Natalie Savelyeva

Date and composition of Sangitasiromani

Emmie Te Nijenhuis in preface to her book [1] states that "Sangitasiromani (Crest jewel of Music) was written in 1428 AD."

She describes the story of composition of this treatise as follows:

"Sultan Malika Sahi, a Muslim convert governed the districts situated west of the present day Allahabad. He invested a lot of money and effort in organizing a musicological congress. He invited scholars from all regions to his capital Kada and ordered them to write a large textbook on music, to which purpose he collected a considerable number of older musicological works in Sanskrit. Most of these treatises can be identified and some of them are still in existence. In this way Sangitasiromani became one of the largest and most important late medieval works on music."

The chapters of Sangitasiromani regarding sruti, svara, grama, murcana and jati

Chapter I. Intonation (sruti)

1. When the supreme self (purusa, atman) in men wishes to express itself, it first stirs the mind, then the mind stimulates the bodily fire, and this strikes upon the vital breath (prana).

2. This prana starting from the basis (brahmagranthi) of the spinal cord rises upwards, successively reaching the navel, the chest, the throat, the head and the mouth, where it produces sound (dhvani).

3. This sound is traditionally called nada. All intonations (Sruti) and other musical elements are differenciations of it. The syllable na symbolizes wind (vayu) in the sense of vital breath (prana); the syppable da symbolizes fire.

6-7 For practical purposes sound (nada) is described by the wise as beaing of three kinds: low (mandra) in the chest, middle (madhya) in the throat) and high (tara) in the head. In respect of speed it is said that each is doubling the preceding one.

8-9: Bharata says: The sound (nada) rising from the nerve-lines (nadi) is truly said to be without emotional expression (rasa). There are twenty two nerve lines (nadi), situated transversely, like steps (i.e. one aboe the other). They are stimulated by vibration (vayu).

9-10. Matanga says: Situated in the upward nerve lines (nadi) the pure (suddha) sound (nada) which is without emotional expression (rasa) is produced from inside the body by humming (humkara) and if all pervading.

10-11. All twenty two nerve lines (nadi) that are supposedly situated transversely like steps are completely filled with vibration (vayu). They are closely connected with the main line (susumna) and situated in the throat.

13-14 Each next vibration is faster than the preceding one. From these two (adjoining vibrations) a special sound (sabda) rises, which is delightful, sweet and soft. Due to an increase of speed (java) each higher (sound) becomes stronger.

14-15. When these sounds together constitute a musical note (svara), they generate specific melodic forms (raga). Appearing in the lower (mandra) register and the other registers (sthana) the factors that are instrumental in sound production are identical.

15-17. In the upper part of the chest twenty two nerve lines (nadi) are situated transversely and intertwined with the main line (dhamani). The sound (dhvani) they produce, when struck by vinration (vayu) should be understood as differentiation of sound (nada). Because they can be heard, they are considered to be "audible elements" (sruti). In the same way there are twenty two differentiations of this (sruti) in the head and in the throat.

17-18. To demonstrate these (subtle intonations or sruti) two harp-vina are recommended. These two vina should be first tuned to the same pitch.

18-19. The twenty two strings should be tuned one by one and in regular order; First the lowest one, then gradually higher and higher, so that there is continuity, because the ear cannot distinguish any intermediate should between two successive sruti. These strings are situated on below the other, each being higher in pitch. According to the experts sruti is the sound produced by them.

20-21. The note sadja has to be fixed on the fourth string. It has four sruti. The note ridabha which had three sruti, is found on the seventh string.

21-22. The experts state that gandhara which is on the ninth string, has two sruti. On the thirteenth string there is madhyama, which had four sruti. On the seventeenth string there is pancama, which had four sruti.

23. On the twentieth string dhaivata, which has three sruti, should be established. On the twenty second string nisada should be established. It has two sruti.

24. In this way notes (svara) should be tuned on two vina. One is fixed; the other one is variable (cala). On the latter the intonation (sarana) has four phases.

  • I phase: lowering all notes for one sruti
  • II phase: lowering all notes for two srutis, ga, ni take place of ri, dha
  • III phase: lowering all notes for three srutis, ri, dha take place of sa, pa
  • IV phase: lowering all notes for four srutis, sa, ma, pa take place of ni, ga, ma

(four is maximal admitted value, as otherwise the harmony would be broken).

33-34. One should know the following sruti names:

  • Sharp - tivra
  • Lotus-like - kumudvati
  • Low - manda
  • Metrical - chandovati
  • Compassionate - dayavati
  • Charming - ranjani
  • Lovely - ratika
  • Fierce - raudri
  • Passionate - krodha
  • Thundering - vajrika
  • Pervasive - prasarini
  • Dear - priti (12)
  • Purifying - marjani
  • Patient - krisma
  • Enamoured - rakta
  • Inflaming - samdipani
  • Conversant - alapini
  • Maddening - madanti
  • Adolescent - rohini
  • Restful - ramya
  • Fearful - ugra
  • Excited - ksobini

37. Brilliant (dipta), stretched (ayata), tender (mridu), medioum (madhya) and compassionate (karuna). By these names the five categories of the srutis are distinguished.

38. The first category (dipta) the ancient authors say, has four divisions named sharp (tivra), fierce (raudri), thundering (vajrika) and fearful (ugra).

39-40. Lotus-like (kumudvati), passionate (krodha) and the next pervasive one (prasarini) is counted, the fourth one is inflaming (samdipati), the fifth one rohini (adolescent). These are the five varieties of thestretched one (ayata) respectively mentioned by experts.

40-42. Low (manda), lovely (ratika), beloved (priti) and patient (krisma or ksiti) are the four varieties of the tender one (mridvi) mentioned by the experts. Similarly, metrical (chandovati), as well as charming (ranjani), purifying (marjani), enamoured (raktika), the one called restful (ramya) and excited (ksobini) are respectively mentioned as the six varieties of the medioum one (madhya).

42-43. Compassionate (dayavati), conversing (alapini) and the one called maddening (madantika) are the three varieties of the compassionate one (karuna).

Further on the author discusses different categories of sruti (jati) for each svara:

  • Sadja (4): brilliant (dipta), stretched (ayata), tender (mridvi), medium madhyama
  • Risabha (3): compassionate (karuna), medium (madhya), tender (mridu)
  • Gandhara (2): brilliant (dipta), stretched (ayata)
  • Madhyama (4): brilliant (dipta), stretched (ayata), tender (mridu), medium (madhya)
  • Pancama (4): tender (mridu), medioum (madhya), stretched (ayata), compassionate (karuna)
  • Dhaivata (3): compassionate (karuna), stretched (ayata), medium (madhya)
  • Nisada (2): brilliant (dipta), medium (madhya)

Sruti in seven svaras:

  • Sadja: tivra, kumudvati, manda, chandovati
  • Risabha: dayavati, ranjani, ratika
  • Gandhara: raudri, krodha
  • Madhyama: vajrika, prasaranika, priti, marjani
  • Pancama: kristi, rakta, samdipika, alapanika
  • Dhaivata: madanti, rohini, ramya
  • Nisada: ugra, ksobhanika

Chapter II. Notes (svara)

1. Sound (svara) of a resonant nature (anuranana-atmaka) which, rising gtom the sruti pleases (ranjaka) the mind of the listener, is called svara by the experts.

2. This musical sound (svara) which has seven varieties is well known in the treatises by the names sadja, etc. Traditionally these notes sadja, etc. are called: sadja, risabha, gandhara, madhyama, pancama, dhaivata, and nisada.

3-4. There appears to be another denomination of the notes, invented by the ancient teachers which consist in calling the notes by their initial syllables sa, ri, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni, respectively.

5-6. Besides, these savara are of three kinds according to the registers in which they are situated, mandra, madhya and tara. These notes are explained as being pure (suddha).

6-7. If one considers the specific number of sruti of these notes, they become altered notes (vikrita svara0, when there is aither a decrease of an increase of sruti.

7-8. Nisada, risabha, gandhara and dhaivata may be called acyuta (not fallen, i.e. not lowered), pancama may become cyuta (lowered), sadja and madhyama can be both cyuta and acyuta.

8-9. When the first and the last sruti are omitted, this sadja fo two sruti is called cyuta. When the first two sruti are left out, that sadja is called acyuta. Both these alterations, the first as well as the second derive from sadja.

10. By taking last sruti of sadja, risabha becomes four sturi interval. This third alteration belongs to risabha.

11-12. By taking the first sruti from madhyama, gandhara becomes a three sruti interval. By taking the first two sruti from madhyama gandhara becomes a four sruti interval. These two different alterations the fourth and the fifth one derive from gandhara.

12-13. Madhyama may become cyuta as well as acyuta by omitting sruti in the case of sadja. These two alterations, the sixth and the seventh one, should be regarded as alterations of madhyama.

13-14. In the madhyama grama the irregular (vikrita) pancama of three sruti becomes an altered four sruti interval, when it takes the last sruti from madhyama. The eight and the ninth case are alterations of pancama.

15. When dhaivata takes the last sruti from pancama, it becomes a four sruti interval. This alteration of dhaivata is counted as the tenth.

16-17. When nisada takes the first sruti from sadja it becomes a three sruti interval; when it takes the first two sruti of sadja, it becomes a four sruti interval. These two alterations the elenth and the twelfth are derived from nisada.

17-18. In the opinion of the experts the twelve altered (vikrita) notes together with all the pure (suddha) notes are nineteen in all.

18-19. These notes are again of three kinds on account of a difference in position. The low pitched ones (mandra) are in the chest, the medium pitched ones (madhya) in the throat, and the high pitched ones (tara) are situated in the head.

19-20. A note may be considered in four ways, i.e. as a central note (vadin), as a consonant (samvadin), as a dissonant (vivadin) or as an accompanying note (anuvadin).

20-22. When a note is frequently used, it is the dominant (vadin). There there are twelve or aight sruti between two notes, these notes are consonant (samvadin). One should understand that these two consonant notes should be identical. In the case of consonance uniformity of sruti is required. As compared to the number of sruti of this consonant (samvadin), a note should not have more or less sruti.

22-23. Subsequent notes such as the notes ga and ni, with respect to ri and dha are dissonant (vivadin). There are more then thirty million accompanying notes (anuvadin).

Chapter III. Tone-system (Grama)

1. A combination (samvasa, "common dwelling place") of musical notes which constitutes the basis of the scales (murchana), etc. is called tone-system (grama, lit. "village") by the experts. It has three varieties.

2. The first variety is sadja grama, the second one the madhyama grama. The third variety one should know is the gandhara grama.

3. This is because they are called after their most important notes, sadja, madhyama and gandhara. Sadja is important, because it is the first note and because it has many consonant (samvadin) (tonal relationships).

4. Madhyama is important, because it is an indispensable note and because it has many ministers (i.e. consonant or samvadin notes); sadja and madhyama are also consonant because of their dominant function (amsatva). In the case of gandhara there is also predominance.

5. When the note pancama possesses its four sruti, the supreme sage Bharata speaks of sadja grama.

6. When pancama however is situated on its third sruti, it (i.e. the tone system) is madhyamagrama. This is a difference between the two gramas.

7. In the sadja grama, dhaivata has three srutis, but in madhyama grama it has four srutis. This is also a difference between these two grama.

8. Although in sadja and madhyama grama the sruti are obviously equal, yet they do not enable us to distinguish between the two grama without pancama.

9-11. When gandhara takes the first sruti of madhyama and the last of risabha, when nisada takes the first sruti of sadja and the last of dhaivata, when dhaivata takes the last sruti of pancama and when in this tone system named after gandhara the gandhara and nisada become four sruti intervals, it is identified by the experts as the gandhara grama.

11-12. The first two gramas are practiced in the mortal world, but the gandhara grama is not found in this world; it only exists in the celestial world. Brahma, Visnu and Siva claim to be the presiding deities of the grama.

12-13. These grama should respectively be sung during the first part of the day in winter, at noon in summer and in the evening during the rains.

13-14. Some people call the three grama Nandyavarta, Jimuta and Subhadra respectively and characterize them accordingly.

14-15. If having tuned the note sadja one proceeds to dhaivata and pancama, and having fixed the sadja grama by these notes, one concludes with nisada, in this case if is the so called Nandyavarta grama.

16-17. When risabha is the initial note (graha) and occurs in the beginning together with sadja of one matra, when the grama is developed by nisada and madhyama and when it ends in pancama, in this case it is called Jimita grama by the experts.

17-18. When gandhara is the initial note and the grama is developed by sadja and risabha, and when the final note (nyasa) is dhaivata, then it is traditionally called Subhadra grama.

81-19. Sa, ri, ga respectively are the starting points of these three grama. Such a definition of the grama is not generally recognized by the majority. Since it is connected with the characterization of melodic forms (raga), we do not pay much attention to it here.

Chapter IV. Scales (Murcana)

1. A scale (murchana) is an ascending and descending series of notes in regular order. There are fourteen varieties of it in the two tone-systems (grama).

2. In the first place there is the murchana uttaramandira; secondly ranjani. According to the experts uttarayata is the third murchana. The fourth one is named suddhasadja. The next one is matsakriti, the sixth asvakranta and the seventh abhirudgata. These are the seven murchana of the sadjagrama.

4-6. First sauviri, next harinasva and the one named kalopanata; furthermore, suddhamadya, margi, pauravi and a seventh one, hrisyaka. Traditionally these seven are the murchana of madhyama grama.

6-7. The seven notes, sadja, etc. appearing one by one on the respective strings of mattakokila vina, are situated in three positions. The first murchana begins with sadja of the midlle octave (madhya saptaka).

8. The six sadja grama murchanas, ranjani, etc. begin with ni, etc. in the place of sadja, or, with the notes situated below sadja.

9-10. Madhyama grama nurcana begin with the madhyama situated in the middle octave. Harinasva and the other murchana of madhyama grama begin with ga, etc. in the place of madhyama, or, with the notes situated below the latter note.

10-11. One should conclude with the note next to the initial note. When ni and ga respectively appear as initial notes in the place of sadja and madhyama, the expert should produce the notes sadja, etc. as well as the notes madhyama, etc. above the former.

12-14. The murchana are of four kinds, viz. pure (suddha) having a major seventh (kakali ni), having major third (antara ga) or containing kakali ni as well as antara ga. In this way the murcana of the two grama number fifty six. One should know that the serial number of murcana in the two grama correspond to the positions sadja and madhyama occupy in the respective murcana.

14-15. If in each of the above mentioned murcana each of the remaining six notes up to the last note of an original murcana becomes the starting note of an ascending series, in that case there are seven ascending derivative scales for each murcana.

16-17. In this way each murchana has twenty eight varietites. These varieties are the so called basic forms (krama) from which the construction of the irregular tonal patterns (kutatana) starts. Their sum total is three hundred ninety two.

17-19. In the first place one should know, there is a murchana called nanda; next visala, then sumukhi, citra, citravati, sukha and alapa. These are the seven murchana of gandhara grama. Since they only exist in the celestial world, they are not specified.

(20-24. the author gives notes of each murchana in sadja and madhyama gramas)

25-26. The root murca means to faint and to increase. But, in this case, with the suffix in the sense of action the term murchana means "growth" (samucchraya).

26-27. In the opinion of those by whom nandyavarta, etc. are mentioned there are twenty one murchana which we shall explain now.

27-29. Since in the nandyavarta there is a murchana on each of the seven notes in regular order, nandyavarta has seven murchana. These are nandi, vibhala, suvaktra, citra, citravati, sukha and subala.

29-31. According to the tradition "granting happiness" (sukhada), "captivating the mind" (cittahrit), "taking away pains" (tapaharini), "attracting snakes" (nagavallabha), "granting joy to the mind" (manoharsaprada), "winning the affection of women" (yositpriya) and "attaractin herds of deer" (mrigakulapriya) respectively are the psychological effects of the murchana nandi, etc. The sevem murchana of nandyavarta grama have a graceful melodic movement.

31-32. Since in the jimuta grama there is a murcana on each of the seven notes in regular order, the jimita grama has seven murcana.

32-34. Apyayini, visvabhrita, candri, haimika, kapardini, ma?tre and barhaspati are the murchana of jimita grama. According to the wise their respective effects are: "preferred by the ascetics" (yogipriya), "winning the favor of sacrifices" (yajnikanam vallabha), "attracting the white lotus" (kumudapriya), "granting wealth" (vittada), "giving satisfaction to the pupils" (sisusantosakari), "winning the affection of friends and Brahmins" (mitradvijapriya) and "gaining the favor of Brahma" (brahmapriya).

35. Since in the subhadra grama there is a murchana on each of the seven notes in regular order, the subhadra grama has seven murchana.

36-37. According to the tradition the effects of the murchana of subhadra grama are: "winning the sympathy of the poets" (kavipriya), "granting prosperity" (vriddhada), "effectuating pure love" (suddhapriyakari), "granting sons" (putrada), "giving satisfaction to kings" (nripasantosakarini), "winning the affection of the beloved" (kaminipriya) and "winning the love of ancestors" (pitripriya).

37-38. The seven murchana of subhadra grama are uttara, udgata, vaji, sauveri, hrisyaka, vidheya and yatika.


  1. Sangitasiromani. A Medieval Handbook of Indian Music edited by Emmie Te Nijenhuis, E.J.Brill, Netherlands, 1992