Basic Concepts of Indian Music – Swara and Sruti

Swar or Sur refers to the basic note in an octave. The seven basic notes are shadja, rishabh, gandhar, madhyam, pancham, dhaivat and nishad, shortened to Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, and Ni. A series of the seven notes is also known as Saptak.

It is believed that primitive sound Oum gave birth to Swar. The swara have special relationships with each other. Although there are only seven notes they repeat in the upper and lower directions. Therefore, when ascending the scale when one reaches Ni, then the scales starts over with Sa, Re, Ga, etc. This is the upper register. By the same token when one is descending the scale, it does not stop at Sa but continues down as Ni, Dha, etc.; this is the lower register.

We note here that seven notes are not specific to Hindustani classical music but also common to Carnatic as well as Western Music. In Western Music, seven notes are called doh, ray, me, fa, soh, lah, te respectively.


Sruti refers to the smallest interval of pitch which human ear can detect. As per ancient Indian texts, the octave of Indian music has been divided into total 22 srutis grouped into two gramas viz. shadja-grama and madhyama-grama. For example, in Shadja grama, the 22 srutis are as follows: Sa (4), Re (3), Ga (2), Ma (4), Pa (4), Sha (3), Ni (2).

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