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Therapeutic elements of music in ancient India: a brief review in Bṛhattrayī

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The non-medical Sanskrit texts have indirect references to music as a therapy in ancient India. The vaidyas used it as an alternative therapeutic technique in addition to conventional treatment methods for coma and post-coma complications, tuberculosis, pitta aggravation, protective measures for newborns and in cases of mental distress to regain homeostasis. They also used soothing, pleasant music and employed efficient musicians to execute it. Caraka was the first physician who suggested employing musicians as supporting staff in public hospitals. In spite of such valuable references, music therapy did not become a separate branch of research in ancient India. Strikingly, there are similarities and differences in modern music therapy vis-à-vis therapeutic elements of music mentioned in Bṛhattrayī and some other important texts. This paper tries to review all such issues to demonstrate the contemporary relevance of the therapeutic effects of music in ancient India.

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  1. See 1.1.39 of Saṅgītaratnākara.

  2. Ibid, 40th verse.

  3. A work belongs to the early medieval times. Because medieval times onwards a distinction was made between main rāga and dependent rāga like in a husband-wife relation. For example, guṇḍakriyā, ghūrjarī (gurjarī?), and gauḍī rāgiṇīs are the dependent/wives of mālava rāga.

  4. See 3.80–83 of SM (1920, p. 20).

  5. Rāgas which are sung with seven notes both in ascending and descending order.

  6. Rāgas which are sung with five notes both in ascending and descending order are auḍava.

  7. CS e-book:

  8. SS e-book:

  9. AH in TITUS database:

  10. See Abhinavabhāratī on 28.9 of NS; also see Tarlekar (1991)

  11. स्वराः प्रधानं, तालो नाम आत्मा तत्साम्येन उपकारकः, तल प्रतिष्ठाकरणे इति ताल एव एतदाह। ततोऽपि दूरं पदं पदशब्देनैव तस्याधारतालाभः। [svarāḥ pradhānaṃ, tālo nāma ātmā tatsāmyena upakārakaḥ, tala pratiṣṭhākaraṇe iti tāla eva etadāha| tato'pi dūraṃ padaṃ padaśabdenaiva tasyādhāratālābhaḥ|].

  12. See NS, 29.76; 33.11 (with Abhinvabhāratī, अथ गीते स्वराणां प्राधान्यमिति दर्शयितुमेतावन्तो गुणा अवश्यादरणीयाः [atha gīte svarāṇāṃ prādhānyamiti darśayitumetāvanto guṇā avaśyādaraṇīyāḥ]).

  13. तत्र मत्तकोकिला प्रधानभूता। एकविंशतितन्त्रीकत्वेनान्यूनाधिकं त्रिस्थानस्वरसारणाजातिगीतिवीणाशरीरमुच्यते [tatra mattakokilā pradh-ānabhūtā । ekaviṃśatitantrīkatvenānyūnādhikaṃ tristhānas-varasāraṇājātigītivīṇāśarīramucyate].

  14. वसन्ताभिप्रायविहितम् अन्यत्रापि अविरुद्धम् [vasantābhiprāyavihitam anyatrāpi aviruddham].

  15. See 1.12.11 of CS.

  16. See 1.12.12 of CS.

  17. The ṭīkākāra Sarvānanda Vandyaghaṭīya (ancient and mediavle use of Bengali title Bandyopadhyay or Banerjee) in his Ṭīkāsarvasva (1159 AD.) clarifies that these four types are called by three names, where the vāditra is made of a uṇādi suffix ṇitra, etymologically (1914, p. 137). It makes a clear deference with the sense that Abhinavagupta delivers.

  18. सा तु तन्त्रीभिः सप्तभिः परिवादिनी [sā tu tantrībhiḥ saptabhiḥ parivādinī].

  19. Also see Yengkhom (2018).

  20. In Śārīrasthāna, Chap. Jātisūtrīyaśārīra (p. 20).

  21. See also in Sastri ed. 1952, 1.6.91 of Ānandakanda; see S. Bhiṣagācārya trans. 1953, 8.5.55 of Kāśyapasaṃhitā; etc.


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We would like to acknowledge the support of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) with a doctoral fellowship for the research work that has become the basis of the present research paper.

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Correspondence to Abirlal Gangopadhyay.

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Gangopadhyay, A., Prasad, J.S.R. Therapeutic elements of music in ancient India: a brief review in Bṛhattrayī. Indian J Hist. Sci. 57, 78–86 (2022).

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