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Gandharva – Most Ancient Treatise On Indian Music

Gandharva is regarded as the most ancient treatise in Indian music, although its only evidence is in the quotations attributed to it in the texts that have followed subsequently. The most reliable and presently available source of history and evolution of Indian music is Bharata’s Natya Shastra, which dates back to the 2nd century BC.

Bharata refers to Narada as the first expert on the subject matter of Gandharva. Narada defines Gandharva as follows –

Gitigeyam viduh pragyadhetikasmavadanam
Vetti vadyasya vijneyam gandharvasya virocanam.

Bhatta Subhamkara in this commentary (of this verse) draws the etymological meaning of Gandharva by stating that ‘gana’ or singing is derived from the root ‘gai;’ ‘dhakara’ suggests efficient finger movements; and ‘vakara’ suggests ‘vadana’ or the playing of an instrument.

Abhinavagupta further elucidates that ‘dha’ is related to ‘dhatu’, which explains the finger movements while playing the Vina, which has strings made of dhatu or metal. The ‘refa’ is an upalakshana – an incidental feature of the vadya or musical instrument. ‘pravadana’ implies ‘kaku’, which means the use of modulation of the voice to express an abstract idea or thought. These derivations demonstrate that vocal and instrumental music constitutes the subject matters of Gandharva.

In the Ramayana narration, Rama is regarded as the greatest scholar of ‘Gandharva’ on earth ‘Gandharve ca bhuvi srestho babhuva bharatagrajah’. Lava and Kusha also have an exclusive knowledge of ‘Gandharva.’

Lava and Kusha are well versed with the concepts of ‘sthana’ and ‘murchana’; they have melodious voices and are handsome as the Gandharva, the celestial musicians.

The above description indicates that Lava and Kusha are not only endowed with dulcet voices but are also equally adept in complex musical techniques.

SourceKriti Rakshana – April 2008 to April 2009 issue page 17 by National Mission of Manuscripts