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

Comment(s)
Thank you enormously! I was desperate to get this! I'm so grateful for this post. Wonderful!!

Posted by Abhilasha on March 9, 2013, 10:05 pm (IST)

nice article

Posted by Prabh Preet Singh on August 7, 2012, 3:20 pm (IST)

Yeah, right Shubham. Enjoyment of music is subjective, and for the most part, culturally determined. So your assertion that Indian music is above all holds very little relevance.

Posted by Anonymous on July 25, 2012, 7:43 am (IST)

hello to everyone. I am highly thankful to the person who made this article available on internet. My friends usually considered western music better but now I have a proof that Indian music is above all.

Posted by Shubham on July 7, 2012, 8:31 pm (IST)

I really love this article. I want to read more! I wonder how people like AR Rahaman are using Western instruments to make indian music if the tuning of the instruments is not the same as Indian instruments?

Posted by Anonymous on July 4, 2012, 5:41 am (IST)

simply amazing..

Posted by Anonymous on May 26, 2012, 11:57 pm (IST)

Commendable effort to enlighten lay beople about our ancient heritage.

Posted by A.V.Mishra on April 17, 2012, 3:49 pm (IST)

this is what i was looking for
thanks

Posted by tarun gupta on April 7, 2012, 3:51 pm (IST)

hi i injoy this web site it s very nice good
i m from iran but love to learn indian clasical music i m a singer also . i need also some simple for learning just like ols song sargam and simple bandesh thanks u a lot. armaan baloch

Posted by arman on July 12, 2011, 10:38 pm (IST)

Hello Manu ji,
I am new to this site as well as Bansuri, wanted to know that i have Bflat bansuri (as i was told by the seller), so was wondering if you could send me some audios about for the beginners to start learning

Thanks & Regard

Posted by Pankaj on January 2, 2011, 6:18 pm (IST)

Although I've enjoyed Indian music, I never tried 'learning' it. In my first attempt to learn Indian classical music, I visited this website and its paid off well.

Thank you

Posted by Srik on December 10, 2010, 7:43 pm (IST)

the site helped me to understand the conversion from indian scales to western scales..I now know which tanpura audio file I should download when my scale is kaali 4..it is g#Ab thanks a ton!

Posted by pooja on May 12, 2010, 11:17 am (IST)

i like this site bcoz it provides me great knowledge

Posted by chetna on April 25, 2010, 5:37 pm (IST)

Isnt it the 7th note that is the repetition of the 1st with one octave high . . As our Sur starts and ends with Sa . . .
Here its mentioned 8th note so a little confused

Posted by Anonymous on March 18, 2010, 5:22 pm (IST)

Hi,
I want to practice singing alankars to start with Hindustani classical music. Is it OK to use a keyboard instead of a harmonium? I mean, is an electronic keyboard set to the western scale (even-tempered) and the harmonium to the just intonation?

Posted by pranav on January 16, 2009, 8:56 pm (IST)

Iwas so glad to know I could understand Indian Classical Music through this channel-simple for a non-music person

Posted by Razia on January 11, 2009, 1:44 pm (IST)

its nice to understand .

Posted by surya on January 9, 2009, 11:28 am (IST)

Awsome info on the subject. Just what I was looking for!

Posted by Anonymous on September 28, 2008, 1:51 am (IST)

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