For T.S. Sathyavathi, Someswara’s Manasollasa is a historical record and practical manual on music.

Picture a vaggeyakara leading a group of musicians in a concert, with male vocalists on either side of him, flautists sitting close to them. Right behind them are the female vocalists, and behind them are the percussionists. They are performing before the Chalukya King Somesvara III.

Somesvara III (1126–1138 CE) was no ordinary rasika. He was the author of Manasollasa, also called Abhilashitarthachintamani, a major portion of which was devoted to music. The seating arrangement described above is given by Somesvara in Manasollasa. Obviously, Somesvara believed that a good vaggeyakara must also be a good singer. Manasollasa is both a historical record and a practical manual.

“Of the five sections in Manasollasa, ‘Vinodavimsati’, with 3219 verses, is the longest. It talks of various amusements and pastimes. ‘Gitavinoda’ and ‘Vadyavinoda’ together constitute the largest segment of ‘Vinodavimsati’,” says Dr. T.S. Sathyavathi, Professor of Sanskrit, whose PhD thesis was on the musical section of Manasollasa.

“All writers before Somesvara saw music as an adjunct of theatre. He, for the first time, treats music as a separate art,” she says. Does Someswara’s use of the word ‘vinoda’ indicate a jettisoning of tradition? “No. He warns that violation of rules is wrong.”

Sathyavathi says Manasollasa is one of the earliest works to have a number of musical compositions. What about Jayadeva’s Ashtapadis? “For one thing, historically, Somesvara belongs to an earlier period. Secondly, the Ashtapadis are suitable for scenic representation, whereas Somesvara’s appeal is purely aural. The Ashtapadis constitute a single thematic poem. There’s more variety in Manasollasa.

How would she rate Manasollasa vis a vis Sangita Ratnakara? “Sarngadeva’s Sangita Ratnakara gives many ragas which were obsolete even by Somesvara’s time, and certainly by the time of Sarngadeva. But Somesvara does not burden us with such details. He only records ragas that were in vogue in his time. Of the 52 ragas he describes, 25 bear the names of the regions they came from – such as Saurashrti and Gurjara.”

Is Manasollasa a record of only marga (classical) music? “Somesvara would disapprove of your question,” laughs Sathyavathi. “He made no distinction between marga and desi, because he could see there was so much give and take between the two. In Manasollasa, Somesvara includes examples from both. He has desi forms such as Dvipadi, tripadi etc, which are prabandhas in musical form. He also includes ancient classical forms such as tribhangi and cakravala. He introduces new types of compositions like Jayamalika, where the first word in each of the four lines of a verse is ‘Jaya.’ The tala is a seven beat one called Jaya. The choice of raga is left to the singer.”

Does Somesvara describe prosodic metres too? Sathyavathi says, “He does. He talks of metres such as rukmavati, maalini and vaanini. He gives illustrations of literary compositions like gadya and chatuspadi.”

Does Somesvara talk about the moods associated with various ragas? “He talks of rasa, not in the context of raga, but in the context of musical compositions. For example, he talks of a type of composition called Rasasandoha, in which he depicts eight rasas like sringara etc. But he mentions no raga.”

So does he say there are certain types of compositions for certain occasions? “Yes. Caryaa is sung by ascetics. Caccari during the vernal season; raahadi is sung praising heroic exploits; danti is sung by cowherds when they argue with each other!”

Manasollasa lists 31 talas. Sathyavathi says that Someswara did not consider the relationship between tala and chandas as inviolable. Some compositions such as dodhaka, totaka and dripadi have no tala stipulation. “Somesvara shows us the direction in which we have to proceed to uncover hidden tala patterns in literary structure.”

All of Someswara’s compositions are in praise of Vishnu. He clarifies that his compositions are mainly in Sanskrit, because Sanskrit is known to many, and this shows the popularity of Sanskrit in his time. But he was also the first to refer to regional language compositions. He uses regional language terms when he explains technicalities.

Talking of Somesvara’s style of writing, Sathyavathi says Manasollasa reads like a kavya, because of its beautiful style. Someswara says praise of God (devastuti) is the best form of music. But there is a practical side to him too, for he says praise of the king (rajastuti) brings material prosperity!

Here is what Somesvara says about the different kinds of music that appeal to different people:

Sama has an even rise and fall in notes. Text and tala are neatly balanced. It is neither slow nor hurried, and appeals to preceptors. Vyakta, which has perfect syntax, appeals to scholars. Madhura, with its overtones of sringara, appeals to women. The masses like Vikrushta, which has high pitched notes. Warriors like Sotsaha, which is in the literary style arabhati vritti. Those suffering pangs of separation prefer karunarasa. Paramours like music filled with fun and teasing- parihasa. Mangalagita appeals to those in a celebratory or festive mood, and Stotra to devotees. Vishamagita is complex, is sung in the high register, and appeals to debators. Kramasamanvita is orderly music, with pleasing tunes, and appeals to mature rasikas.

Sathyavathi uses this portion of Manasollasa to counsel those who offer music therapy to patients in NIMHANS. She says the highlight of Manasollasa, is Somesvara’s averment that the best music is that which constantly produces rasas (nirantara rasodaram), brims with emotions (nanabhavavibhavitam), and is devoid of excitement.

Did you know...

- Somesvara discusses various types of veenas. He says that the best veena player is one who is mature, self-restrained and fearless, possesses a good voice, and assumes a firm posture while playing.

- The details he gives about the making of the mridangam are all found in practice even today. He also talks of percussion instruments such as pataha and huhukkaa.

- Somesvara gives seven gamakas, common to vocal and instrumental. He refers to an old tradition of introducing all songs with an alapti. He talks of talapadaheena alapti, which is what is predominantly followed in South India even today.

- He talks of a tala called Mayuri, the modern equivalent of which is chapu; Ardha Mayuri is arai chapu.

- In his Malayamalavagowla kriti ‘Vidulaku Mrokkeda’, Tyagaraja mentions Somesvara.

Talents aplenty

Dr. Sathyavathi won the prize for the best lecture demonstration twice in the Music Academy. Balakrishna Sastri said, “Satyavathi should be called Punyavathi. She sings well, speaks well and has sound knowledge of Sanskrit. How nice it would be if she would take to Harikatha!” She learnt to play the mridangam, and for six years, she accompanied many artists. She translated the music portion of Manasollasa to Kannada, for the Karnatak University, Dharwad, in 1998, and is now working on another for Sanskrit University, Karnataka. This one will have more notes, for the benefit of research scholars.