Basic Concepts of Indian Music – Rāga

A rāga uses a series of five or more musical notes upon which a pleasant melody is constructed.  Rāga is neither a scale, nor a mode. However, it is a scientific , precise, subtle, and aesthetic melody form with its own peculiar ascending (aaroh) and descending (avroh) movement which consists of five or more notes.  The Rāgas are distinguished by the

  • Pattern of ascending and descending movement of the notes
  • Omission of a jarring or dissonant note
  • Emphasis on a particular note,
  • Slide from note to another
  • Use of different microtones along with other subtleties.

In the Indian music, there is above all awareness between man and nature, each acting and reacting on the other. Hence, each Rāga is associated, according to its mood, with a particular time of the day, night or a season. Improvisation is an essential feature of Indian music, depending upon the imagination and the creativity of an artist; a great artist can communicate and instil in his listener the mood of the Rāga. Rāgas involve several important elements.

The first element is sound — metaphysical and physical, which is referred to as Nada. There are two types of nada, anahata nada or un-struck sound and ahata nada or struck sound. The next element of rāga is pitch, relegated into swara (whole and half tones), and sruti (microtones). Rāga is based on the principle of a combination of notes selected out the 22 note intervals of the octave.  Rāgas are placed in three categories:

  • Odava or pentatonic, a composition of five notes
  • Shadava or hexatonic, a composition of six notes
  • Sampoorna or heptatonic, a composition of seven notes

Every Rāga must have at least five notes, starting at Sa, one principal note, a second important note and a few helping notes. The speed of a rāga is divided into three parts: Vilambit (slow), Madhya (Medium) and Drut (fast).

Classification of Rāgas

In the Hindustani Classical Music, all the Rāgas have been divided into 10 thāts by Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande. In Carnatic Music, there are 72 parent Rāgas (melakarta). The two streams of Indian Music, the names of the rāgas overlaps yet the form of Rāgas is different. Rāgas in the Carnatic music fall into two categories, the base or melakarta rāgas and the derived or janya rāgas. The 16 swaras form the basis for the melakarta scheme. Melakarta rāgas have a formal structure and follow a fairly rigid scheme of scientific organization whereas the janya rāgas are rooted in usage and are liable to evolve with the music.

The 10 Thāt are Bilawal thāt , Khamaj thāt, Kafi thāt , Asavari thāt , Bhairvi thāt, Bhairav thāt , Kalyan thāt, Marwa thāt , Purvi Thāt  and Todi Thāt.

The time theory of Rāgas

The Time Theory of the Indian music says that each rāga has its own stipulated time of singing it or playing it on an instrument. Some ancient texts such as Sangita-Makaranda have given warnings to musicians against playing ragas at the incorrect time. In this theory, all the Ragas have been divided into 2 parts of 24 hours of a day viz Poorvi and Uttar. If a Raga is Poorvi, it is sung before noon and if a Raga is Uttar, it is sung after noon. Thus__:

  • Poorvi: Raga is sung from Midnight to Noon
  • Uttar: Raga is sung from Noon to Midnight

The beauty of the rāga is not distorted by singing them at different times than stipulated. Yet, Raga is fully expressed when it is sung in its own time only. Apart from the above broad classification, there is a timetable of most ragas to be sung at particular time. However, there are many Ragas which can be sung any time. The most popular Ragas and there time has been given below: (Don’t memorize)

  • Morning Ragas: Ahir Bhairav, Todi
  • Afternoon Ragas: Brindavani Sarang, Shuddha Sarang
  • Later Afternoon: Bhimpalasi
  • Evening: Yaman, Puriya, Shuddha Kalyan
  • Night: Bageshwari, Chandrakauns
  • Midnight: Malkauns, Darbari
  • Dawn: Lalit, Bibhas, Bhatiyar
Season based Ragas

There are some Ragas which best expressed when sung in the stipulated seasons. In other way, when they are sung by a versatile artist, they can create ambience of particular season. For example:  Spring: Rāga Basant  and Rainy Season: Rāga Megh, Rāga Malhar, Rāga Miyan Malhar.

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