Musings on Music
Origin & Classification

Sage Bharata defines 'Music' as the confluence or combination of Swara, Tala, & Pada - all in harmonious blend. Sage Matanga defines 'Raga' as a combination of musical notes that gives delight. a melody arrangement to project a definite mood, emotion or feeling.

Brahma was the origin of music inspired by Sama Veda. From one note, music progressed to three, then five & crystallized in seven notes, the Sapta Swaras. Sapta Swaras are Shadja, Rishaba, Gandhara, Madyama, Panchama, Daivata & Nishada. Swara is a musical note. Swaras are reputed to have been inspired by sounds of birds & animals such as :

Shadja -- Peacock
Rishaba -- Ox
Gandhara -- Goat
Madyama -- Krouncha bird
Panchama -- Cuckoo
Daivata -- Horse
Nishada -- Elephant

Indian music has fundamentally been a spiritual aid & the vehicle for the soul to realise & attain the Universal Soul ( Paramatman). It lay stress on melody, harmony being secondary though vital.

Corresponding Classification/Nomenclature :
Greek Ecclesiastical European Arabic Indian
Lydic Ionian Modern C Meia Mode Dheera Sankarabharanam
Pypygian Dorian Modern D Irak Mode Karaharapriya
Doric Phrygian Modern E Mex Mode Todi
Hypelysic Lydian Modern F Edzeil Mode Kalyani
Hypopurigion Mixolydian Modern G D.Jorka Mode Harikambhoji
Hypodoric Aeolian Modern A Lisa Mode Natabairavi
(Mixed Doric) (Locrian) Modern B Saika Mode Nilambari
Saraswathi-the Goddess of Fine Arts (Painting as found in Nepal)
Ravana disturbed Siva & Parvathi, while lifting Kailas and got entangled. Ravana with his veena sings "SAMAGANAM" to get release from the pressure of Mount Kailas over him.
Sage Narada's vanity in music is subdued by Anjaneya. Narada's main musical overtures failed, but Anjaneya's oneness with music melted the surroundings and the veena got stuck.
Scale means stepwise arrangement of notes which when successively invoked develop & provide melody. Shadjam is basic or adhara swara which is the basis for the other six notes. Madyama is pitchforked between two traids. Panchama denotes the fifth place. When Sama Veda was recited ( Sama ganam), the spouse accompanied on veena or flute.

From Pranavam emanates Satyajatam, Vaamanam, Tatpurusham, Eesanam & Aghoram which are the five faces of Lord Siva, from which the musical notes emanated & passed on to Posterity. Siva taught Parvati, the prime Sishya & it was successively passed on to Tumburu, Narada, Nandikeswara & Saraswati.

Initial instruments were :
Damaru of Siva, Flute of Krishna, Conch of Vishnu, Drum of Nandi, Veena of Saraswati & Narada, Thambur of Thumburu. Lord Buddha reinvigorated his teachings & message with music on his Parivadini veena, made of gold, having 21 strings.

Sama Veda is well-known as musically rendered. Rig Veda too is reputed to have been chanted once musically. Thevaram by Appar, Sundarar & Sambandar and Divya Prabandam by Vaishnavite Azhwars came up during 7-9th centuries.

Saptha Swaras
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Sapthaswara:Paintings by S Rajam based on details available from Sri Muthia Bhagavathar's "Sangeetha Kalpa Drumam"

SHADJA: Body plump, lotus like complexion, four faces, eight hands, white attire, kumkum in forehead, has sword, sits on swan, gandarva wife, lives in Sambo island, Agni saw this devata first.

RISHABA: Slim body,green colour, three faces, six hands, peethambara dress. Blue stone necklace, agaru in forehead. Kundam in his hand. Sits on lion, kinnara wife, lives in Saha island. Brahma saw this devatha first.

GHANDARA: Fat body, golden complexion, two faces, four hands, red attire, diamond necklace, agaru in forehead, Dandam in hand, Ghanda Berunda bird as vehicle, Yaksha wife. Lives in Kusa island. Moon saw this devatha first.

MADHYAMA: Tall with four faces, eight hands, blue attire, lapis lazule(vaidooryam) necklace, patharas on forehead, holds chakra, sits on deer, Kimpuru wife, lives in Kroucha island. Vishnu saw him first.

PANCHAMA: Well proportioned body. Complexion black, four faces, eight hands, red clothes, emarald necklace, Gorojanam on forhead, pindi in his hand, Naga wife, lives in Salmali island. Narada saw him first.

DAIVATHA: Tall, blue body, three faces, six hands, pictured cloth worn by him, Gomethagam(sardonyx) necklace, sandal on forehead, holding narasam, sits on parrot, Deva wife, lives in Swetha island. Thumburu saw him first.

NISHADA: Very fat, five coloured complxion, two faces, four hands, blue attire, pushparaga(topaz) necklace, kadamba powder on his forehead, holding ankusam, sits on Mynakam, Rakshasa wife, lives in Pushkara island. Thumburu saw this devatha too.

The Melakartha Scheme of 72 ragas has two versions. The reputed author of the Scheme, Venkatamakhi shaped the Asampoorna Mela. Govindacharya brought out the Sampurna Melas. The two versions have been followed by Muthuswami Dikshitar & Tyagaraja-Syama Sastri respectively.

Seven swaras have twelve swara divisions:
Carnatic System Syllable Hindustani System Western
Shadja SA Shadj C
Suddha Ri R1 Komal Rishab D Flat Db
Chatusruti Ri R2 Thivra Rishab D
Sadarana GA G1 Komal GA E Flat Eb
Antara GA G2 Thivra GA E
Suddha MA M1 Komal MA F
Prati MA M2 Thivra MA F Sharp F+
Panchama PA Pancham G
Suddha Da D1 Komal Da A Flat Ab
Chatusruti Da D2 Thivra Da A
Kaisiki NI N1 Komal NI B Flat Bb
KakaliNI N2 Thivra NI B

SA & PA are constant. Others have two levels(sthanas). Thus there exist twelve swara sthanas. Four more having shades of other swaras - Suddha Gandharam, Shatsruti Rishaba, Suddha Nishada & Shatsruti Dhaivata - make up a total of sixteen. 72 Sampoorna Ragas having all seven swaras both in ascending (arohana) & descending (avarohana) emerge as Mela ragas. Each mela has al the seven swaras but drafts varying swarasthana formulations.

Each mela raga applied to permutations & combinations of swara sthanas gives scope to 484 janya (sub) ragas. 72 mela ragas have thus a potential to give the colossal 34776 janya ragas. Of course, this is only an arithmetical projection & not a melodic feasibility.
Of 72 melas, the first 36 have M1 & the second 36 ave M2.

The Melakarta chart


Music is associated with melody. Melody with meaningful words (compositions) becomes a masterpiece.

"Vaagardha viva sampruktau vagartha pratipattay
Jagatah pitarau vande parvati parameswaran"

says the very first verse of the kavya 'Raghuvamsa' by the poet par excellence Kalidasa. It conveys that a word & its meaning are indivisible and it is like the Divine unity of Parvathi & Parameswaran. Such is the importance of meaning to a word. And in India, where music is perceived as a means to salvation, we find many compositions which excel in meaning, melody & technical efficiency. We owe much to the composers, who, through their structured melodic patterns, poetic phrases & technical brilliance have enriched Carnatic music.

Authored 'Sangita Ratnakara' the greatest work after Bharata's 'Natya Sastra'. Hailed as "Nissanka", as he was supreme in knowledge of music. 'Sangita' as referring to music alone came to be used first by him. A magnificient musicologist.

JAYADEVA - COMPOSER : (1101-1173)

Author of the Song Celestial 'Gita Govindam' the first known composition in India specifying raga & tala. Called 'The Indian Song of Songs', it has inspired composers, dance choreographers & poets. The lady gracious behind Jayadeva's success was the eminent Padmavati, his spouse, who danced to his singing.

PURANDARADASA - Father of Carnatic Music System : (1484-1564)

A pioneer in bhakthi cult & a brilliant, popular composer. His compositions inspired Tyagaraja & others.

KSHETRAJNA - Poet of Divine Love : (1610-1685)

His music & lyric share the honours equally & it is in padams, Kshetrjna excelled. There is enchanting beauty & exquisite finesse in his songs of dignified sringara. A great composer who excelled in bringing out diverse emotions.

BHADRACHALA RAMADASA - Composer : (1620-1680)

Religious bent of mind from boyhood. Was Tahsildar at Bhadrachalam & he rebuilt the temple of Rama. Was incarcerated at Golkonda. Divine will got his release. Exquisite songs of Ramadasa are popular. He was the 'Mulapurusha' of harikatha sampradaya.

TYAGARAJA - Fragrant gold of Carnatic Music : (1767-1847)

The most popular of Carnatic Music Trinity. 'In devotion & religious fervour, he is like Purandara & Ramadasa', in lyrical moods he takes a leaf off Kshetrajna; in the language of Gods, he seems to beckon his contemporary Dikshitar & Sastri; in dramatic composition, is like Narayana Tirtha & Merattur Venkutaramana Bhagavathar. His adherence to sampradaya is supreme.

MUTHUSWAMI DIKSHITAR - Architect of Raga forms : (1776-1835)

The compositions of Dikshitar are rich in raga bhava full of gamakas & graces, beauty, majesty, mastery & wisdom. A magnificient composer, vocalist & veena player, he was all serenity & poise. One of the Carnatic Music Trinity.

SYAMA SASTRI - Tala Prastara :(1762-1827)

One of the Carnatic Music Trinity, his songs are noted for tala intricacies. 'The melodic form of his compositions are strikingly original, unconventional & free.' Devi Kamakshi of Tanjore was his patron deity.

SWATHI TIRUNAL - Royal Composer : (1813-1846)

Proficient in many languages with great talent in music, he was the Maharaja of Tiruvancore, a great patron of arts. Lord Padmanabha of Travancore was his Ishta Devata.

THIRU GNANASAMBANDAR - Divine Composer : (6th century)

While yet a baby was suckled by Goddess. One of the four great Saivaite Apostles. His divine musical hymns in Tamil are delightful & the lyric is magnificient.

THIRU NAVUKKARASAR(APPAR) - Divine Composer : (6th century)

One of the prime apostles of Lord Shiva. A life of fragrant devotion & service to humanity.

SUNDARAMURTHY NAYANAR - Divine Composer : (8th century)

A romantic apostle of Lord Shiva, his musical hyms form part of Thevaram along with those of Gnanasambandar & Navukkarasar.


One of the main four Nayanars of Shiva. He exhorts all to 'Sing the ecstatic joy of the Lord soaked in graceful raga; He shall bestow his grace in return.'

TALLAPAKA ANNAMACHARYA - Architect of Devotional ecstacy : (1408-1503)

Annamacharya family was a fountain of divine ecstacy which has dedicated a whole range of poems of madhura bhakthi. 12,000 songs are engraved on copper plates to ensure against ravages & insanity of nature & man. Lord Venkateswara of the Seven Hills was his patron deity.

ARUNAGIRINATHAR - Eminent Divine Poet : (c.1450A.D.)

The finest flower among Tamil composers, devoted & dedicated. His composition 'Thiruppugazh' in praise of the Lord 'is a vast ocean of intricate time measures'. An unrivalled Master of Verse.

MUTHU THANDAVAR - Fragrant Bhava exponent : (16th century)

Depth of theme, felicity of presentation, simplicity of lyric underline his romantic poems. Lord Nataraja was his destiny & patron. His padams, the delight of dancers, are a mine of bhava, bhakthi & rasa.

UTHUKKADU VENKATASUBBA AYYAR - Composer & Divine : (1700-1765)

His love of Lord Krishna was unparalleled & his bhakthi for Muruga was non pareil. His songs are graceful & soulful.

ARUNACHALA KAVIRAYAR - Eminent Composer : (6th century)

'Rama Nataka Kirtanas', a pioneering musical opera, enjoys simplicity of chaste language, easy-pace, flowing presentation, mastery & versatality. It was released at the temple of Sri Ranganatha, Srirangam in 1771 A.D. His songs were set to tune by Sattanadapuram Venkatarama Ayyar & Kodandarama Ayyar.

GOPLALAKRISHNA BHARATI - Father of Tamil Music Renaissance : (1811-1881)

Author of the pioneering socio-spiritual musical opera 'Nandanar', Bharati led a unique life of excellence & mastery of spirit over matter. Has covered the whole gamut of musical compositions. Lord Nataraja, the Cosmic Dancer, was his Ishta Devata. He was an eminent musical discourser too.

SRI PERIYALWAR : (C.700-750)

Vishnuchitta, as Periyalwar was called before he was included in the apostolic order, brought up Sri Andal full of love & affection but had to part with her when the Lord took her as spouse.

SRI ANDAL : (716-732)

Divine origin, glamorous life, spiritual union mark the verdant life of Sri Andal who had left to posterity the enchanting songs called "Thiruppavai" & "Nachiar Thirumozhi".

THIRUMANGAI AZHWAR) : (716-821/750-800)

'The effulgent lamp that shuts out darkness in mind', Thirumangai Azhwar fulfills all the demands of modern fiction. He had covered the largest number of temples among Vaishnavaite Apostles with pilgrimage & songs.

Some Prominent Terms in Musical Parlance

Free improvisation of pure melody(alapana) based on swaras without rhythm in successive melodic phases, quite within the stipulated framework of the raga with its arohana & avarohana, i.e., ascending & descending scales. Each raga has all the seven or six or five notes in varying combinations - called sampoorna, audava-shadava, etc & enjoys a distinct 'raga swarupa'. Carnatic music enjoys the most systematised raga-melodic structures. Hence called "Ranjayatee iti ragah".

Without percussive help, rhythic pulses brought out delineating the various phases & tempos, the fineness and beauty of a raga to display & portray its panoramic potential. Veena is the ideal instrument for tana since all its seven strings blend to give a harmonius nada(sound) in the crescendo.

Improvised swara permutations as are appropriate to each raga. Solfa syllables alone are used to elaborate & pleasing combinations depend on the expertise of the artiste. Raga alapana has no rhythm but swara kalpana is subjected to the strict discipline of rhythm(tala)

Rhythm. Time-cycle containign one or more sub-time measures. There are 128 talas. Each is a rhythmic arrangement of beats, etc., in cycles.

The first section of a kriti or kirtan, which has normally a pallavi, anupallavi & charanam. A few have 'samashti charanams' where there is no distict anupallavi.
Pallavi also represents the distinct manodharmic sangita using a short phrase or idiom & giving full scope to exposition of raga-tala intricacies, swara kalpana, etc. This type of special rendition demands a high level of expertise

A garland of ragas with or without lyrics.

Modern padams depict musical forms best suited to bring out the infinite captivating graces. Javalis slightly differ from padas in its erotic content.

A composition with jatis, brisk in tempo interspersed with swaras, katos and lyrics. Often in middle & fast tempos. Best suited to dances to whip up tempo after the sublime, padas.

Extempore, innovative, creative improvisation of raga.

Practising music

Ascending order of notes - sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, da, ni either in full, or with omissions or in jumbled series according to the prescribed notes of each raga.

Same as in arohana but in descending order. If arohana takes the rendition uphill, avarohana brings it back downhill. Taken together, raga swaroopa or shape is evolved.

Style of rendition.

Emotion, feeling, the soul of lyric or raga.

Solfa syllables (swaras) pre-set by composer as distinct from swara prastara, which is improvised. Chittaswara is ornamentation to bring out the innate beauty of raga in the context of the flow of the song.

Traditional end of concert or chorus - a propitious finale.

Niraval is phrasing, developing and expounding the lyric bringing out the subtelities & beauties, and variations of the raga.

Most important note of a raga.

Jumbled notes in arohana or avarohana.

Notes omitted in arohana or avarohana which conduces individual raga swarupah.

Song which illustrates or portrays the basic features of a raga.

Composition with limited words & maximum of notes to bring out raga lakshana & raga bhava.

Druva, Matya, Rupaka, Jampai, Triputa, Ata & Eka talas(7).

Laghu, Druta, Anudrata, Guru, Pluta & Kakapada(6) - which distinguish individual talas.

One beat & counting or time-measures with fingers - as many as is fixed for each tala.

Beat of the hand & visarjita or turning it - 2 aksharakalas.

Beat of the hand alone - 1 aksharakala.

Unit measure of talas. Thus,
Druva tala has 14 aksharas.
Matya tala has 10 aksharas.
Rupaka tala has 6 aksharas.
Jampai tala has 10 aksharas.
Triputa tala has 7 aksharas.
Ata tala has 14 aksharas.
Eka tala has 14 aksharas.

One full cycle of any tala comprising one or more of the shadangas having the respective aksharakala.

One who composes & sings his own creations.

From Musings on Music - a handy music diary for writing notation by S.Rajam
Text by S.Rajam, Text assisted by "Garland" Rajagopalan, Illustration by S.Rajam

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