# 16 Prof C N R Rao: India in top four in nanoscience

Prof. Chintamani Nagesa Ramachandra Rao, popularly known as CNR Rao is a leading Indian scientist in the field of solid state and materials chemistry. His major area of research comprises transition metal oxides and other extended inorganic solids, inorganic-organic hybrid materials, nanomaterials and generation of hydrogen by photocatalysis. His latest works include research on the new wonder material graphene and artificial photosynthesis.

In the last thirty years or so, the subject of solid state chemistry has been transformed into materials chemistry by absorbing various features of modern chemical science. The materials investigated by chemists are no longer limited to inorganic materials but include a variety of organic materials. Synthesis has become a major aspect of materials chemistry, with a variety of chemical strategies, soft chemical approaches, in particular, being employed. Studies of structure, properties, phenomena and relating structure to properties are important aspects of materials chemistry.

Speaking to CSP, Prof Rao says that in basic nanoscience, India is amongst the top four countries and there are a few individuals who have made significant contributions in their areas of work and have gained a good reputation. While he does say that he has become wary of rankings, he remarks IISc is ranked high in India and JNCASR is ranked 7 in the world.

Prof Rao is known to be forthright about his views on science funding and research. He says, “it is not correct to say that a lot of funds have been provided for research.  Research of the kind we do in educational institutions requires much more, if our infrastructure and facilities have to be world-class.  Do not forget that we spend less than 1% of GDP on science. We have to work on important problems and become more competitive.  We have to work hard. We have to contribute very much more in terms of quantity and do much much better in terms of quality”

Asked about youngsters going abroad to work and study and whether IISc has helped to retain young talent in science, Prof Rao says “many young people are coming back.  We have to provide good places to work.  Also, we should create a better environment for doing good science. Bangalore has the largest number of well-known institutions and IISc is the oldest research institute of India.  It used to be a nice place to live in. I cannot say that we offer anything special. The more important thing is that we should work in our motherland and contribute to its growth and reputation.”

Known for his vast publication records, Prof. Rao has contributed 1600 research publications and authored 51 books. He is the first Indian scientist to cross the H index of 100 – an author-level metric that attempts to measure both the productivity and citation impact of the publications of a scientist. Prof. Rao is one of the few scientists across the world having nearly 1 lakh citations for research publications. 

In his research career of five decades, Prof. Rao had served at many national and international institutions in various capacities. In addition to receiving numerous national and international recognitions and awards, he was awarded the Bharat Ratna – the highest civilian award in India, in 2014.

Traditional knowledge key to conservation

Rahul Goswami is an expert facilitator on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) with the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Culturedivision. From 2011, he has trained government officials, researchers and academics, traditional knowledge bearers and practitioners in Indonesia, East Timor, Afghanistan, P R China, Republic of Korea, Pacific island states, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, the Seychelles, Mongolia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka on methods to identify, document and safeguard intangible cultural heritage (ICH).

He will be speaking at the Center for Soft Power’s World Heritage Week event on November 24 at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Bengaluru. In an interview with CSP he speaks about India’s intangible heritage and the value of local culture, customs and traditions in dealing with climate change.

Asked if after all these years of Independence India needs to evolve a single national language other than English or if he thinks English has served the country well in her internal as well as external communications, he replies emphatically, “India has a national language and that language is the oldest, most developed, most complete, and divine language in the world. That’s why it is called devabhasha – Sanskrit. Consider that other than the word agni, which we use for the idea of fire, there are 33 synonyms in Sanskrit for agni, but the English concept of synonym doesn’t do justice to what those other equivalent words provide. They denote particular connotations of and particular experiences with agni, and therefore distinct qualities.”

Today, English continues to hold sway because of its use in social access and mobility. “English in India presents a difficult problem, but I think much of the difficulty has to do with two factors: one that it is tied with a household’s social progress and upward mobility, two that because of the colonial British occupation and its use of English as the language of administration our own languages became subordinate and remained so. The use of English has served India poorly, in certain ways even disastrously. Today, lakhs of youth are at work, mostly in what is called the services sector, and use in their work a modicum of English – as a work skill, not as a language. This very rudimentary skill they transfer into their personal and family spheres, and because they have an income with this skill, and usually an urban status with this skill, they are considered successes and worthy of the praise of elders (non-English speaking) and worthy of emulation by those of their generation who remained behind in small towns and villages. This is what multiplies the subordination of our 22 major languages and at least 1,600 mother tongues,” says Rahul.

Rahul Goswami, wrote in an article in The Pioneer last year, that India must take a critical view of international cultural conventions. In 2017, UNESCO added the Kumbh Mela under its list of Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), adopted in 2003, and Yoga was added in 2016.

The World Heritage Convention is seen as a heritage embodied in structures, natural landscapes and tended landscapes; the ICH Convention is seen as encouraging the recognition of knowledge — the ways in which it is coded, the manner in which it is transferred between generations, the meanings and values attached to such codes, forms of transmission and their enactments. One is for built or natural form; and the other is for an abstract concept, says Rahul Goswami.

Rahul believes that “the living practices that form our intellectual and artistic heritage are not compartmentalised, as is done by the UNESCO cultural Conventions (including also the 2005 Convention on Diversity of Cultural Expressions). There is another fundamental difference and that is the religious and spiritual core that breathes life into our intellectual and artistic heritage. But this, in the 2003 Convention, is not a consideration. That is why we find in the text of the yoga nomination file that there is not a single mention of ‘yoga’ being one of the systems of Hindu philosophy and also not that it is an ‘Upaveda’. Its description instead includes ‘Yoga is a time honoured Indian holistic system of personal, physical, mental and spiritual wellness’ and ‘Indian mythology traces the origin of yoga to the God Shiva’.”

In Asia, the other countries have dominated the ratings. Says Rahul, “The three East Asian countries – Japan, China and South Korea – are regarded as being in the Asian forefront of the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage (ICH) Convention’s work and coverage in this region. This is true to the extent that ICH from these three countries dominates the ‘Lists’ of the Convention. But there is little or no Asian conception of inheritance that they have contributed to.”

Rahul Goswami’s special focus has been on culture and development, and both in training and policy advice he brings a special focus on environment and natural resources, education, livelihoods and disaster risk reduction. This work has contributed to strengthening the role of culture in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).  

He is Adviser, Centre for Environment Education Himalaya, a specialised agency supported by the Ministry of Environment, Government of India, which focuses on educational and capacity building responses to climate change in the Indian Himalaya region. The approaches include strengthening local administration support on watershed management, cultivation and animal husbandry, traditional knowledge and cultural practices, livelihood and markets, education, crafts, health and indigenous medicinal practices. Significant programmes he has been involved from 2005 are the strengthening of capacity building in urban and rural communities to face the effects of climatic variation and environmental degradation in  Jammu & Kashmir and Sikkim.

When CSP asked him which were the heritage elements that he has worked with in India, he says none are in the ICH inventories at national level (with the IGNCA and Sahitya Akademi) and none that are in the UNESCO ICH Conventions lists.

He has however served as a social sector consultant for the National Agriculture Innovation Project (Ministry of Agriculture) from 2009-13 to strengthen and broaden the agricultural extension network. The programme included knowledge modelling of crop cultivation and the provision of a consultation platform for both traditional crop knowledge and crop science, using information and communication technology (ICT) to reach the field. He continues to be a member of the consultative forum to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization Committee on Food Security.

Rahul has worked for several years on the knowledge systems of south Nagaland between 2003-05, particularly cultivation practices, the management of natural resources, local medicinal practices. “This has turned out to be a success as our efforts (a group that included Nagas from the Kohima and nearby region, an ethno botanist, an anthropologist and I) led to a continuing programme that banned hunting in an ecologically rich zone, took up limited eco-tourism that provided employment and income, led to the documenting of folklore and customary practices and contributed to the approach behind what is today the very successful Hornbill Festival of Nagaland.”

“In Goa, which has been my home state for 30 years, it has been a case of partial success. Independent of any institution, I was closely involved with a relatively lengthy civil society programme to spread awareness about land use and planning at the village level. This was between 2008-11. While the domestic tourism boom in Goa has led to round-the-year visitors today – which brushes aside any environmental carrying capacity considerations – that programme did bring in greater awareness and participation at the Panchayat level and has found local traction in several ways: garbage and waste handling, renewed interest in organically cultivated foods.”

More recently, with the Centre for Environment Education Himalaya (an organisation he has been an adviser to for well over a decade), “our contribution to the documentation on the water knowledge in the south Sikkim district was part of the very successful ‘dhara vikas’ (hill springshed revival) project led by the state government. This convincingly showed the importance of traditional knowledge and ICH concerning a vital resource like water.”

In an article for World Heritage N°77, a magazine brought by the UNESCO World Heritage Center, Rahul wrote, “In domains such as traditional medicine, forestry, the conservation of biodiversity and the protection of the wetlands, it is intangible cultural heritage practitioners and the communities they belong to who observe and interpret phenomena at scales much finer than formal scientists are familiar with, besides possessing the ability to draw upon considerable temporal depth in their observations. For the scientific world, such observations are invaluable contributions that advance our knowledge about climate change. For the local world, indigenous knowledge and cultural practices are the means with which the effects of climate change are negotiated so that livelihoods are maintained, ritual and cultivation continue and survival remains meaningful.”

Go by the way of the Swans

G Kameshwar

As I write this series about Kailasa Yatra, quite a few people have got in touch with questions… “How was it? How tough is it? How does one prepare? What about the effect of low oxygen?” etc etc… Net-net, from many, the message seemed to be, “I would love to do it.. But not sure… Perhaps, had I been younger… But still….”. Recognize the tune?

Well, as a response, let me share a mail that came to me a few days ago… From a gentleman named KS Ramakrishnan, and this was our first communication…

He wrote:

Dear Kameshwar,

My son in law forwarded your Kailash yatra blog to me.  Very interesting to read the same.  I did the yatra in 2011.  I was 81 years old then.  It was tough especially the parikrama.  We had combined this with a tour of Tibet commencing from Lhasa.  The wilderness of Tibet is breath taking and one can but think of Kailasanath only all the time.  I had also written a travelogue after this trip.  If you are interested, I shall send it to you.  God bless you and yr efforts to propagate our culture and heritage.

Ab bolo!

Eighty one years old!

I got back in touch with him pronto. I gratefully accepting his offer of the travelogue of his trip to Mt Kailasa, which I read with much interest…  A humbling, inspiring, educating account…And with his permission, I am sharing it here.

Here’s the link… Kailash Yatra 2011 – Mr KS Ramakrishnan

Continuing now, from my previous post…

Let’s look at a couple of other ancient routes to Manasarovar, from Garhwal region of Uttarakhand…

The first one we check out is the one from Badrinath – via Mana Pass.

Swami Tapovanam, who took this route in 1929, tells us – “The Puranas say that Lord Krishna and the Pandavas, as well as several great Rshis, used this pass… There are innumerable traditions and statements in the Puranas suggesting that it was a common custom for the great Rshis of ancient India to visit Kailas along this route…

Here’s a bird’s eye view of the route, shown in red.


As you can see in the map, one needs to proceed north from Badrinath along Saraswathi river, cross Mana Pass, reach Tholingamutt in Tibet, and then turn eastwards, to proceed to Mount Kailasa. This was one of the traditional trade routes between India and Tibet. The path was closed down by the Chinese in 1951, but reopened for native pilgrims and traders in 1954.  Guess it is impossible to cross except for a few months in the year… And even during that period, no guarantees.

A slightly more detailed map is given below.

The route marked in Red is the one via Mana Pass, taken by Swami Tapovanam in July 1929….


The journey described by Swami Tapovanam is like this…Mana village is near Badrinath… Near Mana village is the sacred Vyasa Gufa … River Saraswati is nearby.

Swamiji and a group of around seventeen Sadhu-s went from Badrinath to Keshav Prayag, the confluence of Saraswati and Alakananda, which is not far from Vyasa Gufa. They then proceeded northward along the route of Saraswati river. There is no marked road or path… They made their way across “boulders of rock and heaps of snow, with only Saraswati river for a guide”…Crossed streams/tributaries that come in the way (not easy). The progress was very difficult, labored… At times one could hardly cross a mile in one hour.. Neela Parvat, the deep blue mountain, came into view. This beautiful mountain is the mythological abode of Kakabhusunda.

Swamiji’s group took seven days to go from Badrinath (which is close to 10,000 feet) to somewhere near the Mana Pass (which is around 18,000 feet). Altitude sickness struck most people… Some horses perished on the way.. One man too… A few kms short of the top of the pass, they reached Devasaras (also known as Deotal), a beautiful lake, that was frozen blue . Swamiji writes – “At a height of 18,000 feet on the shore of a celestial lake, I entered into deep Samadhi induced by Nature, forgetting Kailas, forgetting the pilgrimage, forgetting the world and the body”.

They were forced to spend the night there, entrusting themselves to the care of the deity of the Pass. A storm,  and chances of survival would have been bleak. Next morning, they ascended again… After a couple of miles, they came to a pile of stones that represented the deity of the pass. In gratitude, they made offerings to the deity and accepted them back as Prasada. Walking on, reaching the top, they crossed over into Tibet.  Descending the pass, they reached the plains by late afternoon that day.

Next day they walked ahead in the great Tibetan highland plains. On the way, they saw a place which, as per local belief, had the hoof-marks of the horses that Rama and Lakshmana had used when they came here. Walking on in the open country, they came across wild horses, deer, and even a tiger. Fourth day after crossing the pass, they reached Tholingamatam (Tholing), which lies in the region of the river Sutlej, as it flows from the vicinity of Manasarovar to the Indian sub-continent. Badrinath to Tholing, a distance of around 80 miles (130 kms or so), took them 13 days.

This same route is described by the Yogi “M” as well, in his book, “Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master – A Yogi’s biography”. He too had a significant spiritual experience at Deotal, on the way. “M” and his group took 21 days to make the same journey – from Badrinath to Thholingamutt. He describes the trek as very tough, and mentions that one faced terrible headaches and nausea due to the lack of oxygen…

More about Tholing Mutt later…

From Tholing, for Mt Kailas, one proceeds east, south of Sutlej river and north of the Himalaya… Swami Tapovanam walked twenty miles to Daba, and fifty plus miles more to Gyanima… Mt Kailas was another 40 miles north-east of Gyanima… The route from Tholing to Daba, and then on to Gyanima and  Kailas, was one frequented by highway robbers at that time… Through such perilous paths did the group of Swami-s tread in their holy pilgrimage…

The total distance from Tholing to Mt Kailasa would be around 180 or 190 Kms.

By this route, the pilgrim arrives first at Kailasa. By the other route from Almora (Kumaon), one arrives first at Manasarovar. However, this Mana route, a total of around 320 kms or so from Badrinath to Kailasa, is a longer and tougher route, which has been used since ancient times…

Swami Tapovanam talks of Mana Pass route in connection with the kayva (lyric poem) Meghaduta, composed by the great Sanskrit poet Kalidasa. In that poem, the lover, a Yakhsa who has been exiled from Kailasa to the middle of India, sends a message to his beloved who is in Kailasa. He entrusts that message to clouds that are going north, making them his messenger. Narrating the route that the cloud need to take to Kailasa, the Yaksha, speaking of the way ahead after reaching Himalaya, asks the cloud to rise in the Himalaya and cross by way of “Krouncha-Randhra (Krauncha Pass… A pass in the mountain Krauncha… Krauncha also means the bird Curlew… And the Crane – see footnote below )… Go by the way of the Swans (Hamsa-dvara), and soaring beyond, reach the mountain of Kailasa….” Hamsa, the word for swan, also denotes Ascetics…

Swami Tapovanam says : “Some scholars hold that the Crouncha Randhra described in ancient poems as the route used by Royal Swans of Lake Manasa, is the Mana Pass…”…

There are some others who say that the Meghaduta reference is to another Himalayan pass – another route to Manasarover – which we shall talk of in the next post…

Signing of this post with a short video from youtube, of cranes migrating to India in winter, crossing the Himalaya mountains… Meghaduta comes alive here, with the clouds rising in the Himalaya and confronting the flight of the birds, making them turn back… The cranes return the next day, rise above the world so high, and cross over.

My good friend and co-yatri, Shankar, was the one who pointed me to the youtube video of the cranes. After reading this post, he also sent me wikipedia info on Demoiselle crane which says: “The Demoiselle Crane is known as the Koonj (कूंज, کونج, ਕੂੰਜ) in the languages of North India and Pakistan…. The name koonj is derived from the Sanskrit word kraunch, which is a cognate Indo-European term for crane itself.”

Food for thought, regarding Krauncha-randhra….

To be continued…

(The author is a Traveler, Writer, Story Teller, Software Engineer)

Pāṇini and Information theory – back to the future

Professor Gérard Huet is a French Computer Scientist, Mathematician and Computational Linguist. CSP connected with Professor Huet to ask him about Sanskrit and Computational Linguistics.

Recipient of the prestigious EATCS Award in 2009, Professor Huet is Emeritus at Inria (the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation) and was Directeur de Recherche de Classe Exceptionnelle from 1989 to 2013. He is a member of the French Academy of Sciences and of Academia Europaea.

From the year 2000 onwards, he has worked and contributed immensely to Computational Linguistics. Author of a Sanskrit-French hypertext dictionary, he has developed various tools for the phonetical, morphological and lexical analysis of Sanskrit, such as the Zen toolkit. From this research evolved a new paradigm for relational programming, inspired from Samuel Eilenberg’s X-machines.

Professor Huet was Program Chair and local organizer of the First International Sanskrit Computational Symposium in Paris in October 2007, member of the Program Committee of the second one at Brown University in 2008, co-Program Chair of the Third International Sanskrit Computational Symposium in Hyderabad in January 2009, the fourth one at JNU in Delhi in 2010 and the fifth one at IIT Bombay in January 2013, the 6th one at IIT Kharagpur in October 2019. He is founding member of the Steering Committee of this series of symposia.  

Pro – Vice Chancellor of University of Hyderabad Professor Rajasekhar with Professor Huet

He is principal investigator on the French side of a joint team on Sanskrit Computational Linguistics between Inria and University of Hyderabad since 2007.  Professor Huet’s talk at the University of Hyderabad this week, titled Pāṇini’s Machine, was about how Pāṇini’s grammar may be thought to be the operational manual of an abstract machine. A note on the lecture by the university, says “this machine performs the grammatical operations prescribed or permitted in the Aṣṭādhyāyī sutras. It produces recursively a correct Sanskrit enunciation as a sign pairing the phonetic signifier and its signified sense. Its proper operation yields both the utterance as a phonetic stream and the intended meaning of a correct Sanskrit sentence. This view places Pāṇini as a precursor in a long list of automata inventors such as Turing, Babbage, Pascal, thus adding to his fame as a renowned linguist.”

In his talk, Professor Huet briefly explained how ‘formal methods used in Aṣṭādhyāyī are anticipating computer sciences control and data structure and show a keen understanding of information theory’.

What interests you most about Sanskrit? What was your first introduction to the language?

Professor Huet: I was interested in Sanskrit as a key to understand the traditional culture of ancient India, and was fascinated by the fact that this culture is still alive, as opposed to say Greek culture, where all that remains are frozen artefacts like ruins of ancient monuments, and Homeric literature that has lost its connections to the present.

How can the design and implementation of computer-aided processing tools help in analysing the enormous store of knowledge and literature available as Sanskrit text?

Professor Huet: These tools may help in several ways.

Firstly, they will allow texts preservation in a better way than just letting physical documents deteriorate with time – a lot of manuscripts are still only available in fragile form such as palm leaves or birch bark, documents which have been digitalized under photographic form are less useful than searcheable character-level representations, themselves less useful than word-level segmented documents, etc.

Our tools allow the representation of marked-up documents, where words are indicated with their lemmatization, indicating their morphological parameters (case, number, gender, person, tense, voice, etc) or even their semantic parameters (dependency graphs, anaphora antecedents, word disambiguation, name-entity links, etc). They can be considered as some kind of first-level interpretation of the texts. For instance, सेनाभाव may be segmented as senā-bhāva (existence of army) or as senā-abhāva (inexistence of army). Choosing one or the other gives opposite meanings. Even a text such as Bhagavadgītā is not segmented in the same way by Śaṅkara and Madhva.

This allows the progressive establishment of data banks of marked-texts, which may be subject to error-correction, alignment of versions, establishment of phylogenetic trees for use by philologists in dating versions, detecting inter-textuality relations, and preparing critical editions.

Our grammar-informed tools are thus preparing the ground for the use of more automated statistical or neuronal analysers, trained on our tagged corpus, which will be able to scan and analyse massive quantities of texts.

Another use of our tools is to give new methods for teaching the language, alleviating the burdensome initial investment in learning the script, learning complex phonology rules, complex un-sandhi analysis, complex morphology: the student may dive directly into the text, and concentrate on its meaning with the help of dictionaries linked to the analysed texts. This is very important, since it is next to impossible to translate Sanskrit in non-Indian languages. Not only terms like dharma, karma, moksha, etc. are very hard to translate without their context, but poetry uses complex figures of speech (alaṃkāra) such as upamā, yamaka, rūpaka, sasaṃdeha, paryāyokta, śleṣa, virodha, etc. which are totally untranslatable and must be enjoyed in the original text.

Please can you explain briefly your segmenter for Sanskrit.

Professor Huet: The segmenter is lexicon-directed and uses finite-state transducers technology. That is, I build a database of inflected forms by expanding morphology generation processes on a lexicon of elementary word stems and roots, and then I build specialized transducers that segment the text by guessing sandhi transitions between padas. The full technical explanation and justification is explained in http://gallium.inria.fr/~huet/PUBLIC/SALA.pdf.

How does Paninian Grammar anticipate and show an understanding of information theory

Professor Huet: This is not easy to explain succinctly. You have to look into Paninian encodings and see how these encodings can be put in the context of coding theory in the sense of Shannon and minimizing entropy. In a nutshell, you may explain that Panini used encodings that permitted optimal compression of his notations, and allowed to express the grammar in 4000 terse sutras, whereas a more naive organisation would have necessitated a much larger repertory of rules, and thus forbid the complete memorizing of the grammar.

Another remark of this nature is that the Shivasutras are a way of expressing very concisely all the subsets of phonemes that are necessary to express regularities in the grammar, like « for all nasals, do this » where nasals is expressed in the condensed definition (pratyāhāra) ñam.

The optimality of the representation of the Shivasutras has been recently demonstrated by the German scholar Wiebke Petersen.

Sanskrit cannot be reduced to a universal system of signs, it is also co-extensive with Indian culture? How can structural semantics take this into account?

Structural semantics is universal, and in this sense is not sufficient to represent cultural context. Paninian methods are also to an extent universal, and have been used to express other languages by the Akshar Bharati group of IIIT Hyderabad (Rajiv Sangal, Chatanya, Amba Kulkarni, Dipti Sharma), and thus Paninian methods are not specific to Indian cultural aspects. Cultural aspects go beyond the grammar. They are of semiotic nature, beyond linguistics. You must go into literary theory (Anandavardhana, Abhinavagupta, Dandin, etc) and aesthetics in order to account for cultural aspects.

Dhrupad – Reclaiming Saamagaana

Center for Soft Power mourns the passing of Padmashri Ramakant Gundecha, the younger of the two Dhrupad exponents known as Gundecha Brothers. Pandits Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha – along with Rudra Veena player and Dhrupad scholar Dr Rajshekar Vyas have been trying to revive and reinforce the hoary but now tenuous link between Vedic Saamagaana chants and contemporary Indian classical music

Dhrupad, the oldest form of Indian classical music, with its chant-like cadences and intonations in both the aalaap as well as the bandish, and its use of Sanskrit, has now survived only at the fringe of Indian classical music with a bare handful of practitioners holding their own in the modern concert stage.

Among them are the Gundecha Brothers, Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha, exponents of the Dagar bani of Dhrupad, and probably the only musicians carrying on the illustrious Dagar legacy which has held sway over 20 generations. Ustad Hussain Sayeeduddin Dagar, who passed away in June last year, aged 78, was the youngest of the eight great Dagar Khans. The older brothers include Ustaad Nasir Moinuddin, Nasir Aminuddin Dagar (known as the ‘elder’ Dagar brothers), Nasir Zahiruddin and Nasir Faiyazuddin Dagar (called the ‘junior’ Dagar brothers). The renowned brothers were the grandsons of the legendary Zakiruddin and Allabande Khan Dagar.

The Hindustani classical music that we are familiar with is “Khayal” music with its Sufi and other influences that rule the roost when it comes to North Indian classical music, across India. Dhrupad’s deeper roots are clear both in its rendering style as well as its frequent employment of Sanskrit compositions and verses borrowed from Sanskrit texts.

As Ustad Saeeiuddin Dagar, had no hesitation in pointing out, the Dagar family had Hindu and Vedic roots, before the Mughal era, and the Dhrupad style of Northern classical music is rooted in an ancient form, and even underpins other extant forms like Khayal and Karnatic music.

The Gundecha brothers, along with Rudra Veena exponent and Dagar disciple Dr Pandit Rajshekar Vyas of Udaipur, who occasionally shares the stage with them as a musicologist, are trying to research and re-establish the links between Dhrupad gaan and Saamagaana as a pedagogic effort for new learners.

Sound occupies an important place in Indian philosophical thinking, even exalted as the Shabda Brahman or Naada Brahman. “The philosophy of Indian classical music is to realise the Ultimate Sound, says Prof Vyas.

“The human sound is not the Ultimate Sound. Our forefathers by analysing nature and the human voice and comparing the two discovered that there are layers of sounds that we can access.  There are 17 different layers of sounds leading to the sound of the Sun or the Bruhat (Great or vast) Sam sound. The sound of the tanpura is termed as Bruhat sound in the Saamagaana.

“Musicians lead all of us to that sound. You would have seen Dhrupad singers looking upwards while singing, trying to access that sound. Our gurus would say that this musical sound is soaked in feeling and the feeling is thinner than the fragrance of a flower. Listening to Dhrupad, we forget we are of this earth. We get detached from our bodies,” says Prof Vyas.

Prof Vyas has researched both the Sama Veda and Saamagaana. “The Sama Veda is not a text of music. It comprises of 1,875 riks  taken from Rig Ved, with only two riks taken from Yajur Veda. Our great Rishis probably repeated the riks of Rigved in the Samaved as the spoken word of Rigved was not sufficient by itself to create oneness with the Ultimate Sound. The masters probably felt the need for Saamagaana to sing the text.”

The term Dhrupad is derived from the words ‘Dhruva’ referring to the unmoving pole star and ‘pada’ meaning poetry. Saamagaana combines ‘Chhanda’ and ‘Prabandha’ i.e. verse and meter, with their union being the origins of Dhrupad. It indicates a return of the Svara (tone), Kala (time) and Shabda (text) to an unchanging point, which is believed to be the basis of Saamagaana.

Umakant says that there are some salient features of Dhrupad which differentiate it from other musical forms. Dhrupad singing begins with an alaap in three speeds Vilambit, Madhya and Drut, a feature which is unique to it and an idea which originated in Dhrupad. Besides, in Dhrupad singers are accompanied by the pakhawaj and tanpura only without the harmonium or any other accompaniment.

“Saamagaana is a timeless concept. It doesn’t belong to any time, or any period. It is timeless and makes you timeless.”  

Ramakant Gundecha

“We sing only with the tanpura. We think the purity of the note, the essence of the raga which we have learnt from our Ustads (Zia Fariduddin Dagar and also with Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar) can be rendered only with the tanpura. Dhrupad singers don’t use a harmonium as its notes are fixed. In Dhrupad there are many many shades of the note in different ragas. So it difficult to sing with the harmonium.” They can sing with the sarangi or the Rudra Veena, provided the player is trained in the Dhrupad style.    

 Prof Vyas says that for Dhrupad singers the most important part is the Shadaj Madhyam Samvad (the conversation created by playing the combination of the Shadaj- Madhyam swars). “In Indian classical music only these four notes are important – Sa Re Ga Ma. The others – Pa Da Ni Sa are a replica at 1.5 higher pitch. If you take Sa Re Ga Ma to 1.5 higher pitch you will get Pa Da Ni Sa. The main thing movement is there from therefore Sa to Ma and Ma to Sa. Sa Ma Sa Ma Sa Ma…..”

Umakanth Gundecha (left) and Ramakant Gundecha

As Ramakant puts it, “Saamagaana is a timeless concept. It doesn’t belong to any time, or any period. It is timeless and makes you timeless.”  

The disappearance of the music of Saamagaana during the periods of non-Vedic cultures for several centuries put paid to a music culture where the notes were uttered in their pure form with emphasis on correct pitch with whirls of Shrutis surrounding them.

Professor Vyas says that with the advent of the Buddhist movement and a shift from a predominantly ‘yagnic’ culture, for a period of 1000 years between 600 BC to 600 AD, Saamagaana disappeared.  

For a short while after this, musical texts including Matanga Muni’s Brihaddeshi (Between 6-8th Century AD) and Sarangdeva’s Sangeet Ratnakara (13 Century AD) along with the study of the Vedas were the focus of musicologists trying to revive Saamagaana.

In contemporary India, particular after 1947, Ramakant says it has been difficult for Dhrupad practitioners to propagate their music freely due to the ‘secular’ mood in the country.

“Sadly after Indian Independence, successive Governments have tried not to link music with Hindu temples. They have largely propagated the Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb (Ganga Jamuna Doab culture which focusses on Indo-Muslim culture). When we connected music to temples it created negativity. Reacting to this, when we try to balance our music, we do not do justice to its Hindu origins. Now the political environment is relatively open for us to talk about ‘Hindu’ music. Earlier if you would talk about Hindu devotional or scriptural music you would be considered orthodox and intolerant.”

Prof Vyas, and the Gundecha Brothers are working together to establish the connection between Saamagaana shastra and kriya.

The significance of the Saamagaana is in creating oneness with the Universal sound, which is represented by the Tanpura says Ramakant. “The feeling of oneness is coming because of samvaad (conversation) with yourself. The singer depends entirely on the tanpura. The tanpura’s sound is the replica of the human body, the replica of the upagatha. That is why the tanpura has a thumba to match the lower harmonics of the human body,” says Ramakant.

Dhrupad singers have often commented on the ability to stand the test of the tanpura. It is believed Dhruva-pada helps to create irresoluteness or unwavering fidelity to the tanpura.

Ramakant says the tanpura “is not an instrument, it is a system. You have to play the tanpura in a way that every string is heard at the same time.  The simultaneous playing of all four strings of the tanpura must resonate with the alignment of our body represented by the naval, chest, throat and cerebrum. When this vertical alignment matches the Sam (Ultimate Sound), then the feeling of oneness creates sublimity and a meditative feeling. Dhrupad and other Indian music strives to achieve that experience.”

When the singer sees the Sam, and achieves oneness, the wheel of musical energy begins to revolve, says Ramakant. “It generates, runs, and further generates the momentum of the music. The music becomes a generator in itself, creating new pathways of exploration.  The singer ‘sees’ this vision of music and performs it at the same time.  He has to see, absorb and execute it simultaneously. The musician has control it or it can overwhelm him and that overwhelming is a kind of limitation. You have to absorb that energy and go beyond it.”

Prof Vyas recounts his experiences in a class with his guru Ustad Zaiuddin Khan. “Ustad would avoid getting emotional on stage. But when he used to sing while teaching us, he would at times start weeping – not for one minute, two minutes, but for half an hour, one hour, two hours when he would realise the actual sound and see the picture of the Sam. At times, he was so awed by this experience that when he was himself singing he would say, Wah, Kya baath hain!”

The ability to see this vision of music varies from musician to musician and the greater the saadhana towards aligning oneself with the tanpura, the clearer is the thought process, says Ramakant.

“If one were to take the note Ga, even as the singer focuses on Ga, it expands. The small Ga becomes bigger, and then you have to zoom in again, and when you concentrate it expands. You keep zooming in, there is no end to it. It all depends on how microscopic your ears are.  That needs lots of concentrated energy. The sound first emerges in the brain, which then commands the body. Depending on what pronunciation you want to render you are pulling the vibration from your body in a particular way,” says Ramakant.


It was Ustad Zakiruddin Khan Dagar, who on the behest of Maharana Fateh Singh of Mewar, revived links with Samvedic scholars, musicians and musicologists researching the connection between the Vedas and Indian classical music.

Ustad Zakiruddin Khan along with Vyas Pandit Shambhu Ram Shastri, the Kulguru of the Mewar state, studied the Samaved and a few allied texts such as Pushpasutra, Rktantra, Samtantra, Akshartantra, Chhandogyaupanishad, Tandyabrahman, Shathpathbrahman, Panchvinshbrahman and six Brahman books of Samved and other books related to Vedic Saamagaana.

Prof Vyas says these texts talk about how Sam should be, what are the notes of Sam and the intricacies of Saamagaana, explained in the sutra method. “They explain the nature of the notes, the melody and the ras of a particular melody called Chhandas.”

While India has largely had an oral tradition of imparting both Vedic as well as musical knowledge, the validity of any one authentic rendering tradition is absent with practioners following different styles. “The oral songs that were sung during the Rig Vedic period have been lost. I have spoken to people who were singing the music of Saamagaana and they mostly sing in one unvarying tune,” says Prof Vyas. They have theoretical knowledge of the Seven Geethis prescribed in Saamswarkramani but cannot differentiate between them, he says.

Professor Vyas, Umakant Gundecha and Ramakant Gundecha

It was Ustad Zakiruddin Khan, who developed the Sadharani Geethi style of Dhrupad singing and Rudra Veena playing combining elements of the Seven Geetis (Gayatri, Aindri, Roudri, Paavman, Chhandasi, Agneyi and Mahanamni) and the four Vanis (Gauharvani, Khandarvai, Dagarvani and Nauharvani) reviving the Saamagaana tradition of music.

The Gundecha brothers have always sung together and while this was a conscious choice, it is also a tradition of Saamagaana. The Dagar family, to which tradition they belong, often sang together. It is a Vedic tradition which required three people to sing together, without which Saamagaana was not possible. It was necessary to have an Udghata (the main singer), Upagatha, Prasthotha (beginner), and praharkartha to give a complete sound experience.

While they perform, sometimes one singer utters the lower pitch, the other traversing the higher octaves a practice mentioned in Saamagaana. Samaved is always sung with three or four persons and two persons are assigned the duty to utter the same corresponding note that the main singer is singing, but in a lower pitch.

Prof Vyas says when he listens to the Gundecha Brothers, he can see the theory he is researching being executed. “When I listen to them, I think – here is Gaudi, here is Bhinna. They use shruthi, coming from 12th shruthi to 6th shruthi. Nowadays people say we cannot utter shruthis in Saamagaana, but the brothers are using it. The commentaries of Saamagaana mention that without Shruthi there is no music. There would be no sur.”

The Sadhaka’s challenge

Watch out for these nine obstacles to your Yoga saadhana

By Sri Arun Prakash

Many advanced skills involving the body as one of the an instruments, depend on saadhana – the rigorous, extended practice and training sessions that create a solid base for progression and innovation, and excellence in ability and consistent delivery.

Yoga recognises that saadhana is not easy. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali has identified nine obstacles that arise on the sadhaka’s journey, and the consequences of letting one or more of them hold sway over your practice (Sutras 1.30 to 1.32).

The shastras talk about three kinds of people in this context. The Adhama, Madhyama, and the Uthama. The adhamas get intimidated by the obstacles and don’t even make the attempt — they don’t even get start. The madhyama are like a lot of us — they give up in the face of obstacles, sometimes at the very first hurdle. Not so the uthama sadhakas. They persist. They overcome.

But the first step is to identify the obstacles. The first one that Patanjali lists is Vyadhi, disease, illness of the body. It is worth repeating Kalidasa’s maxim — Sharira Madhyam Kaludarma Sadhanam – the body is the means by which we do all dharma, indeed all action, in this world. To prevent or cure vyaadhi, a person has to adopt a good healthy lifestyle, moderate diet, moderate sleep, and practice asana, kritya, pranayama and Ayurveda.

The second is Styana, which is related to the mind. Styana is mental laziness, inefficiency and dullness. Here one cannot understate the importance of food. You are what you eat after all, and this applies to mind and body. Saatvic food is to be preferred for a sadhaka. Styana can be more dangerous than physical illness.

Just as the right food intake is important, the right company, or satsanga, is critical. Always choose and be in the right company, for the wrong people can become a very negative influence. This is so especially in the early stages, before you know the difference between sat and asat.

Then comes Samshaya, which refers to doubt and uncertainty. We have to be careful here. Our tradition of enquiry and exposition is built on questioning, not just accepting whatever is told to us. So you have to explore, question, analyse. But after that, if you feel the truth of it, don’t keep doubting. Some answers come to you only with experience.

Next comes Pramada, which is carelessness or negligence. A sadhaka should take his saadhana very seriously, every minute you must apply your mind, and give it the proper, one-pointed, attention.

Alasya is laziness, sloth or languor. This is like Styana, but physical as well as mental. The solution is again the same. Moderate diet, sleep and lifestyle, along with yoga.

Avirati is the failure to regulate worldly desires. The key here is not abstention, but regulation. Enjoy, but do not indulge. As you progress on your journey of a sadhaka, many energies are created. Some of these can divert you from your saadhana and your goals, and there are instances where people have spoiled promising careers because of this. Practice pratyahara, withdrawal from the senses which are becoming a hurdle.

Branthi darshana, false perception and analysis or confusion of philosophy, is the sixth obstacle that Patanjali lists in the Yoga Sutras (1.30 to 1.32). Questioning is good, so is experimentation and exploration with, say, alternate forms, multiple methods of practice, different views and analyses, different models and so on. But you should not lose your core. To ensure against this, you should develop knowledge, gyana yoga. Where there is light, darkness cannot exist. Along with your practice, crave for knowledge. Don’t be half-baked. Be strong in your own school.

Then Patanjali mentions Alabdha Bhumikatva, failing to attain firm ground. This obstacle and the next one are closely related. As you practice, you should make progress, reach different stages. Some people learn easily, others don’t progress. Some blame the guru, blame the instrument, etc. So look for inspiration. Take firm ground, keep trying, don’t give up easily.

Anavasthitha, means no stability, slipping down, and lack of focus. Excuses are not appreciated in saadhana, so keep going. Learn to consolidate what you have learnt, before progressing to the next stage. Learn, get the basics right, and establish firm ground at each stage.

Chitta Vikshepa is distractions and diversions of the mind.  Chitta, consciousness or the “mind field”, is traditionally defined as mano-buddhi-ahamkara. Manas is the thought-filled mind, while buddhi is the Intelligence within all of us. Ahamkara is I-ness, the sense of being an individual, the ego. Loosely, ahamkara is used for arrogance, but what it refers to is the sense of the ‘I.’ Aham means ‘I’ in Sanskrit. The main property of the mind is delusion. But buddhi is intelligence. Cultivate and operate through the buddhi.

From these nine obstacles, says Patanjali, consequences arise, of mental or physical affliction. There is dukha or grief, daurmanasya or depression, anga ejasyatva or shakiness of the limbs, and irregular breath. Breath is the foundation. Lose the breath, and lose everything.

Real yoga is to operate in the present. Dwelling in the past creates depression. Dwelling in the future creates anxiety. Don’t turn the potential-filled present into the “unpotential” past.

Be stronger than your problems. Manage expectations carefully. Keep at your saadhana, but don’t chase the illusion of mastery. True mastery is a divine gift, it comes from surrender, and is something that is reached at an advanced stage. Mastery can become an illusion and is not permanent. What is “permanent” is you, your knowledge, and your saadhana.

So every time one of the obstacles affects your practice, introspect, go back, and repair yourself. Come back stronger

In yogic practice, extraordinary powers and energies can sometimes be created. We consider even these to be obstacles and distractions, derailing us from the real goal, which is self-realisation.

In the same way, even fame and money can become an obstacle. The higher you go, the greater is your responsibility, and the farther you can fall. We have to see fame and money as incidental benefits at best, and obstacles at worst. Today we are seeing instances where people chase the obstacles instead of the ultimate goal!

(Sri Arun Prakash is a Yogaacharya, Vedic scholar. This article first appeared in the classical music magazine Saamagaana the First Melody)