Swarit: A Brief Note

By Dr. Ragini Trivedi


In Indian music the concept of 'Swarit' is so strong that none of its classical forms can exist without it. Be it vocal or instrumental, Swarit remains perpetually omnipresent. In north Indian music prime instrument to produce Swarit is Tanpura. It is essential for Indian classical singers to sing along with Tanpura. Some scholars suggest that it is the invention of sage Tumbaru Gandharva from Pouranic ages. But there is no reference of this kind in any treatise so it has never been proven.

Dr Lal Mani Misra in his book 'Bhartiya Sangeet Vadya' authenticates a theory that best suits the available information up till now about evolution of Tanpura. According to him ancient instrument Tritantri Veena evolved in two parts during medieval period. 1. Nibaddha Tambura  2. Anibaddha Tambura. Later on Nibaddha Tambura was evolved as Sitar and Surbahar and Anibaddha Tamboora was evolved as Tanpura. All these Instruments have a unique bridge that is meant to fine tune the instrument. Such facility is available only in Indian music.

Due misconception, Sonant or prominent note of the Raga is often treated to be Swarit. The puzzling question remains 'what is Swarit, then'?  Swarit is a selected point of sound from where intervals of all the notes are measured. Now if an instrument is tuned in C#, every note used during performance will be arranged according to the Tonic. It should be remembered that in western harmony system distance of notes may vary at times from Tonic, the consonance system of Indian music fixes the relationship. Owing to the rule of consonances (Samvad Siddhant) the position of the notes will settle in certain intervals that will correspond to the Shadja (Tonic). For example, if we play Raga Yaman, all the notes in this Raga will be corresponding to the Shadja. But if we shift tonic note from Shadja to Nishad and still play notes of Raga Yaman, mood will change and one will hear Bhairavi instead of Yaman, because all the notes correspond to Nishad now. Earlier Nishad (of Yaman) now serves as Shadja (Tonic).

In Indian Tanpura generally four strings are used. First string is tuned in Pa but other three strings are tuned in Sa. As it is known that Indian music consists main intervals of two notes either Sa – Pa or Sa – Ma (3/2, 4/3) combination. If Pancham  is a Varjit or an excluded note in a Raga to be performed, then Pancham string of Tanpura is tuned in Madhyam.  In some cases like raga Marwa this string is tuned in natural (pure) Dhaivat; in Todi it is in flat Dhaivat. String instruments like Sitar, Sarod, Vichitra Veena etc. employ the Chikari and Jodi strings to provide a continuous, stable Swarit. But flautists and other wind instrumentalists require Tanpura accompanist for stable Swarit.

In Indian instruments there are various pitches. Like Sitar is tuned in C# or D, Vichitra Veena Is tuned in G# or A, Jaltarang is tuned in A or A#  and so on. In vocal also male and female have their own pitches from where there Tanpura is tuned. Stable and continuous Swarit is essential for the artistes. In tandem with human voice, harmonium supports the needed Swarit though not providing it as accurately as one by Tanpura.

Metaphorically, Swarit is the spirit level that keeps the artiste on terra-firma of the chosen Raga.

  Bhartiya Sangeet Vadya by Dr Lal Mani Misra


Back to Articles