Šams al-aṣwāt | Monography or Translations of known period | Music | Survey | Perso-Indica


Monography or Translations of known period
Ras Baras, Šams al-aṣwāt

The Šams al-aṣwāt is a treatise on Indian music and was translated by Ras Baras in 1109/1697-98. As the author states, it is a translation of an ancient (kuhan-sāla) book in Sanskrit (zabān-i hind) with the title Sangīt (Ras Baras 2012, p. 15 of the edition). Judging by the number of parts (faṣl) and the contents of the work, it is very likely that it is an abridged translation-cum-commentary on the Saṅgītaratnākara by Śārṅgadeva.

Śārṅgadeva, a scholar and music theoretician, was born in the second half of the twelfth century. He served at the court of Siṅghaṇadeva (r. 1210–1247) of Devagiri as a royal accountant. The Saṅgītaratnākara was composed in the Deccan during the first half of the thirteenth century. It consists of seven chapters as follows: i) svaragatādhyāya, ii) rāgavivekādhyāya, iii) prakīrṇakādhyāya, iv) prabandhādhyāya, v) tālādhyāya, vi) vādyādhyāya, vii) nartanādhyāya (Śārṅgadeva 2007).

Ras Baras, the son of Ḫušḥāl Ḫān Kalāwant, was probably born sometime between 1630 and 1650 and died at the beginning of the eighteenth century (Ras Baras 2012, p. 29). Very little is known of him. He grew up in a musical family and probably received his musical education from his father Ḫušḥāl Ḫān, who was a renowned kalāwant, a class of musicians. Ḫušḥāl Ḫān is mentioned by Faqīr Allāh Sayf Ḫān (d. 1095/1684) who was the governor of Bihar during Awrangzeb’s period (r. 1658-1707) and the author of the Risāla-yi Rāg-darpan, another Persian work on Indian music (Faqīr Allāh 1996, p. 198). Ras Baras is mentioned as one of the celebrated musicians of his time in a treatise by an anonymous author from the early eighteenth century entitled Risāla dar tāl (Brown 2007, p. 107).

The Šams al-aṣwāt is a rather concise text divided into a preface (ḫuṭba) and six chapters (bāb). The first chapter concerns the description of features of svara (note). In this chapter, which consists of fourteen parts (faṣl), the author deals with sound (nāda), micro-intervals (śruti), tone-system or pitch-collections (grāma), scales (mūrcchanā), tonal patterns (tāna), the table of khaṇḍameru (permutation-indicator), and musical figures or decorative motifs (alaṅkāras or alaṃkāras), among other issues. The second chapter concerns the description of modes (rāga) and contains two faṣl on the main musical modes (rāga) and the secondary ones (rāgiṇī). The third chapter deals with the description of omitted and modified svara, called ālāpa, and miscellaneous topics. This part consists of seven faṣl and deals with the ālāpa, embellishments of notes (gamaka), and the description of the good and censured singers. The fourth chapter is on the description of various types of music and songs (gīta). The author concisely deals with two types of composition (guyandigī), improvised or not pre-composed (ghayr-i basta) and composed (basta). The basta compositions are divided in two kinds (mārga and deśī), which are further subdivided in four types. The fifth chapter is on the rhythm and time cycles (tāla). This chapter is the most illustrative of the translator’s approach to the original Sanskrit work and the treatment of musical elements. Ras Baras points out that this chapter was among the longest chapters of the original Sanskrit work, but he has abridged it to adjust it to the practical performances of his time. The sixth and last chapter of the Šams al-aṣwāt is on the musical instruments. This bāb is very concise and deals with four classes of instruments: the chordophones (tata, tāntra), the membranophone (vitata), the aerophones (suṣira) and the idiophone (ghana).

Ras Baras omitted in the translation the last chapter of Śārṅgadeva’s Saṅgītaratnākara, which deals with dance and which, according to him, concerns a tradition belonging to other people, i.e., the Hindus (Ras Baras 2012, p. 26 of the edition). In addition, in the preface (ḫuṭba) of the work, Ras Baras emphasizes that he does not intend to produce an exact translation of the whole work, which he would consider taṭwīl-i kalām (the prolongation of speech) and therefore pointless; and, most of its contents would seem out of date (Ras Baras 2012, p. 26 of the edition). Ras Baras's translation shares the features of Persian post-scholastic music theoretical treatises (ca. 1500–1850), which are conciseness and straightforward. Furthermore, the music theoretical treatises from that era are less speculative and more based on the performance practice of their time. For instance, in the first chapter of the Šams al-aṣwāt, on svara (tone), the part on jāti (melodic types) has been omitted by Ras Baras and the whole chapter is simplified and less speculative than the original Sanskrit work. Another example, in chapter five, on rhythm, which is among the longest parts in the original Sanskrit work with  descriptions of one hundred and twenty tālas. In the Šams al-aṣwāt, there remain only eleven tālas which, according to Ras Baras, were practised during his time (Ras Baras 2012, p. 96 of the edition). However, another text composed during Awrangzeb’s period offers a different view about the number of tāla practiced during this time. In the section on music of the Tuḥfat al-hind, Mīrzā Ḫān ibn Faḫr al-Dīn lists ninety-one tālas which were applied in music during the author’s time (Ḫān 1354/1975, pp. 430–456). It seems that Ras Baras’s abridged translation of the Saṅgītaratnākara was a model for Ġulām Riżā ibn Muḥammad Panāh’s Uṣūl al-naġamāt, another Persian treatise on India music. The treatment of the topics in the Uṣūl al-naġamāt is almost identical with that in the Šams al-aṣwāt.

i) Place of copying; ii) Period of copying; iii) Copyist; iv) Commissioner;
v) Information on colophon; vi) Description of miniatures/illustrations; vii) Other remarks; viii) Information on catalogue(s)

London, British Library, India Office, LXX 28, ff. 1b–28a

, ii)

29 ša‘abān 1200/22 June 1786

, iii) Fatḥ ‘Alī walad-i Šayḫ Mihr Allāh, iv) Ḫwāja Šams al-Dīn, viii)

Ross - Brown 1902, p. 56


London, British Library, India Office, 1746, ff. 1b–32b

, i) مارش (Mārš?), ii)

4 ša‘bān 1196/15 August 1782

, viii)

Ethé 1903, cc. 1122-1123


Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Library, Or. 585/3, ff. 25b–34b

, viii)

Massoudieh 1996, p. 189


Manchester, The John Rylands University Library, 346, ff. 1b–40b

, viii)

Massoudieh 1996, p. 190


Edition:  Shams al-aṣvāt: The Sun of Songs by Ras Baras, Mehrdad Fallahzadeh - Mahmud Hassanabadi, eds., Uppsala, Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2012, pp. ۱۱- ۱۰۴. 

English translation: Shams al-aṣvāt: The Sun of Songs by Ras Baras, Mehrdad Fallahzadeh - Mahmud Hassanabadi, eds., Uppsala, Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2012, pp. 75-127.


Brown, Katherine Bulter, 2007, “Did Aurangzeb Ban Music? Questions for the Historiography of His Reign”, Modern Asian Studies, 41, 1, pp. 77–121.

Ethé, Hermann, 1903, Catalogue of Persian Manuscripts in the Library of the India Office, Oxford, vol. 1.

Faqīr Allāh, Sayf Ḫān, 1996, Tarjuma-yi Mān-kutūhal wa Risāla-yi Rāg-darpan, Šahāb Sarmadī, ed., New Delhi, Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts - Motilal Banarasidas Publishers.

Ġulām Riżā, ibn Muḥammad Panāh, Uṣūl al-naġamāt, Ms. London, British Library, India Office 2083.

Ḫān, Mīrzā ibn Faḫr al-Dīn, 1354/1975, Tufat al-hind, Nūr al-Ḥasan Anṣārī, ed., Tehran, Bunyād-i Farhang-i Īrān.

Massoudieh, M. T., 1996, Répertoire International des Sources Musicales: Manuscrits Persans Concernant la Musique, München.

Ras Baras, 2012, Shams al-aṣvāt: The Sun of Songs by Ras Baras, Mehrdad Fallahzadeh - Mahmud Hassanabadi, eds., Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, Uppsala,

Ross, E. D. - Browne, E. G., 1902, Catalogue of Two Collections of Persian and Arabic Manuscripts Preserved in the India Office Library, London.

Śārṅgadeva, 2007, Saṅgītaratnākara, 2 vols., R. K. Shringy, ed. New Dehli.

Mehrdad Fallahzadeh

Originally published: 08 May 2013
How to quote this article:

Fallahzadeh, Mehrdad, 2013, "Šams al-aṣwāt", Perso-Indica. An Analytical Survey of Persian Works on Indian Learned Traditions, F. Speziale - C. W. Ernst, eds.,

available at http://www.perso-indica.net/work/sams_al-aswat.
Main Persian Title: Šams al-aṣwāt
English Translation of Main Persian Title: The Sun of Songs
Translator: Ras Baras
Original Sources:
Śārṅgadeva, Saṅgītaratnākara.
Year / Period of Composition: 1109/1698

  بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم رب یسر و تمم بالخیر قول اول که عبارت است از حمد