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The Classical Music of North India

Rasas and Shrutis in Indian Music

The following has been taken from the book "The Story of Indian Music: Its Growth and Synthesis" by O. Gosvami. It was published by the Asia Publishing House in India in 1957

The Rasas

"Our emotions are the gastric juices which transform this world of appearance into the more intimate world of sentiment. On the other hand this outer world has its own juices having their various qualities which excite our emotional activities. This phenomenon is called Rasa in Sanskrit rhetoric, which signifies outer juices having their response in the inner juices of our emotions."

Tagore, from "What is Art"

Rasa Name Emotional Effect
Sringara Erotic
Roudra Anger
Hasya Comic
Bibhatsa Ludicrous
Vira Heroic
Karuna Pathos
Jugupsa Disgust
Vishmaya Wonder
Shanta Peace


The Shrutis

"The music masters of old did not stop with this statement of the general sentiments and value of the notes. They delved deeper and sought to establish the emotive values of all possible microtones also. For this purpose, a veena with twenty-two strings was made and each string was tuned to a Shruti to facilitate the determination of its emotional value in relation to the main note which was the natural note, produeced with ease and representing a mental state of felicity and equanimity. The result of these investigations are reflected in the names that were given to the individual shrutis and a study of these names would indicate their emotive value....

"With an analysis it should now be easier to find the emotional value of the scales:  According to an ancient Indian text, Shadaja [the 'C' note of the scale] comprises Tivra, Kumudvati and Manda shrutis and so it has been called the key to the Shanta Rasa. Rishabha [the 'D' note of the scale] contains Dayavati, Ranjani and Raktika shrutis and so has been assigned for Adbhuta Rasa. Gandhara [the 'E' note of the scale] takes Roudri, Krodhi, and Vajrika shrutis and is related to Roudra Rasa. Madhyama [the 'F' note of the scale] has Prasarini Priti and Marjani shrutis and so is associated with love. Panchama [the 'G' note of the scale] Kshiti, Rakta, Sandipani and Alapini are the keys to the sentiment of eroticism. Madanti, Rohini, Ramya and Ugra and Kshovini go to Make Dhaivata [the 'A' note of the scale] and Nishada [the 'B' note of the scale] notes respectively which have been named to express Bibhatsa and Karuna Rasas.

"The main element responsible for emotion in music is the tonal relationship of notes, which is based on the sonant-consonant relationship with the fundamental notes of the drone. The use of consonant notes makes the music brighter and livelier and enhances its pleasingness, while the use of dissonant notes tends to make music discordant and hence dull and morose.

"The closer the harmonic relationship of a note with the tonic, i.e. the drone, the greater is the degree of its consonancy; and the farther this harmonic relationship with the tonic the greater is the degree of dissonancy. With these two points in view we can classify the individual character of each note in relationship to the tonic note:

Absolute consonance Unison and Octave
Perfect consonance G and F
Medial consonance F and Fb
Imperfect dissonance D and A
Complete dissonance Db, Ab, Bb, f#


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