INTRODUCING THE TERM “SAPTASVARO’AṢṬAKRAMAḤ (सप्तस्वरोऽष्टक्रमः)” OR
“SAPTAKA SVARA AṢṬAKA KRAMA (सप्तक स्वर अष्टक क्रम)”
The Saptaka Svara-s are introduced in the Nāṭyaśāstra (chapter 28, shloka 21) as follows:
षड्जश्च ऋषभश्चैव गान्धारो मध्यमस्तथा ।
पञ्चमो धैवतश्चैव सप्तमोऽथ निषादवान् ॥ २१॥
— नाट्यशास्त्रम् अध्याय २८, श्लोक २१
The term “Saptasvaro’aṣṭakramaḥ (सप्तस्वरोऽष्टक्रमः)” or the “Saptaka Svara Aṣṭaka Krama (सप्तक स्वर अष्टक क्रम)” is herewith introduced for the very first time in Indian Classical Music, as follows:
षड्जश्च ऋषभश्चैव गान्धारश्चैव मध्यमो पञ्चमस्तथा ।
धैवतश्चैव निषादवान् अष्टमोऽथ षड्जश्च ॥
The Saptasvaro’aṣṭakramaḥ (सप्तस्वरोऽष्टक्रमः) or the Saptaka Svara Aṣṭaka Krama (सप्तक स्वर अष्टक क्रम) is defined as a term signifying an arrangement of the seven Svara-s in an octave format (स र ग म प ध न स), where the ending Ṣaḍja षड्ज (स) has double the frequency in Āroha आरोह (ascending), or half the frequency in Avroha अवरोह (descending), with respect to the frequency of the beginning Ṣaḍja.
Accordingly, the following are formed:
मंद्र अष्टक क्रम : स़ ऱ ग़ म़ प़ ध़ ऩ स
Mandra Ashtaka Krama : ‘S, ‘R, ‘G, ‘M, ‘P, ‘D, ‘N, S
मध्य अष्टक क्रम : स र ग म प ध न सं
Madhya Ashtaka Krama : S, R, G, M, P, D, N, S’
तार अष्टक क्रम : सं रं गं मं पं धं नं सॅ
Taar Ashtaka Krama : S’, R’, G’, M’, P’, D’, N’, S”
The term Saptasvaro’aṣṭakramaḥ (सप्तस्वरोऽष्टक्रमः) is new; however, neither the concept nor its application is new. The concept of an Ashtaka Krama is ancient and a widely accepted arrangement in Indian literature. The Indian literary history of more than 3000 years evidences the usage of the Ashtaka Krama. The Rig-Veda is arranged in the Ashtaka Krama. Devotional poetry is arranged in Ashtaka Krama. It has eight stanzas set to devotional music and is known as an Ashtakam. For example, Mahālakṣmyāṣṭakam, Satyanārāyaṇāṣṭakam, Śivāṣṭakam, Govindāṣṭakam, Gaṇeśāṣṭakam, Rāmāṣṭakam, Ambāṣṭakam, Annapūrṇāṣṭakam, Bilvāṣṭakam, and many more. The venerated great sage Ādi Śaṅkarācārya created an Ashtakam of Ashtakam-s. He is also credited with writing dozens of Stuti Ashtakam-s. Hence, the concept of an Ashtaka Krama is not new.
Similarly, its application is also not new. In almost all music schools of India, it is common for students to practice the Madhya Ashtaka Krama स र ग म प ध न सं. Advanced students practice the Ashtaka Krama from स़ to स to सं to सॅ, as far as possible by them. However, no suitable term exists to describe this act of practicing the Svara-s in an octave arrangement. Loosely, it is described as a Saptaka, which is technically wrong, since a Saptaka contains seven notes, while an octave contains eight notes. Therefore, the need for a suitable term to describe the act of practicing eight musical notes is acutely felt. This need is fulfilled by arranging the seven Svara-s in an octave format, wherein it starts with Ṣaḍja (S) and ends with Ṣaḍja (S). The ending Ṣaḍja is of an increased (double) or decreased (half) frequency of the starting Ṣaḍja. This widely practiced octave format of the seven Svara-s is herewith given a name, which is Saptasvaro’aṣṭakramaḥ or Saptaka Svara Ashtaka Krama.
The Ashtaka Krama can also relate to other systems of music. For example, the Madhya Ashtaka Krama, being an octave format of the seven Svara-s, can easily be correlated with the Western Solfège octave system. The Western Solfège octave system starts with the musical note Do and ends with the musical note Do! (which is double in frequency of the starting Do). Similarly, the Madhya Ashtaka Krama starts with Ṣaḍja (स) and ends with Taar Ṣaḍja (सं) (which is double in frequency of the starting Ṣaḍja).
The Śruti-s (श्रुति microtones) provide a fine-tuned understanding of the frequencies. The 22 Shruti-s used in the Svara Sargam are described by Dattila Muni in his text Dattilam. They are referenced by Bharata Muni in his text Nāṭyaśāstra, and also by Pandit Śārñgadeva in his text Saṅgītaratnākara. The Saṅgītaratnākara (Chapter 3, shlokas 35 to 38) names the 22 Shruti-s as Chandovatī, Dayāvatī, Ranjanī, Ratikā, Raudrī, Krodhā, Vajrikā, Prasāriṇī, Prīti, Mārjanī, Kṣhiti, Raktā, Sandīpanī, Ālāpinī, Madantī, Rohiṇī, Ramyā, Ugrā, Kṣobhinī, Tīvrā, Kumudvatī, and Mandā. [Chandovatī…may be repeated here]
At the end, at the 23rd place, if the first-placed Shruti Chandovatī is repeated, then the Shruti-s continue further to their next existences. The last-placed Chandovatī is double in frequency than the first-placed Chandovatī. The first-placed Chandovatī has a Frequency (Hz) of 261.625, which is the same as the Western 12-TET Chromatic (C) tuning (0 cents), a nondiatonic scale with no tonic, and having twelve pitches, each a semitone above or below its adjacent pitches. The last-placed Chandovatī has a Frequency (Hz) of 523.250 (double of 261.625), which is the same as the Western 12-TET Chromatic (C) tuning (1200 cents). The first-placed Chandovatī begins the Shruti-s and the last-placed Chandovatī enables the Shruti-s, to continue towards their respective further existences. In this same manner, the Saptaka Svara Ashtaka Krama starts with Ṣaḍja, and at the end again places Ṣaḍja (having higher or lower frequency than the frequency of the first-placed Ṣaḍja), so that the Svara-s can continue to their next existences.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE TERM “Saptasvaro’aṣṭakramaḥ (सप्तस्वरोऽष्टक्रमः)”
Ṣaḍja is Agni (अग्नि fire). Agni enables the Ātmā (आत्मा soul) to take birth and rebirth. Because Ṣaḍja is Agni, it enables the soul of the Svara-s (स्वर आत्मा) to take birth and rebirth, from one existence to the next existence, from Ati Mandra, to Mandra, to Madhya, to Taar, and to Ati Taar existences.
Ṣaḍja (स) is essentially the same in all different musical scales, yet it has different frequencies. Due to the different frequencies, the Ṣaḍja at the beginning of an Ashtaka Krama is not the same Ṣaḍja at its end. Thus, technically Ṣaḍja is not repeated. If in Āroha आरोह (ascending) the Ashtaka Krama begins with स़ then it further continues to स, and then to सं, and then to सॅ. Similarly, in Avroha अवरोह (descending) it continues from सॅ to सं to स to स़.
The Nāradīyā Śikṣā (1.5.12) mentions Ṣaḍja as Agni:
पंचस्थानस्थितत्वेन सर्वंस्थानानि धार्यते ।
अग्निगीतः स्वरः षड्ज ऋषभो ब्रह्मणोच्यते ।।१२।।
— नारदीया शिक्षा (प्रथमः प्रपाठकः पंचमी कंडिकाः १२)
Similarly, Saṅgītaratnākara (1.3.57-58) mentions Ṣaḍja as Vahni (वह्नि, another name of Agni):
ऋषयो ददृशुः पञ्च षड्जादींस्तुम्बुरुर्धनी ।
वह्निब्रह्मसरस्वत्यः शर्वश्रीशगणेश्वराः ।।५७।।
सहस्त्रांशुरिति प्रोक्ताः क्रमात्षड्जादिदेवताः ।
क्रमादनुष्टुब्गायत्री त्रिष्टुप्च बृहती ततः ।।५८।।
— संगीतरत्नाकर (१.३.५७-५८)
Agni enables the Ātmā आत्मा (soul) to take birth and rebirth. During conception, the Aatmaa takes birth in a lifeform via the Agni of the lifeform’s parents. During death, the Aatmaa takes rebirth via the Agni of the funeral pyre. The Shatapatha Brahmana mentions this Kravyāda क्रव्याद (recycling) form of Agni, the fire of the funeral pyre that cremates corpses. It states that the funeral fire burns the dead body, yet from that same fire itself, the Aatmaa is reborn, and it gains life due to the heat of the Aatmaa’s offerings of Agnihotra sacrifices.
The Śukla Yajurveda- Vājasaneyī Mādhyandina Śākhā- Śatapatha Brāhmaṇam (220.127.116.11) mentions:
स यत्र म्रियते । यत्रैनमग्नावभ्यादधति तदेषोऽग्नेरधि जायतेऽथास्य शरीरमेवाग्निर्दहति तद्यथा पितुर्वा मातुर्वा जायेतैवमेषोऽग्नेरधि जायते शश्वद्ध वा एष न सम्भवति योऽग्निहोत्रं न जुहोति तस्माद्वा अग्निहोत्रं होतव्यम् ।
— शुक्लयजुर्वेदीय वाजसनेयी माध्यन्दिनशाखीय शतपथब्राह्मणम् (काण्डम् २, अध्याय २, ब्राह्मण ४, कण्डिका ८)
[and whereupon his death | when he is placed on fire, then he is reborn out of that same fire, for only the body does the fire consume. As from his father and mother he is born, likewise from fire he is born. Verily, life is not possible for one who does not offer the Agnihotram; therefore, Agnihotram must be offered]
All Svara-s take birth via Ṣaḍja, and again all Svara-s take rebirth via Ṣaḍja. Without Svara Agnihotram, a Svara is born lifeless. With Svara Agnihotram, the Svara gains life and is born alive. By the truthful rendition of the Svara, the artist performs the Agnihotram of the Svara. When the artist renders a Svara truthfully, then the soul of that Svara (स्वर आत्मा) sounds itself within the artist, and he hears the sound of the soul of the Svara (स्वर आत्मनाद). At this time, the Svara Aaatma-Naada sounding within himself, and his outward rendition of that same Svara, become perfectly matched. There is no difference between them, they become fused and one. When this happens, then it is to be known that the artist has truthfully rendered the Svara. This truthful rendition of the Svara is the Svara Agnihotram (स्वर अग्निहोत्रं) due to which the Svara becomes alive. With truthful renditions of the Svara-s, the Svara-s are born and reborn via Ṣaḍja, and the artist traverses different musical scales up and down, in a truthful way. Thus, the artist becomes a devotee, a worshipper (उपासक) of Svara (स्वर उपासक).
Worshipping Svara-s, he realizes that a Svara is essentially his own light, his own voice, his own Guru, his own god, his own self-illuminating sun (Sva स्व = own; Ra र = sun). When this realization dawns in his mind, then he clearly ‘sees’ the Svara. Earlier he used to hear the Svara, and now with his mind’s eye, he sees it. This vision of the Svara (स्वर दर्शन) leads him to another vision, where he sees an infinite number of Śruti-s (microtones). Gaining this vision of the Shruti-s (श्रुति दर्शन), he realizes Svara-s are essentially Shruti-s. Hence, he evolves to become a worshipper of Shruti-s (श्रुति उपासक).
Worshipping Shruti-s, he realizes that Shruti-s express themselves in Svara-s; and Svara-s express themselves in Geet (गीत songs), Vaadya (वाद्य musical instruments), and Nritya (नृत्य dance), which combine together to form Sangeet (संगीत music). Hence, he evolves to become a worshipper of Sangeet (संगीत उपासक).
Worshipping Sangeet, he realizes that music is essentially a worship of Nāda (नाद the sound that pervades the entire universe). Hence, he evolves to become a worshipper of Naada (नाद उपासक).
Worshipping Naada, he realizes Naada is Brahma (ब्रह्म the Absolute Reality). By worshipping Nādabrahma (नादब्रह्म) he worships all divinities, as they are all Naada. Hence, he evolves to become a worshipper of Naada-Brahma (नादब्रह्म उपासक).
The Saṅgītaratnākara (1.3.2) mentions:
नादोपासनया देवा ब्रह्मविष्णुमहेश्वराः ।
भवन्त्युपासिता नूनं यस्मादेते तदात्मकाः ।।२।।
— संगीतरत्नाकर (१.३.२)
[with Nāda worship, Brahma, Viṣṇu, Maheṣvarā, are worshipped, without any doubt, because they are of that form]
Worshipping Naada-Brahma, he realizes that the originating source is the Anāhat Nāda (अनाहत नाद), which is AUṂkāra (ॐ, ओंकार oṃkāra, or औंकार auṃkāra, or प्रणव praṇava). Hence, he evolves to become a worshipper of AUMkaara (ओंकार उपासक).
Worshipping AUMkaara, his worldly chains fall away on their own. He finds himself freed from his human bondages. His Ātmā (आत्मा soul) merges with the Paramātmā (परमात्मा supreme soul), and he gains Mokṣa (मोक्ष liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth).
In this manner, he gains Mokṣa (मोक्ष) with the worship of Svara (स्वर उपासना), Śruti (श्रुति उपासना), Saṅgīta (संगीत उपासना), Nāda (नाद उपासना), Nādabrahma (नादब्रह्म उपासना), and AUṂkāra (ॐ, ओंकार उपासना).
Similarly, from Ṣaḍja (स) the Svara-s evolve from one level of existence to another level of existence. They take births and rebirths in Ati Mandra, Mandra, Madhya, Taar, and Ati Taar existences.
When all the Svara-s are truthfully rendered by the artist, when his Svara Agnihotram is perfect in all respects, then all his Svara-s merge in Ṣaḍja (स). At this time, he experiences the supreme bliss of Mokṣa (मोक्ष) because Ṣaḍja (स) is Nādabrahma (नादब्रह्म) and Ṣaḍja (स) is AUṂkāra (ॐ). Worshipping Ṣaḍja (स, षड्ज उपासना) is equivalent to worshipping AUṂkāra (ॐ, ओंकार उपासना). Hence, the Saptaka Svara Ashtaka Krama starts with Ṣaḍja and further continues with Ṣaḍja.
Thus, the term “Saptasvaro’aṣṭakramaḥ (सप्तस्वरोऽष्टक्रमः)” or the “Saptaka Svara Aṣṭaka Krama (सप्तक स्वर अष्टक क्रम)” is herewith introduced.
Excerpt from the Preface of the book, “MERUKHAND: Svara Permutations” Vols. 1&2 by Rajen Jani