The seven notes of the scale (swaras), in Indian music
Music of India
The music of India includes multiple varieties of folk, popular, pop, classical music and R&B. India's classical music tradition, including Carnatic and Hindustani music, has a history spanning millennia and developed over several eras. It remains fundamental to the lives of Indians today as...

 are named shadja, rishabh, gandhar, madhyam, pancham, dhaivat and nishad, and are shortened to Sa, Ri (Carnatic
Carnatic music
Carnatic music is a system of music commonly associated with the southern part of the Indian subcontinent, with its area roughly confined to four modern states of India: Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu...

) or Re (Hindustani
Hindustani classical music
Hindustani classical music is the Hindustani or North Indian style of Indian classical music found throughout the northern Indian subcontinent. The style is sometimes called North Indian Classical Music or Shāstriya Sangeet...

), 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
In music, solfège is a pedagogical solmization technique for the teaching of sight-singing in which each note of the score is sung to a special syllable, called a solfège syllable...

, a technique for the teaching of sight-singing. Sargam is practiced against a drone
Drone (music)
In music, a drone is a harmonic or monophonic effect or accompaniment where a note or chord is continuously sounded throughout most or all of a piece. The word drone is also used to refer to any part of a musical instrument that is just used to produce such an effect.-A musical effect: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
Ionian mode
Ionian mode is the name assigned by Heinrich Glarean in 1547 to his new authentic mode on C , which uses the diatonic octave species from C to the C an octave higher, divided at G into a fourth species of perfect fifth plus a third species of perfect fourth : C D...

 or major scale (called Bilawal thaat
A thāt is a mode in northern Indian or Hindustani music. Thāts always have seven different pitches and are a basis for the organization and classification of ragas in North Indian classical music.- System :...

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
Sharp (music)
In music, sharp, dièse , or diesis means higher in pitch and the sharp symbol raises a note by a half tone. Intonation may be flat, sharp, or both, successively or simultaneously...

 (tivra) but never flat, making twelve notes as in the Western chromatic scale
Chromatic scale
The chromatic scale is a musical scale with twelve pitches, each a semitone apart. On a modern piano or other equal-tempered instrument, all the half steps are the same size...

. 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
Perfect fifth
In classical music from Western culture, a fifth is a musical interval encompassing five staff positions , and the perfect fifth is a fifth spanning seven semitones, or in meantone, four diatonic semitones and three chromatic semitones...


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
Gandhar (music)
Gandharam is the third full note in the Indian classical music system. Like Western classical music, Indian classical music divides the octave into 12 semitones of which the 7 basic notes are Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni Sa, in order, replacing Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do. In the Indian Classical system, each...

, 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 chakra
Chakra is a concept originating in Hindu texts, featured in tantric and yogic traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism. Its name derives from the Sanskrit word for "wheel" or "turning" .Chakra is a concept referring to wheel-like vortices...

s of the body. Just as the swaras ascend through the saptak
Saptak means "gamut" or "the series of seven notes". It denotes the set of swaras, Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni which comprise a musical scale in Indian classical music...

, 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. Raga
A raga is one of the melodic modes used in Indian classical music.It is a series of five or more musical notes upon which a melody is made...

s, 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
Aparajit was the last of the Pallava kings of the Kanchi Kingdom in south India. In 862 he defeated Varaguna Varman the king of Pandya at the Battle of Sri Purambiya...

The Skylark is a small passerine bird species. This lark breeds across most of Europe and Asia and in the mountains of north Africa. It is mainly resident in the west of its range, but eastern populations are more migratory, moving further south in winter. Even in the milder west of its range,...

स्वाधिष्ठान (genitals) Agni
Ga Gandhara (गान्धारं) Gagan (sky) goat
The domestic goat is a subspecies of goat domesticated from the wild goat of southwest Asia and Eastern Europe. The goat is a member of the Bovidae family and is closely related to the sheep as both are in the goat-antelope subfamily Caprinae. There are over three hundred distinct breeds of...

मणिपूर (solar plexus and navel
The navel is a scar on the abdomen caused when the umbilical cord is removed from a newborn baby...

Rudra (Shiva)
Ma Madhyama (मध्यमं) middle dove
Pigeons and doves constitute the bird family Columbidae within the order Columbiformes, which include some 300 species of near passerines. In general terms "dove" and "pigeon" are used somewhat interchangeably...

The herons are long-legged freshwater and coastal birds in the family Ardeidae. There are 64 recognised species in this family. Some are called "egrets" or "bitterns" instead of "heron"....

anāhata अनाहत (heart
The heart is a myogenic muscular organ found in all animals with a circulatory system , that is responsible for pumping blood throughout the blood vessels by repeated, rhythmic contractions...

Pa Panchama (पंचमं) fifth cuckoo
The cuckoos are a family, Cuculidae, of near passerine birds. The order Cuculiformes, in addition to the cuckoos, also includes the turacos . Some zoologists and taxonomists have also included the unique Hoatzin in the Cuculiformes, but its taxonomy remains in dispute...

The Nightingale , also known as Rufous and Common Nightingale, is a small passerine bird that was formerly classed as a member of the thrush family Turdidae, but is now more generally considered to be an Old World flycatcher, Muscicapidae...

viśuddha विशुद्ध (throat
In vertebrate anatomy, the throat is the anterior part of the neck, in front of the vertebral column. It consists of the pharynx and larynx...

Dha Dhaivata (धैवतं) Dharti (earth) horse
The horse is one of two extant subspecies of Equus ferus, or the wild horse. It is a single-hooved mammal belonging to the taxonomic family Equidae. The horse has evolved over the past 45 to 55 million years from a small multi-toed creature into the large, single-toed animal of today...

ājñā आज्ञा (third eye
Third eye
The third eye is a mystical and esoteric concept referring in part to the ajna chakra in certain spiritual traditions. It is also spoken of as the gate that leads within to inner realms and spaces of higher consciousness...

Ni Nishada (निषादं) outcast/hunter  elephant
Elephants are large land mammals in two extant genera of the family Elephantidae: Elephas and Loxodonta, with the third genus Mammuthus extinct...

sahasrāra सहस्रार (crown of the head) Surya (Sun)

In certain forms of Indian classical music and qawwali
Qawwali is a form of Sufi devotional music popular in South Asia, particularly in the Punjab and Sindh regions of Pakistan, Hyderabad, Delhi, and other parts of northern India...

, 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
Ornament (music)
In music, ornaments or embellishments are musical flourishes that are not necessary to carry the overall line of the melody , but serve instead to decorate or "ornament" that line. Many ornaments are performed as "fast notes" around a central note...

 (Sanskrit: Alankar or Alankara) in Indian Classical Music is important for the proper rendition and essential to create the beauty of a raga
A raga is one of the melodic modes used in Indian classical music.It is a series of five or more musical notes upon which a melody is made...

. Some notes are linked with its preceding and succeeding note; these linked notes are called grace note
Grace note
A grace note is a kind of music notation used to denote several kinds of musical ornaments. When occurring by itself, a single grace note normally indicates the intention of either an appoggiatura or an acciaccatura...

or Kan-swars. Kan-swars deal with so called touch notes. "touch" means sparsh in Hindi
Standard Hindi, or more precisely Modern Standard Hindi, also known as Manak Hindi , High Hindi, Nagari Hindi, and Literary Hindi, is a standardized and sanskritized register of the Hindustani language derived from the Khariboli dialect of Delhi...

 (Devangari). These grace note
Grace note
A grace note is a kind of music notation used to denote several kinds of musical ornaments. When occurring by itself, a single grace note normally indicates the intention of either an appoggiatura or an acciaccatura...

(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
In Hindustani music, meend refers to a glide from one note to another. It is an essential performance practice, and is used often in vocal and instrumental music. On the veena, sitar, and other plucked stringed instruments, it is usually done by pushing the strings across the frets to vary their...

 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.

Further reading

  • Mathieu, W. A.
    W. A. Mathieu
    William Allaudin Mathieu is a composer, pianist, choir director, music teacher, and author. He studied with William Russo and Easley Blackwood, with North Indian vocalist Pandit Pran Nath for 25 years, and collaborated with Nubian master musician Hamza El Din Hamza El Din.In the 1960s, he spent...

    (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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