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Title: Swara  
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Subject: Carnatic music, Raga, Anandabhairavi, Ahiri, Hindustani Classical Music
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In the context of Indian classical music, Swara is a Sanskrit word that means a note in the octave. The seven basic swaras of the scale 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. 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.


  • Origin 1
  • Notation 2
    • Swaras in Carnatic music 2.1
  • Swara meanings 3
  • Special forms of swaras 4
  • See also 5
  • Further reading 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


In the general sense svara means tone, and applies to chanting and singing. The basic swaras of Vedic chanting are udatta, anudatta and svarita. The musical octave is said to have evolved from the elaborate and elongated chants of Sama Veda, based on these basic swaras.[1] Siksha is the subject that deals with phonetics and pronunciation. Naradiya Siksha elaborately discusses the nature of swaras, both Vedic chants and the octave.


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, Dheerasankarabharanam in Carnatic). 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
Shadja Sa Shadja 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, Dhaivata and Nishada. There are two types of Madhyama, while Panchama and Shadja are invariant.

Position Swara (स्वर) Short name Notation Mnemonic Western note(Sa = C) # of half steps from Sa
1 Shadja (षड्ज) Sa S sa C 0
2 Shuddha Rishabha (शुद्ध ऋषभ) Ri R1 ra D♭ 1
3 Chatushruti Rishabha (चतुश्रुति ऋषभ) Ri R2 ri D 2
3 Shuddha Gandhara (शुद्ध गान्धार) Ga G1 ga D 2
4 Shatshruti Rishabha (षट्श्रति ऋषभ) Ri R3 ru E♭ 3
4 Sadharana Gandhara (साधारण गान्धार) Ga G2 gi E♭ 3
5 Antara Gandhara (अन्तर गान्धार) Ga G3 gu E 4
6 Shuddha Madhyama (शुद्ध मध्यम) Ma M1 ma F 5
7 Prati Madhyama (प्रति मध्यम) Ma M2 mi F♯ 6
8 Panchama (पञ्चम) Pa P pa G 7
9 Shuddha Dhaivata (शुद्ध धैवत) Dha D1 dha A♭ 8
10 Chatushruti Dhaivata (चतुश्रति धैवत) Dha D2 dhi A 9
10 Shuddha Nishada (शुद्ध निषाद) Ni N1 na A 9
11 Shatshruti Dhaivata (षट्श्रुति धैवत) Dha D3 dhu B♭ 10
11 Kaisiki Nishada (कैशिकी निषाद) Ni N2 ni B♭ 10
12 Kakali Nishada (काकली निषाद) Ni N3 nu B 11

As you can see above, Chatushruti Rishabha and Shuddha Gandhara share the same pitch (3rd key/ position). Hence if C is chosen as Shadja, D would be both Chatushruti Rishabha and Shuddha Gandhara. Hence they will not occur in same raga together. Similarly for two swaras each at notes 4, 10 and 11.[2]

Swara meanings

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 Sanskrit Expansion Meaning Animal Chakra God
Sa Shadja (षड्ज) six-born peacock mūlādhāra मूलाधार (base of spine) Ganapati
Re Rishabha (ऋषभ) bull Bull svādhiṣṭhāna स्वाधिष्ठान (genitals) Agni
Ga Gandhara (गान्धार) sky goat maṇipūra मणिपूर (solar plexus and navel) Rudra (Shiva)
Ma Madhyama (मध्यम) middle dove/heron anāhata अनाहत (heart) Vishnu
Pa Panchama (पञ्चम) fifth cuckoo/nightingale viśuddha विशुद्ध (throat) Naarada
Dha Dhaivata (धैवत) earth Horse ājñā आज्ञा (third eye) Sadasiva (Shiva as the unmanifest, precursor to creation)
Ni Nishadam (निषाद) 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 ornamentations (Sanskrit: Alankar) in Indian classical music is important for the proper rendition and essential to create the beauty of a raga. Some notes are linked with their preceding or succeeding notes; these linked notes are called grace notes or kan-swars. Kan-swars deal with so called touch notes. Kan-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).

Andolit swars are raga-specific notes that are 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 shrutis (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 auto didactic 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.


  1. ^ Naradiya Siksha 1.2.1
  2. ^ Gaanaamrutha Varna Maalikaa by A.S. Panchaabakesa Iyer

External links

  • North India Sargam Notation System
  • Article on vivadi swaras, by Haresh Bakshi
  • Ragopedia, an encyclopedia of North Indian ragas written in Western Staff and Sargam notations and produced by Pandit Shiv Dayal Batish and Ashwin Batish
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