Melody In Carnatic Music

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  • 7/30/2019 Melody In Carnatic Music


    Melody In Carnatic Music Part 1

    By Kiranavali Vidyasankar

    As I said in my introduction, Carnatic music is ruled by the Sanskrit saying, Srutir mata, layah pitameaning, Melody is mother, Rhythm is father. In the next few columns, I shall deal with the first part

    of the saying, Srutir mata, or the melodic aspects.

    Any lover of Indian music would have definitely come across the word Raga. Needless to say, thisconcept is a very ancient one. But what exactly is it and how did it evolve? Before we go into it, weneed to know some basic stuff. Let's start with the skeleton of the Raga, which are the notes or swara-s, as they are called in Indian music.

    Well, like most systems of music across the world, Carnatic music also has seven basic notes, the Sapta(seven) Swaras (notes) in an octave. They are Shadja (Sa), Rishabha (Ri), Gandhara (Ga), Madhyama(Ma), Panchama (Pa), Dhaivata (Dha) and Nishada (Ni). While Sa and Pa are the constant notes thatremain fixed in any given pitch, the rest of the five notes have variable values of two each. That givesus a total of twelve notes or swarasthana-s in the octave (sthana literally means place or position).Isn't it amazing that different civilizations across the globe have arrived at the same results through the


    Anyway, here's what makes Carnatic music different. Although there are twelve swarasthana-s, theyare called by sixteen different names. This obviously means that there is some overlapping of thenotes. This probably happened only to accommodate peculiar ragas like Nata or Varali which alreadyexisted before all these theories were propounded. So it was not with a view to be different that thisidea was conceived, but only to properly classify these differences. Here's a table of the sixteen noteswith their Hindustani equivalents:

    Carnatic swaras Hindustani swaras

    Shadja - Sa Shad - Sa

    Shuddha Rishabha Ri 1 Komal Rishabh

    Chatusruti Rishabha Ri 2 Shudh Rishabh

    Shatsruti Rishabha Ri 3 Komal Gandhar

    Shuddha Gandhara Ga 1 Shudh Rishabh

    Sadharana Gandhara Ga 2 Komal Gandhar

    Antara Gandhara Ga 3 Shudh Gandhar

    Shuddha Madhyama Ma 1 Shudh Madhyam

    Prati Madhyama Ma 2 Teevr Madhyam

    Panchama Pancham

    Shuddha Dhaivata Da 1 Komal Dhaivat

    Chatusruti Dhaivata Da 2 Shudh Dhaivat

    Shatsruti Dhaivata Da 3 Komal Nishad

    Shuddha Nishada Ni 1 Shudh Dhaivat

    Kaisika Nishada Ni 2 Komal Nishad

    Kakali Nishada Ni 3 Shudh Nishad

  • 7/30/2019 Melody In Carnatic Music


    Now, from the table above, we can see that the sixteen different notes have been arrived at byincreasing the number of variables for the notes Ri, Ga, Da and Ni from two to three. So we stillhave one Sa and Pa, two Ma-s but three Ri-s, Ga-s, Da-s and Ni-s.

    The interesting thing here is that Chatusrtui Rishabha (Ri 2) and Suddha Gandhara (Ga 1) share thesame place values. i.e., you would render them in the same place, but just call them by different

    names depending upon the context. The same thing happens in the case of Shatsruti Rishabha (Ri 3)and Sadharana Gandhara (Ga 2); Chatusruti Dhaivata (Da 2) and Suddha Nishada (Ni 1); and ShatsrutiDhaivata (Da 3) and Kaisika Nishada (Ni 2). This unique feature is more obvious from the table of theHindustani notes where Shudh Rishabh, Komal Gandhar, Shudh Dhaivat and Komal Nishad occur twice.

    Simply put,

    Ri 2 = Ga 1 Ri 3 = Ga 2

    Da 2 = Ni 1 Da 3 = Ni 2

    This can be illustrated better with the help of the adjoining diagram. The notes on the left are thetwelve basic swarasthana-s and those given on the right are the four extra notes.

    Why the sixteen names?

  • 7/30/2019 Melody In Carnatic Music


    As said earlier, ancient Ragas like Nata (Ri 3 and Da 3) and Varali (Ga 1) use relatively uncommonnotes. In order to classify them properly, these notes had to be given a place. There are a few simplerules which determine how the overlapping notes are used:

    When Suddha Rishabha (Ri 1) and Chatusruti Rishabha (Ri 2) occur consecutively in the same

    raga, Ri 2 is sung as Ga 1 (Suddha Gandhara).

    When Sadharana Gandhara (Ga 2) and Antara Gandhara (Ga 3) occur consecutively, then Ga 2 issung as Ri 3 (Shatsruti Rishabha).

    Similarly, when Suddha Dhaivata (Da 1) and Chatusruti Dhaivata (Da 2) occur consecutively,

    then Da 2 is sung as Ni 1 (Suddha Nishada).

    And when Kaisika Nishada (Ni 2) and Kakali Nishada (Ni 3) occur consecutivesly, Ni 2 is sung as

    Shatsruti Dhaivata (Da 3).

    Of course, music being an art, there are cases when these rules are waived. However, we will come tothat later. In my next article, I shall talk about how the 16 notes combine to give scales and Ragas.