Bharatiya Sangita Shastra (भारतीयसङ्गीतशास्त्रम्)

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The roots of Bharat's classical music are traced back to the Vedic literature.The सामवेद, भरतमुनि's नाट्यशास्त्रम्, and सारङ्गदेव’s सङ्गीतरत्नाकरम् are three very important texts in the purview of Bharat's Classical Music.

सामवेद and Music

Generally, the word 'Sama' means 'Stuti' or 'musical composition in Stuti form'. The Samaveda has much relation to music.

Scholars have explained the word 'Sama' based on different derivative meanings.

  • According to one opinion, the word Sama has been derived from the root 'Ṣa' meaning 'to destroy' (षो अन्तकर्मणि). Thus it means that the chanting of the Veda 'destroys all evils and sins'.
  • Panini derives the word from the root 'sa͞m' meaning 'to sooth or give comfort' (साम् सान्त्वप्रयोगे). It is meant here that through the melodies of music, the Veda, while chanting or when hearing, sooths the heart or gives comforts of all kind to the mind.
  • Another derivation is from the root 'syati' which means that it destroys all worries by its musical melody (स्यति च्छिनत्ति दुःखं गेयत्वात्, स्यति खण्डयति दुःखानि येन तत्).
  • Some give the meaning 'sorrow' or 'pain' to the root 'syati' with the hint that it is very difficult or painful to learn Samaveda (स्यति दुःखयति दुरध्येयत्वात्).
  • The word also means that the gods are pleased by hearing the chanting of Sama (सामयति देवान् अनेन).
  • The word 'Sāma' is the combination of the words 'sā' and 'ama'. This is referred to in Aitareyabrāhmana (12. 12), Atharvaveda (14. 2. 71) and Brhadaranyakopanishad (1.3.22).
  • According to Sayanabhashya, 'sā' refers to the Mantras or Rks and 'ama' refers to the Svaras or accents while the Rks are chanted.

In many contexts in Rgveda, the word Sāma is referred to:

अङ्गिरसां सामभिः स्तूयमानः। (1.107.2)

aṅgirasāṁ sāmabhiḥ stūyamānaḥ। (1.107.2)

सामगा इव गायत्रञ्च त्रैष्टुभञ्च। (2.43.1)

sāmagā iva gāyatrañca traiṣṭubhañca। (2.43.1)

उद्गातेव... साम गायसि। (2.43.2)

शुद्धेन साम्ना। (8.84.7)

इन्द्राय बृहत् साम गायत। (8.87.1)

अङ्गिरसो न सामभिः। (10.78.5)[1]


The oral Gāna tradition of Sāmaveda is very unique, elaborate and musical.

The oral chanting methods slightly changes with each of the existing shakhas ie. the Jaimineeya, Kauthuma and Ranayaneeya. Again, the chanting tradition and the Svaras and the peculiarities of accents change according to each region. Kerala Namboothiris have a particular way of chanting of Sāmaveda which is not found in other places. Similarly Jaimineeya of Tamil Nadu tradition is again different in the style of chanting. The same Jaimineeya tradition of Tamil Brahmins settled in Kerala at Koduntirappully village near Palakkad has minor differences from that of the Jaimineeya tradition of Tamil Brahmins settled in Tamil Nadu. Regional cultures, social environments, historical aspects, accentuation, food habits and the like surely influence the method of articulation of letters and words which is invariably found in the chanting tradition of Sāmaveda also. The Prāceenakauthuma retaining its original tradition in its prestine purity in the Puthukkode village near Palakkad and the same subjected to change in Maharashtra and other regions, as noted above, are the best examples for these tendencies.

But the common and most important factor related to the Gāna tradition of Sāmaveda in general is invariably found in all these shakhas in all parts of India in all its stages of development and evolution. This is its close relationship with the music tradition of India, expecially classical music.

Bharat's music tradition in the North as well as in the South, remembers and cherishes its origin in the Samaveda - the musical version of the Rigveda, says V.Raghavan.[2]

Samagana is primarily music. It contains musical structures. The text (mantras) were extracted from the Rgveda to sing these structures in the form of songs.[3]

The Samaveda comprises two major parts – arcika and gaana.

Arcika is further divided into 2 parts – Purvarcika and uttararcika.

The Purvarcika portion of the text has 585 rks (single stanza verses) and is organized in order of deities.[4] Each of them form the text (sahitya) for the samagana songs. While in uttararcika, the rks sung for sacrifices which are based on samagana are given in a sequence.

Gana is of 4 kinds – Gramageyagana, Aranyagana, Uhagana and Uhya or Rahasyagana.

Flow chart-page-001.jpg

Gramageyagana and Aranyagana are connected with purvarcika and are called Prakriti gana.[3]

Evolution of the Svara Saptaka

All standard musical works in Sanskrit mention that Brahma derived music from the samaveda. Hence, the original source for the art music of India is the Samaveda.[5]

The scale of the Samagana is the primordial scale of Bharat's music. However, the sama saptaka itself was arrived at after many centuries of experiments. In the very early stages, the Rigveda was recited plainly (ie. using one svara), then with two svaras before three notes were standardised in the recitation of the Rigveda.[6]

We find statements such as

अर्चिनो गायन्ति । (एकस्वारिगायन or अर्चिक गायन)

गाथिनो गायन्ति । (reciting to two notes)

सामिनो गायन्ति । (reciting to three notes)

in this context.

Arciko gayana simply meant that the music substantially centred around one note. Likewise Gathika and Samika indicated that the compass of the music extended substantially over 2 and 3 notes.[7] The Gathika gayana used udatta and anudatta svaras and samika included the third variety of svara, svarita. Thus, udatta, anudatta and svarita were the three notes used in the recitation of the Rigveda.

उदात्तश्चानुदात्तश्च स्वरितश्च स्वरास्त्रयः । (Panini and Narada Siksha)

Here, the middle note was the svarita (modern shadja – s), Udatta was the higher note (rishabha – r) and Anudatta was the lower note (modern Nishada – n)

उच्चैरुदात्तः नीचैरनुदात्तः ।[6]

When later, the samika scale was repeated from Madhyama (g-m-p) and Panchama (m-p-d) as the fundamental notes, the way was paved for development of the svara saptaka.

However, the scale of three notes first developed into a pentatonic scale (g-rsn-d) and later into a heptatonic scale (m-g-rsn-d-p) with addition of one note above and below.

The scale of samagana was a downward scale and mgrs and sndp were perfectly symmetrical and balanced tetracords. When the phrase sndp was sung an octave higher, the idea of a complete octave was immediately perceived. The dawn of the concept of the octave constitutes an important land-mark in the history of Bharat's music. We have the real beginnings of classical music from this period.[7]

In the Rik Pratishakya, mention is made of three octaves and seven notes for each octave. It is also mentioned that the same seven notes of one octave are repeated in the other octaves. The notes of the samagana were styled the suddha svaras and the other notes that gradually came into use in secular music were styled vikrta svaras (changed notes). Thus, the suddha svara saptaka of Ancient Music is the scale of Samagana.[8]

A single note prayoga was reffered to as Arcika, a scale of two notes as Gathika and a scale of three notes as Samika. Scales of four, five, six and seven notes were reffered to as svarantara, audava, shadava and sampoorna.

एकस्वरप्रयोगो हि आर्चिकस्त्वभिधीयते।

गाथिको द्विस्वरो ज्ञेयस्त्रिस्वरश्चैव सामिकः।

चतुस्वरप्रयोगो हि स्वरान्तक उच्यते ॥

औडवः पश्चभिश्चैव षाडवः षट् स्वरो भवेत् ।

संपूर्णः सप्तभिश्चैव विज्ञेयोगीतयोक्तृभिः ॥[9]

Precursors of Sapta Svaras

All the seven Svaras of classical music are found and used in its primitive form in Sāma chanting. Krustha, Prathama, Dviteeya, Trteeya, Caturtha, Mandra and Atisvara are the seven Svaras used in Sāma chanting. Krustha is the Svara in the highest pitch. Trteeyasvara is considered the basic Svara (Àdharasvara) and it is also known as Dhrutapracaya.

Naradeeyashiksha states that the seven Svaras of Sāma are respectively the seven Svaras of classical music.

प्रथमश्च द्वितीयश्चतृतीयोऽथ चतुर्थकः।

मन्द्रः क्रुष्टो ह्यतिस्वारः एतान् कुर्वन्ति सामगाः॥

(Prapathaka I, Khanda 1, shloka 12)

यः सामगानां प्रथमः स वेणोर्मध्यमः स्वरः।

यो द्वितीयः स गान्धारः तृतीयस्त्वृषभः स्मृतः॥

चतुर्थः षड्ज इत्याहुः पञ्चमो धैवतो भवेत्।

षष्ठो निषादो विज्ञेयः सप्तमः पञ्चमः स्मृतः॥

(Prapathaka I, Khanda 5, shloka 1, 2)

Saman Svaras Svaras of Classical music
Prathama Madhyama
Dviteeya Gandhara
Trteeya Rishabha
Caturtha Shadja
Mandra Dhaivata
Krstha Nishada
Atisvara Panchama

Thus the oral Gāna tradition of Sāma chanting is related to classical music in many ways.

Close relationship of Sāma chanting with music is highlighted by many earlier scholars in their authoritative statements. Some examples are given here.

सामभ्यो गीतमेव च। (Natyashastram)

सामवेदात् स्वरो जातः स्वरेभ्यो ग्रामसम्भवः। (Brhaddeshi of Matanga)

सामवेदादिदं गीतं संजग्राह पितामहः। (Sangeetaratnakara of Sarngadeva)

सप्तस्वरास्तु गीयन्ते सामभिस्सामगैर्बुधैः। (Mandukyashiksha)

It is taking into consideration this musical importance of Sāmaveda that in Bhagavadgeetā Lord Krshna identifies himself with Sāmaveda among the four Vedas.

(वेदानां सामवेदोऽस्मि।).[10]

Natyashastra and Music

Music for drama

  • basic melody types and music parts of purvaranga
  • time-measure, stage songs, and their application in female performance
  • Dhruva songs

Gandharva music

1. Establishment of Shadja as the first, defining note of the scale or grama.

2. Principle of Consonance: Consists of two principles:

a. The first principle states that there exists a fundamental note in the musical scale which is Avinashi (अविनाशी) and Avilopi (अविलोपी) that is, the note is ever-present and unchanging.

b. The second principle, often treated as law, states that there exists a natural consonance between notes; the best between Shadja and Tar Shadja, the next best between Shadja and Pancham.

3. Musical modes or jatis, which are the origin of the concept of the modern melodic structures known as ragas and their role in invoking emotions


  • Hollow Instruments
  • Covered Instruments

While much of the discussion of music in the ‘‘Natya Shastra’’ focuses on musical instruments, it also emphasizes several theoretical aspects that remained fundamental to Bharat's music.


  2. Guy Beck (1993), Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Sound, University of South Carolina Press, ISBN 978-0872498556 Pg.s 107-108
  3. 3.0 3.1 History of Music – Samskrta Tradition, Institute of Distance Education, University of Madras, Chennai. Pg.83-85
  4. Guy Beck (1993), Sonic Theology: Hinduism and Sacred Sound, University of South Carolina Press, ISBN 978-0872498556, page 230 note 85
  5. Prof.P.Sambamoorthy, South Bharat's Music, Book IV, The Bharat's Music Publishing House, Chennai, Eighth Edition, July 1998, Reprint May 2007, Pg no.80
  6. 6.0 6.1 Prof.P.Sambamoorthy, South Bharat's Music, Book IV, The Bharat's Music Publishing House, Chennai, Eighth Edition, July 1998, Reprint May 2007,
  7. 7.0 7.1 Prof.P.Sambamoorthy, South Bharat's Music, Book IV, The Bharat's Music Publishing House, Chennai, Eighth Edition, July 1998, Reprint May 2007,
  8. Prof.P.Sambamoorthy, South Bharat's Music, Book IV, The Bharat's Music Publishing House, Chennai, Eighth Edition, July 1998, Reprint May 2007,
  9. Prof.P.Sambamoorthy, South Bharat's Music, Book IV, The Bharat's Music Publishing House, Chennai, Eighth Edition, July 1998, Reprint May 2007,