Dattilam (An Old and Rare Book)

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Item Code: NAC077
Author: Mukund Lath
Publisher: Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Language: Sanskrit Text with English Translation
Edition: 1988
ISBN: 8120805860
Pages: 250
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.8 Inch X 7.5 Inch
Weight 980 gm

Book Description

From the Jacket

The Dattilam is a remarkable treatise from the earliest known period of organized, systematic writing on music in India. The work can be placed in the same period as the Natyasastra (the beginning of the Christian era) and it presents to us a well-developed sastra, composed at the end of a long tradition of analytic thinking on music.

It is devoted to the description of gandharva, a sacred corpus of music, derived from the still more ancient sama, sacred Vedic form. Gandharva was also the parent of later forms from which our own present forms have descended. But the importance of the Dattilam is not a merely historical on. It articulates a framework and approach in musicology with which our understanding of musical forms is still impregnated.

The present edition of the Dattilam contains the text with variant readings an English translation facing the original and a commentary on the text to facilitate its comprehension.

Dr. Mukund Lath was born in Calcutta in 1937. He is a historian teaching in the Department of History and Indian Culture in the University of Rajasthan, Jaipur. He has had an interest in music since his childhood and is a disciple of Pandit Jasraj. He is equally interested in the theory and history of Indian music and his A Study of Dattilam (1978) has been widely acclaimed among musicologists and scholars all over the world. His other works include an English translation of the Kalpasutra, the traditional biography of Tirthankara Mahavira and a study and translation of the Ardha-Kathanaka, published under the title Half a Tale. This is an autobiography in Hindi written by a Jain merchant and religious rebel in mid-17th century.


The Kala Koa Division of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts is its principal research and publication division. It will concentrate on the theoretical and textual tradition of intellectual discourse in the Indian artistic tradition. A. distinctively Indian inter-disciplinary system where the textual and the oral, the verbal and the visual, the sacred and the mundane, the scientific and the metaphysical, the transcendental and the functional were interlocked as parts of a whole is recognized, but its concept, structure and processes are often difficult to identify. The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts aims to comprehend the arts, within the context of Indian world view, notions of space-time and interconnections at the level of theory and practice.

Emerging logically out, of this perception are the four long range programmes of this division, namely, (i) Kalatattvakosa — a lexicon of fundamental concepts and glossaries of technical terms; (ii) Kalamulasastra — Series of fundamental texts basic to the Indian artistic traditions as also primary texts specific to particular arts; (iii) Publications, reprints, translation of works of critical scholarship such as those of Mr. AK. Coomaraswamy; (iv) Encyclopaedia of the Arts — A multi-disciplinary, multi-volume Encyclopaedia of the Arts.

The Kalatattvakoga is the first of these programmes, complex, intricate in nature, hut essential as a first prerequisite to identify fundamentals of a rare holistic system.

The Ka1ãrnñ1aãstra is the second programme here critical editions of originals and translations of fundamental texts relating to the Indian Arts ranging from architecture, sculpture, painting to theatre, music, dance along with their scientific and technical commentaries will be undertaken. Attention in each of these volumes will he on the text unencumbered with the weight of some later obtuse commentaries and interpretations of a secondary nature. This series seeks to place the text in as exact a manner as is possible by considering all primary material available in any part of the world. In each case, microfilm and microfiche of the manuscript has been obtained and made available to the editor for collation and editing. It is hoped that a new methodology of critically editing and collating text will be established through the publication of the series.

Matralaksana is the first volume and Dattilam is the second. The value and importance of the latter is the first text which deals with music has long been acknowledged. Late Dr. V.Raghavan has written about it and Mrs. Nijenhuis published a volume in 1970 with a Roman transliteration and translation meant chiefly for a western audience. The short crisp text discovered almost by accident and edited for the first time by that great Pandit K. Sambasiva Sastri in Trivandrum stimulated discussion on various planes. Some scholars have argued that the text as found by Sastri is a mere fragment of a much larger treatise. Others are of the opinion that it stands as a whole in its pithy brevity. Comparison with the Natyasastra is inescapable. Many scholars have debated as to definitions of primary categories. Besides, the text of Dattilam initiates a distinctive stream of theoretical discussion on music. Without resolving controversies, it is clear that from the earliest times, there was recognition and acceptance of divergent theoretical positions. This fact is often overlooked when deductions are erronously made on an unchanging tradition of the Indian arts. The text acquires great significance when viewed in the context of later developments of musical systems.

Dr. Mnkund Lath has studied the text closely, analysing and interpreting it in detail. In 1978, he had published the work entitled “A Study of Dattilam: A Treatise on the Sacred Music of Ancient India” (published by Impex India, New Delhi) based on his Ph.D. thesis. Although the text was included in this work, the interpretation of the terms was elaborated upon. In keeping with the plan and programme of the Kalamulasastra series of the IGNCA, in this volume, Dr. Mukund Lath has restricted himself to the presentation of the original text and its translation with a commentary.

The publication of this volume will, it is hoped, be welcomed by scholars not only of music hut also of the other related arts.

The IGNCA is grateful to Dr. Mukund Lath for having agreed to critically edit, retranslate this text for publication in the IGNCA’s Kalamulasastra series as also research and publication staff of the IGNCA, namely, Dr. C.R. Swaminathan, Dr. C.B. Pandey and Dr. Usha Bansal for help in ensuring that the volume is printed against exacting time schedules. Thanks are also due to M/s Impex India, especially Shri Sita Ram Goel who first published A Study of Dattilam and who kindly gave permission to reproduce the relevant parts of the book.


The story of the discovery, or rather the recovery, of the Dattilam is quite a dramatic one. The text has been well-known and well-studied in the tradition of musicological literature for centuries as numerous references to it and quotations from it reveal, And yet a modern scholar looking for it would have been disappointed: evidently, for the last four or five centuries the text did not receive attention, Hence it was no longer preserved through the process of copying without which texts have rarely survived in India. Kerala seems to have been the one exception. Many ancient sangita texts, lost elsewhere, were preserved there through copying. But there, too, the tradition seems to have decayed sharply by the 18th or early 19th centuries. Yet there were some families and libraries where copies of ancient sangita texts did survive. These found their way into the various manuscript collections made by 2ealous scholars during our own century. One such collection was sponsored by the royal family of Travancore, which also arranged to have many texts published, in a series named the Anantasayana Samskrta Granthavali, more familiarly known as the Trivandrum Sanskrit Series.

One of the editors of the series, a scholar who also worked as the curator of the royal manuscript collection, was K. Sambava Sastri. He was interested in sangita and sangita texts. In 1925 he edited and published the Sangita samayasara on the basis of the one manuscript of the work he was able to obtain. Tucked away at the end of this manuscript was a transcript of the Dattilam, the only known copy of the work that has come to light. This single known manuscript of the work, too, might have been lost, hut for a lucky chance and the perceptive eyes of Pandit Sambasiva Sastri. Let us quote the story of its discovery in his own words:

“The discovery of the manuscript on which the edition of this work is based is rather interesting. A few years ago, when I was ransacking the miscellaneous papers accumulated in a corner of my office, I came across a paper transcript of Dattila tacked on to the end of the manuscript of Sangita samayasara already published by this department. It was found almost neglected and left out to the care of insects, and I congratulated myself for having rescued it from impending disaster”, (Datt. English Introduction, p.3)

The manuscript which Sambasiva Sastri had so luckily discovered seems now to have been irretrievably lost, It is not recorded in the catalogue of the Trivandrum collection (phb.1957). The New Catalogus Catalagorum records it, but this record is based on information from Sambasiva Sastri’s Introduction to his edition of the Dattilam and is not reliable concerning the present location of the manuscript.

In a footnote on page 4 of his Sanskrit Introduction to the Dattilam, Sastri says that the manuscript of the Sangita Samaya Sara was written in the Malayalam script and was ‘about two or three hundred years old. The same, he adds, was true of the manuscript of the Dattilam.

The publication of Dattilam created some excitement and drew the attention of scholars of music to the text. There was, naturally, considerable scepticism regarding the authenticity and even the completeness of the work. But the interest in it continued and in recent years two major studies of the work have been published. Both include the text and an annotated translation of the text. The first of these was published in 1970. It was authored by E. Wiesma Te Nijenhuis, a Dutch scholar and was entitled Dattilam: A Compendium of Ancient Indian Music It was published by EJ. Brill in Leiden, Subsequently, in 1978, another work on the Dattilam was published; it was entitled, A Study of Dattilam: A Treatise on the Sacred Music of Ancient India. This work, too, included the text and an annotated translation of it. It was authored by the writer of these lines and published by impex India, New Delhi.

I had in this earlier edition of the Dattilam, attempted to establish both the authenticity of the text and the fact that we have it in a complete form. This earlier edition also contained a detailed study of the text made in the larger perspective of the history of Indian music and the long tradition of sangita texts. I would like to refer the readers interested in these matters to this earlier publication.

The present publication is an attempt to project and highlight Dattilam as a text. It is part of a larger scheme which intends to present other important sangita texts, as well as texts from the flew of the other arts, in a similar form with a similar intent. The text is printed in Devanagari with a revised translation facing it for ready reference. A pathavimarsa, discussing text critical issues, follows. There is also a commentary on the text, drawn, for the most part, from the earlier edition. It has been included to facilitate an understanding of the text, for the Dattilam like many ancient sastric texts, is written in a dense, aphoristic style. It demands a commentary. Commentaries, evidently, were written on it but these do not survive. My own commentary is a modern commentary designed to fill this lacuna and aimed at a modern readership. There are two anukramanikas: a padanukramanika, that is, pada index, containing the first par/a of all the verses, for a ready reference to the text; and more importantly, also a padanukramanika, a pada index, listing par/as alphabetically, an essential tool for an in-depth study of a text both in itself and in relation to other texts not only in sangita or in the other arts but also in the sastric tradition as a whole.

Although I refer the readers to my earlier study of the Dattilam for questions concerning the text in a historical and comparative perspective, yet, I would like to very briefly summaries some of its conclusions here, for these would help to place the text in its context and provide some background to its understanding.

It is clear from the text itself that it was written in a fairly long and sophisticated sastric tradition of writing on gandharva Dattila assumes a series of purvacaryas, preceding masters, and specifically names three Narada, Kohala and Visakhila, their works on gandharva do not survive, though some stray quotations from them do. Fortunately, however, one ancient work, parallel to the Dattilam does survive. This forms chapters 28-31 of the Natyasastra (G.O.S. edition). A masterly commentary on it, by the famous Abhinavagupta (10th. 11th centuries AD) also survives. This commentary is an essential guide to the understanding of the Natyasastra, and, consequently, also the Dattilam.

Gandharva, the subject-matter of Dattilam, can be a confusing term. For gandharva stands for ‘music’- all music. But the gandharva Dattila speaks of was a specific body of music, a sacred form. It was conceived as akin to a musical yajna, and like a yajna, it could result in transcendental merit (adrsta) leading to svarga. This is clear from Abhinava’s detailed comments on gandharva where he seeks to dispel the possibility of a confusion regarding the meaning of gandharva Our earlier study of the Dattilam devotes a large section to Abhinava’s discussion, a perusal of which may be fruitful for a greater in-depth understanding of the Dattilam.

The section of the Natyasastra which is devoted to gandharva has a text more detailed and voluminous than the Dattilam, hut it is at the same time less schematically and logically organised. Much of the Natyasastra is a collection from other sources. We do not know the source or sources on which the section on gandharva draws. This section of the Natyasastra, like all its sections dealing with independent sastric disciplines, bears the stamp of the text’s basic plan and purpose: the description of ancient Indian theatre. Gandharva in ancient theatre served two distinct purposes, which to use Abhinava’s language, can be called its viniyogas, its uses in the theatre. One use of gandharva in ancient theatre was its employ as part of the purvaranga, the ritual prologue to the play proper. This prologue, though basically serving a sacred function, yet consisted of music and dance. Gandharva being sacred music, was appropriately given a prominent part in it. The other use of gandharva was more indirect and yet in a sense more central to Bharata’s purpose. Music, especially song, was integral to the theatre as conceived in the Natyasastra. Theatric songs were known as dhurva and theatric music in general, gana Dhurva and gana were largely derived from gandharva and Bharata, in chapter 32 gives us rules and maxims by which gandharva could be transformed to become more ‘programmatic’ in character, or to use Abhinava’s expressive phrase, become uparanjaka to the larger theatric whole.

The gandharva section of the Natyasastra differs from the Dattilam in other ways, too, ways which pertain to the sastra itself, its plan and exposition. The two texts are parallel yet distinct texts which share an identical subject matter. For a modern student of the sastra, each is a help to understand the other, as our commentary repeatedly reveals.

Later sangita texts, too, include sections on gandharva in the sense that Dattila and Bharata use the term, though gandharva as a form had perhaps not survived beyond the days of Abhinavagupta. These later texts reproduce or paraphrase much ancient material and are an invaluable help to the understanding of the Dattilam. Of these later texts those we have more profusely used in our commentary are the Brhaddesi (circa 7-8th centuries A.D.), Bharata Bhasya of Nanyabhupala (12th century A.D.), the Sangitasamayasara of Parsvadeva, the Sangitaratnakara of Sarngadeva (both of the 13th century A.D.) and the Sangitaraja of Rana Kumbha (15th century A.D.).

Comparing Dattilam with the Natyasastra also provides a clue to the relative dating of the Dattilam. The Dattilam, as a text, is quite independent of the Natyasastra this we have shown in detail in our earlier study. It also comes out clearly enough in the commentary. What this implies, we think, is that the Dattilam canot post-date the Natyasastra by any significant margin. It should belong to a period prior to the times when Natyasastra was accepted as an almost canonic text. It could, however, pre-date the Natyasastra, though this is arguably unlikely since the Dattilam comes towards the end of a long tradition of sastric writing on gandharva. Perhaps, the Dattilam was composed at about the same time as the Natyasastra this, however, does not really give us any secure date since the date of the Natyasastra is itself a matter of speculation. All we can say perhaps is that it was composed before the Gupta period. A more specific dating remains conjectural, though man)’ scholars have placed the text between the 1st century B.C. and the 1st or 2nd centuries AD. The Dattilam, perhaps, should be placed in the same time-bracket.

The fact that the text is ancient is also testified by the great esteem in which it was held in the sangita tradition. Many texts quote it or incorporate passages from it. The earliest text which does both is the Brhaddesi, which though of uncertain date is generally placed in the 7th or 8th centuries AD. Indeed, of the 487 lines in the Dattilam (2431/2 verses), more than 200 lines occur in other texts, 92 of these are quoted with an explicit acknowledgement of Dattila as the source. 10 are quoted in contexts which implicitly suggest Dattila as the source: they occur in works where Dattila is often quoted by name and in the proximity of acknowledged quotations. Other lines have been borrowed without acknowledgement and incorporated in their own texts by later authors. We have given A Chart of Dattilam in Quotations’ as an appendix for ready reference listing all such passages from the Dattilam appearing in other texts. Our pathavimarsa and our commentary also discuss many of these passages in greater detail. It is worth remarking here that when strings of lines from the Dattilam are reproduced in later texts, they usually occur in the same serial order as in the Dattilam. And, more significantly, we do not find any opinion or quotation ascribed to Dattila concerning gandharva, the subject matter of Dattilam, which is not to be found in the extant text. We have in this a great proof of the genuineness of the text as we have it.

Though an ancient text of great historical importance, the value of the Dattilam is more than historical. Dattilam is a fine example of a sastric text and is of living value to us in that respect. It has striking affinities of approach and spirit with many other sastras such us those of Panini on grammar, Pingala on the science of metrics and Tandu on the dance form tandava All these sastras evidently began as attempts to analyse certain given forms with a view to comprehend them and perpetrate them through teaching. But they ended up doing much more than what they seem to have set out to do. They constitute what may be roughly described as systems for generating ever new forms, and are thus of great theoretical interest to us. This perhaps is not the place to enter into a comparison of these ãstra5 to study them in some detail and bring out the distinctiveness of Dattilam as a sastra. But such a study appears promising in its possibilities and deserves attention. The attention attracted by’ Panini should not remain limited to grammar or the structural study of language alone but broaden out to other sastras which are in important was similar to that of Panini. I hope readers of the Dattilam, will feel drawn to study Dattilan1 with the attention it deserves as a sastra, and not only as a historical document.

I thank the IGNCA and its Member-Secretary. Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan for asking me to edit the Dattilam as part of their ambitious Kalamulasastra series, I also thank her devoted team, especially, Dr. CR. Swaminathan, Dr. C.B. Pandey and Dr. Usha Bansal for their cordial and invaluable help in editing this work and seeing it through the press. Thanks are also due to my friend Shri Sita Ram God of Impex India for the permission to reproduce relevant parts of A Study of Dattilam in the present book.


1. Foreword by Kapila Vatasyayan ix
2. Introduction xi
3. List of Abbreviations xvii
4. Dattilam – Text and Translation 1
5. Pathavimarsa (Text-critical comments) 49
6. Commentary on the text65
7. Appendix: A Chart of Dattilam in Quotations 202
8. Select Bibliography 209
9. Padanukramanika 211
10. Padanukramanika 215
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