Monday, April 13, 2009

INDIAN MUSICOLOGY REVISITED: WHY 'SHUDH SWARAS IN SHASTRIYA AND CARNATIC MUSIC TRADITIONS ARE AT VARIANCE? : 22 SRUTIS

Why Shudh swaras considered by the Shastriya sangeet
and the Carnatic traditions are at variance?

     The term ‘Shudh’ srutis (or ‘Suddha’ as termed in the Carnatic music traditions) denotes that these are the original and pure tones (also known as ‘Prakritic’ srutis as these are believed to have been aligned with ‘Mother Nature’) derived directly from the Sama Veda (Holy Scriptures of Hindus). Seven such ‘Shudh’ srutis (or ‘tones’) were grouped in the Sadja-grama format which is the oldest inheritance for the Indian Musicology. These were: Sadja-4 srutis, Rishabh-3 srutis, Gandhar- 2 srutis, Madhyam- 4 srutis, Pancham- 4 srutis, Dhaivat- 3 srutis, and Nishad- 2 srutis. The octave was conceptualized as consisting of 22 srutis and these ‘Shudh’ srutis accounted for this total of 22 srutis. These srutis came in three bouquets, i.e. in ‘2s’ or ‘3s’ or ‘4s’. It may, therefore, be observed that the term ‘sruti’ signified a sub-spectral ‘area’ or a ‘zone’ within the overall spectral space of the octave and not to a specific ‘point’ therein. Our ancient musicologists used another term known as ‘swara’ to denote such a specific ‘point’ within the octave. The ‘Swara’ occupied one of the extreme edges of a ‘zone of srutis’. However, there was no clarity as to which edge of the sruti zone should be designated as the ‘swara-point’ (or the ‘swara-sthaana’); the ‘leading’ edge or the ‘trailing’ edge, as viewed from the Tonic? In other words, should the swara ‘precede’ the srutis or ‘follow’ them? Even during the days of Bharata and Dattila (i.e. as early as 200 B.C), musicological schools held differences in view regarding the ‘sthaana’ occupied by a swara with respect to the srutis!

     Bharata accorded over-riding pre-eminence for the ‘swara’ via-a-vis the ‘sruti’ and, therefore, contended that the sruti-zone should follow a swara-sthaana. As per Bharata’s doctrine, when the swara-sthaana for ‘Sadja’ (Tonic) is assigned at the reference position of 0.00 in the octave, the srutis of Sadja commence from 0.00 and extend upto the value of 4.00. The swara-sthaana for ‘Rishabh’ is, then, assigned the position of 4.00 within the octave. The srutis of ‘Rishabh’ then commence from 4.00 and extend upto 7.00. The swara-sthaana for ‘Gandhar’ is then assigned the position of 7.00 and its srutis commence from 7.00 and end at 9.00. The swara-sthaana for ‘Madhyam’ is then assigned at 9.00 and its srutis commence from 9.00 and end at 13.00. The swara-sthaana for ‘Pancham’ is then assigned at 13.00 and its srutis commence from 13.00 and extend upto 17.00. The swara-sthaana for ‘Dhaivat’ is then assigned at 17.00 and its srutis commence from 17.00 and end at 20.00. The swara-sthaana for ‘Nishad’ is then assigned at 20.00 and its srutis commence from 20.00 and end at 22.00. Shastriya Sangeet seems to have adopted this interpretation. That’s how their concept of ‘Shudh’ Rishabh designates a position, ‘4’ srutis above the Tonic Sadja. Similarly, Shudh Gandhar is at ‘7’; Shudh Madhyam at ‘9’; Pancham at ‘13’; Shudh Dhaivat at ‘17’, Shudh Nishad at ‘20’.

     However, the Carnatic traditions seem to have adopted the Dattila’s school. As per this School, ‘srutis’ receive greater pre-eminence and therefore, ‘swara’ follows the ‘srutis’. In this system, when ‘Sadja’ (Tonic) is assigned at the reference swara-sthaana of ‘0’ in the octave; it is deemed to have been ‘seated’ already at its highest sruti value of ‘4’. The srutis of ‘Rishabh’, therefore, commence from ‘0’ and extend upto ‘3’ which is the sthaana assigned for the swara ‘Rishabh’. Gandhar srutis commence from ‘3’ and extend upto ‘5’ which is the ‘sthaana’ assigned for the swara ‘Gandhar’. The srutis of Madhyam commence from ‘5’ and extend upto ‘9’ which is the ‘sthaana’ assigned for the swara ‘Madhyam’; The srutis of ‘Pancham’ commence from ‘9’ and extend upto ‘13’ which is the ‘sthaana’ assigned for the swara ‘Pancham’. The srutis of ‘Dhaivat’ commence from ‘13’ and extend upto ‘16’ which is the ‘sthaana’ assigned for the swara ‘Dhaivat’. The srutis of ‘Nishad’ start from ‘16’ and extend upto ‘18’ which is the ‘sthaana’ assigned for the swara ‘Nishad’. The srutis of Sadja (octave) commence from ‘18’ and extend upto ‘22’/ ‘0’ which is the ‘sthaana’ assigned for the swara ‘Sadja’ (Octave). That’s how when Venkatamakhin of South formulated the new Melakarta scheme during the 17th century A.D., he assigned the positions: Sadja- 0.00, Suddha Rishabha- 3.00, Suddha Gandhara- 5.00, Suddha Madhyama- 9.00, Panchama- 13.00, Suddha Dhaivata- 16.00, Suddha Nishada- 18.00 and back to Sadja (Octave)- 22.00/0.00.

     However, contemporary Indian musicological traditions have modified their swara sthaanas based on a ‘Just Intonation’ system during the 20th century (which is based on the Western concept of ‘fractions’), by discarding the age-old Indian concept of ‘srutis’. (There is no ‘precedence’ anywhere in the Indian musicological literature for the employment of ‘fractions’ in place of ‘srutis’ in this manner and therefore, this development had come, in fact, as a “sudden change”! ). Therefore, the viewers may observe that in the Carnatic traditions, sthaanas for the Suddha swaras are found modified as: Suddha Rishabha- 256/243 (i.e. an equivalent of 1.65 srutis), Suddha Gandhara- 9/8 (i.e. an equivalent of 3.74 srutis), Suddha Madhyama- 4/3 (i.e. an equivalent of 9.13 srutis), Panchama- 3/2 (i.e. an equivalent of 12.87 srutis), Suddha Dhaivata- 128/81 (i.e. an equivalent of 14.52 srutis) and Suddha Nishada- 27/16 (i.e. an equivalent of 16.61 srutis). Similarly, the Shastriya Sangeet had modified their age-old sruti-sthaanas into swara-sthaanas based on ‘Just Intonation’ models. Their modified swaras are: Shudh Rishabh- 9/8 (i.e. an equivalent of 3.74 srutis), Shudh Gandhar- 5/4 (i.e. an equivalent of 7.08 srutis), Shudh Madhyam- 4/3 (i.e. an equivalent of 9.13 srutis), Pancham- 3/2 (i.e. an equivalent of 12.87 srutis), Shudh Dhaivat- 27/16 (i.e. an equivalent of 16.61 srutis) and Shudh Nishad- 15/8 (i.e. an equivalent of 19.95 srutis).

     Swara-sthaanas other than those of the seven ‘Shudh srutis’ were described as ‘Vikrta’ swaras (i.e. artificially synthesized by humans by ‘flexing/ slackening’ the ‘Prakritic’ srutis; i.e. the Shudh srutis that have been ‘sharpened’ or ‘flattened’). ‘Vikrta’ also means ‘deformed’. The Carnatic tradition attempted to synthesize vikrta swaras by ‘sharpening’ the Suddha srutis. For example, the Suddha Rishabha located ‘3’ srutis above the Tonic was ‘sharpened’ by one sruti to obtain the ‘Chatur-Sruti Rishabh’ and ‘sharpened’ further by two srutis to obtain the ‘Shad-Sruti Rishabh’. Although, while doing so, the sharpened swaras of Rishabh intruded into the sruti zone of Gandhar, such a process of evolving Vikrta swaras were accepted by the medieval Carnatic musicologists. As opposed to this, the Shastriya Sangeet tradition attempted to synthesize vikrta swaras by ‘flattening’ the Shudh srutis. For example, Shudh Rishabh located ‘4’ srutis above the Tonic was ‘flattened’ by one sruti to obtain the ‘Komal Rishabh’. Such flattened Rishabh swara again intruded into the sruti zone assigned for Sadja; however, this process got the approval from their musicologists too! In these processes, there were two major aberrations: firstly, the vikrta srutis intruded into the sruti domains of other Shudh swaras; secondly, such inflexions (i.e. sharpening / flattening) were only ‘approximate’ because no one knew the measure of one or two srutis in quantified terms.

     In stead of functioning in isolation, if only the musicologists of the North and the South had attempted to pool in their resources and taken an integrated view of all available assets, they would have soon realized that they were actually in possession of two distinctly different grouping of the ‘gramas’: one consisting of “minor” swaras (held by the Carnatic stream) and the other consisting of “major” swaras!

     While doing my research work on our ‘Ancient Music of 22 Srutis’, I have realized that the ‘Ancient Music’ has been shrouded in some mystery. It belongs to a pre-historic era and has been designed by a civilization that possessed a very high level of scientific knowledge! Before this civilization became extinct (for reasons unknown!), they had passed on their assets to our civilization in very condensed forms using coding techniques. They had also left ‘keys’ in our systems for unlocking these codes hoping that our civilization would advance in terms of science and mathematics and would be able to crack these codes and retrieve their music some day! One such ‘key’ lies in the transformation of the ‘Sadja-grama’ format into the ‘Madhyama-grama’ format in the form of reduction of ‘Panchama’ by one sruti. Had this been interpreted correctly, it would have helped the medieval Indian musicologists to discern the existence of two ‘different’ grouping of gramas: one based on “minor” srutis and the other based on “major” srutis. Such a step might have resulted in a giant leap forward in terms of unlocking the mysticism surrounding our ‘Ancient Music of 22 Srutis’. However, our medieval musicologists, for want of adequate mathematical tools, failed to perceive this interpretation of the ‘Grama-Transformation’! Notwithstanding this, another opportunity arose during the recent past to establish a similar ‘finding’ but we failed to explore it too! If only the musicologists of the North and the South had synergized and pooled their musicological assets in stead of switching over to the Western concept of ‘fractions’, we could have unraveled more details related to this ‘Ancient Music’! Our “Ancient Music of 22 Srutis” had, therefore, remained elusive to all of us till today!
      For more details, contact me on Teles: 91 20 26729256, 9890266845, 98501 21834. E-mail: snnambirajan@rediffmail.com, nambi@22sruti.com. I would also recommend the viewers to peruse my Book: “The Mystic Citadel of 22 Srutis Music” (available at my postal address: Srinivasan Nambirajan, A-7/ 103, Florida Estate, Keshav Nagar, Mundhwa, Pune-411036).