Chapter 2 – Types of Sur

Az Kuja Mi Aayadi Avaz-e-Dost?
From Where Comes to Me the Voice of the Beloved?

As always, before we dabble into Types of Sur, we now continue our discussion from where we left off in Chapter 1. To re-iterate, in Chapter 1 we covered:

Intro: It explained why I wrote this guide in the first place. And what I hope for you to accomplish.

Sur Sargam: Which explained a bit about Sur, Arohi, Amrohi, and Sargam. These concepts create a basic structure of any HCM composition along with some other things that we have not yet touched on.

Sur Type: In this, I tried to explain just a bit about the 4 various types of Sur and what they are called as well as the meaning of their names. We’ll discuss this topic in further detail below.

Saptak: This portion explained why we see the same keys repeated on a harmonium and keyboard and what each of these octaves is named and why.

Sur Names: I simply gave you a bit more details on the proper names of each Sur. Which is important in learning theory, but I personally find it not so useful in practical application.

Types of Sur:

We are now going to take on the subject of Sur Types in a bit more detail because the sprinkle of its details given before is not nearly enough to make sense….yet.

As said before, there are 4 types of Sur: Komal, Tayvar, Atal, and Shudh. Let’s try to understand these for a second. You see out of the 7 Sur, 5 have partners, and 2 do not. Yes…some Sur found other Sur to get married like in the real world. And some just stay lonely forever Sad Emoji.

In HCM, Sa does NOT have a partner and neither does Pa. Think of them as two bachelor Sur. We call these Atal Sur. And these two SurSa and the Pa, are the only two Atal Sur out of the 7, none other. They don’t have a husband or a wife to tend to. So they can have their way in their house. Their decisions are Atal, or final.

This leaves us with: Re, Ga, Ma, Dha, and Ni

Consider all these Sur to be like married couples. As conservative married couples go, there is a husband and a wife. A feminine partner who is graceful, elegant, and shy. She is known to be timid in a classical sense, but her presence creates an alluring feeling within the room. She brings out the very fragile emotions within those who come in contact with her. We call these, the Komal Sur.

Whereas the masculine partner Sur are bold, commanding, and confident. These Sur create very obvious boundaries where guests are invited and not invited. You can tell the mood of these guys for sure, without much interpretation. They do not entertain the guests with minute things. But will bring out simple yet very polite points of conversation with those in contact with them. When love is on their mind….they’ll be bold and let everyone know what’s on their mind. We call these Tayvar Sur.

This would mean that all 5 of these couples have a Komal and a Tayvar Sur.
So there is a Komal re and a Tayvar Re.
A Komal ga and a Tayvar Ga.
A Komal ma and a Tayvar Ma.
A Komal dha and a Tayvar Dha.
And a Komal ni and a Tayvar Ni.

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What? Too much info? No worries! Look at it this way…there are 2 Atal Sur, plus 5 of these Komal and Tayvar Sur couples. In all, how many Sur do these make? 12 Sur, sure, that’s right! Now, let’s look at our old keyboard picture of Saptak from chapter 1 to understand.

For now, just focus on Doosri Saptak, and start counting the white and black keys. Did you get a total of 12 keys? That should be 7 white keys and 5 black keys. Note: Don’t assume all black keys are Komal or all white…we aren’t there yet. And that assumption will be wrong.

So let’s review what we’ve learned so far…Sa and Pa are Atal Sur. All the rest have a Komal and Tayvar. Now that wasn’t so complicated, right?

Let’s use some more images and graphics to understand this concept better. Take a look at the Atal Sur first. Notice there are only two Atal Sur, Sa and Pa. Keep in mind how I’m showing these as single letters now. It’s just easier to write it this way.

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Now take a look at Komal Sur only. Aahhh, now you see the black keys finally coming into play. Also notice that I show them as lowercase and not upper. When you see lowercase Sur on this website, know that it is meant to show only Komal Sur. Did you see how not all black keys are Komal?

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Thirdly, take a look at Tayvar Sur. Notice again, these are NOT lowercase Sur, unlike the Komal Sur. Uppercase is Tayvar and Atal Sur. You really don’t have to think much about Atal Sur, because they’re single. And so there is no room for confusion, whether it’s uppercase or lowercase. Really, any case will work for Atal Sur. I, however, try to keep Atal and Tayvar both uppercase. And yes, there is a black key that is also listed as a Tayvar, deal with it.

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Shudh Sur: Do you remember the 4th type of Sur? The 4th type is called Shudh Sur. Consider the white keys for now to be Shudh. The Shudh Sur contains both Atal Sur S and P, as well as Tayvar R G D N, and Komal m. It may be strange for you to grasp this, but just remember it as all-white keys on the keyboard for now.

Note: I say “for now”, because we are keeping our Sa grounded on the C key. For me, this is how I learned. My vocal register dwindles anywhere from B to C#. Later, you can change your Sa to suit whatever key your vocal register is naturally coordinated with.

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Keep in mind that the white Sur that you see below consists of Atal, Komal, and Tayvar Sur. And white Sur on the right of G, is Komal ma. Also, keep in mind that Komal ma is also Shudh ma and it’s more common for most people to call it Shudh ma. Since we are basing our Sa to be the first white key, in English it’s called the C…The white Sur, Shudh Sur may be considered, the easiest way for us to go from one Saptak to the next. All white keys are easy to remember. This means that Komal Re, Komal Ga, Tayvar Ma, Komal Dha, and Komal Ni are the 5 Sur that are NOT part of the Shudh family. All else are part of the Shudh Sur set. Think of the Shudh Sur family as 4 brothers Re, Ga, Dha, Ni and a sister ma. The brothers married into the Komal Sur family, and sister ma married a Tayvar. Atal Sur, the two brothers are still looking and may never find love.

I personally, don’t ever talk about Shudh Sur because either I didn’t grow up learning much about them, or it’s to me an extra set of information to carry in my brain that doesn’t make me any better of a musician. I’m a simple guy and have learned to internally think of these Sur on basis of simply Komal and Tayvar, no other categories need to be used. But I’m explaining it here because you should know these terms. At times, you might have to collaborate with others and therefore you should be well-versed in these terms.

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Let’s now take a look at all Sur and list them out:

  1. S = Atal Sa (Doosri Saptak)
  2. r = Komal re
  3. R = Tayvar Re
  4. g = Komal ga
  5. G = Tayvar Ga
  6. m = Komal ma
  7. M = Tayvar Ma
  8. P = Atal Pa
  9. d = Komal dha
  10. D = Tayvar Dha
  11. n = Komal ni
  12. N = Tayvar Ni
  13. S’ = Atal Sa (Teesri Saptak)

From here on, we will refer to all Sur as a single letter. No more writing out Dhaivat, or Pancham, or Komal Ga, Tayvar Ma. It’ll simply be S r R g G m M P d D n N and so on. Once you absorb these concepts explained above and what is explained in Chapter 1, you are graduating into Grade 1 of music.

Note: What have you learned so far? Do you understand what Atal Sur is? Do you fully understand the difference between Tayvar and Komal Sur? Remember, my intent is to make sure that you come up to a level where I can simply write a bunch of letters representing Sur on a guide, and you’d know exactly what it would sound like, what the letters represent, and so on. We’re not there yet, but we will be there soon.

See you next time, stay sharp.