Sargam geet, suravartana, suravarta or swarmaalikaa are different names for the same musical form belonging to the Hindustani vocal music tradition. As the names suggest, the form focuses on sargam or solfège. Set to specific raags or taals, compositions adhering to this form delineate the features of the raag, thus making the singer aware of the characteristic chalan or movement of melodic phrases and notes in that raag. Given this quality, such compositions work as excellent tools for teaching the grammar of raags to children and beginners, without making it a dry and prosaic process. In other words, not only is the end result a musical one, the transmission process is equally musical. At times, such compositions have only sargam combinations, but there are also those that include song-text.
This form seems to have existed in traditional repertoire that was handed down orally through successive generations of hereditary musicians. It also continues to be an integral component in the syllabi followed by educational institutions imparting Hindustani music training.
Here is a link to a popular sargam geet set to a cycle of four matras or time-units that could be considered a variety of the eight-matra Kaherva.
Interestingly, while sargam geet formed a part of traditional musical training, it did not find a place in the concert repertoire of professionals. In fact, the very use of sargam, even for melodic elaboration, was looked down upon by some gharanas of vocal music, as it was considered a teaching device and a tool for riyaaz or practice. There is, of course, the other extreme where vocalists have used sargam throughout their performance, irrespective of whether they are presenting khayal, thumri, ghazal or any other form. These vocalists see the use of sargam as yet another important element that allows them to explore the melodic contours of the raag beyond the restrictions they feel are placed by the song-text.
But returning to our discussion on the sargam geet form, it is evident that it has found favour as part of the concert repertoire of music school students. There is evidence from the late 19th century to this effect. For instance, the Parsi Gayan Uttejak Mandali, one of colonial Bombay’s first formal music clubs established in 1870, frequently featured sargam geet in their periodic concerts. This pattern continues even today.
The concluding track is a sargam geet composed in the raag Bhupali and set to the 16-matra Teentaal.