed in detail in this previous article. Nevertheless, for those short on time and long on interest, here is a brief description of its impact on music. “Saaradatanaya (1175-1250 A.D.), the author of the Bhaavaprakaashan, informs us that the original editon of the Naatyasaastra consisted 12,000 shlokas and afterwards it was reduced to 6,000.” [4, 123] It 37 chapters make up one of the most systematic treatments on the arts. The 22nd chapter is considered the most important to music. There are at least 9 commentaries on it, with Abhinavagupta’s considered the most incisive. [6, 76]

Dattilam, 400 BCE (or earlier)

Brihaddesi, 400 CE (or earlier)

Quoted in numerous texts from the ancient period down through the 17th century, Brihaddesi is considered an exquisite exegesis on how classical Indic music balances between marga and desi. It demonstrates how the native tradition preserves its indigenous character, while allowing the tunes of various Indic desas and the folk music of the non-Indic to contribute to the Civilizational body. “The source of musical structure and composition, both of Hindustani and Carnatic, has to be traced back to the Br[i]haddesi“. [5] It is here that we first see clear distinctions between Jatis, Murchanas, and Raga.

Perhaps the best known quote from the Brihaddesi is the one on nada:

There is no geeta (song, music) wiithout naada, there are no svaras (musical notes) without naada, there is no nrtta (dance) without naada, hence the world is of the essence of naada. [5, 7]

Silappadikaram  ~2nd Century BCE-5th Century CE

Arguably the most famous work of Sangam Literature, Silappadikaram is a Tamizh epic that is also authoritative on poetry, music , and drama. It allong with the Tivaakaram and Paripadal is used to divine the divine music of that era in the Tamil regions. The Silappadikaram in particular describes 22 alaku (shrutis, much like the earlier Bharata Muni). There are also descriptions of various musical instruments such as the yazh and the kudamulabu.

Natyalochana, 800-1000 CE

Composed by an uncredited author, it is a text on drama and music that is wide in scope. Ragas are divided into shuddha (pure), saalanka (impure) and sankeerna (mixed). A total of 44 ragas are listed, with only 8 pure ragas.

Manasollasa of Somesvara III (Karnataka), 1131 CE

Abhinava Bharati (Kashmir), 1000CE


Composed by Saaradaatanaya, it is another work of Natya and Rasalankaara (aesthetics). Interestingly, he makes provision for acoustic enhancement through prescription of various shapes of theatres. For example, a circular theatre is ideal for a mishra dance (where marga and desi are mixed), and a triangular theatre is ideal for marga. [4, 164]

Gita Govinda, 1100 CE

Songs of Geetha Govinda are called prabandha-gitis. This is because they are characterised by saahithya, raaga, thaala, dhaatu, anga, murcchana, rasa, and bhaava. Gitinaatya as a genre in the present era is traced to this work due to its widespread influence. Written in the ashtapadi form (8 stanzas), popularised by the author itself, Gita Govinda celebrates the Rasa-leela of Krishna with Radha and the Gopikas.

Considered a classic work of Sringara Mahakavya, it contains 24 songs in 12 sanskrit sargas.  Ramashtapadi of Ramakavi and Sivashtapadi of Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati are said to have taken after it. [6, 78]

Sangeeta Samayasaara of Parsvadeva (Karnataka) 1100 CE

Sangeeta-Ratnakara  of Sarngadeva 1200 CE

Nrtta Ratnavali (Andhra), 1200 CE


Geeta Ratnavali (Andhra), 1200 CE

Better known for his Nrtta Ratnavali (above), Jaya Senapati’s Geeta Ratnavali was a great text on music lost to us during the pillage of Warangal by Delhi Turks. While his treatise on dance leaves us to wonder what musical wonders were lost to us, the commander of the Kakatiya King’s elephant corps deserves mention for his contributions to music (glimpses of which can be found in his surviving work).

Bharatabhaasya of Naanyadeva


Sangeeta-Sudhakara ofJagadekamalla, ~1300 CE

Another work by a Chalukya sovereign, the Sangeeta-Sudhakara was written by the son of Someshvara III (of Manasollasa fame).  Prince Jagadekamalla is therefore another key royal musicologist and patron of music.

Sangeeta-Saram by Swami Vidyaranya, 1300 CE

Saaroddhara of Sudhaakalasa (Gujarat), 1350 CE

Dasar Padams (Karnataka), 1400 CE

Sangeetaraja & Sangeet-krama-dipaka by Maharana Kumbha (Rajasthan), 1400 CE

Sangeeta Kaumudi (Odisha)

Svaramela-kalandhi by Rama Amatya, 1500 CE

Raaga Vibodam of Somanatha, 1500 CE

Sangeetha Sudha of Govinda Dixitar, 1600 CE

Chaturdandi Prakaasikai of Venkatamakhin, 1600 CE

Sangitadarpana of Daamodara

Sangitataranga of Radhamohan Sen

Krishna-leela-tarangini (Andhra), 1600 CE

Ragatarangini of Lochanakavi (Bihar), 1620 CE

Kshetragna Padams (Andhra), 1600 CE

Sangita Parijata, 1650 CE

Written by Pandit Ahobala, it is a popular treatise on North Indian music. Ahobala is reputed to be the first writer to refer to the svaras by the lengths of veena wires. The kaphi raaga of Hindustani is attributed to him. His work was subsequently translated from Sanskrit into Persian in 1724.

Sangeetha Saaraamrutham by Tuloji Maharaj (Maharashtra/Tamil Nadu), 1700 CE


Meladhikara Lakshana

A comparatively recent but valuable work for students sand scholars of Carnatic music, its author is unknown. It appears to date after Venkatamakhin and has an expanded system of 4,624 melakartas. This is divided into 136 chakras, with each chakra containing 34 melas.

This concludes the discussion of traditional texts on music. While any complete list is putatively longer (and any elaboration on the treatises even more so), these should suffice to provide an historical foundation for textual sangeeta.


We end as we began, with a discussion of not only the History of Classical Indic Music, but the pervasiveness of its influence. In fact, no discussion of Indian music is complete without mention of the expansive travels and tragic story of those wandering minstrels of global fame: the Romani. Though pejoratively called Gypsy or Gitanos, their musical influence is undeniable, not only via their own stories which they tell, but in the obvious impact they had on music wherever they went.

Nevertheless, the history of Indian Music and its spread predates these nomads of Northwestern India.

Specially the music of greece was indebted to indian music, which was introduced to Greece by Pythaagoras and the Pythaagoreans. It is said that Pythaagoras visited India and returned to Greece, carrying with him the cultural, religious, and philosophical ideas of India. [4, 110]

Furthermore, the Emperor of North India, Harshavardhana Shiladitya was a renowned supporter of classical music and dance.In 581 A.D., a band of musicians was sent from India to China at the invitation of the Chinese Emperor, and it is said that music missions weres sent to distant lands like Samarkanda, Bukhaara, Japan, Corea, Kaamboja (Cambodia) and other Middle and East Asian countries.” [4, 111-112]

Another trend of late is to create false cultural distinctions within India. Contrary to progressively-regressive revisionistas, time assignation for ragas exist in Carnatic. Of course, one does not expect them to have read the works of Karnataka Sangeeta Vidwans like A.S. Panchapakesa Iyer, but here is what he had to say:

27. Time for Singing Ragas

In a day consisting of 24 hours, we have morning, afternoon, evening and night….

There are some ragas meant for waking people up from deep slumber. The ragas Bhupalam, Bowli and Revagupti are fit for being sun during this period….

In the afternoon, that is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., people will be busy engaged in their work…Begada, Danyasi, Madhyamavathi, Manirangu, Bhairavi are the ragas suitable for this time…

In the evening, that is from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. when people return home after work, they would like to be happy in the company of their wives and children. Ragas like Sankarabharanam, Kalyani, Kambhiji, Bhairavi, Thodi, Kharaharapriya and Pantuvarali are suitable for this time.

During the night around 8 p.m. after taking food, one prepares to go to sleep. Ragas like Nilambari, Ananda Bhairavi and Edukula Kambhoji are suitable for this period” [ 1, 62-63]

Other names and concepts will become more relevant, particularly when discussing the distinctions between Carnatic and Hindustani, which incidentally had many intentional recent origins rather than historically organic ones. Hindustani, much like a particular persianised register of Hindustani (the language), is very much a product of politically driven motivation. Even the sitar (originating in the ancient chitra veena) and the tabla (clearly visible in ancient sculpture as the pushkara) have not been left untouched by colonial and neo-colonial revisionism. That is the importance of studying classical texts with the emic lens, rather than the etic. [11]

But perhaps it is best to conclude, not in our own words, but in those of the experts.

In conclusion, it can be said that ancient period is the most important, nay, the golden age in the history of Indian music. The cultural history of this period is glorious and eventful, and the age has undou[]btedly a charm, beauty and value of its own for the historians as well as for the students of the history of music. The most remarkable aspect of this period is this that most of the valuable and essential materials of music evolved during this period…So the ancient period of history of Indian music must be given special attention and be studied with proper care.” [4, 190]

  1. Appa Rao, P.S.R. A Monograph on Bharata’s Natya Sastra. Hyderabad: Natyakala Press.1967
  2. Iyer, A.S. Panchapakesa. Karnataka Sangeeta Sastra: Theory of Carnatic Music. Chennai: Ganamrutha Prachuram.2008
  3. Lavezolli, Peter. The Dawn of Indian Music in the West. New York: Continuum.2006
  4. Prajnanananda, Swami. A History of Indian Music. Volume 1. Calcutta: Ramakrishna Vedanta Math. 1997
  5. Sharma, Prem Lata, asst. by Anil Bihari Beohar. Brihaddesi of Sri Matanga Muni. Delhi: IGNCA. 1992
  6. Sambamurthy, P. Syama Sastri and other Famous Figures of South Indian Music. Chennai: The Indian Music Publishing House. 1999
  7. Vatsyayan, Kapila. Bharata: The Natyasastra. Sahitya Akademi.2007
  8. Pappu, Venugopala Rao. Nrtta Ratnavali of Jaya Senapati. Kakatiya Heritage Trust. 2013.
  9. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-fridayreview/The-Tansen-legacy/article14951168.ece
  10. http://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/of-notes-and-notations/article8025724.ece
  11. http://www.rediff.com/news/column/column-why-the-battle-for-sanskrit-needs-to-be-joined/20160120.htm

Classical Indic Music I: Saastriya Sangeeta Tradition


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 [2]

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 Ratnavali in 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 Warangal by Delhi Turks.  Here’s what one Delhi Turk hyperbolically credited with all of Hindustani music himself had to say:


Further, Jayasena himself 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.


Purandara Dasa

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.


Shri Hariprasad Chaurasia

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:

Geetham vaadyam thathaa Nruthyam-thrayam sangeetha mucchyathe ||

Sangeetham comprises Geetham, Vadyam and Nrutthyam. [2]

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.

Raga refers to the melody produced by a sequence of notes.

Ragas are divided into Melakartha (parent)and Janya (derivative) Ragas.

Melakartha 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.

1.Kanakambari 2.Rathangi 3. Ganamurthi 4. Vanaspati 5. Manavati 6. Tanarupi 7. Senavati 8. Hanumatodi/Janatodi 9. Dhenuka 10. Natakapriya 11. Kokilapriya 12. Roopavati 13. Gayakapriya 14. Vati Vasantha Bhairavi/Vakulapriya  15. Maya-malava Goula 16. Chakravakam17. Suryakantam 18 Hatakambhari/Jayasudda-malavi 19. Jhankarabrahmari/Jhankaradhvani 20. Natabhairavi/Narireetigoula 21. Keeravani 22.Sri/Kharaharapriya 23. Gaurimanohari 24. Varunapriya/Veeravasantam 25. Sarasvati/Mararanjani 26. Tarangini/Charukesi 27. Sourasena/Sarasangi 28.Harikambhoji/Harikedaragoula 29.Dheera-sankarabharanam 30.Nagabharanam/Naganandini 31. Kalavati/Yagapriya 32. Ragachoodamani/Ragavardhini 33. Gangatarangini/Gangeyabhushani 34. Bhogachayanata/Vagadheesvari 35. Sailadesakhi/Shulini

36. Chalanata 37 Sougandhini/Salagam 48 Jaganmohana/Jalarnavam 39. Jhalavarali 30. Nabhomani/Navaneetam 41. Kumbhini/Pavani 42. Ravikriya/Raghupriya 43. Girvani/Gavambhodi 44. Bhavani/Bhavapriya 45. Sivapantuvavali/Shubhapantu-varali 46. Stavarajam/Shadvidamargini 47. Souveeram/Suvarnangi 48. Jeevantika/Divyamani 49. Dhavalangam/Dhavalambari 50.Namadesi/Namanarayani 51. Kasiramakriya/Karnavardani 52. Ramamanohari/Ramapriya 53. Gamakakriya/Gamanashrama 54. Vamsavati/Vishvambari 55.Samla/Shamalangi 56. Chamaram/Shanmukhapriya 57. Sumadyuti/Simhendramadhyamam 58. Hemavati 59. Dharmavati 60. Nishadam/Neetimati 61. Kuntala/Kantamani 62. Ratipriya/Rishabapriya 63. Geetapriya/Latangi 64. Vachaspati 65. Santakalyani/Mechakalyani 66. Chaturangini/Chitrambari  67. Santanamanjari/Sucharitra 68. Jyotire/Jyotisvarupini 69. Dhatuvardani 70. Nasamani/Nasikabhushani  71. Kusumakara/Kosalam 72. Rasamanjari/Rasikapriya

Endaro Mahanu Bhavalu, composed in Sri Raagam

Janya Ragas

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

Hanumathodi                                         Bhairavi

Natabhairavi                                           Asaveri

Kharaharapriya                                      Kapi

Harikambhoji                                         Kamaj

Subhapantuvaraali                             Thodi

Kamavardini                                           Poorvi

Gamanasrama                                       Marva

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. [2]

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

Naada roopaha smrutho brahmaa naadaroopo janaardanaha

Nadaroopa Para Sakthihi-naadaroopo Mahesvaraha

Without Nadam, there is no Sruthi, Geetham or Nartthana. Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Sarasvati, Lakshmi, Parvathi and all the creations in the world are engaged in Nadam. [2]

Svara is the musical note containing pitch and tone. The Classical Indic system is Sapta Svara (7 notes), and heptatonic scale originates in our Sastras.

Sarva lokod bhavaath poorvam ye na vyaaptham charaa charam Naadaathmakam thadaakaasam bhoothaanaamapi kaaranam ||

The air that floated from the sky created the sound, S, which is the origin of Nadam. Along with this sound the akshara considered to be the earliest was added to create the sound Sa (S). [2]

Udaaththo nishaada gaandhaarow-anudaattha rishabha daivathow |

Svaritha prabha vaahyethe shadja madhyama panchamaha ||

With Sa as the base, the other six svaras RI-GA-MA-PA-DA-NI were created [2]

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 ||

Sangeethako nardaha

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. [2]

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]

Veena is 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 Sringara rasa (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]


Bharata Muni



Maharajadiraja Samudra Gupta

Maharaja Bhoja Paramara





Gopala Nayaka

Jaya Senapati




Chaitanya Mahaprabhu

Purandara Dasa

Maharana Kumbha



Narayana Teertha


Syama Sastri

Muthuswami Deeksitar

Pandit Ahobila

Raja Shahaji

Raja Swati Thirunal

Important Texts

Natya Sastra, 400 BCE (or earlier) [2,8]

Dattilam, 400 BCE (or earlier)

Brihaddesi, 500 CE (or earlier)

Manasollasa by Somesvara III (Karnataka), 1000 CE

Abhinava Bharati (Kashmir), 1000CE

Ashtapadi by Jayadeva (Odisha), 1100 CE

Sangeeta Makaranda by Narada, 1100 CE

Sangeeta Samayasaara by Parsvadeva (Karnataka) 1100 CE

Sangeeta-Ratnakara 1200 CE

Nrtta Ratnavali (Andhra), 1200 CE

Geeta Ratnavali (Andhra), 1200 CE

Bharatabhaasya by Nanyadeva


Saaroddhara by Sudhaakalasa (Gujarat)

Sangeeta-Sudhakaram by Haribala, 1300 CE

Sangeeta-Saram by Swami Vidyaranya, 1300 CE

Ragatarangini by Lochanakavi, 1300 CE

Kshetragna Padams (Andhra)

Dasar Padams (Karnataka), 1400 CE

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 [6] 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, Sanskrit has, 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:

[8, 48]
  1. Appa Rao, P.S.R. A Monograph on Bharata’s Natya Sastra. Hyderabad: Natyakala Press.1967
  2. Iyer, A.S. Panchapakesa. Karnataka Sangeeta Sastra: Theory of Carnatic Music. Chennai: Ganamrutha Prachuram.2008
  3. Basham, A.L. The Wonder that was India.New Delhi: Rupa & Co. 1999
  4. Vatsyayan, Kapila. Natya Sastra. Bharata: The Natyasastra. Sahitya Akademi.2007
  5. Pappu, Venugopala Rao. Fragrance of Padams. Kakatiya Heritage Trust. 2014
  6. Malhotra, Rajiv. Sulekha. 2002. http://creative.sulekha.com/the-axis-of-neocolonialism_103313_blog
  7. Madhav, Ashok. http://www.carnaticcorner.com/articles/mukund_chart.htm
  8. Lavezolli, Peter. The Dawn of Indian Music in the West. New York: Continuum.2006
  9. Lata, Swarn. The Journey of the Sitar in Indian Classical Music. Bloomington: iUniverse.2010
  10. Bailly, John. Music of Afghanistan. Cambridge University Press. 1988

Nilambari’s Kutcheri: A Primer on Carnatic Music

A version of this Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on January 31, 2015

Carnatic Trinity: Muthuswamy Deekshitar,Thyagaraja & Syama Shastri

This is a post on the structure of a Carnatic music Kutcheri (a traditional musical performance gathering) accompanied by a virtual kutcheri that I have put together.

The Kutcheri format as we know it today is said to have started out in the 1920s. That is not to say that it didn’t exist before that.

Traditionally, a kutcheri starts with a varnam. A varnam is a composition which basically tells you the swaras (notes: Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni–> Shadjam, Rishabham, Gandharam, Madhyamam, Panchamam, Dhaivatham, Nishadam) that are present in that particular ragam both in the arohana (ascending scale) as well as avarohana (descending scale). It lays down the rules of how the various swaras can be combined in both the scales. It is split into specific parts and is a rather technical piece which lays out the rules for the development of a particular ragam. Thus the varnam is a composition which a student of carnatic music learns as a primer before going on to explore more elaborate nuances of ragas through kritis.

At this point let’s do a little more study of classical music. Carnatic music is made up of 72 fundamental ragas called the melakarta ragas or the janaka (giving birth) ragas or the parent ragas. All other ragas, and there are literally hundreds of them are derived (janya or given birth to) from these 72 janaka ragas. It just means that there are 7 swaras with  12 semi-tones in one octave. They are both in the ascending and descending scales combined in different ways to form these primary 72 ragas, i.e, these 72 ragas have the entire scale (Sa-Ni with their semi-tones) both in the ascending and descending scales. Hence they are called sampurna (complete) ragas. Janya ragas however are derived from these 72, meaning that they have have swaras left out from the parent. The number of swaras left out from the parent janaka raga can vary.

The list of the swaras and their semi-tones are like this: S, R1, R2=G1, R3=G2, G3, M1, M2, P, D1, D2=N1, D3=N2 and N3. Of these S and P do not have semi-tones.

In conjunction with swara is tala, which refers to the number and type of beats within a cycle. This is similar to the concept of meter and helps track the pace and time in a composition. There are 7 basic talams (Adi, Dhruva, Rupaka, etc), and 108 total talas, due to combinations with other factors known as angas and jathis.

I admit I have a fondness for the 28th Melakarta Raga called Harikambhoji. Many of the songs from the janyas of this raga are a favorite with me.

So, here’s my choice of varnam to start this personal kutcheri. I would love my kutcheri to start with this beautiful varnam called “Mathe Malayadhwaja”. Its not a traditional varnam nor an easy one, but its beautiful and captivating for me. So, here is Sudha Raghunathan singing “Mathe”, in raga Khamas, janya raga of the 28th melakarta raga Harikhamboji set to Adi talam.

Raga: Khamas

Arohanam: S M1 G3 M1 P D2 N2 S                                                  Avarohanam: S N2 D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

Following this, the kutcheri format prescribes one or two compositions of the trinity in Ghana ragams. We will have only one.

Who are the trinity?

The Trinity is a group of three composers who are known as the creators of almost all the compositions that are sung today. They are Muthuswami Dikshitar, Syama Sastri, and  Thyagaraja. While the latter two are Telugu origin, Muthuswamigal is Tamizh. Though our common Bharatiya Saastriya Sangeeta is obviously very ancient, the Carnatic School is traced to Karnataka’s Purandara Dasa in the 1500s, during the Vijayanagara Empire. This title is highly deserved, but honorary as he is predated by a number of other composers. Northern and Southern Indian Schools diverged in the medieval period, and Carnatic remained essentially unaffected by foreign influences. North or South, Classical Indic Music originated in the Natya Sastra of Bharata Muni.

What are Ghana ragams?

First, there are eight Ghana ragams in Carnatic music. They are Nattai, Goula, Bouli, Reetigowla, Malavasri, Arabhi, Varali and Sri. They are so called because they are said to be able to effectively portray masculine emotions like shouryam (ferocity), veeryam (bravery), roudram (anger) and so on.

So with this information, here is my second offering in the kutcheri. This is in Raga Nattai, janya raga of the 36th melakarta ragam Chalanattai and sung once again by the supremely talented Sudha Raghunathan. The song is “Swaminatha paripalaya” set to Adi Talam. The composition is by Muthuswami Dikshitar.

Raga: Nattai

Arohanam: S R3 G3 M1 P D3 N3 S                                                   Avarohanam: S N3 P M1 G3 M1 R3 S

After this now we must have a composition in the shuddha madhyamam scale. Let us see what this is. This essentially means that the melakartas are divided into two types, the ragas which have shuddha madhyamam i.e, the first semi-tone of the swara M, M1 and those which have prati madhyamam or M2. So, now we have to select a raga that has shuddha madhyamam from one of the melakarta ragas. Let me choose my favorite melakarta raga Harikhamboji itself. It is after all my favorite one.

Here is the next offering from Balamurali Krishna in Harikhamboji. The song is called “Rama nannu brovara”, a Thyagaraja gem set to rupaka talam.

Raga: Harikhamboji

Arohanam: S R2 G3 M1 P D2 N2 S                                                   Avarohanam: S N2 D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

Moving on to a composition in the prati madhyamam scale, let us see what this means. As I stated earlier, the melakarta ragas are divided into two: the shuddha and the pratimadhyamam scales. In fact, the first 36 ragas in the melakarta are in the shuddha madhyamam scale and the second 36 in the prati madhyamam scale. The most common one is Kalyani, also called the Mechakalyani. This is the composition “Nidhichaala Sukhama” by Thyagaraja rendered by the peerless and timeless M.S. Subbalakshmi in adi talam. Do enjoy.

Raga: Kalyani

Arohanam: S R2 G3 M2 P D2 N3 S                                                   Avarohanam: S N3 D2 P M2 G3 R2 S

I cannot go on to the main composition without having my favorite raga in my kutcheri, can I? So, I will have a Dwijavanthi in my repertoire. This raga is a janya raga of the 28th melakarta raga Harikhamboji. The composition is “Akhilandeshwari” by Muthuswamy Dikshitar sung by the Trichur brothers. The composition is in adi talam.

Raga: Dwijavanthi

Arohanam: S R2 G3 M1 P D2 S                                     Avarohanam: S N2 D2 P M1 G3 M1 R2 G2 R2 S

Now we come to the main piece of the concert where the kutcheri format says that the composition should be a rakti/naya raga.

A rakti  or naya raga is called a feminine ragam. In fact, the entire set of ragams are classified as ghana ragams, rakti/naya ragams and desiya ragams.As we discussed earlier, ghana ragams are said to be masculine ragams. Desiya ragams are those that have been imported into the Carnatic school of music from either Folk music or the Hindustani school. Hence the rakti/naya ragams are those which are said to be feminine. This means that the large majority of ragams are feminine ragams which are said to be capable of portraying feminine emotions like karunam (compassion), sringaram (romance), vatsalyam (parental love) and so on. This is not to say that ghana ragams cannot portray feminine emotions or vice versa. For more on this, please refer to this excellent lecdem by Sri. R Visweshwaran.

This main piece is the one where the vocalist, the violinist and the percussionists all get to display their talents and can sometimes go for an hour. It is called the ragam-tanam-pallavi where the raga is first explored in all its nuances through the alapana (where the swaras comprising the raga are sung in a melodic form to set the mood of the raga). This is then followed by the tanam or the main part of the composition.

Tanam was first developed for the veena but began to be practiced by vocalists too, and it means expanding the raga rhythmically with the use of syllables like ta, nam, tom, aa and so on. In the tanam phase an extremely versatile and accomplished singer can also incorporate a few other ragas than the one s/he originally started out with. Then, in the pallavi section, the singer sings a single line and then explores it in different speeds. Finally, the percussionists are given the time to explore the rhythms in their turn and the whole can take about an hour or more. For more on this very complicated form of singing, please refer here.

Now, I present for your listening pleasure, a superbly crafted Ragam-tanam-pallavi by Sanjay Subramaniam. This comes with a warning however: The piece takes over an hour to listen to but I assure you its well worth the trouble 😉 . The composition is “Sabapathiku veru deivam” in raga Abhogi and rupaka talam. Raga Abhogi is a janya raga of the 22nd melakarta raga Kharharapriya. Gopalakrishna Bharati has composed this song.

Raga: Abhogi

Arohanam: S R2 G2 M1 D2 S                                                                   Avarohanam: S D2 M1 G2 R2 S

Before we end the kutcheri, after such an intense encounter with ragam-tanam-pallavi (RTP), we have to unwind and lighten the knots that we had got into. Its now time for some lighter yet melodious and easier pieces called tukkadas. Let us listen to two of them.

Sit back and enjoy a soothing, gentle and lilting “Hey Govind, hey Gopala” in raga Desakshi and rupaka talam. Suddha Desi is a janya raga of by now you know which melakarta!…yes, it is a janya raga of the 28th melakarta raga Harikhamboji. This divine song is rendered by the sister duo Ranjani-Gayatri and is composed by Surdas.

Raga: Suddha Desi

Arohanam: S R2 M1 P N2 S                                                                Avarohanam:  S N2 D1 P M1 G2 R2 S

Second to last in the kutcheri is another gem from the evergreen and ever remembered M.S Subbalakshmi. This time it is a ragamalika, meaning that the song is composed of multiple ragas. This one “Kurai ondrum illai”, is composed in three ragas Shivaranjani, Kapi and Sindhu Bhairavi. Shivaranjani and Kapi are janya ragas of the 22nd melakarta raga Kharaharapriya and Sindhubhairavi is a janya raga of the 10th melakarta raga Natakapriya. The composer of this song is the famous Indian politician and freedom fighter C.Rajagopalachari.

Ragamalika: Shivaranjani, Kapi and Sindhubhairavi

Raga: Shivaranjani

Arohanam: S R2 M1 P N3 S                                                                Avarohanam:  S N2 D2 P M1 G3 R2 S

Raga: Kapi

Arohanam: S R2 M1 P N3 S                                                         Avarohanam:  S N2 D2 N2 P M1 G2 R2 S

Raga: Sindhubhairavi

Arohanam: S R2 G2 M1 G2 P D1 N2 S                                    Avarohanam:  N2 D1 P M1 G2 R1 S N2 S

Finally, we round off this kutcheri with the standard sign off raga which is Sowrashtram. The signature song is “Pavamana suthudu battu and here it is rendered by K. J Yesudas. Sowrashtram is a janya raga of the 17th melakarta raga Sooryakantam. It is a composition by Thyagaraja set in adi talam.

Raga: Sowrashtram

Arohanam: S R1 G3 M1 P M1 D2 N3 S                             Avarohanam:  S N3 D2 N2 D2 P M1 G3 R1 S

I hope you enjoyed the kutcheri as much as I did putting it together for you!!


  1. http://www.ragasurabhi.com/carnatic-music/raga-comparisons.html
  2. http://www.shabda.co.in/?q=node/65
  3. Concert Format Sequence – Carnatic Music
  4. http://www.chennaionline.com/musicnew/CarnaticMusic/174th.asp
  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melakarta
  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Janya
  7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_of_Carnatic_music
  8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harikambhoji

Classical Indic Literature III: Dramatics

rp_basis1.pngPranamya sirasa devau pitamaha-mahesvarau | natyasastram pravaksyami brahmanaya dudahrtam || NS 1.1

With a bow to Brahma and Siva I shall expound the Canons of Drama, as these were uttered by Brahma.

While the soul of our culture and civilization is Dharma, the body of it verily is the arts—the alankara of culture. Perhaps no extant text more deserves the title of “Fountain of the Arts” than that masterpiece by Bharata Mahamuni: Natya Sastra. This article is, therefore, a proper introduction to both it, and its composer.

Natya Sastra is an expansive text that deals with a variety of topics such as Nrtya (Dance), Chitra (Painting ), Silpa (Sculpture), Vaastu (Architecture),  Kavya (Poetry ) all under the umbrella of  Natya (Performance Arts or Histrionics).  Due to its originations of such concepts as Rasa, it is referred to as a work on Aesthetics and Beauty as well. Those of you who are long time readers would recall our articles on Classical Indic Literature. We previously dealt with Literary Theory (Saahithyalochana) and Poetics (Alankara Sastra or Kavya Sastra). This article will continue that series started over at Andhra Cultural Portal with Classical Indic Literature III: Dramatics (Nataka Sastra). It will focus more on the literary aspects of the illustrious work as well as its direct applications for literature (drama in particular), leaving performance aspects for another time.



It is said that ” No activity in a Society can remain unaffected by the Philosophy of that Society, be it a literary, or social or cultural or scientific activity.” [3, 1]  The elite Literature of Bharat, Saastriya Saahitya, is no different.  An important note: “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 qualitivative and not historical period category.” [1,43] Thus, our heritage is very old, but very much alive, and rather than secular, is sacred in nature. While our tradition maintains that Dharmic Civilization’s musical and theatrical canons originate with the Saama Veda (the fourth of the Vedas–the other three being the Rig, Yajur, and Atharva), and “[a] re-reading of the Upanisads is convincing proof of the concrete imagery of the senses, the sense perceptions and sense objects of these highly abstract metaphysical texts”[1, 54], India’s first great known treatise specifically on these canons is the Natya Sastra.

The origin of Classical Indian literary theory, as such, is traced to the Sanskrit treatise of Rishi Bharata. Natya translates to the performance arts (Histrionics). Conservatively dated to 200 B.C.E, but very likely much earlier,”[i]ts comprehensive treatment of artistic experience, expression and communication, content and form emerges from an integral vision which flowers as a many-branched tree of all the Indian arts”. [1]

Considered the earliest extant work on Dramaturgy, Natya Sastra is most famous for Bharata Muni’s rasa theory, and its pervasiveness in not only dance and music, but literature as well. He has sanctioned the use of all the rasas without reservation (NS, 19.147).

Not much is known about the author himself. There are several legends associated with him. There is strong reason to believe, however, that  Bharata Muni hailed from Kashmir.

The Natya Sastra in fact touches on the life of the great Sage ever so briefly. It mentions that he had 100 sons. They are said to have misused their skills and capacities to ridicule sages and other such dharmic personages (something very common even today).  They are therefore cursed by rishis who say, ‘as due to pride in your knowledge (jnana)  you have taken to arrogance (avinaya), your ill knowledge (kujnana) will be destroyed’ [1,9]. This is an appropriate warning not only to those who take interest in learning the fine arts, but also those today who have grown arrogant of their knowledge, and are misusing it for their own ends.

“Bharata’s initial statement that ‘I am creating a theory and text of performance, of practice and experimentation’ acquires crucial importance. The composer of the text consciously creates a fluid text. He calls it a sastra of prayoga i.e. a theory of praxis.”[1,38]

An important point is that “sastra is distinguished in literature and the arts as being a category distinct from the creative. While in the English language, we can easily use the terms ‘creative and critical literature’, ‘creative and technical literature’, when the terms are transferred to the sphere of the Indian, for that matter, the Asia arts, there is difficulty. “[1,40]

What’s more, artificial separateness does not characterise Bharata or the Indic tradition. There is a clear interrelationship between all the various artforms. “The  themes which the Indian dancer portrays are not only the raw material of literature, but are also the finished products of literary creation; the music which seems to accompany the dance is actually the life-breath of its structure and, indeed, dance interprets in movement what music interprets in sound; the postures and the stances it attains are the poses which the sculptor models; all these the dancer imbues with a living spirit of movement in a composition of form which is both sensuous and spiritual. The body is the medium to transcend the ‘body’. [1,112]

As such, teleology again becomes important. The sophisticated audience or refined reader (sahrdaya) recognises that each movement, each word, even each omission is filled with meaning and symbology. Therefore, merely dividing and subdividing to attempt to fathom is merely learning more and more about less and less. To gain a proper understanding, an holistic and systemic approach is required to understand what is very clearly an intentional methodology. All this was done with a specific design. It was not art for the sake of art or poetry for the sake of debauchery, but a system of aesthetics designed to not only be transcendant, but to transcend.

“Bharata had inherited a ‘vision’; he gave it form as concepts and framework. The creative artist, in turn, internalized the vision of the inner and outer life he had experienced. The principles of structure enumerated by Bharata were inherited directly or assimilated as part of a larger ambience, gave the artist the tools for creating a variegated world of ‘forms’ and multiple forms only to evoke the beyond form (pararupa).”[1,112]


How old exactly is Bharata Mahamuni and his Great Tradition? According to Manomohan Ghosh, the Sage of Natya doesn’t mention the Arthasastra of Kautilya, but rather that of Brihaspati. This, therefore, leads to the logical inference that Bharata pre-dates the Maurya Empire, which puts him before the 3rd Century B.C.E, and some would say even earlier than the 5th. [6]

Per our Pauranic accounts, the origin of Natya is attributed to Narada muni. In fact, it is he who is said to have brought music and the arts from Brahma to the world of men. Nevertheless, this Sastra itself is a product of the intense Tapas of the present Muni, who refers to other authorities.

“To return to the inheritance 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 agamas, draws freely from contemporary practice, and considers loka, the ‘people’, as the final authority.” [1,113]

There were other attempts of course. Even a certain celebrated grammarian touched on the topic and how there were other such treatises.“The Natasutras referred to by Paanini have been cited as examples. The Astadhyayi (IV.3.110-111) refers to them and the schools of Silaalin and Krsasva. Although the works are possible irretrievably lost, perhaps, this was the first attempt to codify some rules of dramaturgy.” [1,114]

The key takeaway however is that while Bharata may be the greatest in our present era, he may in fact not have been the first. “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.” [1,114]

Nevertheless, whatever his biography and lineage, Bharata Mahamuni managed what others have not:

“From amongs those that have received attention of scholars from the fields of literature, poetrics and dramaturgy, music, dance, architecture, sculpture and painting, it is possible to surmise that Bharata’s text provided the single unified source for a theory of art.”[1,115]

It is therefore, a complete theory of Aesthetics and provides an Adhyatmik approach to Beauty.


As seen above the Natya Sastra commences with a salutation to Siva and Brahma, and it credits knowledge behind the work to the Supreme. Bharata tells the munis of Brahman’s state of yoga, that is his concentration, and determination (sankalpa) which produced the fifth veda, or Natya Sastra. [1,8]

“Obviously the authority of the Vedas was recognized at this stage. This alone could enable Bharata to cull out a theory of aesthetic and a structure of drama from the Vedas. Important is the fact that he identifies paathya, the arti-culated spoken word, not just the word (sabda) with the Rgveda.”[1, 13] It explicitly cites the traditional four aims of life, or Purusharthas of Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha as ends of literature.

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.[1,21]

Bharata emphasized the synthesising role of drama with respect to all spheres of knowledge from the sacred scriptures to arts and crafts to geography. This is what makes it open to all. Indeed, its written versions were a matter of history as well, as between 1900-1926 a hunt was on for more manuscripts. As a result, there was a sizeable find of 40 manuscripts and two recensions. This is fascinating as the Natya Sastra, like much of real Indic literature, was transmitted via the oral tradition. To have such an expansive written reach demonstrates its influence, both North and South.[1, 34]

Kapila Vatsyayan, noted authority on the Natya Sastra, had this to say on the matter:

“the division of many manuscripts into southern and northern recensions has been in many cases a superimposition of a tacit acceptance of marked differences in northern and southern recensions. In this case, the fact of the matter is that Abhinavagupta was a northerner but the closest approximation to his text is a manuscript in the Trivandrum collection. Other instances can be given. The more pertinent question to be asked is as to the manner and mode of transmission of a single text to different parts of India—ranging from Nepal, Almora to Ujjain, Darbhanga, Maharashtra, Bengal, Andhra, Tamilnadu and Kerala. All these manuscripts can be dated roughly between the twelfth and the eighteenth centuries with the exception of those of the commentator—Udbhata. One of his works was found in the Gilgit manuscript (tenth to eleventh century), now edited by Gnoli. The earliest manuscripts come from Nepal in Newari script. The text is available in many scripts—Newari, Devanagari, Grantha, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam.”[1, p. 36]

Despite the Pan-Bhaarata reach of Bharata Mahamuni, Kerala is considered the strongest inheritor of Sanskrit drama and dramaturgy. Forms such as Kutiyattam and even the classical dance Kathakali all resonate with the influence of  the Natya Sastra. This is not only due to the genius of native Kerala son Kulasekhara, but also due to just how foundational the fifth Veda was and is.

Perhaps the single most interesting aspect about the Natya Sastra is that it is in fact one of many. Much like there were Arthasastras before Kautilya there were Natya Sastras before Bharata Muni. “Previous authors reputed to have written on Natya Sastra as a discipline include Kohala, Dattila, Tandu, and Salikarna.“ [1,8]

Interestingly enough, there is an hypothesis that ‘Bharata’ is an acronym for the syllables Bha, Ra, and Ta (standing for Bhava, Raga, and Tala respectively).“Bharata occupies a supreme place for being the master-developer of ‘categories’ for all the arts, particularly drama, dance, poetry, music. His distinction lies in his acumen for an uncanny precision in evolving a system of correspondence between the material, physical and the psychical, ethical and even spiritual”.[1, 25]


The Natya Sastra itself is of expansive structure. It consists of 6,000 slokas (verses) spread among 36 chapters. As with all else in the Indic tradition, this number too is rife with symbology. According to Subhash Kak, the 36 chapters are said to correspond to the 36 tattvas of Kashmiri Shaivism. [7] What’s more, “The thirty-six chapter of the Natyasastra can be grouped from the point of view of (i) artistic experience, (ii) the artistic content or states of being, the modes of expression through word, sound, gesture, dress, decorations and methods of establishing correspondences between physical movement, speech and psychical states, as also communication and reception by the audience, readers and (iii) structure of the dramatic form, popularly translated as ‘plot’. The itivrtta is, however, a more comprehensive term for structure and phasing.”[1, 58]

While 5 chapters are dedicated to music, certain key chapters give us insight into his dramatic methodology.

In chapters I and II, Bharata appears to lay a conceptual and physical foundation that is nevertheless redolent in the sacred. The origin of drama is attributed Brahman with various actors such as Vishnu, Shiva, Sarasvati, the Daityas and Bhutas, and Yakshas, all as actors–either protagonist or as agitators . In some ways, Indra can be conceived of as the hero, as his dhvaja or pole (jarjara) provides the fulcrum of the stage. Sarasvati is the heroine, as she is the embodiment of speech, and Shiva is the energizer.

“Two statements by Bharata at the end of chapter XXI are clear indication of his approach to all that he has suggested. After describing the characteristics and components of the dramatic form, called nataka, he emphasizes the fact that drama presents, re-narrates (anucaritam) through abhinaya (expression), but its success is possible only when the actor has overcome, suppressed, his personal self (svabhaavas tajyate: chapter XXI, v.12-1234).” [1,80] As one can see, the spiritual is very much immanent in this, the most dramatic of artforms.

The spiritual is therefore not only intertwined with the psychological and the conceptual, but even the sensual. We find that true the highly sophisticated use of various ornaments or devices or archetypes, specific reactions are catalysed.

“Pertinently, it is in this context that he describes the different types of graces (alamkaara) or women, namely, feeling (bhaava), emotion (haava) and passion (hela). These are not autonomous categories: they are psychic states with their emotional and involuntary reflect physical response co-ordinates in relation to the opposite sex (XXIV, verses 6-11) and in the sphere of kaama (normally, most inadequately translated as erotic). The underlying foundation of the entire chapter is thus kama and sense, body, mind and consciousness relationship. Logically, at the level of perception and expression, these are either inner or outer (aabhyantara and baahya) or indirect, implicit or invisible (paroksa) and direct and explicit (pratyaksa). Another group of terms, namely, suci (pointing needle), ankura (sprouting), saakha(branches) indicate the feeling, body and word-gesture relationship in different sequential order or concurrency, suggested or proliferated. It is on these foundations of perception and insight, that Bharata narrows down his concern from the generic character and personality types of women to the categories of heroines (naayika).”[1, 85]

Perhaps it is not for nothing that he is referred to by some as the first neuromarketer.

Key Concepts

Na tajjaana na tacchilpa na sa vidya na sakala|
Na sa yogo na tatkarma yanna tyesminna drsyate ||  NS 1.116.

There is no wise maxim, no learning, no art or craft, no device, no action that is not found/reflected in the drama.

“Only India believed that literature is efficacious in ‘sivetara-ksati’ or countering inauspiciousness”. [2, 7] The notion of mangalam, is a constant throughout the Dharmic tradition, and even drama is supposed to contribute to this idea of auspiciousness.

In Indian dramatics there is also a formal rule against tragedy (likely on account of the inauspiciousness of the genre). The celebrated dramatist Bhasa, however, set this rule aside in his famous Urubhanga, a one act play on the episode of the shattering of Duryodhana’s thigh.

Nevertheless, one thing is clear: “Bharata wants drama to not only enterain, but to teach and ennoble. The fruit which the hero desires being difficult to attain, the final success of the hero is an inspiration and exhortation to the spectators”. [2,205]

While lakshana(secondary meaning) is discussed by some as the most important concept to stem from the Natya Sastra, an interesting point is that tattastha seems to be the most underlying one. Literally meaning “spacing”, it becomes apparent that in poetry, music, dance, and the visual arts, the unsaid is frequently as important as the said. In fact, there is a legend that while Manavas prefer the direct, the Devas prefer the indirect. Lakshana and tattastha are both interrelated concepts that not only emphasise the importance of the idea but demonstrate the sophistication of Bharatavarsha’s Natya.

Although musical theory obviously dates back to the Saama Veda, Subhash Kak asserts that acting and indeed elements of the theatre tradition can in fact be found in the Yajur. “Since the four Vedas come together in the dramatic performance, natya is the Fifth Veda”.[6] As such, the sacred and sanskritic is very much a part of the Indic tradition of dramatics and histrionics.

He goes on to assert that the Natya Sastra took paathya (recitation) from the Rig Veda,  abhinaya (acting ) from the Yajur, rasa (sentiment) from the Atharva, and sangeeta (music) from the Saama.

The Play or Nataka was a very sophisticated matter. Generally, a rupaka (dramatic composition)was recommended to consists of between 5 and 10 acts. It would begin with  a Prastaavana (prologue) sanctified by a Svastivachana (benediction) which is part of the Naandi (introductory portion which suggests the plot). Acts were not to be too long, inauspicious events (such as wars) only indicated rather than portrayed, and the play was to end as it began, with another benediction. In this cause, it was fittingly named Bharatavakya.[2] Typically, the vasthu (plot) was based on pauranic or historical events.

Chitra-abhinayaa (translated, special enactment, special representation, mixed pictorial, a category of different types of enacting through speech and movement) was a key aspect to stage craft itself.[1,p.86] Indeed, it lays the foundation for histrionics, which stems from the dramatic.

The sutradhara (stage-manager) would frequently introduce the play, along with a host of other characters. Other important figures/concepts include prayokta (producers), prayoga (dramatic production) and saadhaka (creator-artist with inner control and discipline). There were in fact a whole set of rituals including puja performed in what was called the purvanga (preliminaries).

“Bharata reminds us that the entire act of creation and presentation is a saadhana where impersonalization, de-personalization and detachment is primary.”[1, 91]

Slokas from the critical chapter XXVI discuss some of the specifics of natya.

The triple basis of drama is discussed in slokas 118-119 as being the people (loka), the Vedas, and the spiritual faculty (adhyatma). [1,88] Indeed sloka 124 goes on to state that “Whatever sastras, laws, arts and activities are connected with human conduct (lokadharma) may be produced (literally called) as a drama).”[1, 89]

The prekshaka, or audience, also had its own dharma.

“As for the audience and spectators, they too must be attuned, trained and initiated. The demand from them is no less exacting. Preparedness of both attitude and initation into some technicalities is an essential pre-requisite.”[1,91]

Bharata goes on to lay the criteria for critics (samalochakas) and judges, laying down the qualifications for the jury. The last, as typical with the sastras, is near exhaustive. Experts in ritual (yajnavit), in archery (isvastravit), in dance (nartaka), in prosody (chandovit), in grammar (sabdavit), in painting (chitravit),  and music (gandharva) are all required. A king (rajan), king’s officer (rajasevaka), and interestingly even a courtesan (vesya) are all listed as well, likely due to their extensive training in The 64 Arts. [1,91]

Of course, no discussion of the Natya Sastra, indeed dramaturgy itself, is complete without mention of Rasa.


As a refresher on Rasa, here are some introductory concepts we discussed in previous articles. Rasa theory is the outstanding contribution of Classical India to World music, dance, and above all literature. This sentiment is the lasting impression or feeling of the author that he/she aims to impress upon the audience. These are nine in number (hence the term Nava Rasa): Sringara (Romantic), Vira (Heroic), Haasya (Comedic), Karuna (Pathos), Raudra (Furious), Bhayaanika (Frightful), Bibhatsa (Loathsome), Adhbuta (Marvelous), and finally Shaantha (Calming).

The Sthayibhaava is the leitmotif or permanent sentiment of a composition. There are generally eight in number, based on eight of the nine rasas. They are as follows: rati (erotic), haasa (comic), shoka (sorrowful), krodha(angering), utsaha (enlivening), bhaya (frightening), jugupsa (disgusting), and vismaya (amazing). A ninth, sama (tranquility), is associated with Shaantha.[2]

Bhaava is the complete affecting of the heart by any emotion. Rasa means sentiment, sthayi bhava means dominant emotive state, and vyabhichari bhava means transitory or transferable stages.”They are the instrumentalities of conveying and communicating intangible but real states of mind.”[1,9]

Literature (Saahitya) in Sanskrit has typically been divided into drusya (what can be seen or exhibited on stage) and sravya (what can only be heard or read).

Dramatics falls into the first category. Nataka is the word for a play, while rupaka is the term applied to dramatic compositions. Minor or short dramas, such as the Ratnavali of Sri Harsa Deva (Emperor Harsha Vardhana of Kanyakubja (Kannauj), are called Natikas. While there are 17 other classes of these Uparupakas (minor dramas), they needn’t be examined for our purposes.

The 3 main aspects of a Rupaka are (1) The Plot (Vasthu) (2) The Hero (Neta) (3) The Sentiment (Rasa).

Bharata muni avers that literary artists should seek to use adhbuta rasa (sentiment of wonder) in the nirvahana samdhi (denouement). He gave highly sophisticated almost scientific sanction to dramaturgy. Indeed, so much care and preparation is allocated to the stage itself that modern (usually western/westernised) commentators wonder at how tenable its implementation was.

Bharata classifies drama into ten types. Each one has differing aims, length, and magnitude. “The structure of drama, according to Sanskrit dramatic theory, is the scheme of avasthas (Stages/phases) and samdhis (juncture) and samdhyangas (parts of junctures). These form the infrastructure of the drama.” [2,202]

Some hold that Lakshana (indirect expression or secondary meaning) is in fact the most important contribution of Bharata to literature in general and Poetics in particular. They believe that it is a “lost master-key which opens all the locked mansions of alankara [rhetorical device], guna [merit/quality], riti [diction], vrtti [mode of expression/style], chandas [metre], dhvani [resonance] and vakrokti [twist in expression] and aucitya [propriety]”. [2,5]

Whether via rasa or lakshana or tattastha (or all 3), the Natya Sastra is the conceptual foundation for the Indic Literary and Performance Arts.


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“The arts provide both pleasure and education and are a vehicle of beauty, duty and conduct” [1, p .25]

The legacy of the Natya Sastra cannot be minimised. Scholars and commentators from Abhinavagupta to Manmohan Ghosh have all propounded its centrality not only to literature and the performance arts, but the Classical Indic Tradition itself.

“Natyasastra lays down the foundations of a theory and practice of the Indian arts which was adhered to by theoreticians and practicising arts” for thousands of years. This was done consistently throughout the subcontinent. [1,26]

And yet, despite the best efforts of many motivated men to muddle not only its importance but to limit it to Kashmir, the impact of it was not only pan-Indian but Pan-Asian as well. “It had validity and applicability outside the country, especially in Asia, and continues to have relevance today for articulating a theory of art which can be clearly distinguished from Aristotelian or subsequent theories of aesthetic and art in the post-Renaissance West.”[1,26]

Above all, above even rasa and lakshana, was the uniquely spiritual quality that the Rishi of Natya brought to dramatics and histrionics. As many artistes in disparate fields such as dance and art and music attest today, to perform based on the structures and tradition of India is not merely an experience of the senses, but an experience of the spirit:

“Bharata’s adherence and debt to this world-view is clear when he repeatedly speaks of the ‘eye’ and the ‘ear’ and purification. It is not only ritual purification; it is the constant endeavour to arrive at a greater and greater degree of subtlety and refinement. The theatrical universe is the world of the ‘audible’ and the visible’. The senses and sense-organs and perceptions play a crucial role in the evolution of the theory, as also the techniques of each of the four instrumentalities of expression—sound, word (vacika) and body language (angika), décor and dress (aahaarya) internal states (sattvika)”.[1,55]

The imprint of Bharata is felt, therefore not only in Classical Ancient India, but even in the medieval period and across regions. From the Manasollasa (Kannadigas) to the Dhvanyaloka (Kashmiris) to the Sangita Kaumudhi (Odias) to the Sangitaraja (Rajasthanis), the influence of his work is irreplaceable and undeniable, crossing centuries and corners of India. Even the Ain-e-akbari, Risala-i-Ragadarpana, Sangita Mallika, and Kitab e Nau Rasa all rely heavily on, and some would even say attempt to digest, the pioneering work of Bharata muni. Notably, however, this influence was neither regimented nor haphazard. [1,120]

Jayasenapati’s Nrttaratnavali from Andhra (thirteenth century) also reflects both adherence to and departures from the Natyasastra. While it follows the basic principles it focuses much greater attention on training vyaayama and a full account of the desi type of karanas.We gather very important information from this text on many matters, including the basic techniques of training, including those on the bar. Unlike others, he includes a section on construction of theatres.”[1,122] True integral unity with diversity. The canon itself provided general principles which were adapted to the local style and needs of the region. Indeed, Jayasena’s text was instrumental in reviving not only Andhranatyam but Perini Siva Thandava as well.

The reverbations of the ancient and medieval period, therefore, can still be felt today. Most importantly, vrtti (style) and pravrtti (regional school) both had their place and space, as opposed to regimented standardisation. Perhaps that is what makes the Indic tradition so dynamic. Appropriate flexibility exists to not only provide for the civilizational and the regional, but also the material (laukika) and the spiritual (adhyatmika). The spirit of dharma, therefore, can seamlessly move from school to school, region to region, and artform to artform.

The body and beating heart of a tradition and its values is in the arts. Study of the Natya Sastra is crucial because those prejudiced against Indic Civilization…real Indic Civilization…have long pretended that there is no classical canon. The same sophists who call India a british invention say this about classical Indian music.

The British and their elite academic atlantic relatives have historically taken pro-pak positions, pretending a variety of falseties for propagandic purposes. One theory that was floating around was that there was no true performance music before turks came and took “vedic chants” from the temples to create Hindustani music. This ignorant (or self-serving) view has no historical basis, as even the most committed hinduphobe knows the Natya Sastra is dated to 200 BCE, if not earlier.

It is also one of the reasons why adarsh liberals have always given such step-brotherly treatment to south India, long before l’affaire Jallikattu. This is because foreign influences are difficult to divine or impose on Carnatic. Even recent additions like the European violin have been adapted to suit the Indic taste, much as Hindustani and Kathak were merely modified Indic artforms to suit the Turkic taste.

To bring things back full circle, however, perhaps the best rebuttal came from a scholar of literary theory himself:

In my opening remarks I referred to narrow nationalism as going against the spirit of Comparative Literature…Narrow nationalism, however, is not the problem here; rather its opposite is the problem; and its opposite is not wider nationalism; it is absence of national feeling. We Indians are often unnecessarily apologetic about ourselves and about our national heritage. We unnecessarily feel guilty of jingoism, of cultural expansionism in such matters. This peculiar feeling has its roots in respect of some students of literary not in the thorough knowledge of our heritage, but in its opposite, namely, complete ignorance of our heritage. [3,185]

Understanding the root helps us learn where all the branches are. That is the importance of the Natya Sastra to Indic—real Indic—music, art, poetry, dance, and drama.“The Mahamuni provided the basic framework and a pan-Indian vocabulary which was to guide the theory and practice of the Indian arts for two millennia”,and likely more .[1,100]

Bharata’s work influenced millions directly or indirectly. For these reasons alone, Natya Sastra is one of the most important books ever written [6,19]


  1. Vatsyayan, Kapila. Bharata: The Natyasastra. Sahitya Akademi.2007
  2. Kale, M.R. Dasakumaracarita of Dandin. New Delhi: MLBD. 2009
  3. Pandey, Sudhakar and V.N.Jha.Glimpses of Ancient Indian Poetics.Satguru Publications: Delhi, 1993 .
  4. http://natyasastraced.blogspot.com/
  5. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-karnataka/cultural-research-complex-on-natya-sastra-planned/article3149469.ece
  6. Kak, Subhash. Early Indian Music. http://www.ece.lsu.edu/kak/manila.pdf
  7. Kak, Subhash. The Wonder that was Kashmir. http://www.ece.lsu.edu/kak/wonder.pdf
  8. Malhotra, Rajiv. Sulekha. 2002. http://creative.sulekha.com/the-axis-of-neocolonialism_103313_blog