Sangitanarayana is a Sanskrit text on music and dance written in the 17th century by Purusottama Misra, a minister at the court of King Gajapati Narayanadeva of Parlakimidi in Orissa and his instructor in musicology, with the assistance of the king. While the precise date of the Sangitanarayana is not known, its relationship to Purusottama Misra and Gajapati Narayanadeva prompts us to place it in the first half of the 17th century.
One of the most valuable and extensive texts on music and dance from eastern India, Sangitanarayana consists of four chapters, the first on vocal music (gitanirnaya), the second on instrumental music (vadyanirnaya), the third on dance and dramatic art (natyanirnaya), and a fourth chapter that provides examples of musical compositions (Suddhaprabandhodharana).
Altogether 15 mss. Of the text are known to exist. Some full and some fragmentary. An edition of the text comprising all the four chapters was published first by Orissa Sangeet Natak Akademi in 1966 under the joint editorship of Pandit Vanambaracarya, Kavichandra Kalicharan Patnaik and Shri Kedarnath Mahapatra. A more recent edition of the three musicological chapters was accomplished in 1987 by Jonathan Katz at Oxford but remains yet unpublished. Present edition is the first critical edition, which also provides an English translation of the text.
Mandakranta Bose is Professor Emerita at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. She is also Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and the Royal Society of Canada. Dr. Bose is a Sanskritist with active research interests in the classical performing arts and religions of India, the Ramayana, and gender studies.
Her publications include a critical edition of Nartananirnaya, a 16th century musicological text (Calcutta, 1991), Movement and Mimesis (Dordrecht, 1991), Faces of the Feminine in Classical, Medieval and Modern India (New York, 2000), Speaking of Dance: The Indian Critique (Delhi, 2003), and The Ramayana Revisited (New York, 2004). Her forth-coming book, Rules, Roles and Exceptions: Women in the Hindu Tradition, is scheduled for publication by Routledge UK in 2009.
As the conceptualiser of the Kalamulasastra series and former General editor of the series, it is gratifying to note that there is a steady progress in editing and publication of seminal texts relevant to the arts, and on the specific arts.
Over two decades the institution has succeeded in bringing to fruition the difficult and painstaking task of identifying, collating and editing many texts spanning a period of thousand years or more from roughly the 2nd century to the 17th century, this in itself speaks of a rigorous textual tradition complementing the highly structured systems of oral transmission of knowledge in diverse disciples ranging from mathematics to the arts, architecture, sculpture, painting, theatre and music and dance. The written and the oral flowed in consonance and not in a linear progressive order from the oral to the written, one replacing the other. This complementarity or symbiosis has to be particularly kept in mind while perusing and critically evaluating the texts of the arts, particularly those of music and dance, the two occurrant arts which are ‘fluid’ and evanescent in their very genetic nature. Articulation of sound and actual kinetics is of the essence. The texts of music and dance, as also of drama, also move concurrently on two rails, one which relates them to the critical discourse in the field with their predecessors and the other which is situated in the spatio-temporal context of region and period. The first rail connects with issues of fundamental principles of both theory as also structure, and the other on matters of composition and technique distinctive to their ‘region’ or ‘school’.
Also from a perusal of the texts, even the limited but impressive number published by the ICNCA, it is evident that neither the textual tradition nor the oral systems were ‘static’ or stagnant at any given moment. Although at the level of the theory there was and has been an extra-ordinary continuity, i.e. what has been termed as the rasa or rasa-dhvani theory, there has been a phenomenon of deviation. Change and innovation in respect of comprehending the nature of basic units e.g. svaras in music, anga and pratyanga in dance. While Dattilam represented a stream different and distinctive from the Natyasastra in regards to music, the Brhaddesi (KMS series Nos. 8 & 10) was a step forward in so far as it enunciated the notion of raga for the first time, and gave a fresh interpretation to the categories of margi and desi, a pair which constitutes the substance of an animated discourse for the next thousand years. Brhaddesi is followed by other texts of importance, until we confront the text of the Sangitaratnakara, which becomes a milestone of encapsulating the earlier history of discourse as also enunciating new principles both in the field of music as also of dance. The seventh chapter of the Sangitaratnakara devotes considerable attention to a category of movement called desi karanas in the sphere of dance.
The prefacing of the above remarks in the foreword of the Sangitanarayana are perhaps pertinent to underscore the fact that from the thirteenth century onwards there is a near pan-Indian phenomenon of the evolution of rigorous regional schools, call them desi forms or not, and yet adhering to certain fundamental principles of ‘form’ which had an unmistaken continuity with the earlier ancient traditions at the level of broad principles of organizing sound or movement.
The IGNCA has endeavoured to make explicit this vitality in the textual tradition through the publications of texts emerging from different regions of India between the fourteenth and the seventeenth century. The Sangitopanisat-saroddhara (KMS Serial No. 23) from Western India belongs to the fourteenth century. It is an important text for two principal reasons. The first, that the text exemplifies the active participation of the Jain monks in the field of the arts. In literary criticism we are familiar with writings of Hemachandra and Gunachandra and others. The second that while the text is indicative of a distinctive western school of music and dance, it also points at the dialogue between western and eastern India. Almost contemporaneous with the writing of the text, there are the; Kalpasutras, specially the Devasano Pada Kalpasutra, where the marginal figures all pertain to musicians and dancers. The style of the movement illustrated has a marked affinity with what we today identify as Odissi.
The texts could not have been written in absence of a flourishing tradition of praxis. This is as true of the music and dance text, as also architecture and sculpture. Some remarks made in the foreword to the Sangitopanisat-saroddhara are also relevant for identifying the processes of regional distinctiveness as also dialogue amongst regions seemingly distinct. Sangitanarayana now being published also exemplifies the twin phenomena of regional distinctiveness and inter-regional communication or certainly mobility.
If the Sangitopanisat-saroddhara reflects this dynamics of the entire dialogue between the eastern and western India, the Nartananirnaya is a clear proof of an active dialogue between the South and North. Pundarika Vitthala was a towering figure, who traveled extensively and was at home in many spaces. Unlike Sudhakalasa, the author of the Sangitopanisat-saroddhara, he was an orthodox Brahmin from Karnataka who adorned the courts of both Hindu and Muslim rulers. His monumental work has drawn the attention of many contemporary scholars. Dr. Mandakranta Bose, the editor of the Sangitanarayana, worked on the text for many years. This resulted in the publication of an edition in 1991. Almost concurrently Prof. R. Sathyanarayana also concentrated his energies on the text on the basis of the same as well as other manuscripts. Another edition was published by IGNCA in 1994. The text with its four chapters encompassing Tala, Mrdanga, Gayaka, Raga and Prabandha, the nartaka and finally nartana and nrtta are impressive for the information they present on aspects of both performances as also the sharp perceptions of the author who does not limit himself to only matters of formal structure and technique. Also this text reveals the communication between the Southern and Eastern India. Dr. Mandakranta’s introduction refers to these features and Prof. Sathyanarayana’s introduction in his edition to other important aspects of cultural history and developments in the formal aspects of the performing arts of music and dance. The text and the critical evaluation of the two editors are also relevant for fully appreciating some aspects of the Sangitanarayana, although belonging to a slightly different period.
By the seventeenth century texts on the arts but specially music and dance, appear from different parts of India. Amongst these the Tarjuma-I-Manakutuhala and Risala-i-Ragadarpana are of special significance. The Persian texts are clear proofs of the mutual influence of the then contemporaneous Indian traditions and those that arrived from other lands, especially Central Asia, Turkey and Iran. The text presents a fascinatingly and convincing evidence of the easy and smooth assimilation of foreign melodies and even systems into an existing system. The story of the evolution of Dhrupad has today been plausibly reconstituted. The text sheds light on these developments. It is interesting to note that a type of music called Farsi is incorporated into the generic category of Desi forms. In short, the initial categories of Marga and Desi do not change but innovations and new developments are subsumed into fundamental categories. The IGNCA’s publication of this text also reflects the endeavour to identity the ragas compiled and executed under the supervision of Raja Mansingh Tomar of Gwalior. The Tarjuma-I Manakutuhala is the Persian translation. The foreword to Risala-I-Ragadarpana and the introduction of the late Prof. Nurul Hasan draw attention to these special features.
There are other texts, some in the process of being published by the IGNCA, and others identified. Together the volumes in the series, as also edited by distinguished scholars and published by other institutions, furnish an irrefutable evidence of the continuity and consistency of the flow of the artistic expressions in their dimension of theory and practice, sastra and prayoga, as also a reflector of the resilience and vigour in a period which is often (not always) dismissed by some historians as the ‘medieval period’, with the breakdown of imperial central power into small principalities and smaller kingdoms where creative energies had shrunk. Perhaps to counterbalance the view, it would be advisable to take into account the development in the arts as history rather than the arts as an appendage of history.
Some readers may well question the justification of this rather long introduction in a preface by the former General Editor to a specific text, in this case the Sangitanarayana. After considerable reflection and introspection, it was considered necessary to overview the efforts of the institution over the last two decades in a domain of studies rather under-privileged both in the disciplines of socio-political history as also the broader area of Indian Studies. Also the observations made in respect of the salient features of the texts, particularly the music and dance texts, are of relevance as markers of the diachronic and synchronic developments in India. Needless to reiterate that the phenomenon of a vertical flow of fundamental concepts and the ever-widening horizontal movement to different regions of India is a characteristic feature. The ability to old on to a ‘centre’ of concepts, fundamental principles and to encompass a staggering multiplicity of expressions in forms are concurrent movements.
The Sangitanarayana is a significant reflector of this dynamics. It was considered advisable to situate the text within the broader context of cultural dynamics, rather than as an isolated precious gem from the Eastern region.
Professor Mandakranta Bose, Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia in Vancouver, has painstakingly devoted many years on collating and editing the text. Known for her meticulous scholarship combined with experience in performance, she was specially equipped to undertake the task of editing as also interpretation. The institution will and has expressed its gratitude.
Her introduction gives an account of the historical period (i.e. 17th Century), specially in Orissa. She also addresses the question of authorship, whether only Shri Purusottama Misra, or a joint authorship of Shri Purusottama Mistra, the Guru, and the King, Narayanadeva Gajapati of Parlakimidi. Matters of date and authorship have been the subjects of considerable debate, and often it has not been possible to come to definite conclusions. The implications of the ambiguity are of importance and some thought has been given to this in her monograph on Bharata’s Natyasastra. In this case the interesting point to note is that the royalty, i.e. king Narayanadeva, was apparently a pupil of the guru and preceptor Purusottama Misra. Thus, while the teacher-rugu wrote the first four chapters on form and structure, the pupil, the king, appended a record of actual composition i.e. performative texts. This is a distant parallel to the compositions recorded in the Tarjuma-I-Manakutuhala mentioned above. Raja Mansingh Tomar was the composer in that case. There are other instances of not only the patronage of royalty but also accomplishment of various Kings and Nawabs in the arts of music and dance. The examples of Wajid Ali Shah and Nawab a Rampur and Maharaja Chakravartha in recent history are well known. Again this is a subject for further investigation into the causes and nature of the phenomenon both within and without the context of pure socio-political history.
The editor pertinently alludes to the wide spread of the manuscripts in different parts of India. The story of the travel of text and thus of manuscripts from one part of India to another has constituted the essential apparatus for preparing a critical edition. Prof. Mandakranta evolves a stemma on the basis of her survey and the six manuscripts she had opportunity to examine. In this field the question of identifying Northern and Southern recensions and of tying to establish an authentic text has a long and complex historiography in Indic Studies. Here it is only necessary to remark that the establishment of chronologies of the travel of the manuscripts and commentaries from one part of India to the to another should perhaps no longer remain confined to the exercise of one or two recensions with a view to discuss the processes and instrumentalities of such diffusion and even or return to the original locale and place. In this process even determining the original text is not a simple task. The discovery of manuscripts of the Sangitanarayana in different parts of India is indicative of a circuitous movement of transmission of knowledge and skills in a large geographical area with various political boundaries and porus cultural borders. The evidence provided by the texts, especially of the arts, is irrefutable evidence of a vigorous tradition of dissemination of knowledge and technical know-how. It the evidence points at the processes of dissemination and dialogue as late as the seventeenth century, then we have to interrogate the stock image of ‘stagnant India’.
The contents of the Sangitanarayana as examined by Jonathan Katz, specially the chapters on music (thesis, alas, not published) and those on dance examined and commented upon by Prof. Mandakranta Bose, bring home the fact that while in the sphere of music the text reflects a distinctively eastern school, in the sphere of dance there are striking similarities with elements and forms described in the Nartananirnaya, the text of Pundarika Vitthala mentioned above, edited by both Prof. Sathyanarayana and Prof. Mandakranta Bose. The latter is of the opinion that the text presents a pan-Indian picture of dance. She has assiduously attempted a comparison between the contents of the chapter on dance (Nrtya) in the two texts, viz. Sangitanarayana and Nartananirnaya. This section of her introduction should be of special interest to those who are involved in the vexed question of place and date or origin of what are today called ‘classical’ dance forms, in this case Odissi. Undoubtedly, her remarks on the evidence of a form of dance which can be identified with contemporary Oddissi as gleaned from the Nartananirnaya and her critical evaluation of the Sangitanaranaya, will stimulate a further animated discourse on the subject in the meager field of dance scholarship.
Finally, of interest is the exposition by the author on the classification of the marga and desi nrtya. This is not, alas, as simple a matter as equating the marga with contemporary ‘classical’ and desi with the folk and tribal. Are they sociological categories or artistic categories? The discussion on marga and desa or desi has a long and complex multilayered history of perception and discourse within the framework of the Indian arts. Sangitanarayana presents one picture or point of view. Other texts treat the subject differently. The editor provides valuable critical insights. However the subject of classification and evolution of categories and their changing profiles is a subject all into its own, inviting scholars to address issues pertinent not only to the arts but also those of ‘upward’ and ‘downward’ social and artistic mobility etc.
Although perhaps a trifle too long, and which some readers may consider tangential in a foreword to a specific text, it is the firm conviction of the erstwhile General Editor that although the task of editing and publishing is of fundamental importance, it is also necessary at this stage to link one text with another. For this the institution and the galaxy of eminent scholars deserve thanks and deep appreciation. Nevertheless, the sizable corpus published during the last two decades only points at the fact that the publication of the texts is the first important and essential milestone in a longer journey of unraveling the contours, routes and processes of production of knowledge at the level of theory and practice and of dissemination.
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