6- Role of Sargam in the Gayaki

Dr. Ibrahim Ali


The word sargam is derived from first four notes [swaras], sa, re, ga, ma, of the seven notes of saptak. To sing swaras by pronouncing their brief names is called sargam. Sargam occupies a traditional role in training of music, because for the knowledge of swaras and the form of raga, paltas [vocal exercise of scale notes] were taught in the form of sargam. ‘Sargam or swara malika, brief and poetry less music compositions, are still used in teaching of music. But, this is the teaching side of sargam, which has nothing to do with actual vocal performance.


The sargam got entry in khayal as a part of gayaki in 20th century. The credit for this is given to Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. Thereafter it grew sufficiently in the middle laya khayal gayaki of Bhindi Bazaar Walas. On other hand, Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan of Patiala Gharana, adopted it as a form of tan. Then, in the style of Ustad Amir Khan, various usage of sargam were included, from ati vilambit to drut ang.


Khan Saheb gave sufficient importance to sargam in his gayaki. The main reasons for this are worth consideration.


Sargam is very convenient in the creation of different permutations of swaras based on merukhand. In such a place, if the words are applied, their pronunciation is likely to become senseless or opposite to sense. On the other hand, the akar also does not seem to be natural and attractive. The abbreviated name of every swara consists of one letter only and if they are put in any order, there is no problem of any damage to lyric. In bol bat, expressing spontaneous rhythmic variations, the words become instrument to indicate laya khand [partitions in rhythm] and aghat [stress]; there is no significance of their meaning and sense. Such misuse of words was not acceptable to Khan Saheb. That is why he kept the lyric apart from the part of swara permutations combining with rhythmic variations.


Sargam has a method of its own, according to which the swara pronounced should not differ from its basic form [pitch]. So it is expected that both the actions should occur simultaneously and the swaras should be applied in flat manner. In order to make the sargam competent to express the raga sentiment, Amir Khan Saheb relaxed this rule to some extent and increased the possibility of applying meed, gamak, kan and khatka there in.


Relaxing the strict rule of equality between the swara name and swara pitch, the application of meed, kan and khatka in sargam, their mutual encroachment to some extent has to be accepted. Dr. Prabha Atre, who did her doctorate on subject Sargam in the Khayal Gayaki, has described three possibilities of application of meed in sargam in her book: -

1. Joining two swaras with meed, reaching to the pitch of the second swara, after pronouncing the second swara’s name at the first pitch. For example: -

Swara pitch -               g                   n

Swara name -              ga | ni [i] ---->

2. Extending the first swara name, reaching to second swara pitch, and then pronouncing the second swara name: -

Swara pitch                  g                    n

Swara name                 ga [a] ------> ni

3. Changing swara name between the two swara pitch: -

Swara pitch                  g                         n

Swara name                 ga[a]----> ni[i]----->


Ustad Amir Khan did not apply the second of the above three types of meed in sargam in the ascending order [arohi varna]. Except this, all the possibilities of meed in sargam, in ascending or descending order, have been used by Khan Saheb.


Amir Khan Saheb has applied kan in sargam sufficiently, but the Swara name of only main swaras has been pronounced and not of kan swaras.


While applying gamak in sargam, a peculiar thing in the singing of Khan Saheb is seen that at the time of showing repetition [dana] of the same swara with gamak  two or three times, he does not repeat the swara name of that swara two or three times. There, only by the strokes of gamak, it can be realized that how much the swara has been repeated. It can be understood by following example of sargam with swara name: -

Swara pitch-                            d  d d m  m m g g m  m m

Pronounced swara name-         dha - -  ma - -  ga -   ma - -


Various applications of sargam by Khan Saheb can be classified mainly in three categories: -

a) During improvisation of raga by alap, application of sargam in the way of alap that can be called swaralap.

b) As an alternative to the application of layakaries by bolbat – in traditionally accepted form of khayal gayaki, bolbat with layakari finds place as a link between tranquil alap and drut [fast] tans. As he did not accept upaj [secondary phrase derived from basic swara structure of a raga] with layakari by words, Khan Saheb changed this link of the middle and gave this place to sargam with laya. The Pace of sargam falling in this part increases gradually. Thus a background for tans is prepared after alap.

c) To express tans in the form of sargam – that is called tan of sargam. There is a difference between tan of sargam and tan of akar or boltan; as it helps in creating strange swara combinations of distant swaras. In this part, beauty and delicacy of pronunciation of Khan Saheb’s musical expression can specially be seen particularly.


In today’s prevalent khayal gayaki, some other applications of sargam can be considered applicable. These applications are not available in the gayaki of Ustad Amir Khan. Main such applications are: -

1) To reach on sam by tihayees [the technique of three tier method] in sargam (to be observed: Pt. Jasraj, Salamat Ali/Nazakat Ali Khan’s gayaki).

2) Application of jhala part of Sitar [to be observed: gayaki of Pt. Jasraj].

3) Peculiarity by change of the keynote [to be observed: gayaki of Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan].


Among available audio recordings of Khan Saheb, LP of raga chandramadhu is the only exception, where, making the pancham [swara] the keynote by murchhana method, Khan Saheb presented some  swara phrases of sargam. In this way he created reflection of raga chandra kauns.


Some of the main qualities of sargam presentation of Ustad Amir Khan can be understood by the following points: -

1) Application of swara phrases beyond imagination, inspired by khandmeru regarding khandmeru, a detailed description along with examples of swara notations, will be given independently.

2) Application of swara phrases, showing combination of distant swaras and different octaves, has been mostly accomplished in sargam.

3) Many a time, in drut khayal, Khan Saheb comes to refrain and sam by slowing down speed of the last portion of sargam tan. The method of slowing down the speed of tan and adjusting it with bandish, is called ‘neem-bat’. It is helpful in keeping tan of sargam expressive.

4) He starts many descending tans of sargam, directly by any swara of treble octave, which ends around madhya shadja. In the bandish of raga yaman kalyan, available with Akashwani Indore [Aiso Sughar Sundarva Balamva], following descending tan can be observed: -

M G R S n d p m g r s n d.

5) Under all the parts of gayaki based on extempore improvisation of raga [upaj], opportunity has been given to layakari, only in sargam, to play its effect.


After unfolding of a raga being completed by the improvisation of alap, or after antara, Ustad Amir Khan applied sargam on the basis of laya, without taking bolbat or layabat. It is worth mentioning that on the one hand giving alap the form of bol alap, he kept it joined with the words of the bandish; on the other hand he did not use words as a link of layakari, falling between alap and tan. Instead, he gave this role to sargam. Onwards, gamak is mixed with this sargam. By speeding up, sargam assumes the form of tan.