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Music Lessons

Carnatic Music Theory



Sthayi is the octave consisting of the 7 Swaras. The human voice can cover three sthayi s Mandra, Madhya and Tara. Instruments can cover two more, namely anumandra and atitara sthayis. For the sake of ease in writing notation we put a dot below the mandra sthayi, a dot above the tar sthayi and the Madhya sthayi will be written without any symbol.


There are 7 main Swaras that form the sthayi. They are Shadjam, Rishabham, Gandharam, Madhyamam, Panchamam, Dhaivatam and Nishadam. Of these, shadjam and panchamam are like the foundations and hence have fixed places. This is the reason why the strings of the Tambura are generally tuned to shadjam and panchamam. As they do not change their positions, they are called achala swaras. The others change their forms and 12 Swaras are derived from the basic 7 Swaras.
They are :-

Shadjam S
Shuddha Rishabham R1
Chatushruti Rishabham also called Shudha Gandharam R2 / G1
Sadharana Gandharam also called Shatshruti Rishabham G2 / R3
Antara Gandharam G3
Shuddha Madhyamam M1
Prati Madhyamam M2
Panchamam P
Shuddha Dhaivatam D1
Chatushruti Dhaivatam also called Shudha Nishadam  D2 / N1
Kaisika Nishadam also called Shatshruti Dhaivatam N2 / D3
Kakali Nishadam N3

Although there are twelve Swarasthana-s, they are called by sixteen different names though they share the Same sthanas, depending upon the context. There certain rules which determine how the overlapping notes are used:

  • When Shuddha Rishabham (R 1) and Chatushruti Rishabham (R 2) occur consecutively in the Same Ragam, R 2 is sung as G 1 (Shuddha Gandharam).

  • When Sadharana Gandharam (G 2) and Antara Gandharam (G 3) occur consecutively, then Ga 2 is sung as R 3 (Shatshruti Rishabham).

  • Similarly, when Suddha Dhaivatam (D 1) and Chatushruti Dhaivatam (D 2) occur consecutively, then D 2 is sung as N 1 (Suddha Nishadam).

  • And when Kaisika Nishadam (N 2) and Kakali Nishadam (N 3) occur consecutively, N 2 is sung as Shatshruti Dhaivatam (D 3).

The additional four names are given due to the basic rule that a Ragam can use only one kind of a Swara.


Kaalam in general means the speed or the laya in which the composition is performed. There are three commonly used Kaalams, where the speed of the Talam does not change but only the speed at which the composition is rendered changes. These are :-

  1. Prathama Kaalam when one Swara is sung in one count of the Talam.

  2. Dwiteeya Kaalam when two Swaras are sung in one count

  3. Tritheeya Kaalam when four Swaras are sung in one count

When the tempo of the Talam itself changes, then the Kaalams are referred to as Vilambita kaalam or slow speed, Madhyama kaalam or medium speed and Druta kaalam or fast tempo.


It is said, Swara Mata, Laya Pita . The two most important aspects of music are Swara and Laya. When rhythm is brought under certain rules and regulations and is given a name, it is called a Talam. Talam is essentially cyclic in nature. One cycle of a Talam is called Aavartanam.

The starting point of the composition in the talam cycle is called Eduppu or Griham. There are four kinds of Eduppus:-

  1. Samam when the composition begins on the 1st beat of the tala cycle.

  2. Ateetam when the composition begins before the 1st beat of the tala cycle.

  3. Anahatam when the composition begins after the 1st beat of the tala cycle.

  4. Vishamam a combination of the above three.


Each beat or unit of the Talam is called an aksharam. Thus one anudhrutam is one aksharam long, a dhrutam is two aksharams and laghu can be of any number of aksharams. The actual duration of an aksharam itself depends upon the composition and the mood it portrays. The aksharam is further divided into a number of Swaras and this division is called gathi or nadai
The number of aksharams determines the Jati of the Thalam. The main Jatis thus formed are:-

1. Four or multiples of four aksharam - Chatushra Jati
2. Three or multiples of three aksharam - Tishra Jati
3. Five or multiples of five aksharam - Khanda Jati
4. Seven or multiples of seven aksharam - Mishra Jati
5. Nine aksharam - Sankirna Jati