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Evolution of Raga and Tala in Indian Music

Evolution of Raga and Tala in Indian Music
Item Code: IMD10
Author: M.R. Gautam
Publisher: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2008
ISBN: 9788121504423
Pages: 307
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 8.8" X 5.8"
weight of the book: 520 gms

From the Jacket

Indian music, in its sojourn in space and time may be divided, in a historical perspective, into three phases: ancient, medieval, and modern. These may be regarded as ending approximately in the thirteenth century, eighteenth century, and our own times respectively. The present volume deals with such an evolution during the first phase of Indian music, viz., the ancient.

The present work endeavours to set forth the conceptual evolution of two foundational and differentiating elements of Indian music, viz., raga and tala. Indian music rests on the tripod of raga and tala and prabandha. These represent respectively the sound, time, and structural aspects of musical experience. Prabandha, in the sense of form, worked or otherwise, emerges from a matrix of raga and tala. These two characterize and differentiate Indian music from all its comperes.

The work also studies Vedic music and music as depicted in Natyasastra, Brhaddesi of Matanga, and Sangitaratnakara. A brief survey of Western musical aesthetics and its practical variations is also a salient feature of this work. The volume traces the evolution of our music and shows how our musical traditions, inspite of the several modifications and adjustments during the course of the centuries, have been maintained in essence throughout.

Dr. M.R. Gautam is a distinguished musicologist and a top-ranking performing musician of Hindustani music. Beginning his career as music producer in the All India Radio, he switched over to the academic line as Professor and Head of the Department of Vocal Music, Banaras Hindu University. Later on he became Vice-Chancellor of the Indira Kala Sangeet Visvavidyalaya, Khairagarh (M.P.).

His high academic qualifications and work in the field of music earned him several honours including the prestigious fellowship of the Royal Asiatic Society, London in 1983.


I shall be ever indebted to my revered guru Thakur Jaideva Singh whose never failing guidance in preparing this work, mainly responsible for its completion. He gave me the full benefit of his vast scholarship in the fields of music and musicology, Sanskrit, occidental and criental philosophies, yoga, philology, semantics, morphology, teleology, ontology, etc., and helped me to get a systematic vision of the various concepts of Indian music.

I also enjoyed the full benefit of his magnificent personal library. Most of my reference books were available in it.

A list of abbreviations, used in this work, is given in the beginning. A comprehensive chart showing the interpretation of the various Desi-tala-s mentioned in the different texts, namely, Sangita Ratnakara, Sangita Cudamani, Sangita Sudha, Sangita Samaya-sara, Bharatarnava, Bharatabhasyam and Aumapatyam, have been given with analytical observations.

Bibliography of the books used for reference in this work, is given at the end of it with an indication of the important concepts, technical terms and historical perspectives mentioned therein.

In the chapter on tala, due to lack of better signs, capital S has been used to denote guru; capital I for laghu and zero for drutam.


Indian music, in its sojourn in space and time may be divided, in a historical perspective e into three phases: ancient, medieval, and modern. These may be regarded as ending approximately in the 13th cent. AD, and our own times respectively.

The chief relevance of history to any contemporary modality of life lies in the offer of objectivity, perspective and a method of evaluation of present trends and aspirations in the role of their shaping the future. A systematic, objective and critical study of the history of Indian music based on original source material is still, largely a desideratum.

The present work is a humble attempt in this direction. It endeavour to set forth the conceptual evolution of two foundational and differentiating elements of Indian music viz. raga and tala. Indian music rests on the tripod of raga, tala and prabandha. These represent respectively the sound, time and structural aspects of musical experience. Prabandha, in the sense of form, worded or otherwise, emerges from a matrix of raga and tala. These two characterise and differentiate Indian music from all its compeers. They obtain, in a vast and varying usage in this huge subcontinent, uniformity and continuity in space and time from a textual hierarchy. To trace their evolution in, and from the large treasure house of textual source, is both necessary and fascinating; necessary because of the need of rewriting our cultural history and fascinating and humbling-because of both the vastness of scope and the nature of the problems involved.

The present volume deals with such an evolution during the first phase of India music viz. the ancient. It was originally written as a thesis for the degree of Ph. D. in the Banaras Hindu University under the guidance of that patriarch of contemporary Indian under the guidance of that patriarch of contemporary Indian musicology, Padmabhushan, Dr. Thakur Jaideva Singh, to whom the work is dedicated, with love and veneration. The book now appears substantially in its original form with but minor changes. It will be followed by a second volume in which the evolution of raga and tala in the second and third phases of Indian will be traced.

The work is divided into eight chapters. The first chapter gives a brief account of the history of our music from the available texts beginning from Naradiya Siksa upto the Sangita Saroddhara in the 18th century AD. Many works on music apart from the Natyasastra, Brhaddesi, and Sangita Ratnakara, have been cited and an outline as to what they contain, has been given. For example, Sangita Kalpataru, Sarasvati hrdayalamkara or Bharatabhasya by Nanyadeva, Sangita Sudhakara by Haripala Sangita Ratnavali by Somabhupala Sangita Sudhakara by Parsvadeva, Srngarahara by the king of Sakambari, Sangitopanisadasara by Sudhakalasa and other texts beyond 14th century AD, have been mentioned because of the significant information they contain regarding raga and tala. From these texts, one gets an idea of the course of evolution of our music. For instance upto Bharata's time, i.e., 14 century AD, there were only five Margi tala-s but by the 13th century AD, tala had developed a great deal and we get the names of 130 tala-s in Srngarahara (13th cent.) Also one can see the gradual rise of gana, i.e., Grama and Desi raga-s replacing Jatis. We also get a clear picture of the development of the srutis, svaras (melodic) compositions, the connotations of technical terms of music like graham, amsa, nyasa, apanyasa, vadi, samvadi, alpatva, bahutva and even raga from the study of the above texts. The emergence of the time-theory is significant. No reference to this is found in Bharata's time. Even later, this theory was prevalent only in respect of Grama and Desi raga-s and never of Jati-s.

The second chapter is on Vedic music. After surveying the origin and evolution of the sama scale and the saman (sama music), the solid fivefold contribution of Samavada to our classical music is explained with illustrations. The fivefold contribution is (1) the notes of the fundamental scale which later on became our primary tone-system, namely, Sadja grama; (2) the origin of our Murchana system; (3) the rudiments of aesthetics of our music; (4) the concept of laya; (5) the earliest system of notation, namely, the cheironomic system.

The third chapter is devoted entirely to Bharata's Natyasastra. It deals with the music as described by Bharata. Bharata refers to Gandharva music, the music that was meant not only for the deva Gandharvas as distinct from nara Gandharvas but also the devasdivine beings themselves. He called it Marga or spiritual music. Bharata's Natyasastra is the earliest comprehensive and authentic work of Indian music that gives a fairly clear picture of Gandharva music as it existed in about AD 100 to 400 Bharata, while he refers to and defines the fundamentals of Gandharva music in the above work, was mainly concerned with drama and his interest in music was only to the extent it could be applied to the former to augment the effect in different acts and scenes. Therefore it seems clear that his primary interest was not music as such but only applied music. In the context, he refers to particular Grama raga-s to be used in particular scenes. His stress on music has been predominantly in respect of its application to drama. The rasa-s described by Bharata relate to drama as represented on the stage. Music to him was another beautiful, artistic, effective device to bolster up the moods of the various scenes of the drama through appropriate thematic tunes. In the light of these facts, it will be clear that there is misconception among some scholars who write on Indian music of reckoning the Natyasastra as a text primarily in music. It is just possible that Bharata may have left out those aspects of our music which to him were not useful or germane to his main subject of interest, namely, drama. This is perhaps the reason that out of the thirty-six chapters in his work, he has devoted only four chapters to music.

The two epics Ramayana and Mahabharata also contain references to music. The former refers to Jati-s only while the latter refers to Grama raga-s only. Similarly in the Harivamsa Purana, these are references only to Grama raga-s. And again in the siksa texts, there is no mention of Jati-s wherease Bharata deals with and describes Jati. Murchana and Grama mainly in his work. Were there them two parallel streams of evolution in our music from ancient times which ultimately united in the present form of raga and mela? Why and how was the name Grama raga given? Could it be a natural evolute of Grama as distinct from the Grama-Murchana Jati cycle? Because Grama raga-s had some of the attributes of the present raga in respect of form and expression whereases in the term jati-raga, the suffix raga seems more in the nature of emphasisig the charming (ranjakatva) aspects of the Jati than in the technical sense of the word as known at present. These issues are discussed. Also detailed analysis of the structure of Jati-s, their characteristics, their intrinsic musicality or otherwise has been given.

Chapter four is on the second phase of the evolution of our music, namely, the gradual but steady transition from Jati to Grama-Desi raga-s. in other words from Gandharva sangita to gana. This is clearly perceptible in the work Brhaddesi by Matanga attributed to 7th-9th century AD. While Matanga describes Grama-Murchana-Jati briefly, he deals with Grama and Desi raga-s, Bhasa-s, Vibhasa-s, Antarabhasa-s. Giti-s, Prabandha-s and certain aspects of our music which were omitted by Bharata. His interpretation of sruti is unique and he has given a more comprehensive analysis of it then Bharata. Unfortunately the chapter on tala is lost and there one is unable to get a clear picture of the state in which it was in his time.

The next chapter, i.e. Chapter five deals with the final phase of evolution of our music upto the 13th century AD. This is available in the Sangita Ratnakara by Sarngadeva. This is a magnificent, exhaustive work giving a classic elucidation of the information given in both the Natyasastra and Brhaddesi. But for this work, it may have been difficult to understand the other texts fully. After explaining the Grama-Murchana-Jati system, Sarngadeva takes the example of Jati-s given in notation by Matanga and provides them with suitable literary texts. Then he delineates on Grama raga-s, Desi raga-s, Bhasa-s, Vibhasa-s, Antarabhasa-s. He also gives a list of purvaprasiddha and adhunaprasiddha raga-s. Many raga-s are illustrated in notation. There are also Sanskrit compositions in notation. In this chapter, the five Giti-s, namely, Suddha, Bhinna, Vesara, Gaudi and Sadharini, the four Angas-Raganga, Baasanga, Kriyanga and Upanga are described and discussed. The aksiptika-s of the Grama raga-s belonging to both the Sadja and Madhyama Gramas, have been given and their description by Moksadeva, Kasyapa, Sarngadeva and others have been analysed from the point of view of melodiousness, feasibility in singing and in some cases the innate contradictions in the derivation between the Grama raga-s and their parent jati-s. Wherever possible the Grama and Desi raga-s have been compared with the raga-s current at present both in Hindustani and Karnataka music.

The illuminating commentaries of Kallinatha and Simhabhupala through a flood of light on the nature of music, musical instruments that existed around that period. But for their graphic explanations, this text also would have been unintelligible and its utility greatly reduced.

A separate chapter (Chapter six) on aesthetics has been provided on the practical devices as existed in the period of Sangita Ratnakara and before. It was also felt that the amazingly complex nomenclature of 96 sthaya-s, 6 kaku-s and 15 gamaka-s with their subtle ramifications desire elucidation as they dealt with both raga and tala, and gave a clear picture as to the high state of evolution of our music. But there is no escaping the fact that the highly codified sophisticated categorizations of the above devices undoubtedly inhibited the free play of imagination to a great extent. However the concept of improvisation was not unknown and special provision was made for this under the category of anibaddha gana (spontaneous as opposed to precomposed music). In the definitions of the various sthayas, kakus and gamakas, several texts have been cited, namely Sangita Ratnakara, Sangita Sudha, Sangita Samayasara, Caturdandi Prakasika and Sangita Raja.

Also a separate chapter (Chapter seven) has been given to tala because the concept and evolution of tala is an significant as raga. The origin of the concept of tala from laya; the physical and psychological aspect of laya involving the concept of time and space in their absolute sense and the gradual scientific evolution of tala into the main five Margi varieties, namely, Cancatputa, Caccaputa, Caccaputa, Satpitaputraka, Udghatta and Sampakvestaka. The subsequent fade out of the Margi tala-s along with the Jati-s, the resurgence of gana with its Grama and Desi raga-s and the enormous expansion of new tala-s totaling more than 120 by 13th century AD, have all been dealt with in detail. The Margi and Desi tala systems have been critically analysed with illustrations. The subtle concept of gupta have been discussed. The manner of marking the tala-s with the help of a taladhara and Ghana, the subsequent doing away with Ghana in the Desi tala-s, i.e., the two distinct stages of development of tala, one in the time of Natyasastra and the other in the time of Sangita Ratnakara have been presented and discussed. The concept of graham and sannipata has also been dealt with. The highly complex structure and system of our tala-s, the marga-s, the kala-s and their evolution have been given in detail.

The last chapter (Chapter eight) under 'Conclusion' traces the evolution of our music and shows how our musical traditions in spite of the several modifications and adjustments during the course of the centuries, have been maintained in essence throughout. How raga and tala have crystallized into their respective current forms, how Gandharva music, considered as celestial music in Bharata's time, faded out yielding to gana, how the very concept of Margi sangita changed from spiritual music to classical aesthetic music by 8th century AD, how Gandharva music has also continued, although its form has undergone tremendous changes have been discussed, analysed and inferences drawn.

Regarding gana, a study of the 33rd Chapter of the Natyasastra was indeed revealing. Bharata has devoted an entire chapter on the state of gana, which showed that another variety of music alongside Gandharva music existed and was popular. The enlightening commentary of Abhinavagupta throws a flood of light on the evolution of our music. Strangely most of the scholars of the Natyasastra appear to have missed this chapter and have taken Gandharva music to be the only noteworthy music and have traced all subsequent evolution to it.

The evolution of our music has moved along different paths-along by ways and highways, in a complicated fashion. It is difficult to disentangle the various influences that have gone into the making of our music as it exists today. An attempt has been made to give as scientific analysis of the main factors that have contributed to the evolution of our music as is possible on the basis of the available texts.

A study of the book will show that our present music is derived more from gana rather than from Gandharva music though the ten characteristics of the Jati-s mentioned by Bharata are still retained in some form or the other.




Preface vii
Introduction ix
Acknowledgements xv
A Brief Historical Survey of Indian Music up to the Thirteenth Century 1
Vedic Music 12
Music as Depicted in Natyasastra: Gandharva Sangita 35
Brhaddesi of Matanga Showing the Second Stage of Evolution of Indian Music 61
Sangita Ratnakara: The Third Phase of Evolution of Indian Music 104
A Brief Survey of Western Musical Aesthetics and Detailed Descriptions, Discussions of Indian Musical Aesthetics and its Practical Variations 145
The Evolution of the Concept of Tala 217
Conclusion 249
Introductory Note to the Appendices 259
Appendix I 260
Appendix II 272
Appendix III 274
Bibliography 275
Index 277

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