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Sulba Sutras & the Indic Approach to Engineering — 1

source: http://vigyanprasar.gov.in/digital-repository/posters/maths-indian-heritage/

How great is the science which revealed itself in the Sulba, and how meagre is my intellect! I have aspired to cross the unconquerable ocean in a mere raft". 
-Bibhutibhushan Datta, Science of the Sulbas.


In this short introductory post, we share the motivation behind the study of Ganita in ancient Indian works such as Vedanga Jyotisha and Sulba Sutras, before delving deeper into the geometrical science of the Sulbas in Part-2. This self-study gives us a rough understanding of traditional Indic Engineering and its methods. We further develop these ideas in the third and final part and apply it toward solving challenging contemporary problems.


The Sulbasutras are comprehensive reference manuals to plan, align, measure, compute, layout, and construct structurally stable Vedic Altars required for the proper performance of Yagnas. The Sulbas belong to the Srauta Sutra section of the Kalpasutras, which are one of the six Vedangas attached to the Vedas.  The Sulbas provides the required spatial and directional parameters for constructing the altars while the time-keeping calculations in the Vedanga Jyotisha decide the temporal parameters of the Yagna. The position vector coordinates consisting of orientation, location, and time (dik-desa-kaala) can be decided using these texts.

Sulba primarily means measurement [1], which is done using the measuring cord called the Rajju, although sometimes these two terms are used interchangeably. An early Hindu term mentioned in the Sulba Sutras is Sulba Vijnana, roughly the ‘science of the Sulba’, measurement science, or the geometrical sciences [1], which also became known later as kshetraganita [2]. Part-2 has a more complete discussion of these terms.

Seven Sulba Sutras are available today, and the three earliest Sulbas are listed below (earlier first), noting that the dating of the early Sulba to 800 BCE is tentative and only provides the latest date when the Sulbas were compiled. The organization of these three Sulbas are given below [1].

Baudhayana Sulba Sutra

This is considered the world’s earliest systematic treatise on Geometrical Sciences, but like the Vedanga Jyotisha, contains pre-existing ideas from more ancient Vedic works that date back to the 2nd-3rd millennium or earlier. Interestingly, the pythagorean theorem is first stated by Baudhayana.

The Sulba content also serves as the oldest known reference text for Engineering.

Chapter 1: 116 sutras
Topics: measures, geometrical rules of altar construction, relative positions and magnitudes of the various Vedis.

Chapter 2:  86 sutras
Topics: spatial relations in the constructions of the agnis (Vedic fire altars),
and the construction of the two simplest agnis, i.e., Garhapatya and Chandas (Veda mantras replace bricks).

Chapter 3: 323 sutras
Topics: Seventeen different kamyagnis, which involve complex and highly specific constructions.

Apastamba Sulba Sutra

6 sections, 21 chapters and 223 sutras in total.

This work also discusses the methods of construction.

Katyayana Sulba Sutra

7 sections, 90 sutras. 48 verses.
The content is partly in sutra form and part verse. Additional topics include attributes of Sulba expertise, and the rules of ethical conduct for those involved in altar construction.

The other available Sulba works include those of Maanava, Maitraayana, Vaaraaha, and Vaadula.

Available commentaries on the three Sulbas (likely date: post Aryabhata)
BS: Dvarakanatha Yajva, Venkateshvara Dikshata
AS: Kapardiswami (before 1150 CE), Karavindaswami, Sundararaja (prior to 1600), Gopala
KS: Rama Bajapeya (1449 CE) who made new contributions and improved the accuracy of √2 up to 7 decimal places, and Mahidhara (1589 CE, Banaras, based on Rama’s work).

Why Study the Sulbas?

The Sulbasutras have been popular as a mathematical research area since the 19th century CE. There exist several works by acclaimed scholars that summarize the mathematical content and astronomical connections of the Sulba texts through books and video lectures, and can be found within the reference section at the end of the post.  Here, we study the Sulba content to try and delineate an Indic approach to Engineering and where it differs from the western method.

Our primary references for this effort are the seminal 1932 work of Bibhutibhushan Datta on the Sulbas [1], the 1979 book of ancient Indian Geometry by Saraswati Amma [2], the 1997 publication of Kapila Vatsyayan’s work on Indic Art [3], and several other textual and non-textual resources. Bibhutibhushan Datta (who later became Swami Vidyaranya) and Saraswati Amma were Sanskrit scholars in addition to their mathematical expertise. Barring exceptions, scholarly works adopt a reductionist ‘secular mathematical’ view of the Sulbas, ignoring its Vedic basis as simply irrelevant, or dismissing it as pre-rational mystic rituals.


  • What is the wrong with adopting such a Euro-centric approach? Why move toward an Indic perspective?
  • What is the practical benefit of studying the content of such ancient Hindu texts?

The responses to these questions given by learned Indian scholars inspired us to ask similar questions of our own professional domain:

  • Is there such a thing as a traditional Indic approach to Engineering? If so, what are the principles of this Indic Engineering Practice? How is it even relevant today?

We turn to Dharampal for answers.

Bharatiya Chitta and Kaala

In his writings [11], Dharampal explains the value and need for studying ancient Indian texts from an Indic perspective: “One understands others only from one’s own perspective. Attempts to live and think like the others, to transport oneself into the Chitta and Kaala of others, lead merely to delusion… In fact, the process of understanding the Indian Chitta and Kaala cannot possibly begin without some understanding of the vast corpus of literature that has formed the basis of Indian civilisation and regulated the actions and thoughts of the people of India for millennia

...If we wish to affirm the validity of Indian consciousness, of Indian Chitta and Kaala, we can do so only by establishing the Indian way of life in the present-day world. And, this re-assertion of India in the present context is the major task today which Indian scholarship, Indian politics, Indian sciences and technologies, Indian arts, crafts and other diverse skills must accomplish. 

Dharampal emphasizes the time-criticality and practical requirements of this task.

what is urgently needed is not high scholarship, but a rough and ready comprehension of ourselves and the world. We need a direction, a vision, a conceptual basis, that is in consonance with the Indian Chitta and Kala, and through which we can proceed to understand the modern world and the modern times

Keeping this challenging goal in mind, we have studied the technical aspects of the Sulba Sutras not in isolation, but relative to and serving its primary objective.


The overarching objective of the Sulba Sutras is to establish the proper construction of Vedic altars in order to ensure the correct performance of Yagna, which unites mankind to the devatas [4]. The keywords listed below give us a limited but useful idea of the Sanskrit non-translatables employed in this context of Yagna.

Agni: Fire altar constructed using layers of bricks of different types and dimensions.

Citi: A layer of Agni

Vedi: The raised area where the Yagna is performed, including the agni and where the participants are seated.

Yagna sala layout. Source: Square and Circle of Arts (1997)

Syena (Falcon-shaped) fire altar. [3].
It is known that these profound Sanskrit terms associated with Yagna have multiple meanings relating to transformation, consciousness, and knowledge. Hence, Agni is not simply fire, Citi is not merely a brick layer, and Vedi is not only a raised platform. The Sulba Sutra is not just a collection of results from geometrical science, and Yagna is not the same as sacrifice in the western sense [4]. The writings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who popularized transcendental meditation, point to the deeper role of the Sulba Sutras that includes a description of consciousness itself [12]. Therefore, to better understand the Sulbas, we have to study the transformative power of Yagna.

Indic Engineering Practice as Yagna

Integral Versus Fragmented Knowledge

The Vedic Cosmology is embedded in every aspect of the altar constructions. Every grain of sand, brick, citi, and the altars of various shapes correspond to some aspect of the cosmos. These correspondences or Bandhus bind the universe in an integral unity. Rajiv Malhotra coined this term in his book ‘Being Different [4]: “The integral unity of the whole manifests itself in the parts, and they in turn aspire to unite with the whole; this principle is reflected in every domain of dharmic knowledge, including philosophy, science, religion, ethics, spirituality, art, music, dance, education, literature, oral narratives, politics, marriage rituals, economics, and social structures. Each domain of dharmic knowledge is itself a jewel in Indra’s Net, and reflects all the others. In other words, the same underlying principles are represented in these specialties in different ways.”.

Prof. Subhash Kak in his path-breaking work [5] states that the agnicayana altars symbolize the universe; the five layers of the Ahavaniya represent the earth, space, and sky through the first, third, and fifth layer, with the intermediate layers linking these elements. He asserts that knowledge is gained through altar construction. The knowledge obtained through Yagna is integral and not fragmented since the traditional Indic approach is not to “disentangle and differentiate conceptually different entities & notions, but to realize their connections (bandhus) [5]”.

For example, the circadian biological cycle is synced with earth’s rotational cycle through Ritam (from the Rig Veda, nature’s ordering principle [4]). The press release for the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology starts with “Life on Earth is adapted to the rotation of our planet“, and concludes with “indications that chronic misalignment between our lifestyle and the rhythm dictated by our inner timekeeper is associated with increased risk for various diseases.“.  The deficiency in the inherently fragmented western approach is apparent in this ‘new’ finding based on inner and outer correspondences.  In contrast, in ‘Being Different‘, Rajiv Malhotra gives examples of Ayurveda’s integral unity. Ayurveda, an Upaveda of the Vedas emphasizes the importance of adopting the right, sustainable lifestyle for an individual.

Science rooted in a vedic framework can lead to sustainable solutions to many such important problems. The Indic engineering system designed and built to work in harmony with Ritam will benefit both man and environment, while also serving a higher, transcendental objective. The traditional Indic practitioner would not look at his/her field in isolation but could draw inspiration, ideas and methods from seemingly unrelated disciplines, which in reality are interlinked knowledge systems that are integrally united [4].

Lacking this deeper dharmic unity,  western attempts to unify separate fields of knowledge is evident in new-age ideas such as ‘combinatorial creativity‘, and the ‘generalized specialist’. Professional certifying examinations in the west tend to reward practitioners having a T-shaped skillset in the workplace and reduce the proportion of ‘one legged men in ass-kicking contests‘. Despite such efforts, the splintered view of knowledge, which tends to be profitable in the short-term, is not only dominant but gaining ground in western higher education, culminating in ‘fragmentversities‘.

Certitude and Uncertainty

Indic scholars have presented many more examples of such Bandhus in the altar construction: Kapila Vatsyayan [3] mentions that in certain constructions, there are 108,000 lokamprna bricks corresponding to the number of muhurtas in a basic 360-day Vedic year. There are 396 yajumati bricks in some constructions which corresponds to the 360 days + 36 intercalary days of a Vedic calendar. Similarly, certain Kamyagnis have a surface area of 108,000 (sq.) Angulas [5].

In the Chandasciti, Vedic mantras are considered equivalent to and replace the consecrated bricks, where the construction is no longer physical, but at the level of consciousness [12]. An altar of mantras is a representation of the Rig Veda. Correspondences are established using Ganita Sastra and Sulba Vijnana, resulting in accurate calculations and precise measurements. However, such decisive alignments and careful stacking of bricks do not signify a quest for an unnaturally perfect order. The altar construction reflects nature’s geometry that balances smoothness (certitude) and roughness (uncertainty).

The role of uncertainty is recognized and incorporated into the altar through the sprinkling of sand and interspersing the orderly chant of Vedic mantra with inarticulate sounds. Yagna combines order and chaos [4].  The amicable sharing of sacred space by doubt and surety suggests an early Indic grasp of the fallibility of the scientific claim, and the unavoidable imprecision in calculation and measurement. We can see the tangible value of this ‘bandhutva’ with uncertainty in the results of the Sulba sutras in part-2. On the other hand, without uncertainty, there can be no useful science. Engineering in the Sulbas also views uncertainty as an opportunity to innovate. This will be covered in part-3.

This 'concession' to fallibility is not a weakness, but a contributor to Bharata's dynamism and civilizational continuity through its demonstrated ability to continually reform and transform from within and be reborn. This is Bharata's own Natyam through the ages; a Yagna performed on India's sacred geography, its altar constructed on a cosmic level using bricks from Bharatiya Chitta and Kaala. Every Bharatiya who participates in this Yagna is transformed, thereby transforming the national consciousness.

Sulba Vijnana: From Art to Engineering

Toward obtaining a more comprehensive view of the Sulba science, we learn from the art perspective of the Sulbas and Yagna presented by renowned art scholar Kapila Vatsyayan, and is summarized below. If Yagna is a basis for Indian art, architecture, and sciences, then the vijnana of the Sulbas will be reflected in all these fields, and the engineer will be able to learn a lot from such art.

  1. Elements of Geometry and Algebra emerge from the Bandhus, the system of correspondences established during the Yagna

The Indian way of viewing nature, and their inclination to look for Bandhus [4] is nicely captured by Vatsyayan ji when she states that “anything that is visible can have layers of meaning, and also has validity for itself… the visible is not just visible but is the very aid to the invisible.” During the Yagna, a link is created between finite and infinite, between the precisely measured that are defined by name and form (namarupa) and that beyond definition and the formless (pararupa and arupa).

Bandhus in the form of geometrical metaphors can be identified here. Fundamental geometric entities starting from a single ‘dimensionless’ point (Bindu), the one-dimensional line that emerges from a moving point, the two-dimensional figures such as triangle, square, and circle that emerge from moving lines, etc. are all symbols having multiple meanings.  Sophisticated principles from the Vedas and Upanishads are contained within the circle and its geometrical properties [3]. Bindu also denotes a center or origin, and all notions of time and space are comprehended through itAnother Bandhu described by Vatsyayan ji is in the form of the botanical metaphor of the seed or Bija [3], which motivates Bija Ganita (algebra), the earliest notions of which are to be found in the geometrical methods of the Sulba Sutras.

Every math student in the world is replicating the first step of Vedic Yagna when they draw the perpendicular X-Y axes on graph paper, intersecting at the origin with the X-Y axis arrowhead pointing eastward. Vedic Altar construction begins by identifying the east-pointing E-W line (Praci) using the instrument Sanku [14]. The basic geometrical construction of the Sulbas is the perpendicular bisector, yielding the north-south line.

2. The geometrical and algebraic ideas that emerge from the Sulbas are transferred to the sacred Indian artforms.

Vatsyayan ji traces the methodology (viniyoga) of human movement evolved in Indian arts to its interconnections with the vidhi of the yagna. She notes the importance of trigonometry and geometry to science as well as art, and states that the system of solving linear equations by moving from one known to many unknowns represents both a mathematical and artistic understanding.  This algebraic layer “gives the Indian arts the capacity to concretise the notions of the one and the many as also abstract and concrete, the measurable and beyond measure finite and infinite” [3]. Thus, Indic art reflects the findings of the Sulba Sutras. Kapila Vatsyayan remarks that a careful study of the Sulba Sutras can tell us exactly how those Sulba principles were transferred into the artistic domain.

In her award-winning research paper at the third Swadeshi Indology conference (Chennai 2017), danseuse and aerospace engineer Prakruti Prativadi has discussed Bharatanatyam as Yagna. She has reviewed the necessary conditions for a recital to qualify as a Bharatanatyam performance. When the sacred artistic recital is of high caliber and the audience too is receptive to the performance, the performer and the audience unite as participants in a Yagna [8]. 

"The purpose of Bharatanatyam is not only to produce an aesthetic effect but to transform the consciousness of the onlooker to experience the Paramatma through Rasa." [10]. The participants are thus reborn.

Ganita’s place value systems and Sanskrit itself are algebraic in nature [4]. In the decimal place value system, the value of a digit such as ‘1’ is variable and can be any integral power of 10 (1, 10, 10², 10³, …) and is fixed only when its place is specified. Similarly, a Sanskrit word or verse can have a whole range of meanings. The Sanskrit Pandit can narrow down the appropriate meaning depending on the context of usage [4]. A misunderstanding here can produce silly interpretations (e.g. “Beef in the Vedas“).

Professor Amartya Kumar Dutta at the Indian Statistical Institute in his excellent survey of ancient Ganita prior to the common era [13], quotes Swami Vivekananda on the decimal system. This quote by Swamiji highlights the integral unity of Ganita and Sanskrit: “… the ten numerals, the very cornerstone of all present civilization, were discovered in India, and are, in reality, Sanskrit words.”. Where does Sanskrit end and Ganita begin, and where does Ganita end and Sanskrit begin!

3. Engineering as an integral discipline emerges from Sulba Vijnana (with Ganita from Vedanga Jyotisha as pre-requisite).

From the artistic domain of Bharatanatyam, the connection can be made to Silpa Sastra and sacred architecture and sculpture: Vatsyayan ji quotes the renowned danseuse Balasaraswati who explains how a Bharatanatyam recital is structured like a great temple [3] affirming that both Indic art and sacred architecture are based on a system of correspondence established through Vedic yagna.  Sulba Vijnana is used in the construction of Hindu Mandirs. The calculating expertise comes from Ganita, the science of computation. The Sulba Sutras along with Vedanga Jyotisha form the basis of Engineering as an integral discipline.  Indian history is full of amazing feats of engineering that stand out for the harmony of construction with nature.

Reclaiming the Sacred Space

The present rupture [7] in India’s epistemological continuity has resulted in a significant number of Indian elites transporting themselves to live in the socially profitable Chitta and Kaala of the West [11]. The situation is direMany of us have lost the depth of insight available to our ancestors by limiting ourselves to living with this reductive, fragmented mindset. The Indic practitioner’s effortless and refined improvisation in-context while remaining anchored in the Raaga and Taala of Bharatiya Chitta and Kaala is achieved through Shraddha and Saadhana. Without this anchor, there is an overemphasis on text and theory over embodied knowing [4], with contextual ethics [4] giving way to moral relativism. The net result is a rootless, jarring remix of uninspiring engineering and myopic profiteering.

There are multiple paths to recovery, and we discuss one such path. As Dharampal pointed out [11], rather than weep over the lakhs of manuscripts that are lost to us, we can learn from what is already available. The several Sulba works, Jyotisha redactions, and the Natyasastra text, and the various commentaries, and dozens of books on these topics are all available online. By incorporating these Indic methods into our professional practice and daily life, we can slowly relocate our westernized selves back into India’s Chitta and Kaala.

A long and circuitous journey has to be undertaken by the hard-working Karthikeyas in order to return home to Shiva and obtain the Jnana-phala. Blessed are those Vinayakas who are already in the right space and time!

Understanding the principles of Indic art and dramaturgy can give engineering students a more rounded view of their discipline. Like a genuine Bharatanatyam performance, the sculpting of Devi’s Murthi, or constructing a Kovil/Mandir, Indic Engineering takes up a project as a sacred task that transforms the consciousness of the participants and end users, yielding sustainable, dharmic development. This goal can be achieved if the project is in harmony with Rtaaccepting only shubh labh (as opposed to unbridled profit), with all the stakeholders functioning as an integrally united team based on the dharma of collaboration.

There is no I or U in team, but there must be IU.

The construction of Rama Sethu in the Ramayana forever serves as the ideal to emulate. Even the tiny squirrel that contributed its expertise to the Sethu was transformed by Sri Rama’s divine touch.


(Partial list only. Full list will be shared along with Part-3).

  1. Bibhutibhushan Datta (Swami Vidyaranya). The Science Of The Sulba: A Study In Early Hindu Geometry. University of Calcutta. 1932.
  2. Saraswati Amma. Geometry in Ancient and Medieval India. Motilal Banarsidass Publishers. 1979.
  3. Kapila Vatsyayan. The Square and the Circle of the Indian Arts. Abhinav Publications. 1997.
  4. Rajiv Malhotra. Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism. Harper Collins. 2011.
  5. Subhash Kak. The Astronomical Code of the Ṛgveda (Third Edition). 2011.
  6. Rajiv Malhotra. Indra’s Net: Defending Hinduism’s Philosophical Unity. Harper Collins. 2014.
  7. Kosla Vepa. The Origins of Astronomy, The Calendar, and Time (Second Edition). 2010.
  8. Prakruti Prativadi. Rasas in Bharatanatyam: First in a Series on Indian Aesthetics and Bharatanatyam. Creative Space. 2017.
  9. N.R.I Pathi. Dharmic Development. Andhra Cultural Portal. 2014.
  10. Prakruti Prativadi. The Bharatanāṭyaṃ Yajña. Swadeshi Indology-3 Information Handout. 2017.
  11. Dharampal. Collected Writings in 5 Volumes. Other India Press. 2000.
  12. John Price. Applied Geometry of the Sulba Sutras. Department of Mathematics, Maharishi University of Management, Iowa. 2000.
  13. Amartya Kumar Dutta. Was There Sophisticated Mathematics During Vedic Age? in ‘An anthology of disparate thoughts at a popular level‘. ISIREA, Kolkata, 2016.
  14. K. Ramasubramanian. The Origin and Growth of Mathematics in India. R C Gupta Award Lecture, IIT Bombay. 2010.
Thanks to the ICP editor for his valuable suggestions and patiently reviewing this work.

Classical Indic Art I: Silpa Sastra


Art & Architecture is an essential aspect of any civilization. The notion of cultured living itself brings to mind not only material standards but also artistic ones as well. What does a civilization hold dear? What is the nature of its aesthetic? What is considered art and what is considered kitsch? All these things are determined by its fundamental approach to the fine arts.

In contrast to modern and post-modern society, the Indic approach to the fine arts is rooted in the Dharmic:

Padmapani, Ajanta, Maharashtra

In India the cultural chain is never broken. The cardinal truths of life and conduct as incorporated in the Vedas in their characteristic style and symbolism also handed down in the Puranas, though the outward appearance seemed different. [2, 27]

An oft-cited critique of Indian art and iconography is that it is often “erotic” or even “grotesque”. Many foreigners (and foreign directed) often find it difficult to appreciate Indian art. Part of it is of course due to conditioned & close-minded bigotry, as the beauty of Ajanta Paintings should be obvious to anyone with sight, but part of it is also due to lack of sophistication. While Greco-Roman and neo-classical European art is often (rightly) praised for its outward beauty, clumsy comparisons with Indic art frequently ignore the aim of art itself.

As such, any aesthete or connoisseur should have the requisite training to understand what it is they are in fact experiencing. While some Indic art is obviously attractive and magnetic for obvious reasons, other pieces remain compelling in ways only connoisseurs (sahrdayas) can properly understand.

Our previous article on Sthaapatya Veda introduced the upaveda that includes Vaastu, Silpa, and Chitra within its category. In an interesting way, each sub-category is inclusive of the succeeding ones. Vaastu in general refers to Architecture, but this naturally necessitates an understanding of Sculpture and Painting. Similarly, Sculpture in general refers to sculpture in particular, but naturally necessitates an understanding of painting. One can therefore see that rather than an unrelated collection of alienated arts, there is a singular Integral Unity that pervades each of these. Like Indra’s Net, each one comes to reflect the other, while possessing its own individuality. Put another way, much like the famed matryoshka doll of Russia, each subject area contains a smaller subset within it.

As such, terminology is another area of importance. After all, words don’t often translate precisely. Often, a singular art or subject area becomes synonymous with an entire branch of knowledge. Just as Soopa Sastra represents Cuisine, just as Arthasastra represents Statecraft, just as Dhanur Veda represents the Military Arts, and just as Gandharva Veda represents the Performance Arts, so too does Silpa Sastra represent the Fine Arts.

Architecture and Sculpture in India are very intimately related, the latter is rather hand-maid of the former.” [3, 209] Though often restricted only to Sculpture or image-making (pratima-kalaa), Silpa represents the Fine Arts in general, including Sculpture, but also Painting (Chitra), Pottery (Kumbhakalaa), Drawing (alekhya) & other forms of fashioning.

Chakresvari statue, Dilwara temple, Rajasthan


  • Silpa Sastra—Sculpture, Iconography, and Fine Arts in general
  • Silpasaala—Art house
  • Silpin—Sculptor, Iconographer, and Artist in general
  • Sila—Stone
  • Rupa—Form
  • Rupakaara—Sculptor or fashioner of forms
  • Murthi—Religious Statuary
  • Prathima kalaa—Iconography/Image formation
  • Prathima—Image/statuary
  • Svadhiti—Chisel
  • Mudgara—Hammer
  • Phalaka—Wood
  • Takshana—Carpentry
  • Takshaka/Vardhaki—Carpenter
  • Alekhya—Drawing & Sketching
  • Lekhaneem—Pen
  • Chitrakalaa—Painting
  • Chitrakaara—Painter
  • Chitra lekhana/varthika—Paintbrush
  • Chitra-bhumi-bandhana—Canvas
  • Laavanya— Delineation of Beauty
  • Mudras—Hand gesture or Poses
  • Sutragrahi—Engineer/overseer
  • Kumbha kalaa—Pottery
  • Kumbhakaara—Potter
  • Maalakaara—Garland Maker
  • Sankhakaara—Conch Maker
  • Kabindaka—Weaver
  • Karmakaara—Blacksmith
  • Svarnakaara—Goldsmith
  • Sphatika—Crystal
  • Loha—Metal
  • Suvarna—Gold
  • Rajatha—Silver
  • Thaamra—Copper
  • Paittala—Brass
  • Kaamsya—Bell-metal
  • Aayas—Iron
  • Saisaka—Lead
  • Gaja-dhantha—Ivory
  • Kadi-karkaraa—Brick & Mortar
  • Thaalamana—System of measurement
  • Thaala—Measure
Fine Arts
Reconstruction of the Iconic Ajanta Cave Painting, “Satavahana Princess”

As previously mentioned, though primarily associated with sculpture, “Silpa may be said to mean all fine arts and crafts” [1, xxiv]. Therefore, to understand the Indic Approach to the Fine Arts, it is important to first fathom what a Fine Art is:

A fine art presupposes the arousal of an aesthetic experience and aesthetic experience is based on the sentiments, the Rasas and Rasadrstis. According to Hindu view of Poetics and Dramatics as well as the science of Fine Arts, an aesthetic experience is not only a pleasure to the senses, it is not only toning up of heart and mind, it is something more, rather much more. It is elevating the soul. That is the spiritual background and it is in accordance with this fundamental tenet of aestheticity in India that writers on Aesthetics have likened an a[e]sthetic experience to the ex-perience aroused in Brahma-Realization-‘Brahmananda-svada-sahodarah’.“[2,47]

There are some who may protest the association of singular Silpa with Fine Arts in general. They will putatively point to the chatusasti-kalaa, or famed 64 Arts of Ancient India. But this too is subject to some degree of controversy. While the Classical Saastric 64 are well-known, Jain literature lists 72 and Yasodhara, an important commentator on Vatsyayana, listed as many as 512. [1, xxiii] In light of this, which number is correct?

It is said that Bharata muni himself resolved a similar controversy at the outset. Pointing out the differences between Arts & Crafts vs Fine Arts, he notes that the “art of love” or the “art of kissing” is obviously distinct from the Fine Arts (Silpa) or the Performance Arts (Gandharva). Therefore, the 64 Arts refer to the basic arts and crafts that eligible men and women should be expected to learn. A fine artist, that is, an exemplar of the aesthetics, was not a mere crafter of kalaa, but a steward of silpa. As such, kalaa refers to arts & crafts, Silpa refers to Fine Arts, and Gandharva refers to the Performance Arts. While these categories are obviously not mutually exclusive (as practitioners of chitra-kavya know all too well), this clarification will elucidate what differentiates them, furthering proper understanding in the process.

Theoretical Foundations

The theoretical foundations of the Fine Arts are of course rooted in Sthaapatya Veda. Nevertheless, a deeper dive is necessary before one can begin to evaluate key concepts.

The Philosophical Sources are of course obvious. As Sthaapatya Veda emerges from the Atharva Veda, it is only natural that Vedic philosophy would be foundation to the native Fine Arts of Bharatavarsha. Beyond that, however, are a number of key literary sources that serve as authorities guiding Silpis and Alankara Sastris to this day.

Of all the names in Sculpture and Iconography, it is Visvakarma who remains the most prominent. The Agni Purana refers to him as the creator of a thousand Silpas (Arts). Interestingly, he is said to have 9 sons called the Silpakaarinah. These were Malakaara, Karmakaara, Sankhakaara, Kabindaka, Kumbhakaara, Kamsakaara, Sutradhaara, Chitrakaara, and Svarnakaara. [1,xxi]

Chennakesava Temple, Belur, Karnataka

Indian Iconography is very vast. There are three principal sects: Brahmana, Bauddha and Jaina which have given rise to an innumerable host of Icons and Sculptures both in Indian monu-ments and our Silpasastras. [3, 209]

“Iconographical literature may be divided into the following sub-divisions:

1.Puranas 2.Agamas 3.Tantras 4.Silpa-sastras 5.Pratishta-paddatis 6.Dhyanas 7.Sadhanas”


While the Puranas are seminal to any study of Silpa, the Agamas provide technical details regarding the installation of various murthis, etc.

Among the prominent texts exclusively on Silpa is the Agastya-Sakaladhikara. Sakala is said to mean the word ‘icon’. [2, 59] Nevertheless, due to the overlap of Vaastu and Silpa, many texts mentioned in Sthaapatya Veda would be common to both. The Maanasaara devotes 20 chapters to sculpture, while Kasyapiya-Amsumad-bheda dedicates 39. [2,60]

Above all, however, are the many treatises that have come down to us simply as “Silpa Sastra”. Due to widespread destruction and loss of precious heritage in the North, most of the surviving manuscripts come to us from the South. Nevertheless, there is one recension of Silpa Sastra which comes to us from Odisha. It is Eastern India, therefore, that retains much of the native North, be it in dance (Odissi) or in this case, Silpa Sastra. Notably, there are 30 families of silpins in Puri. [1, i] The famed temple of Jagannatha unsurprisingly gives patronage to these artisans of ancient practice.

As for Personalities, there are numerous names cited as authorities on Silpa Sastra. These include numerous Vedic Rishis, but also many others, such as Utpala and Nagnajit. Some are legendary, others are ancient, and still others, such as Srikumara are more recent. This court silpin of Deva Narayana (ruler of North Travancore) lived at the end of the 16th century and was considered a great authority on Silpa Sastra via his Silpa Ratna. [2, 61]

While traditionally there two main schools, the Northern Nagara, and the Southern Dravida, history lends credence to more. The Great King Paramara Bhoja of Dhar was said to have developed a composite all India Hindu style. D.N.Shukla writes that this evolved out of the Lata style of the Gurjara School. The Chalukyas of Karnataka are said to have evolved a fourth school, which in turn influenced regions such as Warangal.

Alternatingly, more recent attempts to categorise the various schools of ancient art list Amaravati, Mathura, Gandhara, & Odisha as the main schools. These however do not conform to descriptions of various treatises, and the most up-to-date scholarship in fact considers Gandhara to be an outgrowth of Amaravati. Irrespective, Bhoja’s Samarangana-sutradhara was a great work of Vaastu, and in turn, Silpa. If it leans to the northern Nagara Style, the Aparaajitha-prccha of Bhuvana-devacharya leans to the southern Dravida. [2, 67] The dominating skylines of Madurai and Thanjavur, and their lovely statuary, would be influenced by it.

Key Concepts
File:Amaravati Stupa relief at Museum.jpg
Famous frieze of the Amaravati Stupa

Art appreciation is a crucial aspect of understanding any theory of art. Just as oenophiles learn wine-appreciation from sommeliers and cork-masters, so too is art appreciation learnt ideally from the Silpa Sastris themselves, or failing that, from art historians.

Therefore, to properly appreciate Dharmic Art, one must gain familiarity with Key Concepts that are foundational to it.


Tvastr—Deva of the Fine Arts

The patron deity of the Indic Fine Arts is the Vedic god Tvastr. He is mentioned in the Purusha Sukta of the Rig Veda, and is alternately associated with many deities including Savitr and even Indra. Nevertheless, he is most often considered a form of Vishvakarma, himself the deity of Sthaapatya Veda and Vaastu Sastra.

This elemental connection to Purusha, with Tvastr conceived as emerging from the navel of Vishvakarma, delineates the centrality of the Divine to Dharmic art. Rather than mere interaction of matter, it is the concept of Supreme consciousness that pervades and sparks material reality. Art too, therefore, is a result of attempting to realise the divine, rather than simplistic expression of human caprice. Having understood this, one can begin to grasp the aesthetic motivating the artistic Indic.


Indic Aesthetics is a topic that has inspired myriad authors and numerous books. The ancient Aestheticians raised it to a very great height that is only again now being properly conceptualised. Though often mis-translated merely as Rasa, the correct translation of Aesthetics is Rasalankara—that is, the beautiful experiencing of sentiment. As such, beauty must be married to sentiment to be properly experienced in a resonating fashion. There are a plethora of concepts attached to the branch of knowledge known as aesthetics. However, for the time being only Rasa-bhava and Dhvani will be discussed.


Bharata Muni’s celebrated expatiation on the 8 rasas (which eventually added another to become the Nava Rasas) is known from his legendary work, Natya Sastra.

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

The Sthayibhaava is the leitmotif or permanent sentiment of a composition. There are generally eight in number, based on eight of the nine rasas. They are as follows: rati (erotic), haasa (comic), shoka (sorrowful), krodha(angering), utsaha (enlivening), bhaya (frightening), jugupsa (disgusting), and vismaya (amazing). A ninth, sama (tranquility), is associated with Shaantha.[7]

Bhaava is the complete affecting of the heart by any emotion. Rasa means sentiment, sthayi bhava means dominant emotive state, and vyabhichari bhava means transitory or transferable stages.”They are the instrumentalities of conveying and communicating intangible but real states of mind.”[8,9]

But as we discussed elsewhere, mere paint by numbers alone is insufficient to experience Rasa and Soundharya (beauty). Much like a Dance performance or a Musical performance or a work of literature, a work of art must possess Dhvani (resonance). What is it that causes dhvani is a topic for another time and another place and another aesthetician known as Anandavardhana. Nevertheless, for our purposes here, for a work of art to truly capture the mind it must have dhvani, so as to draw in the observer, who need not be told of why such and such a piece is truly great. He or she can experience it.


Chakra, Sun Temple, Konark, Odisha

There is also remarkable continuity in motifs from one end of Bharat to another. This is the case not just within India, but in the greater Indosphere. Symbols such as the Dharmachakra, the feet of divinities, the Thoranas (archways), and so on, find their way across both subcontinent and continent.

One motif is in fact so pervasive and expansive, it deserves its own section: the Mudra.


Buddha, Dharma Chakra Mudra

Mudras are known as postures. In recent times, due to the popularity of Yoga and the like, Mudras have become synonymous merely with the hand. These are, however, merely hastha-mudras (hand postures). The fuller meaning of this term is posture, thereby beginning with the body itself, before expanding to parts of the body.

Mudras are divided into hastha-mudras (hand), sthaana (body), and paadha-mudras (leg)

There various hastha-mudras, but these can be discussed elsewhere, but here is a brief list of various types of various postures:

Hastha-mudra — 24 Asamyutha hasthas, 13 Samyutha Hastas, 29 Nrtta Hasthas

Sthaana — 9 total based on attitudes, for which Bhojadeva gives 3

Paadha-mudra — Sthaanaka (standing ), Aasana (sitting ), Sayana (reclining)


Icono-planning is not only a ritual but also a scientific prerequisite before fashioning an image out and therefore any planning, if it is scientific, must start with the correct proportions as handed down in the Sastras.” [2, 94]

Measurement is a pivotal part of sculpture in particular, and art in general. The painter may be able to paint over a specific portion, but the sculptor must take exquisite care in preserving the stone he is working on. One misstep may mar a murthi, preventing worship of the icon.

Thaalamana (system of measurement or iconometry) ensures that a silpin has direction when crafting his work. Standardisation of measures found in the Sarasvati-Sindhu Valley has long been a matter of wonder, but what is more interesting is the standardisation of measurement across sastras. Both Dhanur Veda and Silpa Sastra stress the use of measurement using angulas (finger breadths). Interestingly, both feature many of the same paada-mudras as well.

With respect to sculpture in particular, the direction provided by Agama and Silpa Sastra ensures not only the longevity of the prathima (through minimised breakage) but also that the precise proportions are preserved for the prana-prathista of a murthi. This explains not only why the particular forms (rupas) are the way they are, but also why they are replicated with such exact frequency throughout the Indian Subcontinent.

Samaranga Sutradhaara gives the following unit measurement table [2, 86]:

3 parmaanus  = 1 raaja. 8 raajas = 1 roma. 8 romas = 1 liksa. 8 liksas= 1 yooka.

8 yookas= 1 yava. 8 yavas=1 angula. 2 angulas = 1 golaka. 2 golakas = 1 bhaaga (part)


Apsaras, Sirigiriya Cave Paintings, Sri Lanka

As discussed in our article on Sthaapatya Veda, renovation of old art and architecture is nothing new to Indic Civilization. While there are certain rules regarding the worship of religious icons, for which formal abhisheka and archana may not take place, art and architecture in general is another matter.

The concept of Jeernoddhaara (renovation of old or dilapidated art & architecture) [2, 163] is critical one, especially in the present time. Though it naturally encompasses the process through which old murthis can be re-consecrated, it has a wider connotation. It is discussed in Vaastu Sastra and remains a matter of import not only for renovating old works of art and architecture, but in renewing ancient cities.

Dhyana Buddha statue, Amaravati, Andhra Pradesh

There are numerous other concepts to discuss, but for the purpose of this brief Introduction to Indian Art, these will suffice. Silpa, after all, may refer to all the Fine Arts, but is, more than anything else, about sculpture.

Sculpture & Iconography
Ramappa temple, Telangana

Leaving aside Silpa Sastra, Sculpture itself is a large field that naturally includes iconography. While painting (Chitrakalaa) can be discussed at another time, it is important to stress, as intimated above, that painting as Fine Art, comes under the purview of Silpa Sastra.

Each culture or civilization (mega-culture) may take on certain conventions or ideals, but behind the most sophisticated forms of sculpture, is an approach or theory of sculpture.

Theory of Sculpture

Indian Sculpture is nothing but an Iconography, par excellence— Devas, Gandharvas, Kinnaras, Yaksas, Apsaras, along with the sy-mbolic manifestations and Subjective symbolisations of so many mental and spiritual attitudes standing for our emotional edifica-tion and cultural integration that become temple icons and sculptures. [3, 209]

Literature on Vaastu & Silpa lists at least 10 different materials for the purposes of sculpture. These include clay (mrna), wood (phalaka), copper (thaamra), iron (ayas), silver (rajatha), gold (suvarna), and various precious stones (ratna). [2, 40]

A detail procedure for wax-models for metal casting is also stipulated, particularly in texts like the Silpa Ratna. Clay compounds are discussed based on the metal type. These clay compound types are as follows: katina (hard), mandha-katina (medium-hard), mrdvi (soft), mrduthara (softer), and moosaakarana-yogya (clay fit for a crucible). [2, 111]

The stones or materials themselves should have certain auspicious signs. These are padmakaara, svastika, sankaabha, chakrasannibha, chatraakrthi, dhvajaakaara, trisulakrthi, matsya-makara-koormabha, govrsabhaakrthi, vajra-khadgaakrthi, dandaabha, chaamaraakrthi.

Stone types

Various varieties of stones are listed. As is well know, all sorts of stone from sandstone to marble to everything in between have been utilised by the Silpis of old. But these can be better discussed in a separate article.

Other than the variety of stone, there is distinction of stone colour and how it should align on the basis of one’s way of life. White, Red, Yellow, and Black stone are recommended based on one’s varnadharma. The individual stone specimen itself could vary by age, and this too is treated by the various texts on Silpa Sastra. Yuva (youthful) and madhya (middle-age) are the two that could be used for religious iconography, while baala (very young) and vrddha (old) were listed as not appropriate.

This in turn dovetails from sculpture to the sub-branch of iconography.

Approach to Iconography

Iconography is both a science and an art. An art must express life in all its manifestations. Images and sculptures, the finest productions of art, naturally therefore, must express life. [2, 117]

Iconography deals specifically with religious Icons, originating from the Greek eikon (object of worship). It deals with religious icons (statuary and otherwise) as well as the detailed process involving creation and establishment. As is fairly well known among Hindus, the murthi-sthaapana (installation of statuary for worship) is very detailed and precise in the procedure stipulated.

Images of divinities are classified as follows: Chitrajaa (painted), lepyaja (clay), Paakaja (cast metal), and Sastrotkeernajaa (carved by metal instruments).  There is an additional classification provided by Gopala Bhatta that is more all encompassing:

1.Mrnamayi (made of clay) 2.Daaruja (made of wood) 3. Lohaja (made of metal) 4. Ratnaja (made of jewels) 5. Sailaja (made of stone) 6. Gandhaja (made of pastes, like sandalwood) 7. Kausumi (made of flowers [2, 96]

Painted icons are found typically on canvas, wall, or stone. As per the Silpa-ratna, clay icons are of two kinds martika (burnt/kiln-fired) and ammartika (unburnt). Each metal or stone or ancillary material is imbued with significance.

Furthermore, iconography(pratima-kalaa) require an even more rigorously trained sculptor

The iconographer must be adept in the sastras and endowed with insight and lead a life of perfect brahmacharya and the samyama (control over his senses). Before taking up his sacred task of giving a murta, the manifest form to the amurta, the non-manifest one, of the gods—the presiding deities of the destiny of mankind, he should perform the sacrifice and then start japa in order to purify himself of all the secular impurities, so that his hands may be in complete union with the spirit and the mind. A code, indeed of religious discipline, is prescribed. [2, 83]

There are organic variations within the various Dharmic sampradayas regarding religious icons. From a gold pendant featuring the Vedic aum to the massive 57 foot tall Jain statue of Gomatesvara in Sravanabelagola, icons come in varying forms and sizes. Worship and reverence for them takes place in different ways and for different reasons. However, the distinctions between Vedic, Buddhist, and Jain iconography (as well as Sikh art in general) are better discussed elsewhere. How the ancient Sastras seep into modern artistic and spiritual experience, remains more important.

image-worship…was a grand religious and philosophical solution of the difficulty of conceiving a limitless Absolute from the practical point of view and the conveniences thereof. A reconciliation of Vedantic or idealistic philosophy of the Upnisads with the image-worship, representing polytheism, has been strikingly effected in the National Religion of this ancient country. [2, 29]

Important Texts

Silpa Sastra




Puranas—Agni Purana, Matsya Purana, Vishnudharmottara Purana

Agama—Pancha-ratra, Sapta-ratra, Vaikhanasa

Tantra—Hayasirsa, Trilokya-mohana, Vaibhava, Pauskara, Naradiya, Sandilya, Vaisvaka, Saunaka, Jnana-Sagara-Vasistha, Prahlada, Gargya, Galava, Svayambhuva, Kapila, Tarksya, Narayaniya, Atreya, Narasimha, Ananda, Aruna, Baudhayana, Visva

Chitra-lakshanam of Nagnajit


Samaranga Sutradhara of  Paramara Bhoja

Silpa Ratna of Srikumara





Maharishis—Vasistha, Atri, Narada, Garga, Kumara, Saunaka, Visalaksa, Kasyapa




Paramara Bhoja




From the famed statuary of Khajuraho to the modern era works of Raja Ravi Varma, the Indic Fine arts have found expression in a myriad ways, manners, styles, and mediums.

In the coming months (and years), we will continue with this introductory overview and study the the various elements of Silpa Sastra, as well as the subsidiary Fine Arts associated with it.

As we have seen with this article, Silpa Sastra covers not only a wide array of topics beyond sculpture, but represents the authentic Indic approach of “Integral Unity” in all facets of life. [9] Rather than deconstructed alienation and surface-level appreciation of the superficial, the Indic Fine Arts forces us to look within, and appreciate the inward significance rather than mere outward appearance. There is beauty in all things, both the ordinary and extraordinary, the haasya and the bhayaanika, the written word and the sculpted form. This has been the driving philosophy of native Indic Civilization since its inception. While it appreciates the worldly accomplishments of man, it looks ultimately to the Divine as the inspiration and driver of all things. This consistent approach to art can be seen from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Arbuddha to Assam.

More than anything else, the pervasive influence of Indic art is seen throughout Asia. Whether it is Turkistan or Malaysia, there is a wide impact of obvious Dharmic motifs and outright Hindu inspiration. The influence of the Silpa Sastra and even Samaranga Sutradhara spread far and wide.

Pramaane sthaapathi devaah pujaahrscha bhavanti hi   Ch.40, sl.13

Gods and goddesses become fit to be worshipped only when they are set up with correct proportions. — King Paramara Bhoja

Murugan murthi, Batu Caves, Malaysia

Nearly all the artistic remains of ancient India are of a religious nature, or were at least made for religious purposes. Secular art certainly existed, for literature shows that kings dwelt in sumptuous palaces, decorated with lovely wall-paintings and sculpture, though all these have vanished. Much has been said and written about Indian art since, some forty years ago, European taste began to doubt the established canons of the 19th century and looked to Asia and Africa for fresh aesthetic experience. Since then most authorities on the subject, Indian and European alike, have stressed the religious and mystical aspect of Indian art. While admitting the realism and earthiness of the earliest sculpture, most critics have read the truths of Vedanta or Buddhism into the artistic remains of our period, and have interpreted them as expressions of deep religious ex-perience, sermons in stone on the oneness of all things in the Universal Spirit. [6, 346]

Dasavatara Temple, Imperial Gupta Dynasty, Deogarh, Uttar Pradesh
  1. Kumar, Pushpendra Ed. Silpa-Sastram. Delhi: Eastern Book Linkers.2006
  2. Shukla, D.N. Vastu-Sastra (Vol.II): Hindu Canons of Iconography and Painting. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. 2003
  3. Shukla, Lalit Kumar. A Study of Hindu Art and Architecture (with special reference to the terminology). Chowkhamba. 1972
  4. Gaur, Niketan. Sthapatya Ved-Vastu Sastra: Ideal Homes, Colony and Town Planning. New Delhi: New Age Books. 2009
  5.  Vatsyayan, Kapila. Kalātattvakośa V: Forms. New Delhi: IGNCA. 2002
  6. Basham, A.L. The Wonder that was India.New Delhi: Rupa & Co. 1999
  7. Vatsyayan, Kapila. Bharata: The Natyasastra. Sahitya Akademi.2007
  8. Kale, M.R. Dasakumaracarita of Dandin. New Delhi: MLBD. 2009
  9. Malhotra, Rajiv. http://www.firstpost.com/living/rajiv-malhotras-indras-net-seven-big-ideas-and-hinduisms-integral-unity-2382902.html

Classical Indic Warfare I: Dhanur Veda

It is often asked whether there was a Traditional Dharmic Military Science. After all, in an era where “Might makes Right” and “Victory is the only Morality”, how can a society, any society, hope to survive without its own Tradition of Warfare? Although modern India has come to be associated with the concept of Ahimsa, it must also be remembered that Bharat is also the society of Dharma eva hatho hanthi.

Those who wish to elevate Dharmo rakshati rakshitaha from a mere maxim to an actual eternal truth must first begin by properly understanding the first installment in our new Series on Classical Indic Warfare: Dhanur Veda.


Vaasishtaaya namoh namaha

Salutations to Maharishi Vasishta, who expounded the Dhanur Veda to King Kausika (who became Vishvamitra).

Dhanur Veda is an ancient tradition, considered by some to be one of the 18 branches of knowledge. “According to Visnudharmottara, god Satakratu (Indra) represents Dhanurveda or the knowledge of warfare.” [2] Other divinities associated with it include Lord Skanda (the God of War), and his father (Sadashiva) who himself is credited with the Siva-Dhanur-Veda.

Although Dhanurveda is often referred to merely as Science of Archery or “Martial Arts”, it is in fact the Ancient Vedic Military Science. It is the foundation of the Indic Way of War. As for why the name emphasises the Dhanush, the explanation is as follows: Just as Soopa Sastra refers to Cuisine, just as Arthasastra refers to Statecraft, so too does Dhanur Veda refer to Military Science.

Long time readers would have become familiar with the preceding Upavedas we discussed. Each Upaveda is attached to one of the Chatur Vedas.

Gandharva Veda — Saama Veda

Sthaapatya Veda — Atharva Veda

Dhanur Veda — Yajur Veda

Ayur Veda — Rig Veda

As such, just as Gandharva Veda is attached to the Saama, just as Sthaapatya Veda is attached to the Atharvana, the Dhanur Veda is attached to the Yajur Veda.

That is why the realm of Dhanur Veda is not merely for rote regurgitators, but for those with an understanding of both ancient and modern military arts. In fact, the first guru-sishya parampara of Dhanur Veda begins with Lord Brahma teaching King Prithu. There are of course other lineages. The Siva Dhanur Veda propounds the teachings of Tripurantaka (Lord Shiva) who instructed Parashurama. And finally, the Vasishta Dhanurveda Samhita encompasses the discourse on Dhanur Veda delivered by Maharishi Vasishta to Vishwamitra. Some even list as many as 6 or 7 Traditions.

Despite the fumblings of neophytes, also-rans, and ahankari-shikhandis, a proper restatement of the Vedic Way of War has yet to be comprehensively discussed. To date, there have either been modern Subject-Matter-Experts with outstanding professional expertise, but minimal traditional awareness, or traditionalist (and pseudo-traditionalist) scholars who cite theory without practical modern understanding. But to face the Exigencies of the Politico-Strategic, both are required. We must be rooted in the past but pragmatically face the present as it is, not as we wish it to be.

As such, to fight the battle that faces us, rather than merely the one we want, one must properly understand that we face not a Clash of Civilizations, but a Clash for Civilization. Because when you realise the enemy you face is amongst you, and inherently uncivilised, you understand the traditional rules of Achara Yuddha do not apply. It is why Dhanur Veda stands astride both the realms of Raja Dharma and Raja Niti. While statecraft encompasses both, Dharmic Epistemology necessitates the classification of Sainyaara-vidya under Niti, as the principles of war are neither moral nor immoral, but amoral.


It is why in the Kali Yuga, Koota Niti rather than Dhanur Veda is the starting point, because strategy determines whether or not you go to war, rather than war being the starting point of considering strategy. The present time provides a set of sophisticated forms of warfare, which may or may not have been foreseen by our forbears and seers, but nevertheless are practiced today (Lawfare, Economic Warfare, Cultural Warfare, etc.). In fact, the modern and post-modern eras have become so complex, that one must consider strategy even before politics. The latter becomes an extension of the former, rather than the standard other way around.

If the Politico-Strategic involves understanding and successfully managing the competitive landscape, Dhanur Veda involves the ability to impose one’s decision upon the adversary.


The Purpose of Dhanur Veda was stated by Maharishi Vasishta himself. Rather than for seeking glory or demonstrating mere skill, the purpose of archery (Dhanurvidya) and warfare (Dhanur Veda) was to protect one’s subjects, and rescue the weak from the strong, and preserve Dharma and the virtuous persons who practice it.

Dushtadasyuchoradibhya saadhu-samrakshanam dhammethah |

Praja-paalanam Dhanurvedasya Prayojanam || sl.5

The purposes of learning [Dhanurveda] are to protect the virtuous people from the evil persons, robbers and thieves and also to protect and defend the subjects. [2,4]

As such, a teacher of Dhanurveda has the responsibility to train students well, and also to reject greedy, foolish, ungrateful, and evil students so that they cannot abuse this knowledge to harm others.

Knowledge, for both student and teacher, comes with responsibility.

Theoretical Foundations

For the defence of a country, there are abundant references in Vedas, to maintain a regular armed force. It is also enjoined therein that the immediate control of this defence force should be under the command of a chief.  [1,14]

These of course are references to the state of the Military art of the time. Contrary to popular opinion, the theoretical study of Warfare is ancient and widespread in Indic Civilization.

As with all things Dharmic, the foundational aspects of the Indic Military Tradition are found in the Chaturveda. Due to the numerous references to the subject in that samhita, Maharishi Vasistha considers Dhanurveda to also be a sub-branch of Atharva Veda.

Committees (samiti/sabha/sura) consisting of competent experts were to be appointed by the King on defence policy and related matters (AV. 15.8.9, 4.30.2). Such bodies had an advisory role, with the King naturally serving as the overall Chief of the Defence Forces (RV.10.125) Nevertheless, separate Commanders-in-Chief (senadhipatis) were frequently appointed (though the risk of coups remained—as evidenced by Pushyamitra Sunga‘s rise to power).

The election and consecration of the commander on the field of battle as evidenced in the epic at once reminds one of the Vedic king’s coronation. [7, 2]

While rooted in the Yajur Veda, there are a large number of sources (extant and otherwise) for understanding the application of Dhanur Veda.

Dhanurveda, the standard work on Vedic military science being lost, dissertations on the Mahabharata, the Agni Purana, Akasa Bhairava Tantra, Kautalya Arthasastra, Manusmrti, Matsya Purana…Manasollasa, Yukti Kalpa Taru, Visnudharmottara Purana, Viramitrodaya, Samrangana Sutradhara, Sukraniti, and other small works on Dhanurveda like Ausanas Dhanurveda, Vasishta Dhanurveda, Sadasiva Dhanurveda and Niti Prakasika are the only source of information on the subject left to us.” [1,13]

Many of course will argue that some of these texts, such as the Siva Dhanurveda, focus almost exclusively on literal Dhanur vidya (archery). That is true, but even the Vasistha Dhanurveda Samhita is more robust and covers elements of battle strategy and military operations as well. There are also other Dhanurvedas that are lesser known: Vishvamitra Dhanurveda, Jamadagni Dhanurveda, Vaisampayana Dhanurveda, as well as the Veerachintamani of Sarangadhara. [1,15] Furthermore, the RamayanaMahabharata, and Arthasastra all cover the details of the art of Dharmic War, down to the granular level of logistics and military education of princes.

The Hindu did not permit even the military art to remain unexamined. It is very certain that the Hindu kings led their own armies to the combat, and that they were prepared for this important employment by a military education; nor is it less certain that many of these monarchs were distinguished for the highest valour and military skill. [1,1]

The Nitiprakaasika of Vaisampayana tells us that Lord Brahma was the originator of Dhanur Veda and taught King Prthu, son of Vena, via 1,00,000 slokas. This was reduced to 50,000 by Rudra, 12,000 by Indra and 3,000 by Pracetasa & Brihaspathi. Sukra reduced it to 1,000, Bharadvaja to 700, Gaishira to 500 and Maharishi Veda Vyasa to 300.  Vaisampayana himself provides us with this work in 8 chapters. [1]

Dhanurveda is generally divided into 4 sections: 1. Deeksha (Initiation), 2. Sangraha (Procurement), Siddhaprayoga (Training), Prayogavidhi (Operations).

Modern Hindus are more obsessed with 1 and 4, when they need to pay more attention to 2 and 3. Some leaders are born—it is true—but most are made. They are made through education and tested through practice. It is why all-theory and no practice pseudo-trads need to exit the kshetra where they do not belong.

Pareekshaa anyaa yogyataa anyaa

Exam is one thing competence is another

This is emphasised by Acharya Chanakya himself, who mentioned training in the military arts to extend to study of the Itihaasas. It is not for nothing that History is dubbed “the school of princes”.

Interestingly, talented generals were often highly trained in the fine arts. Maharana Kumbha crushed the neighbouring Sultanates and turned Mewar into a powerhouse. He was also a commentator on Music & Literature.  As for Andhra, the Nrtta Ratnavali (a work on dance) of Jaya Senapati ends every chapter colophon as follows:


Jayasenapati- viracitaayaam nrttaratnaavalyaam

Nrtta Ratnavali authored by Jayasenaapti, the chief of the elephant forces of Ganapatideva, the superior king of kings. [147]

A great general in his own right, Ganapati Deva was the father of the warrior Queen Rudrama Devi.

Thus the Gaja-sadhanika (or Elephant Corps commander) also had a well-rounded education. While these are some of the theoretical foundations, one must also familiarise oneself with the terminology and principles of Dhanurveda.


  • Dhanurveda — Military Science
  • Samgraama/Vigraha — War
  • Yuddha — Battle
  • Sangraha — Procurement
  • Siddhaprayoga —Training
  • Prayogavidhi — Operations
  • Upasad — Siege
  • Samkrama — Bridge
  • Kavacha — Armour
  • Varma — Chain mail
  • Sirastraana/Sipra — Helmet
  • Kantatraana — Throat protector
  • Phalaka — Shield (metal or wood)/Charma (leather or hide shield)
  • Hastaghna — Armguard (especially for archers)
  • Dundubhi — War drum
  • Suhstra — Weapon
  • Dhanusha — Bow
  • Vaana — Arrow
  • Gadha — Mace
  • Vavri — Sheath/ Vaala — Belt
  • Khadga — Sword (falchion)
  • Khanda — Sword (long sword)
  • Asi — Blade/Knife
  • Chakra — Discus
  • Velam — Spear
  • Tomara — Lance
  • Parashu— Axe
  • Trishula — Trident
  • Yantra — War Engine (i.e. Catapult)
  • Durgam — Fortress
  • Skandhavaara/Shivira — Camp
  • Chakravartin — He who turns the Wheel of Dharma (Paramount Sovereign)
  • Raja — King
  • Rajanya — Royal Family
  • Kshatriya — Aristocrat
  • Veera — Warrior
  • Senadipathi — Commander in Chief
  • Senapathi/Senani — General
  • Nayaka — Commander
  • Upanayaka — Lieutenant
  • Sainik/Patti — Foot Soldier
  • Ashvasaada — Cavalryman
  • Spashah — Spy
  • Duta — Messenger
  • Gaja — Elephant
  • Ratha — Chariot
  • Naava — Boat
  • Nalikaa — Gun
  • Agnichoorna — Gunpowder
  • Nisthaanam — Base
  • Sena — Army
  • Nau Sena/Varuna Sena — Navy
  • Vayu Sena — Air Force
  • Kaksha — Flanks
  • Paksha — Wings (also camp)
  • Koti — Vanguard
  • Uras — Chest (front centre)
  • Madhya — Centre (behind the chest)
  • Prstha — Rearguard
  • Praligraha — Reserves
  • Vyuha — Formation


  1. Initiation
  2. Procurement
  3. Training
  4. Operations
    1. Strategic Planning
      1. Personnel
      2. Logistics
    2. Military Operations
      1. Encampment
      2. Battles
        1. Organisation
        2. Formations
      3. Sieges

Study of specifically Dhanur Vidya is more appropriate for another time. It is important to understand its place and practice in the wider context of War (Samgraam)

Dharma of Samgraama


The Dharma of Samgraama, or Dharma of War, is one that is complex and one that has grown increasingly subtle over time. While the purpose of war has already been discussed, how should a just war be conducted?

The Epic code of ethics helped to soften the edge of conflict…The civilian population was allowed to pursue its labours umolested, temples and places of public worship were left undefiled. That these rules were operative in the fourth century B.C., is fully supported by the testimony of Megasthenes. It is doubtful if any other ancient civilization set such humane ideals of war. [7, 167]

Achara Yuddha

Hindu warfare was honoured for its code of Ethics, so much so that foreign commentators often asked whether it was more of a tournament for warriors.

Murcchitham naiva vikalam nashastram naanyayodhinam |

Palaayamaanam saranam gathanchaiva na himsayeth || sl.41

One should not kill the enemy who is lying unconscious, who is crippled, devoid of weapon or is stricken with fear and also who has come for shelter. [2, 64]

With such rules, it is easy to see why Rajputs fell for Turk deceptions time and again. But the first responsibility of a King is not to be a chivalrous/magnanimous figure, but to protect his subjects.

But contrary to naysayers, however, there was a practical aspect to it as well.Ethical warfare is suited for ethical enemies. Those who practice koota-yuddha must be opposed by similar conduct. Kautilya himself was merely reasserting what Krishna had already taught. When the enemy is breaking all the rules, you cannot fight with one hand tied behind your back. That is the difference between a Raja and Rajaputra.

Therefore, Achara yuddha was meant to be followed with other Indic Kings who observed the rules of Civilised Warfare. Above all, civilians were to be respected, and women and children to be protected.

Suptam prasuptamunmattam hyakaccham suhstra-varjitham |

baalam striyam deenavaakyam dhaavantham naivadhyaathayeth || sl.64

The person who is asleep, who is in drunken state, who is devoid of clothes or weapons, the lady, the minor, the helpless, the afraid one who deserts the battle field should not be killed. [2, 75]

As Bharatavarsha found out in the medieval period, there are some enemies who specifically mandate the opposite.

Rakshasa Yuddha involved an enemy who breaks all the rules. Atrocities are committed against civilians, who are not spared. Any unchivalrous method can be applied by this honourless foe. In fact, chivalry is seen as ‘markaz i jahalat’, or crassly stupid, as per such barbarians. War is not a mere tournament of arms, but as stipulated by Maharishi Vasishta himself, a means to protect one’s subjects, rescue weak from strong, and punish the wicked. To this end, Achara Yuddha must be put aside, and Koota Yuddha utilised.

Koota Yudha is defined as ‘deceptive war’ by Chanakya. Nevertheless, its more correct meaning is Strategic War, as it is ultimately rooted in Koota Niti (Strategy). Modern War as conducted by foreigners breaks all the rules and indiscriminately slaughters and even commits biological atrocities against civilian populations. One need not similarly become demonic to fight demons. Instead, one must use strategy to outwit such foes and develop asymmetric means to defeat their dastardly weaponry, via both R&D and strategic design.

Dharma Yuddha

Above all this, of course, is the concept of Dharma Yuddha. Some have tried to liken it to a “Crusade” or its Saracenic counterpart, but it is neither. Dharma Yuddha is a war to restore Dharma. That is, all Kings who proclaim to uphold Dharma are mandated to come together to defeat and uproot those who are threatening its very existence. When facing an Adharmic opponent, Koota Yuddha is often not only needed, but even required.

The person who in order to save the brahmins, cows, women or minors gives up his own life is sure to attain eternal salvation [2,75]

All this is more appropriate discussion for another time. For now, the Principles of Dhanur Veda will be covered.


Vasishta muni states that “The ideal time for teaching and learning archery is in the presence of ten stars —Hasta, Punarvasu (Rama’s star), Pusya, Rohini, Uttaraphalguni, Uttarbhadrapada, Uttarasada, Anuradha, Aivini, Revati“, and that this should be done on the third, fifth, seventh, tenth, twelfth, and thirteenth days of the lunar month, ideally on Sunday, Thursday, or Friday. [2, 6-7]

The tradition of purvaranga vidhana (ritual oblations to the divine) is stipulated, as is reverence to the teacher by the students. Prayers to Mahadev, Krishna, Brahma, and of course, Ganesha are also advised.

The warriors of the day were duly indoctrinated in the code of morality and duty. Thus the education of Dhrtarastra, Pandu and Vidura includes lessons in morality, history, tradition, Vedas and the allied literature, apart from military exercises. [7, 163]

Martial Arts


In general, martial arts is a subset of the greater Dhanur Veda. In fact, these are more commonly associated with Kreeda, hence the term Military Science better suited for Dhanur Veda. Nevertheless, initiation into the different schools can take place. Some train at akhaaras learning malla and mushti yuddha (wrestling and boxing), and others learn more armed forms of martial arts, such as Kalaripayattu and Gatka.

Officially dating back to the venerable Guru Hargobind Singh ji,  “Gatka can be practiced either as a sport (khel) or ritual (rasmi).” It features aspects of armed and unarmed combat. It is practiced to this day.

More importantly however, again like its Southern counterpart, Gatka is a direct connection to the ancient Indic warrior ethos. It is an outgrowth of traditional Suhstra-Vidya, which in Punjabi is called Shastar Vidya ਸ਼ਸਤਰ ਵਿਦਿਆ, but has become a tradition in its own right. Sikh Dharma may be centuries old, but it draws from and is part of a millennia old Dharmic Civilization. Whether for sport or for safety, preserving and passing on its proud traditions remains important for Sikh: Citizen, and Soldier alike.


Procurement of excellent weapons, armour, and other equipment are an important part of War. Ancient India was no exception. Dhanurveda being intricately connected with Dhanur Vidya (Archery), procurement of a good bow was elemental.

Characteristics of a good bow were given. All these can be discussed elsewhere. What is important for now is that, different types of bow even composite bows made of horn are also discussed. Ancient India was, for obvious reasons, known for the long bow. Qualities of arrows (and even poisoned arrows) are also discussed. But more than the bow, it was the bowman who was irreplaceable. Good people, after all, are hard to find.


Chitrayuddha, practice of archery, is an essential aspect of training with the bow. Arjuna memorably shot arrows in the dark, and ultimately was able to strike the matsya yantra (fish machine) merely from a reflection. All this was due to practice and rigour in training.

Dhanurveda stipulates stringent rules for the selection and imparting of military instruction. Beyond the usual rules and rituals, it emphasised guna in pairing a soldier with a weapon of choice. Those with Sattvika guna should be paired with the Bow (dhanush). Those with Rajo-sattva should be paired with the Sword (khadga). Those of tamaso-rajas should be paired with the spear (kunta). And those of tamaso guna should be paired with the mighty mace (gadha).

In the ancient times, Acharyas in Dhanurveda were brahmanas (who were then barred from ruling and power politics). A preceptor excelling in 7 types of fighting was called a Saptayodha. One who is versed in 4 is called Bhargava. One in 2 is called Yodha, and if versed in 1 type, he is called Ganaka. Maharishi Aurva trained the mighty King Sagara, and the illustrious Saptarishi Vasishta, trained Sri Rama.

There are, of course, various methods of imparting training. Dhanurveda naturally begins with the bow.


Various methods for practice are stipulated, primarily for archery. These involve firing blunt arrows (and other suhstras) as practice weapons. These are very detailed in discussion and best discussed elsewhere. What is useful to know, is that Dhanur Veda discusses target practice for standing targets, moving targets, and even moving targets while on horseback. Success in this skill is more than just a matter of balance, but also technique.

 Holding the String (Gunamusti)

Pataakaa vakramushtischa simhakarnasthatthaiva cha |

Matsari kaakathundi cha yojaneeyaa yathaakramam || sl.84

Gunamusti is of five types — Pataka (Banner), Vajra-musti (thunder bolt), Simhakarna (ear of a lion), matsari (fish), Kakatundi (beak of a crow). These should be applied in proper places. [2, 23]

Dhanurveda specifies a number of different methods of holding the string. These influence not only the effectiveness of holding the arrow, but the precision of hitting the target. These are in turn combined with laksya (types of aim) and even types of bow draw (dhanurmushti) and bow posture.

Bow Postures (Vyaaya)

These are, of course, just a few of the basic aspects of training in Dhanur Vidya. Dhanur Veda proper is more complex. Though rooted primarily in archery, the Dhanur Veda Samhita of Vasishta is more detailed and covers operations as well.

Army Training

Contrary to our modern “I am an army of one!” ahankari-shikhandis, Dhanur Veda did not simply stipulate singular individual training. The Dharma of Collaboration requires not cooperation with the enemy, but cooperation with one’s countrymen and fellow soldiers.

Parasparaanurakthaa ye yodhaah shaarnga dhanurdharaah |

yuddha-jnaasthuragaarudaasthe jayanthi rano ripun || sl.182

The Warriors even armed with Saarnga bow (made of horn) who co-operate with each other and know battle-craft may beat enemies fighting them on horseback. [1, 141]

Moving and operating as a unit is nothing unique to a particular civilization. Here is Maharishi Vasishta on the infantry.

The infantry or the food soldiers should be of equal height. All of them should be equally expert in jumping an running. They should also be trained in moving backward (pascadga-manam), standing still (sthirikaranam), lying [down] (sayanam) running apace (dhvanam) rushing  headlong into the hostile army and moving in different directions in accordance with signals” [2, 69-70]

Horses and even elephants were to be trained as well. Indian mahouts were celebrated for their skill with the elephant and ankush (goad). A good driver would bond with his elephant, which was celebrated for its loyalty and fierce defence of its master in war.  All these involved detailed elements of raising an army. What about deployment?

Military Operations


Preparation and deployment of one’s defence forces is not a simple method of theory and orders. Strategic planning, selection and training of personnel, order-of-battle, selection of ground/place/time, and formations—all play a role in making successful contact with the enemy. Whether to oppose in the field or to prepare for a siege or to even engage in guerilla warfare via tribal allies (atavi), are all complicated aspects that are covered by Dhanurveda in general and Sainyara-vidya in particular.

While Naval forces (Samudra Sena) and naval operations are mentioned, they are better discussed elsewhere. The great Naval expeditions of Kalingas, Cholas, and the Vijayanagara Empire are important to Sainyara-vidya, but Land warfare being central to Dhanurveda, necessitates focus on that type of war first.

Strategic Planning

The Vasistha Dhanurveda Samhita specifically has a section called Samgraamavidhih. That is, it establishes the importance of war strategy. Though it does not go into depth, it becomes apparent that success in war is more than just about mere proficiency in weapons or even numbers. All the elements of the Art of War were required to come together under the command of skilled general who understood that ‘prudence is the handmaiden of victory’.

The Atharva Veda (7.12.2) “recommends the formation of an advisory Samiti that could chalk out the plan and decide the strategy to fight out the war. The members of such a Samiti are called Narista…All the members of this council have to work collectively.” [1,18]


Vasishta muni writes the following regarding selections of Senadhipatis and Senanis:

Listen O Visvamitra! that the Commander-in-chief should be physically fit, learned and powerful kshatriya. He should also treat all his subordinates equally. He should prove his intelligence in arranging the army in array and also provide such work to the infantry that fits it. [2, 73]

Qualifications of a Commander

           1. He must be conversant with the art of fighting a war (RV.1.114.4)

           2. He should possess exemplary character ( RV. 2.33.8)

           3. A Vajrabahu (one with arms like a thunderbolt) inspires confidence in troops.

          4. He should be a Pururupa(one who can handle all types of situations (RV.2.33.9))

          5. He should be a sahasraaksa (one who is equipped with a spying system (YV))

         6. He should be an outstanding warrior (Avevirah) (AV. 19.2.2)

Competent military and strategic leadership is paramount. As even the Vedas recognised, an intelligence network to surveil the enemy to determine capabilities/intentions, and to do basic reconnaissance on the field was important. Win or lose, a general is not allowed to be surprised.

Soldier – He should be swift in action, have great courage, be fearless and bright, and be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. He must be proficient in arms, and expert in his tasks, and possess requisite knowledge of army rules and regulations.

The Hindus display bravery not surpassed by the most warlike nations and will throw away their lives for any consideration of religion or honour. [1, 30]

Even Women could be recruited (though generally not for frontline combat). A secondary line battalion consisting of women could be put at the command of the mahishi (chief queen). It is this tradition of warrior women that could be seen from Kaikeyi down to Rudrama Devi to Rani Durgavati. [1, 29]

Above all, “Foremost qualification of the warrior is that he must be deeply in love with his motherland. It is only then he can put his whole soul to save his motherland from all sorts of troubles.” [2, 28]


Logistics is crucial to warfare in any era. After all, an army marches on its stomach and gold is the sinews of war. As such, “all kinds of facilities are to be provided to army men. A special type of clothing, proper nursing, food, living accommodation, clubs, playground, hospitals, places of the prayers and educational facilities are to be provided” [1, 29]

The Mahabharata makes reference to a position similar to that of Quarter-Master General. Yudhisthira appoints Nakula (a famed swordsman in his own right) to maintain records of the various forces, secure supplies (especially food and water), and ensure prompt payment.

Repeated stress is laid on the importance of regular and punctual payment of wages and rations to the army; irregularity in this may lead to disaffection or even rebelllion. In the Sabha parva Naarada asks Yudhisthira if he pays his troops in advance before he marches, and if he supports the wives and children of men who lay down their lives for him, or undergo misery on his account. [7,149]

In the medieval period, the Army of Vijayangara was fabulously well-supplied. It was a veritable moving city that accompanied the Emperor.


The army camp should be established at prudent (and auspicious) hours and avoid encroaching upon various burning grounds, temples, and other places of sanctity. “The ground, preferably level and abounding in grass and fuel, is properly measured for an encampment; a moat is dug around to protect it, and guards are stationed at important posts. Door-keepers and sentinels keep watch outside the tents of the chief heroes and princes. Stocks of arms and armaments, food and water are in evidence, and physicians and mechanics form part of the establishment.” {7, 151]

Discipline was to be maintained and stockades and watch towers erected for protection. Contrary to the current civic culture (or lack thereof), Ancient Indian military discipline (particularly in camps) was strict. Bivouacking was an orderly process, cleanliness and carelessness to be avoided, and clamour kept to a minimum.

Campfollowers were numerous, with doctors, purveyors of food stuffs, musicans, merchants, and vesya (women of the night). This practice was eventually banned by Chhatrapati Shivaji, due to the disrespect shown to women by foreign invaders.

The camp is, above all, a place for soldiers and warriors. The seriousness of the task and the adherence to strategy must be remembered.




Over the years, military organisation has changed given the size and needs of military forces. As gloriously recounted in the Mahabharata, these could reach fantastic levels that may stretch credulity in the modern day, and yet, align with the internal logic.  The Battle of the Kurukshetra featured 7 Akshauhinis on the Pandava side and 11 Akshauhinis for the Kauravas.

1 chariot and 1elephant, 3 horses and 5 foot soldiers = 1 patti.

3 pattis = 1 senamukha. 3 senamukhas = 1 gulma.3 gulmas = 1 gana.3 ganas = 1 vaahini

3 vaahinis = 1 prtana. 3 prtanaas = 1 chamu. 3 chamus = 1 aneekini.

10 aneekinis = 1 Akshauhini [1,17]

1 Akshauhini

21,870 Chariots; 21,870 Elephants; 109,305 Infantry; 56,610 Cavalry

With a ratio of 1: 1: 5: 3, the approximate total is 209,700 soldiers.

This would bring the total on the Kurukshetra to 4 million. It is an amazing number indeed, which would number in the more modest hundreds of thousands in the post-Legendary period.

The army of Chandra Gupta for example was estimated to be 600,000 infantry; 30,000 cavalry; 10,000 chariots; 9,000 War elephants. In late antiquity, the Imperial Pratiharas were said by middle eastern chroniclers to field 4 armies for the 4 cardinal directions, each numbering 800,000 soldiers—for a total of 3.2 million men. Ancient India was, not for nothing, known for its armies. But armies are one thing, and generalship another.

India has fielded many great and intelligent generals, none more so than Krishna (the real commander of the Pandava armies). Nevertheless, legendary figures aside, “historical” figures such as Ajatashatru, Samudra Gupta, and Chhatrapati Shivaji all made their marks on history. It is only a recent matter for Indians to forget the importance of strategy & generalship.The Republic of India must remember this again.

And after making the decision to take the field, the next decision for any general is how order-of-battle should take form.

Formations (Vyuha)

The Vyuhas are one of the most legendary aspects of ancient Indic armies. Perhaps no vyuha is more legendary than the chakravyuya famously featured in the Mahabharata. A formation of envelopment, it was notoriously difficult to enter, and as young Abhimanyu discovered, even more difficult to exit.

Despite the legendary aspects of the Kurukshetra War, the importance of Vyuhas was retained long into the entry of Common Era. Though divyastras obviously were not used, deployment in concentrated force with proper arrangement remained important. The four divisions of the army (chaturanga-bala) that would inspire chess (chaturanga), which would feature an elephant corps, a cavalry corps, chariot corps, and infantry. All these would be deployed per the needs of battle.

  1. Chakravyuha — Discus formation
  2. Makaravyuha — Crocodile formation
  3. Syenavyuha — Hawk formation
  4. Garudavyuha — Eagle formation
  5. Varahavyuha — Boar formation
  6. Gajavyuha — Elephant formation
  7. Sakatavyuha — Waggon formation.This is ideal if surrounded or expecting rear attack
  8. Kraunchavyuha — Bird formation
  9. Simhavyuha — Lion formation
  10. Sarpavyuha — Serpent array
  11. Agnivyuha — Fire array
  12. Gomutrika — Echelon or Zig-zag
  13. Pippeelika — Ant array
  14. Ardhachandra — Half moon formation
  15. Sarvatobhadra — Hollow square
  16. Suchimukha — Needle array
  17. Danda — Staff formation
  18. Gulma — Bush formation
  19. Mandala — Hollow Circle formation
  20. Padmavyuha — Lotus formation
  21. Srenika — ranks/rows
  22. Bhoja — column
  23. Asanhata — detachments of various units into penny packets

Many of these may seem rather intricate and complicated to our modern eyes. Nevertheless, there are certain important principles that come from this. As seen above with the Garuda vyuha, there is very much a concept of organisation and backup planning. Contrary to the current school of thought that assumes a disorganised mass of chivalrous soldiers in unthinking frontal charges, methodical deployment was very much a practical art. Above all, is the fact that the concept of keeping reserves was emphasised — a reality that frequently turned the tide of key battles in history. Placing the chariots in front, elephants next to break the enemy lines, followed by the infantry is specified. Siva Dhanurveda specifically mentions the placing of cavalry on the wings, in sloka 179.

Ancient Indian Warfare was certainly practical. If one does not believe in combining mantra with suhstra, then the place of supernatural astras is reduced, and rather than spiritual, more material weapons will be emphasised. That is the nature of war, as well as the nature of RMA.


Some of the most successful wars are conducted not in the field, but inside the fort. From the Vedic times of Purandara (destroyer of forts) to Chanakya to Chhatrapati Shivaji, the Indic Durg has been a crucial part of Dhanurveda. The most successful armies in history were those that mastered the art of conducting the siege. This involves more than just investment of fortified cities, but also the defense of even fortified positions and redoubts.

The frontiers of the country were expected to be guarded by forts, with the intention of perimeter defence or defence-in-depth. Terrain was taken into close consideration, and measures such as investment, artillery, and mining discussed to take opposing forts.

For the purposes of brevity,  a simple discussion of forts will be discussed here to dovetail with Sthapatya Veda:

Mountain fort (giri durgam), Forest fort (vana durgam), Water fort (jala durgam), Clay/Cave fort (panka/guha durgam), Chariot fort (ratha durgam), Divine fort (divya durgam, has extensive fortress with efficient defensive system), and Mixed fort (mishra durgam, situated among both both mountains and forest). [1, 45]

A land fort is the easiest to capture, a river fort more difficult and the mountain fort most difficult. From the point of a view of a besieged king, a mountain fort is preferable to a river fort which is better than a land fort (7.12.2) — Arthasastra

Important Texts


Siva Dhanurveda

Vasishta Dhanurveda

Ausanas Dhanurveda

Jamadagni Dhanurveda

Vaisampayana Dhanurveda



Agni Purana

Matsya Purana

Visnudharmottara Purana

Akasa Bhairava Tantra



Yukti Kalpa Taru


Samrangana Sutradhara

Niti Prakasika

Veerachintamani of Sarangadhara


Vedic scholars were well aware that ‘armies can signify but little unless there is  council or a wise management at home‘. The efficiency of an army is thus very much dependent on the efficiency of the ministry of defence.

In the legendary times, the sarvasreshta dhanurdharas (Sagara, Sri Rama, Bhishma, Arjuna) could all reputedly summon divine weapons (divyastras) that would unleash firepower that normal chariot borne archers could not match. Obviously in the present time, these seem to stretch credulity. Nevertheless, keeping in mind the internal logic of Divine involvement in the affairs of man (which even Homer includes in the Iliad) one could understand the devastating effect these dhanush-wielders could have. Bhishma himself swore to wipe out 10,000 soldiers a day with the firepower he commanded.  With these dhanurdharas as the centerpiece of the Indic armies of Legendary times, one understands the emphasis placed on them why they were deployed the way they were.

The Epic material provies depth to the pic-ture that we have gleaned from our Vedic sources. The nature of the Vedic literature precludes the possibility of the graphic des-criptions of warfare which we can find in the Epics. The echoes of the Mahabharata can be detected in the Vedic literature and, as we have pointed out time and again in our text, some of the Epic tradition is indeed very ancient. Chariots in the Epic are the invincible instruments of battle [due to the Dhanurdharas they carried]; elephants and cavalry play role of comparative insignificance. …By the time Alexander came to India, things had changed; the chariots were there of course, but the real responsibility of attack and defence had shifted to the elephants and the cavalry. ” [7, 2]


Standard Weapons are divided into mukta (released from the hand), amukta (held), mukta-amukta (may or may not be thrown ), and yantra mukta (released by artillery/engines). We also find another division of suhstra, yantra, and mantra. Mantra will obviously not be considered here.Nevertheless, ancient Indian war was more in line with how the native cinema depicts, rather than foreign indologists, who seem to imply that the society that had the best metallurgy somehow did not believe in armour and helmets. That is why it is important to not deconstruct a tradition, but to study it as a continuum.

Continuity in these traditional weapons is seen even outside strict Vaidika Dharma, as Sikh Dharma and its warrior-saints used them to great effect.


Technology is a trendy topic, particularly in what we presently consider to be a technologically advanced age. Some topics are controversial, while others not so much. One area that has been acknowledged by almost all parties is the advanced state of Indian metallurgy—particularly in the forging of blades.

The famous crucible steel (Wootz) had its origin in India. The Chera steel was renowned for its quality. Indian iron smiths must have invented the ‘wootz’ process in the 6th or early 5th century B.C. Ktesias saw two wonderful swords of Indian steel at the court of Artaxerxes Memnon. Herodotus speaks of the arrows of Indian soldiers tipped with iron.” [7, 102]

Hindu warfare (what has been acknowledged at least) has long been the subject of controversy. “Were divyastras really just pre-modern artillery?”  or the most notorious, “Come on, vimanas? Really?“. But the perhaps the most important one of all is the question of whether or not ancient India had independently invented gunpowder. That’s right, as discussed by this article, it has been averred that Eastern India (particularly Bihar) possessed excellent saltpetre mines which are crucial for firearms.

A number of ancient texts specifically refer to gunpowder (agnichoorna/ranjaka) and firearms (nalikaa). The Dhanurveda explicitly mentions nalikaa (guns) as well as goleem(bullets)

Even the Sukra Niti supports this:

In Sukraniti, the method and chemical composition for preparation of gunpowder has been given. Accordingly, five palas (582.5 mg) survaci slat, one pala (11.5 mg) of sulphur and one pala (11.5 mg) each of the charcoal received from the wood of arka (…asclepias giantia), snuhi and angaara plants by the Ayurvedic process of Sahdooma Putapaaka where a drug is prepared in a closed vessel placed in a pit. The above-mentioned salts and charcoals should be purified, powdered and mixed together. This mixture should then be soaked into the juices of snuhi, arka and garlic. It should be dried up in the sun and finally powdered like sugar, the substance will be gunpowder.” [1, 76]

Whether or not this is the case is for present day scholars to confirm. Nevertheless, these ancient texts make a convincing case for ancient firearms. At the very least they give insight into some of the ancient artillery Indian armies featured.

Professor Wilson writes “Rockets…appear to be of Indian invention, and had long been used in native armies when Europeans came first in contact with them.” [1, 74] He goes on to say that ‘The Indians are from time immemorial remarkable for their skill in fireworks..” [1, 77] So much for “cracker-free” Diwali…

Engines of War were called Yantras. Some celebrated ones include the Sataghni (hundred-killer, asmaguda (catapult that pelts stone balls), ayoguda (weapon that pelts iron balls).

That elephants and chariots also carried yantras, is proved by a few references, but yantras in open battle seem to signify weapons in general. King Ajatasatru of Magadha, a contemporary of the Buddha, used a new engine of war against the [Vrjjis], called the mahasilakantaga, which must have been a stone-hurling contri-vance like those denoted by the Epic yantras. [7, 113]

When Alexander of Macedon set foot in the ancient Indosphere, his armies were said to have been scattered by a besieged Indian city which featured weapons of fire and lightning. These were unleashed following a terrifying pitch silence, soon broken by the sounds of thunder and cries of men.

For those of you familiar with the Byzantine Empire, there is, interestingly enough, even evidence that perhaps the famed “Greek Fire” may not have had a Greek origin after all. “The fire which burns and crackles on the bosom of waves denotes that the Greek fire was anciently known in Hindustan under the name of badavaa“. [1,75]

Ctesias, Elian and Phostratus all make reference to such an incendiary oil , saying “it is inextinguishable and insationable [sic], burning both arms and fighting men” [1, 75] Perhaps when the Arabs were crushed at Constantinople and during the Battles of Rajasthan, they may have in fact received “Greek fire” from both ends…


Though the study of the Dhanurveda cuts across classes, this list will focus primarily on military commanders and direct operational planners. For brevity’s sake, this list will focus on both legendary commanders and warriors mentioned in the Puranas as well as “Historical” personalities from the Ancient, Medieval, and Late Medieval periods. Strategists and Commanding Generals of the Modern Era will be listed elsewhere.

King Prthu

King Sudasa

Maharishi Vishvamitra

King Sagara

Haihaya Karthaveerya Arjuna


Aikshvaku Raghu

Aikshvaku Rama

Bharata Dauhsanti


Vasudeva Krishna




Mahapadma Nanda

Chandragupta Maurya

Ashoka Maurya

Pushyamitra Sunga



Sriharsha Vikramaditya

Gautamiputra Satakarni of Andhra

Samudra Gupta Ashokaditya

Chandra Gupta II Vikramaditya

Skanda Gupta Paraakramaditya

Narasimha Gupta Baladitya

Vikramaditya Panwar of Ujjain

Salivahana Panwar of Ujjain

Harsha Vardhana Shiladitya of Thanesar

Chalukya Pulakesin II

Karkota Lalitaditya of Kashmir

Pratihara Nagabhatta I & II

Rashtrakuta Dhruva Dharavarsha

Rashtrakuta Govinda III

Rashtrakuta Indra III

Dharmapala I of Vanga

Bhaskaravarman of Assam

Raja Suhel Dev

Haihaya Kalachuri Gangeyadeva

Paramara Bhoja

Chola Raja Raja I

Chola Rajendra I

Chalukya Rani Naiki Devi

Prithviraj Chauhan III

Ganga Bhanudeva II of Odisha

Rani Rudrama Devi

Kakatiya Prataparudra II

Hoysala Veera Ballala III

Musunuri Nayaks of Andhra

Maharana Kumbhakaran Singh of Mewar

Sangama Harihara & Bukka

Krishna Deva Raya

Venkatapati Deva Raya

Maharana Sangram Singh Sisodia

Maharana Pratap Singh Sisodia

Rani Durgavati

Lachit Bophurkan of Assam

Chhatrapati Shivaji Bhonsle

Admiral Kanhoji Angre

Baji Rao I

Maharaja Prithvi Narayan Sah of Nepal

Zorawar Singh

Banda Bahadur Singh

Maharaja Ranjit Singh

Hari Singh Nalwa

Sher Singh Attariwala

Marthanda Varma of Travancore


Clearly much water has flowed down the Ganga since the days of Dhanurveda’s first exposition. From the Imperial Armies of Magadha to the modern Day Indian Army, there is a long tradition of Military Science in Bharatavarsha.

For those who call for an Indic and Dharmic Way of War, it must be remembered that military lineages cannot commence with mere colonial regiments. Regimental and Tri-services pride aside, a society whose motto is Satyameva Jayate, must have lineages which work for the triumph of Truth, rather than colonial occupiers. But at the same time, one cannot be occupied or pre-occupied only with unthinking traditionalism or rote ritual.

The Dharmic way of War must necessarily adapt to the modern exigencies where victory is the only morality…

…and this is the cost of defeat.

The price of war is terrible, and therefore, must necessarily be practiced by professionals, whether strategists or soldiers. Knowledge of the Dharmic Art of War must be rooted in tradition, while being pragmatic enough to adapt to the Enemy. As Ovid wrote, it is right to learn, even from the Enemy.

It also means promoting those with a proper understanding of military history and modern strategy as overall Defense planners. This criticism was in turn criticised by the politically motivated, but leave aside gender and other considerations—is it not on point?

With V.K.Krishna Menon at the helm, Nehru planned to turn the Indian Army into a mere constabulary force of 100,000. Within a year or two, China launched a surprise attack (after similar Doklam type Chinese Checkers in Ladakh). The unmitigated disaster that was A.K.Antony was only further proof of the need for a governing class that has a strong affiliation for military affairs—beyond mere mantra japa of “Chanakya!“.

It is true, as those who actually understand global political affairs will tell you, that the risk of foreign funded military coups was at one point very great. One need only look at the Republic of India’s neighbour to the West to see just how frequent they could be. Even its neighbour to the North has come tantalisingly close to this very real reality of political life. The first step to fore-stalling or mitigating such risks would be to have a governing class that the officer class would not feel disgusted by. The current crop of the corrupt lining the IAS and the Rajya Sabha is exhibit A in a fool’s gallery of fops.

The Prime Minister has rather wisely been taking to the ancient nostrum of “minding the solidiers” and has restored a measure of trust between the Bharatiya Sena and the Bharatiya Sarkar. The current Raksha Mantri is a very efficient minister, and MP’s such as Rajyavardhan Rathore and Kiren Rijiju cut dashing figures. But the governing classes and would-be elites must build on even this, and regain a strong sense of the native Indic military sense, and military sense begins with strategic thinking. Winning in war is more than just a matter of mere numbers.

Api panchashatham suraa mrudananthi mahathim chamoom |

Athavaa pancha shat saptha vijayanthaanivarthinah || sl. 181

Even five hundred determined and well-trained soldiers can defeat a large army. Sometimes even five, six or seven such heroes who do not withdraw and fight bravely may emerge victorious [1,141]

—Siva Dhanurveda

If “war is too important to be left to the generals”, then it is definitely too important to be left to the hands of poets and pedants. Serious politicians with the Dharmic martial ethos and modern strategic education are required. The list of Dhanurveda personalities we listed above cut across caste and class, because they all faced the unignorable exigency of competence. All too much emphasis has been placed on Government, which in turn has become code for mere electioneering and politics. True Governance is rooted in Rajadharma, which is what is missing in today’s governing classes, with rare exception. An education in Governance and Modern Strategic Affairs is required to not only take the tradition of Dhanurveda into the Modern (and Post-Modern) era, but also to steer India and the rest of the world away from strategic disaster.

Indeed, the stakes of Dhanurveda are far higher than military honour or an “izzat ka sawal”. The very fate of humanity’s freedom depends on native Kshatriyata to re-emerge across caste lines focused above all on competence and character. We conclude this introductory article on the Indic Tradition of Dhanurveda and Dharma (and why they remain relevant), rather ironically, with a quote from a European General of whom you might have heard:

It is character that remains the Achilles heel of governing classes around the world, and India can no longer risk a governing class (or wannabe governing class) steeped in incompetence, completely clueless on strategic affairs, and utterly hypocritical and characterless. Those who are so compromised they induct and promote foreign “acharyas” to teach Indians how to “decolonise” are the least qualified to govern…period—their claims to “Chanakyanism” aside.

Vishvaksena Janardhana

It is time to  return to Krishna Niti. To properly understand modern Military Affairs, the ethos of the Kshatriya (the native Bharatiya Kshatriya) is required to train, mentor, and anoint a governing class across caste lines. That is the path of not only the Dhanurveda of King Prthu, but of Dharmic Civilization’s Revival itself.

  1. Arya, Ravi Prakash. Dhanurveda – The Vedic Military Science.Rohtak: Indian Foundation for Vedic Science (Amazon Books).  2014
  2. Ray, Purnima. Vasishta’s Dhanurveda Samhita.Delhi: J.P.Publishing House.
  3. Gaur, Niketan. Sthapatya Ved-Vastu Sastra: Ideal Homes, Colony and Town Planning. New Delhi: New Age Books. 2009
  4. Rangarajan, L.N. Edit, Kautilya. The Arthashastra. New Delhi. Penguin.1992
  5. Sukra Niti
  6. Kota, Venkatachalam.
  7. Singh, Sarva Daman. Ancient Indian Warfare.Delhi: MLBD.1997
  8. Pappu, Venugopala Rao. Nrtta Ratnavali of Jayasenapati. Kakatiya Heritage Trust. 2013

Intro to Sthaapatya Veda — Indic Architecture, Sculpture, & Painting

Indian Architecture has been the subject of much discussion and debate. Often times, rootless people have a tendency to downplay the native tradition and place emphasis on theorised “foreign contributions” to the Indic Canon. The reality, however, is that there is a long and ancient tradition of not only Art & Architecture, but even City Planning per the Vedic Tradition. In fact, while these are all often grouped under Vaastu Sastra, they are in fact properly categorised under the upaveda known as Sthaapatya Veda.


Much as Sangeeta Sastra & Nrtya Sastra emerged from the Gandharva Veda, so too does our tradition assert that Vaastu Sastra, Silpa Sastra, and Chitra Sastra emerged from Sthaapatya Veda. “It expounds the principles involved in the areas of Vastusastra (Architecture and Planning), Silpasastra (Sculpture and Iconography), Chitrakalaa (Painting in all branches“. [1,1] Just as the Gandharva Veda is attached to the Saama Veda, this upaveda is attached to the Atharva Veda. Further, knowledge of Ayurveda, Gandharva Veda, Jyotisha, and Saamudrika Sastra is also relevant to the field.

Central to Sthaapatya Veda is the Sthaapathi (master-architect). Sthaapathoh karma sthapatyam (the work of an architect is Sthaapatya Veda). [4,44] Silpa-Sastra has a section called Sthaapati-lakshana, or the Characteristics of a Sthapathi. It says:

“I am now going to described the Sthaapatya as handed down to us from generation to generation, by the knowing of which the values and defects of the Sthaapati are known”. The Sthaapatya is fourfold— the traditional lore (Sastra), the practical experience (Karma), intuitive insight (Prajna) and the righteous conduct and character [4, 45]

Vishvakarma is considered the originator of this field of study, and Pauranic tradition holds him to the be the Divine Architect. The great cities of Dvaraka and Indraprastha are attributed to his supreme skill in the field of city planning.

For civilized people a comfortable residence is as necessary as food and clothes. In fact the standard of civilization seems to be regulated, amongst other things, by durability, scientific plan, aesthetic construction, and successful finish of buildings, religious, residential or military. [1]

Maanasaara (‘the essence of measurement’, is considered the authoritative and exhaustive text on this topic today. However, the philosophy behind Sthaapatya Veda in general and Vaastu in particular is far more ancient. “The Creative feelings of Rsis, who were attributed to be the authors of the Indian Vaastu and Silpa texts, and the practicing Silpins had to activate the centre called aakaasa or aatman“.[3,17] This aligns very much with the common thread of Dharmic thought across the native Indic traditions.

For ancient Indian writers, at any rate, architecture seems to have been a very fascinating subject, inasmuch as the Vedic, Buddhist, Epic, Pauranic, Agamic, Historical, Political and even Astronomical literature bears traces of it. [1,1]

Theoretical Foundations

As with the Indic tradition in general, the origins of epistemology date back to our most sacred texts. Along with the Vedas, the Puranas, Agamas, and literature from the Buddhist and other Nastika philosophies have all contributed to Indic Art and Architecture. Therefore, an article on Sthaapatya should give space to all of them.


The Hymns of the Atharva-veda give some information about the construction of a house.” [1,1] Maharishi Vasishta is recorded to have spoken in the Rig Veda of his wish to have a tri-dhaatu-saranam constructed for him, indicating the varied types of housing even at an ancient date. [4, 51] The Sulba-sutras, which supplement the vast corpus of the Kalpa-sutra literature, discusses the measurement and construction of various vedis (vedic altars). This is often seen as foundation for the origin of Architecture in India. Altars mentioned by Baudhayana and Apastamba reach to the height of 10-15 layers of bricks.

As western scholars would later minimisingly mention, “the authors of the Vedic literature ‘were not ignorant of stone forts, walled cities, stone houses, carved stones, and brick edifices“.[1, 3] This is, therefore, even more so the case with the authors of the Pauranic literature.


The Mahabharata contains short but comprehensive accounts of the cities of Dvaraka (III.5), Indraprastha (1.207, 30f), a floating city (III.173,3), Mithilaa (III.207, 7) and others.[1,9]

Itihaasa-Purana is valuable source of information for Classical Indic Architecture. While it is averred that many accounts may seem fantastical to our ‘modern’ eyes, they give insight on not only continuity of theory to the present day, but also provide understanding of native inspirations (rather than the current obsession with native implementations of foreign inspiration).

The Epics furnish copious description of cities, storeyed buildings, balconies porticos, triumphal arches, enclosing walls, flights of stone masonry steps for tanks and a variety of other structures, all indicative of a flourishing architecture in the country [of India]. [1,8]

Perhaps the most famous account of City Construction in the Epics was that of ancient Indraprastha (modern Delhi). From the clearing of Khandavaprastha forest to the yagna performed for its construction, to its design and implementation by Vishwakarma, to even its beguiling wonders that caused Duryodhana to fall and Draupadi to laugh, one sees the start, completion, and effects of such beautiful municipalities.

Notably, the city plan of Ayodhya is ‘strikingly similar’ to the town-plan listed in the Maanasara and various other Architectural treatises. “The temples (devaayatana) in this city (Ayodhya) were as resplendent as the sky. Its assembly-halls, gardens, and alms-houses (prapaa) were most elegant; and everywhere were arranged extensive buildings crowded with men and women……..The houses were as mines of gems, and the abodes of the goddess of fortune. The steeples (sikhara) of the houses were as resplendent as the crests of mountains and bore hundreds of pavilions (vimana) like the celestial palace of the chief among the Devas. The rooms were full of riches and corn, exquisitely gilt and decorated, and seemed as charming as pictures; and they were so arranged that men could pass from one room to another without perceiving any inequality.” [1, 9]


While the Ramayana and Mahabharata are traditionally classified under Itihasa, the Puranas proper (said to number 108) provide a wealth of information on the science of Art & Architecture proper.  The Matsya purana has 8 expansive sections discussing Vaastu and Silpa in great detail. One entire chapter is dedicated to the pillar, which is considered ‘the regulator of the whole composition of a building’. 5 styles of columns with 8 different mouldings are described. The other chapters focus on silpa and discuss taalamaana (proportionate measurement of images). Skanda purana has 3 chapters dedicated to it, and makes mention of construction of a golden hall, special pavilions for the wedding of a princess, and even chariots. The Garuda purana comprehensively discusses the 3 main types of buildings: religious, residential, and military. Layouts of temples, palaces, pleasure-gardens, fortresses, and fortified cities are all reviewed. Murthi-sthaapana (installation of religious icons) are also discussed. These are performed by a Sthaapaka (architectural priest) distinct from Sthaapathi (professional architect). [1, 11]

Finally, the Agni Purana of all the Puranas, allocated the greatest length to Sthaapatya Veda. It devotes 16 chapters to town-planning, 2 chapters with residential building, and 13 for sculpture. That temples are again discussed here shows the antiquity of temples to Sanatana Dharma itself. There are of course other puranas which treat on the topic, such as the Naarada, Linga, Vaayu, and Varaaha, but there are all better expounded upon elsewhere.

The most notable of the minor puranas is the Vishnudharmottara. It extensively covers the Artistic tradition of India, with special emphasis on sculpture and painting.

Bhagavata Purana


The agamas are critical text to the Vedic tradition that are still used today for both temple construction and temple management. Though legend asserts that there were once countless agamas, today there are about 200, with  3 Main categories: Vaishnava (108), Shaiva (28), and Shakta (64). In fact, from these are collected the 64 Tantras (but that is a topic for another time).

The Kaamikaagama dedicates 60 of its 75 chapters to Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting. It is a highly technical and systematic text (much like the Silpa Sastra) and deals with matters such as soil testing and preparation, selection of sites, measurement scheme and cardinal points for building orientation, as well as ground plans. 20 different types of buildings are mentioned. It also provides exceedingly technical classifications such as the various styles (Nagara, Dravida, and Vesara), shapes (masculine, feminine, and neuter), materials (Suddha, Mishra, and Samkeerna), amalgamation of materials (Sthaanaka, Aasana, and Sayana), as well as various ayadi formulae regarding proportionality. [1, 13]

The Karanaagama  allocates much of its treatment to Sthaapatya Veda, with 37 chapters on the subject. The Suprabhedaagama dedicates 15 chapters, but is highly useful for laypeople due to its brevity, clarity, and precision. It is deemed superior to Varahamihira‘s Brhat Samhita in such matters and has much in common with the Maanasaara. Finally, the Vaikhaanasaagama has 2 chapters on sculpture and various taala measures.

There are other Indic texts discussing various topics under Sthaapatya Veda. These include the Arthasastra of Kautilya, the Harsacharita of Bana, the Garga-samhita, and so on. Poetry, such as Bhavabhuti’s Uttaramacharita also mention aspects of Sthaapatya, as does Yaaska’s Nirukta and other subsequent compilations such as the Amarakosa.

However, this is also a unique point of divergence as we see along with the Astika Vaidika Dharma tradition, the Bauddha Dharma contribution to the Indic concepts of Art & Architecture.


“In the Buddha’s time and in that portion of northern India where the Buddhist influence was most early felt—that is to say, in the districts including and adjoining those now called the United Provinces and Behar’—the arrangements of villages were practically similar…Villagers are described as ‘uniting of their own accord to build mote-hills and rest-houses and reservoirs, to mend the roads between their own and adjacent villages, and even to lay out parks.'” [1,3]

The stupa is arguably the most famous contribution of Bauddha Dharma to Indic Civilization. Amaravati, Sarnath, Sanchi, Naalanda, and Takshasila all feature constructions famous the world over. While much of it is naturally an outgrowth of the Vedic Canon, the Buddha himself appears to have been a progenitor of a distinct approach to architecture. “At places it appears as if Buddha were delivering discourses on architecture. As a matter of fact, he enjoined upon his devotees the supervision of building construction as one of the duties of the order. It is stated in one of the early texts that the Bhikkhus were told on a certain occasion by the Blessed One, after the delivery of a religious discourse, with respect to dwellings, thus: ‘I allow you O Bhikkus, abodes of five kinds—Vihara, Arddhayoga, Praasaada, Harmya, and Guhaa’.” [1,4]

Viharas are the famous grand monasteries of the Bauddhas, Ardhayoggas are considered to be unique to Vanga (Bengal) and were part ceremonial and part residential. Praasaadas are purely residential multi-storied constructions. Harmyas are more humble versions of praasaadas, and Guhas are part underground cave constructions, which are famous through India. These of course often feature the Chaitya halls known in rock-cut cave architecture. Just to give insight into the timescales associated with their completion, a small Vihara was said to take 5-6 years and a large Vihara or Prasada 10-12 years.

Houses were built comprising ‘dwelling-rooms and retiring-rooms, and store-rooms, and service halls and halls with fire-places in them, and store-houses,, and closets, and cloisters, and halls for exercise, and wells, and sheds for the well, and bath-rooms, and halls attached to the bath-rooms, and ponds, and open-roofed sheds.” [1,4-5]

There was also mention of pavilions, lotus ponds, and inner chambers of 3 types: Sivikaa-garbha (square halls), Naalikaa-garbha or rectangular halls, and Harmya-garbha (large dining halls). Gates, doors, screens, and revolving doors are all mentioned. We also find discussion of various types of furniture such as divans (pallanka), rectangular chairs (aasandako), sofa (sattango), state chair (bhadda-peetam), cushioned chair (paeetikaa), cane-bottomed chair (koccham) and so on. There is also description of carpets, rugs, pillows, and other such accents and fixtures.

Literature providing insight into the Buddhist approach to architecture includes the Jatakas, the Nikayas, various Sutras such as the Mahaa-Suddassana.

File:Amaravati Stupa relief at Museum.jpg
Frieze of Amaravati Stupa, Andhra Pradesh
Key Concepts

There are a vast and variegated number of concepts associated with Sthaapatya Veda, given its status as a meta-category for Art & Architecture. As this article is meant to primarily provide a snapshot for readers, it will be more restricted in coverage.

Any object is a vastu, hence any creation deriving from an object is Vaastu.  Vaastu literally means “site planning”.  [2] As such subjects discussed below include home planning, municipality planning, and public hygiene.

Home Planning

Land Type

There are 16 types of Lands. They are classified under forest lands, fertile lands and ordinary lands. One that is fertile, verdant, full of hills and valleys all around, contains tall and “sweet scented trees and shrubs, where the atmosphere is serene, cool, and calm, where songs of birds abound, such a location is ideal for the selection of a dwelling site.” [1, 17]

Soil Type

Per the Maanasaara, “the ground should have sweet, dense, soft, and pleasant soil.” [1,17]

Ground to be avoided include those having the smell of honey, ghee, burnt items, birds, fish, or rotten bodies, those adjacent to Royal palaces or factories or workshops, road crossings, tomb, thorny trees, uneven surface, circular/concave land, and those infested by wild animals. Suitable ground is characterised by “having various colours, taste, fertile, redolent like musk by black bees, having all good features“, sloping hills and ponds in the right directions, and so on. Such a plot of land should be selected and purified. [1,18]

Each House plan is divided into x number of plots. Each set of plots is dedicated to a deity (such as Brahma, Indra, Vivasvan, and so on). Various directions and sets of plots are specified as ideal for certain occupations. It is said that water bodies should be made in the North East, South/Southwest suitable for dining halls, etc. Specification for bedrooms, study rooms, treasuries, and rooms for amusements, and flower gardens are also made on the basis of plot set. Proportionality (something modern Indians lack in behaviour) is mandated everywhere.


There is a specified ritual for commencement of construction. Jyotisha should be consulted to determined the auspicious moment, followed by bath and prayers. A Sthaapathi (Architect) should also be consulted.  Following this, erection of the gnomon (similar to a sundial)and pegs can be done with the assistance of a surveyor. There are 3 types of gnomons. These are long, middle and smaller.


At the centre of the prepared site a circle having a radius double that of the selected gnomon should be drawn using a chord. The gnomon should be firmly fixed at the centre of the circle.” [1, 19] It’s quite clear from descriptions from the Maanasaara, that not only Jyotihsastra, but even Ganita that was crucially & carefully applied by the Sthaapathis.

Municipality Planning

Artist representation of Lothal, Gujarat

Urban planning of the Indic variety did not merely focus on urban areas and forts. Towns and even villages were meticulously planned and established. As such, what is called city planning is better termed municipality planning, since even ancient Indic villages not only conformed to certain patterns, but had specified plans for development and maintenance.

32 ground plans are given in the Maanasaara for the construction of buildings, villages, towns, palaces, and forts. Rather than give an exhaustive list here, the construction types will be covered instead


Per Sthaapatya Veda, there were 8 types of Villages. A separate exegesis on Vaastu Saastra will better cover the topic. Nevertheless, here is a brief overview:

  1. Dandaka—suited for agraharas, with 12-300 houses, including some for munis.
  2. Sarvotabhadra—another village type suitable for aescetics (Vedic, Jain, Buddhist), but in this case housing all classes of people with different occupations. Mathas may also be constructed here.
  3. Nandyaavarta—meaning frog-shaped, this type of village may even feature royal residences. Streets here are larger and feature footpaths as well. Residences for musicians and dancers are also specified.
  4. Padmaka—Has 4-8 streets. Generally follows the pattern of the nandyaavarta.
  5. Svastika—This village type has 81 plots and is particularly purposed for the residence of kings. Naturally the main street shape is in the design of a Svastika.Has a royal palace, with residential buildings laid out around temples
  6. Prastara—with 81, 64, or 49 plots, this village type is square-shaped. There is a circular road, and it is ideal as fortified trading municipality.
  7. Kaarmuka—This village type is ideal for mercantile and productive classes. Vishnu and Siva temples are stipulated for construction at the junction of 2 streets.
  8. Chaturmukha—Square or rectangular in layout, it has four main streets in four cardinal directions, with a round boundary wall. This village type can be purposed for all ways of life.

Reading various texts of Sthaapatya Veda, the ideal of the Village Republic becomes clear. The first priority is made for defence. Each village was expected to be surrounded by a high wall of brick or stone, along with a ditch beyond it to serve as an obstacle in the event of an attack. Four main gates are considered the standard with 2 intersecting N-S and E-W streets. Often one for circumambulation of the entire village is also advised.  Tanks and ponds are also mentioned. Houses in the street could range from 1 to 12 storeys. [1,39] The main point was that residential houses should be located in areas without street congestion from traffic. In addition, murthi-sthaapana was to take place only during festivals or special occasions, and with proper religious rituals and honours. [1, 38]

Most notable, however, is that provision is made not only for village planning but re-planning!In the case of replanning a village, the architect or town planner should follow the order laid down for all villages.” [1,39] And for those who believe Hindus have no sense of heritage, here is a specific exhortation for village re-planning: “if there is any ancient building or temple in the village it should be retained and preserved.” [1, 39]


Palitana — Jain City of Temples

City and town planning are admittedly more complex.  These were categorised based on who resided in the area, the most important being the ruler of the particular polity.  There were 9 categories for cities based on 9 types of rulers: Astragrahin, Praharaarka, Pattaabhaj, Mandalesa, Pattaadhara, Parshnika, Narendra, Maharaja, Chakravartin. These in turn had various sub-categories.

The other set of cities are simply known as Nagara or Kevala:

  • Nagara/Kevala—City with four gates in the cardinal directions. Army barracks and guard quarters with temples and markets.
  • Pura—Without a royal palace.  It has many gardens and orchards for people of the various varnas. It is a centre of trade and commerce, with temples for worship
  • Nagaree—A city near a mountain or river. It should have a wall for protection
  • Kharvata—A city near pasture lands with mixed population
  • Kheta— A forest municipality inhabited by hunters
  • Kubjaka—A town with diverse types of people. It does not have a defensive wall
  • Pattana—A citadel near a river (much like Mohenjo-daro)

Forts were categorised as Sivira (camp or outpost), Vahinimukha (city with defence establishments), Sthaniya (strategic city near mountains/passes), Dronaka (fortified town built on banks of a river for commerce), Samviddha (town for brahmins), Kolaka (a samviddha with a palace for the king), Chaari/Nigama (town primarily for religious and commercial purposes), and Skandhavara (fortified town for kshatriyas). [1, 44]

There are of course the traditionally specified types of fortresses, which are 7 in number: Mountain fort (giri durgam), Forest fort (vana durgam), Water fort (jala durgam), Clay/Cave fort (panka/guha durgam), Chariot fort (ratha durgam), Divine fort (divya durgam, has extensive fortress with efficient defensive system), and Mixed fort (mishra durgam, situated among both both mountains and forest). [1, 45]

Temple construction is a topic of its own.

Harmandir Saheb – Golden Temple of Amritsar, Punjab

Given the technicality, Temple construction is better dealt with again under Vaastu Sastra. Not to play to the gallery by saying “pehle sauchalay, phir devalay“, (which should really not be an either or proposition…) but another critical aspect to discuss is the emphasis on public hygiene. Modern Indian municipalities may not be known for this (the cost of Colonialism), but ancient India certainly was.

Interestingly, not just cities, but even villages had to plan for hygiene, drainage, and catchment.

Drainage & Hygiene

With the passage of time and the efforts of archaeologists, it’s becoming more and more difficult to deny the greater and greater similarities between the Vedic culture that is recorded (and still lived today) and the ever increasing discoveries of the scale and spread of the Indus Valley Civilization, so much so, that it is increasingly being called the Sarasvati-Sindhu Civilization. This, of course, dovetails with the Vedic Tradition itself, which asserts the Sarasvati-Sindhu (Brahmavarta) as the original home of all Indians.

Given the likelihood of this, and texts such as the Arthasastra which specify the high degree of regimented and disciplined public hygiene, Harappa and Mohenjo-daro are very much emblematic of Sthaapatya Veda’s emphasis on the same. If these cities in Sindhu desh show the urban plan of drainage, Sthaapatya Veda describes it right down to the village level.

It is also no wonder that Ayurveda is closely associated with it. According to Sthaapatya Ved it is imperative to known about other various valuable effects to the environment given out by various types of trees, plants, shrubs and herbs, etc. This has been studied methodically and their effects to human physiology have been stated. This is effectively used in planning a garden around a home, planting trees around a village, public gardens and tree in the cities. The trees and plants have been classified according to the location of their use.” [1, 48]

Vriksha Ayurveda, due to it extensive nature, is again, better discussed elsewhere. Nevertheless, this dovetails into the key terms for the topic.


Keerthi Thorana, Warangal, Telangana
  • Vaastu Sastra—Study of Architecture & City Planning
  • Silpa Sastra—Study of Sculpture & Iconography
  • Chitra Sastra—Study of Painting
  • Chitra lakshana—Painting
  • Taksana—Carpentry
  • Rajadhani— Capital City
  • Graama— Village
  • Thorana—Arch
  • Devaayatana—Temple
  • Sabha—Assembly Hall
  • Sikhara—Steeple
  • Gala—Dome
  • Uttara—Lintel
  • Jaala—Jali (screen/lattice)
  • Gopura—Tower
  • Garbagriha—Sanctum Sanctorum
  • Praasaada—Palace
  • Vimaana—Pavilion
  • Visesha Bhavana—Palace of Beauty
  • Marga—Road
  • Manusyalaya—Residence
  • Aarama—Guest house
  • Alinda—Verandah
  • Prakaara—Ramparts
  • Parikha—Moats
  • Kapisirsaka—Battlements
  • Kautukalya—Museum
  • Silpasala— Art House
  • Istaka—Brick
  • Stambha—Pillar
  • Dvara—Door
  • Kaksa—Room
  • Gavaaksa—Window
  • Attaalika—Edifices/Buildings
  • Sthaapathi—Architect
  • Sthaapaka—Presiding priest at an architectural site
  • Silpi/Bhaskara—Sculptor
  • Chitrakaara—Painter

Important Texts

Vishvakarma Vastu Sastra

Vishvakarma Prakasa

Vishnudharmottara Purana

18 Mahapuranas (Matsya, Skanda, Garuda, Agni, etc)

Silpa Sastras

Silpa Ratna

Brihat Samhita of Varaahamihira



Agamas, ie Kaamikaagama, Karanaagama, Suprabhedaagama & Vaikhaanasaagama



Samarangana Sutra of King Bhoja

Aparaajita-Prcchaa of Bhuvanadevacharya

Leelavati of Bhaskaracharya (mentions architecturally important concepts)


Much like virtually every field of study—even contribution—in Indic Civilization, Indian Art & Architecture is also subject to great controversy. On the one hand, western and western-sponsored “scholars” seek to minimise and question every accomplishment, be it intellectual or architectural, and on the other hand, the atisayokti-prone argumentative Indian reacts in grand hyperbole (“Taj Mahal was Shiva temple!“—[even this theory guys, asserts it was a palace that housed a Shiva Temple…details matter].

Marxist “historians” have only complicated matters more by inventing schools that didn’t previously exist “Indo-saracenic”, and crediting everything under the sun (pillars, domes, screens, even temples!) to foreign invaders. Finally, foreign invaders themselves gleefully catalogued their vandalism and iconoclasm that resulted in the destruction of many beautiful palaces and temples. Ghazni himself waxed eloquent on the wondrous temple of Mathura, saying it would take 200 years to build such a magnificent and glorious structure—before he proceeded to rob it of its inlaid gold and gems and burn it down with sulphur and naphta. Self-proclaimed “seculars” engage in all sorts of denialism of such realities, despite widespread primary source evidence. How can a person interested in facts, and Historical Truth, navigate his or her way through such a quagmire?

The answer lies in starting from the roots. And the roots of Indian Art & Architecture (real Indian Art & Architecture) are in Sthaapatya Veda.

Hindus had codified every branch of knowledge in some kind of Saastra and we had a Saastra on Art also. Among many Vedas and Upa-Vedas there was a Sthaapatya-Veda. Accordingly Hindu Art had a very vast scope in which Fine Arts, Technical Arts and Applied Arts, all were included. We had a full-fledged science which was called Shilpasasatra or Vaastusaastra. We had also a tradition of Kalaas what are known as ‘Catussastri-kalaas” [2, 1]

Srirangam Temple, Trichy, Tamizh Nadu

As seen  above with the Srirangam temple and also with the Vedanga Jyotisha, most of the traditional sciences in Indic Epistemology have an holistic unity. Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting are seamlessly integrated not only with themselves, but also with Ganita and Jyotihsastra. Many of course naturally protest saying the mythological and metaphysical should be kept apart from the modern and material. But in fairness, is that always the case?

Are the findings of Dvaraka real? —maybe. Are the roots of the Sarasvati-Indus Valley, Vedic?—possibly. But the answer to whether or not there was a native and ancient Indic approach to Art & Architecture should certainly be “definitely”. And that Indic approach to Art & Architecture is found in Sthaapatya Veda.

Click here to Buy this Book!!

  1. Gaur, Niketan. Sthapatya Ved-Vastu Sastra: Ideal Homes, Colony and Town Planning. New Delhi: New Age Books. 2009
  2. Shukla, Lalit Kumar. A Study of Hindu Art and Architecture (with special reference to the terminology). Chowkhamba. 1972
  3. Singh, B. Satyanarayana. The Art and Architecture of Kakatiyas.Delhi: Bharatiya Kala Prakashan. 1999
  4. Shukla, D.N. Hindu Science of Architecture (Vol. I). New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers. 2008

Vedanga Jyotisha & Indology

The method of simply assuming results, once one is persuaded that they are true, rather than trying to prove them, has all the advantages of thievery over honest toil.
- Bertrand Russell quoted in The Origins of Astronomy [5].


This short article is a prequel to the ICP post on Vedanga Jyotisha (VJ). The prior post contains the answers to the questions from Indologists that are listed in this article.

Vedanga Jyotisha

Epistemological Continuity

Scholars from within the Indic tradition successfully decoded the complex VJ text available in the form multiple rescensions, after 150 years of attempts by researchers from all over the world [1]. Their rigorous analyses, made possible by their multi-disciplinary expertise in Sanskrit, Jyotishastra, Ganita Sastra, and astronomy, have helped debunk many unsubstantiated claims regarding Indic sciences and VJ. Their research work can also enlighten contemporary eminent historians in India who remain unaware of the deep connection between science and Vedas. The findings about VJ clearly establish that its scientific innovations arise from Rta and Vedic Yagna, and its calendar recalls earlier Indic traditions [2].  The inter-connected developments in astronomy and other sciences also coincided with the growth of Ganita (‘science of computation’). This progress was part of an independent and continuous Indic tradition [5, 11] that spanned more than 3300 years, from the VJ and Sulba Sutras, to the genius of Madhava and Srinivasa Ramanujan. We have discussed Ganita Sastra and its epistemological continuity in this ICP post. Due to the integral unity [9] of dharma traditions, we also find this continuity in multiple other fields including Indic artmusic, dance, etc.

Indologists Study Vedanga Jyotisha

The previous post concluded with three findings that are pertinent to this post:

  1. The date range for VJ (1150 – 1550 BCE).
  2. The location of VJ (Northern India / Kashmir).
  3. Necessary qualifications to study VJ in its original form [1]:
    • a) Expertise in Sanskrit,
    • b) knowledge of Western/modern astronomy, and
    • c) an understanding of the concepts/practices of Hindu astronomy.

The absence of one or more of these three qualifications is likely to nullify the research effort and end in frustration [1].

Indology is a peculiar field. Sportspersons, scientists, and actors love their work, take pride in the history and traditions of their respective fields, and generally take their field forward. However, many career Indologists loathe the subject they study: Indic history and culture, and their research effort is directed toward producing results that can bring both down.

Summary of Claims

We reviewed the various assertions made by some (not all) western Indologists regarding VJ and ancient Indic astronomy and compiled a representative set of ten claims to discuss.

  1. The Vedic Indians possessed only a crude calendar.
  2. The Indics borrowed ‘Nakshatra’ from Mesopotamia.
  3. The Vedic calendar had no systematic intercalation.
  4. The date for VJ is 600 BCE or later.
  5. VJ content was created in Mesopotamia.
  6. Aryans brought astronomy and VJ ideas to India.
  7. Indian Astronomy was borrowed from Mesopotamia.
  8. The superiority of European time-keeping.
  9. The water clock is a Mesopotamian invention that Indics borrowed.
  10. Indic sciences exhibit a lack of originality, are repetitive, and non innovative.

Christopher Hitchens fans would say “what can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence“. On the other hand, these claims have been systematically studied and countered by multiple researchers, which allows one to dismiss them with evidence. For brevity, we have reviewed the arguments in [5], [3], and [1] to produce a limited response to each of these claims.

Claim 1

The Vedic Indians possessed only a crude calendar.


Many of the ideas in VJ are present in prior Vedic calendars. It is sophisticated for its time, and its mean measurements of lunar cycles and parameters, as well as the start time of the Yuga (a fundamental time unit of VJ), are remarkably accurate. The computations performed required expertise in modulo arithmetic, and the rule of three was employed as a subroutine. The invariant Nakshatra coordinate system, the Javadi table, the self-organizing and self-correcting Yuga based calendar, etc. indicate the depth of thought that the Vedic Indians put into the VJ.  The Javadi table is a thing of beauty that emerges from Rta. We found hidden inside this table, a full-period linear congruential (pseudo random number) generator that enumerates the ecliptic longitudes of all the full and new moons in a Yuga. VJ combined observational astronomy and Ganita (computation). The resultant balancing of order and chaos is characteristic of the Indic method [9] that is anything but crude.

Summary: False claim that has to be rejected.

Claim 2

The ancient Indians borrowed Nakshatra from Mesopotamia.


The commonality of certain prominent Nakshatras across cultures is unsurprising since everyone shares the same sky. In particular, it has been shown that the importance of Krittika nakshatra (star group ‘Pleiades’) is special to not just one or two cultures, but to peoples across all continents [3]. The Vedic lists of Nakshatras start with Krittika and the Rta basis for this choice is that the seasonal year begins when the sun in this Nakshatra sector (in Vasanta ऋतु, spring season). Krittika is relatively easy to observe and is important for a variety of reasons tied to the seasonal cycles of agricultural planning, food gathering, etc., and not because one culture found it first and shared this ‘IP’ all over the world.

Nakshatras (as stars or star-groups) are fundamental to the Vedic calendar as summarized in the Vedanga Jyotisha post. On the other hand, the Nakshatra coordinate system of the VJ is a uniquely Indic development that is not found elsewhere. In VJ, the Nakshatras identify wide ecliptic sectors that yield an invariant ecliptic reference system, and not the stars themselves [3], as misunderstood by some western Indologists.

Summary: False claim that has to be rejected.

Claim 3

The Vedic calendar had no systematic intercalation


In our post, we summarized the findings of researchers on intercalation in VJ, and discussed the intercalary months (adhimasa or adhikamasa) employed by Vedic calendars, and how the VJ Yuga is a self-organizing system derived from Rta that contains built-in error-correction.  VJ authors knew that the seasons must be synchronized with the sidereal year [3]. Such corrections prevented cascading errors (something that the European Julian calendar carried forward for more than a millennium until it was repaired for theological reasons by Catholic priests to safeguard the history-centrism [9] of their religion). The maximum error possible in the Vedic calendar has been calculated and shown to be bounded. Over the centuries, updated calendars and astronomical results were produced by the Indian astronomers and Ganita scholars.

The Indic method is systematic and is characterized by the Sanskrit non-translatable term abhiyukti (~algorithm) which is not entirely mechanical, but is comfortable with approximations, exceptions and non-mechanical corrections. This aspect can be seen continuously in Ganitasastra from the VJ to Aryabhata, from Madhava to Ramanujan.

Summary: False claim that has to be rejected.

Claim 4

VJ date is 600 BCE or later.


The astronomical time-stamp present in the VJ itself, a statistical analysis of the Nakshatra system, and other data enable us to narrow down VJ to a date range 1150-1550 BCE. It must be remembered that the VJ recalls earlier traditions that go further back in time. The 600 BCE or later date may have been proposed by Indologists so that it would be later than the earliest available Mesopotamian texts on astronomy (700 BCE), in order to satisfy their assumption of transmission from a Mesopotamian source.

Summary: This Claim has to be rejected. VJ dates several centuries prior, and is itself a culmination of results from previously existing traditions.

Claim 5

VJ content was created in Mesopotamia


Indologists latched on to the 3:2 ratio of the longest to the shortest day given in VJ to make this claim. This claim has been well-studied in [3]. The ratio depends on the latitude where these observations were made, and multiple locations qualify. However, most Mesopotamian areas are excluded, except for a couple of cultural centers in West Asia. Furthermore, a mathematical analysis reveals locations in the latitude range of 25N to 30N to be the more likely candidates, increasing the likelihood of an Indic origin, and significantly weakening claim 5.  Furthermore, mention of this ratio shows up in Mesopotamian literature after 700 BCE, long after VJ’s latest possible date.

Summary:  Unsubstantiated claim that has to be rejected. Kashmir is a likely candidate. Mesopotamian locations are unlikely.

Claim 6

Aryans brought astronomy and VJ ideas to India.


Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT), invented by Max Muller in the 19th century has been thoroughly debunked (historians have noted that the racist Aryan theory has been cynically exploited by two totalitarian regimes guilty of large-scale crimes against humanity: the British Raj and the Third Reich). There is no mention of such an invasion in Vedic text or Itihasa. Furthermore, the location and date of VJ, as well as its epistemology, considerably diminishes the chances of a non-Indic origin of VJ. There is a vast amount of work done by Indic scholars on this topic. The interested reader is referred to ‘Breaking India, by Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan.

Summary: AIT today is a discredited theory, albeit one that has considerable propaganda value in contemporary Indian ‘vote bank’ politics, and thus the debate is unlikely to end soon. The only sure way to ‘prove’ AIT today is to assume that AIT is true and then find data (genetic models are popular in recent times) that agree with this assumption. Quite Easily Done.

Claim 7

Indian Astronomy was borrowed from Mesopotamia.


Again, the time period of VJ and prior Vedic calendars, and the secure epistemology of Indic astronomy, makes this a remote possibility. There are several differences between ancient Mesopotamian and Indic astronomy since the latter is rooted in Rta, which is Satya in action. For example: A seven-day week is recognized as a Babylonian artifact, and is not found in Vedic text. Note that a 7-day week is not clearly tied to Rta whereas ahoratra (day-and-night), Pakshas / lunar phases, and ऋतु (seasons) have naturally occurring periods that are observable (pratyaksha). They represent Rta, and are used within ancient Indic calendars.  Per [3], the earliest mention of a seven day week in Indic literature is 484 CE, nearly two millennia after VJ. Research shows that the Hindus developed their own calendar and astronomy, and in many areas, were several centuries ahead of their time. (For example, see Ahargana in claim 8).

Summary: There was little need to borrow astronomical concepts from Mesopotamia or Greece since Indic astronomy was epistemologically secure [5] and advancing quite nicely. Ancient Indics had developed strong traditions in both algebra and geometry [5], a claim that few others (if any), can make. It may have been counter-productive to import alien concepts since it would require the Indics to force fit them into the Indic approach based on pramana, which is no easy task. In fact, a leading Indian scientist has argued that although this Indic policy of rejecting foreign paradigms (that lacked pramana) had positive outcomes, not re-working and adapting them into the dharma framework proved costly later.

Claim 8

The superiority of European time-keeping.


From the 18th century CE, European time-keeping and astronomy made rapid progress and took the lead. However, time-keeping there was not always as well developed. We can mention a couple of examples.

a) The Julian calendar (~45 BCE) produced a cascading error that could not be fixed until the Gregorian reform in 1582 CE. This effort relied at least partially on Indian time-keeping methods, using text from the Indian west coast obtained by visiting European missionaries during this time period. Once the Gregorian reform victory was secured for the church, Roberto De Nobili, the Italian Jesuit missionary in India (in 1610 CE) launched a diatribe against VJ to discredit the source text [11].

b) The Julian day number (not to be confused with the Julian calendar) was first created in Europe in 1583. This system calculates the elapsed time from a fixed date, Julian 1/1/4713 BCE. In comparison, Aryabhata’s Ahargana (‘heap of days’) method [5] for tracking elapsed time was already in use for a thousand years. Without a reliable method for time-reckoning, accurate time-stamping of historical events and record keeping is difficult.

Formidable numerical and calculating challenges had to be overcome by ancient cultures that did not yet possess Ganita. Commenting on the Indologists who ignored these epistemic gaps, Kosla  Vepa [5] remarks:”[ancient Europeans] had no symbols or numbers larger than a thousand. Most Indians have been persuaded by the Colonial power into believing that Indian chronology is faulty and wanting (compared to whom?). Such an assumption is belied by the fact that it is the Indian records that they depended on to decipher what the Greeks did according to David Pingree. We will illustrate the inherent contradictions in their stance towards Indian historical record keeping in the chapter on knowledge transmission, where we examine a half a dozen instances of similar contradictions…”

Time-keeping (from small intra-day units to the largest time units) has been a part of Indian civilization for a long time, and evident in the earliest texts. The importance of history to Indic civilization cannot be understated.

Vedic Cosmology — The Dharmic View of Time

Summary: The claim is rejected since the data suggests otherwise. It makes more sense to reverse the claim and find out whether the ancient Indic methods could be considered dominant based on the available data.

It would not be out of place to recognize the Indics as the original time-keepers of the cosmos.
Claim 9

The water clock is a Mesopotamian invention that Indics borrowed.


Indic water clock designs were different from the Mesopotamian ones. Ohashi’s informative paper (see [3]) on this topic debunks this claim and shows that post-Vedic water clocks were different from Mesopotamian ones. Furthermore, Narahari Achar [7] identified passages in Vedic text that suggest the usage of water clocks in Vedic times were also different in design.

Summary: This claim has to be rejected for lack of evidence.

Claim 10

Indic sciences exhibit a lack of originality, are repetitive, and non-innovative.


The VJ post shows that the exact opposite is true. This claim sounds childish now, after all the evidence meticulously uncovered by researchers, but such claims were taken seriously and parroted by multiple western Indologists in essays and books.  There is a long list of Indologists who spent years learning from Sanskrit Pandits and thereafter U-turned and denied, diluted, or damned with faint praise, the original accomplishments of the ancient Indians, without pretence of objectivity.

Summary: It is time to reverse the gaze and study why, who, and from where the motivation for such sustained hostility to Indic civilization emerges from.

Many churlish claims were made by a researcher named David Pingree. It is worth studying his approach as a representative specimen of Euro-centric bias.

Who was David Pingree?

Professor Pingree was a mathematical historian at Brown University in the US, and much of his professional career involved the study of scientific material in ancient Sanskrit texts. After spending decades wading through Indic works to create his magnum opus, ‘a census (not just a sample) of  the exact sciences in Sanskrit’, he opined that the Indics really did not come up with anything noteworthy and borrowed everything either from Europe (ancient Greeks), and if not Greeks, then from Mesopotamia. Interestingly, the volume of relevant manuscripts available from these ‘sources’ is minuscule compared to the massive amount of ‘borrowed’ material in Sanskrit that Pingree literally had to take a census of [5].

Pingree makes an implicit assumption that designates Indians as knowledge consumers and Greeks/Mesopotamians as knowledge producers. Thereafter, one can always speculate about how this transmission took place and find data that fits this assumption. Such Indologists would claim, without hard evidence, that many valuable results in Sanskrit texts were borrowed. If by chance, Indic priority was undeniable, then the claim would be that the G/M discovered it independently [5]. Pingree was neither the first, nor the last indologist to indulge in such narrative building exercises. The Aryan Invasion fiction is a necessary tool in this Eurocentric propaganda since it provides the Indologist a safe fall-back that ‘in any case, the Indic science and math came from the Aryan master race who invaded India’. The discussions in [5] and [3] thoroughly expose the methods employed by Pingree and other Euro-centric indologists.

It was an uphill task for Pingree to begin with as there are few, if any, primary sources of these claimed Greek results, and the earliest texts relevant to these claims belong to the Common Era [5]. As far as verifiable evidence of Greek-to-Sanskrit transmission to support these claims, there is none. However, in recent times, there is information regarding potential transmission in the reverse direction. In order to create a plausible picture from scant data, some Indologists have employed a technique called speculative reconstruction [5].

Some Indologists may have missed the lesson on 'etaddhasti darshana iva jatyandhah'. Different people can look at the same data and arrive at entirely different conclusions that suits their preconceptions. 

Speculative Reconstruction

A grand narrative promoted by Euro-centric Indologists requires a glorious, ancient Greek past where almost everything important in science and math today originated there (or independently discovered there, if someone else got lucky and did it first). Researchers like Pingree have devoted entire careers, producing results that further this goal. They have succeeded spectacularly, if one looks at all the theorems, results, and entire areas in mathematics that are attributed to Europeans in textbooks, starting from the Pythagoras theorem and Euclidean geometry to Fibonacci series to Newton’s calculus and McLaurin/Taylor series. It is as if no worthwhile mathematics ever happened outside the Judeo-Christian domain (!). These historians of math have often employed speculative reconstruction (SR) to guess the original result from partial data. SR combines imagination with contemporary math to form a conjecture about what was done thousands of years ago.

Recently, researchers have used such methods to try and push back the date of trigonometry in ancient Mesopotamia by creatively reinterpreting an ancient manuscript: Plimpton 322.  Other western experts saw through this as a marketing exercise. A key counter-argument to such claims is that exceptional “3000 years ahead of xyz” events is unlikely to occur in a vacuum. Showing the continuity in epistemology throughout that time period, and establishing a historical context for the result goes a long way in making such claims credible and reduces the chances of being dimissed as hype.

SR in itself may be a useful academic tool, but its value as confirming historical evidence is nil since it is speculation. Some Indologists have employed multiple layers in SR, i.e., they have rejected part of the historical data as mistakes committed by the author thousands of years ago and then generated new data ‘to correct the error’ and essentially produce what they assumed. An outrageous example is the ‘chord table of Hipparchus‘ where SR was used to claim that Aryabhata borrowed his R-sine difference table from this [5].  This claim has been exposed by Indic researchers by showing how SR works and then explaining the original Ganita in Aryabhatiya and its commentaries.

Final Note

Of all the subjects we studied in school, Mathematics was regarded as the least subjective.  As a historian of mathematics in a top US university, why did Pingree adopt such an utterly biased approach when it came to Indology? To understand his motivation, let us turn to his PhD work. One of his graduate advisors was Daniel Ingalls.

Ingalls visited India and learned Sanskrit, became a celebrated professor of Sanskrit in the US, and authored several works on Sanskrit literature. The names of the students who did their PhD work under Ingalls read like the who’s who of Hinduphobic Indologists: Wendy Doniger, Sheldon Pollock, John Stratton Hawley, and others. Daniel Ingalls has received relatively limited attention from Indic scholars so far, since the spotlight has been grabbed by the infamous bunch of students he spawned . He served as an espionage agent during WW2, when he was required to spy on Indians in Kabul. His closest Indian friend was the Marxist DD Kosambi. His student, Padma Shri Sheldon Pollock,  has progressed further and is the darling of both Indian marxists and Islamic fundamentalists. Indian billionaire Narayana Murthy’s son Rohan Murty, provided more than USD 5M to fund his subversive work.  More than 50 students got their PhD under Ingalls and teach in major universities.  The co-authors of the Harvard tribute to Ingalls that we have excerpted here includes Diana Eck and Micheal Witzel, well-known for their Hinduphobic writings.

Ingalls’ life-story deserves to be thoroughly researched since he succeeded in learning Sanskrit from the Pandits in India, and eventually produced an army of Sanskrit-aware western-supremacist scholars who, until recently, have hijacked and poisoned the discourse in India, and have been rewarded by the Indian government, media, and industrialists for this effort.

Juan Pujol Garcia (codenamed Garbo) was a spy and a dedicated double agent against the Nazis in WW2. His contribution toward the allied D-day deception is considered critical. He received major military awards from the Nazis and the British.The Germans paid for his fictional network of 27 Nazi spies. Once, one of these spies was killed, and the Nazis generously paid out a pension to his equally fictional widow. By the end of the war, German intelligence was actually funding British intelligence, paying several hundred thousand USD.

  1. KV Sarma and Kuppanna Sastry. Vedanga Jyotisa of Lagadha In its Rk and Yajus Rescensions. With the Translation and Notes of Prof. T. S. Kuppanna Sastry. Critically edited by K. V. Sarma. Indian National Science Academy. 1985.
  2. Subhash Kak. Astronomy and its Role in Vedic Culture. Chapter 23 in Science and Civilization in India, Vol. 1. The Dawn of Indian Civilization, Part 1, edited by G.C. Pande. ICPR/Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi, 2000.
  3. Prabhakar Gondhalekar. The Timekeepers of the Vedas: History of the Calendar of the Vedic Period (From Rgveda to Vedanga Jyotisa). Manohar Publishers. 2013.
  4. K. Ramasubramanian. Perspectives on Indian Astronomical Tradition. HH Dalai Lama Premises. Dharmasala. 2016.
  5. Kosla Vepa. The Origins of Astronomy, the Calendar, and Time. Lulu.com. 2011.
  6. Narahari Achar. Enigma of the Five Year Yuga of the Vedanga Jyotisa. Indian Journal of the History of Science (33). 1998.
  7. Narahari Achar. A Case for Revising the Date of Vedanga Jyotisa. Indian Journal of the History of Science (35). 2000.
  8. John Playfair. The Works of John Playfair (Vol. 3).. with a memoir of the author. Edinburgh, A. Constable & Co. 1822.
  9. Rajiv Malhotra. Being Different: India’s Challenge to Western Universalism. Harper Collins. 2011.
  10. Sudha Bhujle and MN Vahia. Possible Period of the Design of Nakshatras and Abhijit. Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. 2006.
  11. C. K. Raju. The Cultural Foundations of Mathematics: The Nature of Mathematical Proof and the Transmission of the Calculus from India to Europe in the 16 c. CE.  Pearson Education. 2007.
  12. Subhash Kak. The Astronomical Code of the Rig Veda. Oklahoma State University, Stillwater. 2011.
  13. Subhash Kak. The Wishing Tree: Presence and Promise of India. iUniverse Inc. 2008.
  14. Kapila Vatsyayan. The Square and The Circle of The Indian Arts. Abhinav Publications. 1997.
  15. R. N. Iyengar. A Profile of Indian Astronomy before the Siddhāntic Period. ISERVE Conference, Hyderabad, India. 2007.
  16. Kuppanna Sastry. The Main Characteristics of Hindu Astronomy in the Period Corresponding to Pre-Copernican European Astronomy. Indian Journal of the History of Science (Vol 9). 1974.
Thanks to N.r.i.pathi garu for his patience and encouragement.

Vedanga Jyotisha

The Great King Suchi of Magadha
His calendar was a royal mess
because the equinoxes precess
until he learned 'the lore of time' from Sage Lagadha.


Jyotihsastra is the ancient Indian ‘science of light’ [2]. It includes within it the field of astronomy, which was known as Nakshatra Vidya (the science of the stars). Jyotihsastra is used for dik-desa-kala nirnaya (triprasna), i.e. to determine (direction, location, time) [4]. The Vedanga Jyotisha is an ancient text focused on Jyotisha, one of the six Vedangas. The Vedic texts, including the Upavedas and Vedangas, are harmoniously interlinked into an integrally united knowledge system. No one part of this system can be properly understood through an isolated study [1]. A key purpose of the Vedas is the performance of Yagnas correctly and on time. Time-keeping is the goal of Vedanga Jyotisha.

We resume our study of Ganitasastra at ICP through an inquiry into Jyotihsastra. This post is not an exhaustive restatement of facts. Instead, we try to understand the motivation and intuition behind the Ganita features of Vedanga Jyotisha (VJ). The Shulbasutras, which are part of the Kalpa Vedanga are also rich in Ganita, and will be discussed separately.

College students asked a professor 'Sir, what is time?' who replied "I can tell you what is the time, but I cannot tell you what is time"[4].

Vedanga Jyotisha

VJ is the earliest extant Indic work on time-keeping in the form of a handbook that is devoted to Kalavidhanasastra, the science of time-keeping. It provides the calculations associated with a lunisolar calendar derived from the Brahmanas and the Vedic Samhitas. VJ is not a self-contained treatise and any missing definitions, unstated assumptions, etc., are to be inferred from prior Indic sources and commentaries [1].

Vedanga Jyotisha has absolutely nothing to do with Phalita Jyotisha or Astrology [11]. 

The VJ was compiled around 1350 BCE (between 1150-1550 BCE) and is attributed in its verse to Lagadha, and key ideas in the VJ have been shown to belong to the Vedic texts and derived from earlier periods. VJ is in verse form while the other 5 Vedangas (Nirukta, Chandas, Kalpa, Vyakarana, & Siksha) are in Sutras indicating that it is the earliest of the six [1]. VJ was neither the first nor the last word in Indic time-keeping and astronomy as the Indians continued to make pioneering contributions to Ganita and Jyotihsastra over three millennia. These techniques enabled the Indics to produce a stable working calendar that could be employed for diverse purposes, and was sought after by the rest the world. The ancient Indic calendar traveled to China, and many other places [11].

VJ is available in the form of two ‘rescensions’ denoted as Rigveda Jyotisha (Arca Jyotisha, RVJ, 36 verses, earlier version) and Yajurveda Jyotisha (Yajusa Jyotisha, YVJ, 43 verses), which significantly overlap. Deciphering these rescensions turned out to be a challenging task. This effort started in the 1830s, culminating in the authoritative work of Prof. Kuppanna Sastry [1] in the 1980s who succeeded in meaningfully explaining all verses. Virtually every contemporary study of VJ cites his scholarship.

Time-keeping traditions of India

Vedic Cosmology — The Dharmic View of Time

We will devote considerable space discussing the unbroken traditions of astronomy and time-keeping that preceded Vedanga Jyotisha.

The Indic approach to discovery quite naturally arises from Rta, the cosmic order that is an expression of Satya, the ultimate reality. This cosmic order is experienced at every level from the microcosm to macrocosm. Time is sacred in this cosmology, and we have the kalachakra representing cyclic time, and it is intuitive that elapsed time can be tracked using precisely recurring rhythms of different durations that abound in nature. 18th century British scientist John Playfair who studied Hindu time-keeping in a manuscript obtained from Thailand, wrote an extensive treatise and was amazed by the Indic conception of cyclical nature [8]. He made several other important observations, which can be found within the cited references.

The second is the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom. 
- Physical Measurement Lab at NIST

Our solar system is quite flat, and hence the moon and most of the planets are located in a narrow region around the ecliptic, the apparent path of the sun in the sky during the day. This is really convenient for observation since it eliminates the need to focus on the innumerable luminaries that are away from the ecliptic. The moon’s path is within 5% of the ecliptic. The Ancient Indics kept time based on the periodicity of the (apparent) motion of the sun and the real motion of the moon. The study of planetary movements was not necessary to achieve this goal and does not concern VJ.

why isn't there a solar eclipse every New Moon night?

Careful observation was a critical component of Vedic astronomy and this became the hallmark of the Indic approach to discovery and obtaining valid knowledge in general, where all schools of dharma unanimously accept Pratyaksha Pramana [11]. From the perspective of accurate time-keeping required for Yagnas, kalavidhanasastra is a pratyaksha sastra [4], and is not deduced from a ‘black box’ math model.

By the early Rig Vedic period, one or more calendars were already in use for managing day to day activities. Time-keeping is critical for agricultural planning, e.g. to coordinate activities associated with the beginning and end of seasons, and continues to be important to the Indian economy [11].

The earth's equatorial plane is tilted at an angle of 23.5° with respect to the ecliptic plane. This results in varying seasons and daylight hours.

The Vedic people knew about the solstices and employed a six-season calendar which is special to India (it included a rainy seasonVarsha Rtu with months Nabha and Nabhasya). Obviously, the ability to accurately predict the arrival date of monsoons has always had significant economic value in India. The twelve tropical months along with their seasons in the Yajurveda are [2]:

Madhu, Maadhava in vasanta (spring),
Sukra, Suci in greeshma (summer),
Nabha, Nabhasya in varshaa (rainy),
Isa, Urja in sarada (autumn),
Saha, Sahasya in hemanta (winter), and
Tapa, Tapasya in sishira (freezing).

In 2004, agricultural operations were mistimed in India. Why? The monsoon was officially considered 'delayed' in the government calendar. In reality, it arrived on time per the traditional Indic calendar [11].

The trinity of adhidaiva, adhibhuta, and adhyatma are integrally united via Bandhus in the Vedic knowledge system [2, 9].  There exists a deep and ancient connection between Yagna (‘ the workshop where Bandhus are forged between the microcosm and macrocosm’ [9]) and time-keeping. Knowledge of the luminary phases was used to ensure that the monthly (Darshapuranamaasa) and seasonal (Chaturmasya) Yagnas were performed at the correct times [3]. The Atri family priests had the knowledge required to predict solar eclipses. By the time of the Yajurveda, the Hindus knew that a solar year was slightly more than 365 days. And importantly from a VJ perspective, a five year Yuga was already known, along with the need for two intercalary months to complete a Yuga [1].

pic source. By careful and patient daily observation of the sun at the same time in the sky, one can find out when the solstices occur (‘when the sun stands still’).

Prajapati as Time

Prajapati the creator is central to Vedic tradition. In his book ‘Being Different’, Rajiv Malhotra quotes the Rig Veda: “yajna is the very navel of the universe. It was Lord Prajapati who first fashioned yajna, and through it he wove into one fabric the warp and weft of the three worlds (Rig Veda I,164,33-35).” [9]. Prajapati creates and embodies a self-sustainable, self-correcting universe using the correspondence principle of bandhuta to achieve a balance between homogeneity and heterogeneity [9]. Prajapati is time, the very creator of the Vedas, signifying that the knowledge within the Vedas has no beginning or end [2]. He is Rta, the cosmic rhythm moving in a spiral, which indicates the Kalachakra, cyclical time [14].

Prajapati and Yagna are central to Vedanga Jyotisha, and receive the first respects in the starting verses of the VJ. The natural periodic events such as seasons, days, etc. are the five limbs of Prajapati, who personifies and presides over the five-year Yuga [1]. The separated faculties and limbs of Prajapati unite to form the infinite diversity of the universe, and the Yagna becomes a time-design to unite this multiplicity and continue the cosmic rhythm [14]. This five year Yuga is mirrored in Yagna through the constructed five-layered Agnicayana altar [6]. The Aahavaniya altar is built using 396 bricks that represent the days of the year: 360 to represent the Vedic ritual year and an additional 36 to represent the thirteenth (intercalary) month [3]. Many such bandhus arise through Yagnas [2]. The five-year Yuga is also a feature of Jain astronomy [6].

VJ states that those who correctly understand the effect of time on movements of the luminaries in the sky can fully grasp the impact of the Yagnas. One who truly understands the Vedas and Vedanga Jyotisha can experience transcendental bliss. These verses underline the integral unity [9] of the outer-material and inner-spiritual realms. We can see this dharmic concept re-asserted two thousand years later in the initial verses of Aryabhatiya, and more recently in Ramanujan’s approach as well.

The Indics were more than pattern seeking enthusiasts; they sought within patterns the deepest unity underlying nature’s diversity, and from this emerged the Yuga.  Yaga, Yoga, and Yuga (or the 3 Ys, with apologies to Modi ji) – all have a root meaning ‘to unite’. In [13], Prof Subhash Kak notes: “the ancient Indian calendar is an attempt to harmonize the motions of the Sun and the Moon…. Yoga may be seen as the harmonization of the motions of the inner planets of the body.  Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra speaks of how meditation on the Sun reveals the nature of the world-system and meditation on the Moon and the Polestar reveals the arrangement and the motion of the planets and the stars. Such assertions imply that turning inward can provide insights.”.

Nakshatras in Vedic Tradition

Since the most ancient time, Hindu astronomy adopted the sidereal system. This was done implicitly using Nakshatras (stars or asterisms) in the Vedic period, and explicitly in the VJ, as well shall see later [16]. The Vedics used 27 Nakshatras in the vicinity of the ecliptic to track the lunar passage where the moon takes 27.32 days to return to a fixed reference point (sidereal lunar month). To identify the Nakshatra location of the sun, a heliacal rising and setting of a Nakshatra seems to have been employed, i.e., a Nakshatra may be visible near the horizon just before sunrise or sunset.  Texts point to a multi-disciplinary approach to Jyotisha employing a Nakshatra Darsha (expert observer/astronomer) and Ganaka (a calculation expert). The term ‘Nakshatra Vidya’ is mentioned in the Chandogya Upanishad [2].

Mentions of Nakshatra observations in ancient texts are useful because they allow us to date these events using the earth’s precession rate. For example, Kuppanna Sastry quotes the Satapatha Brahman, mentioning that ‘the asterismal group Kritika never swerve from the east while others do’, which was also confirmed by the commentator Sayana. This yields a date of around 3000 BCE. Independent studies using modern astronomical simulation software and mathematical calculations (statistical best-fit models) indicate that the Nakshatras were closest to the path of the moon around 3000 BCE [10]. Subhash Kak has written extensively on the astronomical codes embedded within the Vedas [12].

It is clear that long before Vedanga Jyotisha, there was significant progress in time-keeping. It confirms the epistemological continuity in Indic sciences, including Astronomy and Ganita since the most ancient of times [5].

Epistemological continuity is also evident in other India's diverse traditions including art, music, dance, etc.

These prior developments are the foundation on which VJ’s calendar stands.  Let us see how VJ improves upon the prior work.

Vedanga Jyotisha’s Methods

VJ introduced an analytical time-tracking (deterministic) framework that works in tandem with astronomical observations of the real, uncertain world. Hence VJ’s Ganita calculates the timings of lunar and solar events, while also retaining and working in sync with the traditional pratyaksha sastra.  The Ganaka can make predictions, and the Nakshatra Darsa can visually confirm the degree of accuracy of these estimates, and corrections effected as needed. The diagram below illustrates how the VJ methodology can be useful in taking the science of time-keeping forward and provide increasingly accurate answers to triprasna.

Contemporary time-keeping adopts a similar approach. The atomic clock serves as an unnaturally perfect model for daily usage, but is corrected by nature. Without the latter, the model-based time would very slowly but surely drift away from reality.

The most recent leap second was added on December 31, 2016.

Nakshatra-sector Coordinate system (NCS)

Nakshatras (as stars or star groups) have been an integral part of Indic culture and some of them serve as exemplars. Dhruva (a northern pole star) and the Vashishta-Arundati (Mizar-Alcor) pair are good examples.

Prior to the VJ, the Nakshatras were used to denote visible stars or constellations (27 or 28 in number) dotting the moon’s path. Hence, it was limited by visibility.  Furthermore, these Nakshatras served as approximately fixed positions for time-keeping but were not truly invariant due to earth’s precession (‘precession of the equinoxes’). The designated pole star, for example, changes over time and cycles every 25,920 years (about a 1° shift every 71.6 years).

The Ancient Indics must have been aware of the impact of earth’s precession on the Nakshatra locations because, by the time of the VJ, the nakshatra-sectors were taken as 27 equal sections of the ecliptic (about 13.3° wide) rather than specific stars or asterisms in the background [3]. This change yields multiple benefits.

  • The NCS is an invariant and uniquely Indic coordinate system that comes with a clearly specified origin (zero-point) that gives us a fixed starting coordinate. It is unaffected by the earth’s precession. The NCS resembles the modern-day ecliptic coordinate system calculation of the celestial longitude (since the moon’s path is very close to the ecliptic, tracking longitude was practically sufficient) [3].
  • The NCS represents a virtualized analytical framework that allows the time-keepers to algorithmically enumerate the ecliptic sector locations of all the full and new moons in a Yuga, as well as the position of the sun. This was not possible in prior Vedic traditions since theirs was a purely physical coordinate system indentified by stars and asterisms along the moon’s path. This VJ system is free of visibility issues [3]. The VJ specifies a coordinate system using an ingenious ‘Jāvādi arrangement‘. Of course, pratyaksha continues to guide accurate time-keeping.
  • This NCS helps us carry out the VJ calculations unambiguously.


The VJ Yuga is a time cycle of 5 years of 366 days each. A five year Yuga was already present in Vedic tradition. The Yuga is an integral unit of time-keeping in the Vedanga Jyotisha and all calculations are given based on this Yuga and the NCS.  VJ assumes 12 synodic months in a synodic year plus two intercalary months (adhimasa or adhikamasa) over a Yuga to harmonize the lunar and solar calendars, giving us a total of 62 synodic months in a Yuga.  The VJ specifically includes the adhimasa as synodic months #31 and #62 of the Yuga.

A VJ Yuga is completed when the sun and moon are observed to return to the pre-specified origin region of the NCS. This is the key definition in the VJ. Here is Sri Kuppanna Sastry’s description [1]:

In other words, the Yuga begins when the Sun and the Moon are observed together in the Sravistha Nakshatra sector of the ecliptic [3].

The Parameters of a Yuga (YVJ)

Tracking the movements of spherical objects rotating and revolving around other moving spherical objects can be tricky. Here is a ‘coin rolling on a coin’ puzzle, where the inner circle serves as a fixed frame of reference. If the inner circle also rotates, then the answer is relative to the chosen frame of reference.

How many rotations will the smaller coin make when rolling around the bigger one? (source: https://plus.maths.org)

Earth-Sun System (days and years)

Saavana durations represent the time of the (apparent) motion of the sun relative to the earth as the frame of reference. Each saavana year in VJ lasts 366 days, giving a total of 1830 civil days in a Yuga. In reality, this frame of reference is itself slowly revolving around the sun in the same direction, and therefore saavana calculations ignore the resultant additional earth rotation (one per year). Sidereal periods are calculated with respect to a fixed reference point (e.g. distant star). The sidereal year includes this ‘missing’ rotation, giving us 367*5 = 1835 sidereal days in a Yuga. VJ’s Nakshatra Darshas would’ve observed 1835 risings of a Nakshatra (an invariant ecliptic sector) in a Yuga.

Earth-Moon System (months and fortnights)

The moon is ‘tidally locked‘ to the earth. The actual time the moon takes to go round the earth (sidereal lunar month) is the time it takes to complete a full rotation around its own axis. So one side of the moon always faces us as if it never rotates, and we never get to see the mysterious far side of the moon (photographed for the first time in 1959).

"And if the dam breaks open many years too soon 
And if there is no room upon the hill 
And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too 
I'll see you on the dark side of the moon". - Pink Floyd.

Let us calculate the number of moon rises and the number of sidereal lunar months in a Yuga. This visible side of the moon will be partially or fully observable on all sidereal days except the new moon days, of which there are 62 (one per synodic month). This gives us 1835-62 = 1768 moonrises in a Yuga, and 1830/1768 saavana days per moon rise on average.

Similar to the earth-sun system, the earth-moon system also yields an extra rotation per year depending on the frame of reference. Due to the earth’s revolution, the moon takes a couple of days extra to complete the synodic month (~29.53 days) relative to the earth. There will be 62+5 = 67 sidereal lunar months in a Yuga.

Since there are 27 sectors of the ecliptic, the moon visits 67*27 = 1809 Nakshatra sectors in a Yuga. Therefore, the moon traverses one sector in 1830/1809 = (1 and 7/603) Saavana days. The sun apparently visits 27*5 = 135 Nakshatra sectors, spending 13 and 5/9 days in a sector.

We now examine some of the larger units used in the VJ to keep time.

Larger Time Units

Saavana day: measured from sunrise to sunrise. The VJ takes the civil year to be 366 days long. Each day is divided into 124 Bhaagas (day-parts). 31 parts make a pada.

Tithi: This is a fundamental unit of the VJ equal to (1/30) of a synodic month. Hence a lunar month lasts 30 tithis, and the VJ assumes 360 tithis or 12 synodic months in a year in harmony with Vedic tradition.  Thus, a Yuga has 1860 tithis and 1830 saavana days. From this, we can calculate the VJ mean value for a tithi = 1830/1860 or 61/62 of a day.  The duration of a tithi depends on the moon’s orbit and is a variable quantity (+/- 15% the mean value), with the tithi at sunrise representing a day’s tithi [3]. Sometimes, the same tithi can mark two successive sunrises or a tithi can be lost between two sunrises. Tithi was already used in prior traditions. In the Rig Veda, atithi is a guest – one who arrives without a tithi, i.e. without prior notice [15].

A tithi can go AWOL
It can be a really close call
All ye star-crossed suitors beware
Date your Nakshatras with care!

Given the diversity of India, its calendars are also diverse. Reckoning dates for dharmic events can be tricky even in 2017. This informative subtitled video asks ‘When is Ugadi?’. Yugadi ~ start of a new yuga (new year), Hevilambi, per current Hindu lunisolar calendars.

There are also variations such as Amanta/Amavasyat versus Purnimanta calendars depending on whether the start of a month is from a new moon or full moon.

Rtu (season): Its duration is 62 tithis long, and therefore a Yuga will have 30 rtus, and 6 rtus a year. An important and unique feature of the Indian calendar is the use of six seasons including the all-important rainy season, the most celebrated and joyous of all rtus. The monsoons are governed by the annual wind patterns influenced by the Coriolis force [11]. The first rtu of the Yuga is Sishira rtu (winter).

The VJ also specifies the duration of rtu using the NCS (4 and 1/2 Nakshatra sectors per Rtu). Knowing the start date of a rtu is also important because of the Chaturmasya rite that has to be performed.

Ayana (solstice): Ayanas divide the sidereal year into two halves. There are 10 ayanas in a Yuga.

Paksha: half a synodic month, equal to 15 tithis. The bright half is the Shukla Paksha and the dark half is the Krishna Paksha. A Yuga has 62 Shukla and 62 Krishna Pakshas.

Parva: The Yuga is divided into 124 Parvas. Therefore it is equal in duration to a Paksha. The Parva Raashi (R) is the accumulated heap of Parvas since the start of a Yuga and is quantified as follows [3]: R = 2(12(y-1)+m) + p + K,

where  y = current year of the Yuga, m = elapsed months in the current year,  p is the elapsed parvas in the current month, K is an conditional correction factor (2 per 60 elapsed parvas) to adjust for intercalation.

Visuva (Equinoxes): The day when the sun apparently starts to move south or north and they occur at the mid points of each of the 10 Ayanas in a Yuga.

The interval between two successive Visuvas will be 124/10 Parvas = 12 Parvas and 6 Tithis. Hence the time elapsed in a Yuga until the N-th Equinox can be obtained by multiplying this inter-Visuva number by (N-1) and simplifying.

Bhaamsa (Amsa): To track the position of the sun and moon, every ecliptic sector is also divided into 124 equal Bhaamsas, mirroring the Parva time division of the Yuga. Hence, there are 27*124 Bhaamsas that spans the 360°. The Bhaamsa after p parvas is the remainder obtained after dividing 11p/124 [3]. The VJ rescensions state an equivalent conditional and arithmetic rule that anyone can use, similar to the previous expression for parva raashi R.

Kalaa: A day is divided into 603 parts. This number is chosen so that the time taken by the moon to traverse one of the 27 nakshatra sectors (1 and 7/603 days) = 610 Kalaas, a whole number.

VJ gives many ingenious algorithms (abhiyukti) to keep track of the number of Parva, Bhaamsa, Paksha, etc. that have passed since the start of the Yuga. The interested reader is referred to Prof. Kuppanna Sastry’s work.

Intra-day Units of Time Keeping

Researchers point to 4 different kinds of times tracked by VJ [3] apart from the cosmic time. We point these out while listing the different time-keeping units.

Akshara (2 Maatraa) ~ 0.57 seconds. Time taken to pronounce a long vowel. This  time-unit is interesting and suggests the existence of a long and well-established oral tradition.

Kaastaa (5 Aksharas) ~ 1.15 seconds.

Kalaa revisited (124 Kaastaas) ~ 2 minutes, 23 seconds. Kalaa establishes a link between the rate of speech to the average rate of lunar motion.

Naadika (10.05 Kalaas) ~ 24 minutes. Mechanically-kept time using a water clock. Passages in the Vedas [7] suggest the use of a particular water clock of the ‘overflowing type’.

Muhurta (2 Naadikas) ~ 48 minutes. Solar time based on the Sun’s apparent motion. Amazingly, the ancient muhurta measure has been preserved and passed through several generations and is used in India the exact same way, to this day.

Length of local daylight time in Muhurtas = (12 + 2N/61), where N is the number of days after the winter solstice.  Since there are 183 days in an Ayana, the maximum increase is 6 Muhurtas. Using this, the ratio of the longest to shortest day is 18/12 = 3:2. This number depends on the latitude, and therefore helps us identify the source location of VJ.

Ahoratra (30 Muhurtas) ~ ‘day and night’, or 24 hours.

Bhaaga: The local time given in 124-th parts of a day starting from sunrise. Thus we see three divisions of ‘124’ in the VJ: Parvas in a Yuga, Bhaamsas in a Nakshatra sector, and Bhaagas of a day.

Note how a speech rate is linked to lunar time, then to mechanical time, and solar time. These physical temporal cycles of varying durations are ultimately united with the cyclical cosmic time through periodic Yagna performed at the right times.



The VJ approach to specifying numerical constants is pretty elegant. The high-level parameters, which are fewer in number, are enumerated. For the myriad of lower level constants that proceed down to the intra-day level, it cleverly specifies algorithms based on a linear estimate (mean motion), using rules derived from modulo arithmetic. By specifying any three independent parameters of a Yuga, all other Yuga parameters can be calculated as derived values [1].  YVJ rescension’s second verse is famous for asserting the position of Ganita as the pinnacle of sciences [1].

VJ’s methods demonstrate ancient Indic abhiyukti. They do not provide a proof of correctness, but are to be validated by pramana. When a Ganaka’s analytically predicted quantity is in conflict with observation (pratyaksha), it is the model result that is discarded, and this also forces the model to improve.

Rule of Three: Linear Estimate

The VJ uses mean motion (average rate) as a first-order approximation within its calculations using the “rule of three“.

For example: Suppose we have a known average increment for a quantity ΔQ over a time period Δt, we can calculate an average rate of change = ΔQ/Δt. What will be the accumulated value of Q after T time units? A linear estimate will simply multiply this rate by time to obtain Q = (ΔQ/Δt)*T.  The VJ states the rule of three in verse, so that it can be used repeatedly as a subroutine: calculate an average rate and multiply the increment by this rate to generate the desired output.

Modular arithmetic

The VJ works with periodic quantities that get reset to 0 after reaching a maximum value. Doing calculations with such quantities requires expertise with modular arithmetic. 3000+ years before Gauss introduced formal modular arithmetic in 1801, the Hindus were actively applying modular arithmetic for calculating a variety of elapsed and remaining time values and the positions of the full and new moons over a Yuga.

Javadi Table

The Javadi arrangement is an important contribution from a Ganita and VJ calendar perspective. It represents a virtualized (independent of stars in the background) invariant ecliptic coordinate system with a zero point taken as the new moon near the Winter Solstice, which is tied to the start of a Yuga [3]. Javadi ~ Jau Adi, i.e., arrangement of Nakshatras starting from Jau (Ashvayujau) [1]. The position of the sun and new/full moon can be located unambiguously by the Javadi name of the Nakshatra sector and Bhaamsa within that sector. The table exhibits compact data organization and a circular ordering of the NCS data so that Sravistha represents Nakshatra sector 0 (or 27).

Simple Coordinates

From the Yuga parameters and the NCS, the ‘distance’ between successive full (new) moons can be calculated as follows:

The moon passes through 1809 Nakshatra sectors in a Yuga. There are 62 full moons and 124 pakshas in a Yuga. There, the distance between two full moons is 1809/62 = 29 and 22/124 Nakshatra sectors, and a paksha length is half this value (14 and 73/124). By partitioning a sector into 124 bhaamsas, we obtain a simple  (sector, bhaamsa) coordinate system using the original Vedic ordering of Nakshatras = (N_original, B) of new and full moons, where N_original and B are whole numbers.


The ganita properties of the full and new moon’s bhaamsas are interesting and we did not find much discussion on this, so we make an attempt here. A brief ganita description is in the appendix at the end of the post. Let us start from a new moon at bhaamsa B(0) = 0, and add 73 bhaamsas to obtain B(1) = 73 for the first full moon, and further 73 bhaamsas to get the bhaamsa B(2) of the second new moon, and so on.  We can observe the following patterns:

  1.  The full or new moon will be wandering around, visiting each and every bhaamsa number exactly once. A full or new moon will never be seen twice in the exact same location (bhaamsa) of the ecliptic within a Yuga. When it does so at bhaamsa 0 in the Sravistha sector, the Yuga is reborn (reminiscent of Kolam patterns).
  2. The 62 full moons of a Yuga occur at odd numbered bhaamsas, and new moons at even bhaamsas (if we start the Yuga at bhaamsa zero). At the full moons, the Sun’s coordinates will be 13.5 Nakshatras apart, i.e 13 sectors and 62 bhaamsas away.
  3. The nakshatra sector and bhaamsa are themselves linked, so if you specify just the bhaamsa, you can obtain the corresponding N_original value:
N_original = 5B mod 27 
N_original is remainder we get when we divide 5 times its bhaamsa by 27.

Of course, one can also calculate the N_original values directly as an independent check in case the input bhaamsa values are off. The VJ authors next transform the original Nakshatra sector list into the Javadi arrangement. It simplifies the required Ganita a bit (B instead of 5B).

Javadi Coordinates

The Nakshatra sector numbers can be transformed into a certain Javadi arrangement (N_original→N) using the following equation:

N = 11 N_original mod 27

Successive (original) Nakshatra sectors are 11 sectors apart in the Javadi arrangement. Conversely, successive sectors in the Javadi arrangement are 5 sectors apart in the original table. The Javadi arrangement starts from Ashvini and the final list is shown below [1]. The Sanskrit verse form of the Javadi representation is depicted at the top of this post.

Bhaamsa Generation Algorithm

This transformed N is related to B in this Javadi arrangement through a simpler modular equation compared to N_original. The (N, B) Javadi coordinates for all full and new moons of a Yuga can be iteratively generated (see appendix) and are shown in the plot below (X-axis = Javadi nakshatra sector indices, Y-axis = bhaamsa numbers). These coordinates would repeat every Yuga.

Javadi coordinates in terms of (Nakshatra-sector index, Bhaamsa) for all full and new moon in a VJ Yuga

The first full moon in a Yuga is at B = 73, which gives us a remainder N = 19 when divided by 27⇒ coordinates (19, 73). Therefore, the full moon occurs in the Magha sector per the Javadi table. The next full moon will be at bhaamsa B = 73+22 = 95. Applying N = 95 mod 27 ⇒ N = 14, i.e. Uttaraphalguni (14, 95).  Multiple full moons (2 or 3) can fall in the same Nakshatra sector, but always at different bhaamsas. For example, the next and only other full moon (38-th) in the Magha sector will occur when B = (73-54) = 19. The two full moons that occur in Magha are circled in light-blue in the above picture. Note that the 3 new moons along the Y-axis at Sravistha (X = 0) are at least 54 bhaamsas (about 5.8°) apart.

Ecliptical Coordinate System

The (N, B) from Javadi are equivalent to an ecliptic longitude. These results have been compared with those generated using the modern ecliptic coordinate system, and they are quite close [3]. Tracking the bhaamsas empirically is important and this can be done mechanically using a water clock. The Javadi table is deterministic and assumes fixed synodic month duration [3], so that every Yuga starts at coordinates (0, 0). This is not so in reality, and in the next section, we can see the maximum error that is possible. Since the origin is shifted, so will the calculation for every successive full moon. While the full moons may occur in the same Nakshatra sector, the bhaamsas will be off unless the origin-shift is accounted for. The Javadi table can be used as an approximate framework/guide for the Yagna calendar and supplemented with direct observation.

We have only discussed only a few of the high-level VJ calculations. For a detailed discussion, refer to [1].

Accuracy of some VJ calculations

Mean Tithi

VJ Value = 61/62 of a saavana day.

Modern estimate of an average synodic month ~ 29.5306 days

Modern value of tithi ~ (29.5306 * 12)/360  ~ 354.367/360

Absolute Error = |354.367/360 – 61/62| < 0.05%

A Yuga has 1860 tithis, so accumulated error ~ 0.896, or less than a tithi per Yuga [2].

Mean Moonrise Rate

VJ value = 1830/1768 ~ 24 Hours 50.4864 minutes [2], i.e., the moon rises about 50.4 minutes later every day. This agrees with the modern average moonrise value really well.

Start time of a Yuga

The new moon at the start of a new Yuga may not be exactly at bhaamsa 0 of the Sravistha sector. It has been shown that up to 46 bhaamsas error can accumulate over a period of 500 years [3]. Since the moon traverses a Nakshatra sector (124 bhaamsas) in 610/603 saavana days, using the rule of three, we find that the moon traverses 46 bhaamsas in 9 hours. This is less than the minimum gap (54 bhaamsas) between successive full or new moons in the same Nakshatra sector. The maximum possible cumulative error in the start time of a Yuga after 100 Yugas is 9 hours [3].

Yuga: Self-Organizing System

In general, the VJ seems to be relatively more accurate while calculating lunar periods compared to solar periods [2]. Over the next two millennium, the Hindu lunisolar calendars were significantly upgraded. The Ancient Indics were aware of the uncertainty in the true motions of the sun, earth, and moon, and the need for corrections. The Indian comfort with uncertainty [9] is perhaps reflected in the fact that the civil calendar was deliberately set up as a simple, convenient, and approximate framework for the astronomical (Yagna) calendar. The discrepancy between the arithmetic and astronomical calendar can be fixed using an intercalary day at the end of the Yuga [1]. They also synchronized the sidereal and tropical year using appropriate corrections. Beyond these basic corrections, the lunar-solar year gap can accumulate over Yugas. It has been discovered by researchers [1, 3, 6] that the properties of the VJ Yuga yields a self-correcting system that automatically cancels out these errors.

Lunisolar correction

Five tropical years at 1350 BCE = 5*365.1734 ~ 1825.9 days

Duration of a Yuga = 62 * 29.5306 ~1830.9 days

Difference ~ −5 days per Yuga or roughly one extra day per tropical year.

If this discrepancy is allowed to accumulate over 6 Yugas (sometimes 7), the total gap will be approximately a synodic month. A Nakshatra Darsha doesn’t even need to know the Ganita behind this. He/she simply sees the sun and moon together in the Sravistha sector to signal a new Yuga. The unnecessary intercalary month 61 is automatically skipped, which resets the accumulated error.

Some corrections were made by observation of the moon phase. At the new moon the moon rises and sets with the sun. If the moon rises just after sunrise, it indicates a time near new moon. Such observations enabled the Vedics to develop the rules required for an accurate timing of the Yagnas since certain Yagna performers would incur a penalty if they erred in the timing [1]. Thus Vedic Yagna is the creative driving force that inspires this self-correcting calendar. A self-harmonizing Yuga seems natural in Prajapathi’s self-organizing universe.

Date and Source of VJ


Embedded within VJ’s verses is an astronomical date-stamp about Sravistha. If α-delphini is taken as the Yogatara (principal star) of Sravistha, then between 1550 BCE and 1150 BCE, the nakshatra Sravistha and the sun would have been close at the winter solstice, i.e., the Nakshatra rises and sets heliacally at the winter solstice, and this is not possible for dates outside this period [3]. If a certain other star other than α-delphini is chosen as the Yogatara, the date gets pushed back beyond 1800 BCE [7]. Kuppanna Sastry’s ganita calculations using the earth’s precession rate, and based on the observation of the VJ author that the winter solstice was at the start of the Sravistha segment, yields dates in the range [1150, 1400] BCE. Statistical analysis of the Nakshatra system shows that a maximal proportion (80%) of the Yogataras occupy their respective Nakshatra sectors in [1300 +/-300] BCE, indicating the finalization of the NCS during this period [3]. From [5], we find mention of a date of 1255 BCE when King Suchi of Magadha, a student of Lagadha [6] set forth VJ and dated it by including an astronomical note about the summer solstice. When combined with other independent considerations such as the visibility of the Saptha Rishi (Ursa Major) from Bharatvarsha, the timing of Yagnas in conjunction with seasons, full moon, and prescribed Nakshatras, we obtain a date range [1400 +/- 300] BCE for Vedanga Jyotisha [3].


Multiple works show that the Nakshatra (star) system was most likely designed around 3000 BCE [2, 3, 10]. There is clear evidence of a continuous unbroken epistemology of time-keeping from the Rigveda Samhitas to the Vedanga Jyotisha.

Independent researchers have studied the 3:2 ratio of longest to shortest day, which is only possible around a certain latitude. This includes locations in far-northern India as well as other places. The calendar with a rainy season is also special to India. By also taking into account VJ’s date, several locations get eliminated from consideration, and Kashmir appears to be a likely location of the VJ author among the feasible candidates. This has been an independent conclusion reached by multiple scholars.

The Challenge of Vedanga Jyotisha

Kuppanna Sastry has listed three fundamental requirements for a scholar who wants to study and interpret Vendanga Jyotisha in its original Sanskrit verse [1]:

  • Sound scholarship in Sanskrit
  • Knowledge of Western Astronomy
  • Full understanding of the concepts and practices of Hindu Astronomy


Those who have been frustrated in this task have lacked one or more of the requirements stated above. It is not necessary for one person to have all three skillsets. We have a precedent from 3000 years ago, when Nakshatra Darshas and Ganakas combined their skills to take Indic science and technology forward. Today, traditional Vedic Pandits grounded in Sanskrit and Hindu cosmology, and STEM professionals can work as a team to overcome new challenges in many areas. The first and third requirements involve dharmic tradition, which requires shraddha and sadhana, something every team member must imbibe. The Swadeshi Indology initiative serves as an inspiring example in this regard.

Several luminaries have contributed their expertise toward explaining the time-keeping ideas of Jyotihsastra. This post summarizes the student notes compiled while learning from and exploring these truly enlightening works, which are listed in the references below.

'If you were in Darkness, what would you want more than anything else; what would it be that every instinct would call for? Light, darn you, light!' - Nightfall, Isaac Asimov.

  1. KV Sarma and Kuppanna Sastry. Vedanga Jyotisa of Lagadha In its Rk and Yajus Rescensions. With the Translation and Notes of Prof. T. S. Kuppanna Sastry. Critically edited by K. V. Sarma. Indian National Science Academy. 1985.
  2. Subhash Kak. Astronomy and its Role in Vedic Culture. Chapter 23 in Science and Civilization in India, Vol. 1. The Dawn of Indian Civilization, Part 1, edited by G.C. Pande. ICPR/Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi, 2000.
  3. Prabhakar Gondhalekar. The Timekeepers of the Vedas: History of the Calendar of the Vedic Period (From Rgveda to Vedanga Jyotisa). Manohar Publishers. 2013.
  4. K. Ramasubramanian. Perspectives on Indian Astronomical Tradition. HH Dalai Lama Premises. Dharmasala. 2016.
  5. Kosla Vepa. The Origins of Astronomy, the Calendar, and Time. Lulu.com. 2011.
  6. Narahari Achar. Enigma of the Five Year Yuga of the Vedanga Jyotisa. Indian Journal of the History of Science (33). 1998.
  7. Narahari Achar. A Case for Revising the Date of Vedanga Jyotisa. Indian Journal of the History of Science (35). 2000.
  8. John Playfair. The Works of John Playfair (Vol. 3).. with a memoir of the author. Edinburgh, A. Constable & Co. 1822.
  9. Rajiv Malhotra. Being Different: India’s Challenge to Western Universalism. Harper Collins. 2011.
  10. Sudha Bhujle and MN Vahia. Possible Period of the Design of Nakshatras and Abhijit. Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. 2006.
  11. C. K. Raju. The Cultural Foundations of Mathematics: The Nature of Mathematical Proof and the Transmission of the Calculus from India to Europe in the 16 c. CE.  Pearson Education. 2007.
  12. Subhash Kak. The Astronomical Code of the Rig Veda. Oklahoma State University, Stillwater. 2011.
  13. Subhash Kak. The Wishing Tree: Presence and Promise of India. iUniverse Inc. 2008.
  14. Kapila Vatsyayan. The Square and The Circle of The Indian Arts. Abhinav Publications. 1997.
  15. R. N. Iyengar. A Profile of Indian Astronomy before the Siddhāntic Period. ISERVE Conference, Hyderabad, India. 2007.
  16. Kuppanna Sastry. The Main Characteristics of Hindu Astronomy in the Period Corresponding to Pre-Copernican European Astronomy. Indian Journal of the History of Science (Vol 9). 1974.
Appendix & Acknowledgements
Acknowledgments: Thanks to N.r.i.pathi garu for encouraging me to write this post, and for his Baahubali-esque patience and valuable feedback.

The bhaamsas of the full or new moon are generated using the recurrence relation:

B(k+1) = B(k)+73 mod 124.

This is an example of a linear congruential generator (LCG) that is commonly used in computer simulation models. The sequence of bhaamsas visited by the full or new moon in a Yuga are pseudo-random numbers. Since 73 and 124 are relatively prime, this LCG is guaranteed to have a full period (124) that exactly spans a Yuga. The Hull-Dobell theorem (1962) proves the result for the general case. It is also easy to see that if B(k) is even, then B(k+1) will be odd, and vice versa. We can simply generate the bhaamsas to verify this.  The following algorithm generates the chronological sequence (N(k), B(k)) of all new and full moon positions of a Yuga in Javadi coordinates:

1. Initialize: k = 0, B(0) = 0.
2. N(k) = B(k) mod 27. If B(k) is even, it is a new moon, else full moon.
3. B(k+1) = B(k) + 73 mod 124.
4. if k=123 stop. Else, k=k+1; go to step 2.

Sattva and Bharatanāṭyaṃ

The following Post was composed by Prakruti Prativadi. You can follow her on TCP.



Bharatanāṭyaṃ performances often standout for the striking and realistic portrayals of characters and their stories which are powerful and moving and live in the memory of the audience. Audience members even share their experience with the dancer, often telling how the dance made them teary-eyed, or get goose-bumps. The technique and theory of emoting and embodying characters is referred to as Abhinaya in Bharatanāṭyaṃ and Indian classical dances. The word ‘Abhinaya’ literally means carrying the meaning of the art to the audience. In Indian classical dances like Bharatanāṭyaṃ, the means by which this is done is significant, since the dancer must have expert knowledge of the Abhinaya techniques and nuances in order to genuinely embody and communicate the essence of the song to the onlooker and, most significantly, to awaken the Rasa experience in the spectator.

The general understanding of Abhinaya is that it is the emotive and expressive aspect of classical Indian dance. However, Abhinaya consists of more than just the enactment facet of Bharatanāṭyaṃ; Abhinaya consists of four major types. But before going into the technical aspects of Abhinaya and its varied uses, we must first understand the purpose of Abhinaya. The point of Abhinaya is not just to tell a story or play a role. Abhinaya is how the dancer awakens the Rasa experience in the audience. In Indian Aesthetics, Rasa is a supreme aesthetic experience and is the paramount aim in any classical dance performance and is described as a conscious-uplifting experience, in which the spectator feels a bliss-state that is similar to the bliss of Brahman knowledge.

“The experience of Rasa is similar to the experience of Brahman” – Abhinavagupta

Per the Natyashastra, a dance, drama, or music performance that does not generate Rasas and is not offered to the Gods is not really art and is Nīca (vulgar). This kind of performance will not benefit either the audience or the performers. According to Bharata, no meaningful communication can exist without producing Rasa.

Rasa is not limited to the stage or court; Rasa comes from a set of conditions the dancer creates. Rasa is born after the generation of many and varied Bhāvas (mental and emotional states) that differ based on the character and circumstance. Rasa is awakened in the spectator as result of:  Vibhāvas (determinants), Anubhāvas (consequent reactions), Vyabhicāri (impermanent mental states), Sāttvika (with Sattva) and Sthāyi (permanent mental state) Bhāvas emerging first. According to Bharata, Abhinavagupta, Śārṅgadeva, and other scholars, the Rasa experience is the ultimate purpose of Nāṭya (dance, drama and music). Without Rasa, the performance does not bring a benefiting and lasting effect to the onlooker. Rasa experience is filled with joy and is akin to the knowledge of Brahman.

The Rasa experience stays with the audience for some time even after the performance has concluded; the audience wants to experience it again. During the Rasa experience, the very consciousness is transformed to reflect the true inner Self. The concept of Rasa is ancient and found in the Vedas and Upanishads. For example, the Taittriya Upanishad declares that: Raso vai Saha: Rasa (is) Him (Brahman).

Rasa is not isolated to dance, but also exists in poetry, music and drama. The dances of temples, performed by Devadāsis and in some cases even temple priests also have the same goal of generating Rasa in the onlooker because these dances are not just rituals, they generate Bhāvas which result in Rasa; the Devadāsis also offered their dances to the Divine Gods, which is the same motive of the dance performed on the Raṅga (stage) described in the Nāṭyaśāstra. There is no difference in purpose between the dance described in the Nāṭyaśāstra and the dance of the temples.

Abhinaya consists of four types:

Āṅgika Abhinaya: Using the body, including the arms, hands, feet, legs, torso, face, and head in dramatic representation.

Vācika Abhinaya: Dramatic portrayal through the use of speech, in Bharatanāṭyaṃ Vācika Abhinaya consists of the songs and compositions that are danced.

Āhārya Abhinaya: Consists of make-up, jewelry, flowers, props and accessories used by the dancer to aid in dramatic portrayal.

Sāttvika Abhinaya: Emoting and portrayal of characters and situations through Sattva.

All these types of Abhinaya are essential to generate the Bhāvas and awaken Rasa in the audience. Amongst these, however, the more intangible and indefinable type is undoubtedly Sāttvika Abhinaya. Sāttvika Abhinaya is portrayal that is full of Sattva. This is a crucial ingredient, because it is required to genuinely embody the Bhāvas that will generate Rasas.

Bharata states that a successful performance is not one in which the dancers win awards or gain materially but one in which the Rasa experience was powerful and experienced by the audience. This is the measure of Siddhi (success) that Bharata emphasizes.


“One must take particular care of Sattva… for Abhinaya resides in Sattva” -Nāṭyaśāstra 

Sāttvika Abhinaya, as the Nāṭyaśāstra states is an intangible but vital element in generating the Bhāvas and Rasas. Generating Rasa in the audience is not a simple task. The dancer must possess the technical skill, imagination, intellect and a certain state of mind to be able to embody the characters, stories, and movements that evoke Bhāvas and Rasa. According to the Nāṭyaśāstra and other dance treatises, like Saṅgīta Ratnākara, in order to evoke Rasa in the audience, the dancer’s mind and consciousness must be in a state of Sattva.

“Sattva can only be accomplished by a tranquil, peaceful and concentrated mind” -Nāṭyaśāstra

Bharata and Abhinavagupta emphasize that a performance without Sattva will not move the audience and will not produce Bhāvas and Rasas, and thus, will be unsuccessful and meaningless.

Sattva is a Sanskrit word that has no direct translation in English or non-Indian languages. Interestingly, even Indologists like A.B. Keith, agreed that Sattva has no translation. So, what does Sattva mean?   Sattva is a concept that is present in other ancient Hindu philosophical and sacred works like the Vedas, Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita and is important in the Hindu worldview and in Hindu practices. Sattva is one of the three Guṇas (attributes, qualities, threads, tendencies); the other two are Rajas and Tamas.

Sattva Guṇa is one that is bright, pure, luminous, buoyant, happy and stainless. Under the influence of Sattva, the mind is calm, unagitated, filled with Śraddha, steady, and reflects the Self (Brahman). A person with a Sāttvic mind renounces the results of his or her actions; in other words, actions motivated by Sattva are offered to the Supreme. As the Nāṭyaśāstra makes clear in the very first chapters, Nāṭya, which consists of Indian classical dance, drama and music, whether performed on a stage or in a temple must be an offering to the Divine Gods.

Rajas is agitation, activity, pain, egotistic, seeking sense-pleasures, and Tamas, is dark, inert, lazy, indifferent and exhibits low passions and tendencies. Our actions are controlled and directed by the mind exhibiting a combination of these three Guṇas.

Sattva also means Rajas and Tamas are not present. When the mind is purified, it is Sāttvic and in a state of Śānti and Ānanda and is able to reflect the Self (Brahman). The Rasa experience itself, is likened to the bliss of Brahman knowledge. Sattva modifies the consciousness to bring out Rasa.

In the Nāṭyaśāstra, Bharata describes eight Sāttvika Bhāvas which are:  paralysis, sweating, goose-bumps, change in voice, trembling, pallor, weeping and fainting. According to Bharata, these Sāttvika Bhāvas give genuineness and realism to the dance and make the audience to become one with the performance, hence generating Bhāvas and Rasa. Bharata states that in order to embody the Sāttvika Bhāvas, the dancer’s mind must be in a state of Sattva – purified of the Rajasic and Tamasic attributes.


Thus, a prerequisite to an outstanding dance performance is that the dancer must accomplish a state of Sattva before the performance and maintain this state of mind during the performance to generate Rasa. How does the dancer go about preparing the mind to be Sāttvic? It is not just a matter of motivating oneself through pep talks or having a few minutes of quiet solitude before the performance. These, of course, can help and all Bharatanāṭyaṃ dancers, to some extent, will use these techniques. But to have the mind in a state of Sattva prior to and during the performance, the dancer would need more than just motivational techniques, and this observation did not escape the perceptive Bharata.


So how does a dancer get into the state of mind that has Sattva? The third chapter of the Nāṭyaśāstra is dedicated to explaining, in detail, a series of Pūjās and a Homa that the dancer and musicians should perform. In these instructions, Bharata clearly states that these Pūjās and Homa are the equivalent of performing a Yajña and will help the dancer achieve a calm mental and conscious state necessary for a successful performance. Siddhi or success in a performance, per Abhinavagupta and Bharata, does not mean winning banners (prizes) or material objects, but Siddhi of the performance occurs if the audience witness compelling Bhāvas and experience the different Rasas.

Therefore, these Pūjās and Homa are not robotic superstitious ritualistic acts; they are a science of connecting one’s own consciousness to the Supreme consciousness. They are an offering and a means for the artists to transform and purify their inner-selves to be Sāttvic.

In these pre-performance sacred activities, Bharata details how the Raṅga (stage) must be constructed according precise measurements depending on the type of Nāṭya to be performed. Significantly, the Vedi (altar) of a Yajña must also be constructed in a precise shape with exact measurements depending on the type of Yajña performed. Bharata then specifies how the dancer must sanctify this stage, and even the entire theatre where that audience will be seated, the dancer should then do a Pratiśṭāpana (sacred installation) of the Gods on the stage, and do a Pūjā to each one of these Deities in a certain order and with particular sacred Mantras. The dancer must sprinkle sanctified water on each limb to purify the body and must partake of the Pūjā and Homa with the utmost Śraddha (belief, Bhakti, and diligence) in order to bring his or her mind into a state of Sattva.

These actions along with their subtle effects will give Siddhi (success) by preparing the dancer to be capable of a performance that is rich in Bhāvas and Rasas. These performances are a few hours long and in some classical dances, like Katakaḷi and Yakśagāna, last through the night, so the dancer needs to muster tremendous energy, enthusiasm and concentration. The musicians too must do a Pūjā to their instruments. In effect, the stage and entire theater (where the audience are seated) become a temple, with the consecration of Deities and Pūjās and finally with the performance of the Homa. Bharata instructs that the point of doing the Pūjās and Homa are to offer the performance (dance) itself to the Devatās. This, advises Bharata, will bring Siddhi (success) to the performance.

Among these preliminary activities, the Homa (similar to a Yajña) is of distinct interest and serves a special purpose. Yajñas are ancient Vedic practices that are transformative and have subtle effects on the consciousness of the performer. Homa derives from and is an adaptation of a Yajña, but a Homa is performed in Pūjās to specific Gods. Both feature a specifically constructed altar, sacred fire and sacred materials. Yajña comes from the root word Yaj which means offering, reverence, adoration and bestowing. A Yajña and Homa, are Tyāga (offering) of Dravya (special sacred material) to the Devatās (Gods). They are complex activities that have subtle and powerful effects. Every offering during the Yajña and Homa results in Apūrva Śakti, which is a subtle effect and hidden power of an action (Karma) on the person who is the beneficiary of the offering. Thus, Yajñas and Homas have an effect on the one who performed it in a subtle manner, by affecting the Śaktis (energies, powers) of that person. Every action produces a Śakti which will produce a result. The dancer and musicians are transformed by the Homa; they exhibit Sattva and subtle energies as a result.

VedicYajnaIt is no coincidence that the Nāṭyaveda (classical dance, drama and music codified in the Nāṭyaśāstra) directly derive from the four primary Vedas contain Vedic ceremonies. Furthermore, Bharata states that performing these Pūjās and Homa is the same as performing a Yajña and the same benefits will be received. Here we see the beautiful connection between the preliminary activities of the performance and the performance itself because the Bharatanāṭyaṃ performance is also a Yajña. The Yajña conducted prior to the performance is a transformative experience for the dancer and musicians, and the Yajña of the dance performance itself is a transformative experience for the audience because they will experience Rasa bliss. Thus, Indian classical dances are themselves an offering, a Yajña conducted by the dancer on a specially built Raṅga (stage) and offered (Tyāga) to the Gods with love, Śraddha and Bhakti. In this case, the Dravya, or sacred material, is the dance which is offered to the Devatās. The ones who enjoy the fruits (Rasa bliss) of the Yajña are the attuned and receptive spectators (called Sahṛidaya).

HomaSome of the above Pūjās are done even to this day. Today’s dancers sanctify the stage and consecrate Mūrtis on the stage and perform a Pūjā offering the performance to the Gods. The Pūjās are offered to Ganapati and Nataraja and Saraswati and Vishnu. The Ārati is done, the sacred dance anklets (Gejje or Śalangai) are worshipped, the musicians also worship their instruments. This is not a mere ritual, but is the time when the dancer, Naṭavanār and musicians come together to conduct the Pūjā with Śraddha and Bhakti and offer the performance to the Gods. Dancers look forward to performing this Pūjā, taking it seriously, performing it with the utmost Śraddha and reverence because it brings them inner Śānti, happiness, and connects them to the Gods. In effect – it makes their mind Sāttvic, which is then reflected in the dance. After the Pūjā, the artists remain in this state of mind, now fully immersed in the art, centered, calm and ready for a rigorous and demanding Bharatanāṭyaṃ performance.


Therefore, Bharatanāṭyaṃ (and other Indian classical dances) are not practiced by merely perfecting techniques and movements, facial expressions or time and rhythm. Traditional practitioners of Bharatanāṭyaṃ know that they require total immersion into the art and its philosophy, must have Bhakti and humility and reverence to dance successfully. A person who may know the technical movements of Bharatanāṭyaṃ but lacks these Sāttvic attributes such as Śraddha and Bhakti is not qualified to do the dance. Śārṅgadeva states that only one who is pure in mind (Sattvic) can be a dancer. The Devadāsis had this intrinsic Śraddha, and they certainly understood Rasas and Bhāvas. Theirs was not a mechanical ritualistic dance devoid of Rasa. The great exponent dancer Bala Saraswati, a Devadāsi, emphasized the importance of Bhakti as an integral requirement for Bharatanāṭyaṃ:

Bharatanāṭyaṃ is grounded in bhakthi…. In fact bhakthi is at the center of all arts of India. Our music and dance are two offerings to God…This experience may only occur once in a while but when it does for that little duration, its grandeur enters the soul not transiently but with a sense of eternity. As one gets involved in the art, with greater and greater dedication, one can continuously experience throughout the few hours of the dance, the unending joy, this complete well-being, especially when music and dance mingle indistinguishably.” – Bala Saraswati

Image result for balasaraswati
Shree Bala Saraswati. Eminent danseuse.

The ancient dance treatises have noted that a person best fit to dance is one who learns with Śraddha and Bhakti. Many expert Bharatanāṭyaṃ dancers and Nāṭyācāryas have observed that if a student does not have Bhakti, their dance is not genuine and has a mundane quality to it and few, if any, Bhāvas are produced. For example, if the dancer does not have Bhakti for Śri Kṛṣṇa, how can they embody the episode in which Yaśoda saw the entire universe in his mouth, and was overcome with awe and emotion? How will the non-believing dancer produce the Bhāvas that are required to generate the Rasa in the audience?Abhinaya is not a mere enactment, it is an exalted, lofty, glorified reenactment that will produce Bhāvas and the Rasa experience.

If the dancer interjects her personal opinions and portrays characters such as Sītā and Rāma through a non-Dharmic lens, the result will not be Sāttvic but a pale imitation, a counterfeit, and will not have any lasting effect on the onlooker and the Yajña of Bharatanāṭyaṃ will be a failure. The dancer must be in total sympathy with the character’s viewpoint and beliefs to embody that character authentically. This does not imply that these dances are somber and boring. Quite the contrary, Bharata states that a successful performance brings about happiness, entertainment, diversion, and knowledge to the onlooker and should generate all of the Rasas (Śṛṅgāra, Hāsya, Karuna, Vīra, Bhayānaka, Bībhatsa, Raudhra, Adbhuta and Śānta).

Philosophy, Language and Tradition

To do justice to the complex songs and poems that are danced, the dancer should do a serious study of the different philosophies of Hinduism. This understanding needs to be deeper than a superficial knowledge of the main features of Hinduism. Knowing the composer’s philosophical leanings to will help the dancer understand the significance of their compositions. As an example, many are familiar with Vaiṣṇavaism, however, there are different schools of Vaiṣṇavaism and their core philosophies have subtle variations that are significant nonetheless. For instance, the Vaishnavism of Sri Vaishnavism, Gauḍiya Vaiṣṇavaism, and the Brahma Sampradāya of Madhvācārya may seem the same, but in fact, they have significant differences and comprehending these will aid the dancer to authentically embody the compositions of those respective philosophies.

For example, the sacred poems of Ānḍāl follow the Śri Vaiṣṇava school whereas Caitanya Mahāprabhu and Purandara Dāsa reflect the Gauḍiya and Madhva schools of Vaiṣṇavaism respectively. Not fully comprehending these subtle differences will lead to missing the beautiful meanings and themes of the songs and even blatantly misinterpreting them in the dance. Ānḍāl’s Tirupāvai has profound meaning as does Gīta Govindaṃ of Jayadeva; however, the refined nuances in these compositions cannot be missed if the dancer wishes to bring about the right Bhāvas and Rasas. The same is true of Śaivism and Smārtism. How can a dancer embody Nirguṇa Brahman without understanding what this profound concept is and the difference between Nirguṇa and Saguṇa Brahman?

Hand-in-hand with this philosophical comprehension, is the practice of the customs and rituals that embody these philosophies. Hindu philosophy is embodied in Hindu practices and customs; they are not just rituals. Just like the Yajña, they are transformative experiences and have effects on the consciousness of the doer. An academic study or an observation of Hindu rituals or interviews with practitioners is woefully inadequate to understand them. These customs and traditions can be understood by experienced and performing them with Śraddha and Bhakti. Therefore, practitioners of these customs are best suited to portray them, because they are not conscious-less ceremonial activities.


This brings us to a vital requirement to dance Bharatanāṭyaṃ and Indian classical dances. Since, as stated by Bharata and other scholars, the dancer’s mind should be Sāttvic and in total understanding with the characters, philosophies and customs and traditions of Hinduism, knowledge of the language in which the compositions are written is crucial. The traditional practitioners of Bharatanāṭyaṃ, Naṭavanārs and Devadāsis, were fluent in several languages and well-versed in our philosophy and traditions. The classical compositions are complex and difficult to comprehend even for a person fluent in the language in which they were composed. However, trying to understand the meaning of a composition by translations, especially from an Indic language to English (or other non-Indic language) will not be sufficient. Knowing another Indic language is helpful, but a dignified study is required with the aid of an expert in that language. Understanding the colloquialisms of the language and a detailed explanation of the philosophy and narrative is critical.

Even dancers who know the language often must do a diligent and serious study of the composition. English translations fall short in conveying the composer’s viewpoint and themes that are embedded in the cultural mores which the native language naturally communicates. These compositions are lofty and refined, and contain much symbolism which will otherwise be missed. Understanding the song through the Dharmic viewpoint, from the composer’s perspective and the times in which they lived is essential to bring out the Rasa of these works. For instance, the composition ‘Yār Āḍinar, ina yevar Āḍuva?’ in Tamizh tells of the great Cosmic Dance of Nataraja. Another composition “Ānanda Kūtāḍinar” is also about Nataraja and His celestial dance. So, are these compositions essentially the same? Well, a closer study of the above two songs shows they are similar on a topical level but convey different themes and evoke different Bhāvas. Similarly, two famous songs of Purandara Dāsa, Jagadoddhāraṇa and O’ḍi Bāraiyya are about Sri Krishna as the Divine child. A sensitive study of these songs reveals they are dissimilar and portray two distinctly refined themes with powerful meanings. The great composer Tyāgarāja is renowned for his beautiful songs devoted to Sri Rāma, but one should not make the mistake in thinking that all these compositions are the same.

Bharatanāṭyaṃ dance, and all Indian classical dance, is a complex rich transformative knowledge system. Bharata has codified the foundations and details of the sacred Indian dances. These codes are purposeful and not optional. They contain a profound philosophical aesthetic that is manifested physically in our ancient dances. The dancer’s mind (Manas) should be transformed into a state of Sattva and remain so during the performance so that the audience experiences the Rasas, which is the ultimate aim of these dances. Bharatanāṭyaṃ and other Indian dances are Yajñas that have a deep lasting impact on the consciousness of the dancer and the Sahṛidaya audience. Understanding these core fundamentals is the foremost prerequisite in the journey to be an accomplished and successful dancer.


About the Author: Prakruti Prativadi is a Bharatanāṭyaṃ dancer and Founder Director of Kalā Saurabhi Dance School in the US; she actively performs in the US and India. She has spent seven years researching the Nāṭyaśāstra and other Sanskrit texts on Indian aesthetics. She has written a book based on her research, Rasas in Bharatanāṭyaṃ, available on amazon.com

  1. Ghosh, M.M. 2006. P. Kumar (Ed.) Nāṭyaśāstra of Bharatamuni. (Vols. 1-4). Delhi: New Bharatiya Book Corporation.
  2. Prativadi, Prakruti. 2017. Rasas in Bharatanāṭyaṃ. South Charleston: Createspace.
  3. Sarangadeva, Sangītaratnākara. Adyar Library Series.
  4. Srinivas, P. N. 2000. Mathugalu [Talks on Kannada Literary Criticism, in Kannada]. Bangalore: Purogami Sahitya Sangha.
  5. Subrahmanyam, Padma. 1979. Bharata’s Art Then and Now. Bombay: Bhulabhai Memorial Institute. Madras: Nrithyodaya.
  6. Swami Harshananda. 2001. Vedic Sacrifices. Bangalore: Ramakrishna Math.

Disclaimer: This article represents the opinions of the Author, and should not be considered a reflection of the views of the Indic Civilizational Portal. The Author is responsible for ensuring the factual veracity of the content, herein.

Copyright: Prakruti Prativadi. All rights reserved.

Classical Indic Music I: Saastriya Sangeeta Tradition


Music is quite possibly the most powerful medium to not only communicate sentiments and feelings, but even ideas and philosophies. The spirituality inherent in the music of India, from the august sangeeta sabhas of Chennai to the lively village songs of Braj, is fragrant with this spiritual sense. Whether it is in communicating the everyday emotions or the most transcendental bliss, music of all echelons is an important and even critical aspect of culture.

To properly understand one’s Culture, it becomes crucial to evaluate the significance and centrality of our music, and even what makes it ours in the first place. And yet, in the engagement of Civilizations today, even music, a sacred bond among artistes and singers of different backgrounds and nationalities, is not above breaching this brotherhood.

Music and Indic Civilization is as old as the Sama Veda, and yet authentic Indic Civilization is at a crossroads. As has been researched and discussed by a respected author, there is a concerted attempted to deprecate and even deconstruct our traditional culture, and replace it with imports from other part of the world.

Sadly, even the realm of music, which should ideally bring people together, has been used by foreign “Indologists”, and their men “friday”, as a means to question the very existence of an Indian identity and an Indic Civilization, leave aside the classical tradition. Those of us raised in the tradition, in tune with modern realities and exigencies, know this assertion is ridiculous.

Much younger civilizations such as Europe and Persia, both of whom acknowledge borrowing much that is Classically Indic in origin, are self-servingly placed ahead of India, while India’s own Classical Music tradition is deconstructed and denied. This is the approach of “the developed world’s” Ivory tower, and its courtier magazines.

That is why the time has come to put aside hesitance for assertiveness, and academically rebut these preposterous propositions. While there are many different strands in the diverse Indic tradition, as anybody who is familiar with the Natya Sastra knows, it is the Sastra of Bharata muni which serves as the foundation for our Classical Arts, Music, & Literature. Desi and Marga lived in traditional harmony, much like Regional Language and Civilizational Sanskrit.

Therefore, this Series will primarily view Classical Indic Music through the tradition of Carnatic, as it is the most authentic and reflective of the native Indic spirit. Though periodic discussion of  Hindustani and its Personalities, such as Bhimsen Joshi and  Hariprasad Chaurasia, will take place, it is nevertheless important for readers to understand the difference between the syncretic and the authentic.



Sama Vedaaditham geetham-sujagraha Pithamahah ||

Pitamaha(Brahma)collected music from Sama Veda [2]

The Goddess Sarasvati, consort of Brahma, is herself considered the presiding deity of Music. Indic Music in general is often referred to as Gandharva Veda. The Gandharva Veda is one of the four main Upavedas and is attached to the Sama Veda. Named after those semi-divine beings famed for their divine music (Gandharvas), this upaveda is considered the origin of our sangeeta.


Thus, Saastriya Sangeeta is a very ancient tradition—one that laid the foundation for both styles (Carnatic & Hindustani)  of what is referred to as Classical Indian Music. While Carnatic is generally dated to its Pitamaha Purandara Dasa of Karnataka, he himself in fact was merely the reviver of an older tradition of music that once connected both North & South. The matter of disjunction, however, is that  Hindustani revolves around catering to the tastes of medieval Turks with persianised inclinations. It has very likely been promoted for precisely such reasons (much like urdu in bollywood) by the Lutyens crowd, to the detriment of others. What’s more, for a long time, rather silly JNU style theories were floating around that foreigners had taken the Vedic Chant tradition and given native Indians “sangeet”. This is a laughable notion for anyone who has studied the authentic Saastriya Sangeeta tradition. Carnatic has directly preserved this lineage from the time of Bharata muni and Rishi Tamburu down to the present day.

The reality is, so-called “Ganga-jamuni tehzeeb” is mostly Ganga-Jamuna and very little tehzeeb. Merely renaming melakartha ragas, cutting the Mridangam in half, and tweaking the Veena, does not a true Classical Tradition make. Panache and flamboyant flair! are fine for neophytes, but real rasikas will appreciate the refinement that goes into technique and training.  Fusion styles are fine for artists and their sentimental leanings—the but the truly authentic is what is native.

As such, it is only natural that Carnatic will serve as the backbone for the rediscovery of the Authentic Indic Tradition, with due regard to key Northern performers, of course. And with that we begin.



In our country, originally there was only one form of music and that was Indian music. Only later the divisions came and South Indian music and North Indian music chartered a separate course [2, 13]

This is the background of Classical Indic Music. Contrary to contemporary proponents of “art music”, the tradition, both South and North of the Vindhyas, finds its common origin in Sastra.  Saastriya Sangeeta is traditionally credited to Sage Bharata , author of the celebrated Natya Sastra. Nevertheless, the hymns of the Sama Veda are liturgically sung, and thereby take the origins of Sangeeta back to the Vedas themselves. Bharata himself draws the connection:

His assertion that he is creating a fifth Veda which will be accessible to all castes and classes at the same time likening it to the Vedas (i.e. creating a fifth Veda and the analogy of a ritual) transcends the accepted boundaries of hierarchy as also norms of inclusion and exclusion. [4, 21]

Foreigners too recognise the the place of the Natya Sastra and its criticality to the Classical Tradition.

The Bharata Natyasatra is our earliest Indian authority on these three arts [drama, music and dancing] and shows that by this time India had a fully developed system of music, which differed little from that of present-day ‘classical’ music. Anyone who has heard performance on the vina by a good South Indian musician has probably heard music much as it was played over a thousand years ago. [3, 382]

This was written not by some recent Indian scholar, but by Indologist A.L. Basham, in 1967. He further writes that over thirty ragas are listed in Bharata muni’s magnum opus, but these have expanded to hundreds over the course of millennia. Furthermore, there is strong reason to believe that Bharata himself was building upon the existing foundation of Gandharva Veda [emphasis ours]:

“The fact that there was a flourishing tradition of poetry, dance and music, even of architecture, sculpture and painting, is evident from innumerable references in the Vedas and epics. Patanjali’s Mahabhaasya and Arthasastras, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata provide interesting details of theatre halls, recitals, social status and training, but of the works of writers, Acaryas or rsis of the arts we learn little. Bharata provides a list of his gurus (teachers) and contemporaries. Apart from Pitamaha Siva and Mahesa, he mentions Kohala, Dhurtila (Dattila), Salikarn, Baadaraayana (Badari) and others.”[4, 114]

In fact, while there are those who continue to reduce the antiquity of Indian history and culture (to aggrandise their own culture and civilization), there is reason to believe that Natya Sastra is in fact much older than the date assigned to its composition. As Kapila Vatsyayan writes:

Many believe prior to its written composition, the Natya Sastra was transmitted orally. [1,29]

As such, one immediately sees the reason why mere documentary evidence alone cannot suffice. This is not only because destructive forces can burn down libraries (as was done at Alexandria and Nalanda),  but also because some of the most ancient traditions and strongest memories are transmitted orally, whether it is the traditional four Vedas, or the metaphorical fifth.

In addition, contrary to current day self-proclaimed “secular” revisionists who decry Sastra as frozen and rigid, Basham wrote that

The Indian musician was, and still is, an improviser [3, 383]

But the notion that the “Classical Tradition” is something new, or regionally/temporally restricted, frozen, or limited to only Brahmins is patently false.

Works on Dance such as non-brahmin Jaya Senapati’s Nrtta Ratnavali in the Medieval era pay homage to Bharata muni’s treatise (and Matanga muni’s text) from the ancient era, which in turn pays homage to the Vedas themselves. Senapati also wrote in great detail about music instruments and musical accompaniment in chapter 7  (239 verses on everything from vocalists to orchestras). As such, one can see the continuity of tradition beginning with the Vedas and going on to Maharishi Bharata to dance & music commentators such as Jayasena from Andhra, and all this before Carnatic or Hindustani even came into their own.

Contrary to newly invented narratives, the classical tradition is a continuous one that has merely evolved new styles and schools of music, in response to changing conditions. Incidentally, Jaya Senapati also authored the Geeta Ratnavali, which is now lost due to the pillage of Warangal by Delhi Turks.  Here’s what one Delhi Turk hyperbolically credited with all of Hindustani music himself had to say:


Further, Jayasena himself predates Bharatanatyam, Sadir, and Kuchipudi dances, demonstrating the importance of not only Thandava, but even Dakshinatyam as an intermediate style between ancient Bharata muni and modern Bharatanatyam (or its precursor Sadir).  Similarly, Carnatic music may be credited to its Pitamaha Purandara Dasa of 16th Century Karnataka, but this style of Sangeeta itself was established amid changing conditions. He is also preceded by Annamayya of Andhra, who is nevertheless celebrated by Carnatic aficionados today.

This is why, contrary to foreign Indologists, it is not appropriate to refer to Classical as a time period, as though the musical or cultural tradition were dead like ancient Greece or Classical Rome. In fact, it is very much alive, and as widely respected scholars themselves have written, classical in regards to India culture, should have a different meaning:

As regards the recent use of the term sastra as adjective, sastriya nrtya or sangita, it suggests quality of performance, sometimes genre, with an implied translation of the term ‘classical’ in English, as a qualitative and not historical period category. [4, 43]

Furthermore, there are foundational characteristics of Indic music that can be found in all corners of Bharatavarsha.

The evidence of Bharata shows that, as at the present day, the Indian of two thousand years ago preferred the throaty…style of music which comes more naturally than that which Europe has learnt to appreciate. The singing voice was often treated as a musical instrument, the vocalist performing long impromptu variations on a simple melody, sung to a single phrase, often an invocation to a deity. ” [3, 385]

This latter part becomes all the more important when one understands the inherent importance of spirituality in Indic music.


Purandara Dasa

Carnatic music is basically governed by an abiding faith in God [2, 1]

Carnatic takes its name, according to various theories, from Karnataka. Karnataka Sangeeta Pitamaha Purandara Dasa is from that state and composed his keerthanas in Kannada. Yet another theory stipulates that the word ‘carnatic’ is connected to the Tamil word ‘karnatakam’, which ostensibly means ancient. Whatever it is, Carnatic may be comparatively new, but Saastriya Sangeeta itself is very old.

After the foreign invasions commencing in the 12th century A.D. our savants in music were not only uprooted but many rare manuscripts were either lost or got thoroughly mutilated. In the [14th century A.D.] the rulers of the Vijayanagar kingdom with the help of vidwans and music lovers tried to trace these manuscripts. In this process, thanks to the great efforts of Vidyaranya who adorned the Sarada Sringeri Mutt as its Pontiff, some portions of the manuscripts were recovered but savants on music were not available. There were, however, a few great vidwans who could sing in the chaste traditional style.” [2, 14]

Furthermore, contrary to modern “Art Music” opinionistas, Carnatic music goes beyond Sacred music and already includes an Art Music (called Vinodham) and “Art Musical Forms”— Padam, Javali, and Thillana.  Others forms include, Kalakshepam (singing of epics/Harikatha), Dance musical form, Opera musical form (Yakshagana), Secular music (songs on Niti, such as those by Siddhars), Folk Music (Jaanapaadam), Martial Music, Kalpitha music and Manodharma music (no prior preparation). [2, 45]

Whether it is the 1500s of Purandara Dasa or the 2010s of the recently deceased Balamurali Krishna, Carnatic music is the successor of an ancient inheritance that remains ever-adaptable to changing times.


Shri Hariprasad Chaurasia

Hindustani music’s origins remain somewhat controversial, irrespective of the “secular” consensus. Questions remain as to whether it owes its origins to a prejudiced Turk courtier in Slave Dynasty Delhi or the more venerable Tansen of the Mughal era. Either way, it too, like Carnatic, is the product of Saastriya Sangeeta, and was created (or re-packaged) on an earlier, authentically Indian foundation. In fact, this musician courtier himself is said to have brought Maharashtra musician Gopala Nayaka of Devagiri to Delhi.[9,27] This is said to have laid the actual foundation for what is known as the Hindustani School today.

As western Indologists themselves admit, Ancient India already had a fully developed system, with an orchestra of distinct instruments. The Sitar itself is a renamed and tweaked Tritantri Veena. [9, 31]

Therefore, irrespective of the various gharanas, or the Hindustani school itself, it is very much Classical Indic Music—just repackaged for foreign (and foreign-imposed) tastes. Despite how common (and cliche) it has become to talk of the contrasts and differences between Hindustani and Carnatic, there is far more in common than motivated scholars would like. But in order to recognise this, one must study the structure of Saastriya Sangeeta closely.

Having provided an introduction to the Saastriya Sangeeta Tradition, and some of the ongoing controversies regarding its epistemology, one can now more closely examine its Theoretical Structure and Musical aspects.



Sangeeta is historically classified according to four types. These are Marga, Suddha, Desiya and Salaka.

1.Marga Sangeeta—The Four Vedas, along with the Sapta Svaras, are called Marga and are considered to have come from Deva Loka.

2.Suddha Sangeeta—Singing withing the established framework of arohana (ascending notes) and avarahona (descending) according to the traditional manner.

3. Desiya Sangeeta—Regional (desa-pradesa) types of music according to the various provinces of India

4. Salaka Sangeeta—Singing without any traditional structure or guide, per one’s own inclination. [2,7]

Bharata muni wrote further on its classification and had this to say:

Geetham vaadyam thathaa Nruthyam-thrayam sangeetha mucchyathe ||

Sangeetham comprises Geetham, Vadyam and Nrutthyam. [2]

Interestingly, academic authority on the Natya Sastra, Kapila Vatsyayan, writes that

There is a theory that ‘Bharata’ is an acronym for the syllables Bha, Ra, and Ta (standing for Bhava, Raga, and Tala respectively). [4, 7]

Incidentally, all these three are all fundamental to Saastriya Sangeeta. Much of the terminology in Carnatic & Hindustani is either common or common conceptually:


In the Natya Sastra, and beyond, one can find the “foundations of a distinctive system of music—its micro-intervals (sruti), notes (svara), scales (graama), modes (murcchana), melodic forms (jaatis), rhythm (taala) and much else.” [4, 92] Despite the motivated critique that Bharatiya Sangeeta does not have harmony, this is by design. It emphasises Melody instead.

Bhava refers to the emotional state that produces Rasa.

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

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

Melakartha Ragas

Rama Amatya (Asthana Vidvan of the Vijayanagara Empire) refers to 19 melakartha ragas, Govinda Deeksitar mentions 20, and finally Venkatamakhi (second son of Govinda Deeksitar) mentions 72. The melakartha scheme equivalent in Hindustani is Thaat (which only has 10).

These 72 melakartha ragas are the modern standard. 36 are considered Suddhamadhyamam (or pure) and 36 are pratimadhyamam. The 5 svaras other than Ma and Pa are found in all 72.

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

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

Endaro Mahanu Bhavalu, composed in Sri Raagam

Janya Ragas

Janya ragas are those born from melakartha ragas. These are divided into different categories.

Sampoornam-contains all seven svaras, Shaadavam-contains six swaras, Audavam for five, Svaraantham for four, Saamigam for three, Ghaathigam for two, and Aarchigam for one. Nevertheless, it is generally considered that to get a sweet and well-developed ragam, at least 5 svaras are required.

Just to understanding the level of evolution of these melodies, each melakartha raga has 483 janya ragas. This brings the total to 34,776 janya ragas in Carnatic Music. [2, 23]

Just to further demonstrate the commonality of the Ragams in Carnatic and Hindustani, here is an equivalency:

Carnatic                                  Hindustani

Hanumathodi                                         Bhairavi

Natabhairavi                                           Asaveri

Kharaharapriya                                      Kapi

Harikambhoji                                         Kamaj

Subhapantuvaraali                             Thodi

Kamavardini                                           Poorvi

Gamanasrama                                       Marva

Mechakalyani                                        Kalyan/Yaman Kalyan [2, 90]

Tala (thaala) refers to the beat that tracks time (Kaala) and determines tempo (Gathi ) and rhythm (Laya). It is the backbone of any composition. There is a saying that Sruthi (pitch) is the mother of music and Thaala (beat) is the father. There are 7 basic thaalas: Dhruva, Matya, Rupaka, Jhampa, Triputa (Adi), Ata, and Eka. When these are combined with the various jathis, were get 35 thaalas. When joined with gathis, the total reaches 175. Layam indicates the rhythm of the thaalam, and there are 3 kinds (Vilamba, Madhya, Duritha).

Laghu-finger movements. There are five kinds of jatis, and these form Lagu, which is the count of the finger movements. The counterpart to laghu is dhrutam (which is a one hand clap on the knee), of which there are five types as well.

Nada (naada), is the primordial sound that gives evocation to a musical note (Svara). It is the sound that is pleasing to the ear.

The fire that is burning in our stomach joins with the air that we breath[e] and goes upward through nav[e]l, heart, neck and finally the head. and comes out through our mouth in the form of a sound. This sound becomes Nadam. [2]

Nada is classified in to two types. There is Ahatha Nadam, which is the sound that is naturally formed but made sweet through man’s effort. When we sing or play an instrument in consonance with sruthi, this is called ahatha nadam.

The purely natural sounds called Anaahatha Nadam. Examples include the sound of raindrops on objects, or the notes of wind flowing through cut bamboo. Aum (Pranava) is considered the origin of both Ahatha and Anahatha nadam. [2, 9]

Perhaps nothing embodies Naada like the flute. Shri Hariprasad Chaurasia of the Hindustani school has become synonymous with the Bansuri. Here is a sample of his beautiful music.

Na Naadena vinaa geetham na naadena vina svarraha

Na naadena vina nruttham-thasmaath naadaathmakam jagath

Naada roopaha smrutho brahmaa naadaroopo janaardanaha

Nadaroopa Para Sakthihi-naadaroopo Mahesvaraha

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

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

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

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

Udaaththo nishaada gaandhaarow-anudaattha rishabha daivathow |

Svaritha prabha vaahyethe shadja madhyama panchamaha ||

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

Svara literally means that which makes its own sweetness. The etymology is the combination of the two letters from the words svayam and ranjagam. There are seven svaras in total: Shadjam, Rishabham, Gandharam (or Gandharvam), Madhyamam, Panchamam, Daivatham and Nishadam. There is also a special symbolism to this number seven, as there are seven seas, seven rishis, seven days, etc. [2, 9]

The heptatonic scale finds its earliest form in Classical Indic Music.

Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Da Ni

These seven notes central to our tradition find their analogue in the West as follows

Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti

It is no surprise, therefore, that many European Classical Composers appreciate Carnatic Music in particular (as it preserves the technical sophistication of traditional Saastriya Sangeeta).

Sthayi refers to Octave. Per Carnatic, there are five in number: Anumandra, Mandra, Madhya, Thaara, Athi.

The integral unity of the Saastriya Sangeeta System is therefore seen clearly here. Not only common terminology but also common concepts and common performance organisation. Perhaps nothing embodies this more than this common sloka.

Brahmaa thaala dharo-hariccha patahee

Veenaa kara bhaarathee ||

Vamsagnyow sasi bhaaskarow

Srrthi dhaaraha ||

Siddhaap Saraha kinnaraahaa

Nandee Bhrungiritaadi mardala dharaha ||

Sangeethako nardaha

Samboho nruttha karasya mangalathanoho ||

Naatyam sadaa paathunaha ||

With Brahma providing the beat, Vishnu playing on the mridangam, Sarasvathi playing the Veena, Surya and Chandra playing the flute, Devas and Apsaras providing the Sruthi, Nandi and Brungi playing other instruments, Narada singing melodiously, every one enjoyed the celestial dance of Siva. [2]

Nada is therefore connected to Svara and Sruthi, and Sangeeta to Gaana and Naatya. These connections are further embodied in the system of scales used in our sangeeta.

This is the centrality of not only the Saastriya Sangeeta Tradition to modern Indian music, but also the central importance of Bharata Muni and his Natya Sastra.

Bharata displays an extraordinary knowledge of material in the making of musical instruments (four types) and of the nature of sound, notes, consonance, assonance, dissonance and melodic forms. He establishes a system of correspondence between each category and its potential for arousing emotion; he develops it to establish patters of configuration of ‘notes’ in melodic forms and emotive states. He distinguishes between vocal and instrumental music.

He further divides vocal music into two types—one, consisting only of notes and the other, with words (varna and geya). He provides details of different types of instruments and their respective characteristics. He returns to an elaboration of the category of dhruva songs which he had mentioned in many earlier chapters. He identifies a category of music called gaandharva and distinguishes it from gaana. Bharata enumerates the different types of taala (time measures—rhythm, metrical cycles). In short, he lays down the foundation of a distinctly Indian syle of music with its scales and modal structure.” [4,92]

In fact, here again, in the use of instruments, we find commonality between North and South. Attodya or instruments of Saastriya Sangeeta are divided into four categories. These are Sushira (wind), Avanatta (leather percussion), Ghana (metal), and Thatha (string). While there were and are many string instruments…

The chief musical instrument was the vina, usually loosely trans-lated ‘lute’. [3, 384]

Veena is by all accounts the national instrument of India. It came in many varieties, one of which was the precursor to the Sitar. It was the instrument not only of the Goddess of Knowledge but of the Great Indic Emperors of yore.


Maharajadiraja Samudra Gupta with Veena and Vaana

In tandem with Sarasvati’s instrument, is the Tambura (now known as Tanpura in the North). It is primarily used to keep Sruthi and is most famously seen in that roaming celestial bard, Narada Muni. There is also the Mridangam, which in popular lore at least, was cut in half, and tweaked to create the percussion instrument Tabla. The bamboo Murali (also known as Venu, Vamsee or Bansuri) is the flautist’s delight and is also common to both North and South India. Finally, there is the Nadasvaram (Nagaswaram) of the South. This wind instument corresponds to the Shenai of the North. There are, of course, many other instruments to discuss, but these mainstays of the Indic orchestra (vaadyabrnda) demonstrate the Tradition of Saastriya Sangeeta in both schools.

Finally, there is the matter of various musical forms and composition types.

Krithis & Keerthanas

Pallavi, Charanam and Anupallavi are the key determinants of the compositions known as Krithis and Keerthanas. These are both the typical standards in Carnatic music.

Pallavi is the first line (or refrain) of the song, Anupallavi the following lines, and Charanam is a stanza. [5, ix]

A Keerthana will have only a Pallavi and Charanam. A Krithi will have all three.


This is considered the theme of any performance. The word Pallavi is itself derived from three words: Padam, Layam, and Vinyasam. “In Carnatic music, pallavi singing is the most important part. Here is an opportunity provided to the vidwan to exhibit his knowledge and mastery and imaginative power. It consists of three parts- Ragam, Thanam and Pallavi“. [2, 58] Thanam is where special emphasis is placed on one of the names of the Lord.


Padam is a term that has various meanings. It can refer to a line, a stanza, or a full composition. While Odisha’s Jayadeva referred to stanzas in his Astanaam Paadanaam Samhahaara (Ashtapadis), Andhra’s Annamacharya composed 32,000 padams (of which 14,328 are extant), which were compositions. While in some cases, such as Annamayya, these are purely devotional, the more commonly accepted definition is that padams are imbued with Sringara rasa (as evidenced by the Odisha’s Jayadeva).

In any event, Padam is a very ancient musical form. Bharata muni defines Padam in his Natya Sastra as follows:

Gaandharvam yan mayaa proktam svara taala padaatmakam

Padam tasya bhaved vastu svara taalanu bhavakam

Yat kincid akshara kritam tat sarwam pada sanjnitam

Nibaddham ca anibaddham ca tat padam swividham smrtam ||

Gandharva comprises of svara, taala and padam.

In this, padam is evocative of svara and taala.

Any meaningul syllabic composition can be called a padam.

It is of two kinds, Nibaddha (bound) and Anibaddha (unbound)

It can also be with taala or without taala. NS XXXII, 25-27 [5, vii]

Along with Padam, another musical form focused on Sringara rasa, is Javali. However, these are typically not given patronage as they are considered inauspicious and coarse. It is only in modern times that some have chosen to perform them at sangeeta salons. The object or subject of romance is not always maritally unattached, and thus, considered improper. Nevertheless, the existence of Padam (as defined by Bharata) and Javali is emblematic of how Carnatic music, and Saastriya Sangeeta in general, is not merely about devotional music. The current conservativism in the Katcheris of Coimbatore and Chennai may prefer the purely spiritual, but historically this was not the case, and along with the religious, more material and romantic topics also featured in performances, for the King or audience’s pleasure and relaxation.


This is where there are various jathi combinations, but little or no saahithya. Here is an example of a Thillana.


These are the most basic form of songs. There are Sanchari and Lakshana geethams. Sanchari is where the lyrics are simple, there is no pallavi, anupallavi, or charanam. Lakshana geetham is more complex, and may have alapana (exposition of the ragam). [2, 56]

A mukhari is an instrumentalist, and a Mukya-gayaka the main singer. A vaggeyakaara is one who authors a lyric and sets it to music. This word is a close analogue to but ultimately much wider than the english term ‘composer’. [5, vii]

There are of course other forms, such as the Dhrupad of Hindustani (which was originally called Dhruvapada). However, these are best dealt with elsewhere, in greater detail. The theory behind Saastriya Sangeeta is indeed very sophisticated, and will necessitate a separate post on the topic. Nevertheless, this overview summarises the basics for the casual reader, and should give a foundation for deeper studies in the future.

What does become obvious to the objective person, however, is that there is a common tradition across the Indian Subcontinent from which regional and local variations draw from. Whether it is spiritual, material, or folk, Saastriya Sangeeta is the common fountain providing identifiable patterns of musical structure from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.

But don’t take our word for it. Again, here are the eminent experts in their studies.

We notice three trends, one of adherence to some key principles of the Naatyasaastra, another of introduction of new categories and, a third, specially in the second period of the eleventh century onwards, of descriptions of fully developed regional schools and styles. This is a pan-Indian phenomenon. [4, 119]


Bharata Muni



Maharajadiraja Samudra Gupta

Maharaja Bhoja Paramara





Gopala Nayaka

Jaya Senapati




Chaitanya Mahaprabhu

Purandara Dasa

Maharana Kumbha



Narayana Teertha


Syama Sastri

Muthuswami Deeksitar

Pandit Ahobila

Raja Shahaji

Raja Swati Thirunal

Important Texts

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

Dattilam, 400 BCE (or earlier)

Brihaddesi, 500 CE (or earlier)

Manasollasa by Somesvara III (Karnataka), 1000 CE

Abhinava Bharati (Kashmir), 1000CE

Ashtapadi by Jayadeva (Odisha), 1100 CE

Sangeeta Makaranda by Narada, 1100 CE

Sangeeta Samayasaara by Parsvadeva (Karnataka) 1100 CE

Sangeeta-Ratnakara 1200 CE

Nrtta Ratnavali (Andhra), 1200 CE

Geeta Ratnavali (Andhra), 1200 CE

Bharatabhaasya by Nanyadeva


Saaroddhara by Sudhaakalasa (Gujarat)

Sangeeta-Sudhakaram by Haribala, 1300 CE

Sangeeta-Saram by Swami Vidyaranya, 1300 CE

Ragatarangini by Lochanakavi, 1300 CE

Kshetragna Padams (Andhra)

Dasar Padams (Karnataka), 1400 CE

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

Sangeeta Kaumudi (Odisha)

Svaramela-kalandhi by Rama Amatya, 1500 CE

Raaga Vibodam by Somanatha, 1500 CE

Sangeetha Sudha by Govinda Deeksitar, 1600 CE

Chaurdandi Prakaasikai by Venkatamakhi, 1600 CE

Sangeeta-paarijaata by Ahobila, 1600 CE

Krishna-leela-tarangini (Andhra), 1600 CE

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



From Matanga Muni to M.S.Subbulakshmi, Saastriya Sangeeta has an ancient heritage and an All-India influence (much like Adi Sankaracharya whose bhajan is being sung above). It is the Pan-Indic, genre-transcending nature of this music that has made it so central to our culture and civilization.

Correctly understanding Indian Music and its (true) origins, necessitates understanding the tradition of Saastriya Sangeeta. Sastra is the foundation from which spiritual, worldly, and folk music all draw from (to varying degrees). Ancient India, and even parts of medieval India (notably the South) preserved an indigenous musical system that is both continuous and civilizational in nature. From common origin to common texts to common terminology, the integral unity [6] of this variety of musicology is obvious to all earnest students and scholars.

For those who believe Bharata and his musicology as disconnected from the masses, here is some food for thought for “art music” advocates:

To return to the inheritance to the lineage of Bharata, as also those who inherited from him—we have already referred to Bharata’s indebtedness to the Vedas, the Upanisads and Brahmanical yajna practices. He incorporates the system of puja later codified in the aagamas, draws freely from contemporary practice, and considers loka, the ‘people’, as the final authority.” [4,113]

The people are the final authority to this tradition. They improvise, invent, and re-invent new styles and new modes of expression, but the source of inspiration finds expression through the unifying mechanism of Sastra. That is why it is so amusing to find juvenile foreign theories of foreigners bestowing music upon Indians (when the reverse is in fact far more likely).

“To say that they pertain to, or have been influenced by, the Arab or the Persian system shows a very superficial knowledge of the subject. These systems, originally mostly derived from Indian music, have become so reduced and impoverished in comparison with it that no one can seriously speak of their having had any influence on its development.”

(Alain Danielou in  Northern Indian Music. Praeger, 1969. volume I, p. 1-35)

In the name of promoting the syncretic, the authentic is being denigrated, demoted, and debased. Much like the modern Persian who laments at the arabisation of Pahlavi, the modern Indian finds himself wondering why foreigners are forever trying to persianise his own native tradition. Let Persia be Persia and let India be India. Tweaking our music to suit foreign tastes may be vaunted as syncretism, but persianisation and arabisation are not equivalent to sanskritisation. There is a difference not only based on nativity, but also due to inherent nature.

Syncretism vs Symbiosis

What the present narrative conveniently elides is that Sastra is the foundation for not only Carnatic but Hindustani as well. It is rather odd that the current discourse appears to imply that even music was brought from outside India, ironically by those who condemned music and banned it. Kapila Vatsyayan illuminates this point further:

The Ain-e-Akbari relies heavily on the Sangeetaratnaakara in its music and dance chapters. So does the later work—Risala-i-Raagadarpana. Both adherences and changes can be discerned in the later works, such as, Sangeeta Mallikaa of Mohammed Shah (seventeenth century) and Kitabe Nau Rasa of Adil Shah. [4, 120]

Sangeeta-ratnaakara, a work by Sarngadeva, a Kashmiri Pandit in a Maharashtrian King’s court, is credited as influencing all these exemplars of “Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb” & “Hindustani”. Even the alleged eminence grise of the Ganga-Jamuni brigade noted how native Classical Indic Music was beyond the grasp of persianised Central Asian invaders.  As Kapila ji notes “The basic foundations were laid by Bharata“. [1, 120]. Unlike the parasitic nature of so-called “syncretic” traditions that are colonial in etiology, symbiosis is endemic to the Sanskritic (traditionalists would in fact assert that it is not only symbiotic but organic, as Sanskrit is the mother of all these Indic cultures).

Sastra and Saastriya sangeeta rejected homogenisation and birthed a diversity of not only languages and traditions, but styles of dance and music. Sastra was the standard that all looked to, but all sought to express their own identity within the guidance of given standards. Urdu continues to kill off lovely dialects of Hindi such as Braj and Avadhi, and even robust languages like Kashmiri, Sindhi, and Punjabi. In contrast, Sanskrit has, with its grammar and vocabulary, enriched regional languages, whether North or South, while preserving the parlance of the people. Ask any Kashmiri  how many people speak his  mother tongue today, then compare with a Kannadiga.

Classical Indic Music is no different. The traditional high culture (marga) music birthed or preserved the regional (called desi) variations and enriched the (janapada) folk variations. This beginning is made apparent in the Natya Sastra itself. And for our caste-conscious casteists, even non-brahmin regional Natyacharyas such as Jaya Senapati  of medieval Andhra looked back to Bharata muni and maintained this tradition of Marga and Desi living side by side. And this tradition continued under such figures as modern Telangana’s Nataraja Ramakrishna. Folk performers throughout united Andhra Pradesh saluted him for his contribution to reviving their art forms, while he revived the classical Perini Thandava.

Further, the Pan-India connections rise beyond Sarngadeva, as Shahaji, the Maratha King of Thanjavur, patronised many Carnatic musicians at his Tamil Nadu Court and Tuloji himself authored a text.

What actually destroyed these folk and classical dances and styles of music however, our omniscient and infallible indologists (and their loyal native informants) will never tell you (hint: also medieval). Unlike the perso-turkic syncretic, the symbiotic sanskritic nourished, revived, and revives the full spectrum of musical voices,  whether desi or marga, male or female, mass or elite & regional or civilizational.

From the Dattilam of Dattila to  Sarngadeva and his Sangeeta-Ratnakara, Saastriya Sangeeta is a very ancient tradition that is very native in nature. The time has come to fully revive this cultural treasure not only in the South, but in the North as well, so the authentically Indic will get its due place again. Syncretism and Fusion are fine and dandy for “art music” dandies, but Classical Indic Music is the Core of our Musical Culture, and that is the relevance of Saastriya Sangeeta.

Ultimately, most of you “modern”, “progressive” types may be wondering, why any of this matters. After all “we are all global now“. Well, here was a “global” historian writing on why simply “getting degree” and “getting job” isn’t enough…

This was not the case in India’s greatest days, when a knowledge of music was looked on as an essential attribute of a gentleman.  [3, 384]

Those who wish to appear educated, sophisticated, and urbane would do well to understand what real culture is. Pop culture hits and bollywood beats may be all the rage today, but comprehension of the system of music and musicology that made them possible is the true sign of cultural refinement.

All in all, while many new regional, sub-regional schools and even individual styles developed, the basic foundation of a ‘modal’ system of music was not demolished. The living traditions of the several schools[,] the gharanas and the sampradaayas of Hindustan and Carnatic music bear testimony. The continuous flow of the tradition, as also the infinite number of possibilities of change and creativity is obvious. [4,121]

The tradition remains at the core, while the various schools and styles emerge from it. At a time when its originality (and even existence) are being challenged, perhaps its time to revisit what exactly makes the modes of Saastriya Sangeeta, truly Indic and truly Classical. This is something even Western Classical Composers have recognised:

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

Book Discussion: Rasas in Bharatanatyam


Introduction & Book Summary

Bharatanatyam artist Prakruti Prativadi recently published a book ‘Rasas in Bharatanatyam’. ICP’s daughter portal shared an interesting introductory article written by the author. I got a copy of the book from Amazon.com a couple of weeks ago and ended up reading it multiple times. The work is an outcome of several years of research and a first-person experience of living the tradition. The book is intended to be the first of a series.

The author states that the book is aimed at the serious Bharatanatyam artist and connoisseur, and is also beneficial to those who want to learn more about Indic art traditions. An in-depth discussion of the different elements of Bharatanatyam including Abhinaya, Rasa, and Bhava is provided. The book also presents a brief and well-researched history of Bharatanatyam and related traditions in Hinduism, a topic which has endured much distortion and confusion in recent years. The author goes deep into the ancient roots of natya, and succinctly explains the concepts relying on primary sources in Sanskrit and Indic languages. The clarity and authority required to write in a crisp question-answer format, the shraddha, the attention to technical detail, and the reinforcement of key learning points give the book a stamp of authenticity that perhaps only a dedicated practitioner and teacher can produce.

Where to Buy

Readers can set up a discount code ($8.00 off) which is available only from the Createspace page (not the amazon.com page) by following these steps:

  1. Go to the book’s Createspace page:
  2. Add the Book to the Cart, this will take buyers to the checkout page
  3. Add this discount code: PYTKY7GV in the ‘Discount Code’ field and click ‘Apply Discount’ to get a discount, the price of the book will be $28.99.

Please note: Users will have to sign up for a Createspace account (if they don’t have one). Createspace is owned by Amazon.

Bharatanatyam: Embodied Learning & Direct Experience

Poet, Indic scholar, and computer scientist Prof. Subhash Kak has said that the best way to understand India is through its art [2], and the book reaffirms this point. Why art? India is the land of Vedas, so can’t one read Vedic text?

The author discusses the worldview underlying Bharatanatyam and notes that direct experience is central to Hinduism. Through sadhana and shraddha, potentially anyone can transcend their ordinary level of consciousness [1]. This is an amazing and powerful discovery by India’s ancient seers. The armchair-acharya (like the theoretical martial artist and air guitarist) tries to convince us otherwise, but Hinduism recognizes that textual knowledge is useful but it cannot fully delineate the scope of Dharma and Vedas, and we provide two independent explanations regarding this.

Prof. Kak quotes Yaaska [3], the author of the ancient Sanskrit treatise Nirukta: “One who reads the Veda but does not know its meaning is like a draught animal”, and explains that “the idea of knowing the Veda is not merely to read it, but to understand its meaning in one’s heart. This is paradoxical, since one cannot understand the text unless one has already had the experience of its deepest intuitions. The text of the Veda cannot in itself be used for instruction”. We have Bharata Muni’s Natya Sastra, revered as the fifth Veda, that has the wisdom of the four Vedas embedded within, which is available to all people, cutting through all barriers of social and economic status, gender, race, and geography.

In his book Indra’s Net [4], Rajiv Malhotra poses a related question: “How did the rishis ‘see’ the shruti in the first place? Unlike the Abrahamic religions, in which prophets hear from an external God, in the Vedas there is no external voice. There is no entity equivalent to Yahweh who speaks the Vedas to the rishis… Vedas are a-purusheya, i.e., beginningless and authorless. They existed before the rishis ‘saw’ them… Hinduism does not regard the rishis as inherently different in substance or essence from the rest of us…. each human has the same potential as the rishis, and that this potential is realized through disciplined sadhana (the inner sciences of adhyatma-vidya)”. In the Indian context, Rajiv Malhotra coined the term ‘embodied knowing’ to refer to adhyatma vidya, and Indic art forms that employ this inner science surely occupy a pride of place in India’s grand narrative [6]. The deepest authentic ‘ideas of India’ are embedded in Bharatanatyam. We owe a debt of gratitude to dedicated artists who tirelessly practice, promote, and preserve India’s sacred art forms.

Bharatanatyam as Yajna

The book has a brief but insightful discussion of Bharatanatyam as Yajna, which has been explained as a sacred process that establishes links (bandhus) between the inner and the outer world [6]. The material world is not considered separate and discarded but is harmoniously united with the spiritual within Bharatanatyam. Indic art forms are rooted in this Vedic view where consciousness is the basis of ultimate reality itself [3]. Such a Bharatanatyam is unacceptable to the enticing “sweet-speech” Charvaka School [5] that totally rejects Yajna, Puja, Bandhus, and the transcendental domain since they believe that consciousness emerges from neural matter [2]. Bharatanatyam is also incompatible with the irreconcilable duality of history-centric Abrahamic dogma that accepts the transcendental and the transactional domains but keeps their existence independent and infinitely apart [6].

Actively participating in Yajna leads to an internal transformation that is like undergoing a ‘rebirth’ [2]. This leads us to a second, and equally remarkable observation that any sensitive and attuned viewer (Sahridaya) immersed in a Bharatanatyam performance [1] can also potentially attain a higher state of consciousness and transcendental bliss, and this communication is possible due to Rasa. The book explains this process in-depth.

Rasa Ganita

Dharmic thought employs a finite and limited number of levels to manage quantities/qualities that may appear to be unlimited or huge in number, or even indivisible or continuous. How does it work?

On Rasa, Prof. Kak remarks [3]: “An aesthetic attitude is a combination, in varying measures, of the different essences (rasas) of it. It is one of the great insights of the Indian tradition that these essences are supposed to be discrete, and perhaps this idea emerged from the Vaisesika atomic doctrine as well as the idea of Nyaya that mind operates sequentially”. Like Panini and his rules of grammar, Bharata, using only a finite number of sutras, covered the profound topics of Rasa and Bhava and spanned the virtually unlimited expanse of dance and drama.

Paanini has been credited for a grand unified theory of language, and Bharata too can be credited for a similar theory of aesthetics thousands of years ago. The author notes how a danseuse can skillfully conjugate various dance elements such as movements, gestures, etc. mentioned in the Natya Sastra to generate innumerable permutations and combinations to artistically express the myriad emotions and situations that has occurred, or will occur in the future, and convey that meaning to the audience. Bharatanatyam does not limit but encourages unselfish self-expression.

Rasa Awakening in the Audience

In her book, Prakruti ji takes us on a fascinating journey through the Rasa awakening process in Bharatanatyam. The idea of Rasa is ancient and present in the Upanishads [1]. According to the author “Rasa is the supreme aesthetic experience and absolute aesthetic relish that the audience feels when witnessing an artistic performance… Rasa is a heightened state of consciousness and bliss… This experience is called Rasasvada, which is akin to Brahmasvada, a supreme knowledge… Rasa is a Sanskrit word that no equivalent word in English”. A simplified arrow-diagram view of the Rasa awakening sequence/combination given in the book can be described as follows (the interested reader should refer to the book to obtain a complete and correct picture).

Vibhava (cause/determinant): → Anubhavas (consequent reaction) → Vyabhichari Bhavas (temporary emotional states) → Sthayi Bhava (permanent emotional state) → Rasa

(Author dancing selected Paasurams from the Vaarinam Aayiram)

In Bharatanatyam, for example, the process can be triggered by witnessing the Abhinaya of the skillful artist, and given the right conditions, culminate in a heightened state of consciousness within a receptive audience. In an interview, Dr. Ramachandran Nagaswamy confirms this important point about Rasa while correcting the mistaken conclusion of a western Indologist.

Another crucial point made by the author is that the generation of Rasa in a performance is not guaranteed and it requires the harmonious integration of multiple inter-connected factors. The author likens it to a complex and rich recipe.  Rasa is not awakened by sensory stimuli such as personal sadness experienced in mundane life, or by artists using the stage to make purely political and social statements. And even if the performance is of the highest caliber, it still requires an attuned viewer (Sahridaya) [1] within whom the ‘aesthetic vibes’ of the performance can resonate. The author quotes Bharata “without Rasa, there can be no meaningful communication”.

Engineering Design Example

Natya Sastra ideas can find applications in diverse fields, including entertainment, advertising, public-service messaging, etc. Given its integral view, teaching Natya Sastra concepts authentically in schools and colleges will benefit not only young artists, but also engineers and scientists. As an analogy and example, modern highway design relies on the PIEV theory of driver response to visual stimuli:

Cause/determinant: → Perception → Intellection → Emotion → Volition

PIEV is used to measure the perception-reaction time of a driver. Triggered by observing an event, the driver first perceives (something happened), grasps the implications (danger to self/others), and this triggers one or more emotions (what to do?), before converging on a final, stable action (brake, steer, or accelerate). PIEV duration differs for a distracted versus fully conscious driver. When deciding where and how to install and calibrate a traffic light, one has to evaluate the combination of all inter-related factors – PIEV, visibility, topography, traffic conditions, etc., in order to maximize the percentage of drivers that will have sufficient time to go through PIEV and make the right decision. PIEV and Rasa may be two different things (although when in danger, even the most materialistic passenger and driver will invoke the divine transcendent charioteer to ensure fast PIEV so they can remain in their transactional world); however, there appear to be similarities – the importance of an integral perspective, a scientific approach, and understanding the roles of emotional states, cognition, and consciousness.

Bharatanatyam & Artificial Intelligence

Today, Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems can generate cooking recipes, write mournful poetry, and has even started writing musical scores. Can machine-generated artistic performances evoke Rasa? Can it replicate the transcendental leap [3] that is possible through a Yajna? These are interesting questions to be answered by experts. Machines are not conscious because they cannot have Bandhus [3], and their art output appears to be generated by algorithms using preset rules distilled from prior art, which were created by highly skilled human artists, not machines. The book has clearly established that the Rasa awakening process and the dance elements of Bharatanatyam are not mechanical.

While machine art may match humans and eventually do better in terms of purely materialist aesthetics, the sacred Indic art-as-Yajna rooted in an integral unity via bandhus that bind the inner and outer worlds, will not only survive, but thrive and give humanity a sense of hope and a glimpse of divinity. This makes it all the more important that Bharatanatyam and classic Indian art be preserved and taught in their authentic form and context. Prakruti Prativadi’s book is a welcome step in this direction.

Click here to Buy this Book!


(This post was written by an aesthetically-challenged Ganita professional ‘armed’ with two right feet, and is an informal exploration of ideas inspired by Prakruti Prativadi’s book)


  1. Rasas in Bharatanatyam. Prakruti Prativadi. CreativeSpace. 2017.
  2. Art and Cosmology in India. Subhash Kak. Patanjali Lecture, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. 2006.
  3. The Pragna Sutra: Aphorisms of Intuition. Subhash Kak. 2006.
  4. Indra’s Net: Defending Hinduism’s Philosophical Unity. Rajiv Malhotra. Harper Collins, 2014.
  5. Epistemology and Language in Indian Astronomy and Mathematics. Roddam Narasimha. Journal of Indian Philosophy. 2007.
  6. Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism. Rajiv Malhotra. Harper Collins, 2011.

Shubha Sankranthi (2017)


Shubha Makara Sankranthi to all our readers!

Whether you call it Makara Sankranthi, Lohri, Magh Bihu, Ghughuti, Pongal, Sakraat, Khicheri, Saaji, Suggi, Tirmoori, Uttarayan or “the transition of the sun into the constellation capricorn“, we wish you all a very Happy Harvest Festival!

Part of celebrating what unites us is understanding the beauty of the variety. Sanskrit is the language that unites us and Devanagari the most accessible to us, yet greetings come in many languages and many scripts. This year’s is written in the superfun script of the Odias of Odisha (ancient Kalinga, Utkala, & Oddra). To know how they celebrate today, here is a must follow handle or two for all things Odia, including ICP’s own @Itssitu, who was featured last year with her article on Odisha Fashion.

Pongal-greetings-tamilFrom Odisha we go to Tamil Nadu and a particularly emotive Pongal, where the great tradition of Jallikattu is presently prohibited. One need not participate or even be a fan of a tradition that is important to a different socio-economic group (in this case rural), but it’s important to respect all traditions, particularly when the animal is not harmed and is in fact treated as part of the family. Jallikattu is neither Spanish Bullfighting nor Cowboy Rodeo. The animal is safe, well-treated, and it is the unarmed players who are taking the risk given the powerful bull horns and hooves. It may be more martial than most may handle, but when the animal is treated well, it’s yet another part of festival fun.

Art by Anikartick

For some, Makara Sankranthi is about flying kites, for others it is about drawing Kolam(Rangoli) or playing Jallikattu, and for still others, it is a brilliant bonfire, symbolising a fresh start and personal cleansing.


Punjab’s  Lohri (like Bhogi in Andhra’s 4 day Sankranthi) is a great utsav of aag. It is celebrated by Punjabis the world over, and symbolises that spirit in a different way. And yet, the same voices who show no concern for say trees on Christmas, suddenly do when it comes to Lohri (leave aside New Years Eve vs Crackerless Diwali).

Do what you can to preserve the tradition and petition and protest peaceably. Use facts, logic, and calm patience to make the case and point out double standards. Some connect to their culture through intellectual endeavours, others through philosophical inquiry, but most through their traditions and festivals (and the delicious cuisine that goes with them).


Makara Sankranthi is not just a Pan-Indian, but a Pan-Indic festival, and is celebrated with great gusto by our brothers in Nepal.

So whether you say Sankranthi Shubhkamnayein, Shubheccha, or Shubhakaankshaalu, from all of us at ICP, we wish you the very best!