Sapta Swaras of Carnatic Music
Before moving into the Sapta Swaras (7 Swaras), let us see what a Swara is. A swara refers to a tone or a musical note on an Octave. Now assume this to be a building including floors. The beginning point is the Shadja known as Tonic. Measuring upto certain heights from the ground level, there are the positions of other notes
The 7 fundamental notes
Carnatic Music is ruled by 7 octave musical notes. These Sapta Swaras are believed to have originated from “Dumru” (Musical Instrument) of Lord Shiva. 7 musical notes (Swaras) are the following:
Full names of these notes follow sounds with which they are being sung. As per Shruti – Notes Sa (Tonic)& Pa (Perfect Fifth) stay fixed always once you have settled on the Tonic. They are known as “Prakriti Swaras”. The other 5 notes feature 2 variants each. And so they are named as “Vikruthi Swaras”. So the equation goes in the following way:
= 2 + (5*2)
So, you have 12 positions in the musical notes.
Origin of Sapta Swaras
As we have seen the Sapta Swaras and their full names, now it is time to know from where they have come from. Swaras are being said to have originated from the sounds of animals and birds. In Sanskrit, all these Sapta Swaras have some inner meanings. Have a look at the table below:
The interesting thing to note here are:
This is how we get the Sapta Swaras. People often get puzzled listening to the term “Raga”. A “Raga” refers to varied combinations of the Swaras wherein any swara either can be omitted or repeated.
Stories Based On the Origin of Sapta Swaras
There are some beautiful stories about the origin of these Sapta Swaras (Sounds of Nature). Let us take a look at them:
To see how beautiful they sound when sat sequentially to form a Raga.
Sapta Swaras Equivalent to Western Musical Notes
It is also believed that these Sapta Swaras are equivalent to the Western notes i.e. “Solfege” – Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La & Ti. Here they are:
1. Shadja - While Shadja is “Six” in Sanskrit this matches upto as the “Do” in Western music. This is the first musical note that generates the other 6 notes. So the name given is Shadja.
2. Rishabha–It stands for an Ox or Cow and matches upto the “Re” in Western music.
3. Gandhara – This is the same as the “Mi” in Western music.
4. Madhyama – In Sanskrit, the term implies “Middle” as it sits in the mid-portion of these Sapta Swaras. This matches upto “Fa” in Western music.
5. Panchama– In Sanskrit, it stands for “Fifth”. Since, it sits in the Perfect Fifth, the name is being given and matches upto “So” in Western music.
6. Dhaivata– Sixth of the Sapta Swaras, it matches upto “La” in Western music.
7. Nishada– Finally, the Sapta Swaras end with “Ni” that matches upto “Ti” in Western music.
Sapta Swaras in Carnatic Music
Carnatic Music is enriched with a myriad of musical culture based on these Sapta Swaras. We can sing them as:
· Arohana - Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni
· Avarohana - . Sa Ni Dha Pa Ma Ga Ri
With a wide variety of Raga Collection in Carnatic Music, we also have named this music as “Raga Sangeetham”.
On the positions of the Sapta Swaras
There are two positional varieties of five Swaras namely “Ri, Ga, Ma, Dha & Ni”. This comprises of Lower & Higher variety notes. With the help of Permutation & Combination, we come across several variants of these Sapta Swaras. Have a look here for the basics for beginner lessons.
Traditionally Carnatic music is taught with the help of the basics of Raga which is known as the scale of “Double Harmonic” in the theory of Western music. People who have not listened to the Carnatic music may find it difficult to grab the intervals of these musical notes in the beginning. With the guidance of the Guru(The teacher/mentor), one can learn the intricasies.
· Ascending: S r G m P d N Ṡ
· Descending: Ṡ N d P m G r S
In the basics, this scale is easier to learn. And, it matches upto major scales in the Western Classical. They go as:
· Ascending: S R G m P D N Ṡ
· Descending: Ṡ N D P m G R S
In the Indian Carnatic tradition, teachers always start with Mayamalavagowla. Shankarabharanam is also an easy raga along with its popularity having many varieties of bhajans and song in the same.
When beginning with Carnatic music you should not struggle to determine the location of these musical notes. The initial lessons could be difficult to get the strong foundation. Working on the following things is certain to help make a strong foundation while learning any musical form.
· Perfecting your Tonic recognition
· Proper production of Tone (Playing a musical instrument or singing)
· Rhythmic Sense (Laya)
Carnatic music continues to be spiritual support and vehicle for your soul to understand and attain Paramatman (Universal Soul). It emphasizes melody and harmony as secondary but of the essence.
Choose the right School and Guru
Our faculty at The Raaga School of Music knows the importance of teaching students about all the historical nuances of our rich cultural heritage and traditions. We strongly believe in our commitment to inspiring and teaching the next generation of musicians.
For a no-obligations trial with one of our esteemed Gurus, please fill out the form. We can help you schedule a Carnatic Music lesson (Carnatic Vocal, Flute, Violin, Mridangam). You can also visit our studios here in one of our four location in San Jose, Saratoga, Fremont or Foster City. Quite a few of our students also attend our online-only lessons.
Author: Y. Gomathi