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Dhrupada: Towards a New Ontology


If rāga has to be truly experienced, and its accuracy and aesthetic judged, empathy to its rasa is necessary if not sufficient. Rāga experience is represented in slow explorations, but keeping rasa meaning in mind.[1] In Dhrupada the artist has to embody this rasa which then can overflow into the later lyrical and rhythmic parts of the Dhrupada scheme which I see as an ontology. Conversely, if rasa is well maintained throughout a rendition, rāga is adequately rendered in relation to other existents of Dhrupada. I posit that Dhrupada ālāp involves upaj which are born out of rasa experience and we must include the non-semantic. Rasa, Upaja, Sphoṭa, Stobha, and Mantra-driṣti are relatives in the Sāma Véda (SV) discourse leading to this new ontology.

This is a working paper and merely inaugurates the ontology. I now discuss, some key terms that constitute the ontology.

Upa+ja may be understood as a by-product of given materials of Dhrupada, viz; rāg, tāl, bandiś, etc. Its value is in its extemporaneity. Sphota in Sanskrit linguistics has seen various interpretations from ancient times, but simply put it is at the core of meaning making in spoken language. This is why from Vedic interpretations to more recent ones the concept of sphota can throw light on the entire Dhrupada communication process which not only involves literature, but also phonemes, and most importantly music as its prime vehicle, and its analyses has to include important linguistic issues that our forefathers have negotiated.

The expressed (vyakta), in the Indian tradition is Brahman’s will, taking the parā vāk-madhyamā-paśyanti-vaikharī route. Interestingly, Chāndogya Upaniṣad (CU) (23.2) (n.d, pp.196-97) says that Prajāpati’s penance heightened temperatures which led to the three expressed worlds ‘bhuhu’, ‘bhuva’, and ‘svaha’.[2] The idea of phulla (flowering as in Puṣpa) of Sām Vēdic Phulla Sūtra is a relative of vaikhari (verbally expressed) (Gonda, p.574).[3] Bharat Muni (BM) (500 BC-600 AD) in his Nātyaśāstra (NaSa) which is also known as the fifth Veda, says Brahman created dramaturgy (Caturvēdi, Ed. p.3.).[4] For Abhinava, rasa is essentially Iṣvar. The avyakta is akin to Peirce’s firstness which is the ‘mode of being […] without reference to anything else’ (In Martinez, p.56),[5] a semeiotic. The emergent ontology is of concern here.

Brahman is the creator and cause of this world – Upādanakārana and Nimitta Kārana, respectively (Sumbrahmanyam, p.2).[6] Among His many manifestations one is Akṣara-Brahman.[7] The others include śabda-Brahman and nāda-Brahman, relevant here because nāda may be seen as the constituent of dhvani in svāra, which is also a constituent of śabda. But all nāda-s are not akṣara-s. The musical nāda may be seen as akṣara as it is also akṣaya (indestructible). In singing, one cannot escape the relationship of svara (musical), akṣara, śabda, sphota, dhvani and pada (lyric). Culturally specific music cannot do without pada. Hence the importance of ‘Dhrupada’ – a song placed in the acoustic milieu of rāga.

So, everything that induces an expansive quality into our consciousness has Brahman attached to it. If Brahman withdrew from phenomena then there would neither be ‘perceived’ nor ‘perception.’ This is based on a Vēdic principle (Taittiriya Aranyaka, 23., Taittiriya Upaniṣad 2.6 etc. etc.University of Humanity) ‘ātmanātmānam abhisamviveśa[8]meaningFirst, out of himself the Supreme created all the worlds and then he entered them.”

Sumbrahmanyam recalls how Akṣara is indeed akṣaya because it comes from this Brahman which is:

अनादिनिधनं ब्रह्म शब्दतत्त्वं यदक्षरम्
विवर्ततेऽर्थभावेन प्रक्रिया जगतो यतः (वाक्यपदीय 1)

anādinidhanaṃ brahma śabdatattvaṃ yadakṣaram
vivartate’ rthabhāvena prakriyā jagato yataḥ
(Vākyapadīya 1)[9]

(Which Brahman, being beginning-less, deathless, imperishable and
śabdatattva manifests into objects and by which the universe is created).

In this sense akṣara is either accessed or not accessed, but always existing. The design of Dhrupada singing helps a singer to harness or embody a considerable quantum of this essence. It contains elements of the Sāma Gāna (SG). Natural changes notwithstanding, deep continuities instantiate as core cultural symbols in our collective discourse (Author, 2012, p.227-242).[10] Similarly, Bharatrhari (B) resonates Pātañjali, Pāṇini, and earlier thinkers. Dhrupada can be placed in B’s tradition due to its strong pada component – a new ontology. It is a model of interdisciplinary Indic studies which oscillates between adherence to and deviation from meaning-making paradigms in Indic linguistics.

As such Dhrupada singing today may have conceptual relatives in Vākyapadīya. This construction cannot be comprehensive without consideration to Rasa, Communication, Grammar, Tantra, etc – a full-fledged research project which this paper merely inaugurates.

Existents of the Proposed Ontology

Laukika words can take us beyond semantics only if continually repeated (japa) when empowered (śakti) by a spiritual master.[11] Then, they can become mantra-s to take us to ‘ajapā japa’ state which means akṣara is indeed akṣaya.[12] The essence after the paraphernalia of these words fall off, is akin to Stobha of SV or Sphoṭa of B. When transcendence happens the ālaukika starts becoming our meaning, albeit its ineffability in laukika langauge/s.[13] SVic Stobha-s, considered to be Véda Vikāra-s as they were not learnt, are the real material of mantra-driṣti.[14] It is not mentioned whether they have set characteristics or not, but CU gives its semeiotic clearly.[15] They do not correspond to the laukika, but from my experience of SG, I can say that they set the vritti (pace) of mantra. In Akṣar Tantra of SV, ‘akṣar’ is Stobha.[16] So, despite being ālaukika they serve a laukika purposes.

Phonemes in Dhrupada express the ālaukika experienced by the singer. There is enough literature from the sūtrakār-s like BM and his tīkākār-s from Dattila and Abhinava, to Śādaṅgdev that reflect Nātha tradition connecting to B’s worldview and which gives us the ontology. Svara, svarāntara, and phonemes are important existents to attain desired qualia in Dhrupad. Sphota and stobha both are phonemes. So word-meaning relation is less important and is clear even in the Vēdic context as (Taittiriya Sanhitā, 2.5.7) “dēva vai narci nayajumsyasrayanta tē sāmannēva srayana” meaning that the gods do not resort to the Rcā or the Yajus; they resort to only Sāman-s.[17]

Parā, in this case, is Brahman (Coward, 1980, p.131)[18] who might manifest through rhythmic resonance between two extremes of stillness (including the intermediate states) and dynamism in dance or through colours with transcendental potential or through avyakta music.

The Ontology

I posit here that whatever be the language – literary, musical, or sound patterns (in human control or not), they carry meaning. That meaning cannot form without sentences spoken by humans which constitutes Vākyavād in the grammarians’ tradition of Sanskrit, is true in only a limited sense. Meaning-making, is a complicated process dependent upon the level of interaction (as a basic model) with Śabda-Brahman. It also depends on what the śabda (sound) is like; textual, musical, prosaic, or poetic. Depending upon this ontology, meaning is made. Dhvani, Sphoṭa, and rasadhvani contribute to meaning. Sēthuraman (1998, p.438) translates ‘suggestion as rasa’. Application of Bhartrhari’s Vākyapadīya principles is valid here with some contextualisation. Véda is categorised as ālaukika as it is ‘śabdamaya rūpa’ (full of śabda) of Brahman.[19] Therefore, its meaning cannot be understood using laukika linguistic tools. Take the case of the word go/gau. Niruktakāra-s might see it as āditya which looks at the world (RV. 1.164.28).[20] Vayyākaraṇa-s like Pāṇini might see it as Goddess of Speech or ‘Sarasvati’, while Yāgnik-s might see it as ‘cow’.

Śabda Sphoṭa and its ontology can be expanded using Dhrupada ālāp which employ phonemes and lyric, assumed to be more immediate than words and more expressive of the quality of Brahman which is Abhinavagupta’s rasa.

The navarasa-s are promoted by ‘contributory factors, such saṅgika – movements of the hands, limbs, etc; vāćika – speech; āhārya – dress; and sāttvika – expression of feelings (Sēthuraman, 2009, 437).

Sāttvika can evoke feelings in slow Dhrupada ālāp to embody it adequately. As a result, in the next two tiers of ālāp, rasa is sustainable even when laukika words in pada-s appear, because Sphoṭa of contexts happens through pada and vritti. The three vritti-s mentioned in Mātrālakṣanam (11) are ‘tistro vrttayo bhavanti’ – slow, moderate, and fast tempi which are extant in today’s Dhrupada. [21] The slow involves 5 kalā-s in one mātrā, moderate 4, and fast 3.[22]

Art & Aesthetics in Véda

The Nātha tradition in which meaning itself is due to Brahman to which B is believed to have belonged.[23] Yet, some grammarians either varṇavādin-s, śabdavādin-s or vakyavādin-s don’t consider adhyātma as their business. (Jośi, 2007,p.183) undertakes the project of ‘demystifying’ the Sphoṭa doctrine in Tantra.[24] He says, ‘Uttered word – its phonetic variations = Sphoṭa; vyaharanām – vyākriti = Sphoṭa.’ This is what Pāṇini and Pātañjali meant by Sphoṭa according to him. He thinks later grammarians added the transcendental dimension to Sphoṭa. However, the earliest known codifier of Aṣtāng Yoga was Pātañjali and was later propagated by the Nāth Yogi-s. Interestingly, the Harappan Paśupatināth is sitting in the Mūlbandh yogic posture.[25] Spirituality and aesthetics were together in Véda-s and their exegeses evident in eulogies of SG. S is derived from Sā= Rcā (female) + Ama (prāna) = Sāma (male) – a superior communication Sāma (S) (Aitareya Brāhmana 3.23).[26] This should be read with Kriṣna’s ‘Vedānām Sāmvēdosmi’ as evidence in favour of this combination existing much before Abhinava. Also, a maximum of six and a minimum of three upagāyaka-s with S was the rule so that neither the Udgātri’s (Expert S singer) singing is overshadowed nor does the singing become bereft of beauty.[27] Moreover, Pāṇiniya Sikṣā (vv 32, 33, in Bhisē, 84) refers to qualities of a good S vocalist – a strong evidence of ancient coherence of art and spirituality.

This Sikṣā gives a tenfold ‘operation of the qualities’ as follows (ibid):

1. Rakta: Colourful 2. Pūrna – complete 3. Alaṅkārita – embellished 4. Prasanna – distinct (or favourable) [or agreeable (my trans) 5. Vyaktā – manifest 6. Vikruṣta (or vikriṣta my pronunciation) – Loud 7. Ślakṣana – Polished 8. Sama – even, smooth 9. Sukumāra – delicate 10. Madhura – sweet. These lakṣana-s can be elaborated to draw clear parallels with B’s Sphoṭa.

If we take a closer look at Stobha of Vēdic worldview, we see that they are bestowed with ālaukika (mystical) potentials (Caturvēdi, 2005, p.155.).[28] Dhrupada uses Stobha and it may be categorised as Sphoṭa within the category of varṇavāda. Yet, Dhrupada as a whole does not discard the values of śabda, vākya, pada, and mantra. This is the main contention of my paper, but while discussing this, many facets of the ontology open up.

Beginning from Véda, their exegeses, Sūtra-s, to tikā-s like the, Dattilam, Abhinava Bhārati or the Sangīt Ratnākar and its commentaries, we see that there is a three dimensional spherical world view. One may demystify concepts like Sphoṭa in the context of semantics and syntax, but meaning is not limited to these linguistic methods. Dhrupada ālāp is a good example of this.

The arts here include Tantra with reference to Brahman because Véda is Tantra (Mande, personal consultations) although Kavirāj (1972,p.9) likes to separate Indian culture into Ārya (Vedic) and An-Ārya (non-Vedic).[29] This is borne out in the concept of rasa (for example) which can be found in Véda and Valmiki although it is usually associated with BM.[30] In Vēdic literature, rasa is the experience of ‘Supreme Reality… self-existent delight’ (Sēthuraman, 1992,p.2).[31] While talk may lead to personal emotion, rasa according to BM is not personal (p. 3) and ‘is in the absence of any agitation or disturbance’. In Dhrupada, vilambita ālāpa is rhythmless and tries to be as still as possible. In the madhya laya there is introduction to rhythm which becomes fast in the druta section, followed by pada in the same rāga.

While BM deals with rasa as an emotion and says ‘anubhava-s are emotions’ (Sēthuraman, 1992,p.2).[32] This goes away from the Vēdic rasa. In Vālmiki’s Rāmāyana Karuna Rasa is again emotion. Dhrupada ālāp exemplifies rasa at its best which Bonshek (2001,p.26) defines as ‘spiritual delight’.[33] In slow ālāp rasa really manifests, although Indian semanticians classify meaning under several heads such as denotation, indirect indication by metaphors, etc and Sphoṭa. Ānandavardhana brings to us the power of suggestion that can be connected to Sphoṭa (p-p. 3-4). I am in full agreement with Ānandavardhan who says rasa that could be expressed through dhvani and not through ‘literary sense and intention, conscious or unconscious’. Abhinavagupta, his commentator, in Locana and Abhinava in Bhārati terms rasa as ālaukia. So, non-semantic can be in the domain of Sphoṭa.

Now, Dhvani is classified into the following types in Indian aesthetics (Sēthuraman,1992, p.436):

  1. Avivakṣita vācya – not intended,
  2. Vivakṣitanyayapara vācya – intended but subserves the implied meaning,
  3. Vastudhvani – suggested sense is the theme/action,
  4. Alankāradhvani – suggested sense is a figure of speech,
  5. Samlaksyakrama vyangya – instances where the stage of realising the suggested sense in the expressed sense can be well perceived, and
  6. Asamlakṣya krama vyangya- above is imperceptible.
    All the above apply to pada section of Dhrupad But since it does not possess words it does not apply to ālāpa. However, the ontology is incomplete without the inclusion of music just as Véda is incomplete without consideration of SG. In that, all human activity in the Vēdic world view would be incomplete without music. In our case, Dhrupada is the liminal space through which one can be more efficiently transported to Brahman consciousness-the telos of art as the Véda-s would also accept. Scientific studies on altered states of consciousness due to music, meditation, etc are being carried out at the Institut fur Grenzgeiete Der Psychologie und Psychologiene e.V., Freiburg university, Germany. In its Cultural and Historical Studies, Archives and Library one can find studies related to the relationship of art with occultism (Vaitl, p.66).[34]

Bhartrhari’s (B) Vākyapadīya

B’s Vākyapadīya is about verbal/textual language communication and distinctions he makes between sound patterns and ‘meaning-bearing symbols’ as Kunjunni (1992,p. 272) points out quoting B’s work (I.44).[35] Again, the word in language is seen manifesting in two ways writes Kunjunni (ibid) – one as the meaning attached and the other the ‘underlying cause’ of sound to which this meaning is attached.

द्वावुपद्वानशब्देषु शब्दौ शब्दविदो विदुः
एको निमित्तं शब्दानाममपरोऽर्थे प्रयुज्यते

(dvāvupadvānaśabdeśu śabdau śabdavido viduh
eko nimittam śabdānām apara ‘rthe prayujyate)

Inter alia it means the sound pattern is the ‘external facet [..] while the internal is the semantic’. While he discusses the prakrita dhvani as ‘sound-pattern with the time-sequence still attached to it’ as the external aspect of sound, it reflects upon the Dhrupada ālāp very clearly in which time is inhered. However, the immediate cause for the meaning part of the sound is what B considers as Sphoṭa. In ālāp while only phonemes are used to negotiate a language different from the usual literary language, the underlying aspect of meaning is only apparently missing here.

According to Parānjape, (Personal Communication, 2011, Mysore)[36] the akṣarmāla arises from the concept of varnātmaktā and in gānātmaktā, śabdarava arises from dhvanyātmaktā. So, both are sounds whether of words or of music, but their immediate underlying aspects are different. Moreover, we can term both the underlying aspects as Sphoṭa-s of different potentialities, albeit not exclusively – one would lead to language (either in prose, poetry etc) and the other would lead to śabdarava or svara. In Dhrupada the phonemes selected can give śabdarava. E.g: ā ra na nā…etc. But letters such as ka, kha etc, śabdarava is lesser.

The ālāp helps transcend laukia contexts and embody the pure Brahman as subject to capability, and this enables one to sing the pada-s with greater indexical value of Brahman. This is also reflected in Cāndogya Upaniṣad (7.1) which is relevant in the context of Dhrupada ālāp upaja:

यदा वै चेतयते, अथ सङ्कल्पयते । अथ
मनस्यति । अथ वाचमीरयति । तामु नाम्नीरयति

(yadā vai cetayate; atha saṅkalpayate; atha
manasyati; atha vācamīrayati; tāmu nāmnīrayati)

(Verily, when one understands, then he wills, then he intends in mind,
then he sends forth speech, and he sends it forth in a name)

 संकल्पयतेऽथ मनस्यत्यथ वाचमीरयति तामु नाम्नीरयति
नाम्नि मन्त्रा एकं भवन्ति मन्त्रेषु कर्माणि

(saṃkalpayate’tha manasyatyatha vācamīrayati tāmu nāmnīrayati nāmni mantrā ekaṃ bhavanti mantreṣu karmāṇi)

(In the name, the Mantras become one and in Mantras the sacrifices (become one)).”

In short, the power of understanding the purposes of a object is greater than the sankalpa of knowing the thing. It says (7.3) ‘sa yaścintam Brahmetypāste cittanvai …’ etc. which points to the transcendental goal of intelligence.

Each letter (ā,ra, na, nā, etc) has a meaning ascribed. A deeper look reveals that it is an ontology involving the source of human communication stemming from the axiom of Brahman and Śabda-Brahman. So, for B our sentences are Sphoṭa-s resulting from the interaction of human cognition and Brahman leading to images. Also, the sentence (vākya) cannot be reduced to its parts and meaning is possible only through the sentence as a whole and its sound contours. This is his vākyavād. Sound (Śabda) comes from the dhvani not manifest and it is vākya which completes the meaning of dhvani, according to B.

Within Sanskrit poetics it is the Dhvani school which comes close to helping us to analyse musical sound since it deals with suggestion to take us beyond the words of poetry. But if we consider rasa as ālaukika then it is Rasa school that can best analyse Dhrupada, without jeopardy to the other schools. As such the entire Dhrupada performance can be analysed from the following standpoints of Sanskrit criticism schools (Sethuraman, 432):

  1. Riti – for manner and style (how you say)
  2. Rasa – Soul of Poetry is the rasa it embodies
  3. Alamkāra – factors that enhance the beauty of poetry
  4. Vakroti School – deviations that make it beautiful, and
  5. Dhvani

To make meaningful music composers of music modify words to effectively modify sentences. Does this mean that a spoken sentence means differently than when it is sung? Borrowing from Alfred Margulies (145-146) a concrete metaphor and its perception will change each time we encounter it. So, it changes, we change, and we change each other. This process is enhanced when we musicalise a lyric; we bring in greater intangible value into it elements of surprise. Margulies quotes from Borges (183):

“I remember Fragment from Heraclitus: “You will not go down twice the same river,” I admire his dialectic skill, because the facility with which we accept the first meaning (“The River is Different”) clandestinely imposes the second one (I am different) and gives us the illusion of having invented it.”

So, to theorise that something can give a complete meaning is untenable. And the same varṇa, śabda, etc. might mean differently to a different set of people, context, and time.

The surprise element in Sāman are the Stobha-s which do not allow the text to form edges but gives us the opportunity to form our own edges of our own stories, perceptions, interpretations, etc. (ibid,145). The statements about Stobha being meaningless (Caturvēdi, 155) are half-truths because of my above argument in addition to their musical meaning. Similar argument can be given about the dhvani in Sphoṭa.

Stobha &Semeioisis in Dhrupada Singing

‘Om’ has no laukika meaning but is revered in Véda. Stobha is not a word at all and is essentially phoneme. Even then it is uttered. So, the logic which Jośi runs is inapplicable to this Sphoṭa called Stobha. Caturvēdi (150) enlists the meanings of some of the Stobha-s as follows (translations are mine):

hāu – Bhuloka – gross world

Atha – Vāyu – the second air in order of creation

Iha – candra – moon – Idā nādi

Ee – Ātmā – soul – atom

a – Agni – fire – first element in creation

ae – āditya – a type of Sun

āv – Nivaha – cosmos etc

hoī – Viśvadeva – the divine cause of all living beings

Hinkār – Prajāpati – Creator

Svar – Prāna – subtle energies that keep the soul and the body together itself.

Hunkār – Virāt – gigantic

These meanings form a web of significations, but they might convey it to trained individuals. No translation of SV takes into account the translation of gān leading to less than its optimal understanding.

Caturvēdi (155-156) quoting Jaimini Brāhmana (1.13,-132) informs that for each phoneme (or letter, or akṣar) there are 17 Stobha akṣara-s possible. In fact, the actions such as vicar, viśleṣan, vikarṣan, abhyāsa, and virām are all Sām Vikāra-s along with Stobha – Peircian sign-action. In fact, the same is applied to Dhrupada gāna in which a vowel is extended considerably for some kind of signification (pending investigation). For instance, if ‘āa’ is the pluta of ‘a’ then it may be extended and its topology deliberately altered, say from a linear one to a spiral thus meaning something else.

Dhrupada ālāp is a Tāntric.[37] Dhrupada singing allows the singer to first delve deep into a spiritual realm. After due exploration then the practitioner externalises it through lyrical sentences which are akin to B’s Sphoṭa. Yet, teachers will insist that in order to contextualise the lyrics, one has to sing the full text signalling padavāda, but only after ālāp – a varṇavāda plus a transcendental value system. Here the need for a generic approach is felt.

The process of Dhrupada is long and a complex Śabda Brahman (SB) in its two sections creating a complex web of signification involving varṇa, vākya, panda, and mantra instantiating Peircian semeiosis. While ā rana nā, ra nā, nūmna[…]ta nā tūm is a phoneme saring used fo Dhrupada ālāp reduced from the mantra ‘Om Shrī Ananta Hari Nārayaṇa’/‘Om anantaran tom Taran tarani tom’. Hence it is varṇavād. Each letter has a meaning even though it may be considered by some grammarians as distinguishing elements of the words and they are pronounced in a sequence of sound and time. For instance, ‘ā’ would mean divine consciousness called Yāmala of Shiva Shakti in the philosophical sense. Elsewhere It is ‘māngalye’.[38],[39]. So, Dhrupada ālāpa begins with the phoneme ‘ā’. In varṇa vicār (reflection of the phonemes) Maṇde (Personal Consultations) says that music is included along with varṇa, ṣabda, vākya, and bhāṣā. However, it is music and varṇa which denote colour and svara. Going by this, we can assess the deeper connection of Tantra with music as also of śabda or Sphoṭa with music.

While pronouncing the phonemes, S Vēdic principles of time are employed. Pluta or prolated which has three mātra-s, dīrgha has two mātra-s, while hrasva has one mātrā. Time inherent in the pronunciation of the phonemes along with musical notes is to be strictly adhered and acts as a legisign.

But Jośi (188) contends the following borrowing from S. D. Jośi & Gaurināth Śāstri (2007,p.188): [40]

The main point of contention is whether the isolated phonemes are the smallest significant and meaning-bearing units existing separately on their own in Sanskrit language or not. …phonemes, morphemes, words, terms or forms, and sentences of Sanskrit…Sphoṭa did not imply consideration of meaning to Pātañjali. This is so because Pātañjali has used the term Sphoṭa (probably “heard sound”) strictly to point out its relation with Dhvani (“spoken sound”). The idea that the meaning-bearing word is the Sphoṭa is not implicitly or explicitly stated by Pātañjali, although such a concept has occurred to later Indians.

However, the boundary of discussion from Pātañjali to modern thinkers includes meaning as recognised through verbal language. Sphoṭa is beyond. I posit that Dhrupada has unravelled the importance of Stobha in musical varṇa, śabda, vākya, pada, and mantra from its Sāman roots and tries to comprehend Vēdic communication and applies to Sphoṭa.

The musical svara itself is a sign and svarāntara[41] will decide the indexical value of the combination that leads rāga identity. And the iconic factor in ālāpa is the phrase which uniquely represents rāga. Interpretants decide how a singer and listener will explore its beauty. This leads to a semeiotic.

In the Yajñyajñīya Sāman (II, 10) akṣara-s are subordinate to svara-s. It is reasonable to assume that the svara-s being discussed in Pātañjali’s Nidāna Sūtra referring to the above Sāman, are musical svara-s. He uses the word ‘akṣara’ and not ‘vyañjana’ (consonant) to contrast with (vowel) svara. This if true, is being followed in Dhrupada ālāp where musical svara is essential to rāga, but words based on rāga are essential to existents that are not necessarily musical. Interesting ontology here.

T.R.V Mūrty, in his foreword to Coward (1980, p.123) refers to Pātañjali’s question and answer – ‘Who is the Great God’ and ‘mahān devah śabdah’, respectively which Mūrty translates as ‘Speech itself’.[42] Now, here if it was vāṇi then we could consider it as ‘speech. But in Véda, vāṇi is Rcā and since Véda is ālaukika, Rcā is ‘śabdah’ in its subtlest form. This may be parā vāṇi. Support to this comes from the fact that in S, ‘Sā’ is Rcā and ‘ama’ is prāṇa which is subtle.[43] In effect, the vāṇi in S is prāṇa itself and not the expressed vaikhari. Therefore in Véda, meaning-making is ālaukika. This holds for S which is retained in Dhrupada ālāp.

Mimāmsaka-s consider that meaning is communicated through the last letter of a word and due to the sequence of letters.[44] So, the last varṇa is present in our ‘ken’ and ‘when combined with memory of other letters and words or thin traces, engenders meaning’. They think that the ‘actual perceptual state as a whole’ matters. But even the order of letters and words must be taken into consideration. I say, the fact that each svara is connected to cakra and colour it is the semeiotic which needs to be considered for meaning-making and the feeling conveyed through the rasa of the rāga.[45] The aesthetics of this is clear in Nāradiya Śikṣā (NS) also extending to rāga. B also says ‘śabdēna bhāsate’ (In Coward, p.123) or śabda gives meaning that is only apparent.[46]

Coming back to Dhrupada, after completing ālāp, composition is rendered which comprehends –

  • pada when singing the complete four/two stanzas of composition; sthāi, antarā, ābhog, and sañcārī ideally without improvisation,
  • śabda; Improvisation or Upaj; involving extempore improvisation using words and phrases, and
  • mantra involving repetition of śabda, vākya, pada

So, it does not negate any of the above meaning-making potential. Also, it allows us to examine the role and nature of time in this process. In ālāp each time one ‘goes down to the river’ of svara and svarāntara with different negotiations, the quality of time changes and hence one is not ‘going down to the same river’.

Through interpretants ‘qualities’ create a complex web of signification, borrowing from Semeiotics. So, the following 10 qualities in NS (Bhisē, 84-87) are only apparently legisigns and may be signsign or qualisigns depending upon interpreter:

  1. Rakta: Colourful. She refers to Bhatta Śobhākara and reminds that the voice of the singer must harmonise with the flute and the lute. Rāga is is also connected to colour. So Rakta and Rāga belong to a lexicon which refers to a kind of firstness which is why Bharat would insist Ranga Pūja is done before starting a play.
  2. Pūrṇa – complete
  3. Alankārita – embellished
  4. Prasanna – distinct (or favourable) [or agreeable (my trans)]
  5. Vyaktā – manifest
  6. Vikruṣta – Loud
  7. Ślakṣaṇa – Polished
  8. Sama – even, smooth
  9. Sukumāra – delicate
  10. Madhura – sweet.

 Gāndharva & Gāndharva Véda

Dhrupada vocal music is believed to belong to the Gāndharva tradition. The definition of Gāndharva as given by Dattila is “Padasthasvarasanghātstālena sumitastathā, Prayuktaśracāvadhānēna gāndharvamābhidhīyatey” (3, in Tārlēkar, 27).Gāndharva is the measured and conscientious use of a combination of complete sentence (pada) or phrase with svara and tāl’. (Tārlēkar, 15).Here Dattila consolidates the meaning-making potential of complete complexes of dhvani. Yet, each time, Dhrupada is different – even if the singer and the listeners are the same. Margulies’ view is reflected here.

Now, coming to NaSa which is also known as Gāṅdharva Véda, Bharat considers the gīti-s employed in various contexts of a play, as originating in SG. (Caturvēdi, 138-139.)

S is considered founded on music as declared in Jaiminiya Sūtra as ‘Gītiśu Sāmakhyā’ (, in ibid, 139). In Ṛk Saṅhitā, it is said that only a person with a heightened consciousness can apprehend S. Praise for SV has appeared in other three Véda-s. (ibid, 141).

Pātañjali says phonemes are fixed (avasthita) and tempos and intonations depend upon speech habits of speaker (In Jośi, p.188).[47]SV recommends temporality on the basis of hrsva, dīrgha, and pluta. Hrsva is 1 mantra, dīrgha is two mātrā-s and Pluta is 3 mātrā-s. In Gāndharva Gāna, this temporality was strictly adhered to. Conscientious practitioners of Dhrupada even today follow it – a core cultural symbol unaffected by the vagaries of time. In addition, the Dhrupada composition does not easily change with time.

B and others believe that the link of Brahman as the source of vāk also link it to Sām. Yājñyavalkya Smriti says ‘Through Sāma Gāna the gāyaka reaches Parabrahma…’ (p.142).


Dhrupad music is a suitable candidate to be analysed not only through the tools of musicology, but also through ancient Indian linguistics, aesthetics, and other knowledge traditions. It is shown primarily, that a whole new ontology of Dhrupad lies un-explored.

Meanings we draw from our sensory apparatus are laukika. B’s ‘dhvani’has ālaukika ramifications. It may translate into, for instance, Stobha of the SV or the upaj of the Dhrupada which can be likened to Bhartrhari’s Sphoṭa. Hence an ālaukika set of relationships with Dhrupad cannot be ruled out in theory.

Practically, Dhrupada ālāp seeks to get direct access to the Brahma-tattva and is like mantra-chanting/singing following SV-ic principles and rāga rules to make musical meanings, both at the laukika as well as the ālaukika levels. In the bandiś section however, the process of comprehending, embellishing etc., of the words, sentences, and pada are done which is again reduced, returning to the source – Sphoṭa.

Ultimately, rasa is ālaukika, especially in Dhrupada. A new ontology has been merely outlined here including Sphoṭa, Stobha, svara, nāda, dhvani, vakya, pada, etc.

[1] Members of my Guru Ustād H S Dāgar believe that the rasa of a rāga decide the pace of ālāp (literally articulation). So, if rāga is known to be dominated by, say the Śṛngār Ras, then the ālāp must be a little fast paced. We see here an ontology is genetic to the very idea of rāga.

[2] Anonymous (2010). Chāndogya Upaniṣad with Commentary of Ādi Śaṅkarācārya. Gorakhpur: Geeta Press. We know from elementary Physics that change in state of matter needs infusion or removal of energy and heat is one among them. It is also a given among traditional Vedin-s that a pronounced sound cannot become svara of musical quality unless it achieves a certain higher temperature as well as a quality called ‘rava’ which is roughly reverberation.

[3] Gonda, J. A.(Ed.). (1977). History of Indian Literature: Volume I. Wiesbaden, Otto Harrassowitz.

[4] Caturvēdi, N.(2005). Nātyaśāstra Kā Vaidic Ādhār. Dehli: Nag Publishers.

[5] Martinez, J.L. (2001). Semiosis in Hindustani Classical Music. New Dehli: Motilāl Banārasidās.

[6] Sumbrahmanyam, K. (1992).The Vākyapadīya of Bharatrhari. Delhi:Shri Satguru Publications.

[7] ‘Sanskrit Brahman (an n-stem, nominative bráhmā) from a root bṛh– “to swell, expand, grow, enlarge” is a neutral noun to be distinguished from the masculine brahmán—denoting a person associated with Brahman, and from Brahmā.’Accessed from

[8] Anonymous. (n.d.) The Four Levels of Speech in Tantra. Accessed from

[9] Subrahmanyam, K. (1992). The Vākyapadīya of Bharatrhari. Delhi:Shri Satguru Publications. By a simple reasoning it is not difficult to agree that a spoken sound is cannot decay and die. As the purpose of an uttered sound in a situation of communication goes into the mind of a receiver, either consciously or otherwise and is sounded again similarly when conditions so impel points at an undying (akṣaya) quality of uttered sound. A deeper look will reveal that the decay is only apparent because it is the sound that we utter that might decay, but it exists where it came from in the first place.

[10] Author. (2012). Véda and Popular Music. Journal of Creative Communications, 7(3), 227-242.

[11] ‘a. (î) relating or belonging to or occurring in every-day life, common, usual, ordinary, current (opp. Vedic or learned); belonging to the world of (–°ree;); m. pl. ordinary people (opp. scholars, adepts); men of the world; people; n. affairs of the world, general custom: -gña, a. knowing the ways of the world; -tva, n. usualness, ordinariness.’ Macdonell. Accessed January 10 2021.

[12] Ajapā japa is a state where the words can be heard by the inner ear without uttering them.

[13] ‘a. (î) unusual, extra ordinary.’ Macdonell. Accessed January 10 2021.

[14] Truth seen at altered states of consciousness by the persistent seeker.

[15] Dixitār, R. Stobhabhāṣyam-Akṣaratantram. Ed. 1984, Madras, Sir C.P. Rāmaswaāmy Iyer Foundation,p.v.

[16] Kannan, P.R., (n.d.). Trans., Sām Ved: An Introduction. Navi Mumbai:Unpublished Mss. p.41.

[17] Bhisē, U. (1986). Nāradīya Śikṣā. Pūna: Bhānḍārkar Oriental Research Institute, Research Series 8. p.6.

[18] Coward, H.G.(1980). The Sphoṭa Theory of Language: A Philosophical Analysis. Dehli: Motilāl Banārasidās.

[19] Vedālankar, J. (n.d). Véda Kā Arth. Ujjaini: Maharṣi Sāndipani Ved Vidya Pratiśthān. p. 1. Śabda is not ‘word’ but akin to sound. Dhvani in Śabda is its suggestive power.

[20] Pāthak, J.(n.d.). Yāskācārya Racitam Niruktam. Vārānasi: Cowkhambā Sanskrit Series. p.743.

[21] Howard, W. (1988). Mātrālakṣanam. New Dehli: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. p.11.

[22] A kalā is a measure. The standard is taken from the phases of the moon. So, when the new moon appears like a mere arch, it is taken to be one kalā. Several kalā-s constitute a mātra or meter.

[23] Mallison, J. Nāth Sampradaya_1-20. Accessed on March 24, 2019 from doi, 8/3/2011 5:31:35 p.m.

[24] Jośi, N. (2007). Sphoṭa Doctrine in Sanskrit Semantics Demystified. Pune: Annals of Bhānḍārkar Oriental Research Institute, LXXXVIII.

[25] McEvilley, Thomas. “An Archaeology of Yoga.” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, no. 1, 1981, pp. 44–77. JSTOR. Accessed from The author identifies yogāsana-s – Mūlbandh, Gorakṣ, and Utkat about the Indus seal 420.

[26] Bhisē, U. (1986). Nāradīya Śikṣā. Pune: Bhānḍārkar Oriental Research Institute, Research Series 8. p.6.

[27] Bhisē, U. (1986). Nāradīya Śikṣā. Pune: Bhānḍārkar Oriental Research Institute, Research Series 8. p.11.

[28] Caturvēdi, N. (2005). Nātyaśātra kā Vaidic Ādhār. Delhi: Nāg Publishers.

[29] Kavirāj, G. (1972). Tāntrik Sāhitya. Lucknow:Hindi Samiti. It has become almost customary to label Tantra as non-Ārya-n and Ved as Ārya-n. This is a viscous cycle, but discussion on this lies out of the scope of the present article.

[30] Sēthuraman, V.S. (1992). Indian Aesthetics. Cennai:Macmillan.

[31] ibid.

[32] Sēthuraman, V.S. (1992). Indian Aesthetics. Cennai:Macmillan.

[33] Bonshek, A. (2001). Mirror of Consciousness. Dehli:Motilāl Banārasidās.

[34] Vaitl, D. (2012). Cultural & Historical Studies, Archives and Library. Freiburg: Biennial Report of Institut fur Grenzgeiete Der Psychologie und Psychologiene e.V.

[35] Kunjinni, R. (1992). Vākyapadīya, I.44. Seturaman V.S.(Ed.). Indian Aesthetics: An Introduction. Cennai: Macmillan.

[36] Parānjapē, V. 23.12.2011. Personal Consultations. Mysore.

[37] Author. (N.d.). Dhrupada & Tantra. Indology Goa. Panjim: Unpublished Mss..

[38] Dorman, E.R.(2009). Pieces of Vac. UMI Microfilm. ProQuest LLC, M.A. Dissertation.

[39] Nene,G. (Ed.). (N.d). Śabdarūpāvali. Vārāṇasi: Cowkhambā Sanskrit Series. p.44.

[40]Jośi, N. (2007). Sphoṭa Doctrine in Sanskrit Semantics Demystified. Puṇe: Annals of Bhāṇdārkar Oriental Research Institute, LXXXVIII.

[41] Musical space between two consecutive svara-s of a rāga.

[42] Coward, H.G. (1980). The Sphoṭa theory of Language: A Philosophical Analysis. New Delhi: Motilāl Banārasidās.

[43] Anonymous (n.d. ). Cāndogya Upaniṣad 1-1-5. Gorakhpur: Gīta Press.

[44] Coward, H.G. (1980). The Sphoṭa theory of Language: A Philosophical Analysis. New Dehli: Motilāl Banārasidās.

[45] Author.(n.d). Communication in SV. Vēdic Science Journal, Online ISSN No.0975-0312. Retrieved from

[46] Mūrty, T.R.V. (Foreword) in Coward, H.G. The Sphoṭa theory of Language: A Philosophical Analysis. Motilāl Banārasidās, New Dehli, 1980, p.123.

[47] Yāgyavālkya Smriti In Jośi, N. (2007). Sphoṭa Doctrine in Sanskrit Semantics Demystified. p.188. Pune: Annals of Bhānḍārkar Oriental Research Institute, LXXXVIII.

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