The Unifying Role of Indian Music - Part I
Sangita Kala Acharya T. S. Parthasarathy

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[Editor's Note: Sangita Kala Acharya Sri. T. S. Parthasarathy, eminent musicologist, researcher and writer is one of the senior most scholars in the field of Music and related arts. He was also the Secretary of the Music Academy, Chennai for many years. He is a source of guidance to all musicians and a respected authority on music theory and history. Carnatica is deeply honored to have his permission to reproduce a selection of his scholarly articles on Music and Dance published over the years in various journals]

The endless diversity in the Indian subcontinent has been the subject of many trite remarks. But no other country of the world, with such a vast extent of area, offers so much unity in diversity as India does. This unity transcends the innumerable diversities of blood, colour, language and sect.

Among the factors that account for this unique type of unity are the use of Sanskrit as a cultural link language and the existence of a single system of classical music throughout the country. It was only after the twelfth and the thirteenth centuries that regional differences developed even within the sphere of classical music but this was reflected only in the practical side of the music. The ‘Natya Shastra’ of Bharata and the ‘Sangita Ratnakara’ of Sarngadeva still continue as authorities for the theory of Indian music and commentators on these and other treatises hailed from Kashmir in the North to Tamil Nadu in the South and from Gujarat and Rajasthan in the West to Mithila and Bengal in the East. The theory part remained surprisingly intact which made the continuity of Indian music possible. Every treatise on music written before the twentieth century mentions only one variety of classical music.

It was only in the early years of this century that Pandit Kashinath Appa Tulasi, a musicologist from Hyderabad, mentioned in his work ‘Sangita Sudhakara’ that there were two varieties of Indian music – Carnatic, prevalent in South India and Hindustani, prevalent in the North.

“Tadapi dvividham jneyam Dakshinottara bhedatah
Karnatakam dakshine syad Hindustani tathottare”

But even this writer calls them only as two variations of the same system and not as two different systems of music. The oldest detailed exposition of Indian dance, musical theory and theatrical art, which has survived the ravages of time, is the Natya Shastra of Bharata Muni. We do not know which part of India Bharata hailed from, but by the 2nd century A.D. his Natya Shastra appears to have become familiar in the Tamil country down south. Poet Ilango Adigal, the author of the ‘Silappadhikaram’, one of the five Tamil Sangam classics gives ample evidence that he was acquainted with Bharata’s treatise. A number of Tamil works on music, extant in his time and quoted by his later commentator Adiyarkunallar show that the Tamil musicologists of the Sangam period were fully conversant with Sanskrit works on music written by authors who obviously lived in the Northern part of India. Even the names of several Tamil treatises on music like ‘Bharatam’, ‘Panchabharatiyam’ and ‘Bharata Senapatiyam’ show the influence of Bharat on Tamil Music in those remote days. The authors of these Tamil works have acknowledged in their works, their indebtedness to Bharata. No further testimony of the cultural unity of India is needed when we remember that travel in those days was primitive and facilities for copying and transporting manuscripts were meager.

It is well-known that Tamil Nadu is the only part of India that has a contemporary style of dance called ‘Bharata Natya’ while in other parts of the country, classical dance is called by various names like ‘Kathak’, ‘Odissi’, ‘Manipuri’ and ‘Kathakali’ which do not suggest any direct connection with Bharata’s treatise. The chief aspects of dramaturgy according to Indian rhetoricians are natya or dance, rupa or scenic presentation and rupaka or regular play. The ancient Tamils achieved the first two aspects of dramaturgy to a large extent.

Dattila is another ancient writer on music who has been named as a son of Bharata and as one of the five Bharatas, the other four being Bharata, Kohala, Nandi and Matanga. All these names are familiar to the authors of music treatises in South India. In fact, the only manuscript of Dattila’s treatise called ‘Dattilam’ was discovered at Trivandrum in Kerala and was published in the Trivandrum series.

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