The Polysemy of the Prabandha-Reading a premodern Musical Genre

Publication Type:

Journal Articles


Indian Journal of History of Science, Volume 51, Issue 1, p.143-155 (2016)



<p>The term prabandha simultaneously means very many things in the context of premodern Indian literature and music. The prabandha as a musical meta-genre has occupied the attention of musicologists from Matanga (8th c. AD?) to Venkatamakhin (16th c. AD). There is much variety in the number, description and details of the various types of prabandha songs found in the musicological sources, and it is fortunate that there are a few examples of prabandha-s available, even if they are from the late medieval period. Here, a specific sub-category – the Śrīranga Prabandha is considered, its genealogy through the musicological literature studied and also an example to understand the life trajectory of the concept of a prabandha is examined. By studying the structural, textual and musical content of the two songs, it is tried to sketch the identity of the musical prabandha vis-à-vis its literary namesake, its literary sources, and its successors in the history of musical genres. Also, the essay explores the overlapping yet distinct spheres of production, reception and circulation of the musical and literary prabandha-s. The available examples are used to discuss the methodological issues of studying genres that straddle the categories of the literary and the performative.</p>