Introducing Yourself to Indian Classical Music 12-The Saptaswaras in the South- the Carnatic notes
In the South the notes Ri (Re), Ga, Dha, and Ni can occupy one of three positions. Ma only occupies two positions, as in Hindustani music, either natural (Shuddha) or sharp (Prati Madhyama). These notes that can occupy more than one position are known as vikriti swaras.
Sa and Pa, are generally considered to remain constant and are known as prakriti swaras.
While in the North names are shortened, for example, Shadja (Sa) can become shortened to Shadj, in the South there is a tendency to lengthen them. So Shadja becomes Shadjam or even Shadjamam.
The names of the notes in the Carnatic system are as follows:
1.Shadja (Shadjam or Shadjamam)= Sa
2.Shuddha Rishabha/Rishabham=Ri (R1 )
3.Chatusruti Rishabha/Rishabham=Ri (R2)
4.Shatsruti Rishabha/Rishabham=Ri ( R3)
5.Shuddha Gandhara/Gandharam=Ga (G1 )
6.Sadharana Gandhara/Gandharam =Ga (G2 )
7.Antara Gandhara/Gandharam=Ga (G3 )
8.Shuddha Madhyama/Madhyamam =Ma (M1 )
9.Prati Madhyama/Madhyamam =Ma (M2 )
11.Shuddha Dhaivatha/Dhaivatham =Dha (D1 )
12.Chatusruti Dhaivatha/Dhaivatham=Dha (D2 )
13.Shatsruti Dhaivatha/Dhaivatham =Dha (D3)
14.Shuddha Nishadha =Ni (N1 )
15.Kaisiki Nishadha/Nishadham =Ni (N2 )
16.Kakali Nishadha/Nishadham =Ni (N3 )
Thus the octave in Carnatic music is divided into 16, unlike the Hindustani system. However the melodic values of some of the Carnatic notes overlap as follows:
Ri 2 = Ga 1
Ri 3 = Ga 2
Dha 2 = Ni 1
Dha 3 = Ni 2
So why divide the octave (known as sthayi in the South) into 16, when one might as well have kept it as 12?
It’s because of a system of classification, developed by the musicologist Venkatamakhi, in the 17th century, for the derivation of the seventy-two melakarta scheme. This is a system of classification of ragas followed in Carnatic music, about which more later.
Sometimes the notes are shown as belonging to 12 positions or swarasthanas and the “overlapping” notes are indicated as follows:
2. Shuddha Rishabham=Ri (R1)
3. Chatusruti Rishabham = Ri (R2)=Shuddha Gandharam
4. Sadharna Gandharam= Ga (G1)=Shatsruti Rishabham
5.Antara Gandharam= Ga (G2)
6.Shuddha Madhyamam= Ma (M1)
7. Prati Madhyamam=Ma (M2)
9. Shuddha Dhaivatham=Dha (D1)
10. Chatusruti Dhaivatham=Dha (D2)=Shuddha Nishadham
11. Kaisiki Nishadham=Ni (N1)=Shatsruti Dhaivatam
12. Kakali Nishadham=Ni (N2)
Note that the word “shuddha” is used for different notes in the Hindustani and Carnatic systems.
Both Hindustani and Carnatic music use microtones (refer to the previous posts for a discussion of microtones), so remember that the division of the octave into various notes, whether 12 or 16, is only a starting point in Indian classical music.
Note: I discussed microtones in Indian music using the names of the notes/tones in Hindustani music, because I thought it would be simpler-the names in the Carnatic system can be a bit confusing at first, which is why I waited until now to introduce them.
If, by any chance, you’re getting worried about all the note/tone names and positions, or thinking you’ll never remember them-don’t worry. It’s not necessary to know them to appreciate the music. All one needs for that is a willing ear.
It is enough to know that there are seven basic notes, of which five can admit to a lot of tonal variation and this tonal variation can be very subtle. In fact, one does not even need to know this to appreciate the music!