Natalie Savelyeva

Dattilam, the ancient treatise on Gandharva music

Dattilam is ancient treatise on Gandharva tradition of music, which was in vogue in the first centuries AD. The exact date of this work is not known.

Emmie Te Nijenhuis [1] gives the following information regarding the period of composition of Dattilam:

  • "Since neither the author himself nor any other Indian ancient author gives us the exact date of the Dattila, we can only roughly determine its age by comparing it with other Sanskrit treatises on music. We may assume that it was composed before the Brihaddesi of Matanga, who quotes Dattilam several times (for ex. In connection with tanas)."
  • "The fact that Damodaragupta (the first minister of King Jayapida, who libed at the end of the 8th century), refers to Matanga as an authority on flute playing in verse 854 of his Kuttanimata (Kavyamala III, Bombay 1887), suggests that Matanga lived before Damodaragupta's time. Thus Matanga might be placed in the beginning or in the middle of the eighth century and Dattila before this time."
  • "I am incluned to place Dattila later the Bharata's Natya Sastra, but earlier then Matanga's Brihaddesi, which might have been written before the end of the eighth century."

In introduction (definition of Gandharva music) the author gives us the following information on svaras, gramas, murcanas, and jatis. This quots are taken from the work [2], translation of Dattilam by Emmie Te Nijenhuis with comments.

1. (after having paid honor to the great Lord) and to Brahma and other (Gods), and also to the teachers. I shall give a brief exposition of the theory of music (gandharvasastra), which considers only the most essential things.

2. In the very beginning music (gandharva) (was given) by the Sefl-existing One (Svayambhu) to Narada and the other Gandharvas. Then, it was duly taken down to the earth by narada.

3. A collection of notes (svara) which is based on words (pada), which is well-measured by time-measurement (tala) and which is executed with attentiveness, is called music (gandharva).

4. One should understand here the words from common practice with the help of manuals of terms and other (books0. As is well-known, attentiveness means bringing the right understanding into practice.

5. I want to give here a double, brief exposition of something different tot this. In this (exposition) things relating to the notes will be explained before measurableness (mayatva).

6. Next, micro-intervals (sruti), notes (svara), the two tone-systems (grama), scales (murchana) consisting of series of notes (tana), the registers (sthana), styles (vritti), pure instrumental music (suska) and the two ways of overlapping (sadharana),

7. modes (jati) and ways of ornamentation (varna), connected with various graces (alamkara). This is a mere description of the things relating to the notes....

8. In the chest of human beings there is the low (register) (mandra), a sound of twenty-two kinds, in the throat the middle register (madhya) and in the head the high register (tara) is sung.

9. Higher and higher notes in the high register (tara) are on a vina lower and lower (with regard to their place on the string). Thus the differences of sound are called sruti because of their auditive perceptibility.

10. With some of these (srutis) one sings in all songs. Those (srutis) however which have become notes (svara) will be considered here.

11. There are seven notes (svara), sadja, etc. and two tone-systems (grama), sadja- and madhyama-grama; Some people speak also of a gandhara grama. This last, however is not found here.

12. The sound (dhvani) which is indicated by the term sadja is (the starting point) in the sadja-grama. From this one the third sruti upwards is, no boudt, risabha.

13. From this one the second sruti is gandhara, from this one the fourth sruti is madhyama. From madhyama in the same way pancama; from this one the third sruti if dhaivata.

14. From this one the second sruti is nisada; from this one the fourth sruti is sadja. In the madhyama garama pancama is the third sruti from madhyama.

15. He who understands in this way all differences of sound (dhvani), called sadja, etc., the intervals of which have been determined, knows the circle of notes (svaramandala).

16.Nisada is called kakali, when the note is raised by two srutis. Similarly gandhara is called antarasvara.

17. With regard to these two one does not speak of a real svara, since they cannot be dominant because of their modification. Therefore they are called by experts nisada and gandhara.

18. A note which occurs frequently somewhere, is at that place the sonant (vadin) or the dominant (amsa). Notes which have intervals of thirteen srutis are closely connected (samhana or samvadin).

19. To continue, the remaining notes are assonants (anuvadin); the notes however which have intervlas of two srutis are dissonants (vivadin). The expert in notes should know that the notes are of four kinds.

20. One should know that in the madhyamagrama pancama, in sadjagrama however dhaivata and everywhere (i.e. in all gramas) madhyama is indispensable (anasin). (murcanas)

21. As many notes as there are in sadja and madhyama grama, so many murchanas there are in these two gramas.

22. Uttaramandra, ranjani, and uttarayata as the third murchana, suddhasadja as the fourth one, matsakrita as the fifth one, asvakranta as the sixth one, and abhirudagata as the seventh one: These one should know are the seven murchanas of sadja grama, Appearing according to the regular order of the notes.

24. In madhyama grama: sauviri and harinasva, there is alsp kalopanata, and suddhamadhyama as the fourth one;

25. mandi (or margi), pauravi and hrisyaka. According to the tradition these murchanas may be of five notes, of six notes, complete (purna) and containing overlapping notes (saddharanakrita).

26. One may change gandhara into dhaivata by raising it by two srutis and in the same way, in due order, madhyama and the other notes into nisada, etc.

27. There appear as many murchanas in madhyama grama, as there are murchanas in sadja grama.

28. Having changed dhaivata into gandhara by taking away two srutis, one may make madhyama and the other notes in the same way as has been explained before, murchanas if the sadja grama.

30. The pentatonic and hexatonic murchanas, which have been mentioned before, there eighty four are called tanas by the experts.

31. They are called agnistotma, etc. by Narada and the other experts, because they produce the religious merits of these sacrifices, if they are applied in propitiating the gods.

32. The hexatonic tanas occurring in sadja grama are produced by omission of sadja, risabha, nisada and pancama, in madhyama grama by omission of the three notes, of which gandhara if the last one (i.e. sa, ri, ga).

33. When murchanas of their own gramas are constructed separately, they are fourty nine in number. There are also pentatonic ones.

34. without sa and pa, in the same way without the svaras of two srutis, and without pa and ri are, according to the tradition, the three classes of tanas in sadja grama.

35. without dha and ri, in the same way, without the svaras of two srutis, are the two classes of tanas in madhyama grama. There are traditionally thirty five pentatonic tanas.

38. The murchanas cause by the tensions of the leave the regular order (krama), whether they are complete (purna) or incomplete (apurna) are traditionally known as kutatanas.

42. Next, one should know that the positions, in which there is said to be a sound-pitch (dhvani) of twenty two srutis are sixty six distinct ones for the accomplishment of the lower (mandra) and the other registers.

46. As overlapping (sadharana) may be regarded as a special conception of the note (or interval, svara) and the mode (jati), the first one of these two kinds (of overlapping) exists between the svaras. Kakali ni and antara svara (antara ga) are connected with it.

47. The second one exists between the jatis. Something similar, which is found in jati, in consequence of combination of several jatis, in one grama, this is overlapping (sadharana) of jatis.

48. One can distinguish eighteen jatis. Those of then which are named after the seven notes, are pure (suddha), the remaining ones, originating from a mixture of these (suddha jatis) are modified (vikrita).

49-54 (the author explain combinations of jatis)

55. Initial note (graha, dominant (amsa), high (tara) and low (mandra) registers, hexatonic (sadava) and pentatonic (auduva) in due order, rareness (alpatva0, prevalence (bahutva), final note (nyasa) and secondary final note (apanyasa),

56. this is the tenfold characterization of jati according to class (i.e. according to each jati). The accurate description of these ten (characteristics) will be set forth briefly.

57. There is the initial note (graha), which is the starting note (adisvara) of a song. The high register (tara) is considered to consist of five notes, rising (upwards) from the dominant.

58. it is recommended that in nandayanti jati the limit is not further then the dominant, with the final note as ots limit, or even beyond (i.e. lower than) this one, that is the low register (mandra).

59. hexatonic (sadava) and pentatonic (auduva), respectively, are songs which are based on six or five notes. Rareness (alpatva) and prevalence (bahutva) depend on the rare or frequent use of certain notes.

60. Nyasa if the final note of a song. In the same way, the note which occirs in the middle, that is to say, in a section (vidari), as a final note, is the secondary final note (apanyasa). I will mention them according to the jatis.

62-95 (description of 18 jatis)


  1. Dattila. Dattilam, edited and translated by Mukund Lath, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, New Delhi, 1988
  2. Dattilam. A Compendium of Ancient Indian Music by Emmie Te Nijenhuis, E.J.Brill, Netherlands, 1970