Scheme of Swarams

Scheme of Swarams

Carnatic music is almost as complex as our life. We enjoy and love the beauty of the music form at the same time trying to comprehend all the myriad grammar that defines it.

When we first learn caranatic music we are taught only the 12 swarams till we complete geethams and the books have only the 1st & 2nd variety (ex:R1, R2) for each swaram.

We see the arohanam & avarohanam  for geethams & varanams in books listing only the swarams that has identifiable physical position.

R1- Suddha Rishabham; R2- Chathusruthi Rishabham; G1 – Suddha Gandharam, G2-Sadharana Gandharam; D1 – Suddha Dhaivatham; D2-Chathusruthi Dhaivatham; N1 – Kaisiki Nishadham; N2- Kakali Nishadham.

Subsequently when we move on to Kirthanais we come across R3, G3, D3, & N3 which baffles most students.

here is an example…

While in the varnam book the arohanam & avarohanam for the ragam Shankarabaranam is given as

S, R2, G2, M1, P, D2, N2, S / S,  N2, D2, P, M1, G2, R2 S

in some kirthanai books and in most websites it is given as

S, R2, G3, M1, P, D2, N3, S / S, N3, D2, P, M1, G3, R2 S

Which is right & which is wrong? Both are correct! Really?

The swarams for Shanakarabaranam are

Shadjam; Chathusruthi Rishabham, Anthara Gandharam, Suddha Madhyamam, Panchamam,  Chathusruthi Dhaivatham,  Kakali Nishadham

Since we do not normally learn any ragams that has Shatsruthi Rishabham,  Suddha Gandharam,  Shatsruthi Dhaivatham,  Suddha Nishadham, until we reach Kirthanais we do not come across the third variety of R, G, D & N.

Carnatic music follows a 16 swarams scheme, though there are only 12 identifiable positions on an instrument like a veena where the frets for each swaram are clearly marked just like a piano. The other 4 swarams share their places with swarams that already has an identifiable position.

Here are the swarams under the 16 swarams scheme

Sa (Shadjam)  -1

Ri (Rishabham) – 3 -Suddha Rishabham;  Chathusruthi Rishabham, Shatsruthi Rishabham

Ga (Gandharam)- 3 – Suddha Gandharam, Sadharana Gandharam;  Anthara Gandharam

Ma (Madhyamam) -2 -Suddha Madhyamam; Prathi Madhyamam

Pa (Panchamam) -1

Dha (Dhaivatham)- 3 – Suddha Dhaivatham;  Chathusruthi Dhaivatham ;  Shatsruthi Dhaivatham

Ni (Nishadham) – 3 –  Suddha Nishadham;  Kaisiki Nishadham;  Kakali Nishadham

The following swarams share the same position …..

Shatsruthi Rishabham &  Sadharana Gandharam

Suddha Gandharam & Chathusruthi Rishabham

Shatsruthi Dhaivatham & Kaisiki Nishadham

Suddha Nishadham & Chathusruthi Dhaivatham

An easy numbering scheme

To make it easier for students, for better understanding , I have started following a simpler method.

R1 – Suddha Rishabham;  R2-Chathusruthi Rishabham, R3-Shatsruthi Rishabham

G – Suddha Gandharam, G1 – Sadharana Gandharam;  G2-Anthara Gandharam

D1-Suddha Dhaivatham; D2- Chathusruthi Dhaivatham ;  D3-Shatsruthi Dhaivatham

N-Suddha Nishadham;  N1-Kaisiki Nishadham;  N2-Kakali Nishadham

This avoids confusion and there is consistency in the learning process. Of course using the names is better than numbers but if we have to use numbers this scheme works!

One less confusion!


Check out music from Charanams

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Chennai’s Carnatic Music Tourism

Carnatic music has been gaining acceptability and popularity among the masses and has become an industry in the last two decades. Carnatic music is not just about devout singing of kirthanais any more. There is lot of hype, glamour and all the trappings of the entertainment industry of the world. New stars are born, awards conferred, new albums and books released, new concert venues added to the ever increasing list of concerts.

The dull, cloudy, rainy days of December, known as Margazhi in Tamil is livened by the strains of carnatic music spilling from the concert halls all over Chennai. It’s something like the Mardi grass of Carnatic music. The crowds descending on Chennai in the month of December for the world famous Music Season stands testimony to the name Chennai has acquired, “Mecca of Carnatic Music”.

Chennai’s December music season is instrumental in creating a new industry, the carnatic music tourism,  which is now a major  contributor to economic growth like many other industries. It has helped create allied industries and create job opportunities to thousands of people.

I know of lot NRIs who embark on their annual music pilgrimage in December, travelling to Chennai to immerse in music. They plan their trip months in advance, book tickets, not just air tickets but also tickets to the innumerable concerts in the innumerable sabhas – concert venues in Chennai. They book rooms in hotels, rent apartments or choose paying guests accommodations, if they do not have relatives in Chennai to host them for a month.  It’s a great time for hospitality industry in Chennai at this time of the year.  Most hotels in Chennai do not accept any corporate bookings during this time of the year, so that they could cater the ever growing demands of the carnatic music tourists.

The following articles make an interesting reading that highlights these developments in carnatic music.

Here are some news, articles, snippets on Music Season 2010.

Listen to Sanjay Subramaniam singing Sadhachaleswaram of Muthuswamy Dishithar in the ragam Bhoopalam

In the days to follow I will highlight the impact of carnatic music tourism on Chennai, its economy,  the people, artists, music lovers all over the world and the status of carnatic music itself.

Pongum Pongal – Boghi

bogi bonfire

My first memories of Pongal festival dates back to my childhood days in Chromepet, Chennai.

The pongal festivities lasted for 4 days,  full of vibrant colors and music.  On the day of Boghi, the first day of Pongal festival,  before dawn people would create a bonfire either in front of their homes or at a common open ground to burn old and useless things. This practice is described in the Tamil proverb


Pazhayana Kazhithalum,  Pudhiyana Puguthalum

which means casting away the old and letting new ones enter.

Isn’t that a wonderful eco-friendly way of  doing away with the waste and garbage than creating huge landfills to dump it?

Young boys would beat rhythmically the moLam – a tiny country frame drum, going around the bonfire. They would not miss a beat and often I used to consider the  moLam sound as the sign of commencement of the festival.

Awakened from my beauty sleep at the pre dawn hours I will sit on our front yard to watch my Grandmother or my Mom draw beautiful kolam – pattern drawn on the ground with rice flour.

First the ground will be swept clean and water mixed with a small amount cow dung will be splattered all over the cleaned up space. My grandmother used to say that cow dung served as an insect repellent.  Of course I hated to idea of touching it and always insisted on using plain water when I did that job.


Though after I grew up I used to draw huge, beautiful Rangolis (patterns drawn with rice flour and color powders),  in our house the tradition was always to draw maNakolam huge pattern with rectangular lines adorned with red kaavi border. Kaavi is a red color powder most often finely powdered red sand.  A liquid paste was made mixing the kaavi powder with water and the paste  applied around the maNakolam. The red and white combination of the maNakolam will look very beautiful and majestic. The kolam would cover the entire front yard leaving just enough space on all four sides for somebody to go around.

It was then time for my mother and grandmother to start preparing the festive food.  They would prepare PoLi – mouth-watering sweet delicacy made of maida flour with jaggery and gruond channa dal (yellow gram) stuffing. The menu for boghi would be poLi, vada, saambar, rasam, vegetable curry, carrot kosumalli (salad), appalaam (fried pappads), rice and curd. Since there were no pooja or lengthy prayers on boghi it was just a day to feast and be merry as we had no school.

In the evening I would go to the market with my grandmother to shop for the next day. We would buy vegetables, manjal koththu, inji kotthu, jaggery, ghee, fruits and flowers.

manjal koththu – fresh turmeric still connected to the green leaves

inji kotthu – fresh ginger still connected to the green leaves

My second trip to the market will be with my Dad to buy juicy karumbu (sugarcane).  It was important to select one whose leaves at the top was not too dry and the circular, horizontal grooves were not too thick.  the sugarcane has to bein dark purple color,  fresh, tender and juicy.

karumbu - sugarcane

Hmmm.. how I loved those sugarcanes, its been ages since I had them and sure miss them.

Rehearsal in Flushing Town Hall

Yesterday morning I went to Flushing Town Hall and had a try out session with bass guitarist Clyde Bullard. This was the first time we were playing together, though I had played with bass guitarists earlier. For Clyde, this was his first time playing with a carnatic musician.

I first gave him the notes on the ascending & descending scale (Arohanam & Avarohanam) of the ragam Hamsadhwani. – s r2 g2 p n2 / ś n2 p g2 r2 .
(Shadjam, Chathusruthi Rishabham, Anthara Gandharam, Panchamam & Kakali Nishadham)

Since I have tuned my veena to D# (E flat) the corresponding notes were
e flat – f – g – b – d

I started playing Vathapi Ganapathim as this is my favorite opening piece on the veena and most often I start a concert with this Muthuswamy Dikshithar Kirthana.

I told Clyde that he can play within these 5 swarams (notes) only.  He listened to the Pallavi as I played and quickly understood the scale and then started accompanying me on his bass guitar with matching notes.

Half  hour later my husband ShivRaj,  who composes music on the midi joined us to listen and gave some tips to Clyde as to what notes would sound better at various parts of the kirthanai (a song).  Soon we were playing together, synching well.

Overall it was a good rehearsal. We would meet for another rehearsal next week.

Vathapi Ganapathim is a Kirthanai on Lord Ganesha in the language Sanskrit. Vathapi Ganapathim – KJ Yesudas.

I heard Yesudas ji rendering Vathapi in a concert in Chennai as a kid and fell with that style and Iam both inspited and influenced by his style in this kirthanai.