Celebrating unheard melodies

The Silapadigaaram is the story of a married couple Kovalan and Kannagi whose lives are disturbed by the entry of the courtesan Madhavi into Kovalan’s life. Smitten by Madhavi’s beauty and skills in music and dance, Kovalan showers her with gifts and wealth. A misunderstanding causes this relationship to break. Kovalan comes back to Kannagi and their financial position forces a move from the Chozha kingdom to Madurai, the capital of the Pandyas. In Madurai, Kovalan is accused of stealing the queen’s anklet when he was actually trying to sell Kannagi’s anklet and is executed. A furious Kannagi proves in court that the anklet was indeed hers leading to the death of the king who dies in remorse. Kannagi’s curse burns Madurai and she moves to the Chera kingdom where she leaves this world and unites with Kovalan. Hearing this story the Chera king orders the building of a temple in her memory as he considers her a goddess.

Guide to music

The Silapadigaaram is authored by Ilango Adigal and approximately dated to the 2nd century AD. Unlike texts like the Natya Sastra, Dattitam etc, this is not a musical treatise but built into the story are details about the music and dance of the times and it is a veritable guide to understanding their society.

In the Silapadigaaram, we notice that details on the music are short, indicative and brief in nature, scattered over the text. Therefore how do we understand the music? Many centuries later — between the 9th and 12th centuries — two commentaries on the Silapadigaaram, the Arumpata urai and Adiyaarkkunallaar, used the material in the epic along with other texts on music like the Pancha Marabu (most others are not available now) and created a theory based on their interpretation of the same. Therefore we need to clearly understand that there are two parts to this material; first details in the Silapadigaaram and second the commentaries. The huge time lag between the original and the commentaries is an issue since we cannot be sure about how the changes in the music and practices of the times of the commentators influenced their perspective.

About six chapters in the Silapadigaaram contain substantial information on music. Out of these the Arangetra Kaadhai and the Aachiyar kuravai are very important. In the Silapadigaaram there is a clear indication that there were two traditions of music. The older tradition is the Thondrupodumarai and the newer Varamburumarabu.

While talking about the Thondrupodumarai the commentators mention the Naatperum pann (the four major panns). This is when four types of lands are associated with a specific pann (a melodic source), and an instrument, Yazh (a form of harp), Parai (skin instrument) and deity. We also find Mullai, another type of land also with similar associations.

Notes (svaras) are known as Nerambu. Nerambu are the gut strings used in the Yazh. Each string of the Yazh was tuned to one note therefore this association of nerambu to note. In the Aachiyar Kuravai, Ilango Adigal describes a dance by seven girls in a circular formation. This is a metaphor for the seven nerambu ( svaras). The seven nerambu are known as Kural (Sa), Thutham (Ri), Kaikalai (ga), Uzhai (ma), Ili (pa), Villari (da), Tharam (ni). This circular formation is known as a Vattapalai. Commentators place these seven notes in a circle that has twelve places. These twelve places are associated with the twelve zodiacs. The commentators derive this association due to some indications in the Silapadigaaram. The commentators have specified the zodiac in which each nerambu is positioned. Therefore you have seven notes positioned in seven zodiacs out of the twelve. The position of the Kural (sa) is fixed in the Thondrupodumarai at the zodiac Libra (thula), which lies to the left side of the circle. The maatrai (sruti) interval difference between each of these notes is not given in the Silapadigaaram but in the commentary. This circle of notes is the basis of evolving the Naatperum pann. Through a process known as Illikramam, the note positions for the Naatperum pann are derived by a verse of association between the notes given in the commentaries. The association is one of every fifth note or every eight position in the circle.

In the chapter Arangetra kaadhai that appears in the story before the Achiyar Koothu, there is a mention of the newer tradition Varamburumarabu. A process of changes in the interval between the nerambu (svaras), later called Alagu matram by commentators, is applied, and the position of kural ( sa) is moved to the right side of the circle in Taurus (rishabha). Through this process we derive new positions for all the notes in the Circle Vattapalai fo r Varamburumarabu. From this by a process of Kural thirubu, seven palai-s (scales) are derived. I am not going into the technical details. When this same process of kural thirubu is applied to the Pallai ya zh in the older system, we get seven palai-s. They are Cembalai, Padumalaipalai, Sevvezhi, Arumpalai, Kodipalai, Villaripalai, Merchampalai. They are the same seven in the newer tradition but in a different sequence as the position of kural ( sa) has been moved.

Varied interpretation

Among modern scholars there have been varied interpretations to the methods mentioned. Aabraham Pandithar has used the position of the notes in both the older and newer system in two circles and derived the Nattperum pann. Vipalanandar does not agree with the intervals between the notes suggested and works on the same interval difference as the Natya Sastra. Dr S. Ramanathan, has, in the process of Alagu maatram in Vamburumarabu, differed with the other scholars. He has also gone on to give the complete structure for the Mullaitheembanai even though the Silapadigaaram only indicates four notes; he has inferred its structure and given it a five-note form. Another scholar V.P.Kamakshisundaram has a very different interpretation to both the process of finding the Natperum pann and the Kural thirubu method for the Palai-s.

The original text of the Silapadhigaaram only uses the word pani and this is interpreted as thalam. Interestingly the commentators talk about five types of pani starting with the chachatputa, which in fact is also one of the five thalas mentioned in the Sangita Ratnakara.

The musical forms known as “ Uru” are mentioned in the sixth chapter Kadalaadu Kaadhai. The two forms mentioned are Mayonpaani and Naatvagaipaani. The commentators talk about many other forms and they have many sub-classes. The word Pani here has a connotation of musical form.

Instruments found in the Silapadigaaram include melodic instruments like the Kuzhal (flute), Yazh (a form of harp) and Veena. Percussion instruments include the Thannumai, Muzhavu, Murasu, Aamandrika.

There is no doubt that the music of the times was a thriving tradition but it is the later commentators, and not Ilango Adigal, who have elaborated on the musical details in the text. Some scholars of the 20th century have tried to equate the palai-s of the Silapadhigaaram to modern ragas. The original commentators of the Silapadigaaram have not made this association between raga and palai. The concept of the modern raga is determined because we have a fixed tonic system. We cannot be sure that the music of the Silapadigaaram was fixed tonic, though the importance to the first note Kural ( sa) is clear. Secondly we do find that at a very basic level the palai-s giving each note in the decreasing order the first position is similar to the moorchanas in the Natya Sastra. Therefore it would be similar to trying to equate each moorchana in the sadja grama of the Natya Sastra to ragas. Scholars are still debating about whether there is any connection between the Natya Sastra and the music of the Silapadigaaram. Both these were musical traditions that belonged to a different era and the best we can do is to celebrate them without trying to derive any contemporary relevance. The panns that come in later in the Tevarams may have been using the same names but history does indicate that there may have been many changes that could lead us to believe that the nature of pann had changed.

Originally written for The Hindu

Emergence of the Desi tradition

Either at the time of the Natya Sastra or sometime after, another tradition seems to have emerged. This tradition of “Desi“ or “Sangita” is described in texts like the Brihadesi, Manasollasa and, finally, in the Sangita Ratnakara authored by Sarangadeva in the 12 {+t} {+h}/ 13 {+t} {+h} century. Between the days of the Natya Sastra and the Ratnakara are about 1000-1200 years. The emergence of this tradition is very important for us to understand where we are as a Carnatic classical idiom today.

Desi Sangita is the form of presentation like Natya was in the older Natya Sastra tradition. Bharata’s Natya is referred to in these texts as Marga Sangita. Though Desi Sangita and Natya seem similar — as both have the three elements of Drama/ Dance, Music and percussion — there are some very important differences. Firstly, while the Marga Sangita refers to Natya, Gana and Vadya, the Desi Sangita refers to its components as Gita, Vadya and Nritta. The important change here is the use of Nritta instead of Natya. In its purest form, Nritta is considered an aesthetic expression that has limb movements where the actor is not being identified with the character and is not emoting a dramatic emotion. The use of his limbs and even some abhinaya are purely for the audience’s aesthetic pleasure. It does seem that drama never had any role in Sangita.

Parallel traditions?

Interestingly, this is very similar to the description of the Thandava Vidhi mentioned in the preparatory parts of the Natya presentation in the Natya Sastra. Also, the form of dance described in Thandava Vidhi is Nritta, the same as in Sangita. The term used for the music in Thandava Vidhi is not Gana like in all Natya presentations but Gita, which is the same term used in Sangita. This does lead us to speculate whether the Sudha Paddati was derived from the Thandava Vidhi. There is also another possibility that this tradition already existed during the time of Bharata. Why would Bharata, in a primarily dramatic presentation, have an opening oriented towards music and dance? Did he adapt it from this tradition? These are all, of course, completely in the realm of speculation.

The Desi ragas seem to have appeared from older gramaragas and uparagas and their subsets known as Bhashas, Vibhashas and Antara Bhashas. These Desi ragas are classified into four categories, Raganga, Bhashanga, Kriyanga and Upanga. These ragas are the basis for all musical forms presented in the later ‘ Sangita’ form. Originally in the presentation of Sudha Paddati, prabandhas may have been sung in older Gramaragas but later the Desi ragas took over.

The Sangita Ratnakara also describes 15 varieties of Gamakas. These Gamakas are used only in Gana and are completely unknown in the Gandharva.

The two presentational forms of Desi music are Alapti and Prabandha. Alapti seems to be the first reference to what we may call improvisation in the modern context. Alapti is of mainly three varieties.

Familiar echoes

The purpose of the first, Raga Alapti is to crystallise the raga and prepare the ground to render the Prabandha with percussion accompaniment. This involved building the raga in four stages using phrases that make the raga from the Prabandha composed in it. This is similar to the modern Alapana-Keertana suite.

Rupaka Alapti is when melodic variations are a part of the Prabandha. In one variety, to a one line of the Prabandha melodic variations without lyrics are sung and concluded with the repetition of the line. The author of one other text mentions that before the repetition of the Prabandha line the melodic variations are sung as Svaras. This seems to hint at a possible precursor to what we sing as Kalpana Svara today.

The second type of Rupaka Alapti is when either one line or the whole Prabandha is taken up and melodic variations are sung with the lyrics of the Prabandha. A specification is that the duration between syllables of the lyrics must not be changed. The modern Neraval is a very similar way of improvising a line in a Keertana.

Prabandhas are songs that have four sections and six parts. Out of the four sections it is the third Dhruva that is the most important, which is repeated many times, and every Prabandha has to have this section. Some later Prabandhas do have a fifth section. Other than meaningful texts, Prabandhas are the first compositional forms that we come across that have a part that contains only Svaras (sa, ri, ga etc.) There is also use of the syllables of rhythms, ta, dhi, thom etc. and Thenaka which contain syllables of tena, tena. Many of the Prabandhas are on patrons or secular in character and composed in many languages like Sanskrit, Prakrit, Karnata, and Gauda.

The two Desi presentations in Sangita that came after Sudha Paddati were Gaundali Vidhi and Perani Vidhi. While the songs in Sudha Paddati were originally known as Prabandhas, it’s possible that due to local languages when it came to Gaundali Vidhi the songs came to be known as Chayalaga Suda (meaning Sudas which are shadows of Sudha variety), that got corrupted to Salaga Suda. Therefore, in order to differentiate the older Prabandhas from these, they referred to the Prabandhas of the Sudha Paddatis as Sudha Sudas. There is one more variety of Prabandha called Ali.

In respect to the understanding of Svaras, we find changes that indicate a movement towards a newer Svara structure and fixed tonic though the music described in the Ratnakara is still based on the Gramas. The Svaras here too have 22 Srutis and Sarangadeva gives a detailed description of how he arrived at each Sruti using two Veenas with 22 strings each. He also provides the possibility of 10 Vikrita Svaras; Svaras that are not in the original position, possessing the interval as described in the music of the Marga tradition. Sarangadeva also speaks of another method of deriving Moorchanas where the Moorchana for Ni is not begun at the position of Ni but actually on the position of Sa. This seems to indicate changes leading to a fixed tonic.

The Desi Talas were different from the Talas used in Gandharva. Breaking up the time units of Talas of Gandharva derived Desi Talas. 120 varieties of Desi Talas are mentioned. Desi Talas were mainly shown by either the sound of the cymbals or the sound of the hand. The use of silent movements in demonstrating Talas is not very clear.

From the above descriptions it is clear that the Desi tradition is definitely an independent if not a breakaway from the older Natya Sastra tradition. Significantly, there are a lot of indicators that this tradition was probably the embryonic stage of the development of Carnatic music given the movements towards more Svara varieties, a fixed tonic, a independent set of ragas, improvisations like Raga Alapti and Rupaka Alapti, and the use of Gamakas. The final separation of Nritta from Sangita is attributed to Gopala Nayaka who pioneered the Chaturdandi tradition and created a tradition of only music. While all this was in relation to Sanskrit treatises, what was happening in Tamizh country? We will see next week.

Originally written for The Hindu

Poetics of performance

The most common way of looking at the classical systems of India has been as one classical system that split into two forms: Hindustani music and Karnataka (referred to commonly as Carnatic) music. In reality, most changes and developments in society were far more complex and movements take place through a process of multiple influences.

I hope that, in the next few weeks, we can look at the musical forms of different eras in relation to Carnatic music. This is not to create a historical hierarchy but more to give us an insight into the complexity of metamorphosis. The journey will be through the eyes of musical treatises and singing traditions that we are aware of.

Over the coming weeks we will move from the Natya Shastra to the development of the Desi Tradition, peep into the music of the Silapadigaaram in Tamizh heartland and its singing traditions, moving on to the Vijayanagara Empire, to Thanjavur and finally, the citadel of music today, Chennai.

The most revered text in Indian performing arts is the Natya Sastra. The period given to the text varies from 200 BC to 200 AD and the geographical location is debated among scholars, with some believing that it was written in Kashmir but some do believe that it could be somewhere in the southern part of what is India today. The word Bharata is not only a name but also means an actor; therefore some scholars believe that the Natya Sastra was not authored by one individual but is a work of many actors and evolved through centuries; similar to the belief regarding the Mahabharata and the meaning of Vyasa.

Natya, the form

The term Natya itself does not refer to dance but to the form of presentation that includes Natya (Natya here is a component of Natya the form), melodic music (Gana) and percussive instruments (Vadhya). In order to avoid confusion we shall refer to the component Natya as Abhinaya.

Abhinaya includes, gesture, speech, involuntary reaction, costumes and accessories. Therefore, this is an amalgam of what we call dance and drama in the modern context. This is a very different aesthetic expression. The elements that constitute drama and elements that contribute dance belong together as one form.

Bharata refers to two types of music: Gana and Gandharva. Gana refers to the music that forms part of Natya, and Gandharva, which we may call “Art music”, has an independent identity beyond the triumvirate of Natya.

Music does not refer only to singing but also to the playing of wind and stringed instruments that can produce a melody. It seems that all that can produce melody, whether human or instrumental, come under music. The focus is on the production of melodic variations.

The songs sung as part of Gana in the Natya presentation were called Dhruvas. The language of the songs that have texts is Prakrit. These were sung for various situations in the drama including entry or exit of a character, heightened emotions, to divert audience’s attention who are experiencing a certain Rasa and songs for pure dance movements or steps. While the melody was played Cymbals (Ghana) accompanied them. Some of the stringed instruments mentioned are CitraVina, Vipanchi and a secondary category comprises Kachchapi, Ghosaka. Among the wind instruments, Bharata talks about the Vamsa, Nadi, Tudakini and Samkha. Unfortunately there are no details on their construction.

Vadya referred to instruments made of stretched membranes. This category refers to percussion and those instruments that are not melody producing even if they can be tuned to a note. Some percussive instruments mentioned are the Mrdanga, Panava, Dardara and some secondary instruments like Bheri, and Jhallari.

How do the three parts come together to form Natya? How do different parts make a whole? Are they just collections put together or do they give the whole a character? What is the basis of the relationship between the parts and whole? Abhinavagupta raises questions of this nature in his commentaries on the Natya Sastra regarding the relationship of the three elements of Natya. The three elements of Natya, though having separate entities, come together sacrificing their independent forms to provide Rasa in the form of Natya wherein there is a seamless relationship between what we perceive today as independent forms in dance, drama and music (both melodic and percussive). Today’s Koodiattam or Yakshagana seem to have a similar Natya form.

Aesthetic experience

An important aspect of Natya was to evoke Rasa. Rasa is expressed as an aesthetic experience of the audience, which is the result of a context, a reaction and a transient feeling in the drama, expressed through Abhinaya resulting in a dominant or permanent mood. This experience is obviously beyond emotion and is aesthetic in nature. The Natya Sastra talks about Rasa as being derived only from the Natya form i.e. the coming together of Gana, Vadhya and Abhinaya in the presentation of Natya. Yet, when removed from this form of Natya, they don’t evoke Rasa. It is interesting that Rasa is related to a visual representation of emotions (Bhava) within a story backed by Gana (melody) and Vadhya (percussion). We have later on related even poetry in terms of Rasa. So is this Rasa evoked from the Bhava born out of the poetry? Similarly, does pure art music sans lyrical content evoke a Rasa? This would be an interesting subject for discussion. There are some scholars who believe that it should be inferred that Rasa does include other arts.

Music in its purely art form is known as Gandharva. It is considered a very sacred form with the music meant only for the gods. It’s considered a ritual and has a lot of rules and regulations regarding performance. There is no question of pleasing an audience or looking for appreciation. The benefits of performing this form is said to reach only the performers. These forms are presented before the start of a Natya presentation. The compositional forms mentioned in Gandharva are Gitakas and Nirgitas. Gitakas, as compositional forms, seem to be more determined by the Tala and are complex in nature. There are seven types of Gitakas mentioned. The language used in these compositions is Sanskrit and the content is mainly on Shiva. The Nirgitas are more oriented towards instrumental melody. They are two parts wherein one is the playing of the melodies on Vinas and the second is singing linguistically meaningless syllables, for example Jhantum, Jagatiya. There are many varieties of these forms.

The presentation of Natya had preparatory parts called Purvaranga, which included Gandharva music (pure music sans Natya), and then a Tandava Vidhi (a special presentation we will discuss next week) followed by a Sutradhara coming in reciting verses followed by rituals of removing all the obstacles carried out and then the events that lead to the Drama.

Different structure

What was the structure of the music? On a very fundamental level, the music was not based on a fixed tonic. That would mean that we would not have a constant fixed pitch to which the Thambura can be tuned irrespective of whatever music is performed. The music was based on various scales (Murchanas), which took their Svara intervals from one of two Svara groupings called Shadja-grama and Madhyama-grama. There was also another grouping known as Gandhara-grama.

A Svara had its identity along with the interval from its lower Svara and the interval was measured in terms of a unit called Sruti. There were also Jaathis, based on which melodies could be structured that had intervallic arrangement derived only from the Shadja or Madhyama gramas. Each Jaathi had more characteristics described like the note on which a tune had to begin in it (Graha Svara), its tonic note (Amsa Svara) and the note at which a melody must end (Nyasa Svara) and a few more features. Two Svaras, Ga and Ni had possible variants named Antara Gandhara and Kakali Nishada but these positions were not treated as full-fledged Svaras. All music in both Gandharva and Gana were sung on the basis of Jaathis as melodic sources.

Well-defined

The rhythmical aspects of music have also been dealt with at both an intellectual level and at the level of execution. Ghana instruments (Cymbals) were directly related to maintaining of Tala. Talas had three basic time units Laghu, Guru and Pluta. A notional time interval known as Matra is given and defined on the basis of the time taken to utter five short syllables. Each part of the Tala mentioned above was measured on this basis. Lagu was one Matra, Guru was two Matras and Pluta was three Matras. Laya is defined as the period of rest or the time duration between two actions. Talas were divided by Kriyas that were the divisions of the Tala shown through hand and finger movements of both the silent and non-silent types. The length of the Tala was defined by Marga, which is the total duration covered by the Tala, determined by the duration of each Kriya in the Tala, this obviously would affect the speed of the Tala. Bharata mentions three Margas. He also deals with extensions of Talas. This is a process of increasing Kriyas (divisions) in the Tala from its basic Kriya equals syllable form. This extension increases the total duration of the Tala but does not create any change to the Laya of the Tala, as the duration between every Kriya remains the same.

As we can see, the music of the Natya Sastra was highly evolved, defined and sophisticated and definitely centred on theatrics being the heart and soul of its presentation even though Gandharva as a form did exist. There were few more texts post the Natya Shastra that enumerate this same form of music.

Though some terms mentioned in the Natya Sastra are still used, their context is different. Therefore we should not conclude that since these terms are present now the music we perform now is connected with the Natya Sastra. One aspect that is important is that there is no mention of improvisation, as we understand it in Indian classical systems today. This music seems to have died on its own and other traditions took over. It can also be speculated that, may be, some parts of this tradition with influences of local regions where it was practised gave rise to another system that took over the reins, so to speak.

Natya Sastra This ancient treatise on the performing arts, in 6,000 slokas, is believed to have been written by Bharata Muni, sometime between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D. Though it primarily deals with various aspects of stagecraft like stage design, music, dance, makeup and others, it is also crucial to an understanding of the evolution Indian classical music because it is the only extant text which contains elaborate details of the music of those times and the instruments popularly used. Its impact on the development of arts over the centuries has been so profound that it is sometimes referred to as the fifth Veda.

Originally written for The Hindu

December Ragas

The most common way of looking at the classical systems of India has been as one classical system that split into two forms: Hindustani music and Karnataka (referred to commonly as Carnatic) music. In reality, most changes and developments in society were far more complex and movements take place through a process of multiple influences.

I hope that, in the next few weeks, we can look at the musical forms of different eras in relation to Carnatic music. This is not to create a historical hierarchy but more to give us an insight into the complexity of metamorphosis. The journey will be through the eyes of musical treatises and singing traditions that we are aware of.

Over the coming weeks we will move from the Natya Shastra to the development of the Desi Tradition, peep into the music of the Silapadigaaram in Tamizh heartland and its singing traditions, moving on to the Vijayanagara Empire, to Thanjavur and finally, the citadel of music today, Chennai.

The most revered text in Indian performing arts is the Natya Sastra. The period given to the text varies from 200 BC to 200 AD and the geographical location is debated among scholars, with some believing that it was written in Kashmir but some do believe that it could be somewhere in the southern part of what is India today. The word Bharata is not only a name but also means an actor; therefore some scholars believe that the Natya Sastra was not authored by one individual but is a work of many actors and evolved through centuries; similar to the belief regarding the Mahabharata and the meaning of Vyasa.

Natya, the form

The term Natya itself does not refer to dance but to the form of presentation that includes Natya (Natya here is a component of Natya the form), melodic music (Gana) and percussive instruments (Vadhya). In order to avoid confusion we shall refer to the component Natya as Abhinaya.

Abhinaya includes, gesture, speech, involuntary reaction, costumes and accessories. Therefore, this is an amalgam of what we call dance and drama in the modern context. This is a very different aesthetic expression. The elements that constitute drama and elements that contribute dance belong together as one form.

Bharata refers to two types of music: Gana and Gandharva. Gana refers to the music that forms part of Natya, and Gandharva, which we may call ‘Art music’, has an independent identity beyond the triumvirate of Natya.

Music does not refer only to singing but also to the playing of wind and stringed instruments that can produce a melody. It seems that all that can produce melody, whether human or instrumental, come under music. The focus is on the production of melodic variations.

The songs sung as part of Gana in the Natya presentation were called Dhruvas. The language of the songs that have texts is Prakrit. These were sung for various situations in the drama including entry or exit of a character, heightened emotions, to divert audience’s attention who are experiencing a certain Rasa and songs for pure dance movements or steps. While the melody was played Cymbals (Ghana) accompanied them. Some of the stringed instruments mentioned are CitraVina, Vipanchi and a secondary category comprises Kachchapi, Ghosaka. Among the wind instruments, Bharata talks about the Vamsa, Nadi, Tudakini and Samkha. Unfortunately there are no details on their construction.

Vadya referred to instruments made of stretched membranes. This category refers to percussion and those instruments that are not melody producing even if they can be tuned to a note. Some percussive instruments mentioned are the Mrdanga, Panava, Dardara and some secondary instruments like Bheri, and Jhallari.

How do the three parts come together to form Natya? How do different parts make a whole? Are they just collections put together or do they give the whole a character? What is the basis of the relationship between the parts and whole? Abhinavagupta raises questions of this nature in his commentaries on the Natya Sastra regarding the relationship of the three elements of Natya. The three elements of Natya, though having separate entities, come together sacrificing their independent forms to provide Rasa in the form of Natya wherein there is a seamless relationship between what we perceive today as independent forms in dance, drama and music (both melodic and percussive). Today’s Koodiattam or Yakshagana seem to have a similar Natya form.

Aesthetic experience

An important aspect of Natya was to evoke Rasa. Rasa is expressed as an aesthetic experience of the audience, which is the result of a context, a reaction and a transient feeling in the drama, expressed through Abhinaya resulting in a dominant or permanent mood. This experience is obviously beyond emotion and is aesthetic in nature. The Natya Sastra talks about Rasa as being derived only from the Natya form i.e. the coming together of Gana, Vadhya and Abhinaya in the presentation of Natya. Yet, when removed from this form of Natya, they don’t evoke Rasa. It is interesting that Rasa is related to a visual representation of emotions (Bhava) within a story backed by Gana (melody) and Vadhya (percussion). We have later on related even poetry in terms of Rasa. So is this Rasa evoked from the Bhava born out of the poetry? Similarly, does pure art music sans lyrical content evoke a Rasa? This would be an interesting subject for discussion. There are some scholars who believe that it should be inferred that Rasa does include other arts.

Music in its purely art form is known as Gandharva. It is considered a very sacred form with the music meant only for the gods. It’s considered a ritual and has a lot of rules and regulations regarding performance. There is no question of pleasing an audience or looking for appreciation. The benefits of performing this form is said to reach only the performers. These forms are presented before the start of a Natya presentation. The compositional forms mentioned in Gandharva are Gitakas and Nirgitas. Gitakas, as compositional forms, seem to be more determined by the Tala and are complex in nature. There are seven types of Gitakas mentioned. The language used in these compositions is Sanskrit and the content is mainly on Shiva. The Nirgitas are more oriented towards instrumental melody. They are two parts wherein one is the playing of the melodies on Vinas and the second is singing linguistically meaningless syllables, for example Jhantum, Jagatiya. There are many varieties of these forms.

The presentation of Natya had preparatory parts called Purvaranga, which included Gandharva music (pure music sans Natya), and then a Tandava Vidhi (a special presentation we will discuss next week) followed by a Sutradhara coming in reciting verses followed by rituals of removing all the obstacles carried out and then the events that lead to the Drama.

Different structure

What was the structure of the music? On a very fundamental level, the music was not based on a fixed tonic. That would mean that we would not have a constant fixed pitch to which the Thambura can be tuned irrespective of whatever music is performed. The music was based on various scales (Murchanas), which took their Svara intervals from one of two Svara groupings called Shadja-grama and Madhyama-grama. There was also another grouping known as Gandhara-grama.

A Svara had its identity along with the interval from its lower Svara and the interval was measured in terms of a unit called Sruti. There were also Jaathis, based on which melodies could be structured that had intervallic arrangement derived only from the Shadja or Madhyama gramas. Each Jaathi had more characteristics described like the note on which a tune had to begin in it (Graha Svara), its tonic note (Amsa Svara) and the note at which a melody must end (Nyasa Svara) and a few more features. Two Svaras, Ga and Ni had possible variants named Antara Gandhara and Kakali Nishada but these positions were not treated as full-fledged Svaras. All music in both Gandharva and Gana were sung on the basis of Jaathis as melodic sources.

Well-defined

The rhythmical aspects of music have also been dealt with at both an intellectual level and at the level of execution. Ghana instruments (Cymbals) were directly related to maintaining of Tala. Talas had three basic time units Laghu, Guru and Pluta. A notional time interval known as Matra is given and defined on the basis of the time taken to utter five short syllables. Each part of the Tala mentioned above was measured on this basis. Lagu was one Matra, Guru was two Matras and Pluta was three Matras. Laya is defined as the period of rest or the time duration between two actions. Talas were divided by Kriyas that were the divisions of the Tala shown through hand and finger movements of both the silent and non-silent types. The length of the Tala was defined by Marga, which is the total duration covered by the Tala, determined by the duration of each Kriya in the Tala, this obviously would affect the speed of the Tala. Bharata mentions three Margas. He also deals with extensions of Talas. This is a process of increasing Kriyas (divisions) in the Tala from its basic Kriya equals syllable form. This extension increases the total duration of the Tala but does not create any change to the Laya of the Tala, as the duration between every Kriya remains the same.

As we can see, the music of the Natya Sastra was highly evolved, defined and sophisticated and definitely centred on theatrics being the heart and soul of its presentation even though Gandharva as a form did exist. There were few more texts post the Natya Shastra that enumerate this same form of music.

Though some terms mentioned in the Natya Sastra are still used, their context is different. Therefore we should not conclude that since these terms are present now the music we perform now is connected with the Natya Sastra. One aspect that is important is that there is no mention of improvisation, as we understand it in Indian classical systems today. This music seems to have died on its own and other traditions took over. It can also be speculated that, may be, some parts of this tradition with influences of local regions where it was practised gave rise to another system that took over the reins, so to speak.

Originally written for The Hindu