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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.

Author

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.

Composition

http://indicportal.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/samaveda.jpg

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]

Selections

Gandharvaah

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]

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References:
  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.

Introduction

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.

Veda

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.

Gandharva

Gandharvaah

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.

Sastra

rp_basis1.png

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.

Instruments

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).

rudravina

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”…

Nadasvaram

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.

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

Brahma

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

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.

Dattila

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.

Matanga

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.

Abhinavagupta

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.

Mammata

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]

Parshvadeva

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.

Nanyadeva

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.

Jayadeva

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.

Sarngadeva

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.

Kallinatha

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

Annamacharya

annamayyastatue

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

 

PurandaraDasa

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

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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]

Tansen

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]

Venkatamakhi

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

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

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.

Kshetragna

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.

Thyagaraja

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

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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

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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

Bhaava-prakaashan

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

nrttaratnavali

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

Sangeetopanisat

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

Sangeeta-narayana

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.

Conclusion

[3,8]
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]

References:
  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 Cuisine: Soopa Sastra

Indian_Spices

Why Soopa Sastra? Elsewhere cooking is referred to specifically as Paaka, in Sanskrit. The rationales for this are manifold. The first Sanskrit text known to us on the culinary arts is in fact called Soopa Sastra, and is credited to Sage Sukesa. In addition, “The cook went by many names, such as alarika, soopakaara, odanika, bhojanadatr, and sudas”. [1, 108] Further, much like Dhanurveda refers to the Military Arts (despite Dhanur being ‘bow’), Soopa Sastra refers to the Culinary Arts despite soopa meaning only Soup (or broth). Finally, Paaka refers to cooking, but Soopa is a broader term encompassing Cuisine in general. Thus, Soopa Sastra is Culinary Science which encompasses not only Cooking, but Civilized Dining as well.

For all these reasons, Soopa Sastra is the more preferable phrase for the present time.

Introduction

What did our ancestors eat? Was it similar to what we eat now? Is it all a patchwork of regional cuisines or are there Pan-Indian commonalities?

More importantly, as one culinary author asks, “What do you mean by ‘good food’? Good to the taste? By ‘good’ do you mean food which has inherent values, i.e. values which are good for the well-being of the eater?”. [7, 16] Or does this merely mean food which satisfies? As in all things, the key to life is balance. It is only when there is imbalance that man either becomes deprived or depraved. Between being dull and being diseased is the middle path.

Food was also part of the ‘discipline’ in daily living of the Hindu way of life….The peak of ascetic glory was to be able to live on air and water and the perfect ‘yogi’ was revered because he had taught himself to subsist on a mi[n]imum of food. The bogi learnt the pleasures of eating, and descended to eating two meals a day, while the rogi was the gourmet given to self-indulgence and excess which resulted in ill-health. Hence the same word rogi is used for a man sick with disease (from roga=disease).” [7,17]

Thus, one need not be a yogi to live a healthy life. The wise man or wise woman finds balance and eats in moderation—knowing to generally eat healthy, while responsibly indulging on special occasions. Thus, between the yogi and the rogi is the bhogi. Herein lies the importance of the Rajbhog.

Whether it was the Rajabhoga (King’s meal) or the saamaanya bhojana, food was so important that cities themselves have been named after food items. One such prominent example is  Vidarbha‘s Amraoti (not to be confused with Andhra’s Amaravati). The original name of this Maharashtrian municipality was in fact Audambaravati, named after the Indian fig (udambara). [1. 35]

Vegetarianism is also a frequent flower in the garland of Dharma. Not only those following the Sattvic way of life, but also The Buddha favoured ahimsa to animals, though he permitted non-veg in cases of unintentional slaughter.  [1,55] Jainism of course stands as the most dedicated to the concept of non-injury to animals, and many Sikhs observe vegetarianism (except in times of war).

Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism crystallized out of a Hindu matrix. In terms of food practices they have naturally many features in common with the Hindu ethos. [1.70]

Despite the large contingents of vegetarians (sakaharis) and non-vegetarians (maamsahaaris), one dietary thread is common to them: the sanctity of the cow.

Contrary to murkhapanditas peddling ‘beef in vedas’ theories, the cow was—and is—aghnya, that which should not be killed.

the Rigveda has a whole hymn to nutrition (peelu) in which only vegetable foods are listed, and carries two verses in praise of ‘the cow, Aditi, the sinless’. The word gau is used for the cow, and the term aghnyaa (‘not to be eaten, inviolable’) is employed no less than sixteen times, in contrast to three references to the bull, using the masculine form aghnya [1, 55]

These go-bhakshaks advocating a go-mamsa theory of Dharma are high on Ego and low on Sattva guna. This age old food restriction characterises our Dharmic way of life, yet nevertheless leaves a wide variety of not only other meats, but also a myriad of fruits, vegetables, grains, beverages, divine dishes, and savoury sweets.  Whether veg or non-veg, let us all survey together what is common in their presentation and preparation.

History of Culinary Unity

“May for me prosper, through the sacrifice, milk, sap, ghee, honey, eating and drinking at the com-mon table, ploughing, rains, conquest, victory, wealth, riches. May for me prosper, through the sacrifice, low-grade food, freedom from hunger, rice, barley sesame, kidney beans, vetches, wheat, lentils, millets, panicum grains and wild rice. May for me prosper, through the sacrifice, trees, plants, that which grows in ploughed land, and that which grows in unploughed land.” —Yajurveda [1, 28]

The influence of the Vedas on disparate spheres of life is so widespread that even food and agriculture are not untouched by it. We see from this quote from the Yajur Veda that agriculture was very much a part of Vedic Society.  Rather than a Central Asian pastoral culture, we see the mark of an agricultural one. This centrality of settled life would be seen in later periods as well, and we see the sophistication of irrigation driven farming.

In the Ramayana, the land of Kosala is eulogized by Rama as adhsvamatrakah, that is, as relying on irrigation rather than rainfall for its fecundi-ty. The Arthashastra of Kautilya (c.300 BCE) has many references to an extensive system of irrigation. [1, 29]

What’s more, one notes the antiquity of rice consumption in Indic Society. Various texts attest not only to its import, but also to the technical details of cultivation and crop protection.

“The Kashyapa Samhita (c.200BC) has detailed accounts of every aspect of rice cultivation: sowing, irrigation, seed transplanting, weeding, watering, protection from birds like parrots (us-ing buffalo skeletons as scarecrows), defence against vermin like rats, locusts and borer in-sects, reaping and finally threshing. Even the conditions needed to take a second crop are elaborated. The collection of cowdung (sarishaka or sakrit) is noted in the Rigveda…Fodder crops are silaged as early as the Rigveda, the process being called sujavas.” [1, 29]

As such, it is only natural that the predominant Pan-India aspects of Subcontinental cuisine be driven by the native approach to agriculture. Ironically, it is that honoured bovine whose meat is forbidden that provides us with the most Civilizational of ingredients. More than any other animal, it is the dhenuh, the Indian Cow, whose produce embodies the most central ingredients to Classical Indic Cuisine: milk (ksheera), curd (dadhi), butter-milk (thakram), butter (navaneetham), and ghee (ghrtam).

In addition to the lactic aspects of core Indic food, are the grain (dhaanya) aspects. Staple is very important to virtually any urban/semi-urban cuisine. Here are the traditional grains.

The Brihadaranyaka Samhita states that there are ten foodgrains. These were rice, barley, sesame, kidney beans, (masha), mil-let, panic seed (priyangu), wheat, lentils (khalva) and horsegram (khalakhula, later kulattha, now kulthi. The Arthashastra lists sugarcane and mustard (both known from much earlier, but not mentioned in ritual lists), linseed (atasi), safflower (kusumbha), and kodhrava.” [1, 31]

Chickpeas, aman rice, wild rice, and Bengal gram are also listed, as are Pumpkins, other gourds, grapes, and long peppers (pippali). Spices include turmeric (haridra), fenugreek (methi), ginger, and garlic. “Others like pepper and cardamom came from south India, and asa-foetida from Afghanistan.” [1,33]

Speaking of sugar, one notes the dietary superiority of traditional sweeteners such as cane sugar, honey, and jaggery, versus the current obsession with visham-variety refined sugar (and the diabetes/obesity epidemic sweeping India & the rest of the world). Incidentally, “Sushruta’s observations suggest that as sugar products became purer and whiter, they also became ‘cooler’ but more difficult to digest.” [1,85] Health must come before Taste, but as traditional Indic cuisine (real Indic cuisine) shows, the two need not be antipodes (especially with the guidance of Ayurveda).

While simple Sattvic fare is indeed “sresth“, it is also important that Dharmic society begin rolling out the Ancient Indian Red carpet, and its Royal Rajbhog of Rajadhirajas.

Kingly Texts on the Culinary Arts

There were many masters of food preparation, perhaps none more famous than that mighty Pandava Bheemasena. His appetite for feats of strength was matched only by his literal appetite for feasts of savories. Those familiar with the film Maya Bazaar might enjoy this song, which captures the spirit (though Ghatotkacha will stand in for his father here).

While Bheemasena is credited with a text called Bheema Paaka Sastra, it is the Paaka Darpana of King Nala (of Damayanti fame) that is the most ancient text we have recovered to date.

Nala wasn’t the only King with culinary sophistication. King Somesvara III of the Western Chalukya dynasty of Karnataka wrote the well-known work Abhilashitartha-chinthaamani. Better known as Manasollasa, meaning ‘refresher of the mind’, it is a veritable tome on not only knowledge, but also the pleasures of Royalty—with food naturally included in it. At 100 chapters divided among 5 books, it is a topic for another article. Nevertheless, there is a chapter titled Annabhoga stipulating varieties of dishes and methods of preparation (still common today throughout the Dakshinapatha).[1,89] King Basavaraja of Keladi (also in Karnataka) was another such who wrote on a wide range of topics, including food, in his Shivatattvaratnaakara. There is also the Soopa Sastra of Mangarasa III, King of the Kannada state of Kallalli, who wrote in Old Kannada.[1,88] It appears the Kings of Karnata were exemplars at promoting the culinary arts. Nevertheless, Nala set the original standard.

Paaka Darpana of King Nala.

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Nala & Damayanti may be famous for their love story (poetically recounted by Sriharsa in his Naishadha Charita), but the Nishada King was legendary for more than being merely a love-lorn lover. Before the great Bheemasena himself, was Master Chef King Nala. His conversation with Maharaja Rtuparna of Ayodhya and subsequent employment in Kosala’s Royal Kitchen gives us insight into not only a mature and even Imperial Indic Cuisine, but also the continuity of tradition from that ancient time to present-day.

Paaka Darpanam means Mirror of Cooking, and it is an ancient book on culinary science. It has 761 sanskrit slokas contained in 11 chapters (paricchedas).

In this wo[]nderful book the author has described the recipes of vegetable & non-veg. preparations. Dishes preparated from Neem, Mandan, Guduchi, Jackfruit etc. become cures also besides being very tasty, the dishes are made fragrant before being served.[2,1]

The cook is referred to as sooda and the waiter as parivesaka. Both are required to have good qualities and practice the utmost cleanliness. [3, 8] Nala then outlines the work discussing various aspects of food taxonomy, dividing his work into 16 aspects: boiled rice (odana), pulses/broths (soopa), clarified butter (sarpis), curries (vyanjana), meat (maamsa) and vegetables (shaaka), semi-hard food (bhaksya), sweet rice dish (kheer), elixir (rasaayana), syrup (paana), soup (yoosa), lickable foods (lehya), beverages (paaneeya) milk (ksheera), curd (dadhi) , and butter-milk preparations (thakra). [2,9]

He also states that “Food is primarily said as sustainer of vital force (Praana) of all living beings. Food, containing the sixtythree types (on the basis of combinations & permutations) of rasa (tastes) is factually personi-fied as Brahma (creator of the universe). The best food is that which is devoid of eight types of impurities.” [2,10]

Nevertheless, of all the notable aspects of Nala’s treatise on Paaka, none more is important than that most healthful of Sciences: Ayurveda.

“Bhujyathe yena yatnena tasyaarogyam bhedam bhravam |

vaatam pittajam rogam slesmajam hanthi sarvadaa ||

Sakrunnishevanenaiva tripuram tryambaka yathaa || P.1, sl.6

Person, who relishes the aforesaid dishes (chitrapaaka) with care and prepared by me, gets positive sound health. If this preparation is taken even once, alleviates the diseases caused by Vaata, Pitta and Sleshman as Lord Siva (Tryambaka) had killed the demon Tripura.” [2,3]

Certain fundamentals are obvious from the outset. We see that even in this most ancient period, Ayurveda is a driving factor. The mention of Vaata, Pitta, and Kapha (Sleshman) are clear demonstrations of the theory motivating the Classical Indic philosophy of Cookery.

Ayurveda

The Classical Indic Approach to food not only managed to balance the needs of the ascetic yogi with the royal bhogi, but also balanced health with taste. Nutrition and satisfaction need not be diametrically opposed. What matters is what you have, how you have it, and how it balances with not only the rest of your diet, but also with the rest of your lifestyle.

“‘There is no disaster in life’ the adult is admonished, ‘if one eats in mod-eration food that is not disagreeable. As pleasure dwells with him who eats mod-erately, so disease is the lot of the glutton who eats voraciously.’ Moderation in Ayurvedic terms is designated tripti, liter-ally satisfaction, but here connoting the appeasement of hunger and thirst. In contrast is atisauhitya meaning overeating to satiety.” [1, 79]

Texts such as Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita are classic works on Ayurveda (the science itself said to originate from Brahma, via Dhanvantari). Does this in fact work? Well, as they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Shadruchi: The six tastes are sweet (madhuram), sour (aamla), salty (lavanam), bitter (tikta), pungent (kaatu) and astringent (kashaaya). Incidentally, among Telugu families during New Year (Ugadi), it is common to have Ugadi Pacchadi (New Year Chutney) featuring the six tastes to symbolise all the aspects of life to be experienced in the coming year. Some families are known to rig the system by adding more sweet!

While there are 6 pure tastes (shadruchi), there are as many as 63 mixed tastes according to Charaka. [1,79]

Regarding alcohol, Charaka counselled moderation, since alcohol increases pittha (the mental principle) while lessening both kapha (the physical principle) and vaatha (the vitality principle). [1]

Cookery

Due to the importance of Pavitrata (purity) and suchi and muchi, the kitchen is considered a near consecrated portion of the orthodox Hindu household. Various rules are stipulated in the grhyasutras. Nevertheless, long story short, cleanliness is next to godliness. Many examples of traditional and modern wisdom have been passed on today.

Food taxonomy is typically divided into foods not requiring fire and those that require fire. Various other aspects are also mentioned, but these are the key ones.  As seen above, King Nala gave us a more detailed division of foods as well.

Several cooking operations were in use since very early times. These were thaalanam (drying), kvaathanam (parboiling), pachanam (cooking in water), svedanam (steaming), bhavita (seasoning), apakva (frying), bharjanam (dry roasting), thandooram (grilling) and putapaaka (baking). Devices for these operations developed in parallel. [1, 101]

Various methods of meat preparation also existed. Sour meats were marinated with ghee, curd and fermented rice gruel, along with acidic fruits and various aromatic spices. Meat when dried and roasted was called parisukamaamsam, while minced meat was called ulluplamaamsam.  [1,54]

Beverages

Beverages (alcoholic and otherwise) could also be a Blog Post in and of themselves. But for our “Madyam, apeyam, adeyam, agrahyam!” types…fear not! —I will commence with the non-alcoholic first.

Buddhist texts enjoin the use of pure rain water for consumption. Water meant for drinking had to be ‘clear, cool, shining like silver, health-giving and with the fragrance of the lotus’. In fact, the lotus was frequently grown in tanks to purify the surrounding water.” [1, 39]

Beyond water there were a variety of juices. These refreshing drinks include mango, jamoon, banana, grapes, phaalsa, coconut, edible waterlily roots, and diluted honey. There was also sugarcane juice and licorice leaf along with a host of others.

Although the brits (and their Indian leftovers (pun-intended)) would have us believe they brought Indians tea, present research appears to indicate otherwise. The specific varieties may have varied, but tea in some form did exist (with the word chai itself having a sanskrit equivalent via chaayam). Kashmir has its own distinct aromatic kaahwaah tea brewed in a khandakari (samovar). [1,107] Coffee is, of course, an Ethiopian import, via middle easterners. Nevertheless, it has taken a special flavour in South Indian “filter kaaphi” (As Nilambari would attest).

Nilambari

Different types of alcoholic beverages are also listed. The famous Soma is one such intoxicant, reputedly brewed from the ephedra plant for yagnas, particularly for those whom intoxicants are otherwise prohibited. Suraa is the most common name for alcoholic beverage. The word for wine usually from grapes is madhya. Wines from honey, rice, palm, flowers, and jaggery were also known. The spiced wine maireya is also mentioned in the Ramayana. While abstention from alcohol was and is considered a virtue, its restrained consumption was nevertheless permissible to most classes of society. Some examples of ancient liquors:

  • Madhira—Wine of high quality
  • Kaadambaree—Distilled liquor made from kadamba flowers
  • Thaallaka—Wine made from palm fruit juice
  • Haarahooraka—”Wine made from white grapes, imported from Haarahur, Afghanistan“[1,59]
  • Khajooraasava—Wine from dates
  • Shahakaarasuraa—Wine brewed from the juice of Mango
  • Mahaasuraa—”Mango juice win with a high proportion of fruit extract, perhaps modified with spices” [1, 59]

While reading all this one must remember what a middle eastern traveler wrote on the Indic view of Alcohol:

“The Indi-ans abstain from drinking wine, and censure those who consume it; not because their religion forbids it, but in the dread of its clouding their reason and depriving them of its powers.” [1, 60]

So if you do drink, drink responsibly.

With apologies to oenophiles, as there are many more aspects that can be discussed at another time, we must move on to that other guilty pleasure…open to all classes!

Sweets

Honey is considered the earliest sweetener. “Guests were welcomed to a household with madhuparka, a honey-sweetened concoction of curd and ghee.” [1, 37] Rock sugar (kand) is thought to have been known at least by 800 BCE, with modern exemplars such as Gulkand (Rose-jam) being used to this day. Confectionary may date back to the Vedic period with different combinations including cardamom, ginger, and ground barley/wheat with jaggery to make abhyusa.

Some of these confections were artisti-cally shaped. The rice-flour sweet preparation, modaka or madhugolaka, looked like a fig, and the barley flour confection, shastika, was cone-shaped and had delicate surface markings. By late Buddhist times, some sophisticated sweets are mentioned. The mandaka, now called mande, was a large parata suffed with a sweetened pulse paste, which was then (as now) baked on an inverted pot: madhusarika was a sweet cake; morendaka, made from khoa, was shaped like the eggs of a mora (peacock); gulala-laavaniya was perhaps the modern gole-papadi, a tiny fully-expanded puri…Rice cooked in milk and sugar was payasa, a popular sweet even now“. [1, 39]

Rice, of course, is so central to Indic cuisine that it was cooked in a variety of ways and forms. Rice cultivation has been radio-carbon-dated at Prayag going back to at least 5000 BCE, though terraced fields for rice cultivation have been dated to 10,000 BCE in Kashmir. As for types of rice, the most common is Oddana (boiled rice). Pruthukam is beaten rice (poha) and neevaraa is wild rice [1,184]. Then there is laajaah, the ritually pure form of parched rice, mentioned in the Ramayana as well.

The early canonical literature of the Buddhists and Jains (c.400 BC) again reveals extensive use of fine rice (shaali) or ordinary rice (vreehi), either boiled, or cooked with til seeds, or made into gruel (yaagu).” [1, 34]

Terminology

  • Tandhoola/Annam/Bhatka—Rice
  • Yava—Barley
  • Rotikaam—Roti/Chapaathi
  • Yoosa—Pulse/Dhaal
  • Saara—Soup
  • Rasa—Juice
  • Chaayam (now Chai)—Tea
  • Kalaaya—Peas
  •  Vataka—Vada(these are mentioned in the Dharmasutras as being fried in ghee)
  • Parpatam—Paapad
  • Sharkaraam(“aapke muh mein ghee shakkar!“)—Sugar
  • Lavanam—Salt
  • Kaaram—Pepper/Spice
  • Kvathitham—Sambar
  • Vyanjanam—Curry
  • Upadamsam—Pickle
  • Thailam—Oil
  • Upasechanam—Chutney
  • Shaaka—Vegetables
  • Vrntaaka—Brinjal
  • Sevika—Sev
  • Paaka—Cooking
  • Ruchi—Taste/Flavor
  • Sthaalikaa—Plate

This article will naturally focus more on the traditional native fare of Bharatavarsha. While it is true that food, like most aspects of culture, is not static, it is also important for native identity to not be lost to syncretism. It is possible to admire what is good about others while appreciating your own uniqueness.

Therefore, rather than hewing to the hyperactive hungama of invented “Ganga-Jamuni Nautanki“, this Post will focus on the core Indic aspects that can be traced back with continuity to Ancient India. These elements are very much alive today, and in regions such as Andhra and Odisha, predominant.

Contributions

§ Focus on Food as part of an holistic System of health. Application of Ayurveda pervades Paaka Darpana of King Nala.

§ Use of Mustard seeds, Turmeric, Cumin. These essential ingredients to “Curries” are as ubiquitous in ancient Harappa as they are in modern Himayatnagar.

§ Tandoor (originated in either Rajasthan or Punjab ). [1,107] The word comes from the Sanskrit “Kandu”. Thandoora is the word for grilling.

§ Khichadi/Khichdi/Khichri.  In the Vedic period, rice cooked with milk and sesame seed was called krsaara, and is considered to be a forefrunner to khichdi, which is made from rice and dhaal. [1,33]

§ Thali is the common word for the round plate of plenty throughout India. The word comes from the Sanskrit ‘Sthaalikaa’.

There, of course, countless other culinary aspects to discuss. But food history (as with history in general) is subject to great controversy. In order to separate the genuinely Indic from the colonially syncretic, we will discuss some of the issues here:

Biryani is foreign origin (coming from the Persian Beryan), but…

Pulao is definitely native to India and comes from the Sanskrit word Pulaka.

…meat cooked with rice is referred to in the Yagnavalkya Smriti as pallao-mevach, and the word palao also occurs in early Tamil literature [1, 54]

Other varieties of savoury meat & rice dishes are mentioned in the Ramayana. One such dish was called maamsabhutaudana: rice cooked with deer meat, vegetables, and spices. The Mahabharata mentions pishthauddana, another rice dish, this time cooked with minced meat (other kinds include, sour meat, fried meat, ground meat, grilled meat, and meat for stuffing). [1, 54] In fact, rice being the major staple, it is only natural it was cooked in many forms. Odana is rice boiled in water or milk, often along with curds and honey. When this combination is cooked with meat it was called mamsaudana. Khichadi is another common denominator throughout most of India. So much so is this the case that the term “Khichadi couple” has been invented by NRI/PIO desis to refer to couples coming from “2 States” or more, but being 100% Bharatiya.

Traditional Indic sweets are called madhuraani in Sanskrit (or mithai in Hindi). Some sweet items such as Rooh Afza and Jalebi (zlabia) are obviously foreign origin. But many, many more are local (and given foreign origin by sepoys). In fact, the whole assortment of traditional Bengali sweets are said to be “phoreign” because apparently “yeverything kayme from  mughal!”.  This is of course ridiculous. Many have argued that Kulfi is a recent addition, and that is probably a fair assessment, though iced dishes were certainly well-known in snowy Kashmir. It is, therefore, here that we shall begin:

Regional

Each region (indeed, state) of historic Bharatavarsha has evolved unique aspects of aahaaram while hewing to integral aspects of Saastric gastronomy that unify the Subcontinent. While all can’t be covered in a single (digestible!) article, here are some highlights to give a  Gastronomical Survey of India (GSI).

Kashmir

From Rogan Josh to its eponymous Pulao, Kashmiri Cuisine is rightly appreciated by sophisticates of all sorts. Although the ancient nobility of this famous region is now diminished, Kashmiri Pandits have maintained most of the traditional fare, with rare dilution. Known for its Wazwan (multi-course) meals, the Crown of India’s cuisine features  such spices as  asafoetida, methi, and ginger. Nevertheless, as evidenced by Kashmiri Pulao, saffron (kesara) is the signature spice, and has been cultivated here since ancient times. Though arguments are often made supporting foreign introduction, it’s fairly clear the use of saffron is indigenous.  Here are some of the finer points of this cuisine:

The Kashmeerees have been bons viveurs and are proud of their cuisine which is justly famous. ‘Snigdha’ sug-gests the use of oil to which the Kash-meeree chef de cuisine still adheres in preference to the melted butter (ghee) used in the Panjaab. The Kashmeeree Brahman is a lover of meat and fish and in ancient times grape wine was in common use. The Nilamata Puraana mentions the use of wine for ceremonial purposes.” [5, 555]

The nobility and courtiers in the typical bon viveur style enjoyed the Kashmiri cuisines which is justly famous; they had ‘fried meat’ and ‘delightful light wine cooled with ice and per-fumed with flowers.’…As for the common people, they subsisted on rice and hakh (Kashmiri greens)” [5, 23]

 One “could not do without the soft and unctuous fare of Kashmeer, which is easy to digest when washed down with sugared water whit-ened with chunks of ice.” [5,555]

Interestingly, the lotus is not just a symbol of prosperity, but also a focus of the dietary. Vegetables start in the Rigveda with the lotus stem (visa) and cucumber (urvaaruka), fol-lowed in the later Vedas by lotus roots (shaaluka)“. [1, 35]

Jokes are often cracked, usually by natives themselves, about how Kashmir is a land of literal and figurative lotus eaters. It is not without cause.

Lotus roots is a favourite dish of the Kashmeeree Brahmans. In the plains of India the dried roots from the homeland are imported as a delicacy. Seeds of the lotus…are also eaten.” [5,459]

Regardless, conventional staples are also popular in Svarga’s own Aahaara. Plain rice and assorted sweet pulaos (featuring fruits and nuts) are popular, as are breads such as kulcha, tsachvaru, and girda.[1]

Jammu and Ladakh, naturally have their own notable contributions. Dogras typically eat wheat, bajra, and maize along with rice as staple.

Andhra

Much of the Cuisine of the South shares certain well-known dishes, which are fought over with a ferocity that makes the great Rasagolla Wars of Eastern India pale in comparison. Nevertheless, there are certain distinctive state characteristics. Since a perennial question for most non-Southies has been “What is the difference between Telugu and Tamil?”, allow this Andhraite to elaborate.

Andhra Cuisine stands out for a number of specialities, first and foremost is the use of spice. While mirchi is a near-Pan India practice, it reaches its fever pitch in Bahubali’s own Country, hence the justifiable reputation of having the spiciest food.

In fact, it packs such gharam dharam that the following saying has become a saametha of sorts about Andhra men.

Andhra men like their food as they like their women: Presentation is very important…and they prefer a little Spice.

Roselle leaf (gongura) is another key ingredient. While use of the green gram (mudga) dates back to King Nala’s time, it has taken a unique incarnation in that Andhra specialty known as Pesarattu:

Though tamarind is used widely in the rest of the South as well, it is a critical part of the Telugu dish known as the pulusu ( a tamarind sauce/stew).

http://anushabarrela.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/nell_fp-e1335090274156.jpg

The new state of Telangana also has some regional, yet truly native, specialities, such as sarvapindi and sakinalu. But these snacks, and more robust entree-fare, can be covered separately. The notable aspect is what unifies undivided Andhra in the food department.

The South (in General)

[3]
Beyond Andhra, the regions of Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu all have that have their own local specialities. Whether it is the Bisi-bela-baath of KT, the Coconut Aviyal of KE, or the Chettinad Chicken of TN, special dishes for each state can be found. Nevertheless, for the sake of brevity, this article will provide a general discussion instead (though native Kannadigas, Keralites, & Tamilians are welcome to comment on their states below).

The use of pickles (uragaaya/urakai) is quite common throughout the south, and are the ideal complement for daddojanam (curd rice), preferably with a little mustard seed.

That all-India favourite, Dosa, is seen as Udipi-derived (so there’s a win for Karnataka), but if that’s the case, you Kannadigas will have to take the blame for Bisi-bela-baath (sorry guys…it’s true…). Before the other side of that great Kaveri war gets upset, yes Idli is very likely a Tamizh contribution (though our sepoys are doing their utmost to invent an Arab origin…probably while smoking some pretty powerful hookah). Though it should be noted that the Manasollasa mentions both the dhosaka (dosa) and idarikaa (idli).

Idli_Sambar

And before our Mallu friends think I’ve forgotten them,  there is much that Kerala has to offer—especially when it comes to all things coconut. Unni-aapam (jackfruit-rice pancake) and coconut aviyal are two must haves from the land of Kalaripayattu. The ancient Chera country was also famous for its pepper.

The Kodavas of Coorg also have a distinctive cuisine, and are known for their preparation of pork-based dishes. Tulu cuisine is embodied by various Mangalorean fish curries.

South Indian fare is not all vegetarian as has popularly come to be believed. In fact, the most carnivorous (or more correctly omnivorous) states are found south of the Vindhyas, with Kerala leading the pack.  Rasam is of course common to pretty much all the Southern states, but I would argue that Andhra’s Tomato Chaaru is the most sophisticated form of this savoury soup of Soopa Sastra.

tamarind-rasam-recipe

Maharashtra

Core components of Maharashtrian cuisine are discussed below; nevertheless, Amba Kesari Bhaat is one signature dish.  Maharashtra is likely the place of origin for Shrikand (in its present form). The etymology of the word comes from, yes, Sanskrit. “Shikar-ini, the modern shrikhand, also employed strained curds, crystal sugar and spices.” [1, 35]

[3]
Konkani khaana is close related to Maharashtra’s, though distinctive in its own way. Tambli (bondi chutney) and Banana flower chutney are  standouts. There is also Amlechi Uddamethi, which is a raw mango curry. Fish is an important component as well.

Gujarat

Though Madhur Jaffrey has posited it as “Haute Vegetarian Cuisine”, something that Rajasthanis and Vegetarian Punjabis will contest ipso facto, there is a distinct variety of dishes that come from this ancient commercial entrepot.

Arguably the most entrepreneurial region in India, this partially dry but mostly coastal state in India has given and taken influences throughout the millennia and developed its own style of foods too. Dhokla and Rotli are common markers of the Gujju menu (as is sweetness even in staples), and Daakor na ghota (spicy fried dumpling) is another gujarati item. Saboodana shakes are recent addition too. Namkeen is the notable western Indian snack specialty, one which Gujaratis raise to a high artform with various kinds of Chaat that reach their peak in heavily Gujarati Mumbai (take that, Thackerays!).

[3]
Rajasthan 

Rajasthan features many different varieties of food. Its vegetarianism is predominant, though not universal. It has produced many popular traditional items such as Baati (Rajasthani bread) and Bikaneri Pulao and Bhindi Jaipuri. Kalakand is considered a native Rajasthani mithai. Undhiu is undoubtedly a western Indian dish, but Rajasthan and Gujarat can fight over it.

[3]
And because regional jokes (when tasteful & clever) are the flavour of the month, here is one proffered by Marwaris themselves:

Central India

Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, and Jharkhand all have their own flavours and cultures. MP itself prominently features two key regions: Malwa (ancient Avanti) and Bundelkhand (ancient Chedi). Jowar has traditionally been common in this part of the country. For the sake of article limitations, a few quick mentions will be made here, to be expanded upon at a later date:

Uttar Pradesh/Bihar/Nepal

Admittedly this is a very large region to cover, particularly if one includes now separate state Uttarakhand in the mix. Nevertheless, distinctions can be discussed in a different Post as there are some broad similarities in this core Gangetic region that has traditionally grouped them together (those hailing from this parts are welcome to give their thoughts via comments).  Roti, barley, and even raagi are all in use. Baath (boiled rice), however, seems to be the core staple. “Boiled rice flour cakes were termed khir-aura, phara meant steamed rice balls, and phu-lauri was a steam-cooked roll of coarse flour.” [1,140]

As for Bihar in particular, a plump rice known as shaali was grown in ancient Magadha and was served to honoured guests. Sattu (flour of roasted pulses) is commonly used as are barley grits, combined with salt or sugar. Sattu as drink is considered the marquee beverage for Biharis.

Other dishes include laai (parched rice), chiuri (parched barley), lawaa (parched maize), and lapsi (flour of any grain boiled in milk and sugar).  As for desserts, various laddoos are favoured, such as fine-grained motichoor and sesame-seed tilkut.

Nepali cuisine shares much in common with Pahari food.  The standard Nepali Thali is Dal-Bhaat (rice and dhaal). Dhido is a traditional wheat staple from Nepal made from water and grains like buckwheat.

Odisha

Due to the long-running (and justifiable!) Odisha irritation with Bengal claiming Rasagolla (and Jayadeva!), we shall begin with the Land of the Lingaraja Temple and their unique cuisine. The Kalingas may have Konark and Kharavela, but the state famous for  Jagannath Swami of Puri also packs a punch in the food department. Indeed, the origin of the Rasagolla is said to be Lord Vishnu’s way of saying sorry to Lakshmi Devi for his going on yatra without her granting leave (an abject lesson to all the non-divine husbands out there!).

Nevertheless, as in most other states, rice, wheat, and barley are all state staples. Pakhala (boiled rice covered with water and kept over night) is one item unique to Utkala.

And if you’re in the mood for something more casual, the state has plenty of snack foods to offer as well

Bengal

The very mention of Bengal and Food may bring to mind not only “jal pushp”—better known to the rest of us as fish—but one of the most celebrated varieties of sweets on the subcontinent: Mishti-doi (sweet curds for dessert), malpua, khoa, Sitabhog, nadu,  and of course, the state sweet, Sandesh. Another notable confectionary factoid: “Krishna Chandra Das invented the rasamalai, flattened chhaana patties floating in thickened milk”.[1,132]

These are just some of the scintillating sweetmeats and salivational (portmanteau) savouries south of the Siliguri. These confections are well-known to most Indians, though some are the subject to squabbles (such as the now confirmed Odia claim to Rasagolla already mentioned). In any event, there are other aspects that merit mention as well.

There are two distinct styles: East and West Bengali. East Bengali is low on dhaal and high on fish, while the West is known for use of poppy seeds (posto). [1,129]

Barley’s importance in the Vedic period is preserved in modern Bengali cuisine.

It was fried and consumed in the form of cakes dipped in ghee, or as sweet cakes called apupa fashioned out of the flour, boiled in water or fried in ghee, and then dipped in honey. The modern Bengali sweets pua and malpua preserve both the name and the essen-tials of this prepartion. [1, 33]

Rice is a big part of the Bengali diet, with a medieval text (Shunya Purana) stating there were 50 varieties grown in Bengal. [1,128]

Northeast

The Seven Sisters of the Northeast have their own offerings of civilizational savouries to offer, starting with Assam (The other sisters being Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, Meghalaya & Arunachal Pradesh—though we can include Sikkim so no one is left out).

While distinct dishes exist in the various cuisines here, pork is common throughout. Rice is the staple for the most part and fish very popular. Given the diversity of offerings, they are best treated in a separate piece.

Sinhala

The good people of Sinhala are very much Indic in blood and culture, and so, their food also deserves a mention here.

While rice is also a staple, the island of Ceylon features many heavy influences, notably South Indian, Indonesian, and European. Seafood is obviously a key component. Some unique dishes include Pittu (cylinders of steamed rice mixed with coconut) and kokis (coconut biscuits).

Sindhi

With a taste that will make you say “Jai Jhulelal!” even when it’s not Chetichand, Dal Pakhwan is one of the most beloved breakfasts in India. Rice is obviously a staple of Sindhi food, but flat-breads such as roti and koki are also common.

Hilsa fish curry is a signature dish and Thadal is a signature beverage. Sanha pakoras and chola dhabal are other notable food items. There is also a special Sindhi Papad that is well-known among most Indic gourmets.

Punjabi

Last but certainly not least is the Land of the Five Rivers (surely, Punjabi mundian aur kudian, you didn’t think we’d forget you?!)

Punjabi khaana deserves a separate article (or series!) of its own. Along with the putative trend of Punjabification throughout India since the 90s (some would say for better or for worse), Apna Punjab has been at the forefront of marketing Indian Culture. But while Bollywood, Bhangra dance, and Punjabi Pop music can be discussed at another time, Punjabi food is very much a topic for the present. In fact, as recent research has determined (and as many Indians have long suspected), much of much-vaunted “Mughlai cuisine” is in fact from Apna Punjab originally. One Professor from the University of California Los Angeles wrote that:

There are a hundred different cuisines all over the country, each claiming to be the best in the country, if not the world, yet two styles have become popular among visitors to most major cities and towns countrywide: Mughlai, which is vegetar-ian and nonvegetarian, largely Punjabi, with a somewhat liberal use of ghee (clarified butter) and the use of a tandoor (an oven usually implanted in the ground), and South Indian vegetarian cuisine, which is somewhat less oily but spicier.” [8, 6-7]

Rich in butter, such favourites as mattar paneer, murgh makhani, and makkhi roti all hail from the Pancha-naada. As such, perhaps the time has come to give credit where credit is due. Surely kheema and and haleem are not native, but paneer, paratha, bhatoora, tandoori, along with that Punjabi favourite, Lassi, definitely are. In fact, the most ancient tandoor to date dates back to it.

The word Paneer (like the word Kalamkari) may have foreign word origins, but both are very much native Indic and very ancient. Whether it was common throughout ancient India or not, it has certainly come to refer to the Punjabi farmer’s cheese that is beloved by vegetarians the world over, and certainly within Bharat.

Conclusion
The Best Mango of all: Banganapalli (sorry Alphonso…)

Perhaps most interesting is the question of whether the conventional wisdom itself has things correct. Is a paradigm shift required on recently ascribed beliefs regarding the origins of many Indianised foods? One example is the kebab. Noted Indian food authority K.T. Achaya writes:

Meat roasted on a spit (shula) is graphically described in the Mahabharata…and in south Indian literature…The modern kabab has therefore a long history in India  [1,101-102]

As seen above, whether it is crediting for biryani or for falooda, the truth matters more to us than any nationalistic claim. And yet, as we have seen with the idli, appropriation has been the frequent aim of Non-Indian Residents (NIRs). Is the kebab actually bhaditraka as one Oxford press pustakam prescribes?—or is it qualitatively something else? The time has come for Food Historians (and Tandoori Nationalists) to do serious research into these issues. Contrary to “yeverything kayme from mughals” types, Ancient Indian Culinary texts do exist (much to their dismay, no doubt). But it is equally important to carefully study claims (whether pro or anti) so that the authentic is revived from the quagmire of the syncretic. The best way to appreciate other cultures is to first appreciate your own—that is true cosmopolitanism.

Are chillies and tomatoes and potatoes all foreign origin? Evidence would suggest that chillies may not be (it was known to Purandara Dasa [1,227]), tomatoes likely are, and potatoes almost definitely so. In fact, in the Andhra-bhasha, potatoes are referred to as bangal-dhumpa (or Bengali rhizome) indicating their arrival via British-ruled Bengal. Nevertheless, the very likely foreign origin Aloo has certainly been Indianised over the years. Yams were likely the native precursors to it. And what about that modern favourite, Samosa? Sorry folks, evidence points to the mid-east. But that being said, Pakoda, Bhajji, and Bhelpuri are all Bharatiya…pakka.

Nevertheless, appropriation of all things Indian under the neo-construct of “Mughlai” is well known. One can see here that malpua, phirni, and pulao (all Classical Indic classics) are being appropriated under the “mughlai” label. This doesn’t mean going the other way and not acknowledging obvious imports (falooda, jalebi/zlabia, biryani), but it does mean intelligent and discrete people must start asserting rightful claims over their state’s cuisine culture. Odias have shown the way with rasagolla.

All Indians, vegetarian and non-vegetarian, should come together to preserve their ancient claims to pulao, tandoori, and a litany of other culinary contributions to world cuisine. Just because some foreign or foreign-sponsored professor wrote a food book, doesn’t mean everything in it is true. Appreciate what is native, acknowledge what is foreign, and reserve judgment on what we genuinely don’t know. That is the proper path not only for wise people, but also connoisseurs of all kinds—culinary or otherwise.

Since others are trying to serve us humble pie on a platter, let us show them our capacity for good digestion. So rather than say bon appetit, we sign off with that signature line from that sacred Saptarishi Agasthya Mahamuni: Jeernam vaatapi, vaataapi jeernam.

 


References:
  1. Achaya, K.T. Indian Food: A Historical Companion. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. 1994
  2. Madhulika, Dr & Ed. Jayaram Yadav. Paka Darpana. Varanasi: Chaukhambha Orientalia. 2013
  3. Tripathi, Vaishali. Traditional Indian Thali. Chennai: Notion Press.2015
  4. Ramayana. http://www.valmikiramayan.net
  5. Pandit, R.S. Kalhana’s Rajatarangini.Delhi: Sahitya Akademi. 2015.
  6. Basham, A.L. The Wonder that was India. New Delhi: Rupa. 1999. p. 190
  7. Rangarao, Shanti. Good Food from India. Bombay:Jaico.1977
  8. SarDesai, D.R. India: The Definitive History. Westview: Boulder, Colorado. 2008

[Reprint Post] Indians are Talkers not Doers

A version of this Post was published on Andhra Cultural Portal on June 20, 2014


Let us face the facts, Indians are Talkers, not Doers. As usual, Andhras are the worst example of this.

We can talk for hours on end, over tea, over toddy, over tokkudu ladoo—but what does it matter, still we are stuck at square one. We complain about current events, we complain about family, we complain about how other people are better at things—but what do we actually do about it?

The enemy can declare his intentions, he can even begin subverting a government, he will even declare he has no obligation to secularism, but still our people will only talk

Our people are such pathetic talkers they will continue just talking even after getting all enthused about doing. Hyperventilating in a paroxysm of excitement, for them the talk itself becomes cause for celebration. To them sloganeering and rhetoric or even reading alone = accomplishment…but they should remember that wasn’t the lesson of the Gita.

But why take my word, that of a mere mortal, when the greatest Karma Yogi of all Himself explained thus:


Famous Talkers who weren’t Doers

Since the dawn of history, India has had no shortage of talkers. In fact, Satyajit Ray famously directed a movie on our dreaming “Chess Players”:

Based on the novel by Premchand, this exquisite cinema demonstrated how many zamindars and rajas of the time famously talked and played petty games in their heads, instead of playing the real game of life.

Nehru

Debate Kashmir at the UN instead of liberating it? Silly Indians!

People may say Nehru was responsible for “building Modern India”, but compare him to Vallabhai Patel, and it is the ultimate study in contrasts of talking versus doing. In one particular story, Nehru famously droned on and on, waxing verbosely on this and that while Kashmir was being invaded by a Pakistani tribal army, when an impatient Sardar finally interrupted and said “Jawaharlal, do you want Kashmir or not?”. It was the Iron man who advocated for quick action, gained the instrument of Kashmir’s accession, and sent troops to defend J&K. It was this same Sardar Patel who saved traditional Telugu land (what is now Telangana state) from the grip of Rizvi and his Razakars, while Nehru’s talking and dithering nearly led to a cancer in the belly of India.

Nevertheless, even the prolix Nehru failed to hold a candle against India’s most famous, or should I say infamous, talker of all time.

V.K.Menon

Vkkmenonfaintun.
8 Hours Later: “In conclusion….”

The pompously self-important and unjustifiably arrogant V.K. Krishna Menon is without a doubt India’s worst defense minister of all time (though fellow Mallu A.K. Antony came perilously close).

Why does this man even have a statue? His most “impressive accomplishment” was famously (infamously?) giving an 8 hour speech at the UN Assembly. Just what was he hoping to accomplish with this nonsense?! In fact, he more than anyone else represents this disease of chat-alysis that plagues our people. Had he spent less time talking and insulting India’s generals and more time preparing for inevitable hostilities against Mao, perhaps India might not have been humiliated in the 1962 War.

So we know Indians are talkers rather than doers, but why is this the case?

The problem with habitual talkers is that they are so caught up in their own assumptions and rationalization, that they fail to realize that somebody actually has to implement. In fact, whilst giving gyaan, they frequently become cocky over the prospect of victory, having already won the war in their heads. Worst of all, by talking all the time (giving away their vulnerabilities to the enemy), they rarely know the value of silence.

Beyond not knowing the value of silence, however, a lesson that can be traced back to the Panchatantra (“Silence is Golden”), there are certain characteristics of the Modern Indian that stand out:

Lack of focus/lack of seriousness

The Chetan Bhagat and Happy Days approach to problem solving may make life seem straightforward, but the reality is, the issues of the world cannot be solved with a simple song, poem, or thought. Furthermore, as Krishnarjun gaaru wrote in his excellent piece on Dharmanomics, far too many NRIs rely on mindless application of B-school frameworks. It must be recalled that irrespective of how well-intentioned many of these people may be, surface level analysis simply won’t cut it. And it should also be remembered that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions.

Furthermore, we consider talking or tweeting itself some sort of accomplishment. Rather than launching a successful institution or organization, we judge our success by the number of followers or facebook “likes” we get.

Additionally, our Twitterati style themselves as unquestionable Gyaanis. They imagine themselves doing a global service with their peer-edited encyclopedia pontification–because you see, copying and pasting something one doesn’t understand in order to sound profound is a productive and meaningful use of everyone’s time…

Worst of all, is the modern Indian approach to debating. The Children of Adi Sankara, Mandana Misra, and Ubhaya Bharata have fallen far from the tall tree of those days. To the modern (“Global”) Indian, debating is a means to entertainment (“arey time pass, yaar“) rather than ascertaining truth. Ironically, the idea of ascertaining the truth is at the very heart of the definition of the word dialectics.

Jealousy

The famed Indian crab-mentality is without equal in this world.

If we can’t get it, do it, or benefit from it, we’ll be damn certain no one else can. We go to great lengths to tear down our own people. Andhras, of course, are the most famous at this–a characteristic likely dating back to Maharishi Viswamitra‘s curse that his sons (who became the Andhras) be afflicted with perpetual infighting. This was seen again and again with the Rachakonda Rajas, the Araveedus, and the Madurai Nayaks.

However, one of the great tragedies in Medieval Indian history was not so much the obvious (Turk atrocities on civilians) or the oft-mentioned (destruction of Somnath), but rather, the little-known (Lahore). The great city of Lavanapura had an ancient lineage that dates back to the Ramayana. While it had eventually been taken by the Ghaznavids, it  came tantalizingly close to being recaptured by the Rajputs.

Indeed, while the current historical paradigm is slowly reconciling itself to the stout resistance to and even roll-back of invaders (courtesy of India’s Kshatriya houses as evidenced by the Battles of Rajasthan and Bahraich), less but steady light is now being shed on efforts at reconquest. The most notable of these efforts took place once the Ghaznavid invasions had been halted. In fact, the fractious Rajput clans actually invested the city of Lahore (then under Turkic) rule. Just as the city was on the verge of recapture, however, the squabbling Rais and Rajas called off the nearly successful siege. Why you ask? Not because of Turk reinforcements, or issues back home, but because they couldn’t agree on which petty ruler would keep the city. This crab mentality is emblematic of the costs of short-sightedness.

Selfishness

Everybody wants to be the big deal guy. More tragically, this is not even a question of being the best among peers, as our people are terrible at merely encouraging the next generation of talent. Even if there is no interest or the person seems rather naive, young people must at least be encouraged. But no–our gyaanis are far too concerned with advancing their own immediate agenda and preserving their cloistered little worlds of privilege. After all, God forbid anyone else outshines them.

The Madurai Nayaks are perhaps the most tragic example of this. At a time when the Vijayangara empire was in its greatest need, rather than coming to the aid of Raya, they actively encouraged the Bijapur and Golkonda rulers to invade. Why, you ask?–in the hopes that these self-same petty rulers could selfishly rule without Imperial overlord. But you see, this is the price such selfishness–because these same rulers stupidly dug their own graves, as the very sanguinary potentates they treacherously encouraged eventually turned on them and extinguished their piddly dynasty.

 

This is the cost of Ambition. Ambition is nothing more than burning a picture to collect the ashes.

Sometimes this selfishness also masquerades in the guise of selflessness. Those very men who pass themselves off as “men of conscience” are simply looking for excuses not to act–either out of attachment to their friends/loved ones, or even to a deluded idea.

Delusion

Sab kuch chalta hai

Let them bark! Who cares!

and WORST OF ALL: “Someone else will do it” or its latest incarnation (“Acche din aanewale hai!“)

In a previous piece I wrote at length about how moha is attachment rooted in the mistaken thinking that we are the body. But moha is also pure delusion–in effect, stupidity. In nowhere in the world is this characteristic greater than in India.

 Mindlessly repeating “acche din aanewale hai’ like a parrot, won’t make it so. Even the most patriotic politicians can only do so much and have their own constraints. This slogan cannot be seen as some magic “mantra” that will free you of your cares  so you can go back to playing in your irrelevant, and eminently un-serious,world.

The cult of personality must cease henceforth. We all sit around hoping for a Shri Ram or Shivaji , but they had their lieutenants and allies to help them too. Most of all, they built/maintained institutions that recognized and rewarded loyalty and talent. You too must do your part as well, as Ram Raj was not built in a day .

You must do your part. No one is saying you have to take a vow of celibacy and become a new Adi Sankara, but for God’s sake, do your fair share to contribute to the civilizational cause…even 15 minutes a day learning/teaching dharma, preserving/building from/beautifying our samskruthi(i.e. Artist Keshav), or at the very least, supporting those who do (and keep your word). Above all, you must pay attention!—because even the best intentioned can still make mistakes.

Worse, there are others who weren’t even concerned about the past election, and feel no concern about the state of affairs and the barbarians within and without.

Why would this happen?—this is all in past! Think of future!

Arey this is new era, we are new generation!!

Be progressive! Be Human first–why should we care of these regressives!!”

You should care, dummy, because this is what Razakars and Pakistanis did, this is what they are doing, and this is what they are planning to do. So wake the hell up and get your stuff together, you lazy bag of bones!

When our alliances mean nothing, when our promises mean nothing,when our actions equal nothing, then not only do you not have the right to complain, you don’t even have the right to talk…because your inaction, dereliction of duty, and even criminal negligence is the reason why your enemy gets stronger by the day in your own backyard.

…but yes, do go back to raving about how “Pawan is God”, how you are a “Mahesh bhakt”, or how your particular “caste is shupremely powerful”…just remember to fold your chairs and turn off the lights when the enemy comes to carve you up…

Knowledge without strategy is fecklessness, Strategy without knowledge is foolery. Action without aim is witlessness, Talk without action is buffoonery.

But for those of you who still do have some sense, who recognize that thinking and talking must be followed up with action, remember this wisdom. And if you yourself do not have the time to facilitate positive change, at least learn from those who do and support them:

[Reprint Post] On the Importance of History

A version of this Post was published on Andhra Cultural Portal on May 21, 2014


While this is by now a line so well known that it is almost cliche, few of us meditate on it. But what is lesser known is that even fewer still meditate on another insightful history quote.

Frederick the Great was a brilliant Soldier-King of Prussia (a leading German kingdom of the 17-1800s) who is considered one of history’s finest generals. He wrote that[1]:

“History is the School of Princes”.

And yet, our parents today consider this history to be “fluffy stuff” and an unworthy pursuit for their little rajakumaras. Why? Because understanding history makes for good rulers but poor servants. Despite the silly conceits of Indians in general, and NRI Andhras in particular, engineers, doctors, and coders are not rulers—just glorified workers. Real ruling classes and true elites have a sound understanding of history, and how it is frequently manipulated.

But to understand the importance of history, let us first understand what history is.

What is History

Most people, in fact, will not take the trouble in finding out the truth, but are much more inclined to accept the first story they hear.”
― Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War

History is the study of past events as they apply to the human condition. It seeks to understand what happened, why it happened, at what are the ramifications of it.  It is more than mere national myth, kaakamma kaburlu (old wives’ tales), or the dry recitation of dates and personalities. While an element of Romance and Adventure adds excitement to it, as Thucydides (the Ancient Greek historian) wrote, history is ultimately about the cold hard study of recorded facts weighed against the truth. Thus the entire modern Marxist method of emphasizing that “there is no truth, only perspective” is in fact the greatest lie of all. There is objective truth, there must be objective truth, for without it, we have only relativist subjectivity that allows fools to be led astray and the wicked to believe their own lies.

As such, while there may be a rhetorical flourish here, and a romantic tale there, history is ultimately about the the dispassionate and truthful study of human events and society.

What is the Use of History

Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft” – Winston Churchill.

While Churchill is surely no friend to any Indian (a matter which the deracinated among us still fail to grasp), he was surely no stranger to the uses of history,  given not only his prime ministerial but also his imperialist track record.

While Westerners point to Herodotus as the father of history, and the British routinely loved to insinuate that Hindus had no concept of it, the reality is that the Dharmic tradition is replete with not just assorted puranas, but also charitras (chronicles), avadanas (narratives) and true itihaasas (histories) such as the Rajatarangini of Kalhana (the Kashmiri historian). Itihasa literally means so indeed it was, “iti ha asa”.

History records how great deeds were accomplished

Our own Kautilya advised that a prince undergo strict training, for “intellect is the result of learning”and “in the latter part of the day, he [the prince] shall listen to Itihasas]”. Thus, lack of historical curiosity is not an historical trait of Indians in general, but a trait of colonized Macaulay-putras who reject their own heritage without understanding its value. When our ancient political thinkers themselves advised of the importance of history, particularly in political matters, why do we continue to propagate the British-imposed fallacy that Indians had no concept of history–they did and they do, they have merely forgotten or been made to forget…

How History is Used

Most of us think that the history we read in school should suffice and serve as the benchmark for how we view ourselves. However, what is taught in India today, and about India in much of the rest of the world, is colonial in nature and British in bias.

As we’ve said repeatedly on this site, if you don’t know where you are from, you don’t know where you are going. And Indians (especially Andhras) continue to remain the most clueless bunch. Easily swayed by praise, they thoughtlessly bring outsiders into their innermost ranks. They fail to recognize that China’s closest equivalent to Chanakya said this millennia ago: “All warfare is deception”. Yet we continue to sway under the naïve notion that for “civilized people” war and politics remain separate from economics, religion, culture, and even history. In fact, another great Prussian General, Carl von Clausewitz said “War is the continuation of politics by other means”.  Thus if war is political and politicized, why wouldn’t history be? If knowledge is power, why wouldn’t the war of ideas be a matter of life and death?

The British use of history was no accident. It was a conscious move to play with the native historical record and to alienate Indians from their own tradition. It is for this reason that the entire “Invasions” leitmotif continues in Indian history to this day. The colonial monologue goes that “India was always invaded and invasion brought civilization, i.e. “Aryans” so the British were merely taking the next step to “civilize” Indians. In fact, India is an invention of the British”.

The irony of course is that anyone remotely acquainted with British history realizes how many times those islands were invaded (Romans, Angles/Saxons/Jutes, Vikings, Norman-French). In fact, their entire culture is a product of invasion, and if one reads the History of the Kings of Britain, even their mythical history is traced to the Asiatic Trojan invader Britannicus. Perhaps it’s true what they say: superiority complexes are built upon inferiority complexes.

Irrespective, this reductive view of Indian history is nonsense. For starters, many invasions–in fact the majority–were beaten back. Ancient India historically had a reputation for defeating and utterly routing foreign invaders. Alexander of Macedon had himself been cautioned about India, having been told of how few soldiers the Assyrian Queen Semiramis (circa 9th century BCE) returned after being humbled by the Indian King Stabrobates, and how Cyrus of Persia lost his life on the Indian frontier. Alexander himself did not fare much better–but remains the subject of debate due to colonial British lionization of him. The same Huns that killed the Persian Emperor Firoz  had been first defeated by Emperor Skandagupta and ultimately tamed by King Yasodharman of Malwa. Even the Arab Caliphate had virtually given up invasion of India, having been defeated many times, as established by their own histories (Chachnama). What’s more, even Bin Qasim’s conquest of Sindh proved short-lived, with the Rajputs of western India decisively defeating the Arabs, succeeding where Persia, Egypt, North Africa, Spain, and even Chinese-ruledTurkestan (in modern Xinjiang) had all failed.

Even the Indian worldview was reflective of this according to the Khorasani chronicler Alberuni: ” the Hindus believe that there is no country but theirs, no nation like theirs, no kings like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs. They are haughty, foolishly vain, self-conceited, and stolid…According to their belief, there is no other country on earth but theirs, no other race of man but theirs, and no created beings besides them have any knowledge or science whatsoever.

Given all this, what was the British tactic that was able to shake the foundation of Indian historical consciousness (or even arrogance as Alberuni would say) so thoroughly? A recent controversy regarding the historicity of a certain quote gives us a glimpse:

“I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.”

Now for the sake of argument , even if we accept that this quote attributed to Macaulay is not in fact valid and is apocryphal (bearing in mind a valid quote would have major European PR implications), is it really that much worse than the following Macaulay quote that all parties unequivocally accept as valid:

We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern,  –a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.”

What better way to do this then to make Indians ashamed of their own history? After all, if an Indian had pride in his history (as Alberuni angrily confirmed was the case once) or understood the true worth of Sanskrit and other Indian languages such as Telugu, he would not think so overwhelmingly about English, and give importance to it regarding “tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect“.

Pandit Kota Venkata Chelam

In fact, whatever the validity of the first Macaulay quote, our own learned men of the time had recorded how British colonizers had in fact been playing with our history and even historical record, showing just how insidious the second Macaulay quote really was.

But before Macaulay-putras and their fellow travelers again attempt to attack the strawman of the first quote (crying “fascism, chauvinism, brahminical conspiracy,” and God knows what else), perhaps they should first recognize that Macaulay himself was an historian of sorts, and a dubious one at that by the accounts of his own fellow Englishmen. So it seems neither he, nor his fellow European imperialists, were unaware of the uses of history and how the past can be distorted to serve present and future ends…

…and is Still Used Today

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Tank Bund Literary&Historical statues,even Krishna Deva Raya’s,destroyed for Razakars?

Nowhere was this better seen than in the unfortunate case of the Telangana agitation. While the bifurcation is said and done (so don’t worry my dear TG readers…), the way it was done was absolutely appalling. Not only was brother turned against brother, but history itself was turned upon its head. This gang went as far as to even praise the very oppressors of their own ancestors. Thus, the destruction of these statues, particularly that of Sri Krishna Deva Raya, who defeated and humiliated the  Qutb Shahis of Golkonda, shows whose dirty work they were actually doing. This is why it’s important to understand who the puppets and puppet masters really are.

A scholar/propagandist was enlisted to not only create a case for Telangana, but to even invert history by diluting the word “Andhra” (the glorious ancient name of all Telugu speakers to mean only those from the Coast).  While observers may glibly refer to this as a minor issue, the reality is, by diluting the Andhra brand, the case for another brand is slowly being made. After all, the best way to boil a frog is to slowly raise the temperature, rather than all at once.

Most ironically, the self-same politician who maligned Seemandhrites as “settlers” had no problem allying with Perso-Turkic “colonists” who advocate “Ganga-Yamuna Tehzeeb” in place of Telugu culture. They have the gall to demand privilege for their culture when they have never shown respect for our far more ancient and cultivated tradition, on our own land.

How Dharmic Indians must Use History

After seeing just how history has been used (and abused) in the hands of others, many Dharmic Indians may be think, let us just rebut this slander and write a glorious nationalist history. But two wrongs do not make a right. Replacing a nation-breaking history with an overly glossy nationalist one actually does a disservice to the nation. For a nation that only thinks of glorious achievements without understanding and analyzing past mistakes is doomed to repeat them.

Still others may say ask that if others have distorted our history  why should we not do the same? But for the very nation whose motto is Satyameva Jayate, such an action is not only contrary to our traditions, it is foolishness. For you see, the society that has ever-prized the truth above all things, even given the world such noble lovers of Satya as Satyakama Jabala, Satya Harishchandra, and Dharmaraja Yudhisthira, the truth will in fact be the very light the reveals our glory. For while the lie lives ever in fear and doubt of discovery, truth knows no fear.

Though it unmasks the machinations of others, with the sword of truth lies not only our greatest weapon, but our redemption itself. Lies divide, but it is the truth that unifies, whether it is all Andhras, all Indians, or all of Humanity itself. Therefore, it is incumbent on Dharmics to use history for precisely the purpose it was meant to–only we must do it better.

While our traditional scholars may have been meticulous at recording facts, communication of these facts must not be done in a mechanical manner. They must be done in a way that not only educates and inspires, but also instills a rational compass allowing the young student to read history, and if necessary, navigate it. As Frederick the Great of Prussia said, “Past facts are good to store away in the imagination and the memory: they furnish a repository of ideas whence a supply of materials may be obtained, but one which ought to be purified by passing through the strainer of the judgment“.[1] Even the great Greco-Roman historiographer, Polybius wrote in his work that “personal investigation” is the greatest quality of an historian. He went still further by emphasizing how men of action, rather than mere arm-chair observers, made the best historians–for they knew the value of what they were recording.

Thus mere rote memorization of history alone is not enough; one must use logic, analysis, and the historical method to understand the applicability and validity of these past ideas, so that students, politicians, and even generals, will draw the correct lesson–Acharya Kautilya would expect nothing less of us.

 In light of all this, the history of the descendants of Dharma and Indic Civilization must be based on the truth, rooted in our Indic tradition, weighed by the historical method, valid in educational purposes, and communicated in a way that inspires.

In doing so, the next generation of responsible citizens, Army Chiefs, and Prime Ministers will recognize that India’s unity is not only worth defending, but will also learn how best to defend India’s unity.  In tandem with that, they would see that our Dharmic Kings were worthy of emulation given that they were  manly and trained in the arts of war in addition to being equally cultivated and cultured (as seen here with Emperor Samudra of the Gupta dynasty and below where he uses a bow in one coin and plays a veena in the other)

The same Soldier-Emperor who became the paramount ruler of India was skilled not only in the force of arms, but in the mastery of music. This demonstrates that among the archetypes for our leaders was not a dichotomy between unschooled barbarian and milquetoast musician, but the cultivated and cultured King, who could protect civilization all while engaging in its highest artforms.

Ultimately, it is not enough to merely study history in school or even earn a degree in it. Rather, what must be taught is how to navigate history using the historical method, logic, and analysis. While indigenous chronologies and chronicles can serve as a foundation for our historical record, they should be tested against the evidence of the time as well. Trust, but verify. For in an era where knowledge is power, the war of ideas becomes a matter of life and death…and what is history if not that?

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References:

  1. Frederick the Great. p.47,49
  2. Rangarajan, L.N. Ed., Kautilya. Arthashastra. New Delhi: Penguin. 1992.p.143

[Reprint Post] On High Culture: Beyond Bollywood

A version of this Post was published at Andhra Cultural Portal on November 4, 2013


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A recent article by an 30-Something Indian yuppie bemoaned the lack of cultural originality in India “beyond bollywood”. Ostensibly, Tollywood since the late 90s can be seen as a provincial version of its Mumbai cousin (with occasional flashes of brilliance). But is this presumed lack of anything beyond Bollywood a result of absence or awareness?

What’s more, a generation of Telugu speakers (and other Indians) have now grown up with Ross and Rachel  as their role models instead of Rama and Sita. This is the cost of neglecting one’s own high culture, which nourishes the soul through aspirational figures and timeless civilizational values communicated through sophisticated literature, dance, music, art, architecture, and cuisine.

The Andhra Cultural Portal was established because pop culture (Bolly & Tollywood) cannot take the place of High Culture (Kavya, Sangeeta, Natya, etc) and because Indians of all backgrounds are increasingly alienated from their own transcendent cultural heritage and utterly unaware of its unmatched accomplishment.

High Culture is also important precisely because the central clash between India and Pakistan, in some ways, isn’t even about religion. Rather, it is underscored by the emphasis of Persianized culture vs Sanskritic culture. Razakars lie about nothing existing here before the Sultans/Mughals because willful ignorance serves their cause (because if they claim persianized Turks gave India its culture, Nizamis can claim to rule Hyderabad State (oops, sorry, Telangana) and even India itself).

But deep down, even they know that their lies are precisely that—baldfaced lies. While they may even believe it, fortunately the APJ Abdul Kalams of this world knew and know better. Despite being an observant Muslim, former President Kalam was an avid connoisseur of not only his regional Tamizh culture, but the national & civilizational Sanskritic high culture and its epics.  Sanskrit high culture is verily the bedrock of Indic civilization. Sanskrit as a language truly has no equal, as computer scientists and even Colonial era Europeans have waxed eloquent over it. It is this very language of the Gods that has enriched Telugu.

And yet, this same bollywood/Delhiite delusion about culture has infected some sections in Telangana. See how the fundoo MIM  is already claiming that Urdu should take Telugu’s place as the official language of Telangana state. By KCR’s logic about a sprinkling of Urdu words in their dialect of Telugu justifying a new state, can’t other regions claim a new state because they have more English words?

Can this sophistry about India being a land of immigrants really be the notions of high culture that we teach ourselves and our children? Read the text, while he speaks of Sanskrit as a language of science or even occasionally literature, it’s quite clear his goal is to push only Urdu as the literary tradition of choice, particularly for poetry. Kalidasa is mentioned only to preemptively occupy the space, so that bollywood will continue to privilege the Shayari over the Shloka.

While there’s nothing wrong in appreciating a bollywood urdu shayari (though I personally prefer Kalidasa to Ghalib) , we must also take the time to learn about Sanskrit slokas and Telugu prabandhas…and Marathi Abhangas…and Rajasthani Rasos. All things must be taken according to measure. While it is a sign of maturity when a Civilization can be open-minded to imported ideas (or syncretic traditions in Urdu’s case), India is the only country that privileges all things foreign (or foreign derived) above the native. This must cease henceforth.

Even more dangerous, Pakistanis and their Gunga Dins on the Indian side of Wagah, have  even been digesting native Indic high culture as their own. It’s one thing to stake claim to Biryani and Qawwali (which are certainly imports, no denialism here….)—but quite another to take Tandoori (the Tandoor is native to Rajasthan) and Classical Indian/Music and Dance. They masquerade as though the Natya Sastra did not exist or Classical traditions did not exist prior to Hindustani and Kathak (themselves primarily based on the Natya Sastra only tweaked to Mughal tastes). For God’s sake, some are even claiming traditional Bengali Sweets as “Mughlai”! You may now ask, “have they no shame?”, but the question really is, “don’t we?”

That is the importance of documenting , propagating, and celebrating one’s own high culture. If we don’t clarify mistakes, if we don’t disprove propaganda, if we don’t perpetuate our own glorious high culture, someone else will deconstruct and digest our own culture whilst disparaging us. Before you laugh, let us not forget how the nefarious Nazis appropriated our Symbols (Swastika) and even our name for our Dharma (“Arya Dharma”) tragically perverting the meaning and auspiciousness of both. Language truly is culture.

Appreciating Urdu does not mean pigeon-holding Sanskrit or deriding Telugu. Diversity does not mean diluting one’s own culture. Cosmopolitanism does not mean negating one’s true identity, and Secularism certainly does not mean forgetting who we really are.

By all means, let Indians unite and allow both Majority and Minority to celebrate their respective traditions—but in fair and accurate measure. Enjoy your biryani and watch your bollywood, but also celebrate your own khichdi and Thyagaraja kirtanas. India is the home of Dharmic civilization—let us not forget this.

Above all, High Culture transmits Values. What are the principles that we must govern ourselves by? Who are the examples we must aspire towards? Whatever the laws may be, what moral code should guide our personal/private conduct? That is why it must be preserved at all costs.  After all, Modernizing does not mean Westernizing and Globalizing does not mean De-localizing, because if you’re from Everywhere, you’re from Nowhere.

Even the very British emigrant to America Christopher Hitchens recognized this when he said, “Globalization is only really interesting if we all bring something different”.

So tell me my dear reader, do you know what we as Indics bring?