Music: Shruthi

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by Narayanan Raghunathan

Shruthi is the divine mystery of Indian Music. It is roughly the drone that determines the pitch of singing. Women sing in a higher Shruthi than men normally.

Shruthi means that which is heard from the root shra { shrava [to hear] shrnu [listen] } .

pasyanthi vak shruti { The divine word seen is Shruthi. }

Thus we have the four Vedas[ Books Of Revelatory Knowledge ~ vid ~ to know, to enhance, to intuit,] Rik, Yajur, Saama and Atharva and the Upanishads, appearing in these mantrams recited from times immemorial. They were learned by repeated recitation preserved in the greatest oral tradition of mankind.

So among these Vedas that were recited, the chandas [the cadent metering] was essential. One cannot learn these from a book but by listening to them repeated, with faith and trying to recite them . It needs many years of patient effort to get to the art of these divine recitations.

Trimming the seamless vast tale short, the Saama Veda which used often hymns from Rik and Yajur veda was specially difficult and esoteric. There were traditionally 1008 ways of Saama Veda recitation. But years of neglect and now we have just about ten ways of reciting these great mantrams still remaing on the earth. Lord Shiva is considered as Saama-ghosha -priya [ one who delights in the Saama veda chanted together by many people. ]

In Saama veda we can see the origin of Indian music and Shruthi. Since the Veda is ageless, so the Shruthi must be ageless too. From the divine Saama Veda chants, Lord Shiva inspired Rishis, Divine Seer-Sages to the Shruthi aligned Raaga[m] music.

In Indian music Karnaatik, Dhrupad, Khayaal, Bhajans, Thumri etc the Shruthi the resonant drone is set to three fundamental swaraas (notes): Shadjam [ This is SA The Fundamental Note of Indian Music } and Panchamam { The is PA The Fifth Note in The Saptha Swaraas [Seven Notes] of the Scale [ SA RI GA MA PA DHA NI SA ] and the higher SA [ The Eighth Note ] .
There are sharper variations of these basic notes between each other [ These are dealt with, in the section on Raaga[m].] Whichever is the Raaga[m] sung, the Shruthi remains the same for the musician.

The Shruthi is played on the Tampura (Tanmpura) , a stringed musical instrument of ancient origin.

Different musicians sing in different basic Shruthis. There are technically 22 possible Shruthis. But in a metaphysical sense there can be innumerable Shruthis! .

In Indian Music Concerts, a disciple of the artiste musician, plays the Tanmpura sitting behind, resonating the Shruthi into the ears of the performing artiste. To play the Tanmpura is easy, but to tune a Tanmpura needs years of listening and deep skill.



Look at some great details of this instsrument:
©Mauricio Martínez R.


Now, Electornic Tanmpura [a small box ] is also used by many artistes since it is convenient to carry and can be tuned accurately very easily. There are also Pre-tuned Electronic Tanmpuraí available, although professionals would prefer to align [tune] the Shruthi themselves.

In the modern western music, lingo Shruthi may be roughly called a static chord. set to three notes.

In Western music, Shruthi shifts and we get the harmonics ~ The cord becomes dynamic.

In Indian Classical Music, which is essentially melodious, this is rarely practised and the phenomeneon is called Shruthi-bhedam [ Differentiating the Shruthis ] .

In Indian Music Go off Shruthi [deviate from it is a grave error! ]

Shruthi is a feminine gender word in Sanskrit and many Indian girls, including a young and legendary Hindusthani musician have the name Shruthi.

We may tentatively conclude thus ~

Shruthiravyayam paramam guhyam spandagrahod-bhavam maha mownam idi beejam
Sat-chid-aananda thaandavam idi jagat dig bandham nirmalam pavitram saakshaatkaaram

Shruthi undefined supreme esoteric originating from pre-primordial spanda grahas[ vibrant temples ] , the great silence is the seed , eternal existence consciousness-bliss dance of Shiva is the divine directions of the cosmoses ~ Divine, pure the great vast fulfillment.

... ... ...

A story from memory. ~

The western Violin is used in Indian Music, especially in Karnaatik music as an accompanying instrument to vocal music. Violin was adapted into Indian music, during the last century. Now it is an indispensable part of Indian Music.

Lalgudi G. Jayaraman the legendary Karnaatik violinist met the legendary Western violinist Yehudi Menhin.. Lalgudi played his violin and Menhin was very delighted. Lalgudi was asked by Yehudi Menhin if he would play his violin. Lalgudi replied "Yes".
He set the Shruthi [changed the tuning] and played his Karnaatik music on the great Western master's own western instrument.


I use the bus- engine
drone as my Shruthi, reel off
Aananda Bhairavi ~

Note ~
Aananda Bhairavi { The Delighted Bhairavi (Cosmic Dancer Mother Shakthi Ambika)} is a very famous and typical Karnaatik Raagam which has been adapted into Hidusthaani music too. There are innumerable compositions in this Raagam including folk and modern film songs. This Raagam can evoke deep bhaavam [ emotional essence].

shruthi aanandmaa
ozhukum pozhuthu
edukku paatu ?

[ Tamizh ]

when the Shruthi
delightedly pours on,
what for, the song ?

raatri poora
faan shruthi ~ thookatthile

[Tamizh ]

whole night,
the faníăs Shruthi ~ in sleep

Note ~
Hanuman-todi ~ Name of a Karnaatik Melakartha Raagam very popular and profound.
Hanuman is the legendary mokey faced manifestation of Shiva as Lord Rudra in Raamaayana serving Lord Vishnu as Raama.{ Refer, Vaalmiki Raamaayana the famous Indian epic, for more details}

Ganesh : The elelphant-headed god


Shruti ("what is heard") is a canon of Hindu scriptures.
They do not date to a particular period, but span the entire hisotry of Hinduism, beginning with the earliest texts known, with some late Upanishads reaching down into modern times.


Related words

***** Music of India


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