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Carnatic Swaras - the swaras of Carnatic music are equivalent to the do re mi of Western music. Basically, they are "solfa" syllables, syllables to voice the notes in succession so that they are easier to identify and pronounced, instead of a simple "aaaa" sound.

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Next: Intro to Raaga

The swaras are said to have arisen from the Universe-pervading Sound of Om, which represents the drone notes SA and PA. The other swaras came from the 5 faces of Shiva. The story is told that RaavaNa, who was very devoted to Shiva, ripped out his guts and used them as strings to play the notes as Shiva kept time. RaavaNa kept playing, however, and threatened to shake the worlds and bring Shiva down from the heavens. In response, Shiva pressed him down to Earth with his big toe.

The table below lists some more interesting information about the Carnatic swaras, which are named shadjam (sa), rishabam (ri), gaandhaaram (ga), madhyamam (ma), pancamam (pa), dhaivatam (da), and nishaadam (ni). Each is associated with an animal, a color, a God of Hindu mythology, and a particular feeling (rasa).

swara full name Western animal color god rasa meaning of name
sa shadjam do peacock light pink Brahma veera (courage), adbhuta (wonder), rowdra (anger) giving birth (to next 6 notes)
ri rishabam re bull (nandi) parrot green Agni (Fire, with Seeta) veera (courage), adbhuta (wonder), rowdra (anger) morality
ga gaandhaaram mi goat gold Rudra (Shiva) karuNaa (compassion) fragrant, light
ma madhyamam fa crane white Vishnu karuNaa (compassion) middle, intermediate
pa pancamam so cuckoo black Naarada hasya (laughter), shringaara (love) fifth
da dhaivatam la horse yellow GaNEsha bibhatsa (disgust), bhayanaka (fear) of gods, devas
ni nishaadam ti elephant multicolor Surya (Sun) karuNaa (compassion) sit, lie down

Based on information provided by Smt. Padma Veeraraaghavan.

Next: Intro to Raaga

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updated on 07/21/2011