Shertallay Column

Evolution of Carnatic music -1

Music has its origin from the Vedic period. The Veda chanting can be taken as the first instance of the emergence of a sense of music. Sama Vedic hymns were chanted in a plain manner without any ups and downs and later, for group chanting, some of the syllables were chanted above the middle pitch and some were chanted in the immediate below pitch. Hence, the concept of three different pitches emerged. These three different pitches were called ‘Swaritha’ - the middle note, ‘Udatha’ – the upper pitch, and ‘Anudatha’ - the lower one.

The next stage was the adding of each one note above and below of the primary three notes which resulted in a scale of five notes. Further, two more notes were added as one above and one below and it paved the way for the very first concept of a full scale with seven notes. This seven-note scale was called ‘Saama Sapthaka’.

The seven notes of Saama Sapthaka were as ‘p d n s r g m’. Later, the three notes ‘p d n’ were taken to the upper part and the concept of a full seven-note scale as ‘s r g m p d n’ emerged. Later on, one more note was sung again above these seven notes, a consonant note, which correspondsto the first note, ‘s’. The lower Shadja was called ‘Adhara Shadjam’ and the upper Shadja, ‘Tara Shadjam’.

The emergence of solfa syllables, ‘s r g m p d n’, in the Vedic period, is the earliest landmark in the history of Indian music. Later, naming of these solfa syllables were emerged as Shadjam, Rishabham, Gandharam, Madhyamam, Panchamam, Dhaivatham and Nishadam. The primitive scale ‘Saama Sapthaka’ was later on known as Shadja Grama. The term ‘Grama’ was used in those days to mean ‘scale’.

Many experiments were again carried out with the available concepts of scale and that paved the way for emergence of new notes and more sruthis with individual sruthi values. An important attempt of such experiment was Bharata’s ‘Dhruva Veena and ‘Chala Veena’ experiment.

Dhruva Veena - Chala Veena experiment

Bharata, one of the great scholars of ancient time, conducted an experiment using two veenas. He called the first one ‘Dhruva Veena’, which was kept as unalterable, and the other one ‘Chala Veena’, the alterable one. As the first stage of the experiment, Bharata tuned both the veenas to the same pitch. Later, the panchama string of the second veena was decreased by a minute pitch difference which is called as ‘Pramana Sruthi’, and all other strings were also decreased accordingly.

Then he carried out a comparative study between both the veenas and found that some of the notes coincided with each other. Likewise, many stages were taken for comparative analysis by decreasing each Pramana Sruthi in the Chala Veena, and finally Bharata found 22 sruthis occurring within a scale, i.e. from Adhara Shadja (Madhya sthayi Shadja) and Tara Shadja. Bharata’s experiment on Dhruva Veena and Chala Veena is considered another important milestone in the development of the sruthi concept in Carnatic music.

Later on, through the ‘cycle of fourth’ and the ‘cycle of fifth’ method, we come to know the emergence of other varieties of each swara and hence 22 sruthis came into existence.

Cycle of fifth is the method of finding new notes by taking the fifth of each note, like

S – P , P - R, R - D, D – G

Cycle of fourth is the method of finding new notes by taking the fourth of each one, like,

S – M, M – N, N – G, G – D

The emergence of the concept of ‘raga’ is the next important landmark in the history of Carnatic music. The 5th century A.D. saw the way for the development of raga. The fretted veena made a revolution in the history of Carnatic music. In modern period, with the advancement of music, we are able to study many possibilities of raga.


(To be contd)


Dr Shertallay K.N. Renganatha Sharma,
Associate Professor in Music,
SSSV College of Music,
Madurai Kamaraj University,


Sep 29, 2010
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