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SAPTAK - THE SCALE

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The word "saptak" has two meanings.  The first is the English word "register".  The second meaning translates to the English word "gamut" or "the series of seven notes".  We will discuss the second meaning here.

The word "saptak" in Sanskrit means "containing seven" and is derived from the Sanskrit word "sapta" which means "seven".  (Incidentally, the English month "September" was original the seventh month in the old Roman calendar).  To understand the nature of the saptak we must return to our concept of the swar.  Remember that Sa and Pa are immovable.  This forms our perfect fifth.  Every other note has various forms.  However Hindusthani sangeet (North Indian system) and Carnatic sangeet (south Indian system) take different views as to how many, and what these positions shall be.

In Hindusthani sangeet (North Indian system) the movable notes have two forms.  Therefore, the notes; rishabh (Re), gandhara (Ga), dhaivat (Dha), and nishad (Ni) may be either natural (shuddha) or flattened (komal).  Madhyam (Ma) is unique in that its alternate form is augmented or sharp.  This note is called tivra ma.  Therefore, we find that we are actually dealing with 12 swar.  This extended concept is shown in the table below.  These are roughly comparable to the keys on a harmonium, or piano (chromatic scale).

Indian Swara (Hindustani)
Shadj Sa
Komal Rishabh Re
Shuddha Rishabh Re
Komal Gandhara Ga
Shuddha Gandhara Ga
Shuddha Madhyam Ma
Tivra Madhyam M'a
Pancham Pa
Komal Dhaivat Dha
Shuddha Dhaivat Dha
Komal Nishad Ni
Shuddha Nishad Ni

The situation in Carnatic sangeet (the south Indian system) is a bit more complex.  In the South the movable notes Re (Ri), Ga, Dha, and Ni may occupy one of three positions.  Ma however still only occupies two positions, ether natural or augmented position (sharp).  This is shown in the table below.

Indian Swara (Carnatic)
Shadj
1st Rishabh
2nd Rishabh / 1st Gandhara
3nd Rishabh / 2nd Gandhara
3rd Gandhara
1st Madhyam
2nd Madhyam
Pancham
1st Dhaivat
2nd Dhaivat / 1st Nishad
3nd Dhaivat / 2nd Nishad
3rd Nishad

In the previous tables we evoked a model which is somewhat similar to the Western chromatic scale.  This is not exactly correct.  We must not forget that the Western scale is based upon the equal tempered scale while the Indian scale is based upon pure tones.  Therefore the exact level of intonations will vary.

 


 

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© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 David and Chandrakantha Courtney

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