One might think that Naada simply means sound. But the word has deeper meanings. Translating it plainly as ‘sound’ does not capture the true meaning and essence of it. Sangeeta Ratnakara, a book written in 13th century India, defines Naada in the following way:
नकारं प्रांणमामानं दकारमनलं बिंदु:।
जात: प्राणअग्नि संयोगातेनम नदोभिधीयते ।।
The sanskrit word Naada is formed from two root words: Na and Da.
Na kaara or Na is Praana Vaachak- it signifies the ‘breath of life’.
Da kaara or Da is Agni Vaachak- it signifies the fire element.
The union of this ‘breath of life’ and ‘fire’ gives birth to Naada.
आहोतीनहतश्चेती द्विधा नादो निग्ध्य्ते
सोय प्रकाशते पिंडे तस्तात पिंडो भिधियते
According to the above shloka, there are two types of Naada: 1. Aahatha Naada and 2. Anaahatha Naada. The aahatha and anaahatha naadas manifest in material existences; they are present in the body too.
1. Aahatha Naada: The sound that we hear when two particle collide; the sound we are accustomed to hearing dayin and day out- that is called the Aahata Naada. The chirping of a bird, the loud honking of a lorry, the sound of the slow flow of a river, the voice of your speech or your child’s- it could be music to your ears or noise, but all of this is Aahatha Naada: the sound that we hear with our ears.
2. Anaahatha Naada: This is the sound that exists everywhere, even now- it is there around you and I. But you can’t hear it with your ears. This is the sound that only the sages and siddhas can hear. The sound has no source or beginning, yet it exists- it is swayambhoo- self born. This all pervasive Anaahatha Naada, which is still out of reach to the current boundaries of scientific research can be experienced through spirituality.
Indian classical music identifies 12 major notes out of 22 as Swar. It is quite interesting to study the names given to each of these Swars::
Together, they form: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Da Ni
There are two types of Swar: 1. Achal and 2. Chal. Chal literally means movement or motion and achal means fixed or static.
Achal Swar: In Indian Classical Music, the two notes: Sa and Pa are fixed- static. They don’t have any major or minor notations- their shruthi sthaans or positions are fixed. These two notes Sa and Pa are therefore called Achal Swar.
Chal Swar: These are the ones that have multiple fixed notes under a single note. In a sense, they are all static and fixed but each note is composed of a bunch of notes making it a dynamic range of static notes. Re, Ga, Ma, Dha, and Ni are Chal Swar.
Chal Swar are classified into 3 forms:
Shudh (pure): All Chal Swar Re, Ga, Ma, Dha, Ni
Komal (tender or soft): Re, Ga, Dha, Ni
Teevr (intense): Ma
Counting the 5 shudh swar, 4 komal swar and 1 teevr swar- there are 10 Chal Swars.
So adding 2 Achal Swar + 10 Chal Swars, we get 12 Swars.
Sa Re Re Ga Ga Ma Ma Pa Dha Dha Ni Ni
How many Shruthis are there in Indian Music?
तस्या दवविंश्शतिभेरद श्रवनात शृत्यो मता:।
हृदयभ्य्न्त रसंलग्ना नदयो द्वविर्शतिमर्ता :।।
This is an excerpt about Shruthi from Swaramela Kalanidhi, a 16th century text written in the Vijayanagara Empire by Ramamatya. It states that the heart centre has 22 nadis (channels of flow) and that each nadi emits a unique sound that can be perceived if one pays attention to it.
These 22 distinctions in the sounds emanating from the heart center are considered to be the 22 distinguished notes of naadh (sound).
What is Shruthi in Indian Classical Music?
लक्षे परोक्तसु पर्यातम संगीत्म्श्रुति लक्षणम ।।
Vishnu Narayan Bhatkande in his Abhinav Raag Manjari defines what is Shruthi in the above shloka. It states that: “A Shruthi is characterized as the sound usable in music that can be distinctly identified apart from other shruthis.”
Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Da Ni Ṡa are the notes in one octave, right? Scholars identify 22 Shruthis or micro-sounds in one such octave. They define Shruthi as the sound that can be clearly identified as different and distinct from the other sounds.
How are Shruthis distinguished?
Every sound that is around you has a frequency of vibration. We measure frequencies in Hertz (Hz). We need to understand about these frequencies to clearly get the concept of Shruthi.
Let us consider two frequencies: 256 Hz and 257 Hz. If we listen to them, they might sound similar but still have a difference, right? 256 Hz sounds more different from 512 Hz, as compared to 257 Hz.
Just as in a metric scale where there are several millimetres between centimetres, there are several frequencies in between 256 Hz and 257 Hz: 256.1 Hz, 256.2 Hz, 256.3 Hz and so on. There are several frequencies in between 256.1 and 256.2 also.
We can easily identify the difference between 6 cm and 7 cm with the help of a scale, maybe we can distinguish between 6.1 cm and 6.2 cms too. What about 6.1 cm and 6.15 cm? What about the difference between 6.005 cms and 6.006 cms? It is not easy right? As the space decreases, it gets harder to distinguish one measurement from the other. We can distinguish one length from another with a scale when they are a measurable degree apart.
Similarly, one can distinguish one frequency from another with ears when they are some Hertz apart. Even trained musicians may find it difficult to distinguish between a 240 Hz and 241 Hz, but if one moves from 240 Hz to 245 Hz, the difference can be clearly identified with human ears. One needs to understand this to understand what is Shruthi in Indian Classical Music.
Swar and Shruthi- the Classification:
चतुश्चतुश्चतुश्चतुश्चैव षडजम माध्यमपंचमा।।
द्वे द्वे निषाद गंधारो तरस्त्रिषभोधैवतो ।।
Each shruthi has a specific name, though there are variations in its ancient and modern usage.
The 22 Shruthi names in Indian Classical Music.