Melody of the Indian Classical Music

Tania Banerjee

The word Swara is derived from the root SVR, which means sound. All forms of music have seven major notes also known as Shuddha Swaras.

Music from all over the world, be it Indian, Western, Chinese, African, or any other, has two main aspects to it. The first one is Tunes or Melody and the second one is Beats or Rhythm.

The melodic aspect of a song is entirely based on what is called musical notes and in Indian music, the musical notes are called as Swaras.  The seven swaras as we all know are- Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni. These seven fundamental swaras are: sa [shadja], re [rishabha], ga [gândhâra], ma [madhyama], pa [panchama] dha [daivata] and ni [nishâdha]. These seven swaras are equal to the do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti of Western music. Using these basic seven, several more svaras are formed, which brings the total to twelve swaras. Please read on.

Shuddha Swaras

Sa and Pa are called pure swaras (shuddha swaras) and have a fixed position.They are also known as “immovable”, Achala Swaras.

Vikrita Swaras – Komal and Teevra

Swaras other than Achala swaras can be sung half note above or below their original position. They are known as Vikrita Swaras.

Re ,Ga,  Dh, and Ni can be sung half note below and are known as komala Swaras. Ma is sung half note above it’s original note and is known as Teevra Madhyama.

Thus in total there are 12 swaras –  7 shuddha and 5 vikrita. Out of 5 vikrit swaras, 4 are komal and 1 is teevra.

As a beginner singer, the first step is to have clear understanding of swara hierarchy . .

The 12 swaras are represented as Sa re Re ga Ga Ma Ma# Pa dh Dh ni Ni Sa.

The lower case letters represent Komal swaras (e.g. ni represents komal Ni) and Upper Case letters represent shuddh swara (e.g. Pa represents Shuddh Pa). # symbol signifies Teevra sur. As Ma is the only teevra sur, # is used only with Ma.

There is a belief that the seven swaras in the Hindustani Music were conceived from the sounds of the nature. 

The seven svaras are represented by the following:

Shadaja (Sa); the rapturous sound of the peacock when rain clouds gather in the sky

Rishabha (Re); the bellowing of a cow when her calf is separated from her

Gandhara (Ga); the bleating of a goat in a flock

Madhyama (Ma); the cry of a heron

Panchama (Pa); the sound of the Indian Kokila (nightingale) in spring

Dhaivata (Dha); the neighing of a horse

Nishada (Ni); the trumpeting of an elephant

An interesting thing that is noted in the swaras is Sa, Ma and Pa are sounds made by birds whereas Re, Ga, Dha and Ni are sounds made by animals. 

The group of Swaras that are played in continuity and with a certain rhythm is called a ‘Sargam’.

In the most basic Sargam ever defined, all the main seven  ‘Surs’ are sung in rhythm in which the first note is Sa that is repeated once more as (Sa.) in the end to act as a closure to the whole ‘Sargam’.

The term swara explained above, is from the point of view of Hindustani Shastriya Sangeet or North Indian classical Music . The same concept applies to Carnatic Music or South Indian Music as well, with subtle differences in the theoretical aspect, specially, the naming conventions.

At last I think you will see through the basic way of Swaras as described in Hindustani-Shastriya-Sangeet. I will be breaking down Taal and Laya in the next part.

Till then, please enjoy the beautiful and melodious Sitar by Pandit Ravishankar:

Also enjoy this soothing Flute by the Great Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia:




is a musician and a student of the science of music. She has been introducing the inticracies of classical music to Vedanta Vani readers.

Abhishek Chakraborti

is the Contributing Editor of the Music Page

Abhishek lives in Holland and is an excellent musician. He is also devoted to the ideals of Sri Ramakrishna, Mother and Swamiji.