• Sa (Shadja) •


The ‘foundational swara’ of the Hindustani raga system – a ‘home tone’ to which the tanpura drone and ‘Na‘ tabla tone are both tuned. While somewhat encompassing the Western idea of ‘root’, the concept of Sa extends far beyond this (e.g. traditional scholarship associates it with the sound of the peacock: India’s national bird). The swara’s full name derives from the Sanskrit ‘shad’ (‘six’) – with Shadja meaning ‘of the six organs of the body’, or ‘giving birth to six offspring’ (=Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, & Ni: the ‘sapta swara‘). Sa is also the only swara present in every raga (although some, such as Marwa, may omit their own Sa for long stretches). In some instances, the ‘scale-tone Sa’ of the melodic lead instrument may be set to a subtly different frequency to the ‘drone Sa’ of the tanpura (particularly in Dhrupad: see non-zero Sa).

Sa | Re | Ga | Ma | Pa | Dha | Ni

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• Sa Categories •
Sa: imperfect
Sa: detached
Mirror: S–M (‘palindromic’)

Quirks: present by definition in all ragas (as well as all tanpura tunings, and the tabla’s ‘Na‘ stroke) • ‘achal‘ (immovable): although can still take different sruti (see ‘non-zero Sa‘)



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Hindustani Raga Index

An open-ended project seeking to bring North Indian raga closer to all who approach with open ears. Combines direct input from dozens of leading Hindustani artists with in-depth insights from music history, global theory, performance practice, cognitive science, and much more! [out 2023-24]

Megalist (365+ ragas)
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Tags: Classifying the ragascape •
Glossary: Raga jargon demystified
Murchanas: Swara-set rotations •
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Ragatable: Analytical connections •
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Sa | Re | Ga | Ma | Pa | Dha | Ni
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George Howlett is a London-based musician, writer, and teacher (guitars, sitar, tabla, & santoor). Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the voices, cultures, and passions behind them. See Homepage for more, and hit me up for Lessons!

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