THE AGAMIC TRADITION AND THE ARTS
Mahabhutas in Sangita-Sastra
With Special Reference to Yoga and Ayurveda
Prem Lata Sharma
The five elements have been said here to be the manifestation of Siva, the Supreme Being.
enquiry into the role of Mah¡bh£tas
in Music is essentially a quest for the relationship between the 'outer',
'inner', and what is beyond the two. Roughly, the human organism is
the 'inner', whatever is outside the body is the 'outer' and both are
closely interrelated. That which permeates both of them and is yet
intangible is beyond them. In understanding the 'inner', both Yoga, and,
Ayurveda have made a deep study of the psycho-physical centres in the
human body as well as the physiological structure of the body in terms of
The unity of the 'inner' and the 'outer' has been established by
expounding that the sense-organs, their objects and their functions are
all manifestations of the Mah¡bh£tas.
The following passage from Sa´g¢ta-Ratn¡kara
makes this very clear.
d escribes the structure and functions of the human body in terms of the
five Mah¡bh£tas as follows:
by R.K. Shringy and Prem Lata Sharma)
this is from the point of view of Ëyurveda which itself is not
dissociated from Yoga. With reference to Yoga, SR, 1.2.120-148 and
I.2.149163b sets forth the point of view of Yoga, specially Ha¶hayoga.
Cakras (psychophysical centres):
tonal and syllabic, constitutes the body of music. The production, travel
and perception of sound is a physical phenomenon, but perception also
involves the mind. In the carrying of sound, air is the best known medium.
In the process of sound-production in the human body, air is not only the
medium of carrying the sound but is also the instrument of sound
production as it strikes the various locations. The N¡¶ya¿¡stra
combines all this while saying that sound is made of air or is of the
nature of air.[ii]
N¡¶ya¿¡stra, B¤hadde¿¢ introduces
Agni (or the kinetic energy in the body) as the element that propels the
air as well as p¤thiv¢ that
forms the base for this action of the fire and the air and ¡k¡¿a
that provides space for all this movement .[iii]
four elements, viz., ¡k¡¿a or
space, air, fire and earth have been spoken of in the context of the
production of sound in general and musical sound in particular. The role
of air and fire is direct, that of the earth is figurative and that of
space is implied or implicit (rarely pronounced).
áikÀ¡ texts also deal with
the production of sound in the human body in similar terms.[iv]
The close similarity between the description of the process of sound
production in the texts of áikÀ¡
and Sa´g¢ta-á¡stra is
notable, though their subtle nuances are also interesting.[v]
The process is the same in relation to speech and music. That the two have
been taken to be integral constituents of the totality of human expression
through the aural medium is also clear from the fact that three basic
words are common to them. These are:
language, it is the vowel that embodies interval (high, low tone), and
duration (long and short) and the consonant merely holds their reflection.
It is impossible to separate tone from syllable. Tone cannot be manifested
without the association of syllable at least¡k¡ra
(the ¡ sound) will unavoidably accompany the production of any musical
sound by the human organism. In musical instruments, the 'stroke' part of
the sound produced has invariably been identified with consonants of
language in the Indian tradition and the 'resonance' part has been
identified with vowels to which nasalization is sometimes suffixed.
Similarly, linguistic communication is
not devoid of pitch (albeit irregular), loudness, timbre and duration.
The holistic approach of the Indian Tradition takes due cognizance of the
basic unity of linguistic and musical expression. In music text and melody
form combinations of numerous varieties, according to the degree of
emphasis on one or the other at any given time.
P¡¸in¢ya áikÀ¡ and áa´g¢ta-Ratn¡kara speak of the 'will to speak' arising in the
atman, although the former is dealing with language and the latter with
music. The concept of unity between the two has been discussed above. The
subtle difference between the two has, however, been pointed out by
Abhinavagupta in Tantr¡loka.
That (v¡k) which is made of nada and is beautiful with patterns of svaras,
that is verily the gross pa¿yant¢
on account of the non-differentiation of syllables and the like. The
potency (¿akti) in the form of
being one with non-differentiation is called madhurya. The concrete state
(of this vak) comes into being on account of the friction between sthana
(location in the body or on an instrument) and air and that is the p¡ruÀ¢¿akti
(potency taking the form of harshness).[vi]
the state of merging in this (v¡k
taking the form of n¡da is
attained immediately (on its perception) on account of its similarity with
saÆvit brought about by the
fact of its being of the same category (s¡j¡tya).
Those who do not attain this state of merging or identification, they do
not know the state of the merging of the body and the like and are ahydayas
(as distinct from sah¤dayas) and
their saÆvit is subdued or
submerged. Whatever sound is produced on instruments covered or fastened
with membrane and the like, that is both concrete and non-concrete and is
hence madhyam¡ (v¡k) in its gross form. Raktat¡ or the state of being red or delightful comes about on
account of the existence of the aspect of non-differentiation present in madhyarm¡.
Where there is svaramay¢ (v¡k)
characterised by non-differentiation, that (rendering on the
drum-instruments) is the bestower of delight. Non-differentiation leads to
bliss, which could be seen to be experienced. In the recitation of the t¡la-syllables,
one gets delight from the inarticulate sound (in which the syllables are
(v¡k) which is the cause of the
manifestation of articulate syllables, is the gross vaikhar¢ from which is born the expanse of the sentence and the
like. The anusandh¡na (lit.
planning or aiming at, here mental image companied by self-consciousness)
that constitutes the beginning of these three forms of gross v¡k is
distinct in each of the three forms and is given the name s£kÀma
or subtle. 'I am making Àa·ja'
or 'I am producing svaras', I am
playing (on the drums) and 'I am speaking a sentence, these three forms
(self-conscious will) takes are experienced as being distinct.[viii]
form of these three that is free from up¡dhi
(attribute or qualification) is the para
or ultimate state where there is Siva, the embodiment of paracit. (Tantr¡doka, III
speaks of the desire to produce Àa·ja,
i.e., a musical note or svara,
to play on drums and to speak. These three aural expressions have been
identified with three manifestations of
v¡k in its gross form, as follows:
above three forms of expression gradually proceed from the subtle towards
will or self-consciousness of the performer/speaker is the subtle (s£kÀma)
form of the above three levels of v¡k.
The unmanifest or ultimate form of these three is called par¡.
PuruÀa is the Ultimate Reality
that is beyond the Bh£tas which
in turn are manifestations of the same. The desire to speak or produce a
sound arises in the Ëtman,
i.e., the mind, fire, air, etc., start functioning at the behest of the Ëtman or PuruÀa. In
other words, the 'action' of the Bh£tas
is actuated by the Ëtman or
mind is the element that propels the fire or kinetic energy. It is said to
be annamaya, equated with anna,
the Upani+dic word for 'food'. Primarily, food is the object of oral
assimilation by the body and secondarily, it stands for all the objects of
sense perception that are 'consumed' or 'taken'. In its primary meaning, anna
is directly equated with prthivi and
in its secondary meaning with all the five elements. As for water, rasa
being the ultimate determining factor of propriety (aucitya) in all creative activity and aesthetic delight or
enjoyment, bearing analogy with the sense of taste, its presence is
instrumental music also, the mind, the kinetic energy as the 'acting
agent' the air as the carrier or even producer of sound, the latter in the
case of wind instruments like flute, are in operation.
the mind as a direct 'associate' of the earth is not only responsible for
image-making in music or any other art, but is also the propelling agent
that, activates the kinetic energy in the body for sound production
through the voice or through an instrument. The earth functions through
the mind and also as the base for all activity, psychological or physical.
The mind in turn is the agent or kara¸a
(instrument) of Ëtma, the other
two instruments being v¡k and pr¡¸a. In music, all these three agents are directly active. The
visual arts, v¡k is implicit,
but in music, manas (mind), pr¡¸a
(not only vital air but all physical and physiological activity) and v¡k
(articulate and inarticulate sound or syllabic and tonal sound) are all
explicitly involved. Mind embodies the
beginning, pr¡¸a comes in
the middle and continues and v¡k
is the product that is arranged in structures of svara, t¡la
the bh£tas are talked of as
being three, instead of five, then manas
is identified with anna or p¤thiv¢
pr¡¸a with water and v¡k[ix]
with tejas or agni. In this scheme of
three Mah¡bh£tas viz., agni,
water and earth, water is identified with pr£¸a
or air, and ¡k¡¿a is accepted
as being implicit.
figurative representation of the Mah¡bh£tas
in the delineation of the impact of sound, as available in Sa´g¢ta-á¡stra
is very striking and remarkable. It reveals the psychic process that
comprehends the 'inner' and 'outer' in one stroke. Some examples will
illustrate this point:
High and low in svara is
generally termed as t¡ra and mandra.
But they are also called d¢pta
(lit. brilliant) and prasanna
(lit. clear, secondarily happy)[x].
Brilliance is related to Agni
and clarity to water. Empirically, higher notes have an association of
warmth and lower notes that of coolness both for the performer and the
listener. M¤du is another name
for lower notes its literal meaning is soft. Softness, primarily, pertains
to the sense of touch which is related to air but secondaily, softness
could also be associated with water.
Madhura (sweet) as an adjective
and m¡dhurya (sweetness) as an
abstract noun is a very basic quality of musical sound. Sweetness is
directly related to water as the sense of taste and the object of taste,
both are derived from water or are attributes of the same.
Snigdha is an adjective derived
from the noun sneha which is
difficult to translate in English. Sneha
is the basic quality of oil, butter or other similar substances. It is
considered to be the opposite of r£kÀa
or dry. In the English language 'dry' stands both for that which is
devoid of water or oil, butter and the like. But in Sanskrit, there are
two different words, viz.,¿uÀka for
the former and r£kÀa, for the
latter. Sneha also means love
and thus the quality of butter is transferred to the mind. Sneha is an attribute of water and butter, oil and the like are said
to have an element of tejas or agni.
Hence this quality is related to both fire and water. álakÀ¸a
(lit. continuous like the vertical flow of oil) is another quality of
the voice, that bears the association of water and fire.
Ghana (dense) as an adjective of
the voice or musical sound is associated with the earth which embodies
Raµjaka, rakta (red and
delightful) as adjectives and raµjakat¡,
rakti as abstract nouns are all derived from the root raµja
which means 'to colour'. Primarily, colour pertains to visual perception
and secondarily, it has been applied to aural perception. The sense-peception
of colour has been transferred to
the psychological realm as delight. Colour (r£pa)
is an attribute of Agni.
Pracura (full) as an adjective
of voice stands for the fulness or richness of tone like density (ghanat¡). This also is associated with the earth. G¡·ha
(lit. closely knit) is another quality that bears association with the
Ujjvala (lit. bright) or
chavim¡na (lit. lustrous) as qualities of the voice are again related
The five categories of musicians spoken of in Sa´g¢ta-Ratn¡kara include a triad of raµjaka, the one who brings about mriga or colourfulness, bh¡vuka
or bh¡vaka, who delineates bh¡va
and rasika, who expresses rasa.
The first one is mindful of the interest or taste of the audience, the
second one also pays some attention to the expectations of the audience,
but the third one is completely oblivious of the audience.[xi]
Ra´ga or colour is
related to fire, bh¡va having
been figuratively equated with smell, is related to the earth and rasa
being directly related to aural perception and this perception being an
attribute of ¡k¡¿a, is
primarily related to the same. Conceptually, this relationship is complete
in itself. But in the production, communication and enjoyment of musical
sound, the other four elements. specially earth, fire and air, have their
definite roles. Water is related to the
gestalt of music. The qualities of the musical voice have been given
figurative names that bear close affinity with one or the other of the
attempted to discover the essential unity between the 'inner' and the
'outer' and the Ultimate Reality that permeates both of them.[xii]
[i] . It is notable that not only physical or physiologica, organs, functions, objects etc., have been said to be derived from the five elements, but psychological qualities like intelligence, wrath sharpness etc., have also been enumerated in this context
Sound is made up of air or is of the nature of air.
brahma¸aÅ sth¡naÆ brahmagranthi¿ca yaÅ sm¤taÅ I
pr¡¸aÅ pr¡¸¡d vahnisamudgamaÅ II
n¡d¡dutpadyate bindurn¡d¡t sarvaÆ ca v¡´mayam II
kandasth¡nasamuttho hi sam¢raÅ ca v¡´mayam I
£rdhvaÆ ca kurute sarv¡Æ
nak¡raÅ pr¡¸a ity¡hurdak¡ra¿c¡nalo
sam¢c¢no mayoditaÅ II
t¡vad deh¡gnipavanasaÆyog¡t puruÀaprayatnaprwrito dhvnir
which is spoken of as the location (sth¡na)
of Brahman and which is known as
brahma-granthi, pr¡¸a is seated in it, vahni
(fire) arises from pr¡¸a;
n¡da is horn of the combination of vahni
(fire) and m¡ruta (air)."
n¡da is formed bindu
and from n¡da all v¡´maya (whatever is made of speech or language) is born."
air arising from the location of kanda
(lit. bulbous root, here brahma-granthi
or the centre of energy in the human body situated below the
navel) and moving about up and down, produces the intense course of
uidn. (B¤hadde¿¢, three
verses quoted in the text after verse 19).
letter na is spoken of as pr¡¸a
(air) and the letter da is
known as fire; this is spoken by
me as the meaning of the dual verbal component (pada)
There in the beginning on account of the combination of the deh¡gni (lit. bodily fire, battery of energy) and air, the sound
propelled by the effort of the puruÀa
(¡tman), attacking the ¡k¡¿a
(space) above the navel, ascending in many ways, in steps of a
ladder like smoke, according to the will of the air, appears to be
different by way of being composed of four ¿rutis
etc. through being comprised of the inherent pratyaya
(assured consciousness) of filling up with air..." (Ibid., Anu. 1)
mah¢tal¡d v¡yurudyannidhy¡ryate II
tath¡k¡¿e dhvan¢ raktaÅ svaraÅ sm¤taÅ II
the will of the ¡tman, the v¡yu (that is)
moving upward from the base of the 'earth' (n¡bhi,
navel) (and) is held on the 'wall' of the n¡·¢s
and in the space, is known as svara,
the delightful sound." (Ibid.,
verse quoted after Anu. 15)
The architectural image suggested in the above verse is striking. The centre below the navel has been equated with the earth, the air rising upwards strikes against the 'walls' of n¡·¢s (tubular vessels) and raises its head in ¡k¡¿a (space), represented by the cerebral region, during sound that is gradually rising in pitch.
¡tm¡ buddhy¡ sameth¡rth¡n mano yu´kte vi´kte vivakÀay¡
sa prerayati m¡rutam II
m¡rutast£rasi caran mandraÆ janayati svaram I
pr¡taÅ savanayogaÆ taÆchando g¡yatram¡¿ritam II
ka¸¶e m¡dhyandinayugaÆ madhyamaÆ trairÀ¶ubh¡nugam I
t¡raÆ t¡rt¢yasavanaÆ ¿¢Àa¸yaÆ jagat¡nugam II
...vaktram¡padya m¡rutaÅ I
var¸¡µ janayate ...
having gathered or put together the content, artha (of sound) with buddhi (intellect)
activates the mind with the will to speak.
The mind strikes the fire in the body. The fire propels the air. The air, moving in the chest-region, throat and cerebrum manifests low, medium and high sound respectively. Reaching the mouth cavity, the air manifests the var¸as."
Comparison of the description of the process of sound-production in
the human organism as given in the p¡¸in¢ya áikÀ¡ and B¤hadde¿¢
brings to light the following subtle nuances:
Instead of ¡tman that is
mentioned as the substratum of the desire to 'speak' in P¡¸in¢áikÀ¡
and Sa´g¢ta-Ratn¡kara B¤hadde¿¢ mentions puruÀa. PuruÀa is the collection of twenty-four elements viz., buddhi
(sixfold perception as as-sociated with the iive sense-orgsns and
mind), the ten indriyas (viz., five sensory and five motor organs), mind, the six
objects of perception and the ultimate repository of the above
twenty-three elements, i.e., ¡tman,
according to Ëyuruedn.
In P¡¸in¢ya áikÀ¡and Sa´g¢ta-Ratn¡kara
the first step is the will of the ¡tman,
but in B¤hadde¿¢ the
combination of 'fire' and 'air' is spoke of as the first step, without
the mention of any activating agent. The puruÀa
is mentioned in the second step as the agent that propels the air
upwads. Acitaion in the name of Iiohala, quoted in B¤hadde¿¢
reproduced in note No. 4 above, does mention the will of the atman
as the first step.
In P¡¸in¢ya áikÀ¡, buddhi
is mentioned as an agent, that 'gathers' the content of speech.
This is absent in B¤hadde¿¢ and
Sa´g¢ta-Ratn¡kara; the reason could perhaps be that in musical
sound the differentiation of the form and content (meaning) of sound
is not pertinent.
4. In B¤hadde¿¢mind has not been mentioned at all. The mention of pratyaya (assured consciousness), however, does bring in the mind, but it is related to the process of hearing in the speaker. (Based on Vimar¿a, p.155 B¤D. Vol.I) Whatever the differences, the direct involvement of 'air' and 'fire' is accepted by all.
[vi] 6 . The resonant quality of svara is called m¡dhurya here and the 'attack' constituting the concrete nature of musical sound is called the p¡ruÀ¢ ¿akti (harsh potency).
rendering on drums is accompanied with an explicit or implicit
recitation of the syllables that represent identification of the
strokes on the instrument concerned. These syllables are
differentiated 01 articulate, but the non-differentiated tonal
component of the rendering on drums does give delight, i.e., is rakta.
[viii] 8. Jayaratha's commentary on verse 246 gives the name jig¡s¡ for the first, viv¡dayiÀ¡ for the second and vivakÀ¡ for the third. Texts of Sa´g¢ta-á¡stra have not taken this distinction into account and have thus emphasised only the unity of the process of sound-production in speech aud music.
annamayaÆ hi saumya manaÅ I ¡pomay¡Å I tejomay¢
"0 gentle one the manas is made of anna. The pr¡¸as are made up of water and the v¡k is made up of tejas."
Abhinava-Bh¡rat¢ on Ná XXIX.35 equates
d¢pana or the act of making d¢pt¡
with highness of notes and pras¡da
or clarity with mandrat¡
or lowness. The words d¢pa and
prasanna have been used profusely in Ná in this chapter.
nuk¡ra¿ca rasiko raµjakastath¡
bh¡vuka¿ceti g¢tajµaÅ paµcadh¡ g¡yamnaÆ jayuÅ II
¿ikÀ¡k¡ro mataÅ sat¡m
anuk¡ra iti proktaÅ parabha´gayanuk¡rakaÅ
ras¡viÀ¶astu rasiko raµjakaÅ ¿rot¤rraµjakaÅ I
Five types of vocalists are recognised by the vocal experts viz., ¿ikÀ¡k¡ra, anuk¡ra, rasika, raµjaka and bh¡raka. One who is capable of imparting flawless instructions is considered by the wise to be ¿ikÀ¡k¡ra (the educator). The imitator of another's style is called anuk¡ra (the imitator). One who gets absorbed in the aesthetic delight (rasa) is rasika (the aesthete), and one who entertains the listeners is raµjaka (entertaining), and one who is extremely expressive in the delineation of the song is known as bh¡vaka (the inspirer of emotion).
of Aesthetic Experience in Music" by Prem Lata Sharma, In Indian
Music Journal, April 1964,pp. 19-21
©1995 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi