Music in the Ṛgveda

The hymns of the Rig-Veda are sung in three musical tones, namely:
– udātta (raised, high tone),
– anudātta (not-raised, low tone, below udātta), and
– svarita (circumflex, middle tone, mixture of both high and low tones, generally from high to low).

The Kṛṣṇayajurvediya-Taittirīya-Prātiśākhya mentions the three musical tones in verses 1-38 to 1-40, as follows:
uccairūdāttaḥ ||1-38||
(high tone is acute, udāttaḥ)
nīccairnudāttaḥ ||1-39||
(low tone is grave, anudāttaḥ)
samāhārḥ svaritaḥ ||1-40||
(combination is circumflex, svaritaḥ)

To understand the Rig-Vedic music, an analysis of a pada from the Rig-Veda is given below. The Ṛgveda Saṃhitā is arranged in maṇḍala-s (books). Each book or maṇḍala consists of hymns called sūkta (su-ukta, literally, well-said/recited/sung, eulogy). Each hymn or sūkta consists of individual stanzas called mantra (formula) or ṛc (praise, verse). Each ṛc consists of units of verse called pada (foot).

The first ṛc is as follows:
AUM agnimīle purohitaṃ yajñasya devamṛtvijam | hotārṃ ratnadhātamam ||1||
(Agni I praise, the chosen priest, sacrificial worship’s, godly sacrificing priest; invoking priest, jewels lavisher)

In the above, the first pada is as follows:
agnimīḷe purohitaṃ

In the above pada, there are eight syllables as follows:

These eight syllables are recited with musical tones of anudātta, udātta, and svarita as follows:
a = anudātta, low tone
gnim = svarita, circumflex tone
ī = udātta, high tone
le = svarita, circumflex tone
pu = anudātta, low tone
ro = svarita, circumflex tone
hi = udātta, high tone
taṃ = svarita, circumflex tone

In the Ṛgveda Saṃhitā, the tones are given by symbols.

Rig-Veda pada

The vertical-line above a syllable is udātta (high tone).
The under-line below a syllable is anudātta (low tone).
Syllables without any symbol are svarita (circumflex tone).

The Rig-Vedic tones Udaatta, Anudaatta, and Svarita, are completely unique; however, approximations with R ‘N S or G S R, may be made.

The musical tone of udātta (high tone) may be approximated to the presently known svara ṛṣabha of Madhya Saptak.
The anudātta (low tone) may be approximated to the presently known svara niṣāda of Mandra Saptak.
The svarita (circumflex tone) may be approximated to the presently known svara ṣaḍja of Madhya Saptak.

Substituting the presently known svara-s, Madhya Saptak Rishabh (R), Mandra Saptak Nishaad (‘N), and Madhya Saptak Shadaj (S), in the above pada:
a = anudātta, low tone, ‘N
gnim = svarita, circumflex tone, S
ī = udātta, high tone, R
le = svarita, circumflex tone, S
pu = anudātta, low tone, ‘N
ro = svarita, circumflex tone, S
hi = udātta, high tone, R
taṃ = svarita, circumflex tone, S
A modern day singer can approximately sing the first pada of the Rig-Veda by the following svara-s:
‘N, S, R, S, ‘N, S, R, S.

Some believe that instead of R,‘N, S, the three musical tones of the Rig-Veda, may be better approximated to gāndhāra (G), ṣaḍja (S), and ṛṣabha (R) of the Madhya Saptak.
a = anudātta, low tone, S
gnim = svarita, circumflex tone, R
ī = udātta, high tone, G
le = svarita, circumflex tone, R
pu = anudātta, low tone, S
ro = svarita, circumflex tone, R
hi = udātta, high tone, G
taṃ = svarita, circumflex tone, R
In this scheme (G S R), the first pada of the Rig-Veda may be sung by the following svara-s:
S, R, G, R, S, R, G, R.

[Some Krishna-Yajurveda pundits consider udātta as the middle tone and it has no marking in the text. Anudātta is a lower tone than udātta and is marked with an underline. Svarita is a higher tone than udātta and is marked with a vertical line above the syllable. They approximate it to gāndhāra (G) as udātta, ṛṣabha (R) as anudātta, and madhyama (M) as svarita. Another approximation used is niṣāda (N) as udātta, dhaivata (D) as anudātta, and taar ṣaḍja (S’) as svarita.

Some Yajur-veda pundits add a fourth tone named Dīrgha Svarita (takes more time than svarita to complete, elongated svarita) and it is marked with two parallel vertical lines above the syllable. However, others consider it simply as an extension of Svarita, and thus do not recognize it as a fourth tone.

The Sāmaveda-Sāmagāna texts write Sanskrit numerals above the syllable. Udātta is represented by writing the numeral one (1) above the syllable, Svarita is by numeral two (2), and Anudātta by numeral three (3). Syllables without any symbols are called Prachaya (depending upon the Sāmaveda school, in prachaya, the tone of the previous syllable is extended till the next anudātta/ or till the end of that pada/ or till the end of the entire mantra). Some Sāmagāna texts include seven numerals (1 to 7), one each for the seven tones used in the singing of the Sāmagāna.]

The three Rig-Vedic tones are proper tones and not only intonations or accents meant for recitation. The Rig-Vedic hymns are not only recited, but many hymns are also sung. The singing is albeit in only three tones, since the more developed singing of the Rig-Vedic hymns is in the Saama-Veda. The Rig-Vedic tones (svara-s) consist of microtones (śruti-s), which were realized by Ṛṣi-s (sages, seers) during their meditations on Aumkaara. Based on the shruti-s (microtones), seven other svara-s (tones) were also realized, which is mentioned in the Rig-Veda.

The ‘asya vāmasya palitasya’ (Riddle of the Sacrifice) hymn of the Ṛgveda (1.164.24) states:
gāyatreṇa parti mimīte arkamarkeṇa sāma traiṣṭubhena vākam |
(with the Gāyatrī foot, Gyatr, he measures a hymn; with Sma, a Sāman, a praise song; and with the Triṣṭubh foot, Triup, a triplet, a strophe)
vākena vākaṃ davipadā catuṣpadākṣareṇa mimate sapta vāṇīḥ ||24||
(speech is made of two- or four-feet, with the syllable the seven tones)

From the divine syllable AUM, seven more tones were revealed to the sages. They named the tones as Krusht, Pratham, Dwitiya, Tritiya, Chaturtha, Mandra, and Atiswaarya. They employed these seven tones, to sing the Rig-Vedic hymns set to melodies in the Sāmagāna or Sāman-s (melodic hymns) of the Sāma-Veda (the Sāma-Veda is more than 98% Rig-Vedic hymns set to melodies, as evidenced in the three surviving recensions of the Sāmaveda Saṃhitā, namely, the Kauthumiya recension, the Rāṇāyanīya recension and the Jaiminiya recension).

Nature is musical. Music is present everywhere. Music is in the rippling water of the stream, in the rushing waves of the ocean, in the thunderous roar of an avalanche, in the different sounds that birds/animals make, and more. The text Nāradīyā Śikṣā states that the seven earthly musical tones, namely, Ṣaḍja, Ṛṣabha, Gāndhāra, Madhyama, Pañcama, Dhaivata, and Niṣāda, were derived from the sounds of birds and animals. Catur Kallinātha’s commentary on Niḥśaṅk Śāraṅgadeva’s treatise Saṅgītaratnākaraḥ, states that from the singing of the hymns of the Sāma-Veda, the seven tones are derived. However, the origin of Nature (purusha and prakriti) itself is from the divine syllable AUM. The origin of the Veda-s is from the divine syllable AUM. Thus, the origin of all music is from AUM. By meditating on AUM, the Rishi-s were blessed with the revelation of several śruti-s (literally, that which is directly perceived; musically, that which is a microtone). These shruti-s (microtones) created svara-s (tones) of the divine music of the Veda-s, and of the earthly music as known today.

Indian music originated from the divine syllable AUM.
From Aumkāra, came Purusha and Prakriti.
From Aumkāra, came the Veda-s.
From Aumkāra, came the śruti-s.
From the śruti-s, came the three divine svara-s of the Ṛgveda, namely, udātta, anudātta, and svarita.
From the śruti-s, came the seven divine svara-s of the Sāmaveda, namely, kruṣṭ, prathama, dwitīya, tṛtīya, caturtha, mandra, and atiswārya.
From the śruti-s, came the seven earthly svara-s, namely, ṣaḍja, ṛṣabha, gāndhāra, madhyama, pañcama, dhaivata, and niṣāda.
From the Anāhata Nāda (causal sound, unstruck sound, Aumkaara, Shruti), came the Āhata Nāda (gross sound, struck sound, Svara).

Celextel eMusic Store has many albums presented by the Veda Prasar Samiti. They present the Rig-Veda (Shakala Shaka) Samhita verses, chanted/sung by Brahmins, in several volumes. A sample of their first volume is embedded below, so that readers may get an idea of Rig-Vedic music and chanting.

[Note. This is not an advertisement. The above audio is embedded only as a sample for scholarly purposes, so that readers may get an idea of Rig-Vedic music and chanting.]

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