Classical Vocal Systems

Presently, two systems of music are prevalent-
  1. Northern or Hindustani Sangeet
  2. Southern or Karnatak Sangeet

Northern or Hindustani music system

With the exception of four southern states, this system is prevlent in the rest of India. It is also prevalent in neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Southern or Karnatak music system

This system is prevalent in the southern states-Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

Though these two systems of music are independent of each other, they have many similarities, thus

  1. Both systems follow the concept of twenty two Shrutis in a Saptak.
  2. Both systems have twelve notes in a Saptak.
  3. Both systems follow the concept of Thata Raga.
  4. In both systems, music is based on Raga and Tala

What is Shruti & Number of shruti's


is the smallest form of Nada . The derivative definition of this word has been given in ‘Sangeet Ratnakar’ as

‘shravanacchrutayo matah’


ie. That which can be heard is Shruti. In music, Shruti forms the basis for musical notes or Svaras and through which creation of Ragas takes place.


Different viewpoint regarding the number of Shrutis are prevalent among musi- cologists. Among these three are main. According to one viewpoint, there are twenty two Shrutis in a Saptak, according to the second there are sixty six and infinite according to the third viewpoint. The first viewpoint according to which there are twenty two Shrutis is the most prevalent

Svara & Number of Svaras

What is Svara?

Svara has been defined as that creamy, resonant sound which is capable of pleasing the minds of the listeners on its own.

Number of Svara

In the beginning during the Vedic period, only three notes were in use, namely, Udatta, Anudatta and Svarita. Udatta demoted high pitch, Anudatta lower pitch and Svarita medium pitch. Slowly the vedic notes developed into four, then five and later seven notes. The Laukik or present day seven notes first find mention in Bharata’s NatyaShastra. These were named as Shadja, Rishabh, Gandhar, Madhyam, Pancham, Dhaivat and Nishad. Their abbreviated form used in prac- tice are ‘Sa’, ‘Re’, ‘Ga’, ‘Ma’, ‘Pa’, ‘Dha’ and ‘Ni’ respectively. These Svaras were established on the twenty two Shrutis of the Saptak based on the principle

Shadja madhyamapanchamah

Dwedwe Nishadgandhar Tistririshabh Dharatau

‘Sa’, ‘Ma’, ‘Pa’ have four Shrutis each, ‘Re’, ‘Dha’ have three Shrutis each and ‘Ni’, ‘Ga’, have two Shrutis each. The placement can be shown through the fol-lowing table.



Shruti No.


Shruti no.
































Shruti No.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7





These were the pure notes. Apart from these, Bharat has given two modified (Sadharana) notes- Antar Gandhar and Kakali Nishad. According to modern musicologists, other than the seven pure notes, there are five modified notes. The pure (Shuddha) and modified (Vikrit) Svaras are explained in brief below– 

 Shuddha Svara

When Svaras are placed on their specified Shrutis, they are known as Shuddha Svaras. The seven Shuddha Svaras in their natural state are ‘Sa’, ‘Re’, ‘Ga’, ‘Ma’, ‘Pa’, ‘Dha’, ‘Ni’, Among these seven Shuddha Svaras, ‘Sa’ and ‘Pa’ are fixed or ‘Achal’ and remain in their pure state.


 Vikrit Svara

The notes other than ‘Sa’ and ‘Pa’ can get displaced from their natural state and

become modified or Vikrit, therefore they are referred to a ‘Chal’. The modified

or Vikrit state is either ‘Komal’ or ‘Tivra’ ‘Re’, ‘Ga’, ‘Ma’, ‘Dha’, ‘Ni’ are notes

of this category. Among these, ‘Re’, ‘Ga’, ‘Dha’, ‘Ni’ become komal by getting

displacedto lowerShrutisand‘Ma’becomesTivrabygettingdisplacedtohigher

Shrutis. According to Bhatkhande’s Notation System, Komal Svara can be rec-

ognized by a horizontal line underneath the Svara and Tivra Svara can be recog-

nized by a vertical line above the Svara. For example, Komal ‘Ga’ is writtten as

‘Ga’ and Tivra ‘Ma’ is written as ‘Ma’


n music, after Nada, Shruti and Svara comes Saptak in the evolution order. Liter- ally, ‘Saptak’ means a group of seven, i.e., ‘saptaka saptanam samuhah.’ In the context of music, its meaning has been implied as a group of seven notes in se- quence. According to the high or low pitch of sound, there can be an infinite number of Saptaks, however, three types of Saptaks are used in music. These are also called registers or ‘Sthan’. A brief description of the three Saptaks is given below:-

 Mandra Saptak

Mandra means low. When the sound used in a Saptak is twice as low as the normal sound, it is called ‘Mandra’ Saptak. When Svaras are pronounced while singing in this Saptak, there is pressure on the heart. According to Bhatkhande’s Notation System, a dot is used below the Svara, e.g. Sa, Re, Ga Ma Pa Dha

Ni. .

 Madhya Saptak

Madhya means medium or normal Mostly performing is done in this Saptak in which the sound is twice as high as the sound of Mandra Saptak when Svaras are pronounced while singing in this Saptak, there is pressure on the throat. There is no symbol used for notation of Svaras in Madhya Saptak, e.g. Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni.

 Tar Saptak

To sing higher than the Madhya or normal Saptak, Svaras of Tara Saptak are used. The sound for Svaras of this Saptak is twice higher than that for Svaras of Madhya Saptak. To pronounce the Svaras of the Saptak while singing, there is pressure on palate and brain. According to Bhatkhande’s Notation system, a

……. dot is used above the notes, e.g. Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni.

Usually, these three Saptaks are used for singing and instrumental music. Along with seven pure notes, the five modified notes are also included in Saptak.


Even though the general meaning of the word ‘Varna’ in Hindi is understood as syllable, colour, caste division or category etc., however, in musical context, it re- fers to various methods or embellishments used in singing and instrumental music. Thus,

‘ganakriyochyate varnah’
The basis for these methods or ‘kriya’ are four types of Varnas:-

 Sthayi Varna

Sthayi means stable. When a note is pronounced continuously or repeatedly at its own place, it is Sthayi Varna. For example Sa…, Re…or Sa Sa Sa Re Re Re etc.

Arohi Varna

When notes are pronounced in Ascent or ascending order, then it is called Arohi Varna. For example, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha or Sa Ga Ma Dha. It is not essential that all notes are to be used. According to usage in the Raga, there can be a break in sequence, however, the sequence has to be in Ascent.

 Avarohi Varna

When notes are pronounced in Descent or descending order, it is called Avarohipage18image61574912

Varna. Like Arohi Varna, it is not essential that all notes are used in sequence.

Some notes may be omitted according to usage in Raga, e.g. Sa Ni Pa Ma Ga.

 Sanchari Varna

When the above stated Varnas, i.e., Sthayi, Arohi and Avarohi Varnas are mixed

together, Sanchari Varna comes into being. For example- Sa Re Ga Pa, Dha Ga ….

Pa, Ga Pa Dha Sa, Sa Sa Sa, Dha Dha Dha Pa, Ga Pa Dha Pa, Ga Re Sa, this is a Sanchari Varna.



The word ‘Alankara’ in Hindi means ornament. Just as an ornament beautifies the body, an Alankara beautifies music. In the context of music, a specific group of Varna or group of notes in a particular sequence constitutes Alankara. According to Pt Sharngadev,

‘Vishishtar varnasandarbham alankaram prachakshate/
—1/6/3 Sangeet Ratnakar

Modern musicologists refer to Alankaras as ‘Palta’ also. Their creation follows a definite sequence. The sequence of the starting notes in an Alankara directs the sequence of the following notes in Ascent by considering each note as the starting note of that particular sequence. The same rule is followed in Descent in opposite sequence, this is Alankara. An example of an Alankara is as follows

. Ascent – Sa Re Ga, Re Ga Ma, Ga Ma Pa, Ma Pa Dha, Pa Dha Ni, Dha Ni Sa

Descent – Sa Ni Dha, Ni Dha Pa, Dha Pa Ma, Pa Ma Ga, Ma Ga Re, Ga Re Sa.

By creating and practising Alankaras for each Raga, the hand (for instrument) or throat (for singing) are prepared, knowledge of notes is improved and help is pro- vided in elaboration of Raga. For mastery in Raga, practising Alankaras is very helpful.