The Vedic Origins of the Musical Scale

Music and dance have been an integral part of Indian culture since time immemorial. Goddess Saraswati plays divine notes on the Veena (classical string instrument) and Lord Shiva himself performs the Tandava (depicted in his Nataraja form – as the Lord of Dance). Music in particular is a very important part of India’s unparalleled cultural diversity. It is very rich in its variety and expression. It is one of the great strengths of India. The language of music transcends borders and has a direct connection with one’s thoughts, desires and emotions.

[Goddess Saraswati playing on the Veena]

Indian classical music has two main styles – the northern “Hindustani” and the Southern “Carnatic”. Both these styles use the seven-notes as their foundation. The seven notes called Saptaswara are considered “Divine”. They are as – Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni. This is also called “Sargam”. These notes increase in their frequency progressively. These notes originate from a particular point in the human body. For ex. Sa – originates from the navel, Re – from the chest and so on. They move to the throat (Ga), base of the tongue (Ma), nose (Pa), between teeth (Dha) and lips (Ni). These notes are a harmonious blend of the laws of physics, biology, psychology and metaphysics. They are not randomly chosen but carefully picked to have a pleasing value. 

The origins of Indian music go way back to Bharat Muni’s Bharat Shastra which is a few millennia old. It is said that all formal music and Vedic chants originated from the Sama Veda some 5000 years back. The rhythmic chanting of verses are done in certain specific notes producing specific vibrations in the surroundings. This provides the oldest evidence of well structured, formal music. This was way before the times of Greek, Byzantine, Aramaic and others. 


Western classical music also has seven notes – Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La and Ti. The western gregorian chants widely sung in Europe in the 1500s have a close resemblance to the Sama Veda of India. Similar resemblance is there in the Islamic recitation of the Koran as also in Arabic, Persian, West Asian, Mediterranian, Welsh and Irish singing. This goes to show that from India in the Vedic times, it travelled to Arabia, Persia, Byzantium, Greece, Roma and finally to the rest of the world. 

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Music was a form of spirituality being synonymous with the cosmic principles. The propensity of these vibrations to cure, soothe and please was well known. Thus we can see that the knowledge and structuring of the foundations of classical music as we know today originated in India, even though there is no one person or path which could be attributed to it.

Read more about – Sama Veda – The Veda of Melodies.

“Roots in India”- Autobiography of India series by D.K. Hari and D.K. Hema Hari by Garuda Prakashan.