Madhava-Vidyaranya: Contribution to Art

As seen from earlier parts, the chief objective of Madhava-Vidyaranya was the rejuvenation of Dharma. While his works on Dharma and Vedanta influenced the educated and the deeply interested, they remained beyond the ken of the lay public. How then could his program of dharmic rejuvenation transcend societal and educational barriers?

Madhava-Vidyaranya’s well-rounded education, which included exposure to both classical and folk music, helped him appreciate the magical ability of the fine arts. After all, is it not said, “शिशुर्वेत्ति पशुर्वेत्ति वेत्ति गानरसं फणिः” (the essence of music is understood by even children, animals, and snakes)?  Madhava had the key insight that instrumental and vocal music, dance, painting and sculpture managed to capture even those otherwise indifferent. Both folk and classical art, sans mutual conflict, could help the rasika attain the dual objectives of emotional refinement and aesthetic joy. Madhava-Vidyaranya was not only a practitioner but also a patron of these arts at their different levels and saw the intertwined nature of sanatana-dharma and the fine arts.

Sanatana-dharma has the ideal of yajna as its basis. The same principle further attained currency via temple culture. Much of our art (both folk and classical) has not only risen from temples and the celebrations and rituals therein, but has also thrived there. Such fine arts, especially those oriented towards performance, can be understood and appreciated only from direct experience. In those days that lacked modern methods of documentation and transmission, these arts could be nurtured and propagated only via teacher-disciple relationships and constant performance. All of these were dependent on temples. Most art, therefore, owed its existence to temples and temple culture.

Such temples, unfortunately, had to bear the brunt of Islamic iconoclasm from the likes of Malik Kafur and the Tughlaqs. After several decades of decay and destruction of these centres of art, dependent art forms were destroyed due to a lack of support. As art lives in its practitioner, a lack of patronage or disciples prevents its sustenance and transmission. If the artist dies without disciples, the art is as good as dead. Grave indeed was the situation of Indian art in that age. This is one of the key reasons why temples need to thrive even in this modern era.

Due to the foresight of Sayana and Madhava, temple reconstruction, an important aspect of the cultural renaissance, was taken up with priority. It is because of their effort that these art forms are present to this day.

Though the Chalukyas, Rashtrakutas, Gangas, Kadambas and Hoysalas had built several beautiful temples, they were small in size and lacked provisions for protection. Built with sandstone and soapstone, these temple sculptures tended to erode rather easily. But Vidyaranya envisioned capacious and fortified temples with igneous rocks (granite) that could withstand the vagaries of time. The enthusiasm to build new temples was coupled with a desire to repair and rejuvenate the old ones as well. Fortification of temples in India was done for the first time in the Vijayanagara Empire. A unique feature of the temples of this era is the construction of rayagopurams using stucco, wood and brick. These rayagopurams proudly proclaimed their presence from afar, defiantly announcing to the iconoclasts that they still thrived, while instilling confidence in the Hindu community.

Temple painting was key in the spread of dharmic ideas in those days that lacked modern means of dissemination. Due to the frenetic pace of temple construction in the Vijayanagara era, it is no surprise that the famous Tanjavur, Mysore and Lepakshi styles of painting started then. We know that Madhava-Vidyaranya was adept at painting from the Chitradeepa part of his Panchadashi. It is therefore quite plausible that painting received a fillip from Madhava-Vidyaranya.

A magnificent monument of Sri Vidyaranya’s contribution to temple construction is the Vidyashankara temple in Sringeri. With several karanas from the Natyashastra,  depictions of stories from the itihasas and puranas as well as from popular culture, these temples serve verily as cultural encyclopedias to this day. By visiting this temple, one can see how temple visitors got not only spiritual benefits but also recharged their cultural and artistic values.

We gathered from earlier parts that Madhava-Vidyaranya was an expert veena player. It was therefore natural for one well-versed in musical theory and practice to have great regard for music. In those times, music did not have a solitary existence but was seen as part of a triad - vocal music, instrumental music and dance, as seen in the quote below.

गीतं वाद्यं तथा नृत्यं त्रयं संगीतसंज्ञकम् । (Bharatakosha)
The triad of song, instrumental music and dance is denoted by the term Sangita.

Hence it must be understood that Madhava-Vidyaranya had mastery over all three aspects. It is now well-established that Madhava-Vidyaranya authored Sangitasara, a work on music. Govinda-Dikshita in his famed Sangita-sudha has not only mentioned this but has evidently restated several ideas from the Sangitasara. Researchers have shown that the elaboration of ragas, insights into the melas, tips for the vaggeyakara (composer), and the attributes of a singer are but some of the topics that Govinda-Dikshita has obtained from the Sangitasara. From this, it can be inferred that the janya-janaka method for the characterization of ragas (credited to Venkatamakhin) was pioneered by Madhava-Vidyaranya. In fact, it is because of him that South Indian music came to be known as Karnataka-Sangita. For more details one can refer to Dr R Satyanarayana's Kannada magnum opus “ಕರ್ಣಾಟಕ-ಸಂಗೀತ-ವಾಹಿನೀ” wherein he systematically explores the musical contributions of Madhava-Vidyaranya for almost 85 pages.

Due to Madhava-Vidyaranya's Sangitasara as well as several works produced during that era, the Vijayanagara Empire became the capital of Indian music after the demise of musically endowed kingdoms such as Devagiri and Kalyani. Tanjavur took over the musical mantle from the Vijayanagara Empire after the latter's destruction.

We will conclude this section with a translation of Dr R Satyanarayana's summary of the momentous musical contributions of Madhava-Vidyaranya.

The classical musical acumen of Sri Vidyaranya is truly awe inspiring. It is a rare achievement that the foundational musical concept of grama, followed faithfully for thousands of years, was revamped by him. His propounding of the mela concept as its replacement that has endured for over six centuries is another testimony to his ability. It is therefore only just that the name of Madhava-Vidyaranya be added to the hall of fame of Indian music comprising greats such as Bharata, Matanga, Abhinavagupta and Sharngadeva. The credit of formulating lakshanas of extant ragas for the first time, seven hundred years ago, must therefore go to him.

If Sri Purandaradasa can be called Karnataka Sangita Pitamaha, it would only be right to honour Sri Vidyaranya with the sobriquet Karnataka Sangita Prapitamaha (The great-grandfather of Carnatic Music).

After providing key insights into vocal and instrumental music, it may be apt to assume that Sri Vidyaranya could have contributed towards nritya (dance), the third aspect of sangita as well. Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, in her “Natyashastra and National Unity” describes how five decades of lawlessness due to Islamic invasions and iconoclasm had caused the decline of the marga tradition of dance. She subsequently describes the efforts of Kampana the second (through Madhava-Vidyaranya) in reestablishing temple traditions and the systematization of the Devadasi Dance tradition.

Sri Vidyaranya not only beheld the intertwined nature of dharma and art, but also the secret of the cyclical births of the marga (classical) and deshi (folk) traditions from each other. To elaborate, the deshi dance traditions are regional expressions of the marga tradition expounded by Bharata, which in turn was a systematization of existing folk forms. It was thus that Madhava-Vidyaranya judiciously used the deshi traditions for inspiring the masses and the marga for preserving artistic traditions. The credit for this key insight rests with him.

A beautiful harmony of music and dance is realized in Drama, which was yet another area that was enriched by Sri Vidyaranya’s contributions. There are several references to plays having been composed and enacted upon the instruction of Sri Vidyaranya. One of them is the Unmattaraghava, where the playwright Bhaskara writes in the introduction that this play was enacted to please Sri Vidyaranya. Vamanabhatta was another whose compositions were encouraged by Sri Vidyaranya. The Vijayanagara empire saw several dramatic forms such as yakshagana, kuchipudi, perini, and terukkutthu becoming distinct. One can read the Natakadeepa section of the Panchadashi to appreciate the interest that Sri Vidyaranya had towards dance and dramatics in general. This section is probably the only work that shows a beautiful, natural and effective use of nataka terminology in explaining Vedantic topics.

With such seminal contributions towards temple culture and architecture, music and art in general at such a crucial juncture in history, it can be rightly said that Sri Vidyaranya was the rejuvenator of the fine arts not only in Karnataka but in all of south India.

In the limited scope of this short series we have attempted to understand Sri Vidyaranya’s achievements. Just as we can understand the quality of the entire vessel of cooked rice by sampling one grain (स्थाली-पुलाक-न्याय), we can attempt to understand the magnitude of Sri Vidyaranya’s all-round scholarship, his uncompromising loyalty towards dharma without being dogmatic and his ability for independent and dispassionate assessment of the Universal Principle. With no modern parallels to him, it is but just to place Sri Vidyaranya amongst towering personalities such as Sri Krishna, Sri Chanakya, Adi Shankara, and Sri Abhinavagupta.

We conclude this series with a stuti verse to Sri Vidyaranya composed by Shatavadhani Dr. R. Ganesh, whose Kannada work forms the bones, muscles and spirit of this short series.

श्रीकृष्णमिव तुरीयाश्रमिणं
चाणक्यवद्गृहस्थाश्रमिणम् ।
विद्यारण्यमुनीन्द्रं मन्ये
सर्वाश्रमाश्रयमनन्यगुरूम् ।।
(I consider Sri Vidyaranya, the chief amongst the ascetics, akin to Lord Krishna (who was chiefly a grihastha) in the sannyasashrama, and like Chanakya (who was a brahmachari) in the grihasthaashrama. Sri Vidyaranya was the refuge of all the four ashramas and an unparalleled preceptor.)

|| iti sham ||

  1. Vibhutipurusha Vidyaranya (Kannada) - Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh, Shri Bhagavatpāda Prakāshana, Swarnavalli, 2001
  2. Sri Vidyaranya Vijaya (Kannada) - Dr. D V Gundappa, Volume 3 of complete works of DV Gundappa, Directorate of Kannada and Culture, Ed. H M Nayak, 1992.  
  3. Panchadashi Pravachana (Kannada) - MM Vidvan Ranganatha Sharma, Vedantabharati, Krishnarajanagar, 2003.
  4. Jivanmuktiviveka - Sri Vidyaranya, Translated by Pandit S Subrahmanya Sastri and T R Srinivasa Ayyangar, The Adyar Library and Research Centre, Chennai, 1978.
  5. Karnataka Sangeetha Vahini (Kannada), a history of Karnataka music - MM Dr. R Satyanarayana, Kannada Book Authority, 2001.



Engineer. Lapsed blogger. Abiding interest in Sanskrit, religion, and philosophy. A wannabe jack-of-all.

Prekshaa Publications

Indian Perspective of Truth and Beauty in Homer’s Epics is a unique work on the comparative study of the Greek Epics Iliad and Odyssey with the Indian Epics – Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata. Homer, who laid the foundations for the classical tradition of the West, occupies a stature similar to that occupied by the seer-poets Vālmīki and Vyāsa, who are synonymous with the Indian culture. The author...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the sixth volume of reminiscences character sketches of prominent public figures, liberals, and social workers. These remarkable personages hailing from different corners of South India are from a period that spans from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Written in Kannada in the 1970s, these memoirs go...

An Introduction to Hinduism based on Primary Sources

Authors: Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh, Hari Ravikumar

What is the philosophical basis for Sanātana-dharma, the ancient Indian way of life? What makes it the most inclusive and natural of all religio-philosophical systems in the world?

The Essential Sanātana-dharma serves as a handbook for anyone who wishes to grasp the...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the fifth volume, episodes from the lives of traditional savants responsible for upholding the Vedic culture. These memorable characters lived a life of opulence amidst poverty— theirs  was the wealth of the soul, far beyond money and gold. These vidvāns hailed from different corners of the erstwhile Mysore Kingdom and lived in...

Padma Bhushan Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam represents the quintessence of Sage Bharata’s art and Bhārata, the country that gave birth to the peerless seer of the Nāṭya-veda. Padma’s erudition in various streams of Indic knowledge, mastery over many classical arts, deep understanding of the nuances of Indian culture, creative genius, and sublime vision bolstered by the vedāntic and nationalistic...

Bhārata has been a land of plenty in many ways. We have had a timeless tradition of the twofold principle of Brāhma (spirit of wisdom) and Kṣāttra (spirit of valour) nourishing and protecting this sacred land. The Hindu civilisation, rooted in Sanātana-dharma, has constantly been enriched by brāhma and safeguarded by kṣāttra.
The renowned Sanskrit poet and scholar, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R...

ಛಂದೋವಿವೇಕವು ವರ್ಣವೃತ್ತ, ಮಾತ್ರಾಜಾತಿ ಮತ್ತು ಕರ್ಷಣಜಾತಿ ಎಂದು ವಿಭಕ್ತವಾದ ಎಲ್ಲ ಬಗೆಯ ಛಂದಸ್ಸುಗಳನ್ನೂ ವಿವೇಚಿಸುವ ಪ್ರಬಂಧಗಳ ಸಂಕಲನ. ಲೇಖಕರ ದೀರ್ಘಕಾಲಿಕ ಆಲೋಚನೆಯ ಸಾರವನ್ನು ಒಳಗೊಂಡ ಈ ಹೊತ್ತಗೆ ಪ್ರಧಾನವಾಗಿ ಛಂದಸ್ಸಿನ ಸೌಂದರ್ಯವನ್ನು ಲಕ್ಷಿಸುತ್ತದೆ. ತೌಲನಿಕ ವಿಶ್ಲೇಷಣೆ ಮತ್ತು ಅಂತಃಶಾಸ್ತ್ರೀಯ ಅಧ್ಯಯನಗಳ ತೆಕ್ಕೆಗೆ ಬರುವ ಬರೆಹಗಳೂ ಇಲ್ಲಿವೆ. ಶಾಸ್ತ್ರಕಾರನಿಗಲ್ಲದೆ ಸಿದ್ಧಹಸ್ತನಾದ ಕವಿಗೆ ಮಾತ್ರ ಸ್ಫುರಿಸಬಲ್ಲ ಎಷ್ಟೋ ಹೊಳಹುಗಳು ಕೃತಿಯ ಮೌಲಿಕತೆಯನ್ನು ಹೆಚ್ಚಿಸಿವೆ. ಈ...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the fourth volume, some character sketches of the Dewans of Mysore preceded by an account of the political framework of the State before Independence and followed by a review of the political conditions of the State after 1940. These remarkable leaders of Mysore lived in a period that spans from the mid-nineteenth century to the...

Bharatiya Kavya-mimamseya Hinnele is a monograph on Indian Aesthetics by Mahamahopadhyaya N. Ranganatha Sharma. The book discusses the history and significance of concepts pivotal to Indian literary theory. It is equally useful to the learned and the laity.

Sahitya-samhite is a collection of literary essays in Kannada. The book discusses aestheticians such as Ananda-vardhana and Rajashekhara; Sanskrit scholars such as Mena Ramakrishna Bhat, Sridhar Bhaskar Varnekar and K S Arjunwadkar; and Kannada litterateurs such as DVG, S L Bhyrappa and S R Ramaswamy. It has a foreword by Shatavadhani Dr. R Ganesh.

The Mahābhārata is the greatest epic in the world both in magnitude and profundity. A veritable cultural compendium of Bhārata-varṣa, it is a product of the creative genius of Maharṣi Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vyāsa. The epic captures the experiential wisdom of our civilization and all subsequent literary, artistic, and philosophical creations are indebted to it. To read the Mahābhārata is to...

Shiva Rama Krishna

சிவன். ராமன். கிருஷ்ணன்.
இந்திய பாரம்பரியத்தின் முப்பெரும் கதாநாயகர்கள்.
உயர் இந்தியாவில் தலைமுறைகள் பல கடந்தும் கடவுளர்களாக போற்றப்பட்டு வழிகாட்டிகளாக விளங்குபவர்கள்.
மனித ஒற்றுமை நூற்றாண்டுகால பரிணாம வளர்ச்சியின் பரிமாணம்.
தனிநபர்களாகவும், குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்களாகவும், சமுதாய பிரஜைகளாகவும் நாம் அனைவரும் பரிமளிக்கிறோம்.
சிவன் தனிமனித அடையாளமாக அமைகிறான்....

ऋतुभिः सह कवयः सदैव सम्बद्धाः। विशिष्य संस्कृतकवयः। यथा हि ऋतवः प्रतिसंवत्सरं प्रतिनवतामावहन्ति मानवेषु तथैव ऋतुवर्णनान्यपि काव्यरसिकेषु कामपि विच्छित्तिमातन्वते। ऋतुकल्याणं हि सत्यमिदमेव हृदि कृत्वा प्रवृत्तम्। नगरजीवनस्य यान्त्रिकतां मान्त्रिकतां च ध्वनदिदं चम्पूकाव्यं गद्यपद्यमिश्रितमिति सुव्यक्तमेव। ऐदम्पूर्वतया प्रायः पुरीपरिसरप्रसृतानाम् ऋतूनां विलासोऽत्र प्रपञ्चितः। बेङ्गलूरुनामके...

The Art and Science of Avadhānam in Sanskrit is a definitive work on Sāhityāvadhānam, a form of Indian classical art based on multitasking, lateral thinking, and extempore versification. Dotted throughout with tasteful examples, it expounds in great detail on the theory and practice of this unique performing art. It is as much a handbook of performance as it is an anthology of well-turned...

This anthology is a revised edition of the author's 1978 classic. This series of essays, containing his original research in various fields, throws light on the socio-cultural landscape of Tamil Nadu spanning several centuries. These compelling episodes will appeal to scholars and laymen alike.
“When superstitious mediaevalists mislead the country about its judicial past, we have to...

The cultural history of a nation, unlike the customary mainstream history, has a larger time-frame and encompasses the timeless ethos of a society undergirding the course of events and vicissitudes. A major key to the understanding of a society’s unique character is an appreciation of the far-reaching contributions by outstanding personalities of certain periods – especially in the realms of...

Prekṣaṇīyam is an anthology of essays on Indian classical dance and theatre authored by multifaceted scholar and creative genius, Śatāvadhānī Dr. R Ganesh. As a master of śāstra, a performing artiste (of the ancient art of Avadhānam), and a cultured rasika, he brings a unique, holistic perspective to every discussion. These essays deal with the philosophy, history, aesthetics, and practice of...


इदं किञ्चिद्यामलं काव्यं द्वयोः खण्डकाव्ययोः सङ्कलनरूपम्। रामानुरागानलं हि सीतापरित्यागाल्लक्ष्मणवियोगाच्च श्रीरामेणानुभूतं हृदयसङ्क्षोभं वर्णयति । वात्सल्यगोपालकं तु कदाचिद्भानूपरागसमये घटितं यशोदाश्रीकृष्णयोर्मेलनं वर्णयति । इदम्प्रथमतया संस्कृतसाहित्ये सम्पूर्णं काव्यं...


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इदं खण्डकाव्यमान्तं मालिनीछन्दसोपनिबद्धं विलसति। मेनकाविश्वामित्रयोः समागमः, तत्फलतया शकुन्तलाया जननम्, मातापितृभ्यां त्यक्तस्य शिशोः कण्वमहर्षिणा परिपालनं चेति काव्यस्यास्येतिवृत्तसङ्क्षेपः।


इयं रचना दशसु रूपकेष्वन्यतमस्य भाणस्य निदर्शनतामुपैति। एकाङ्करूपकेऽस्मिन् शेखरकनामा चित्रोद्यमलेखकः केनापि हेतुना वियोगम् अनुभवतोश्चित्रलेखामिलिन्दकयोः समागमं सिसाधयिषुः कथामाकाशभाषणरूपेण निर्वहति।


अस्मिन् स्तोत्रकाव्ये भगवन्तं शिवं कविरभिष्टौति। वसन्ततिलकयोपनिबद्धस्य काव्यस्यास्य कविकृतम् उल्लाघनाभिधं व्याख्यानं च वर्तते।

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the third volume, some character sketches of great literary savants responsible for Kannada renaissance during the first half of the twentieth century. These remarkable...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the second volume, episodes from the lives of remarkable exponents of classical music and dance, traditional storytellers, thespians, and connoisseurs; as well as his...

Karnataka’s celebrated polymath, D V Gundappa brings together in the first volume, episodes from the lives of great writers, poets, literary aficionados, exemplars of public life, literary scholars, noble-hearted common folk, advocates...

Evolution of Mahabharata and Other Writings on the Epic is the English translation of S R Ramaswamy's 1972 Kannada classic 'Mahabharatada Belavanige' along with seven of his essays on the great epic. It tells the riveting...

Shiva-Rama-Krishna is an English adaptation of Śatāvadhāni Dr. R Ganesh's popular lecture series on the three great...


ಮಹಾಮಾಹೇಶ್ವರ ಅಭಿನವಗುಪ್ತ ಜಗತ್ತಿನ ವಿದ್ಯಾವಲಯದಲ್ಲಿ ಮರೆಯಲಾಗದ ಹೆಸರು. ಮುಖ್ಯವಾಗಿ ಶೈವದರ್ಶನ ಮತ್ತು ಸೌಂದರ್ಯಮೀಮಾಂಸೆಗಳ ಪರಮಾಚಾರ್ಯನಾಗಿ  ಸಾವಿರ ವರ್ಷಗಳಿಂದ ಇವನು ಜ್ಞಾನಪ್ರಪಂಚವನ್ನು ಪ್ರಭಾವಿಸುತ್ತಲೇ ಇದ್ದಾನೆ. ಭರತಮುನಿಯ ನಾಟ್ಯಶಾಸ್ತ್ರವನ್ನು ಅರ್ಥಮಾಡಿಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಇವನೊಬ್ಬನೇ ನಮಗಿರುವ ಆಲಂಬನ. ಇದೇ ರೀತಿ ರಸಧ್ವನಿಸಿದ್ಧಾಂತವನ್ನು...


“वागर्थविस्मयास्वादः” प्रमुखतया साहित्यशास्त्रतत्त्वानि विमृशति । अत्र सौन्दर्यर्यशास्त्रीयमूलतत्त्वानि यथा रस-ध्वनि-वक्रता-औचित्यादीनि सुनिपुणं परामृष्टानि प्रतिनवे चिकित्सकप्रज्ञाप्रकाशे। तदन्तर एव संस्कृतवाङ्मयस्य सामर्थ्यसमाविष्कारोऽपि विहितः। क्वचिदिव च्छन्दोमीमांसा च...

The Best of Hiriyanna

The Best of Hiriyanna is a collection of forty-eight essays by Prof. M. Hiriyanna that sheds new light on Sanskrit Literature, Indian...

Stories Behind Verses

Stories Behind Verses is a remarkable collection of over a hundred anecdotes, each of which captures a story behind the composition of a Sanskrit verse. Collected over several years from...