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History of Indian Music - Part 3

Vedic Period


by Pandit Shiv Dayal Batish
Edited by Ashwin Batish

Vedic Age (2000 B.C.E - 1000 B.C.E)

Stages of development from one to seven notes

The primitive tribes used to sing in a single high tone. This practice also prevailed in the Vedic period, through a method called Ek Swari Gaayana which means singing with the help of one note. Sacred hymns were chanted by this method.

Then there was the Gatha Gaayana system of singing with two notes, one high and one low. Gathas, or anecdotes containing poetically described stories from the lives of the Bodhistava monks, were sung in these two notes.

Saamagaayana chants were sung in three notes: Udatta (raised), Anudatta (lowered), and Swarita (level) positions, which according to Mandukya Shiksha, a music treatise of that period, evolved into seven notes. The Sanskrit dictionary interprets these three sound positions in a word called Swaraghat, which may be translated as the "graded effective potency of stroke of sound on the hearing organ". Other authorities like Panini and Naarada both accepted the principles under which the seven notes were positioned around the three notes of the Vedic period, which are the graded sound positions noted above. These sound positions and the seven notes associated with them are clearly shown in the table below.

Swaraghat - Three positions of graded effective potency of sound

Notes coming under these positions:

Udatta (raised) Ni-Ga.

Anudatta (lowered) Re-Dha.

Swarita (level) Sa - Ma - Pa.

The arrangement of these basic tones formed the nucleus of scales called Graamas, and with that, the Sargam syllables or note names - Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, and Ni - came into existence (these are comparable to the solfa sylables - Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La Ti).

The Indus Valley Civilization

The Indus valley civilization is claimed to be 4500 to 5000 years old. Excavations in the year 1922, revealed various earthen human figurines with drums hanging around their necks resembling the present day mridangam. Also found were some string and percussion instruments such as Veenaa, Khartaal, and cymbals. A picture of a four stringed veenaa and other instruments of the same period have been found on some coins near the Punjaab.

The period between 2000 and 1000 B.C.E. is considered to be the period when the four sacred Vedaas were written: Rig Veda, Saam Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda. Out of their love, devotion and dedication to music, the Aaryans created the Saam Veda on singing (Saman chants). A latter book, the Gandharva Veda, contained pure, unadulterated descriptions and explanations on this subject. In the Rig Veda, the Mridangam drum, Veenaa, flute, and the Damaru drum are mentioned.

In the opinion of the late Shri Aurobindu, the Vedic Aaryans used to worship by chanting verses of praise to the sun god, Sooriya, to attain knowledge; to the fire god, Agni, for acquiring physical energy; and to the moon god of life giving nectar, Soma, for emotional fulfilment (Rasa).

The Vedic Period

Study of the Vedic period reveals that music had a highly esteemed place in every family. Their singing, dancing, and playing on instruments, was done in strict rhythm. The infinite variety of gods and goddesses representing various forms of the forces of nature were worshiped during different times of the day and night with suitable melodies. The braahmins were responsible for educating people in this art. It is during this period that new ideas of practicing worship through music spread from India. The association of literature with music established itself in this age. Much stress was laid on the character of the artists sacrificing the comforts and pleasures of life to learn the sacred art of music. Religion and music were one. Hardly any item of religious activity would be conducted without music. Women would devote much of their time in the study of the fine arts. Instruments like the veenaa, flute, mridangam, and damaru are generally associated with this period.

Along with the progress in music, the arts of choreography and theater were also in vogue. According to the Linga Puraana, a major disciple of Shivaa named Nandikeshwara wrote a treatise on the subject of dancing called Nritya Darpan. (Nritya means dance and darpan means mirror). Majestic sculptures of dancing figurines abound in the ancient temples and caves of this period.


This is an excerpt from the Work " Rasik Raga Lakshan Manjari, volume 1, History and Theory of Indian Music, by Pt. Shiv Dayal Batish, Publisher - Batish Publications, 1310 Mission Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA. Special thanks to Dr. Ralph Abraham for proof reading this article.

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