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Abhinavabharati (Abhinavagupta’s Commentary on Bharata’s Natyasastra Chapter-XXVIII: English Translation with Historical Critical Explanations) : An Old and Rare Book

Item Code: NAK619
Author: Anupa Pande
Language: English
Edition: 1997
Pages: 194
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
Weight 320 gm
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About the Book


The Natyasastra of Bharata is the most ancient and authoritative work on the performing arts in the Indian tradition. Its sole surviving commentary is the Abhinavabharati of Abhinavagupta, the most celebrated Kashmiri Master of Saiva Philosophy, aesthetics and criticism. The Commentary is a mine of information but has remained untranslated sofar. The present work translates and annotates the central musicological portion of this text with a long critical introduction. It presents the basic musicology of Bharata elucidated by Abhinavagupta in its historical and cultural setting. The work would be of interest to students and scholars of ancient Indian music, art, aesthetics and cultural history.


About the Author


Dr. Anupa Pande is a gold medallist in M.A. from Advanced Centre of Ancient History, Culture & Archaeology, University of Allahabad, from where she also obtained her D.Phil. She is a good Sanskritist and proficient in Indian music. She has also got the degrees of Sangita Prabhakar (B.Mus.) and Diploma in the Chinese language. She has published about dozen Research Papers in reputed national and international journals and also two research works- A Historical and Cultural Study of the Natyasastra of Bharata (Jodhpur, 1991), The Natyasastra Tradition and Ancient Indian Society (Jodhpur, 1993). She has delivered lectures in various Universities and Museums, in India and abroad. She has been engaged in teaching for the past 14 years in the University of Allahabad and the National Museum Institute, New Delhi. She is currently engaged in teaching as U.G.C. Research Scientist (Reader) in the Department of Art-History in the National Museum Institute (National Museum), New Delhi, India.




That the Natyasastra of Bharata is the most important single text on the performing arts in the Indian tradition, will perhaps not be disputed. Nevertheless, it is a regrettable fact that this text has not received as much critical attention at the hands of modem scholars, especially historians, as it deserves. One reason for this is that the text bristles with technicalities which can only be understood properly with the help of traditional explanations. Unfortunately, of the several ancient commentaries on the Natyasastra the only one which survives apart from the fragmentary Manubhasya of Nanyadeva, more or less fully is the Abhinavabharati of Abhinavagupta. The commentary of Abhinavagupta, too, has not been fully translated or explicated. Much of the effort in this task has been directed towards giving an account of dramaturgy. The Natyasastra chapters on music, in particular, remain largely unattended.


The present work takes up for translation and critical explanation the 28th Chapter of the Natyasastra along with Abhinava's commentary on it. This chapter contains the principal part of the musicology of Bharata and Abhinava 's commentary is our sole guide to it. The commentary, thus, is of seminal importance for the understanding of the classical foundations of Indian music. The difficulties of the task are as great as its importance. The text of Abhinavabharati is corrupt and defective in some places*. An example is provided by the verses which Abhinava quotes about calculating the nasta and uddista of the tanas. The text as given here does not enable us to reach the formula in question. The paucity of manuscript resources has made the task of its editors extremely difficult. At places the construing of the text manifestly calls for some emandation. Otherwise too, Abhinava uses a highly technical language and sometimes alludes to philosophical principles. It is only the combined resources of the understanding of Sanskrit, musicology, philosophy and critical history which can unlock the treasurehouse of the Abhinavabharati, It is for the scholarly reader to judge how far the present author has succeeded in this attempt. I would also crave his indulgence for the inevitable shortcomings of a first effort.


I must express my gratefulness to the UGC for enabling me to complete this work as part of my project as Research Scientist. I am also grateful to the authorities of the Institute of Art History, Conservation & Museology of the National Museum, New Delhi where I am based as UGC Research Scientist. It is impossible for me to acknowledge in detail my indebtedness to the numerous scholars from whose works and advice I have profited but I have made detailed allusion to the works which I have actually utilized.


Words fail to express my gratitude towards my parents Mrs. Sudha Pande and Prof. G. C. Pande without whose intellectual and moral support this work would not have seen the light of print. I also thank my mother- in-law Mrs. Brajangana Pande for all her encourgement. At the end I must thank my husband, Sri D.P. Pande, and my son Anshuman who have always been so understanding and helpful. I am also beholden to my publisher Sri Rakesh Tiwari for bringing out this volume.




Abhinavagupta is generally believed to have lived in Kashmir in the second half of the 10th and first half of the 11th century A.D. This is inferred from the fact that his Kramastotra was composed in the year 661 of the Saptarsi year which is said to have begun 25 years after the beginning of the Kali era. This would correspond to A.D. 990-1. His 'Isvarapratyabhijna-brhativimarsini gives the date of its composition as the year 4115 of the Kali era which corresponds to A.D. 1014. If we suppose that he was twenty-five when his literary activities began and that he continued for a few more years after the Brhati, his dates would range between c. 965 to 1025 A.D.


The line of Parvaragupta and later of the Loharas ruled Kashmir at that time. Didda exercised power till A.D. 1003 and then came Sangramaraja who founded the Lohara dynasty. The invasion of Mahmud Ghaznavi occurred during the lifetime of Abhinava but although the Shahis of Udabhandpura fell to the Turkish invader, the Kingdom of Sangramaraja escaped destruction. The family of Abhinava had come to Kashmir about two centuries earlier when the famous scholar Atrigupta who belonged to the Antarvedi was brought there by the great Kashmiri ruler Lalitaditya Muktapida. Abhinavagupta himself describes his ancestry in his Paratrimsika vyakhya and the Tantraloka. In the lineage of Atrigupta lived Varahagupta whose son Narasimhagupta was known as Cukhulaka popularly. He was the father of Abhinava. Vimala was the name of his mother.


Abhinavagupta was reputed to be a precocious student at school. His father introduced him to the mysteries of grammar. He studied the Saiva Agamas from the son of Bhutiraja and Laksmanagupta, Natyasastra and literary criticism from Bhatta Tauta and Induraja, Tantra from Sambhunatha. In fact, he wandered outside Kashmir also in search of learning and studied at the feet of many masters. He studied heterodox philosophies also - nastikarhatabauddhadi - which is a point of considerable importance.


As his mother died while he was still a child and his father later renounced the world, Abhinava was at first drawn strongly to the pursuit of literature and the fine arts but was subsequently drawn to the devotion of Siva and ultimately became a famous Master and Adept. He did not marry and had no wife or child.


We do not have many biographical details of Abhinava but his numerous works and the references to him in the works of others give some idea of his personality and achievements. He was a versatile scholar, poet, critic and musician, saint and philosopher. He collected and expounded the Saiva Agamic traditions of Kashmir, gave them a systematic philosophical form, revived and elucidated the Natyasastra tradition of the performing arts, dance, drama and music, developed the doctrines of Dhvani and Rasa in the light of the philosophy of Kashmir Saivism and thus laid the foundations of a truly original-Indian aesthetics. His Tantraloka, Isvarapratyabhijna-vimarsini, Dhvanyaloka and Abhinavabharati remain perennially admired and universal classics.


It has been pointed out that there is a wonderful penportrait of Abhinavagupta in some ancient verses of his pupil Madhuraja Yogin." There, Abhinavagupta is described as seated on a golden seat in a vine-grove (draksarama) inside a crystalline pavilion adorned by pictures, perfumed by flower-garlands, incense and sandal paste and illuminated by lamps, constantly resounding with music and dance and surrounded by bands of Yoginis and Siddhas. At his feet sat his disciples Ksemaraja and others attentively writing down his words. On the two sides stood two Didis bearing in their hands a jar of Sivarasa, betel-box, citron and blue lotus. His eyes were tremulous with ecstasy, a clear tilaka of ashes marked his forehead, rudraksa adorned his ears, his hair was tied with a garland, and he had a flowing beard. He had a rosy hue, his neck was besmeared with Yaksa-panka, his sacred thread was long and loose, he wore a white silk cloth and was seated in the yogic posture called vira.


His right hand rested on his knee and carried a rosary, his left hand played on the nada-vina. He was verily the incarnation of lord Srikantha in Kasmira. This pen-picture highlights the image of Abhinavagupta as a Tantrika and Yogi, teacher and artist.


The chronological order of the works of Abhinava has been discussed by several scholars. His encyclopaedic Tantraloka appears to a relatively earlier work which has been referred to in his Dhvanyaloka-locana as well as Isvarapratyabhijna-vimarsini The Brhati-vimarsini was composed in 1014 A.D. and the Isvarapratyabhijna-vimarsini followed it. Abhinavabharati refers to the Dhvanyoloka-locana Thus,' the first phase of his writings appears to be of Tantric works like Sritantraloka and Tantrasara. The great philosophical works came towards the end. The aesthetic works could be of the same age or earlier. Whatever the precise chronological position of Locana or Abhinavabharati, there is no doubt that they presuppose some of the major philosophical ideas of Kasmira Saivism. The notions of Sabda, Nada and Natya, Dhvani and Rasa acquire in Abhinavagupta a characteristic depth on account of their suggestive reverberations within the grand philosophical universe he helped to systematise and elaborate. In fact, it could be said without exaggeration that Indian philosophical thinking reached its highest peak in the writings of Abhinava. His practical and theoretical interest in the arts led him to lay down the abiding foundations of a truly Indian aesthetic.


Kasmira had been the home of learning and philosophy since at least the Gupta age. According to one' tradition the ecumenical council convened by Kaniska was held in Kundalavana vihara in Kasmira. In any case, Buddhist schools flourished there. This is attested by archaeological evidence as well as by the evidence of travellers like Hsuan Chwang and Ou-Kong. Kasmira lay on some of the routes joining India to Central Asia, Tibet and China. Students and pilgrims, Buddhist and Brahmanical, Indian and foreign, gathered there to study from celebrated Masters. There was, as a result, much interaction of thought, which in any case was taking place on a wider scale and the intellectual life of Kasmira was not isolated. Vedanta had presumably influenced Mahayana and was in turn influenced by it as is shown by the example of Gaudapada. Bhartrhari influenced the orthodox and the heterodox alike. Sankhya-yoga and Sarvastivada have many points of common interest. Nyaya and Buddhist logic helped each other by mutual criticism. Tantricism was a common tendency shared by the Buddhists and the Saivas and Saktas alike.

Kasmira Saivism owed its origin not only to the multiplestreamed Agamic- Tantric traditions but also to a mixed philosophical heritage derived from Sankhya-yoga, Nyaya, Vedanta and Buddhism. The dualistic Agamas could be connected with the Pasupatas who had a dualistic- theistic orientation and were allied with the Nyaya- Vaisesika. The Sankhya-yoga with its theory of manifestation and essences influenced Sarvastivada as well as the Agamas. Mahayana and Vedanta influenced the understanding of non-dualistic Agamas. A diversity of Tantric as well as philosophical traditions, thus, underlies Kasmira Saivism.


The beginnings of Saivism have been traced back to Mohenjodaro. Rudra was an important Vedic deity who has been surmised by some scholars to have been apotropaic. The Svetasvataropanisad gives us the first formulation of Saiva philosophy in which the connection with Sankhya- yoga is clear. The Mahabharata mentions the Pasupata as one of the five main schools current then. 18 Archaeological evidence of Siva worship surfaces in the Sunga-Satavahana period and is fully supported by literary evidence. 19 Thus, Patanjali mentions the worship of Siva as Bhagavan. Lakulisa the traditional founder of the Pasupata sect has been placed about the same time, a supposition which could be consistent with the evidence of the Mathura Pillar Inscription of the time of Candra- gupta II


It may be recalled that several ancient authorities refer to a fourfold division of the Saivas or Mahesvaras viz., Saiva, Pasupata, Karunika- Siddhantins, and Kapalikas. Of these not much is known about the last two. The Pasupatas were an ancient sect The Vedantasutras mention the dualistic-theistic theories of the pasupatas. Pasupatasutras, Kaundinya's Pancartha-bhasya on them and Bhasarvajna's Gana- Karika remain the main sources of Pasupata beliefs and practices.


The Saiva Siddhanta of the south was also dualistic but relied on an Agamic tradition which ultimately formed the basis of the composition of Tamilian saints in the 7th century and after. Like the Pasupatas, the Saiva-siddhantins believe in the absolute freedom of Siva and the dependence of the Jiva, but their relationship which ultimately may attain to sayujya is to be distinguished from bheda, abheda and bheddbheda. It is through grace and worship that the Jiva may reach this ultimate stage. The twenty-five tattvas of the Sankhya are elaborated to thirty-six in this system.


In contrast with these schools, the school of Kasmira Saivism which Abhinavagupta espoused was non-dualistic. According to a tradition quoted by him there were three original varities of the Tantra named after Rudra, Siva and Bhairava representing the points of view of bheda, bhedabheda and abheda. There are supposed to have been eighteen dualistic Raudra Agamas of which different lists with a similar core are found in different sources. Similarly there are lists of ten Saiva Agamas and sixty-four Bhairava Agamas. The actual number of surviving Agamic works is very large but which of them may be regarded as ancient and authentic is still a matter for historical and critical research. Surviving Tantras like Mrgendra or Svacchanda are, however, held in high regard. Abhinavagupta's Sritantraloka is a voluminous and encyclopaedic but clear and systematic expression of the tantric lore.


The words 'Tantra' and 'Agama' have been variously understood. Literally, Agama is tradition but it is usual to regard it as more or less an esoteric and ritualistic tradition of spiritual knowledge, distinct from the Vedas, but claiming authority as the words of the supreme deity. Although the Vedas are also called Agama and so are the Buddhist and Jaina canonical traditions, this more restricted use of the word to signify the tradition of Tantric texts especially of the Saivas and the Saktas is common. These traditions believe that spiritual knowledge is transmitted by God through the Word which in its essence is nothing but the self-affirming power of consciousness. Abhinava avers that there is really only one Agama.


Ritualism, too, has many levels in Tantra, culminating in the self- realization of consciousness. The founder of the Saiva tradition in the Kali age is said to have been Srikantha who is nothing but another name of Siva although some scholars regard him as a historical figure. At his behest three siddhas descended on earth. They were called Tryambaka, Amar- daka and Srinatha. They founded the Advaita, Dvaita and Dvaitadvaita schools of Saiva Agamas. In the line of Tryambaka, the nineteenth was Somananda who was a historical figure and was a great grand teacher of Abhinavagupta. Since the succession from Tryambaka was through his daughter, this school was know as Ardhatryambaka' It has been suggested that if Somananda belonged to the 9th century, Tryambaka who preceded him by 19 generations should have belonged to the 4th century A.D., which would be the date for the introduction of the Saiva Agamas in Kasmira As a generation of 25 years in vidya-sampradaya is over- conservative, this introduction could have taken place a century earlier. If Srikantha is to be regarded as a historical figure how early he should be placed cannot be determined.


This Ardhatryambaka tradition of non-dualistic Saivism in Kasmira has also been called the Fourth School (Turyakhya). It was apparently connected with the Tantrika Kula or Kaula tradition because Abhinava's Kaula teacher Sambhun7i.tha belonged to the spiritual lineage of Somananda through Sumatmatha. Now it is interesting to note that the founder of the Fourth Tradition is described as Macchanda or Mina who arose in Kamarupa. Thus Somananda was apparently an heir to two distinct but interconnected traditions, an Agamic one descending from Srikantha through Tryambaka, another more esoteric from Kamarapa through Macchanda who is a well-known legendary name in the tradition of the Siddhas and could not have been very far removed in time from Somananda. Presumably Somananda's fourth ancestor Sangamaditya brought with him the Kamarapa Tradition to Kasmira.


Somananda, the author of Sivadrsi, is regarded as the arch- philosopher of the Pratyabhijna branch of non-dualistic Saiva philosophy of Kasmira. A closely allied branch of the same philosophical system was called the Spanda branch which was founded by Vasugupta, a siddha who was the contemporary of Avantivarman. Vasugupta is said to have been divinely inspired to discover the Sivasutras inscribed on a rock in Mahadevagiri. Kallata developed the system further.


Abhinavagupta was heir to the Pratyabhijna school of Somananda through Utpala and Laksmanagupta, and to the Spanda branch through Kallata, Mukula and Bhattenduraja, He had been initiated in the Kaula tradition by Sambhunatha and learned the Krama system from Laksmanagupta and Bhutiraja, Kasmira Saivism as a non-dualistic system of theory and practice, thus, comprised several branches with subtle distinctions. These branches are called nayas or perspectives of under- standing and acting. -Kula and Krama, Spanda and Pratyabhijna indicate the different nayas current within the Saiva tradition to which Abhina vagupta belonged. The expression Trika is sometime used for the last two as a unified philosophical system and spiritual way. Trika is also called Sadardha and is explained as the unity of Para, Apara and Para para, or of Nara, Sakti and Siva. The knowledge of trika is the same as Pratyabhijna. The real distinction between these different nayas is one of approach or choice of Upaya. Kramanaya, also called Kalinaya or Mahanaya emphasizes Saktopaya and its ritual was centered in psychic practices. Kula-naya emphasizes Sambhavopaya and disparages ritual. Trika has a broader perspective and neither enjoins nor rejects ritual.


The philosophy of Kasmira Saivism as developed by Abhinavagupta constitutes a monumental synthesis of diverse earlier traditions. This is not to run down its integral unity, originality or consistency but to emphasize its comprehensive richness. It would be a mistake to think of it as an isolated Kasmira phenomenon, for Kasmira was then an important centre for visiting scholars and pilgrims not only from all over India but from Central Asia and even the Far East.















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