There is a fascinating mythological tale about the origin of the swaras, as follows:
It is believed that Lord Shiva once addressed a celestial congregation, for the welfare of mankind. While the subject of His address became the Vedas, the differences in His tonal quality became the seven swaras. Shiva is known to have five faces or the ‘panchavaktra’, which are, Satyojata, Vamaka, Tathpurusha, Isana and Aghora. He first addressed the audience at the centre, and then the immediate left and right. The centre tone became the basic note or the shadja (sa), while the ones on the immediate left and right became the ‘ni’ of the lower octave and ‘ri’ respectively. Shiva then addressed the audience to the far left and right. Here, two notes emanated out of each face, to reach to the farthest sides. So there emanated the notes ‘dha’ and ‘pa’ of the lower octave on the left side and ‘ga’ and ‘ma’ on the right. This totalled to seven swaras, Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni.
Mother Nature’s contribution to the Indian swara system!
One interesting fact that the origin of swaras gives us is that they were derived from Mother Nature Herself! The tonal quality of each note is associated with the call of a specific animal or bird, as listed below:
NAME OF SWARA NOTATION WRITTEN SOURCE
Shadja S Cry of the peacock
Rishabha R Bellowing of the bull
Gaandhaara G Bleating of a goat
Madhyama M Call of the heron
Panchama P Call of the cuckoo
Dhaivata D Neighing of the horse
Nishaada N Trumpeting of the elephant