Accepting music as an inseparable part of our lives is a step towards living a life of impact. Hindustani (Indian) Classical Music has the deepest impact on our lives. Life is sensible and healthy if full of music. Music has its effect on plants, birds and animals, and listening, playing, and singing have their benefits on our health and wellbeing. To help navigate Music for deep impact on our wellbeing, as a guest lecturer, speaker, and musician with upwards of 20 years of expertise in Hindustani Classical Music, I invite you to my lecture.
Join me on this talk of Hindustani classical music and find out what it is, what it does, and how you could gain the benefits of this treasure.
There are a total of twelve main pitches (Shruti) in an octave, and to create a musical theme, specific frequencies from those twelve are chosen. These chosen pitches determine whether a song is sad/happy, slow/fast, and so on.
Since melody is prime and central to Indian music, we always look for pitch combinations that offer significant melodic potential. These are called ragas, and we know of about 500 ragas in the Indian Classical tradition.
Ragas | Raga classification
Ragas are classified in various ways. One system is to classify them under Ten Parent Scales, known as “Thaat”. These are similar to modes in ancient Greek music. Unlike ragas, which are more flexible in the number of notes they can include, Parent Scales are always heptatonic and must include one each of the seven notes (swara) – sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha and ni. Variations arise due to the different variants (natural, flat, or sharp) used. In Bhatkhande’s system, the basic mode of reference is that which is equivalent to the Western Ionian mode or major scale (called Bilawal thaat in Hindustani classical music). The flattening or sharpening of pitches always occurs with reference to the interval pattern in Bilawal thaat. This is how ten parent scales or Thaats are created. Each thaat contains a different combination of altered (vikrit) and natural (shuddha) notes. In any seven-tone scale (starting with Shadaj, Re, Ga, Dha and Ni can be natural (shuddha, lit. “pure”) or flat (komal, lit. “soft”) but never sharp, whereas the Ma can be natural or sharp (tivra, lit. “fast”) but never flat, making twelve notes as in the Western chromatic scale. The sharp tones are called Tivra Vikrit and flat tones are called Komal Vikrit swara (vikrit, lit. “altered”). Selecting seven tones in ascending order, where Sa and Pa are always natural whereas five other tones (Re, Ga, Ma, Dha and Ni can be present only one of their two possible forms, results in 32 modes which are known as thaats. Out of these thirty-two possibilities, Pt. Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande ji chose to highlight only ten Thaats or scales. In effect only heptatonic scales are called thaats. Pandit Bhatkhande ji applied the term thaats only to scales that fulfil the following rules:
A thaat must have seven tones out of the twelve tones [seven natural, four flat (Re, Ga, Dha,Ni), one sharp (Ma)]
The tones must be in ascending sequence: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni.
A thaat cannot contain both the natural and altered versions of a note
A thaat, unlike a raga, does not have separate ascending and descending lines
A thaat has no emotional quality (which ragas, by definition, do have)
Thaats are not sung but the ragas produced from the thaats are sung One can arbitrarily designate any pitch as Sa (the tonic) and build the series from there. While all thaats contain seven notes, many ragas (of the audav and shadav type) contain fewer than seven and some use more. A raga need not to use every tone in a given thaat; the assignment is made according to whatever notes the raga does contain Note that Thaats only give a rough structure of the raga that gives the ‘Chalan’ or way of singing of the raga.
The Ten Thaats (Scales)
Bilawal: All pure notes S R G M P D N
Kalyan: Madyam tivra or the higher variant of Madhyam. Rest are pure notes. S R G M’ P D N
Khamaj: Komal Nishad or Lower variant of Nishad. All other six are pure notes. S R G M P D n
Bhairav: Rishabh and Dhaivat are Komal. Rest are pure. S r G M P d N
Kafi: Komal Gandhar and Nishad or the lower variants of Gandhar and Nishad. Rest are pure. S R g M P D n
Asavari: Gandhar Dhaivat and Nishad are Komal. Rest are pure notes. S R g M P d n
Bhairavi: Rishabh, Gandhar, Dhaivat and Nishad are Komal. Rest are pure. S r g M P d n
Marwa: Rishabh Komal and Madhyam Teevra. S r G M’ P D N
Poorvi: Rishabh, Dhaivat Komal and Madhyam Teevra. S r G M’ P d N
Todi: Rishabh, Gandhar, Dhaivat are Komal and Madhyam Teevra. S r g M’ P d N PS: Lower case alphabet denotes the lower variants of a specific note eg R – Shudh R r- Komal R Teevra M is denoted as M’ .
Sapta is a Sanskrit word which means seven. So a saptak in Hindustani music means comprising of seven notes. It is a Sanskrit word for an Octave. In saptak or Octave there are 7 natural or pure notes along with their 5 low and high variants. The sevan pure notes and their 5 variants make 12 in all. If we see roughly, they are only the seven notes with their variants hence the word Saptak.
‘Do’ ‘Re’ ‘Mi’ ‘Fa’ ‘So’ ‘La’ ‘Ti’ – English
‘Sa’ ‘Re’ ‘Ga’ ‘Ma’ ‘Pa’ ‘Dha’ ‘Ni’ – Hindi
Octaves In Indian Classical Music
There are mainly three octaves used in Hindustani classical music.
Madhya Saptak (Middle or the 4th Octave)
This octave starts with C4, the ‘Scientific Pitch‘, termed as the ‘Shadaj‘ or ‘Sa‘ which has frequency of 256Hz. The notes on the scale after that are placed accordingly. Middle Ocatve Pure notes are denoted as Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni
Mandra Saptak (lower Octave or the 3rd octave)
In the lower Octave the frequency of notes is 2x lower (1 octave lower) than in the Madhya Saptak (middle octave). While writing these notes in notation, they are denoted bearing a dot below them:
Mandra Saptak Notation
Taar Saptak( Upper or the 5th octave)
Taar Saptak or Upper Octave: In the upper Octave the frequency of the notes is 2x higher (1 octave higher) than in the Madhya Saptak (middle octave). In notation these notes are denoted bearing a dot above them:
Taar Saptak Notation
In addition to these Octaves, Indian classical vocalists and instrumentalist use Ati Mandra saptak or the 2nd octave while singing or playing instruments.
The sitar is comprised of various parts handmade and embedded/fixed onto a log of wood and a piece of sometimes a pumpkin/gourd attached to that wood to create the resonation that creates the sitar’s marvellous sound. For a detailed explanation of the sitar strings and their location, see How many strings does a Sitar have.
It comprises the main body of sitar. Made from the shell of dried ash-gourd or kaddu. It is fragile and subject to be taken full care of, as it is hollow inside.
Dand/ Dandi (Fret/fingerboard)
Made from teak or tun wood it is hollow from inside. Frets are tied on the dand. Made from single piece of wood, it can twist over a period of time. So, whether extremities or neglect of resting position of sitar may lead to its damage.
A neck shaped piece which serves as a joint between toomba and dand. Gullu is usually decorated with engraved floral designs which adds an extra beauty to sitar.
Tabli/The Face Plate
Traditionally made from teak or toonwood, this is a thick piece made to cover toomba. This combined with toomba serves as a resonator. The quality of sound of sitar to a major extent depends on the Tabli and the quality of wood used in its making. It is a very crucial part of the body of the sitar as ghoraj is placed on it.
Bridge is made from dead animal bone, ebony, or polyoxymethylene plastic (Delrin). This is a table like structure which has feet of wood on two sides and rests on the Tabli.
THERE ARE TWO TYPES OF SITAR BRIDGES
Bada Ghoraj (Big Bridge) – it serves as stool to let the strings pass over it. All the six or seven main strings pass over it to reach the pegs (Khoonti).
Chota Ghoraj (Small Bridge) – has the same purpose as of the big bridge. It lets the sympathetic strings to pass over it to be tied to Khoonti or Pegs.
A comb like structure on the posterior part of the bridge from where all the strings get a passage towards both the ends of sitar. The level part and the jawari part of the bridge calls for work of skilled craftsmanship.
The tuning pegs, made of wood to wind and hold the strings. They are crucial to sitar as all tuning is done by turning (rotating) the khuntis. These are made of wood. These days some sitar makers use steel pegs in sitar (as used in guitar), which help in tuning sitar comfortably and accurately and without hazard of snapping.
Convex shaped metallic rods tied on the dand or Fingerboard. They are 17 to 23 in number, but should not be less than 17 in number. They are movable so as to provide certain flat notes. Certain ragas demand pure or flat notes have to be on their one higher or lower shrutis. Movability of frets in sitar supports that.
A tying string made of Polyvinyl used to tie frets to the dand or the wooden Fingerboard.
A strip made of animal bone each has small holes and is affixed to the end part of the Dand or fretboard. The holes in ‘Taar Gahan’ help strings to pass through them, rendering vibrations to happen.
Meru or Atti
A strip of animal bone or Ebony which has cuts on it. It is placed parallel to ‘Taar Gahan’. Strings from Taar Gahan holes pass through the cuts towards the upper pegs or khuntis. They are specially made of animal bone because if the strip is made of wood the strings may make a deep mark which may have a bad effect on the vibrations rendering the sound to dampen.
These allow minor adjustments, which need to be made without having to go to the large tuning pegs. They are threaded in the strings of the sitar especially in the Baaj and Jod strings.
This is the tail piece attached to the posterior end of the sitar on Toomba. There are mainly 3 nails or keel affixed on langot or the tail piece, made of animal bone on which the strings are tied.
Before the chikari string reaches khunti it has to pass through a tiny pillar shaped structure made of animal bone.
Before the chikari string reaches khunti it has to pass through a tiny pillar shaped structure made of animal bone called mogra.
Tarab ka mogrA
They are the dandis protective grommets for the sympathetic strings.
There are mainly two schools or styles of sitar playing. Keeping that in view Sitars are crafted accordingly. Both schools differ in their main strings.
The main strings are those which run above the curved threats to stop these things are placed on the big bridge or Bada Ghoraj, and the Tarab/Sympathetic strings can be 12-13 in number. Run under the frets and are placed on the small Bridge or Chhota Ghoraj. Their purpose is only to serve as resonators to the note which is played on on the main string. So they are tuned to the notes according to a particular melody or Raga.