Vedic Period in Hindustani Sangeet

Vedic Period
Vedic Period is believed to be dated from 4500 BC to 2500 BC. Four Vedas (the scriptures of Hinduism) RigVeda, SaamVeda, YajurVeda, AtharvaVeda, were written by sages during this period. This was a monumental work in the cultural and the musical history of India. Roots of current Hindustani Music are found in Vedas.

Roughly speaking, RigVeda is the collection of Richas, the knowledge of singing these richas is found in SaamVeda. Richas sung for the Yagyas were written in YajurVeda. AtharvaVeada was mostly about community living.

Music in Rigveda
RigVeda is the oldest Veda. It is a collection of Sanskrit hymns and versus( Richas) dedicated to deities. Although they had a rhythmic pattern (Chhanda) they are written in prose.
These Richas when given a Chhand (musical pattern), they were called Stotras. Stotras were classified as :
1. Shastra : They were used in Puronuvakya Yagya.
2. Stotra or Stoam : These were three line songs like today's bandish.

The words that defined music in Rigveda :
Gatha : means traditional song
Gayatra : a word for song
Saam : means music which developed as a separate Veda in SaamVeda. The knowledge of singing these richas in RigVeda became the root of Hindustani Sangeet.

Musical instruments mentioned in RigVeda :
Dundubhi, Vaan, Venu, Karkari

The names of Rishis such as Vasishthha, Bharadwaj, and Angiras are mentioned in RigVeda as the poets of some of the Richas

Music in YajurVeda
YajurVeda waa all about different Yagyas and its rule. Although Yagya was always performed with SaamGayan, there wasn't much mention of music in YajurVeda. Rather it mentions of the Saam that was to be sung for a particular Yagya. Some of the Yagyas mentioned in YajurVeda are Rajsooya, Ashvmegh, Vajpeya. These were all accompanied with SaamGayan.
The word Veena was mentioned in YajurVeda for the first time. The other instruments that were mentioned were : ShatTantra, Pichhola, KarkTika
Music in AtharvaVeda
AtharvaVeda talks about the safety and well-being of the community. It also speaks very highly of SaamVeda. It has the description of SaamGayan and also of the music and dance sungor performed at social events and processions. The musical instruments mentioned were : Aaghaat, Karkari, Dundubhi

Music in SaamVeda
Saam is the essence of Vedas. Saam means singing a Swara. It always began with Omm, making the swara or the music a way of praying to the Gods. The deities and the Gods could only be invited and worshiped through singing Saam. A Richa had no meaning unless it was sung in Swara. It is also known as GaanSanhita or GaanGrantha.

When the hymns written in RigVeda were sung to invite the deities at holy Yagya, they were called Saam. Later these sing-able hymns were put together in Saam Sanhita. The knowledge of singing of theses hymns from RigVeda is SaamVeda. SaamVeda is considered to be the most precious Veda of all Vedas.
RigVeda was sung in three notes, Udaatta, Anudaatta, Swarit. Udaata means high note, Anudaatta is the low note and Swarit is in-between note. By SaamVeda period all seven notes were developed.
Roots of contemporary Hindustani Sangeet are traced back to Vedic period, especially to SaamVeda.
  1. Saptak in SaamVeda
According to Naardiya Shiksha the Swara Saptak in SaamVeda was in descending order (Avrohi). The first note was called Krishta and it was Madhyam note based.
First : Ma
Second : Ga
Third : Re
Fourth : Sa
Fifth : Dha
Sixth : Ni
Seventh : Pa
Re  and Dha in Naardiya Shiksha are Shudh notes and Ga and Ni are flat notes. Some scriptures suggest that the sequence Ma Ga Re Sa Ni Dha Pa was also in use.
  1. SaamGayan
Usually a SaamGaan was based on three Ruchas (Mantras). They used either 5 or 6 or 7 notes. Some experts believe that this is the origin of Odav, Shadav, Sampurna types of ragas.
For each Yagya there used to be a main singer (Purohit) and supporting singers (UpGaan Purohit). The main Purohit was called Udgatha and the supporters were called Prastota, Pratiharta, and Subrmanyam. These supporters were guided by using GaatraVeena symbols.
GaatrVeena is a symbolic representation of notes on a palm of right hand. The thumb is used to point and indicate a note to be sung at SaamGaan.
There are shlokas in SaamVeda regarding the rules for this singing, sitting positions of the singers and the use of GaatraVeena while singing.
  1. SaamGaan Structure
SaamGaan always began with Omkaar.
A Rucha a Saam is based on is called Yoni. A Saam is divided into five units :
1)Prastav : This was the beginning part of a Saam. It was sung by Prastota (singer). It began with 'Huum' which was a type of a 'Hinkaar'.
2)Udgeeth : It was the main portion of a Saam. It always began with Omm. This was the most important part of a Saam and was always sung by the main singer called Udgatha.
3)Pratihaar : This was the connecting part which was sung by Pratiharta (singer).
4)Updrav : This was part of Pratihaar which was again sung by the main singer.
5)Nidhan : This part connected a Saam to the next one through an Omm sound.

This structure was given a notation to sing in.
They were called PanchPadi. Some experts (Dhundiraaj Shastri Bapat) believe that is the origin of Nom-Thom, Sthaayi, Antara, Sanchari, and Abhog which came later in Hindustani Sangeet.
  1. Variations and its rules in SaamGayan
As one Bandish can be sung in many different ways, similarly, same Rucha could be sung with many different variations. The name of a Saam was given according to the sage who created the melody line for it. Sometimes the name was also given by the content in the Rucha.
There were eight types of variations that were allowed in singing a Saam. They were based on extending a note, adding Meend, repeating a part of shloka, combining or adding a letter to shloka etc. The rules to compose a Saam as well the rules to avoid certain things while singing them are mentioned in Laatyaayan Sutra. It’s mention is found in Paaniniya Shiksha as well as in Naardiya Shiksha.
  1. Musial Notation in SaamVeda
In RigVeda there are three notes that were mentioned. They are Udatta (high pitched), Anudatta (lower pitched) and Swarit (in between pitched). These notes were represented by numbers in SaamVeda. They were :  Udatta was 1, Anudatta was 3, and Swarit was 2. These numbers were written bellow the shloka to represent the corresponding swara.
Later all seven numbers were used to write a shloka notation. Usually, the first letter had a number (between 1 to 5) written on its head. That’s the beginning note for that Saam. That note was considered to be the Sa for that Saam. The rest of the shloka was sung based on that Sa.
  1. Other musical instruments and dance in SaamVeda
SaamGaan was accompanied by musicians and also by dancers in some occasions. The mention of Nrut (physical movement) and Nritya (dance with expressions) is found in Vedic Period. Veena was the most developed and practiced musical instrument in Vedic Period. Daivi Veena and Manushi veena have been mentioned in Aitareya Aranyaka. The mention of Scale Change or Murchhana named Uttarmandra is also found in Vedic Period.
There used to be an instrument named Vaan which is believed to have had 100 strings. The specifications of these strings are mentioned in Sutra literature.
The other instruments mentioned in SaamVeda are as follows :
Percussion : Dundubhi, Bhu-Dundubhi, Aadambar, AAghadi
String : KaandVeena, KarkariVeena
Wind : Tunav, Bakur


Music thrived in Vedic period. SaamGaayan is believed to have had a thousand different branches. Three of them are believed to be still in practice. They are Rananiya, Yaiminiya, Kouthumi. The roots of contemporary Hindustani Music are found in Vedic Period. Although the  main purpose of SaamGayan was to accompany Yagya with SaamGaan, it became the origin of Hindustani Sangeet and all the cultural lineage that came with it.


Sources :
‘Bhartiya Sangeet Ka Itihaas’ by Dr. Sharadchandra Paranjape

‘Mitrang’ by Dr. Deviprasad Kharawandikar

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