Suman Bhattacharya

Sitarist from Imdadkhani Gharana


Concept of Raga in Indian Classical Music

Posted by suman-bhattacharya on February 11, 2012 at 4:45 AM

Raga is a noun derived from the Sanskrit root ranj, meaning to colour, to delight.

Raga implies the emotional content of a song which delights the listener. King Nanyadeva of Mithila (1097-1147)wrote that the variety of ragas is infinite, and their individual features are hard to put into words. He described Raga as:

"Just as the sweetness of sugar,treacle and candy cannot be separately described, but must be experienced foroneself."

His predecessor Matanga played a crucialrole in the history of ragas. He is quoted by virtually all later scholars as the foremost authority on raga. Brihaddeshi, a Classical Sanskrit text on Indian classical music (dated ca. 6th to 8th century) attributed to Matanga Muni is the first text that speaks directly of the raga. It has the best definition of raga:

”In the opinion of the wise, that particularity of notes and melodic movements, or that distinction of melodic sound by which one is delighted, is raga.”

In other words, ragas have a particular scale and specific melodic movements; their 'sound' should bring delight and be pleasing to the ear.

A raga can be regarded as a tonal framework for composition and improvisation. It is far more precise and much richer than a scale or mode. A raga usually includes a large number of traditional songs, composed by great musicians of the past. But ragas also allow today's musician to compose new songs, and to generate a variety of melodic sequences.

Structure of Raga

Indian Classical Music has two related, but distinct, traditions: Hindustani and Carnatic.

The basic scale of Hindustani music, like Western scale, has 12 notes.

Sa Re' Re Ga' Ga Ma Ma' Pa Dha' DhaNi' Ni

Raga is a subset of these notes together with a set of rules to combine these notes effectively and create a particular mood. It must have atleast 5 of these 12 notes.

They must contain the tonic (Sa) and at least either the fourth (Ma) or fifth (Pa). A raga is described by its ascent-descent pattern (Aroha-Avaroha) from middle Sa to high Sa.

In many ragas, number of notes in ascent and descent are not identical.

A note that is frequently used or that is held for a long duration is usually referred to as the Vadi or sonant. Strong note at a perfect fourth or fifth from the vadi which is called the samvadi('consonant'). There may be disagreement about which note-pair should be sonant-consonant in a given raga. So we use terms such as 'important', 'strong' and 'weak' to denote musical functions of tones.

Each Raga has a name. It also has a character and Rasa which can be devotional, erotic, bold and valourous, tragic, etc. A raga typically is associated with a time of day when it is best performed, usually spaced at a 3 hour interval. However the beauty of the raga is not affected by the time of the day it is sung. Some Ragas are related to seasons e.g. Raga Malhar.

Some can be traced back to ancient or medieval times, others originated only a few centuries or even a few decades ago. Ragas have originated across various places and have marked resemblance/ influence of musical tunes/ melody of other countries or culture.  Howewer, all ragas have undergone transformations over the centuries. Many of them have fallen into disuse.

Ragas have often been illustrated through paintings over centuries, famous being the Rajasthani paintings.The paintings have inscriptions, for example

”Out of the lake, in a shrine of crystal, she worships Shiva with songs punctuated by the beat. This fair one,this bright one is Bhairavi.”


Classificationof Ragas

Ragas can be classified using different criterias. For example, on basis of the number of notes used.

Ragas that contain all 7 notes are Sampurna,

Ragas that contain 6 notes are Shadav,

Ragas that contain 5 are Audav.

All ragas are divided into two groups as Poorva Ragas and Uttar Ragas.

Poorva Ragas are sung between noon and midnight,

Uttar Ragas between midnight and noon.

Another division of ragas is the classification of ragas under the principal ragas:

The rāga-rāgini scheme is a classification scheme used from the 14th century to the19th century. It usually consists of 6 'male rāgas each with 'wives' (rāginis) and a number of sons (putras) and even 'daughters-in-law'. As it did not agree with various other schemes, and the 'related' rāgas had very little or no similarity, the rāga-rāgini scheme is no longer very popular.

These are listed is as follows

(1) Parent Raga: Bhairav raga

Wives: Bhairavi, Bilawali, Punyaki, Bangli, Aslekhi. Sons: Pancham, Harakh, Disakh, Bangal,Madhu, Madhava, Lalit, Bilaval.

(2) Parent Raga: Malkaus raga

Wives: Gaundkari, Devagandhari, Gandhari, Seehute, Dhanasri. Sons: Maru, Mustang, Mewara, Parbal,Chand, Khokhat, Bhora, Nad.

(3) Parent Raga: Hindol raga

Wives: Telangi, Devkari, Basanti, Sindhoori, Aheeri. Sons: Surmanand, Bhasker,Chandra-Bimb, Mangalan, Ban, Binoda, Basant, Kamoda.

(4) Parent Raga: Deepak raga

Wives: Kachheli, Patmanjari, Todi, Kamodi, Gujri. Sons: Kaalanka, Kuntal, Rama, Kamal,Kusum, Champak, Gaura, Kanra [36].

(5) Parent Raga: Shree raga

Wives: Bairavi, Karnati, Gauri, Asavari, Sindhavi. Sons: Salu, Sarag, Sagra, Gaund,Gambhir, Gund, Kumbh, Hamir.

(6) Parent Raga: Megh raga

Wives: Sorath, Gaundi-Malari, Asa, Gunguni, Sooho. Sons: Biradhar, Gajdhar, Kedara,Jablidhar, Nat, Jaldhara, Sankar, Syama.


Thaat System of Classification

An important way of Raga classificationis the Thaat system. A certain arrangement of the seven notes with the change of shuddha, komal and teevra is called a Thaat. Every raga has a fixed number of komal or teevra notes, from which the thaat can be recognised. There are several opinions in this matter. According to Pandit V.N. Bhatkhande, the 10 thaat's used to classify ragas are

1 Bilaval : All shuddh or naturalnotes.

2 Khamaj : With ni note as komal.

3 Kafi : With ga, ni as komal.

4 Asavari : With ga, dha, ni askomal.

5 Bhairavi : With re, ga, dha, ni askomal.

6 Bhairav : With re, dha as komal.

7 Poorvi : With re, dha as komal andma as teevra.

8 Todi : With re, ga, dha as komaland ma as teevra.

9 Marwa : With re as komal and ma asteevra.

10 Kalyan : With ma as teevra only.


Raga & Spirituality

God is one. He is realized by guru’s grace. There is one tune (God). The whole world sings His praise in classical Tunes - The ugly the beautiful and the devotees of God; all are the children of the same flower The God. God pervades in everyone.


The first major tune is Bhairav - Devotee’s tune.

The second major tune is Malkaus - Acquired knowledge

The third major tune is Hindol - joy

The fourth major tune is Deepak - enlightenment

The fifth major tune is Shree - honour God

The sixth major tune is Megh - tune of guru's grace

The salty land, jungles, the religious shrines, the land of warriors the magiciansand the land of rivers; everywhere the devotees and the prophets sing God’s praises.


- Compiled from various sources

Categories: Music, Spirituality

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