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Svara

The meaning of «svara»

Svara or swara (स्वर, generally pronounced as swar or swara and not swaraa) is a Sanskrit word that connotes simultaneously a breath, a vowel, the sound of a musical note corresponding to its name, and the successive steps of the octave or saptak. More comprehensively, it is the ancient Indian concept about the complete dimension of musical pitch.[1][2] Most of the time a svara is identified as both musical note and tone, but a tone is a precise substitute for sur, related to tunefulness. Traditionally, Indians have just seven svaras/notes with short names, e.g. saa, re/ri, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni which Indian musicians collectively designate as saptak or saptaka. It is one of the reasons why svara is considered a symbolic expression for the number seven.

The word swara or svara (Sanskrit: स्वर) is derived from the root svr which means "to sound".[3] To be precise, the svara is defined in the Sanskrit nirukta system as:

The Kannada word swara and Tamil alphabet or letter suram do not represent a sound, but rather more generally the place of articulation (PoA) (பிறப்பிடம்), where one generates a sound, and the sounds made there can vary in pitch.

The word is found in the Vedic literature, particularly the Samaveda, where it means accent and tone, or a musical note, depending on the context. The discussion there focusses on three accent pitch or levels: svarita (sounded, circumflex normal), udatta (high, raised) and anudatta (low, not raised). However, scholars question whether the singing of hymns and chants were always limited to three tones during the Vedic era.[3][4]

In the general sense swara means tone, and applies to chanting and singing. The basic swaras of Vedic chanting are udatta, anudatta and svarita. Vedic music has madhyama or ma as principal note so that tonal movement is possible towards lower and higher pitches, thus ma is taken for granted as fixed in any tonal music (madhyama avilopi, मध्यम अविलोपी).

One-swara Vedic singing is called aarchika chanting, e.g. in chanting the following texts on one note:

or the like. Two-swara Vedic singing is called gaathika chanting, e.g. in chanting the following text on two notes:

The musical octave is said to have evolved from the elaborate and elongated chants of the Samaveda, based on these basic swaras.[5] Siksha is the subject that deals with phonetics and pronunciation. Naradiya Siksha elaborates the nature of swaras, both Vedic chants and the octave.

The word also appears in the Upanishads. For example, it appears in Jaiminiya Upanishad Brahmana section 111.33, where the cyclic rise and setting of sun and world, is referred to as "the music of spheres", and the sun is stated to be "humming the wheel of the world".[6] According to Ananda Coomaraswamy, the roots "svar", meaning "to shine" (whence "surya" or sun), and "svr", meaning "to sound or resound" (whence "swara", “musical note”) and also in some contexts "to shine", are all related in the ancient Indian imagination.[6][7]

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