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The placement of notes in an octave and the importance and need for scientific research and the scrupulous preservation of its knowledge

From "Sangeet Chintaamani" by Acharya Brihaspati; "Sangeet Ratnakar" by Pandit Saranga Deva; the "Bhagwad Geeta" by Bhakti Vedanta Swami Prabhpada; and the "Natya Shastra" by the sage, Bharat. Compiled and edited by Pandit Shiv Dayal Batish
What is tradition?

In India, an ancient saying, believed to be coined by Vishnu, the Lord of creation, states that if a person has complete knowledge of a certain scientific theory, when he explains it hypothetically that process of explanation is termed as establishing a tradition.

In another definition, Pandit Saarangdeva in his book Sangeet Ratnaakar writes that tradition is that subtle meaning which is implied but not extensively explained in a book of science. But such implication when explained by educators in their own words and by their own methods to students, and as far as it is not contrary to the book, then such personal approaches to scientific truths are called the establishing of a tradition.

The role of a teacher

To fill the need for inculcation of an idea in the mind of the student, a teacher has to adopt certain ways and means of explanative approaches to scientific theories by the help of quotations, methods, technical words and definitions. Despite the difference in approach his explanation does not go against what is basically said in the book, about the crux of the subject. To the contrary, when the intricate points become incomprehensible to the student, the tradition is then considered to have reached the point of decadence or ruination. But no matter, even at this point some selfless and dedicated teachers can succeed in unearthing and revitalizing the dying issues of art or science for the benefit of mankind. A confused teacher on the other hand not only confuses himself, but also succeeds in confusing those who innocently participate in receiving the true approach for knowledge.

According to a leading contemporary Indian musicologist, Pandit Acharaya Brihaspati, the tradition of Bharata's school of music (author of Natya Shastra) has been interrupted by the investigation of some western musicologists which has resulted in an unfortunate indifferent attitude towards the ancient literary and scientific works. He further calls for every dedicated person in this field to clear this fog of confusion.

Pointing towards the difference which can sometimes occur in the order of continuity between the disciple's succession which results in loss of confidence in fundamental matters of certain sciences, in this case we are speaking of musical science, he contends that thorough reading and research over such principal works is an urgent necessity for all concerned.

Music vs Time

According to Bhakti Vedanta Swami Prabhupada, the writer of the treatise on Bhagvata Geeta, while explaining the sanskrit verse #1 of chapter #4 on page 215 of his book he mentions: "In the beginning of the Treta yuga (the third millennium), the science of the relationship of the supreme was delivered by the sage Vivasvan to sage Manu (Manu is believed to be the father of mankind), who again passed that knowledge to his son Ikshvaku, who is said to have been the king of the planet Earth and the father of the Raghu dynasty of kings in which king Ramchandra of the Ramayana episode appears. At present, mankind has just passed through five thousand years of the Kali yuga period which lasts 432,000 years. Before this there was Dwapar yuga period which lasted 800,000 years and before that there was the Treta yuga of 1,200,000 years. According to this author, the first revelation was given some 2,005,000 years ago.

A verse in the first chapter of Bharta's Natya Shastra says " In the Treta millennium, it happened that some deities and gods including their chief, Lord Indra, requested Brahma that they wished to witness some entertainment, to which Brahma acceded. After acquiring some reciting material from the Rig Veda, some singing verses from the Sama Veda (saman chants), some miming material from the Yujura Veda, and emotive effects from the Atharva Veda, he compiled the book (also sometimes refered to as the fifth veda) of music, dance and emotion. This book he is believed to have passed on to the first sage Bharata.

The ancient method of note placement in the compass of an octave

The establishment of the order of placement of musical notes in a scale although is more ancient than even the Bharata school, some of the finer and important points mentioned in it are given as follows:

  1. The naming of the musical notes.
  2. Pivotal, consonant, assonant as well as dissonant relationships of tones along with their significant definitions.
  3. The explanation of relationship of the 5th and 2nd note of the octave (Pa - Re) in the Madhyam Grama and of the 1st and 5th (Sa - Pa) in the Shadaja Grama.
  4. The explanation of the method by which the original scale of the Shadaja Grama can be established, through the study of which one can also study the approach of the Madhyama Grama scale.
  5. The tonal chart showing the modified changing of the 4 scales from the original Shadaja Grama group of notes, showing number of microtones (shrutis) and measures obtainable from them in both the Gramas.

The placement of notes according to Bharata Natya Shastra takes us to the two Gramas (gamuts) (see foot note). This basic knowledge again leads us to learn the more subtle side of the science of music.

A Sanskrit verse in Bharata's Natya Shastra denotes the shruti (microtone) order of the basic notes in the seven note group as

3  ,  2  ,  4  ,  4  ,  3  ,  2  ,  4 on which are placed the notes

Re    Ga    Ma    Pa    Dha   Ni    Sa  or as the Western names

Re    Mi    Fa    So    La    Ti    Do - In the Key of C these notes are

D     E     F     G     A     B     C
Note: The Tonic note i.e.shadaja is discretionary and may be chosen on any assumed and conveniently suitable pitch, but the calculation of the microtonal interval is derived from the upper 7th note the leading tone i.e the flat B or Ni komal.

The reason and aim of this hypothesis is to establish the height of microtonal interval of the note that follows but not the preceding note, because of the fact that there is no preceding note existing at this point of conception.

At this point, the 22 shruti chart is adopted on the basis of the sanskrit verse " Chatush chatush chatush chaiva, shadja madhyama panchama; dvai dvai nishad gandhaarau, tristr rishabh dhaivata", This breakup of the 22 shrutis within the seven notes of a scale was accepted as a standard by almost all the past and present musical authorities.

The literal meaning of the above verse is that the three main notes of the seven note chart i.e. the Tonic (shadaja), the submediant note (madhyama), and the Dominant note (panchama) are made up of 4 srutis each. The Mediant (gandhaar) and the leading tone (nishad) are made up of 2 shrutis each and that the supertonic (rishabh) and the submediant (dhaivat) notes are made up of 3 shruti (microtones) each. When placed in the following form they are:

1,  2,  3,  4,  5,  6,  7,  8,  9,  10,  11, 12, 13

Sa      Re      Ga              Ma               Pa
C       D       E               F                G

14,  15,  16,  17,  18,  19,  20,  21,  22

          Dha       Ni                  Sa

          A         B                   C
According to the Natya Shastra, the above notes because they are the recipients of certain number of microtones, should not be assumed to be existant on the shrutis listed in the chart as a scale. The deviation of comprehension and the confusion as a result occurs at the point when microtones are considered to be the cause of the creation of notes and as such before the establishing of these notes the discriminative decision of the existence of a scale is taken for granted.

From this point of decision, it seems logical to assume the 1st shruti (microtonal point) as the starting point of the scale and thus by acquiring the number of sruti microtones according to the above given formula, calculate upwards and be satisfied that one has found and established a true form of a musical scale, whereas this is not the case according to Bharata.

The fact of the matter is that the whole project of establishing the points of creation of notes is based on the microtone intervals between two established notes, before a scale is even thought of, rather than a scale on which microtones are divided.

The assumption therefore, of the true form of all the notes of the octave on their placement on the 1st microtone (sruti) is based on a wrong notion. What this whole project is all about is to establish the intervals between any two notes rather than the notes themselves as the cause of creation of a scale. and as Bharata suggests, the awareness of the intervals formed into a scale rather than the scale leading to the intervals.

Foot Note: In general, it is considered that there are three Gramas: Shadaja, Madhyama and Gandhaar. Of these three the Gandhaar Grama has not been dealt with in Bharata's Natya Shastra the reason mentioned being that for defining all feasible aspects of the mundane and earthly music, two Gramas have been found to be sufficient and that the Gandhaar Grama was meant only to be used by the celetial dieties.


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