Svara and Tunings

The Nine Swaras of the ancient Indian Music

The early Indian music system of Grama (group, tuning system, tuning template) defined the  tones in  Indian music. The tones were derived by simple consonance most probably established on ancient harp like instruments. The method employed to establish Shadaj Grãma could have been:

Shadaj Grãma

Starting with the tonic Shadaj the fourth tone was tuned as a perfect fourth interval called Madyam. This Madyam was used to establish its perfect fourth the last note in the series called Nishãd. This Nishad helped to establish the third tone called Gandhãr a perfect fifth down. From Madyam as reference a perfect third was tuned and called Dhaivat. From this Dhiavat the second tone Rishab was tuned as a perfect fifth below. The perfect fifth was tuned from Shadaj as reference to complete the basic seven tone basic Grãma (tuning reference).

Two more tones were also used as derivatives of Gandhãr called Antar Gandhãr (perfect third of Shadaj) and Kãkali Nishãd (perfect third of Pancham). This gave the total nine swaras (tones) of the ancient Indian music system. The tunings of these in just intonation ratios would be:

S R g G m P D n N
1/1 10/9 32/27 5/4 4/3 3/2 5/3 16/9 15/8

Madyam Grãma

This tuning template was derived as above in which the Pancham (perfect fifith) is lowered so that it is a perfect fourth of Rishab (second). This difference of between this Pancham and the original Pancham is an important interval called Pramãn Shrûti (comma of 81/80 about 21.5 cents).

The Madyam Grãma can also be derived by calling the Shadaj as Madyam in which the Antar Gandhãr becomes Dhaivat.

S R g G m M P D n N
1/1 10/9 32/27 5/4 4/3 45/32 40/27 5/3 16/9 15/8
m P D n N S R g G

Murchannã (modes)

Taking the Shadaj and Madyam Grãma as the basic templates various Murchannã modes were derived. It was these scales which form the basis of Jati’s and Rãgas of the later period.

Qualities of the Svara

Shadaj  – means father of the six svaras and the one which takes birth from the other six svaras.

Shadaj itself is Chatushrutik (made four sruti’s) and is consonant with two other svaras (madyam and Pancham) its previous svara is Dwisrutik (Kâkli Nishâd) and the proceeding svara is Trishrutik (made of three shruti’s) in the Shadaj Grâma.

The quality of Shadaj is maintained in as leader of Shadaj Grâma and within the mûrcchanâs.

Rishab – Being the nearest to the Grâmni svara (Sa) it is strong as Vrishab (Bull), other svaras seem Gau (weak) compared to it. In its Amsa role it depicts Utsah, Vismaye and Krodh.

Gandhâr – In Shadaj Grâma Gandhâr is preceded by two Chatushrutik svaras ie Madyam and Pancham. this is unique to Gandhâr and karunâ (sadness, longing) pours out and it takes the qualities of singing sound, speech and thus gets the name Gandhâr.

Madyam – This svara is 9 shruti’s from the first and the last svara, ie middle of the saptak and also middle of Gandhâr and Pancham.

Pancham – Is made up of the words panch (five) and mi (to measure). Is that which is fifth from the Shadaj and is the tool to measure the svara intervals (pramân shruti). Is Chatushrutik and the proceeding svara is trishrutik and its consonance is only with one svara ie Shadaj in Shadaj Grâma and Rishab in Madyam Grâma and having proceeding svara in Dhaivat as Chatushrutik.

Pancham Ãdi Murcchanas

P D n S R g m P
S.Grâma 0 3 5 9 12 14 18 22
M.Grâma 0 4 6 10 13 15 19 22

The Madyam Grâma svaras are one shruti sharper and gives rise to two different murcchana’s

Dhaivat – is the overtone of the madyam svara and is heard by the Dhivân (senstive minds). If the Madyam Grâma Dhaivat is lowered two shruti’s and called Gandhâr then the Madyam Grâma murchanna’s become Shadaj Grâma murchannas- this is unique to Dhaivat.

The Dhaivat murchanna does not come under any mela ie

D n S R g m P D
S r g m M d n S

This murchana was used in Bhibhats and Bhayânak rasa. In Sangit Ratnâkar the Shudh Bhairav is of this murchanna.

Nishâd – is so called because the notes of the scale come to a close with it. The word is derived from Sanskrit root “ni+shâd” to come to a rest.

Nishâd is full of Karunâ and the previous svara to the Gramni svara (sa).

Svara Shāstra Dōhāvali

Achārya Brhaspatī

In the 28th chapter of Bharata’s Nāţya Shāstra, an explanation has been given of Svara, Samvād – Vīvād – Anūvād, Grāma, Mūrchhanā, Shrūti, Svara Sādhāran, Tānas, Mūrchhanā –Tāna and Jātī. These topics are prominent in Svara Shāstra and Svara Shāstra is the key to the Sangīt Shāstra. In Sangīt Ratnākara the chapter on svara, apart from these also explains Varņa, Alankār, Kūt Tāna and Nashtōddishta method; in which the Varna and Alankār is an elaboration of the Natya Shāstra’s 28th chapter. These couplets, with their definitions will be helpful for the students of Indian music to understand the finer points of the Svara Shāstra. These are some chosen couplets out of an extended list of over 250.

suGr qÂbUrw mWih jb imlihN surIly qwr [

Àrj mWih ek guNjrY, sue Añqr-gwñDwr ]1]

In a perfectly tuned Tānpūrā, the perfect third overtone heard in the Mandra Shadaj string of the 5/4 ratio is Bharata’s Antra Gandhār. Though Bharata did not include this interval as Samvād but in the establishment of the Grāma he has highlighted the importance of Antra Gandhār. This importance will be evident in the proceeding couplets. It is important to remember that Matanga has mentioned the seven shrūti interval in Madhyama Grāma as samvād and that is same as the S –G interval. In Brhaddeshi (page 16) this interval has been given more prominence than the shadaja pancham and shadaja madhyama. One reason for this is that in the overtones this note is the most prominent and second that in the establishment of the Grāma’s the use of this is worth looking at. In the next couplets both samvād are mentioned.

s‚qªuqI-sμbñD Xih ‘s-g’-Añqr ijX jwn [

‘s-m’ Añqr nvªuiq sdw, ‘s-p’ qyrh phcwn ]2]

This Antra Gandhār is at an interval of seven shrutis from Shadaj and this signifies the seven shruti samvād. Sa-Ma distance is nine shrutis and Sa-Pa is thirteen shrutis.

XhY qIin Añqr sqq,  suÆQwpn – AwDwr [

gRwm swrnw-ªuiq qurq, pRgtq kry ivcwr ]3]

These three intervals are the basis of the svara positions. By considering the positions of the svaras the Grama, Sārana, Shruti all get clarified. The next couplet explains the method of proving the shruti numbers.

BXy swrnw-zwn, Xih ªuiq-sN$Xw drswX [

Awqurqw qij suGr mn, zwn pwX hrswX ]4]

The knowledge of the Sārnā proves the Shruti numbers and gives happiness.

surmNfl ek lIijE, swijX ekes qwr [

gRwm-mUçCénw – jwiq sb, qurq kirX inrDwr ]5]

Take a Svaramandal with twenty one strings and according of the explained method understand Grāma, Mūrchhanā and Jātī.

phly, cOQy, swqvyN, qIjy  ‘s-m-n-g’ swr [

‘s-m’ sμbñD ADwr qh , riKX surIly qwr ]6]

Establish Shadaj on the first string and with the Shadaj Madhyama Samvād tune Madhyam on the fourth and Nishād on the seventh string. From Nishad tune Gandhār on the third string through avroh Shadaj pancham samvād.

‘m-D’ Añqr inq s‚qªuiq , DYvq CTyN imlwE [

dUjy irÀb imlweE, puin AvrohI BwE ]7]

The only method to tune Dhaivat on the sixth string is through the Seven Shruti Shadaj Gandhār samvād. From this Dhaivat tune the Rishab on the second string through avroh Shadaj pancham samvād.