Natalie Savelyeva

Description of grama in ancient and medieval texts on music

Naradiya Shiksha

The musical work "Naradiya Shiksha" (about 2-1 cen BC) is attributed to someone named Narada and the time frame is around Bharatas period. It stresses the importance of Gandhara grama. Some believe that this work might pre-date Bharata who never mentions Gandhara grama.

In Naradiya Shiksha the three gramas are described with their seven murchanas. The author names the three gramas (sadja, madhyama and gandhara) and three sets of seven murchanas belonging to each grama. Those three sets are supposed to please Devas, Pitris and Rishis. Murcanas of Gandhara grama belong to Devas. Naradiya Shiksha names gramas, but not defines them.

Naradiya shiksha is the earliest to mention Gandhara grama with its seven murchanas, but arrangement of the notes is not given in this work.


"Brihaddesi" was written in the 9 cen AD (according to other data in 4-5 cen AD) by Matanga Muni. By his time, the term "raga" to describe modes had become common practice. The phrase "raga" is mentioned for the first time in this work. Matanga follows the work of Bharata very closely. While Bharata concentrates on grama, murcchana, and jati, Matanga deals with ragas as a special subject.

Matanga in Brihaddesi gives definition and meaning of the term "grama". Grama is a collective noun possessing Svaras and Srutis. Matanga compares grama with a village. He says that as the families live together in a village in their respective places according to their positions, the svaras and srutis also stay in a grama according to their positions and order.

The svaras originated from Sama Veda and with the svaras gramas are formed.

Matanga mentions three gramas (including gandhara). But he cites that gandhara grama is mentioned by Narada which is not used by human beings. Matanga recognized Sadja grama and Madhyama grama as two basic gramas. From these gramas he derives sruti (as intervals between the notes), svara, murcchana, tana, jati and raga. Arohana (ascending) and Avarohana (descending) pattern of svaras, according to Matanga, formed murchana of a raga. Murcchana, in effect, describes the string of notes that, with further embellishments, constitutes the core of a raga. He declares that murchana is ascent, and tana is descent.

He also defines the term "grama ragas" (like janaka ragas today) and their derivatives (like janya ragas today).

Bharata Bhashyam

Nanya Bhupala in his "Bharata Bhashyam" (9-10 cen AD) defines grama and discusses the three gramas with their notes in detail. He says that different gramas are formed according to the distribution of srutis to particular notes, i.e. in Sadja grama the sruti divisions are normal, in Madhyama grama pancama loses one sruti and dhaivata gets one sruti. In gandhara grama ga gets two more srutis. Nanya Bhupala has elaborated Gandhara grama and named the ragas based on it. Svaramandala of all three gramas of Bharata Bhashyam presents a clear picture of gandhara grama and its sruti definitions.

Sadja grama

Place of srutis 4 7 9 13 17 20 22
Notes sa ri ga ma pa dha ni
Sruti 4 3 2 4 4 3 2

Consonants: sa-ma, sa-pa, ri-dha, ga-ni, ma-ni

Madhyama grama

Place of srutis 13 16 20 22 4 7 9
Notes ma pa dha ni sa ri ga
Sruti 4 3 4 2 4 3 2

Consonants: sa-ma, ri-pa, ri-dha, ga-ni

Gandhara grama

Place of srutis 9 12 15 18 22 3 5
Notes ga ma pa dha ni sa ri
Sruti 4 3 3 3 4 3 2

Consonants: ri-dha, sa-ma, ga-dha, ga-ni

Nanya Bhupala is a strong supporter of gandhara gramas existence on the earth. He has based many ragas on gandhara grama.

His seven names of murchana of gandhara gramas are lifted from Naradiya Shiksha (with only one difference, Vala instead of Alapa).

Nanya Bhupala mentions that gandhara grama is prescribed by Agamas, thus connects it with tantric cult.

Nanya Bhupala gives murchanas and tanas of Gandhara grama and names of Ragas based on Gandhara grama.

Nanya Bhupala links three gramas with main Vedic notes, Svarita, Udatta and Anudatta.

  • Sadja grama ->Anudatta
  • Madhyama grama ->Svarita
  • Gandhara grama -> Udatta

Sangita Makaranda

The first author to describe Gandhara grama is supposed to be Narada of "Sangita Makaranda" (about 11 cen AD). He gives definition of gandhara grama, describes its tonal arrangements and the names of murchanas in eight slokas (49-56). He also comments that it is supposed to be used in the heaven only. From Sangita Makaranda onwards, the description of Gandhara grama is included.

In the description of sadja and madhyama gramas Narada follows the general order accepted by all, i.e. sadja grama (4,3,2,4,4,3,2 srutis); madhyama grama (4,3,2,4,3,4,2 srutis). Narada also confirms that in sadja grama, sadja is in consonance with both madhyama and pancama. In the same way, in madhyama grama pancama is the consonant to dhaivata and rishabha. Narada again mentions that pancama has only three srutis, while dhaivata of madhyama grama gains one sruti and has four srutis.

Gandhara grama is not defined clearly, through the arrangements of the notes is given and the same is reproduced by Saringadeva in Sangitaratnakara. According to Narada, sa and ma has four srutis, and dha three srutis. He takes one sruti from ri amd ma each and allocates them to ga, which normally has two srutis only. Thus, ri has two srutis, ma has three srutis, ga has four srutis. Narada says that ni takes one sruti from pa, which has four srutis. Sa has only three srutis.

Narada in Sangita Makaranda explains that sadja is the first important note holding more ministers (samvadi notes), hence it gets a grama on its name. Madhyama is a note which cannot ne omitted in any grama, so it also holds a grama. About ga he says that it is born in heaven, used by divine beings, thus indisputable.

He also names Brahma, Visnu and Maheswara as the deities of sadja, madhyama and gandhara gramas respectively. These deities are accepted by Matanga, Nanya Bhupala and Saringadeva as well.

The seasons allotted to gramas are Hemanta (winter), Grishma (summer) and Varsha (rainy). Forenoon, midday and afternoon are respective times for using gramas.

Arrangement of notes according to Sangita Makaranda looks as follows:

Sadja grama

Svara sa ri ga ma pa dha ni
Sruti 4 3 2 4 4 3 2

Madhyama grama

Svara ma ga ri sa ni dha pa
Sruti 4 2 3 4 2 4 3

Gandhara grama

Svara ga ma pa dha ni sa ri
Sruti 4 3 3 3 4 3 2

Madhyama in descending order represent Vedic scale.

Narada of Sangita Marakanda gives the following names of gandhara grama murchanas:

Nanda, Vishala, Sumukhi, Chitta, Chitravati, Shubha, Alapa.

The sixth murchana (Shubha) is named as Sukha by Narada and Nanya Bhupala.


Saringadeva in "Sangitaratnakara" (13 cen AD) gives the same definition of Narada of Sangita Makaranda. Saringadeva describes only two gramas and quotes Narada while describing gandhara grama, its notes and the names of murchanas.

The discussion of svara includes nada, svara, grama, murchana, tana, svara prastara, varna alamkara, and jati. Details are given about shuddha svara, sadja and madhyama grama, murchanas, shuddha tana, gamaka, and so forth.

The terminology of twenty-two shrutis, grama, murchana, tana and alamkara has all been preserved, but it takes a more advanced form than similar terminology found in earlier manuscripts. While the framework of raga, as we know it today, was not understood at the time of Saringadeva, both Brihaddesi and Sangitaratnakara laid down the foundations for raga creation based on grama murchana.


Bharata Muni in his Natya Sastra does not even mention the name of gandhara grama. Dattila mentions gandhara grama. Matanga also follow Dattila. Both quote Narada and say that it is not practiced on the earth.

Therefore, Narada of "Naradiya Shiksha, Narada of "Sangita Makaranda", Nanya Bhupala are the authors who describe Gandhara grama. Saringadeva does not add anything original to the description of gandhara grama provided by Narada.

Three gramas are mentioned in Puranas (Vayu, Markandeya, Agni).

Nearly all authors say that gandhara grama became extinct or unused because of its high pitch and tunelessness. Thus, Gandhara grama disappeared first.

Madhyama grama flourished during Vedic period, for the Vedic scale was supposed to start with the note ma in descending order.

Probably, sadja grama was used in post-vedic period in Loukika and Gandharva music as well.

Bharata, Dattila, Matanga and Saringadeva accept only fourteen murchanas for sadja and madhyama gramas. Saringadeva quotes Narada regarding seven murchanas of gandhara grama.

Only Nanya Bhupala and Saringadeva mention the names of gandhara grama murchanas. Saringadeva quotes Narada as authority on gandhara grama.

Majority of authors defines murchanas as having seven notes, in ascending and descending order.

Matanga proposes murchanas of twelve notes, seven usual plus five notes in tara saptaka in order to expand raga, because seven notes cannot produce an effective and perfect picture of raga, its form in lower or upper register.