18th December 2008


I went to the Academy expecting this to be one of those Greek and Latin lectures where the sole aim of the speaker is to bore everyone to death. I was in for a complete revision of my (wrongly held) views. It was an excellent presentation on the 12th century treatise of music written by the 12th century Chalukyan King Someswara Datta, son of Vikramaditya VI.

As I reach the Academy at 8.10 after dropping the kids at school (and a heartless school it is to have examinations in the middle of the music season), I invariably miss the introduction of the speaker. Even that omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent god, Googleshwara is silent on Dr Satyavati. But she must be the jewel of whichever university she teaches in. How she could pack in humour and retain interest and yet deliver heavy duty content beats me.

Prefacing her comments with the remarks that the first question that is asked of  any book is regarding the purpose it serves, Dr Satyavati said her speech will deal with the book’s relevance to present day musicians, musicologists and listeners. The book she said is a crystal clear work which offers practical advice to all concerned with classical music. It even eschews the customary preamble present in every other book which speculates on the origin of music, etymology of terms and the history of ragas and talas. It is an honest documentation and though it does not give many references to authors of the preceding period, the book by itself is very important as it marks the end of an era when Indian music was still undivided into Carnatic and Hindustani.

There has been some controversy on whether the king could have written this book (sigh! I think all kings have this problem. We attribute bad governance, defeats in war and problems of multiple wives to them, but the good is invariably credited to ministers, scholars and generals of the court). Where could he have found the time is what doubting Thomases ask. But Someswara was lucky in that his father ruled long and well and he was 40 by the time he ascended the throne. By then, by his own admission, he was an adept in the arts.

The work, in Sanskrit, is divided into 5 sections, each called a Vimsati for everyone of them has 20 chapters. The book is thus a tome of 100 chapters. The 5 Vimsatis are the Rajya Prakarana, Prapta Rajya Sthairikarana, Upabhoga, Vinoda and Kreeda. These are all structured as addresses to a king and consequently, a sophisticated, cultured and elite atmosphere pervades the whole work. Music is handled under two sections Geeta Vinoda and Vadya Vinoda, which come under the Vinoda Vimsati.

Classical Music is defined in the work as Shikshartham Vinodartham Cha, Moda Sadanam, Moksha Sadanam Cha- that which is a blend of the popular, the artistic, which teaches and is the spiritual and the transcendental. This is still the definition of Classical Music today.

Who is an informed audience

The work defines the Sabhapati, the leader of the gathering which hosts the music performance as one who is an expert in all shastras, able to sing himself and one who is fit, mentally and physically and has fulfilled all his responsibilities and duties. He can therefore not while away his time in listening to music and must be in a tranquil frame of mind which happens only with the completion of all duties.  (All Sabha Secretaries and Society Mamas to note)

The work also specifies that the audience must be youthful in its frame of mind to be able to appreciate music.

Seating Arrangement for Musicians

The work has very detailed instructions for this. The vaggeyakara should be seated in front with assisting male singers on either side. Flautists and female vocalists should be in a middle row and the drummers seated behind. This, the speaker explained, clearly demarcates the deep voices, the shrill flute and high female voices and finally the resounding drums. It is noteworthy she said, that the stringed instruments are not included for their delicate notes would be drowned out in such an ensemble.

Classification of Vaggeyakaras

The book classifies them into three types. The lowest is the lyricist, the second is one who sets to tune songs of others. The highest is one who is Dhatu Matu Kriyakari – that is one who writes the lyrics, sets them to music and is able to demonstrate what he has done.

The qualities of a singer

Seven qualities of a singer are listed in the work. 1. Shaariram (Voice), 2. Dhwani (which the speaker interpreted as suggestive and implied music. Dr Pappu Venugopala Rao was of the view that this needed discussion). 3. Medha (erudition), 4. Praudi (expertise), 5. Gamaka Kaushalam (skill in graces), 6. Tala gnanam (knowledge of rhythm) and 7. Nirbhayata (confidence, fearlessness).

Classification of Gamakas

This is the first work to classify gamakas as seven. I got the names of four – Purita, Kampita, Andolita and Lina. The other four eluded my notes taking ability.

Classification of Audiences

1. The preceptors demand balanced music

2. The learned demand clarity

3. Women look for sweet melody

4. The commoner seeks high pitched notes

5. The brave like intense music

6. Those suffering the pangs of separation seek passion, emotion and voice modulation

7. Paramours desire music filled with fun and colloquial expressions (could this be the origin of the javali?)

8. The enlightened seek spiritual music

9. Those who celebrate need Mangalam (auspicious?) music

What is the best music?

That which is nirantara rasodaram (filled with musicality?), nana bhaavavibhaavitam (filled with different emotions), shraavyam (that which is pleasing to the ear?)

Lakshana and Lakshya

The work states unequivocally that musicians who do not know both lakshya and lakshana will be the butt of ridicule. The author also states that music conferences must be regularly held to study what is in vogue in terms of both and these must be critically evaluated. (Imagine writing this in the 12th century). It is also farsighted in demanding that whatever is being sung and in vogue must be recorded for posterity.

Types of Prabandhas

The work lists various types of compositions. Examples from Someshwara’s compositions are given for each type.

It is possible to trace many of present day composition structures to the types listed in the Manasollasa. The speaker said that while Jayadeva is given credit for the first geya prabandha (Gita Govinda), Someshwara being a contemporary should also share some of it. He mentions various types (?) of prabandhas such as Kanda, Varana, Vichitra, Vastu, Chachari and Chakravala. He also gives the elements of the prabandha – Bhasha, Raga, Tala, Dhatu, Melaapaka (that which followed the Udgraha), Dhruva (the pallavi of today) and the Udgraha (the anupallavi of today which was originally the line from which song renditions began).

1. Vrtta – Sanskrit verses

2. Tripadi – Someshwara is the first to give this type. It has no stipulation of tala, meaning that it is its metre (chandas) which is more important than the time cycle. The speaker demonstrated by singing a verse in Tripadi style which she demonstrated in four nadais – tisra, chaturasra, khanda and misra. She also said that Muttuswami Dikshitar’s compositions display this trait wherein the chandas of the lines is more important than the total number of matras in the tala of the composition.

3. Jayamalika – This could be the same as the Jayavardhana mentioned in Matanga’s Brhaddesi. Each line begins with the word Jaya. She also cited two latter day examples – Jaya Jaya Padmanabhanujesa of Swati Tirunal and Jaya Mahishasuramardhini of Muthiah Bhagavatar.

4. Matruka- In this each line begins with one of the vowels arranged sequentially (first line with ‘a’, second with ‘aa’ and so on).

5. Chaturanga – The same as the Manipravala of today.

6. Muktavali – Desika Padas – that is songs in regional dialects

7. Swaraartha – Songs where musical notes form the sahitya and have meaning (today’s Swarakshara). Many latter day composers have used this.

8. Mangala Gita – Songs where the word Mangalam comes in each line. A Kanakadasa song ‘Ambujakshake Mangalam’ in Surutti was sung.

9. Raga Kadambaka – Today’s ragamalika. Someshwara states that these could be in gadya/padya, may or may not be set to tala but should have different ragas.

10. Talarnava – This was not explained

11. Stava Manjari- A prayer where the words Naumi or Bhaje keep repeating. More or less a benediction.

12. Charya – Songs with philosophical refrains. Sadasiva Brahmendra’s songs would belong to this category

13. Kaivada- An ancient composition form mentioned by Mathanga also. This refers to songs made by hands on instruments and drums.

Musical Instruments

The work gives detailed instructions on how several instruments are to be made and how the hands are to be positioned while performing on them.


The work mentions 31 different talas. The description is not detailed as perhaps the systems of talas where just then being refined.


51 ragas are detailed in the work.


Questions and Comments

Dr SRJ began in his usual witty style. Due to his weak eyesight he could not see the mike and it had to be given to him. “I am waiting for my pick up” he said! He was full of praise for the speaker and speculated on whether Muttuswami Dikshitar could have been familiar with Manasollasa because he uses the term “guruguha manasollasa” in Hatakeswara and “sangita vadya vinoda” in Ananda Natana Prakasam. He was quite sure that the Sangita Ratnakara must have referred to the Manasollasa and said that the former was more of a digest on music than an elaborate treatise and so Sarngadeva, the author of the Sangita Ratnakara must have carried on the work of Someswara and Parshvadeva, another early musicologist. The speaker, Dr Satyavati said that Parshvadeva had taken whole passages from the Manasollasa and incorporated them into his work as well.

Prof TR Subrahmanyam said that Tyagaraja in his Vidulaku Mrokkeda has mentioned Someshwara. He I think misunderstood what SRJ said, for he began by saying, “Just as SRJ has told us that Dikshitar had read the Manasollasa, I think Tyagaraja was familiar with it too”. Thus in the course of five minutes, a new legend on two of our Trinity has been made. Future historians to please note. Henceforth, like the Swararnava, people will set out looking for the missing copies of the Manasollasa that were with Tyagaraja and Dikshitar.

Suguna Purushottaman asked for clarification on the two types of Adi Tala mentioned in the work. The speaker said that one was where the count was kept with the fingers, while the other was by means of the palm (only dhrtams)

There followed a discussion between Dr Pappu Venugopala Rao and Dr Satyavati on the interpretation of the word Dhvani. This was later shelved.

Yours truly asked about the whereabouts of the manuscript. The speaker said that she had not seen the ms but had access to the complete republication by the Bhandarkar Oriental Institute.

AKC Natarajan commended the speaker on her depth of research. I love the way AKC handles these lec dems. But more on that in my final summing up after the season.