Know Your Raga - Your complete guide to Indian Classical Music
Know Your Raga - Your complete guide to Indian Classical Music

The Swara-s and The Saptak

In Hindustani music there are seven main swara-s or notes. These notes correspond to the solfege in western music. The names of the seven swara-s are Shadja (Sa), Rishab (Re), Gandhãr (Ga), Madhyam (Ma), Pancham (Pa), Dhaivat (Dha) and Nishãd (Ni) but they are usually referred to by their coresponding symbols for convenience.

This group of seven notes is called the saptak (sapt=seven). The eighth note is the repitition of the first, but is one octave higher. This scale is analogous to the Western major scale.

If we consider C note(the first white key) on a piano or keyboard as the tonic or the Sa, then the position of the other notes would be as follows. The seven swara-s occupy the seven white keys of the keyboard. This is shown below.

The swara-s on a keyboard with C as the Sa

It can be seen above that in between the seven swara-s we have five intermediate notes. These notes are called vikrit swara-s (altered notes). In this context, the original notes are referred to as the shudha swara-s (pure notes).

The swara-s between the pairs Sa and Re, Re and Ga, Pa and Dha and Dha and Ni are known as komal Re, komal Ga, komal Dha and komal Ni. The term komal means soft or flat. The swara between Ma and Pa is called tĩvra Ma; tĩvra meaning sharp. The swara-s Sa and Pa do not have altered forms and they are known as achal or immovable swara-s. The following table shows the twelve swaras, their western couterparts and the notes if C is taken as the Sa.

Hindustani Name (Symbol) Solfa Scale of C Ratio to Sa
Shadja (Sa) Doh C 1
Komal RIshabh (Re) C#,Db 256/243
Shuddha Rishabh (Re) Re D 9/8
Komal Gandhãr (Ga) D#,Eb 32/27
Shuddha Gandhãr (Ga) Mi E 5/4
Shuddha Madhyam (Ma) Fa F 4/3
Tĩvra Madhyam (Mȃ) F#,Gb 45/32
Pancham (Pa) Sol G 3/2
Komal Dhaivat (Dha) G#,Ab 128/81
Shuddha Dhaivat (Dha) La A 5/3
Komal Nishãd (Ni) A#,Bb 16/9
Shuddha Nishãd (Ni) Ti B 15/8
Shadja (S°a) Doh C' 2

It should be noted here that this analogy to the keyboard is not technically correct. In western music the instruments are tuned to the chromatic or the even-tempered scale whereas in Indian music the notes are based on the natural or the diatonic scale. For this reason the harmonium is not considered correct by many classical musicians. If you do not understand what this means, you can ignore this for the moment and we will discuss this in a separate article.

Another thing to note is that in Western music, the frequencies of the notes are fixed - for example the A of the middle octave is supposed to have a frequency of 440 Hz. This is not the case in Indian music. The relative frequency and not the absolute frequency is of importance here.

In the above example we have taken C as our tonic (Sa) but we could consider any one note as Sa and the pitch of the other notes will be relative to the Sa. The ratios of frequencies for various notes with respect to the Sa is also shown in the above table.

Posted by Manu Mahajan on 11th June 06.

References and Recommended Reading

NĀD - Understanding Rãga music by Sandeep Bagchee

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