Bharatmuni's Natyashstra

Bharatmuni’s Natyashastra
Natyashastra’s period is believed to be around 500 BC to 200 BC. It was probably around the time of Buddha period. Although it was called Bharamuni’s Natyashastra, it was a collective work of group of sages/gandharva trained in music and Natyashastra who were called Bharata muni or simply Bharata. It is a collection of the musical work accomplished by all Bharata munis over the period of a couple of centuries.
It is considered a monumental work in all performing arts i.e. singing, dancing, and drama. Many of its concepts became the origin of today’s Indian Classical Music.  
We will discuss only music-related topics in this paper.
Natyashastra gives detailed information on the following musical concepts  :
1.    Gandharva Sangeet
2.    Shruti (microtone) and it’s scale (Saranachatushti)
3.    Murchhana
4.    Jati Gayan
5.    Classification of musical instruments
6.    Orchestration and music for a drama performance
We will go over these concepts in short details.
Gandharva Sangeet
Music used to be classified as Gandhdarva (Margi) Sangeet and Deshi Sangeet. Gandharva Sangeet was the one that was worthy of the Gods, or that was used to worship Gods. It has higher purpose. Deshi Sangeet was the music of common people which include folk music, music for community gatherings and entertainment.
Natyashastra further defines Gandharva Sangeet as the music which has 1)Swara, 2)Taal, and 3)Pada. It is also accompanied with appropriate music. It was a very melodic, poetic music accompanied with Veena and Mridang and other instruments. Natyashastra speaks about very high-quality well-defined music which was worthy of Gods and other celestial deities.

1)Swara : Swara was discussed in various details in Natyashastra, from Shruti (microtone) to the concepts of Ragas. These concepts were demonstrated on Veena. Veens has contributed a lot in the development of Hindustani Sangeet. The instrumental veena was called Daravi veena and vocal music was explained as Shariri veena.
The first concept that was explained in Natyashastra was Shruti. Bharata demonstrated how to measure a microtone using two Veena in his SaranaChatushti.
A swara is defined with specific shrutis. Bharata demonstrated that there are 22 shrutis in one one Saptaka (called Gram in Natyashstra). They also demonstrated the shrutis between two notes in a Gram are fixed i.e. each note is at a specific shrutis from each other. Bharata used SaranChatushti to define shrutis of each note in a Gram. According to Natyshastra the shrutis distribution is as follows :
Shadja : 4 shrutis
Rishabha : 3 shrutis
Gandhar : 2 shrutis
Madhyam : 4 shrutis
Pancham : 4 shrutis
Dhaivat : 3 shrutis
Nishad : 2 shrutis
A swara can be classified as Vaadi, Samvaadi, Vivaadi, Anuvaadi.
Gram means a group of notes. There were three grams : ShadjaGram, MadhyamGram, GandharGram. Out of these three grams only ShadjaGram and MadhyamGram are used in Natyashstra.
Murchhana is the origin of today’s Thaat system.
Murchhana is a scale where notes always come in order. Murchhana was created by shifting the position of Sa to Ni or Dha or Pa and so on. Bharta’s Murchana was always Avarohi. It could be because the Saptak in SaamGaan was Avrohi. There are 7 Murchhanas in ShadjaGram and 7 in MadhyamGram. Some of these Murchhanas do sound similar to today’s Thaats. Conceptually, Murchhana was very close to today’s Thata system. Bharata has given names to all these Murchhanas.
Shadjagramic Murchhanas: Uttarmandra, Rajani, Uttarayata, Shuddha-Shadaja, Matsarikrita, Ashwakrnata, Abhirudgatha
Madhyamgramic Murchhanas : Sauviri, Harinashwa, Kalopanata, Shuddha-Madhyama, Margi, Pouravi
There were 4 types of Murchhanas :
Shuddha, AntarSamhita, KakaliSamhita, AntarKakaliSamhita
Since Bharata’s musical concepts were based on Veena, it provided an obvious variation in the scales. Its purpose was to provide aesthetically appealing music and to be able to reach Taar, Madhya, and Mandra notes in the music.
The Taans in Murchhana were either Odav (5 notes) or Shadav (6 notes). These are also discussed in details in Natyashstra.

Jati Gayan
Jati means types or categories. Bharata created 18 Jatis of Geetis (songs) with all details of swaras, vaadi, samvaadi etc. This is the origin of today’s Raga system. It is discussed separately in another chapter on this blog.
In addition to the above Swara based concepts, Bahrata has also described Taan, Sthaan, Laya, Shushka and Sadharan Swara, Alankaar, Dhaatu.

The basic two categories of Pada were Nibaddha and Anibaddha.
Nibaddha Pada was composed with Taal whereas Anibaddha Pada was more like Alipti or Alap. All Padas were based on Chhandas
The songs or Pada with Laya and Varna were called Geeti. The 4 types of Geetis were : Magadhi, ArdhaMagadhi, Sambhavita, Pruthula
These Geeti had different sections called Kandika. According to Bharata its origin was Shiv’s Tandav Nritya or PindiBandhan Nritya. Some of the Geetis did exist before Natyashastra period.
Out of these Geetis Dhruva Geeti was the most musically important. It had a perfect balance of Swara, Pada, and Taal hence the name Dhruva. It is believed that Dhruva Gaan was performed by Gandhavas even before Natyashastra period. Dhruva Geeti had connection with Gandharva music.
Dhruva Gaan was based on Gram Raga and composed with perfect Varna, sthaan and Laya. Singing of Dhruva Gaan was crucial to the success of the Natak.
The Dhruva Gaan at the beginning of a scene in a drama was called Pravishiki.
The one at the end of a scene was called Naishkrmiki.
Dhruva Gaan used for dances between the scenes were called Akshepiki.
Dhruva Gaan had a very high poetic content hence it was used to create certain moods in the Natak and also to cover any short-comings in a Natak.
Dhruva Geetis were classified according to the Rasa and Chhanda. It began with Aalap and later was accompanied by Mrudang or Pushkar and Veena. Sannipak Taal on Mridang was mentioned in Dhruva Geeti.
There were scenes that were forbidden to be performed on stage. Dhruva Gaan was used in that place to convey the scene.

3) Taal
Bharata has discussed Taal in all details in Natyashastra.

Classification of Musical Instruments in Natyashastra
Natyashatra has given the classification of musical instruments that is still not just valid but considered the best one to suit any kind of musical instrument in the world.
Natyshastra clasified Swara-Vadya into Tata (string) instruments Sushir (wind) instruments. And Taal or Laya-Vadya into Avandha (leather-covered) and Ghan (solid metal) instruments.
Tata Vadya : Tata Vadya are the string instruments or instruments with stretched atrings. It was the most important category of musical instruments in Bharat-time period. Vipanchi and Chitra veena were the leading Tata instruments. In addition to these veenas, Kachhapi and Ghoshaka veenas are also mentioned in Natyshastra. Veena player in the orchestra were called Vainik. Chitra veena had 7 strings and was played with fingures. Vipanchi had 9 strings and was played with ‘cone’.
There is explaination about the ‘Alankaars’ to be played on Veena and also therie ‘Boals’ such as Da Dir Dir Da. These Alankaars were called Dhaatus. Veena Vadan was done in Tatva, Anughat, and Oagha meaning Vilumbit, Madya, and Drut laya.
Another veena mentioned was MattaKokila which was believed to have 21 strings.
Sushir Vadya : Sushir Vadya are the wind instruments. Sushir vadya was of second in importance in the orchestras. The Sushir vadya mentioned are Venu.
Avanaddha Vadya : Avanaddha Vadya are the Taal Vadya made by stretching leather skin over hollow pots. These were the main rhythm instruments in Bharat period. Mridang, Panav, Durdar were the main Avanaddha instruments. They were called Poushkar. Avanaddha Vadya were also called Bhanda Vadya. Natyashastra gives detailed information about Taal, Laya, and Boal of Mridang and also its techniques.
The commonly known Taals were :
Chanchatput : 8 matra
Chaapput : 6 matra
Panchpaani : Mishra 8 + 6 matra
The matras were axplained as Plut, Laghu, Guru
Ghana Vadya :  Ghana Vadya were of second importance in Taal Vadya. They are made of solid metal. Some of the Ghana Vadya mentioned in Natyashastra are Zanzh, Manjira.
Kutapa Or Orchestra in Natyashasyrta
In Naytashastra period drama performances were always accompanied by orchestra. They were major part of the shows and Bharata gives details about the music as well as the Kutapa, whre musicians used to seat while performing. There were 3 types of Kutapa :
1)    Tata Kutapa : This was the main orchestra. The main singer, vainik, Vaipanchil, and Vainuk used to seat there. The Veena was MattaKokila, and its player was called Vainik. The musician who played Vaipanchi Veena was called Vaipanchik. The flutist was called Vainuk.
2)    Avanaddha Kutapa : It used to be the seating arrangement for the rhythm artists such as Mridangik, Paanvik and Dudrdurik.
3)    Natya-Kutapa : This is where all the artist from the drama show used to be. They were not given a fixed position, rather they used to be mobile.
Bharata says that singing, instrumental orchestra and acting goes hand in hand to make a show successful.

Reference books:
Bharteeya Sangeet ka Itihaas by Dr. Sharadchandra Paranjape (Chaukhamba Vidyabhavan)

Bharteeya Sangeet Ka Itihaas by Dr. Thhakur Jayadev Sinhg


  1. Dear Sampada

    It is beautiful article. I will be obliged if you could share resources, so that I can refer them as further reading.


    Mukund Bhalerao

    1. Please see the names of the reference books at the end of the article.