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Article: Review of book by Dr. K Vardarangan

By Principal Vasanthamadhavi
  "Srutis and Srutibheda": a book on tonal shifts by Dr K Varadarangan

Review: Courtesy and Principal Vasanthamadhavi, Ragasree College of Music, Bangalore, India

'Sruti' is the first word heard by any music student. Though sruti is a part of everybody's life in one form or the other, much remains to be known about bit.

Right from Vedic times, sruti has been described in various ways and has acquired many meanings. In fact, the word has actually been used to refer to the Vedas themselves, as in 'sruti, shaastra, puraana, nigamaagama.' It forms the foundation on which the divine mansion of music is built.

'Srutirmaata, layah pitah' (sruti is the mother, laya the father) is the governing principle of all music. Omkar, which Indian musicians believe is the origin of all sounds musical and non-musical, is considered the most sacred form of sruti.

Books like Prof P Sambamurthy's South Indian Music, C Subrahmanya Iyer's The Grammar of South Indian Music and Kukkila Krishna Bhatta's Bharatiya Sangeetha Shaastra deal in some detail with srutis and its bhedas. Srutis and Srutibheda by Dr K Varadarangan is a masterly work, complete and exclusive. He journeys widely in the domain of sruti.

In the first chapter, Dr Varadarangan makes a survey of sruti-related terms and lays a sound base for further observations. In the next chapter, he takes up the idea of modal shift of tonic. In concerts, musicians (especially vocalists) apply this technique in ragas like Hindola, Todi and Shuddha Saveri to display their mastery over the swarasthaanas. By shifting the aadharashadja to a different note without changing the sruti, and singing the notes of the original raaga, one can get a different raaga. However, this is only a small practical application; Dr Varadarangan elaborates on the larger implications of srutibheda. He also introduces the idea of srutibheda chakras and explains their properties with examples.

Chapter 3 shows how the relative frequences of the 12 swarasthanas can be derived using the srutibheda sutras. Earlier musicologists have defined the frequency values for each of the seven swaras and the 22 srutis. They did this with the help of dhruva (fixed frets) and chala (moving frets) veenas.

That within an octave there can be only 22 srutis has been established beyond any doubt by Indian musicology. In this book, Dr Varadarangan has approached the subject from a new perspective, and, remarkably, his analysis leads him to the same conclusion. His manner of expressing frequencies in cents instead of ratios is really advantageous. Comparison of Western and Indian musical scales sets one thinking about the importance of gamakas in Indian music, particularly Karnatak music.

Over the next three chapters, srutibheda possibilities -- applicable to parent and derived raagas as also to individual swaras -- are explored methodically and exhaustively. Determining the srutibheda possibilities of any raaga is made simple by Table 5.5 on pages 82-83 in Chapter 5.

The idea of dividing the scale into three segments ie, poorvaanga, madhyanga and uttaranga, to constitute the six vrindas (defined by madhyama and panchama), 11 chakras (defined by rishabha and gandhara) and 11 raagas within a chakra (defined by dhaivata and nishadha) to tabulate the 726 kramaswara raagas is indeed unique. Chapter 8 lists srutibheda possibilities for all these 726 raagas.

In the final chapter, Dr Varadarangan studies a few ragathayamalika compositions. We may note that in a few kritis of Sri Mudduswamy Dikshitar, this srutibheda idea is put to practical application.

To sum up, Dr Varadarangan's book deserves to be in every serious music lover's collection.


The reviewer is principal, Ragasree College of Music, Bangalore, India




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