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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2013  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 21-28

Review of Rāgās and its Rasās in Indian music and its possible applications in therapy

1 Directorate of Distance Education, SVYASA University, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
2 Division of Physical Sciences, SVYASA University, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Date of Web Publication21-Dec-2013

Correspondence Address:
Nagarajan Karuna
No. 19, Eknath Bhavan, Gavipuram Circle, Kempegowdanagar, Bengaluru - 560 019, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2347-5633.123288

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The imbalances between our outlook toward life and insight cause stress. This could most of the times result in psychosomatic ailments. By modification of our innermost attitude, we can bring peace, satisfaction and comfort irrespective of the external environment. There are many systems of healing for countering perceived stress, which helps to manage stress as well as its impact on the systems of the body. In this paper, an attempt is made to review the Indian Rāgās and the interwoven agreeable rasās (aesthetic mood) in them. The willful submission to the notes of the music and the willingness to release the negative thought patterns may be helpful in healing physically. Based on many research made on the metaphysical causation of disease, we have attempted to list particular melody or rāgās depicting a particular aesthetic mood, which could help to heal a particular disease.

Keywords: Indian music, metaphysical cause, Rāgas, Rasās

How to cite this article:
Karuna N, Srinivasan TM, Nagendra H R. Review of Rāgās and its Rasās in Indian music and its possible applications in therapy. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol 2013;1:21-8

How to cite this URL:
Karuna N, Srinivasan TM, Nagendra H R. Review of Rāgās and its Rasās in Indian music and its possible applications in therapy. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol [serial online] 2013 [cited 2024 Feb 23];1:21-8. Available from: https://www.ijoyppp.org/text.asp?2013/1/1/21/123288

  Introduction Top

Emotional healing is to ward off the negative feelings of criticism, anger, guilt and resentment and replace them with positive mental thought patterns of love, compassion, pleasantness and calmness. This is in line with the Patañjali Yoga Sūtra [1:33].

The fourfold attitude as described in the above sutra, life's vicissitudes and in all relationships is conducive to peace of mind. It also enables one to overcome the distractions of the mind. They are: (1) Friendliness toward those who are pleasantly disposed to oneself (friends), (2) Compassion for the sorrowful and when one is in a painful condition, (3) Rejoicing for the happiness of others or transpersonal happiness, (4) Neutrality or non-judgmental mindset towards the wicked.

Emotional healing is possible through understanding the metaphysical aspect of one's being. The science of metaphysics [1] has emerged since the advent of psychoanalysis. Freud discovered that the body and the psyche are irrevocably linked. Researchers in the field such as, Fritz Perls and Louise Hay have greatly contributed to the revival of the body of information that constitutes metaphysical science.

When illness or disease is indicated, the body is communicating to us that our way of thinking (although unconscious) is out of harmony with what is beneficial to our being. Illness indicates the need to change our core belief system and tells us that we have reached our physical and psychological limits. Illness is thus a gift whose purpose is to bring back equilibrium in our being. The physical body does not create illness because the physical body can do nothing by itself. What maintains life is our Ātma. [2]

The thought patterns that cause most diseases in the body are criticism, anger, resentment and guilt. It is so much easier to release these negative thinking patterns with love, peace, joy and self-approval when we are healthy than try to dig them out when we are in a state of panic and under the threat of surgeon's knife. When we can truly live from the loving space of the heart, approving ourselves and trusting the Divine power to provide for us, then peace and joy will fill our lives and illness and uncomfortable feelings will cease to be in our experience [Table 1]. [3]
Table 1: Some common ailments, probable metaphysical cause and replacement of new thought patterns[3]

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Āyurveda says, misuse of the powers and faculties of the "mind-body" (manas and śareera) results in ill-effects. Excessive indulgence, self-mortification, forceful repression of natural urges, excessive fear, grief, anger, jealousy, excessive craving, self-conceit and deluded thinking will all have their harmful effects on a person in the long run and can cause illness. Thus 'Prajnāparadha' or erroneous judgment or lack of discernment is at the root of all illness directly or indirectly. [4]

Many studies report how the emotional memories reach the parts of the brain that control the hormonal stress response and how such emotions can ultimately affect the workings of the immune system and thus affect illnesses as disparate as arthritis and cancer. We are also beginning to piece together how signals from the immune system can affect the brain and the emotional and physical responses it controls: The molecular basis of feeling sick. These questions can now be answered at a level of detail that will offer new treatments for disease and new ways of interacting with the stresses in our environment that we cannot control. [5]

Stress-induced mechanisms, partially captured through violence and social circumstances, may be a critical explanatory link in furthering our understanding of the social disparities in asthma. [6] When examined the effects of brief psychological stressors on cardiovascular, neuro-endocrine and cellular immune response in 22 older women to investigate the common effects of stress across systems, results revealed that psychological stressors heightened cardiac sympathetic activation, elevated plasma catecholamine concentrations and affected the cellular immune response. [7]

In the context of positive social interactions and emotions, one neuro-peptide system containing oxytocin, has emerged as a common regulatory element. Oxytocin coordinates both the causes and effects of positive social interactions. During social interactions, oxytocin can be released by sensory stimuli perceived as positive, including touch, warmth and odors. The consequences of positive social interactions, such as reduced sympathoadrenal activity and enhanced parasympathetic-vagal activity also may be mediated by oxytocin. Because the release of oxytocin can become conditioned to emotional states and mental images, the actions of this peptide may provide an additional explanation for the long-term benefits of positive experiences. [8]

Negative thoughts and emotions must be allowed sufficient inner expression for their origin to be properly analyzed. It is the very analysis, which emphasises the witenessing factor, that may dissolve them. Just as the thoughts will dissapppear when we look at them from a distance in meditation, emotions will disappear when we fearlessly challenge their very nature and origin. This can be done through music experience. [9]

Musical exercises aid in organizing one's thought processes and help in overcoming one's inhibition and restrictions. The creative process of music takes over one's mind and emotion and leads to the feeling of wholeness and completeness with the universe, physical, moral and intellectual. It helps in overcoming all forms of inadequacies or frustrations in life. [10]

  Emotions and Indian Music Top

Music can evoke a wide variety of strong emotions, including joy, sadness, fear and peacefulness or tranquility and people cite emotional impact and regulation as two of the main reasons why they listen to music. Music can produce feelings of intense pleasure or euphoria in the listener sometimes experienced as thrills or chills down the spine. Musical pleasure is closely related to the intensity of emotional arousal. [11]

The concept of "Rasa" is the most important and significant contribution of the Indian mind to aesthetics. The study of aesthetics deals with the realization of beauty in art, its appreciation or enjoyment and awareness of joy that accompanies an experience of beauty. In other words, the main function of rasa is to create a state of perfect beatitude where mind becomes serene and tranquil and susceptible to perpetual bliss (akhanda ānanda). [12]

Rasa is realized when an emotion is awakened in such a manner that it has none of its cognitive tendencies and it is experienced in an impersonal contemplative mood. Rasa is realization of the ultimate truth, the fruition of aesthetic experience. The ultimate realization comes only "after the limitations of the egocentric attitude are transcended and all separate existence is merged in the unity of harmony realized." [13]

The basis of rasa is an emotional state (bhāva) or feeling; the seat of emotion is mind or psyche. Indian poetics have classified and anatomized the different layers of mind. It gives a detailed account of emotional state (bhāva), dominant state (sthāyi bhāva), determinants (vibhāva), consequents (anubhāva) and transitory state (sanchāri bhāva). These various bhāvas are ultimately crystallized into one final rasa. Bhāvas are the mental states caused by particular circumstances or happening. Both rasa and bhāva are complementary to each other. In rasa theory, bhāva has been used in a broad sense to include such emotional states as feeling (anubhūti), mood (manaḥ sthitiḥ0), sentiment (bhāvana) and impulse (vṛtti or āvega). In other words, bhāva in rasa theory is a broad term and it is used in the sense of emotional tendencies (bhāvātmaka pravṛtti). [13]

According to the Nātyaśāstra (dramaturgy) of Bharata (2 nd century BCE-2 nd century CE), "rasa (literally, flavor and relish) is the seed and fruit of the arts." The arts generate and consolidate moods, sentiments and emotions (rasa), freed from the fluctuations of fleeting desires and impulses, focus and diffuse these in the minds and hearts of the people. The consolidation and evocation of rasa, then, represent the function of all fine arts. This is the central conception in India since Bharata, Nātyaśāstra first expounded the doctrine of rasa with its eight categories, viz., love or happiness, gaiety or humor, compassion, fury, valor, awesomeness, loathsomeness, and wonder. From the third or fourth century onward silence or tranquility was not only added as the ninth category, but considered as the supreme rasa [Table 2]. [12]
Table 2: Rasa and the related emotions with their meaning[9]

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This ninth rasa is the culmination of all other rasās and is one of transcendental quality. All Indian arts, including music, attempts at transcendence and is thus are of unique quality; every rasa has a corresponding method and a path leading a person on to experience the reality as defined in Indian philosophies.

Love, joy, courage, calmness, wonder are desirable Rasās whereas anger, fear, sadness, disgust are not desirable. When a disagreeable rasa catches up for a long period, the biochemical environment created in our body is difficult to get rid of and may lead to disease. Maintaining an agreeable rasa over a long period will stabilize our body, keeping it healthy and facilitating in curing disease. [9]

The central objective of classical Indian art is to create rasa in listeners in order to communicate or suggest a kind of knowledge that cannot be expressed in words. The knowledge of Rasās is manifested inside the listener which makes it powerful, leading to real knowledge of truth through intuitive understanding. Thus art becomes a means for educating and healing people emotionally. Rasa is a bio-energy that is partly physical and partly mental. it is an important link between body and mind that affects our thoughts and emotions. [9]

  Indian Rāgas Top

Rāga is the sequence of selected notes (swarās) that lend an appropriate mood or emotion in a selective combination. Depending upon its nature, a rāga could induce or intensify joy or sorrow violence or peace and it is this quality, which forms the basis for therapeutic application. By activating emotions and controlling brain wave patterns, rāgās could be used as a powerful tool for alleviating the most common ailments of the modern society such as blood pressure, depression, sleep disorders, stress etc. [10]

Representations of rāgas bring divine thoughts and sense of transcendental beauty. However, at the transactional level, the form of Indian music is psychologically interwoven with the units of emotion and feelings and when they are efficiently handled by a dedicated artist at the time of rendering the rāgas, they appear as living with different sensations and feelings such as sorrow and pleasure, astonishment, fear etc. [10]

In ancient times men used to imitate the sounds of birds and animals; for example, śadja sa from Peacock, ṛsabha ri from Bullock, gāndhāra ga from Goat, madhyama ma from Jackal, pancama pa from Cuckoo, dhaivata dha from and niśada ni from Elephant. They expressed their innermost feelings to the Supreme or to Mother Nature with their own tunes and words. Initially, it was through the medium of a single note and simple rhythms. with time, their music gradually evolved further with notes having grace and emotional sentiments. [14]

Ŝruti is conceived both as a "musical interval" which make up the notes of the octave and as a pitch position. The seven svarās have innumerable number of śrutis, many of which are difficult to identify except in an emotional or in a psychological sense. This accommodation of śrutis intensifies the bhāva in a rāga which assumes immense significance in Indian system of music. The Indian svarā accommodates its semitones, harmonics etc., (called anusvarās) to express themselves at appropriate places, but also glorifies their presence as sine qua non for determining a rāga. [10]

The seven tones or notes or svarās are divided into 22 microtones or śrutis. Each of the note or swara either lowered or raised in pitch, are known as komal or tīvra respectively. In fact komal or tīvra gives indication of the postion of a note - either higher or lower than its original position. Ŝadja and Pañcama are two steady notes having no distrotion or displacement. Ṛśabha, Gāndhara, Madhyama, Dhaivata and Niśāda are accepted as having two forms as stated above, namely, one high and one low. Now, we have total of 12 notes. [14]

To summarize, the term rāga in the musical sense came to be used when it was found that a group of notes having specific frequencies roused a particular feeling. With the background of śruti the emotional effect of a rāga was clearly perceived and this marks an important landmark in the history of Indian music. Scientifically, the pair of notes bearing the frequency ratios 1:2 or 2:3 or 3:4 (a note and its octave; a note and its Pañcama; and a note and its Ŝuddha Madhyama respectively when sounded together, give a pleasing efffect. Like wise, the notes, komal Ṛśabha and komal Gāndhara have a tinge of pathos. According to an established concept of Carnatic music the emotional effect of a rāga is dependent upon the frequencies of the notes that enter into its formation as also its Jīva svarās and nyāsa svarās. The jīva svara is the index to the rasa of a rāga. The rasa of a raga changes with the shift in emphasis on notes. Jīva svara is given that name, the word "Jīva" meaning "life", because that svara defines the "soul" of the rāga. Nyāsa svarā is the ending note or svara one can settle on either by ending a composition, or a phrase.

While expounding the rāga, the Jīva svara is played or sung more than all other svarās, except the ādhāra śruti śadja or sa. In Hindustani music the Jīva svara is addressed as vādi or sonant note which is the note of primary importance. In most cases it is also the note most frequently used. Thus it helps in evoking the Rasa to its fullest, acting like a beacon to show the path. Different notes determined as vādi notes can express different emotions at various times of the day and night. A vādi note is often addressed as the king.

For the proper enjoyment of the rasa of a rāga or a song in that raga the atmosphere of the place should be saturated with the śruti notes of the tānpura or other drone. The tempo or speed of a musical composition in applied music are generally in consonance with its rasa. Pieces in raudra rasa and vīra rasa are normally sung in dṛta laya or quick tempo. Pathetic pieces generally in viḷambita laya or slow speed. Factors like pitch, intensity, timbre, massiveness, form, grace, language, rythm are also contributory factors in establishing the rasa. Nevertheless it is the intention of the performer to bring out a particular bhāva or emotion through the rendition which finally determines the rasa that is to be expressed. [15]

In one of the studies, it is shown that the meaning of music may be derived in part from the understanding that every note reflects an intentional act, which signals personal relevance to the artist representing a communication between the creator and the perceiver of the music. [16]

Bhatkhande, keeping in view the ancient theory of rasa, has designated only four types of rasa - Ŝṛṅgāra, śānta, Vīrya and Karuṇa, as the most important of all nine varieites of Rasās. Bhatkhande classified the existing Rāgas according to the śhuddha and komal svarās used and consequently the paritcular Rasās or moods they were able to create. He has suggested a general rule of rasās and rāgas which needs further research [Table 3]. [17]
Table 3: Thāt and the Svarās used and the aesthetic mood or rasa created[17]

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Śṛṃgāra means both love and beauty or the aesthetic sentiment associated with them. In the broader sense śṛṃgāra is the mood in which we concentrate on creating a lovely atmosphere, on friends and family, on good manners and romance, on art culture and decoration, on dressing attractively and behaving nicely, on beauty and joy. A master of śṛṃgāra rasa is a master of aesthetic sense, able to bring out the beauty and harmony that is present in everything. [9]

Calmness or śānta is attained through meditation practices combined with keeping a balance between needs and desires. When we focus on what we truly need then the winds of desire do not create any ripples on the surface of the mind. [9]

Vīrya or courage is the rasa of fearlessness, self assurance, determination, heroism, valor, concentration, and perfect control of body and mind. Pure Vīrya is fearlessness in every sense of the word. When this mood is present the personality is firmly in charge, directing body, mind and intellect without error or hesitation. [9]

Karuṇa or true compassion involves the recognition that the suffering of others (as well as their joy) is also our own. If we can feel sorry for others without feeling any superiority, we may expreince highest Karuṇa. True compassion is without descrimination and can be felt for humans as well as for animals, plants, or even for enemies. It makes us a kind person, extending loving kindness to every being we meet. [9]

When a particular rasa is depicted in a raga it touches our heart. Every art is an expression of happiness. Hence Taittirīya Upaniñad states-, raso vai saḥǀ rasam hyevāyam labdhvā ānandībhavatiǀ The happiness derived by the experience of a rasa through music and poetry is not materialisitc. It is transcendental inner happiness, which takes away the pain and miseries. When a musician and the listener is deeply immersed in such expereince of rasa, it is called as rasa vāda by Abhinavagupta. [18]

  Possible Use of a Rāga to Create Particular Rasa for Therapeutic Applications Top

Wrong thought patterns which may cause instability and disease in the body can be replaced with positive feelings and emotions by willfully submitting to music. The four element of Indian music are: (1) Rāga: Melody, (2) Rāsa: Sentiment; (3) Bhāva: Mood and (4) Tāla: Rhythm. A combination of particular musical notes, which creates a particular emotion or rasa, could be used in therapeutic applications. An ancient text known as Rāga cikitsa has codified those rāgās which are therapeutic. Rāgās which depict the mood of love, compassion, peace and courage may be used for dissolving negative thoughts. By controlling the mental and emotional states, we could stay healthy or even reverse the conditions of ill-health [Table 4].
Table 4: Correlation of Rāgās, Rasās and some common Ailments

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One of the most fantastic findings of science is that we are continuously creating new connections between nerve cells in the brain, by creating new neurons and dendrites. Our thinking thus continuously creates new neural patterns, pathways of communication between parts of the brain and also of the body. They largely determine our reaction to what happens to us. The more we use a particular pattern, the more comprehensive the pathway becomes. [9]

Functional imaging studies indicate that listening to music or covertly imagining music strongly activates anterior insula and clinical studies indicate that restricted lesions of anterior insula can produce a condition known as amusia, or disruption of the ability to appreciate the emotional content of music. [9]

There is also scientific evidence supporting claims that music influences health through neurochemical changes in the following four domains:

(i) Reward, motivation and pleasure; (ii) stress and arousal; (iii) immunity; and (iv) social affiliation. These domains parallel, respectively, the known neurochemical systems of (i) dopamine and opioids; (ii) cortisol, corticotrophin-releasing hormone, adrenocorticotropic hormone; (iii) serotonin and the peptide derivatives of proopiomelanocortin, including alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone and beta-endorphin; and (iv) oxytocin. [11]

Thus music has a role to play in improving certain brain functions as well as in therapy of psychoneuroimmunological problems.

  Conclusion Top

Any psychosomatic ailments is the result of manifestation of inner conflicts, stresses, emotions and belief that are counter opposed to positive mental attitude. The emotional processes always have effects on the vegetative nervous system, as well as on the hormonal system, which, in turn, modulates immune system activity. The body is communicating to us that our way of thinking is out of harmony with what is beneficial to our well-being.

All these effects are potentially significant for music-therapeutic applications because they open the prospect for using music to achieve beneficial effect in patients with autonomic, endocrine, or (auto) immune disorders.

Based on many research on metaphysical causation of diseases, we have attempted to list particular melody or rāga that may help to heal a particular disease. We have based the classification of Rāgās and Rasās on the contribution of Bhatkhande. He has also classified the Rāgās based on the time of singing, which may be utilized during therapeutic applications. Our ancient scholars and musician adhered strictly to the time theory. As a general rule, Bhatkhande has taken up tīvra madhyama as indicator of time. The evening and night Rāgas employ tīvra madhyama, while the morning Rāgās use Ŝuddha madhyama.

Each rāga is capable of producing a particular aesthetic mood or rasa. As discussed earlier, Bhatkhande has taken four important Rasās for the musical purpose. Depicting of a particular rasa or mood from a rāga depends upon the piece of the melody, the performer, tempo, rhythm, time of rendering the piece of melody etc., The willful submission to the selected Indian Rāgās, brings out agreeable Rasās (aesthetic mood) such as love, compassion, courage and calmness in the listener. This aids in emotional healing and thus used in therapeutic applications.

Bhatkhande also has given the equivalent Carnātic Melās based on Venkatamakhi's system to that of Hindustāni Thāt's. Hence we have attempted to correlate Rāgās, Rasās and some of the common ailments, which could be healed in the process, in Hindustāni as well as Carnātic music.

The two main functions of music are experiencing rasa and realization of beauty. The state of perfect blissful state helps in eliminating negative attitudes thereby facilitating room for inner expression. The result is balance in intellectual and emotional personality. By experiencing the dominant state of the rasa again and again it is easy to adapt the same in one's day to day life. This will help one to live harmoniously in the society by equating inner and outer expressions. Further this aids in total personality development of physical, mental emotional social and spiritual

Listening to the music and allowing the notes of the melody work on our mind-body and spirit, helps in inter and intrapersonal restorative healing and a redefinition of inner strength. In this regard, an integrated approach of following healthy diet, prāṇāyāma, āsana , meditation, attitudes of detachment and discipline all work in harmony as a synergistic whole to quicken the healing process.

  Acknowledgment Top

The authors are gratefully acknowledge Dr. Manjunath G for sharing his vedic wisdom and Dr. Natesh Babu for his support. [19]

  References Top

1.Metaphysics means beyond physical layer or annamaya kośa which consists of prāṇamaya kośa, manomaya kośa, vijñanamaya kośa and ānandamaya kośa.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Lise Bourbeau. Your Body's Telling You-Love Yourself. Canada: Les Editions ETC Inc.; 2001.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Louise L Hay. You Can Heal Your Life. New Delhi: Hay House Publishers (India) Pvt. Ltd; April 2007.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Gabriel Van Loon. Charaka Samhita, Handbook on Āyurveda . Vol. I. Varanasi: P.V. Sharma and Chaukhambha Orientalia Publishers; 1981. (Ch .Sa1#102-108).  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Esther M. Sternberg. The Balance Within-The Science Connecting Health and Emotions. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company; 2008.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Subramanian SV, Ackerson LK, Subramanyam MA, Wright RJ. Domestic violence is associated with adult and childhood asthma prevalence in India. Int J Epidemiol 2007;36:569-79. Epub 2007 Feb 28.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.Cacioppo JT, Berntson GG, Malarkey WB, Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Sheridan JF, Poehlmann KM, et al. Autonomic, neuroendocrine, and immune responses to psychological stress: The reactivity hypothesis. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1998 May 1;840:664-73.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Kerstin Uvna¨s-Moberg. Oxytocin may mediate the benefits of positive social interaction and emotions. Psychoneuroendocrinology. Elsevier Science Ltd ; Vol. 23, No. 8, pp. 819-835, 1998.  Back to cited text no. 8
9.Peter Merchand. The yoga of the nine emotions. Destiny Books, Vermont; 2006.   Back to cited text no. 9
10.Sairam TV. Rāga Therapy. Nada Centre of music therapy; Chennai 2004. p. 33.  Back to cited text no. 10
11.Mona Lisa Chanda and Daniel J Levitin, The neurochemistry of music, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Vol. 17, No. 8, pp.179, April 2013.  Back to cited text no. 11
12.Mukerjee R. "Rasās" as Springs of Art in Indian Aesthetics", The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 24, No. 1, Oriental Aesthetics. The American Society of Aesthetics, (Autumn, 1965), pp. 91-96.  Back to cited text no. 12
13.Prasad G. I A Richards and Indian Theory of Rasa. Delhi: Sarup & Sarup Sons; 2007. p. 9.  Back to cited text no. 13
14.Prajnānaṇda S. Music of the Nations. Chennai: Rāmākṛśṇa Vedāṇta Math; 1973. p. 49.  Back to cited text no. 14
15.Murthy PS. South Indian Music. Vol. 5. Chennai: The Indian Music Publishing House; 2006. p. 170.  Back to cited text no. 15
16.Koelsch S. The neurosciences and music III - Disorders and plasticity. Ann NY Acad Sci 2009;1169:374-84.  Back to cited text no. 16
17.Nayar S. Bhatkhande's Contribution to Music, A Historical Perspective. Bombay: Popular Prakashana; 1989. p. 159.  Back to cited text no. 17
18.Sampathkumaracharya VS, Ramaratnam V. Karnataka Sangeeta Deepike. Mysore: Published by D.V. K. Murthy; 2000. p. 172.  Back to cited text no. 18
19.Lewis MD, Haviland-Jones JM, Feldman Barrett L. Psychology. Handbook of Emotions. New York: The Guilford Press; 2010. p. 283.  Back to cited text no. 19


  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4]

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