Publication: Indian Musicological Society. Journal of the Indian Musicological Society
Date published:
Language: English
PMID: 93608
ISSN: 0251012X
Journal code: DMCS


Avartan is both the physical and phenomenal property of north Indian art music. Therefore, we can say that it considerably contributes to creativity in khayal.


The present work is an abstracted and freshly edited version of my unpublished PhD dissertation (Roy 2008) that I did under the University of Pune. There have been new additions, where felt necessary after its presentation at the international conference held at the National Center for Performing Arts, organised by the Indian Musicological Society on January 21, 201 I. The work deals only with khayäl (and dhrupad) singing.

We first make the following assumptions so that the discussion does not become unwieldy:

* Time exists

* Cyclical motion is possible

* "Cause" is traditional, translation of a word meaning "factor responsible", or perhaps "explanatory factor"

* "Cyclic" is not necessarily circular & rote

* Creativity' in north Indian art music (NIAM) is limited to:

1. improvisation of composition,

2. invention of creative phrases,

3. novel ways of looking at a rag

4. attempting novel rhythmic patterns,

5. finding various ways of arriving at the sam, etc.

* Repetition is an avartan, but avartan may not be a complete repetition; repetition is a subset of avartan

This is important since the simplest of acts like walking down a crowded road in the city may be seen as a creative act, if seen through a film-maker's lens.

Musically Avartan is:

1. the metrical aspect (Tai avartan)

2. the formal aspect of svara (vibration= avartan)

3. terms "mind" and "matter" are used for representational purposes,

4. also seen as the ordering principle of svara as a material of music,

5. but is also a musical phenomenon,

6. the rag araha-avaraha which apprehends, if not comprehends rag

7. Compositional avartan (Especially cycles within its metrical structure) (e.g. Piya kara dhara dekho dharakata hai mori chatiyan...)

8. Kamp - in svara and in gayaki (as part of gayaki)

Unlike in western music where beat is inviolable, in NIAM avartan is inviolable and beats can be altered for artistic reasons (Courtney 1998). Avartan is the cycle composed of measures (vibhag) which are in turn composed of beats (matra). He describes it as a rhythmic cycle in North Indian (Hindustani) music. It can have any whole number of beats (matra) up to 28 (and perhaps 108), and even sometimes in multiples of half, such as ten and a half (tal sardas), or seven and a half (tal ardha pancamswari).

Psychologically avartan is:

1. the mental order in which we recall svar, tal, lay, composition and many more (observation, absorption, & recall)

2. the cyclical process of perfecting svar, tal, lay, composition etc.

3. the continual cyclical process of internalising and externalising which is part of gayaki

4. functions as a legal framework or ordering for actualisation


1. a legisign above all (Martinez 1997: 92-93).


The definition of avartan will essentially involve describing it and understanding its function in khayal in particular and rag music in general. However, since avartan comes from tradition it cannot avoid cultural factors affecting its imagination, production, and experience and numerous resultant beliefs of Indians. Indians are not only known for their experience-related beliefs, but also for their objective analysis of nature and sciences. In addition, a high level of inter-disciplinarity in Indian thought leads to terms and concepts in one stream of knowledge rather naturally finding parallels in others. For instance, the belief of life after-life and the idea of samsara which are essentially cyclic in the Indian milieu, have their bearing on the idea of avartan-like cyclic conceptions of everything. This is because of the deep entrenchment of the cyclic culture in the Indian mind although according to Thapar R (201 I) India had both cyclical and linear time concepts. The oldest imprints of this world view is seen in the process of memorisation of rcas which involves a cyclic method devised to make sure that words and syllables are not altered or forgotten. According to this, the words of a mantra are strung together in different cyclical patterns like"vakya","pada", "krama", "jata;", "mala", "sikha", "rekha", "dhvaja", "datida", "ratha", "ghana" which represent different permutations of reciting words of a Vedic Mantra. Bhavsar (1998: 64) states that symmetry and cyclicity are "the mathematical generalizations of identity, similarity, repeatability, recurrence, continuity, and reproducibility" which are seen in Sanskrit terms like bhoomandal, vayumandal, nabhimandal and kaalchakra to name a few. These correspond to various spheres and we will later see how mandala appears in music.

But before we go into the terminological aspects of avartan let's see its etymology. Avartan is cyclic by its very semantic. The definition of a concept being the definition of the meaning of a word, as determined by common human usage (Munro 1996: 21) and since common usage of the word avartan has not changed in its primary meaning from Vedic times till today, we assume that it refers to the cyclic aspect. However, there are other words used in Vedic and later literature which reflects the same meaning in varying shades.

Avartan which is formed as avartanam in Sanskrit in this context, is repetition, revision, recitation, and birth rebirth cycle, among others (Thakar 200 1). As per Apte (2009: 16) avartanam means cyclical/circular movement. The idea of a circle or circling is expressed in several shades of words in Sanskrit in music from Sama Vedic times; mandala, vrtti, murchana, and many more as we will discuss next. But the knowledge of geometry appears to have complemented the knowledge of music as far as avartan, matras, mandalas, etc concerned. The useful knowledge of geometry and not just an imagined idea of circle and circling existed during the Rk Vedic period as seen in the Baudhayana Shulbasutras (BS) (Kulkarni 1983: 10). Quoting BS's (RV 1, 1 55.6) description of the wheels of the chariot of Asvinikumar, Kulkarni (1983: 9) points to word "vrttam" which is the root idea and word of Avartan (Thakar VS. 2001). But motion to vrttam appears in the term Savvyavrttalekha which is a geometrical term meaning a line turning anticlockwise, is used in BS number 2.31 (Kulkarni: l25).Apa-sawyavrttalekha may be a line turning clockwise. The same sawya and apasawya (anti-clockwise and clockwise) is encountered commonly by Brahmins who do the tarpana in Brahma yajña and have to orient their sacred thread called yajnapavita for tarpana to Devatas and Pitr (forefathers), respectively. Note that the yajnapavita is essentially circular group of threads knotted with ends tied beginning to end. The musical avartan presupposes a musical movement, therefore we can say that the idea of moving in cyclical fashion is rooted in Vedic Geometry, but this is not to say yet that Sama Vedic music may have borrowed the idea of avartan from geometry.

The concept of tal and avartan are inseparable and since the term and concept of tal is found in the Brahmana literature according to Banerji (1990: 9). For instance, tal related to dance, in Aitereya 5/22/10, it is impossible that the idea of avartan was not recognized. The author refers to the simultaneous performance of song and dance in Shatapatha 3/2/46. Therefore it is very likely that avartan was the unifying factor in such performances. In Narada SikSa's recommendations of the defects of song, a song devoid of tal is defective (Banerji: 12). Naturally, a song without avartan was not seen as good.

As even in SAMA vedic times the matra was fixed for a tal, the resultant scenario can be graphically expressed in fig. I. As time passes an isosceles triangle is generated. The entire avartan is then a series of such triangles. Although the matra in today's khaya (and dhrupad) gayaki (Courtney 1998) is "violable" in practice of tal as an art, mathematically, the length of the matra is fixed. Therefore, avartan of dadra tal will have six matras culminating in the sam and may be depicted by figure I. Note that the end of matra 6 is the same as the beginning of matra I or at the zeroth matra. The base of each triangle is the time that has passed from the beginning of a matra to the beginning of the next. This is akin to dividing a circle into equal parts which was known during the rg Vedic period (Kulkarni: 14) as Vedic chariot makers divided wheels of chariots into five equal sections to fit the spokes. Wayne (1988: 63) gives vrtti as style or tempo and quotes Rowell's (1977:89) translation from Narada (not Naradiya) Siksa 1.6.21 as below:

"One should perform in the fast tempo when studying, but in a moderate tempo while reciting, and in the slow tempo for instruction to pupils."

That the Indian tala avartan is inviolable for a period and purpose chosen is, perhaps, rooted in this kind of norm that is seen in Narada Siksa. Now let's see the projection of an avartan in two dimensions as shown in figure I.

Mandala is circle as given in BS number 1.23 (Kulkarni: 1 25). The mándalas mentioned in the rgVeda are circles generated from a point and are cyclic "performance engaged in eternal steps" (Bonshek 2001: 12) of evolution. This description is akin to the steps in avartan formed by matra progression. One avartan evolves from of the earlier, but there are repeated elements in each causing a spiral of creativity. Vatsayan (1991: 57) in translaton of BrhaddeSi gives the murchana mandala which I think forms the basis of tonal improvisation. Kallinatha in his commentary on SangTt Ratnakara I, 8.18. of Sarang Deva indirectly confirms the existence of avaratan in Sama Veda singing (Vatsayan 1992: 192). He confirms the observation of Matang that during the repetition of half pada (as in ardhamagadhi) the verbal meaning is not cared for as Sama Veda is predominantly musical. By repetition Matang refers to pravrtti and nivrtti which observation Kallinatha finds correct.

The etymology of murchana as given by Matang (ibid: 53) is murcha or moha (loss of consciousness, stupefaction, infatuation) added to samucchariya (increase, growth). Matang also defines mürchana as that through which rag (colour, delightfulness) increases.

In Upanisadic literature it becomes clear that "avartan" is a way of revering.

sarvidhyesvarah sarvamantresvarah bhutva pujaya

avartspantrailokyasvamiohanyaha kuryat

(Make your life fruitful and meaningful by going round the master of the three worlds and many more.)

Peeta Upanishad P-422

"Avartanakramena" has appeared as follows

Tadvivare souvarnan tadhksaparsve rajatan tadvame

Tamra tanmukhe mukhantapucche pucchat) tadantaravartankrameria

(Take rounds of the place (could be your house or deity) by placing gold in a hole, silver on the left (of the hole), copper in the front...)


The above seem to show proper way of carrying out certain acts of worship for fulfillment of human meta-needs. The same is reflected in the aucitya concept of Indian aesthetics which refers to propriety or keeping decorum (Sethuraman Ed. 2005:435). Roychowdhuri (2000) says avarda is the popular form of the word avarta and is the "entire cycle of a rhythmic or melodic composition". But Martinez (92-93) terms "every level of metrical and temporal organisation" as legisigns in his Piercian analysis of NIAM which also refers to a certain cyclical order. One of the levels he refers is to "avart" and goes on to say quoting Saxena (1979: 67) that "sam not only initiates, but consummates" the avart.

This is nothing but the concept of adi-onto-adi which is the cyclic conception of time in India, where the beginning and end are enjoined. This concept is exemplified in the dhrupad set to Cautal in Rag Bhairava:

Siva Adi Madhya Anta. . .

(D. Sayeedduddin, personal communication, n.d.)

Shiva (Yogi) is between two moments (beginning and end) or the Yogi is timeless since he is the beginning, middle, and the end.

Note that the word Aadi is located at the sam of chowtal, followed by madhya anta. Looking at aspects of NIAM (here avartan and creativity) objectively leads to problems since traditions, beliefs, subject-in-object kind of situations, etc are common in rag singing. It is Aristotlean view because the cause present in art is present in nature.This along with the Indian pindaBrahmS\r\da concept forms a strong premise.

We show here with examples, that no musical creativity is possible without the cyclic in north Indian art music (NIAM). Avartan is seen as a dynamic superstructure of mind and matter within which there may be other cycles and is not only as a temporal material of music (as in sounded tal), but also as the basic property of the phenomenal world of NIAM, bringing in Cartesian subjectivity. It is indispensible to NIAM and is fundamental to Indian culture and hence to the Indian world view. Linking avartan with creativity is an approach which sits on the borders of systematic musicology, philosophy, culture, and psychology. I show that it is the property of mind and matter both.

In musical terms avartan has been operationalised as its metrical aspect. It is also seen as the ordering principle of svara as a material of music and musical phenomenon. Avartan is also the rag's objective form as manifest in the aroha and avaroha.

Psychologically, avartan is seen as the order of memory on the one hand, and placed in the mind and matter story. We will see if this ordering causes creativity.

"Creativity" in NIAM is limited to improvisation of composition, invention of creative phrases, novel ways of looking at a rag, attempting novel rhythmic patterns, or finding various ways of arriving at the sam and many more. This is important since the simplest of acts may be seen as creative in some sense or the other. For instance, walking down a crowded road in the city may be seen as a creative act, if seen through a film-maker's lens.

John (1990) informs that the root of the word "cycle" is given to be in IndoEuropean qwol, qwl, which signifies going round. Note that qwol comes close to qoul in Sufi music quawali.The French avoir du retentissment (a-vwar-dutan-tes-man) which means to be "repeated and echoed" (Hughes 1912: 77) comes rather close to the meaning, pronunciation, and formation of avartan.


Present is an interpretative method and hence a rational approach is advised by Western and Indian philosophies. It examines the role of avartan in creativity in general and creativity in music in particular. In doing so, not only does it try to see why it aids creativity but how it does so. It is seen here as one of the causes of creativity in the Aristotlean sense of cause; material, formal, efficient, and final.

The following issues bring to the fore the necessity for a hermeneutic and humanistic psychological [a science of human experience; of loving, sharing, coping, and knowing (Weiner 1977)] methodology for studying Indian music which is highly contextual, subjective, and experiential:

1. Human experiences of growth and fulfillment appear outside of behaviorism, structuralism, if not fully gestaltism.

2. The present paper rejects Freudian assumption that psychological faculties are in service of the body.

3. Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers stress the unique meta-needs of humans, like self-actualisation and aesthetics.

4. Creativity is possible and it is a meta-need of humans.

5. Not existentialist because it stresses individual fulfillment, but rag is an attempt at universal fulfillment through individual fulfillment.

Subroto Roy

It is this experiential aspect which creates problems when applying positive methods at telling a complete story about Indian art music.

* Cartesian mechanistic model where matter is understood positively but mind as its extension, is problematic.

First, the terms ävartan and creativity are defined from various angles. Then the links between the two are established which is actually trying to establish the dependence of one another. The definitions of the terms are informed by semantics, etymology, aesthetics, Piercian semeiotics, the Indian Darsanas, musicological references, among other things.

Justification of humanistic psychology is given in a nutshell in Table I. The table clearly shows why behaviourism and psychoanalysis cannot be considered while we try to understand Indian art music. In addition, both these methods do not take into consideration the change in the performer or the listener's phenomenal and situational aspects. Apart from what is mentioned above, we see that the primary relationship of the researcher with his / her subject in both these is not suitable for analysis of an art like rag music which is not written and involves extempore improvisation to a great extent. Only humanistic psychology addresses a person-to-person and/ persons relational circumstance.

Note that Rogerian phenomenology particularly suits the Avartan problem because it admits both the deterministic and the humanistic approaches when it comes to human behaviour (Nye 1 975: 84). Based on his formula we see that avartan is supportive of knowledge of music both objectively and experiential Iy. Avartan helps the artiste and the listener for "objective scientific inquiry (based on deterministic assumptions)" into musical possibilities and subjective evaluation of oneself and the other. Here the artiste may be him / herself while the listener/s may be the other and vice versa. Drawing upon Roger's model of "emphatic understanding (phenomenological knowledge)", "subjective understanding", and objective understanding are possible. The model especially helps the present work, as in Indian art music it is the cyclical aspect which helps achieve all this, as will be shown in the relevant section. Here is a method that promises to fill the explanatory gap between physical and phenomenal experiences (Burwood, Gilbert, Lennon 2003: 1 20) that exists especially in a music which is highly contextual (Rao 2000).

Justification of Hermeneutic Approach

The Hermeneutic approach helps this analysis, but the problem lies in its objectifying knowledge and seeing it comprehensively. This needs to be separately addressed and is out of the scope of this paper. That the subject has to be in the object's shoes to know it better, is a sound method which Hermeneutics provides. Avartan is, by itself, a hermeneutic circle but it is a process and a method of exploring aesthetic possibilities of rag and composition which involves experience. Elsewhere, I have pointed out the weakness of the hermeneutic approach.

Occurrences of Avartan


It is the temporal cycle of a fixed number of beats in the compositional section. In the rag, the completion of ascent and descent of the scale. Within the composition, when one sthayi-antara cycle have been completed and the artiste comes back to sthayi the compositional avartan is said to have been completed.

Mere repetition of a single svar is also avartan, but can it be seen as creativity? I like to posit here that the mere utterance of a svar is creativity, as it gives a musical and aesthetic satisfaction which is a human meta-need on the basis of humanistic psychology. From the Aristotlean senses of cause, in NIAM, avartan fits in all the definitions of cause; formal, efficient, material, and final.


1. Daily routines:This involves both; mind and matter or body and mind.

2. Trends: Trends keep coming back. This is clearly physical but its recognition is phenomenal.

3. The hour-minute-second hands of a watch/clock A time-piece is clearly objective and its indicators of time are also physical. However, time itself is both phenomenal and physical so is cyclical time.

Geographical and astronomical:

1. The day and night:These are physical facts.

2. The seven days of a week, 12 months in a year: These are physical facts but the nomenclatural, conventional, and cultural aspects are phenomenal. For instance, the names of days in different cultures is different. The significance of certain parts of the year or the day and night is different in different cultures. Daylight may be seen as hopeful, but in India if the amavasya starts during the day (and stays for the next 12 hours) even that part of the day is considered inauspicious to do any important work or travel. But when the amavasya is over, the inauspiciousness is cancelled and one can start a good project etc even if it is the night. Such are beliefs which have been reinforced by experience and are certainly phenomenal.

3. Return of Hailey's Comet: It is a physical celestial event.

Relationship of Ävartan With Creativity


In Rogerian psychology (1975: 92) a technical term is used in place of "human being", organism which is the "locus of experience". The basic underlying motive of this organism is "actualising tendency" to "maintain and enhance the organism's experiences and potentialities". It is this organism that encourages "actualisation". However, I say that it is due to the legal aspects in khayal which help this process of encouragement in the case of the singing organism.

The singer of khayal (or dhrupad) takes the audience along in his exploration of composition or rag as may be the case.This is possible due to musical facts that bind the attention of the audience. Legal aspects like rag rules, tal, composition, and avartan, apart from adherence to tonal and rhythmic proprieties, are of prime importance in this simulated aesthetic travel. These elements bring in the desired coherence in audience experience at the performance level. At the analysis level too without the legal aspects chances of becoming infinitely subjective become very high; the possibility of universalisation may reduce considerably. In fact, these legal aspects are the facts which make it aesthetic. In fact, these legal aspects makes Ävartan in its various manifestations in khayal (and dhrupad) the scientific basis upon which one understands and knows this music. At the same time, the avartans that exist in the mind in the form of memory, recall of experience, associative imagination and many more forms the basis for subjective and phenomenological understanding of experience.

However, this is not to deny the fact that there are experiences which may be unique depending upon perception. Rogers informs us (ibid: 85) based on his psychotherapy experience that his "clients develop toward more and more freedom as they become less defensive and less distorted in their reactions to their total inner experiencing and their social and physical environment". He terms such people socially maladjusted. Having said that Ävartan helps in universalisation of khayäl in a performance situation, it is worth conducting an experiment to comparatively test the effect of sustained exposure to khayäl (or dhrupad) and that to more rigid western classical music, on socially "maladjusted people". Such people according to Rogers (ibid) have a more patterned and rigid behavior, are incapable of exercising their free choice, and deny and distort their inner experiencing as well as their environmental circumstances. The logical premise is that khayäl (or dhrupad) with its Ävartan-like features allow more freedom to the artiste and hence to the listener to imagine as compared to that afforded in western classical music.

Roger's belief that humans are innately good and are growth oriented (Nye 1975: 91) is applicable to a khayäl (and dhrupad) performance situation, because both their innate goodness and growth orientation is proved by the very act of attending the performance aimed at an attempt to be something better than what they are. While separating mechanistic models from his humanistic phenomenology Roger (ibid) thinks it essential to consider that humans have freedom. It is this high degree of freedom that makes Indian rag music that much more analyzable through the method of humanistic psychology and phenomenology. Growth and freedom are two important pillars of creativity and hence the above argument justifies creativity due to cyclicity. No successful artiste can do without understanding audience behaviour. Roger (ibid) points out that it becomes important to understand the perceptions of reality of people before we understood their behaviour.

Goswami (1995: 8) writes that emotions are belief dependent and are "inextricably anchored to beliefs". Now, aesthetic being is difficult, if not impossible, without belief that with the inputs the listener or the performer will definitely become something. Now, in a performance situation the singer attempts to be with the help of the elements mentioned above. Now all the elements mentioned and memory being cyclical there is complete dependence of this being on the cyclic; both materially and phenomenally. Now there are two reasons why the listener will appreciate being where she is I) singing is on expected lines recalling experiences and resultant beliefs and 2) singing is on unexpected lines.There could be another third possibility that the listener has not significantly changed. While the first two possibilities fit with (Goswami: 7-8) categories of emotions a) belief dependent thereby object dependent emotions b) belief-independent but object-dependent, and c) i) object-dependent but not thought-dependent and ii) be "feelable".

Both the first two possibilities are because of two things respectively I) the singer's coherent being thanks to legal aspects she follows 2) she improvises or breaks away from legal aspects. In either case, as far as khayäl (and dhrupad) is concerned the singer cannot break away substantially from legal aspects to a considerable degree. Therefore, even her breaking away is heavily dependent upon the legal aspects. Aesthetic being here, is a creative output of singing. In conclusion therefore, ävartan is in some way responsible for creativity.

Finally, recall is preceded by retention and absorption in this order making each recall a cyclic. As we have shown that no creativity in NIAM is possible without recall, no creativity is possible without the cyclic.

Problem with Hermeneutics

Goswami writes that expression and emotion are "hermeneutically placed" from the object. In our khayäl (or dhrupad) performance situation we are taking sounded music as an object which is ordered by the legal aspects. But the weakness here is that the hermeneutic approach objectifies music, because it considers only the sounded music and hence material not phenomenal. What, I ask, happens to the laws which make music what it is and which are in the minds of the singer and the expectant listener? Although the laws may be in the form of thought and not feeling, they are inextricable from the music they expect. Before music is sounded by the singer expression cannot be "hermeneutically placed" from its response. Yet its existence in her mind is continually causing a creative feeling leading to emotions. Although it may be argued that this could be a memory of sounded music that is causing the emotion and is object-dependence, still since there is no expression and a listener the issue of hermeneutic placement of expression and emotion to the object is redundant. It may also be said in reply that the music in her mind could well be an original strain which further makes the object outside redundant. This problem needs to be separately addressed as it lies outside the scope of this paper.


Similar is the case with other things in nature, daily life, and others. For instance, the cyclical movement of the Sun. Unless the sun moves cyclically in relation to the earth, vegetation is not possible, because water, carbon, and nitrogen cycles are dependent on this cycle. Again take the case of a churning butter which is a cyclic movement. It causes the clarified butter (ghee) to separate out. This is achieved by a centrifugal force that acts on the butter. This is caused by the cyclic motion of the churner.The energy for this cyclic is provided by the person who churns. So one might say that more is the energy provided by the person, more is the butter (as long as there is enough raw material) that is generated and hence the person who churns is the creator of ghee. But this leads to the problem of infinite regress.

I say that the cause of the ghee is the ghee itself and the cyclic mode of recall of ghee's odour; only if one has come across the smell or taste of ghee will she be inspired to churn it again to reach that end. Only then does the cycle completes. Inspiration is itself a mental energy. Therefore, creativity is an attempt to re-produce a known desired result or a variant as per the meta-need of the creator/beneficiary of the creation. This goes to show that a creative decision is possible only when the need for a repetition arises. Hence dependence on past is essential to creativity. Reference to the past is a mental cyclicity.

Aristotlean Cause

The Aristotlean definition of causes helps analysis of ävartan as follows (See figure 2):


It is defined as

"That from which something is made."

As we know that sound being a wave is cyclic, sounded ävartan, as in täl, is made from sound which is cyclic. This is a situation where there are cycles within cycles. Therefore, ävartan is made up of cycles. In fact sounded music is itself made up of cycles and therefore creativity is caused by ävartan.


That by which something is made.

Like the father who "causes" his son. In this sense the singer of khayäl uses her ability to absorb, retain, and ability to recall svara, rag, täl, lay etc and manipulates them to create newness. The process of retention, retain, and recall is cyclic and hence it is this cyclic which contributes to creativity here. It is this essential feature of the artiste which is responsible for creativity as without memory there cannot be creativity in khayäl.


That into which something is made (Mould).

The verse number I 12 of Sarna Veda points at ävartan in Sarna Veda, (ibid: 127). Note thatVrtti is an etymological root of Ävartan and points at tempo/ pace/lay (Thakar.VS. 200 1). This is also true because Matalig rafers to laya as pravrtti (Vatsayan.K. 1 992: 1 27). Translator of BD refers to pravrtti as "lay in operation".

Now, since Pada according to Matanga (ibid) is the textual aspect and is the mould of svara it leads to an interesting observation. Varna is the "primary melodic unit" of melodic movement and pada is the "primary textual unit" (ibid: 1 83). Varna is seen in Indian traditional thought is in association with the "more concrete" pada. Therefore repeated padas of Säma Veda do not matter as far as the varna changes and variety is brought about. In addition, ävartan is repetition as far as both aspects are repeated, but the creativity lies in repeating one and changing the other.

There is clear continuity between ancient singing in Säma Veda and today's singing. Today's täl ävartan is like a mould into which the composer fits bandish using imagination, musical and linguistic memory, and skills of various kinds. But the words become the receptacle of music just as it was in Säma Veda. This is one of the reasons why the composition is called "bandish"; it is integrated into the täl ävartan. Now, improvisational creativity in khayäl or dhrupad ias possible only when this moulded bandish is referred to, and improvised musically and not verbally just as in case of Säma Veda. Without this reference, there cannot be any improvisation. Even if badhat is done without heed to composition, the artiste has to respect the täl ävartan to make meaningful rag music. These arguments leads us to conclude that ävartan is the cause of creativity in khayäl in the formal sense.


That for the sake of which something is made.

Ävartan is made for the fulfilment of an aesthetic need of the artiste and her listeners; the aesthetic need is more often than not the sam. In addition, sam plays a pivotal role in the dynamics of khayäl (and dhrupad) and is almost like a goal the singer and listener looks forward to. To me Sam is Shiva who sits between two moments as the Yogi as we will see next. xxiii

Indian Darshana

The method of understanding matter as described by Kanada according to Näräyan (2007: 2) is knowing the unknown based on comparison with what is known through their respective similarities and differences.

In the case of NIAM it is impossible to create a new musical ävartan without reference to the already existing one. When a khayäl rendition opens the artiste refers to the ävartan of the composition again and again. In dhrupad type äläp the artiste may basically repeatedly refer to the rag äroha-avaroha and other rules. Even if we assume that the äroha-avaroha is not a reference point for some artistes, they need to refer back again and again on the rag svarüp or to what they just did with svaras and how to improvise on that. These mental activities are cyclical. Even the opening svara is a vibration and hence falls in the category of ävartan; as a subset of ävartan.

Given Kanada's theoretical base (if ävartan means repetition), the following scenarios (but not limited to these) can be imagined:

1. In music the repetition of the same sound

(Note that a singer cannot practically repeat the same svara because each it changes each time). Although physics may tell us that the frequency is the same instrumentation mediated graphic representation tells us the exact story (Meer & Rao: I) as far as aläp is concerned. It often happens that the same note repeated does not sound and feel the same.

2. Ordering the same sound with different accentuations

3. Keeping the order same, changing the musical sound

4. Order and sound different in same intervals

5. Alter temporal aspects but repeat verbal material and tonal aspects same (as in dugun, tigun, chougun, and many more often seen in Darbhanga style of dhrupad)

6. Alter temporal aspects but repeat verbal material and tonal aspects same (as in candätmak laykäri and upaj in Dägarväni dhrupad)

7. Alter temporal and tonal aspects aspects but based on fixed/repeated verbal material (as in some dhrupadstyles and especially in khayäl)

8. Repeating the temporal and verbal aspects, but altering the tonal aspects

In any case, if a different scenario has to emerge it has to be with respect to the past otherwise no issue of "difference" arises.

The functions of mürchanä may be seen as fulfilling the aesthetic meta-needs of the music performer/listener which is the creative end of mürchanä. Note that mürchanä is cyclic movement and mürchanä mandala is a large cycle (ibid: 57) of cycles. It can be estimated that all the mürchanäs came into existence one by one and not at once. Therefore, it is plausible that one cyclic mürchanä led to the other. This means the cyclicity of mürchanä has contributed to the formation of newer mürchanäs. Moreover, the earlier argument regarding cyclicity of the process of memory, shows that one mürchanä is a product of the earlier mürchanä which is essentially an improvisation of the first which musicologists have done using their memory.


The esoteric aspect of music is clear in SañgTt Ratnäkara of Sadañgdeva (in Banerji: 145-147). SR recognises nine chakras (nerve plexuses or mystical circles) within the human body. When the vayu or air we breathe out strikes the 22 nadis which are united with the upward artery, ähat näd results. Now, breathing out is not possible without inhaling and it is this cyclical breathing that enables us to create ähat näd. Hence svara is created because of the cyclicity of breath.

Take the following Räga Bhairav dhrupad:

"Siva Adi Madhya Anta..."

The timeless Siva or the Yogi (Dyczkowski 1997) is the chief deity of time and hence He devours it; Kàlagràsarasika; past and future are not different from the present. He is the Yogi (without categories/unity itself) blissful between two moments and full of potential creative energy. This situation is replicated in the sam of ävartan or the first beat (unity) in the cyclic meter. Sam is the pivotal aspect which is continually sought after by the artiste in an attempt to meet the Yogi sitting between moments. From this unity multiplicity is born giving birth to cyclic meter representing the infinitely diverse phenomenal world.

According to Zimmer (1992: 152) Siva's dance is an act of creation and terms it as "ever-enduring gyration" which is ävartan.

We see that ävartan to an Indian is not only in matter, but also in the mind nothing escapes the cyclic order. In NIAM we see ävartan and creativity appearing together. Therefore, creativity is not possible without ävartan.

Serious work on human energy fields (HEF) is being carried out at the Esalen Center for Theory & Research well known for its blend of East/West philosophies. Research on Hara line (Brennen 2000) from where creativity upwells is a "center within". The Hara line is the foundation of the HEF and correlates to our intentionality. Now, intentionality is strong when inspirational level is high and physical energy of the creator is enough to bring this intentionality to reality. The root of energy in human body and mind are due to various involuntary cyclic activities which we will soon see.

Roy (2010, December 13) explains inter-alia the concept of ävartan in north Indian art music, and draws parallels with the cyclical nature of cosmic time as quoted below:

Time, according to western thinkers, is what passes between two events.This is a linear view of time, the reductionist approach, as some call it. Indie tradition, however, presents a cyclic concept of time. Time is not restricted to something that occurs between two events, as proposed in the reductionist view. Secondly, whether we acknowledge it or not, time exists beyond our capacity to comprehend it. That we think time exists is not its only manifestation.

In the cyclic concept of time, since the super-structure of time is cyclic, tangible and intangible events keep getting repeated in smaller cycles and are subjunctive to time. ..The heavy demand for extempore improvisation (in NIAM) forces a performer to continually view her immediate musical act and improvise based on each of these, creating a different present and promising a new future. With every attempt at improvement, a spiral of creativity is generated. Then, at a point of time the artiste realises that she needs to break away from this cycle just as an aircraft takes off from the runway after gaining enough momentum. At a very secular level, this process replicates an urge for freedom from routines in life despite their relative variability. The artiste begins to hanker for a routine with a different pace and set of rules, a process that fuels her creativity.

In rag rendition, we can see how first the pace of avartan is altered. Then altogether new talas or meters are negotiated, representing the same cosmic order. When we perform, we start at a slow pace and gradually increase the pace. Indian classical music is based on a meter; we start with ektal and move on to tritai much like the cosmic order in the universe. There is unity in multiplicity; we begin with one, go up to 12 and then again come back to one. Since one cannot value freedom without being shackled and finding a tool to gain a threshold frequency for the final release, a tight meter with stringent pace and aesthetic dictums is recommended in NIAM.

Avartan also provides a dynamic process of observation, retention, and recall which forms the structure of memory itself, cyclical. At an esoteric level, Siva is the chief deity of kal or Time, hence He relishes devouring it as kalagrasarasika. He is the Yogi, without categories, a personification of unity, blissful between two moments and full of potential creative energy.

This yogic situation is replicated in the sam, integral to avartan. Sam is the first beat (unity) in the cyclic meter. Sam is the pivotal aspect which is continually sought after by the artiste in an attempt to meet the yogi sitting between moments. From this unity, multiplicity is born giving birth to cyclic meter, itself representing the infinitely diverse phenomenal world. The process is yagya; the path for liberation and the musician is the yagnic, who brings about liberation. This birth of multiplicity from unity is generation from avartan or gyration.

Positive Justifications

Svara is sound and hence is a waveform which needs energy, and has frequency and wavelength. Let's see the relationship between energy, creativity, frequency. Now, at high speeds E=hnu (Frequency & Energy, 2000) where E is the energy of photon, h is Plank's constant, and nu is frequency of wave associated with photon. This is true for any cyclic motion, albeit in different terms. It is true Greater is the energy, larger is the frequency and the shorter (smaller) the wavelength. Given the relationship between wavelength and frequency - the higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength - it follows that short wavelengths are more energetic than long wavelengths.

Here we see that the properties like frequency, wavelength, and energy of a waveform are inter-dependent. Creativity too depends largely on energy of the person who creates, but the energy needs to be channelised to achieve this end which is possible due to ävartan.

This energy comes from cyclical behaviour and involuntary biological, and biochemical activity within human body which are tuned to the biological clock (Underwood, Swain, 1 973). The suprachiasmatic nuclei are responsible for the daily rhythm. Therefore, the cyclic is inescapable.

Is Avartan Wherever Creativity Is?

Yes. Since, memory is essential for human creativity it follows that ävartan is indeed encountered whenever there is creativity. If we reduce sound of music to the physics of sound, it is a sound wave which is cyclic, whether it comes out of the human vocal chords, or of a table, or any string or wind instrument. In addition, above examples of the co-incidence of ävartan and creativity show this is true. In khayäl and in dhrupad we have to refer to the last ävartan to improvise or create a new musical passage in the current one.This back and forth movement is itself avartan.

Take the case of a cricket ball that rotates even when thrown without a spin. The ball will spin due to resistance provided by air. But why revolution/ rotation/gyration is so common in the universe where there is no air resistance? This, points at an initial torque that may have been provided and rotational motion due to a complete lack of air resistance. Moreover, it might be due to mutual gravitation that there is relative revolutionary or rotator motion. It needs to be seen in a separate project whether human creativity is a microcosmic replication of the universal creative process.


1. Since ävartan is the property of physical materials of Indian music and of the phenomenal world therefore ävartan is necessary for creativity in khayäl (and dhrupad).

2. Ävartan being cyclic and in keeping with the Indian concept of time, the problem of infinite regress in creativity is automatically addressed.


It can be argued that everything in khayäl (and dhrupad) is cyclic. If this is true, then there is no need to prove its contribution to creative outputs.

Possible reply

Even if we can argue that everything in khayäl (dhrupad) is cyclic, the hypothesis still holds because we are showing the cyclic to be the cause of creativity. We are first showing that human mental and physical efforts in khayäl (and dhrupad) singing and the materials are cyclic. Then depending on this truth we are showing that it is this cyclic which causes creativity. This is an argument.


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Author affiliation:

Subroto Roy's doctoral dissertation is on the aspect of avartan in khayal. He has been a post-doctoral fellow at the National Film Archives of India. Currently he is involved in making a comparative study between the Sama Gana and Hindustani vocal music.

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