Technical Terms I

  • Sangeetham(Music)

There is music everywhere in nature, just as there is rhythm in the universe. The chatusshashti kalas (64 arts) mentioned in ancient works include ordinary arts and fine arts. The lalitha kalas or fine arts appeal to the sense of beauty in us. Music appeals through the medium of the ear. Music is the language of emotion. Music is entitled to be ranked as the greatest of the fine arts. Music is of universal appeal and influences alike the scholar and the lay person, the old and the young and the man and the beast. The cow, the infant, and the serpent feel the charm of music as per the sloka:-

‘शिशुर्वेत्ति पशुर्वेत्ति वेत्ति गानरसं फणि:||’

Music is the language of the Gods. According to the ancient Sanskrit sloka:-

‘संगीतमपि सहित्यं सरस्वत्या स्थन द्वयं

एक मापातमधुरं अन्यथा लोचनामृतं||’

“Music and Poetry are the 2 breasts of Saraswathi, the Goddess of learning. Whereas music pleases the moment one hears it, poetry gives pleasure only after one contemplates on it.” The following sloka is also of significance.

Yajnavalkya in his Smriti III, 115 says:-

‘वीणा वादन तत्वज्ञानः श्रुति जाती विशारदः

तालज्ञ स्रप्रयासेन मोक्शति||’

“One who is versed in Veena play, one who is an adept in the varieties of srutis (subtle quarter tones and micro tones) and who is an adept in Tala; all of them attain salvation without effort.”

According to the sloka:-

‘त्रिवर्ग फलदास्सर्वे दानयज्ञ जपादय:

एवम् संगीत विज्ञान चतुर्वर्ग फलप्रदम् ||’

“Gifts, holy sacrifices and prayers lead to the realization of Dharma, Artha and Kama, the three fold desires. But musical knowledge is capable of bestowing the fruits of all the four purusharthas: Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha.”

Sangeeta is the Indian term for music. Gandharva tattva is musicology or the science of music. Ancient writers held the view that vocal music, instrumental music and dance, together constituted sangita.

‘गीतं वाद्यं च नृत्यं त्रयं संगीतमुच्यते||’

Indian music traces its origin to Sama veda. Music is ‘Naada Vidya’. Its study leads to ‘Nada Upasana’. By contemplating Naada, one attains self realization. All great sages practiced music. Narada, Tumbura, Valmiki were all great musicians. Bhakta Jayadeva, Swamy Narayana Teertha, Bhadrachala Ramadasu, Purandara dasa, Bhakta Meerabai, Sant Tukaram, Sant Tulsidas, Sant Surdas and Sant Kabir das were not only great bhaktas but also great composers of music.

  • Sruthi(Pitch)

स्रुयन्ति इति स्रुति|’ means that which is heard is sruthi.

Sruthi also means veda. In music, sruti means quarter tone or a micro tone, which has musical value. A minute tone, or a minute difference of a pitch is sruti. It is also an overtone with musical value, which can be perceived by a trained ear in music.

Sloka:- ‘स्रुतिर् माता लय: पिता|’ 

Srutis are the life breath of ragas. Srutis are present in the gamakas. Gamakas are present in ragas. There is no raga without gamaka and no gamaka without srutis.

There are 22 srutis in a sthayi. Sthayi  is sapta swara range (SRGMPDN). Swaras are 7, Swarasthanas are 12 and srutis are 22 only. The distribution of these 22 srutis among the 7 swaras is not uniform. The values of these srutis vary in 3 different values. The smallest is Pramana Sruti. The Smaller is Nyoona Sruti. The small struti is Poorna sruti. There are 12 pramana srutis, 5 Nyoona sruthi and 7 poorna srutis.

Srutis are not present in western music. It is satisfied with the semitones. The concept of sruti is very much Indian. Our science and art of music began with Sookshma sruti. That is the reason why Indian music is based on the principles of ‘Just intonations’, while western music is developed through the principles of ‘Equal temperament’. In western music, the distances and intervals between 12 semitones are equal or same.

At the early times, the distribution of 22 srutis was done as follows:-

‘चतुस् चतुस् चतुस् चैव | शद्ज मध्यम पन्चम

द्वे द्वे निशाद गान्धारोस्ति  थ्रे दैवतै:’’||

“Sa Pa Ma have 4 srutis, and Ga, Ni have 2 srutis; Ri, Da have 3 srutis each.”


According to the above distribution of srutis, the resultant raga is the first scale that was evolved through the sama gana scale. It is also known as Hara Priya or Karaharapriya or Chittaranjani.

  • Swara, Saptha Swaras

The definition of swara according to the sloka:-

‘उच्चारयन्ते इति स्वर: | स्वर्यते इति स्वर:|’

Swara is placed and considered important next to sruti. Swara has harmonies and upper partials within itself.

‘स्रुत्यानन्तर भवीयह स्निग्धोनुश्ण नात्मक:

स्वतो राजयति स्रोतु चित्तं सु स्वर उच्यते||’

Swara has the power of pleasing and healing by itself. It pleases the minds of hearts of human beings and other beings under the sun.

That is swara.

‘स्रुतिभ्यास्युहु स्वरा शद्जर्शभ, गान्धार, मध्यम:,

पन्चमो दैवतास्चात् निशाद इति सप्तते||’

The 7 swaras, their names and abbreviations are given below:

S.No.AbbreviationName of the Swara

The above 7 svaras are also known as ‘Sapta Svaras’.

Matanga muni gives the reason for the names of these 7 svaras. Shat + ja = Shadja is the father of all the other 6 notes. Ri to Ni are born from Shadja.

Sounds of svaras are:

  • Sa – Peacock
  • Ri – Bull or Cow
  • Ga – Goat
  • Ma – Krowncha bird (Heron)
  • Pa – Cuckoo
  • Da – Horse
  • Ni – Elephant
  • Swarantargatasthanas; Dwadasa Swarasthanas:

Out of the seven swaras, Shadjam (Sa) and Panchamam (Pa) are ‘Prakrithi’ or natural swaras and are constant. They are called Achala Swaras. The remaining five swaras (Ri, Ga, Ma, Dha, Ni) admit varieties and they are called ‘Vikruthi’ or Chala Swaras. In combination, both Achala and Chala swaras yield 12 different musical notes and they are called Dwadasa Swarasthanas.

The Dwadasa Swarasthanas are –

  1. Shadjam – Sa
  2. Suddha Rishabam – Su Ri
  3. Chatusruthi Rishabam – Cha Ri
  4. Sadharana Gandharam – Sa Ga
  5. Anthara Gandaram – An Ga
  6. Suddha Madhyamam – Su Ma
  7. Prathi Madhyamam – Pra Ma
  8. Panchamam – Pa
  9. Suddha Dhaivatham – Su Dha
  10. Chatusruthi Dhaivatham – Cha Dha
  11. Kaisika Nishadham – Kai Ni
  12. Kakali Nishadham – Ka Ni
  • Arohana, Avarohana & Moorchana
  1. Arohana: The series of swaras in the ascending order of a pitch is called arohana
  2. Avarohana: The series of swaras in the descending order of a pitch is called avarohana
  3. Murchana: The arohana, avarohana of a raga together is known as Murchana
  • Sthayi

The series of swaras from Sa to Ni is known as Sthayi.

There are 5 sthayis:

Name of SthayiOctaveMethod of Denoting
1Anumandra Sthayi2 octaves belowTwo dots below the Swara
2Mandara SthayiLower octaveOne dot below the Swara
3Madhya SthayiMiddle octaveSwara without dots
4Thara SthayiHigher octaveOne dot above the Swara
5Ati Thara Sthayi2 Octaves aboveTwo dots above the Swara
  • Purvanga

The first four swaras – s, r, g, m constitute the Purvanga.

The first half of a varnam constituting of Pallavi, Anupallavi and Muktayi swaras is also known as Purvanga

  • Uttaranga

The last three swaras – p, d, n constitute the Uttaranga.

The second half of a varnam, constituting of charanam and chittai swaras is also known as Uttaranga.

  • Dhatuvu & Matuvu

The swara part of a musical composition is called the Dhatuvu.

The sahitya part of a musical composition is called the Matuvu.

  • Akshara kala

Unit time in Indian music is called akshara kala.

  • Thrikala

Kala refers to the time/ speed of a musical piece. There are three kalas:

  1. Prathama kala: First degree of speed. Has one note sung in one akshara kala.
  2. Dwitiya kala: Second degree of speed. Double the speed of Prathama kala. Has two notes sung in one akshara kala.
  3. Tritiya kala: Third degree of speed. Has four notes sung in one akshara kala. This is double the speed of dwitiya kala
  • Tourya Trikama

Vocal music, Instrumental music and Dance; together is referred to as Thourya Thrikamu.

  • Naadam
  • The sound generated by the combination of ‘Prana’ and ‘Agni’ is known as ‘Nadam’. There are 2 types of nadams.
    • Ahata Nadam
    • Anahata Nadam
  • Jaati, Pancha Jaatis:

The laghu has different variations depending on number of kriyas (finger counts). There are 5 such variations known as Pancha Jaatulu.

  • Trisra Jaati: A beat followed by counting of two fingers, i.e, 3 kriyas per laghu and is represented by I3
  • Chaturasra Jaati: It has 4 kriyas per laghu.(|4)
  • Khanda Jaati: It has 5 kriyas per laghu (|5)
  • Misra Jaati: It has 7 kriyas per laghu (|7)
  • Sankirna Jaati: It has 9 kriyas per laghu (|9)

Thus ‘jaati’ is connected with ‘laghu’ only.

  • Avartham

The completion of tala angas or time meaure is called Avartham

  • Tala, Angas, Shadangas, Talangas

Tala is the measuring unit of the time scale (tempo) in a musical composition. This Sanskrit word is derived by combining abbreviations of ‘Thandavam’ and ‘Lasyam’, the former represents Lord Shiva and the latter is his consort, Parvathi. Thus the origin of thalam is traced to the first divine couple. In order to achieve easy methods of reckoning musical time, six angas or ways have been devised. They are known as Shadangas.

  • Laghuvu – I (symbol) – 3/4/ 5/6/7/9 finger counts
  • Drutam – 0 – 2
  • Anudrutam – U – 1
  • Guru – 8 – 8
  • Plutam – 81 – 12
  • Kakapadam – + – 16

Out of 6 Talangas, only 3 of them are main. They are:

  1. Anudrutam (U) – One beat of the right palm on the lap. It is also known as ‘Gatha’. Out of seven classical (‘Marga’ or ‘Suladi’) talas this occurs only in ‘Jhampa’ talam. Symbol for Anudrutam is U.
  2. Drutam (0) – One beat of the right palm on the lap + one wave of hand (Usi / Visarjitam). That is in this anudrutham is followed by ‘visarjitam’. Thus, there are 2 kriyas here. This is a part of all the marga talas except ‘Eka talam’. The symbol is O.
  3. Laghu (I) – One beat of the right palm on the lap + Count of fingers. The number of short syllables in a laghu varies according to ‘jaati’ of a talam. Laghu occurs in all the seven talas and its symbol is I.
  • Sapta Talas

There are 7 basic talas, also known as ‘Suladi talas’.

  1. Dhruva talam: This talam starts with one laghu, then one drutam and ends with two laghus. Hence the symbol is IOII. The number of short syllables in this talam depends on jaati. For example, in Trisra jaati there are 11 short syllables (3 per each laghu + 2 per drutam)
  2. Matya talam: This has one laghu, one drutam and again one laghu i.e., IOI.
  3. Rupaka talam: One drutam followed by one laghu. Hence the symbol is OI.
  4. Jhampa talam: A laghu, an anudrutam and a drutam i.e., IUO.
  5. Ata talam: This has 4 angas, 2 laghus followed by 2 drutams i.e., IIOO.
  6. Triputa talam: One laghu, followed by two drutams i.e.,IOO. This same talam in chaturasra jaati came to be known as the famous Adi talam.
  7. Eka talam: Only one laghu i.e., I.

Now, it may be noted that the 7 basic talas multiplied by 5 jaatis gives rise to 35 talas.