Indian Music
Indian classical music
Carnatic music
Hindustani music
Core Concepts
Shruti · Swara · Alankar · Rāga · Tāla

The seven notes of the scale (swaras), in Indian music are named shadja, rishabh, gandhar, madhyam, pancham, dhaivat and nishad, and are shortened to Sa, Ri (Carnatic) or Re (Hindustani), Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, and Ni and written S, R, G, M, P, D, N. Collectively these notes are known as the sargam (the word is an acronym of the consonants of the first four swaras). Sargam is the Indian equivalent to solfege, a technique for the teaching of sight-singing. Sargam is practiced against a drone. The tone Sa is not associated with any particular pitch. As in Western moveable-Do solfège, Sa refers to the tonic of a piece or scale rather than to any particular pitch.



A dot above a letter indicates that the note is sung one octave higher, and a dot below indicates one octave lower. Or, if a note with the same name-Sa, for example-is an octave higher than the note represented by S, an apostrophe is placed to the right: S'. If it is an octave lower, the apostrophe is placed to the left: 'S. Apostrophes can be added as necessary to indicate the octave: for example, ``g would be the note komal Ga in the octave two octaves below that which begins on the note S (that is, two octaves below g).

The basic mode of reference is that which is equivalent to the Western Ionian mode or major scale (called Bilawal thaat in Hindustani music). All relationships between pitches follow from this. In any seven-tone mode (starting with S), R, G, D, and N can be natural (shuddha, lit. 'pure') or flat (komal, 'soft') but never sharp, and the M can be natural or sharp (tivra) but never flat, making twelve notes as in the Western chromatic scale. If a swara is not natural (shuddha), a line below a letter indicates that it is flat (komal) and an acute accent above indicates that it is sharp (tivra). Sa and Pa are immovable (once Sa is selected), forming a just perfect fifth.

In some notation systems, the distinction is made with capital and lowercase letters. When abbreviating these tones, the form of the note which is relatively lower in pitch always uses a lowercase letter, while the form which is higher in pitch uses an uppercase letter. So komal Re/Ri uses the letter r and shuddha Re/Ri, the letter R, but shuddha Ma uses m because it has a raised form-tivra Ma-which uses the letter M. Sa and Pa are always abbreviated as S and P, respectively, since they cannot be altered.

The chart below assumes Sa to be at C.

Full form (Carnatic) Abbreviated form (Carnatic) Full form (Hindustani) Abbreviated form (Hindustani) Western
Shadaja Sa Shadaja Sa C
Shuddha Madhyama Shuddha Ma Shuddha Madhyama Ma F
Prati Madhyama Prati Ma Tivra Madhyama M'a F#
Panchama Pa Panchama Pa G

Swaras in Carnatic music

The swaras in Carnatic music are slightly different in the twelve-note system. There are three types each of Rishabha, Gandhara, Dhaivatha and Nishadha. There are two types of Madhyama, while Panchama and Shadja are invariant.

Position Swara Short name Notation Mnemonic
1 Shadja Sa S sa
2 Shuddha Rishabha Ri R1 ra
3 Chathusruthi Rishabha Ri R2 ri
3 Shuddha Gandhara Ga G1 ga
4 Shatsruthi Rishabha Ri R3 ru
4 Sadharana Gandhara Ga G2 gi
5 Anthara Gandhara Ga G3 gu
6 Shuddha Madhyama Ma M1 ma
7 Prati Madhyama Ma M2 mi
8 Panchama Pa P pa
9 Shuddha Dhaivatha Dha D1 dha
10 Chathusruthi Dhaivatha Dha D2 dhi
10 Shuddha Nishadha Ni N1 na
11 Shatsruthi Dhaivatha Dha D3 dhu
11 Kaisiki Nishadha Ni N2 ni
12 Kakali Nishadha Ni N3 nu

As you can see above, Chathusruthi Rishabha and Shuddha Gandhara share the same pitch (3rd key/ position). Hence if C is chosen as Shadja, D would be both Chathusruthi Rishabha and Shuddha Gandhara. Hence they will not occur in same raga together. Similarly for two swaras each at notes 4, 10 and 11.

What The Swaras Mean

Each shuddha swara (i.e., Sa, Re/Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha/Da, and Ni) is traditionally held to have originated in the sound of a different animal, and some have additional meanings of their own. Also, each swara is associated with one of the seven chakras of the body. Just as the swaras ascend through the saptak, so they are mapped onto the chakras in the body in ascending order. Komal notes are associated with the left side of each chakra; the left channel, Ida Nadi, is the side of emotion and intuition. Shuddha and tivra notes are associated with the right side; the right channel, Pingala Nadi, is the side of logic. Ragas, therefore, have more or less of an effect on a given chakra depending on the notes they contain.

Swara Expansion Meaning Animal Chakra God
Sa Shadja (षड्जं) Sagar (ocean) peacock mūlādhāra मूलाधार ([base of spine) Ganapati
Re Rishabha (ऋषभ) Aparajit skylark svādhiṣṭhāna स्वाधिष्ठान (genitals) Agni
Ga Gandhara (गान्धारं) Gagan (sky) goat maṇipūra मणिपूर (solar plexus and navel) Rudra (Shiva)
Ma Madhyama (मध्यमं) middle dove/heron anāhata अनाहत (heart) Vishnu
Pa Panchama (पंचमं) fifth cuckoo/nightingale viśuddha विशुद्ध (throat) Naarada
Dha Dhaivata (धैवतं) Dharti (earth) horse ājñā आज्ञा (third eye) Sadasiva
Ni Nishada (निषादं) outcast/hunter elephant sahasrāra सहस्रार (crown of the head) Surya (Sun)

In certain forms of Indian classical music and qawwali, when a rapid 16th note sequence of the same note is sung, different syllables may be used in a certain sequence to make the whole easier to pronounce. For example, instead of "sa-sa-sa-sa-sa-sa-sa-sa" said very quickly, it might be "sa-da-da-li-sa-da-da-li" which lends itself more to a quick and light tongue movement.

Special forms of Swaras

In the context of Indian classical music some specific forms of swara-s fulfill the technique of playing a note. Such ornamentic (Sanskrit: Alankar or Alankara) in Indian Classical Music is important for the proper rendition and essential to create the beauty of a raga. Some notes are linked with its preceding and succeeding note; these linked notes are called grace notes or Kan-swars. Kan-swars deal with so called touch notes. "touch" means sparsh in Hindi (Devangari). These grace notes (acciaccatura) are often referred to as sparsh-swars. Kan-swars or sparsh-swars can be executed vocally and on instruments in three ways:

1. using a swift short glide (meend or ghaseet), 2. as a Sparsh (technique of playing a note on a plucked stringed instrument, the movement of notes is ascending) and 3. as a Krintan (the opposite of a Sparsh, movement of notes is descending).

The Andolit swars, another special form of swaras, exist raga specific and shall not be applied to any raga using these notes. Andolit swars are notes, which are being oscillated within the Andolan alankar. The specification of the Andolan alankar is the oscillation (swing) from a fixed note touching the periphery of an adjacent note. By this oscillation the shruti-s (microtones) are touched which exist in between.

See also

Further reading

  • Mathieu, W. A. (1997). Harmonic Experience: Tonal Harmony from Its Natural Origins to Its Modern Expression. Inner Traditions Intl Ltd. ISBN 0-89281-560-4. An autodidactic ear-training and sight-singing book that uses singing sargam syllables over a drone in a just intonation system based on perfect fifths and major thirds.

External links

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