Lec Dem on 22 Shrutis – Part 1

Smt. Vidya Shankar – veteran vainika and a storehouse of knowledge – gave a lecture demonstration on 22 shrutis titled “Shrutiranantam” at Raga Sudha Hall, Mylapore in July 2008. This was a part of the series of lec dems which the “Music Forum” has been organizing in the last few months. Sadly, the turnout for this lec dem was very low but that didn’t deter Smt. Vidya Shankar from sharing her knowledge with the few rasikas present. Music Forum must be commended for organizing lec dems by such senior vidwans for the benefit of artists and rasikas.

I had been procrastinating writing about lec dems for a long time now but finally decided to decipher whatever I had scribbled about this lec dem in my notes and start posting about it today. I have taken the liberty to organize this under my own set of headings. Corrections, if any, are most welcome. I will post the remaining portion of the lec dem in the coming days.


  • shru means “to hear”. “shrUyatE iti shrutihi”. That which is heard or perceived by the ear is shruti.
  • Shruti means vEdAs. The sacred knowledge of the vEdAs was not written down. shru means “to hear”, sru means “to remember”. Lip-ear method of teaching was prevalent (vEda adhyayanam) in the earlier days. Notation as a guide to memory started appearing much later.
  • Shruti in music basically refers to pitch.


  • All music in this world is made out of the seven swaras – shaDjam, rishabham, gAndhAram, madhyamam, pancamam, dhaivatam and nishAdam. These may be known by different names in different systems of music. Of these, shaDjam (sA) and pancamam (pA) are “prakriti” swarams or “acala” swarams. There is no shaking in these swarams. The rest five swarams have different varieties. Ex. rishabham (R ) has R1 and R2, gAndhAram (G) has G1, G2 etc. Thus there are 12 swara sthAnams (2 acala swarams along with 2 types each of the remaining 5 swarams).
  • Raga is the soul of Carnatic music. Ragas are created with the permutation/combination of these swara sthanams. But, every raga has a swarUpam. Our ancestors have handled each raga in many ways. They have shown how the same swaram can be reached in different ways. They created 2 additional types for each of the 5 swarams to get 4 types for each, thus giving 22 swarams (2 prakriti swarams and 5 x4 = 20 other swarams).
  • Just like the seven colors of the rainbow, these shrutis come in different shades and also merge into each other. Infinite shades of shrutis are possible and hence the topic of the lec dem “Shrutiranantam”
  • About 2000 years back, Bharata in his Natya Shastra has ascertained these 22 shrutis by doing experiments using chala veena, dhruva veena etc. He has also ascertained 81/80 as the pramANa shruti.



The calculations of frequencies are done with the values of svayambhu svaras (harmonics?).  These are heard when we play the shadja string of the veena and damp it at the positions corresponding to 1/2, 1/3, 1/4 and 1/5 th of its length to give shaDjam, pancamam, sudha madhyamam and antara gAndhAram.

The brief calculations are as follows:

  • 1/2 position: The vibrating length is half. Therefore, the frequency of this note relative to the shaDjam is 1 divided by 1/2  i.e, 2 (tArA sthAyi shaDjam)
  • 1/3 position: The vibrating length is (1 – 1/3) i.e, 2/3. Therefore the frequency of this note relative to shaDjam is 1 divided by 2/3 i.e, 3/2 (pancamam – P)
  • 1/4 position: The vibrating length is (1 – 1/4) i.e, 3/4. Therefore the frequency of this note relative to shaDjam is 1 divided by 3/4 i.e, 4/3 (sudha madhyamam – M1)
  • 1/5 position: The vibrating length is (1 – 1/5) i.e, 4/5. Therefore the frequency of this note relative to shaDjam is 1 divided by 4/5 i.e, 5/4 (antara gAndhAram – G2)

When we play M1 followed by P, we are playing 4/3 followed by 3/2. This is similar to playing S and then catushruti rishabham (R4). Since shaDja is 1, a similar ratio would give R4 as 3/2 divided by 4/3 which is 9/8. This is the value for catushruti rishabham (R4)

When we play catushruti rishabham followed by antara gAndhAram, we are playing 9/8 followed by 5/4. This is similar to playing shaDja followed by trishruti rishabham (R3). Since shaDja is 1, a similar ratio would give R3 as 5/4 divided by 9/8 which is 10/9. This is the value for trishruti rishabham (R3)



  • R1 (Ekashruti rishabham) is very close to shaDjam (S). So we approach it from S. sAvEri means “sA vE rI than” – sA itself is rI. We have to keep our fingers at S and touch R1 as closely to S as possible. (She played the sAvEri varnam as an example where all Rs in the start are played close to S). There are many varieties of the R in sAvEri itself. At the start  the kriti rAma bANa of Sri Thyagaraja, we play R at much higher frequency than usual. The approach to R is from G through a jAru. But the fact that even this R comes from S is shown in the opening verse of Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar’s kari kaLAbhamukham
  • A slightly higher R is found in gauLa. Example – srI mahAgaNapatiravatumAm of Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar. This R is a different shruti. In pADi rAgam kriti srIgurunA pAlitOham, we play the R a bit higher.
  • R3 and R4 are trishruti and catushruti rishabhams respectively. Trishruti is lesser and catushruti is a bit higher. Bhairavi raga has a lot of trishruti rishabha prayogams. When Sri Sabesa Iyer was teaching the bhairavi aTa tALa varnam viribONi to my father, he asked my father not to play the S and P strings simultaneously while playing the R as the finger playing R will unconsciously rise up to touch catushruti level which merges very well with P, but destroys the rAga bhAvam of bhairavi. trishruti rishabham does not go along with pancamam.
  • kharaharapriyA involves a lot of catushruti rishabha prayOgams and an example is the Thyagaraja kriti cakkani rAjamArgamu. This rishabham can be played along with pancamam.
  • Just like R4 has a good relationship with P, R3 has a good relationship with M1. Example of this is the starting verse of Sri Thyagaraja’s upacAramu in bhairavi. Whenever rishabham  comes with this madhyamam, the rishabham will be trishruti. This is why this madhyamam has been given a high place in bhairavi and figures in a lot of places in kritis in this raga. Such an importance to this madhyamam is not given in any other raga as its presence is essential for R3 to come in bhairavi. Other kriti examples where we can see this association are mArubalka and brOcEvArevarE (shrIranjani).
  • When we give a shake to trishruti rishabham to take it slightly higher, we get madhyamAvati. Examples are the kritis alakalella ADagagani and dharmasammardhani. When we render this rishabham heavily and with oscillation, we get madhyamAvati. In the kriti alakalella ADagagani, the dangling of Sri Rama’s locks on his forehead (ADagagani) has been beautifully captured by the shaking of this rishabham by Sri Thyagaraja.
  • A different oscillation to R3 is given in kalyAni (example is the kriti himAdrisutE). This cannot be seen in shankarAbharaNam where rishabham is played with a stress.
  • A yet different oscillation is seen in dEvagAndhAri.
  • R4 without any shake is seen in kAmbhOji in the varnam sarasijanAbha
  • Thus we can see that a swaram (example rishabham), when played differently as different shrutis gives us unique prayOgams of different rAgAs.  


Part 2 of this post can be found here [link]


8 thoughts on “Lec Dem on 22 Shrutis – Part 1

  1. The article on Lec Dem on 22 Shrutis – Part 1 is very informative. Thanks for posting the same. If you can post note on Lecdems during the forthcoming music festival will be very good. Especially people like me who are unable to attend the festival would be benefitted

  2. Excellent stuff Ram! Looking forward eagerly to part 2 – especially Gandharam (SAhana will featured I am sure) and Madhyama (Begada?). I hope Arun is clued in – am sure he will have a thought or two on the subject.

    Having just about grappled with 12 notes, that 2 far frfom successfully, I cannot even imagine distinguishing 22, not to mention gamakas, jarus, consonances etc. But one has half a lifetime left to try and go some distance…

    I guess it must be infinitely easier for an instrumentalist


  3. Well put Vijay. There is half a lifetime left but it seems grossly insufficient considering there is so much still left to learn.

  4. I stumbled upon your site entirely by accident – what a treasure house, particularly since I am a fellow Carnatic music lover! This is a fantastic post, I really enjoyed reading it and learned an lot. Thanks so much for taking this effort and sharing your knowledge with us.

  5. Hi,
    Nice blog.
    For your blog’s list thouugh, yoou can add sanjasubrahmanyan.cm which is his blog and also gayatri girish’s blog and sowmya s blog all of which are very active

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s