September 24, 2021

Basic Ragas

History of Indian music, lost in ancient pas, is so interwoven with mythology and legends, that it is surrounded by misconceptions and mystery. In spite of this, Indian music has maintained it’s characteristics in it’s highly developed melodic and rhythmic structure.

Concepts

2.1 Naada, shruti, swara [Musical sound or tone, microtone, note]

  Naada is a musical sound. It is a series of regular vibrations in a medium like air (as opposed to irregular vibrations, which would be heard as noise).  The frequency of a vibration decides the pitch of the sound it represents (how high or low the sound feels to the ear).  The frequency is reported in a unit called Hertz (Hz).  The frequency range of a sound the human ear can hear is 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz.
Now, as an example, take a sound (or tone) having a frequency of 100 Hz.  Another sound, having twice the frequency, that is, 200 Hz, will sound the same.  But it will sound ‘higher’.  The frequency ratio 200:100, which is 2:1, represents what is called an octave.  The number of sounds that the human ear can hear, in an octave, is infinite.  But the number of sounds that it can differentiate is 22. They are called shruti-s (microtones).  Shruti has been variously translated as: microtone. So, to continue with our example, there exist 22 shruti-s, starting with the first shruti on the starting point of 100 Hertz.  Taking the sound represented by 100 Hz as the point of reference, we get 22 ratios.  This sound of reference is called tonic, key, or “Sa”, etc.  In Indian musical terminology, it is known as shadja, “Sa” for short.  It is represented by the symbol S.  Out of the 22 shruti-s, 7 are selected to form a musical scale. These 7 sounds, or tones, are called swara-s (or notes). The tonic, in our example, would fall on the sound represented by 100 Hz.  This would be our “Sa (S)”.  The Sa would be followed by 6 more notes, 7 in all.  The 8th note, the sound represented by 200 Hz, would also sound like the tonic, but it would sound “higher”. The seven notes are named as follows:

  shadj, “Sa” for short, symbol S; rishabh, “Re”, R; gandhar, “Ga”, G; madhyam, “Ma”, m; pancham, “Pa”, P; dhaivat, “Dha”, D; and the 7th, nishad, “Ni”, N.
  For convenience, let us call the Western musical note, C, as our tonic, the “Sa”.  Then the seven notes would be: C, the “Sa”; D, “Re”; E, “Ga”; F, “Ma”; G, “Pa”; A, “Dha”; and the 7th, B, “Ni”.The first and the fifth notes, namely C (Sa) and G (Pa), are regarded immutable  (“achal”).  The remaining 5 notes have two states each.  Thus we have 12 notes in an octave.  The 12 notes are designated short names and symbols as under:

S, r, R, g, G, m, M, P, d, D, n, N, S’
C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C, C#

Nos.Name of NotesIndian SymbolWestern Symbol
1Sa  shuddh (natural)SC#
2Re komal (flat)rD
3Re shuddh (natural)RD#
4Ga komal (flat)gE
5Ga shuddh (natural)GF
6Ma shuddh (natural)mF#
7Ma teevr (sharp)MG
8Pa shuddh (natural)PG#
9Dha komal (flat)dA
10Dha shuddh (natural)DA#
11Ni komal (flat)nB
12Ni shuddh (natural)NC

Traditionally, the seven swars are

The octave can be divided into two equal parts:  the lower tetrachord, consisting of C-D-E-F, and the upper tetrachord, made up of G-A-B-C.  This last-mentioned C has the interval 2:1 with the first C in the lower tetrachord. The lower tetrachord is called “poorvaanga” (poorva + anga), the upper tetrachord, “uttaraanga” (uttara + anga) in Indian musicology.  Further, Full expression of Indian music requires up to 3 octaves.  They are: the “mandr saptak” (lower octave), the “madh saptak” (middle octave), and the “taar saptak” (higher octave). Note:  The notes in Western music use the tempered scale, while in Indian music the notes use the natural harmonic scale.   

Ten Thaat (Indian scales)

According to Bhatkhande one of the most influential musicologists in the field of North Indian classical music, each one of the several traditional ragas is based on ten basic thaats or musical scales. It is important to point out that Bhatkhande’s thaat-raga theory is not very accurate, but it is after all an important classificatory device with which to order and make sense of a mysterious arrangement of ragas and it is also a useful tool in the production of the music to students.

There are certain rules for these Thaats.

  1. A Thaat must have seven notes out of the twelve notes (Seven shuddh, four komal Re, Ga, Dha, Ni, and one teevar Ma) placed in an ascending order. Both forms of the notes can be used.
  2. thaats has only an Arohi (Aroha).
  3. thaats are not sung but the raagas produced from the thaats are sung.
  4. Thaats are named after the popular ragas of that thaat. For example Bhairavi is a popular gaga and the thaat of the raga Bhairavi is named after the raga.

The 10 basic thaats according to the Bhatkhande System are as follows:

  1. Bilawal :

Ascending Notes: S R G m P D N S’
Descending Notes: S” N D P m G R S

Bilawal is the most basic of all the ten thaats. All the swars in the thaat are shuddh or all swars in the natural scale. Bilawal as a raga is not rendered these days however a small variation of the raga called Alahaiya Bilawal is very common. This is a morning raga and its pictorial descriptions create a rich, sensuous ambience in consonance with its performance.

Ragas in Bilawal Thaat : Deskar, Haunsdhwani, Variations of Bilawal.

Songs of Thaat Bilawal:

  1. Ik pyar ka nagma hai, Taal Kehrva,
  2. Ae dil kiski ki yaad mein, Taal Kehrva,
  3. Choo ker mere man ko, Taal: Kehrava,
  4. Tum naa jane kis jehan mein, Taal: Dadra,
  5. Bachpan ki mohabat ko, Taal: Kehrava,
  6. Mushkil hai bahut mushkil, Taal Kehrava,
  7. Tujhe jeevan ki dor se, Taal: Dadra,,
  8. Lag ja gale ke phir ye hansi raat, Taal: Dadra,
  9. Baharon mera jeevan bhi, Dadra,
  10. Suhani raat dhal chuki, Taal: Kehrava,
  11. Jab koi pyaar se bulaye gaa, Kehrava,
  12. Dil dharke mein tum se ye kese kahon, Taal Kehrava,
  13. Tum ko dekha to yeh khyaal – Ghazal, Taal Kehrva,

2. Khamaj :

Ascending Notes: S R G m P D n S’
Descending Notes: S’ n D P m G R S

The next thaat is Khamaj which can be obtained by replacing the Shuddh Nishad of Bilawal by Komal Nishad. The ragas of this thaat are full of romantic hence this raga is mostly rendered in the form of light classical thumris, tappas, etc. Its pictorial descriptions in the existing texts are sensuous and even today, the raga Khamaj is considered to be a ‘flirtatious’ raga. There is another theory which assumes that in the past, Khamaj scale was found in old Chines music..

Ragas in Khamaj Thaat : Rageshree, Jhinjhoti, Des, Tilak Kamod, Jaijaiwanti, Khambavati etc.

Songs of Thaat Khamaj:

  1. O sajana barkha bahaar aay
  2. Kuchh to log kahenge
  3. Nazar laagi raja tore bangle pe
  4. Dheere dheere machal ai dil-e-beqraar
  5. Ab kyaa misaal doon main tere shabaab ki
  6. Shaam dhale Jamuna kinaare
  7. Main zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya

3. Kafi :

Ascending Notes: S R g m P D n S’
Descending Notes: S’ n D P m g R S

Kafi thaat makes use of the Komal Gandhar and Komal Nishad. So basically it adds Komal Gandhar to the Khamaj Thaat. Raga Kafi is one of the oldest ragas and its intervals are described as basic scale of the Natyashastra. Thus in ancient and medieval times, Kafi was considered as natural scale. Kafi is a late evening raga and said to convey the mood of spring time.

Ragas in Kafi Thaat : Dhanashree, Dhani, Bhimpalasi, Pilu, Megh Malhar, Bageshree etc.

Songs of Thaat Kafi:

  1. Ae dunya kia tujh se kehoon – Mehdi Hassan, Taal Kehrava,
  2. Daag e dil ham ko yaad ayne lage Log apne, Taal Dadra,
  3. Dil ke jhoroke mein, Taal Dadra,
  4. Dil men ho tum ankhon me tum , Bappi , Taal Kehrava,
  5. Ghame dil ko in aankhon se, Taal Kehrava,
  6. Hamari sansoo me aaj tak woh hina kis kshboo, Taal Kehrava,
  7. Ik situm aur meri jaan abhi jaan baqi hai, Taal Kehrava,
  8. Jalte hain arman mera dil roota hai, Taal Kehrava,
  9. Lat uljhi suljha ja re baalam, Taal Kehrava,
  10. Pyar bhere do sharmeele nain, Taal Kehrva,
  11. Rim jhim rim jhim pere phawar, Taal Kehrava,
  12. Sab kuch luta ke hosh me, Taal Dadra,
  13. Sawan aye sawan jaye, Taal, Kehrava,
  14. Sun wanjli di mithri taan way, Taaal Kehrava,
  15. Tere bheege badan ki kshboo se, Taal Kehrava,
  16. Tumhara pyar chahaee mujhe, Taal Kehrava,
  17. Yeh raat yea chandni, Taal Kehrava,

4. Asavari :

Ascending Notes: S R g m P d n S’
Descending Notes: S’ n d P m g R S

Add Komal Dhaivat to Kafi thaat and you get Asavari Thaat. raga Asavari is full of tyag, the mood of renunciation and sacrifice as well as pathos. It is best suited for late morning. However important evening/night ragas like Darbari and Adana also use notes of asavari thaat with different styles, stress points and ornamentations.

Ragas in Asavari Thaat : Asavari, Desi, Darbari, Adana, Jaunpuri etc.

Songs of Thaat Asavari:

  1. Aitabar nahi karna, Taal Kehrva,
  2. Anokha ladla khelene ko maange chaand, Teen Taal,
  3. Apno ne gham die to mujhe yaad, Taal Dadra,
  4. Be reham asmaa meri manzil bata, Taal Kehrva,
  5. Ham chale to hamare sang sang nizare, Taal Kehrava,
  6. Jab bhi chahen ik nai soorat, Taal Kehrva,
  7. Jadoon holi jae lenda mera naa, Taal Kehrva,
  8. Meri yaad men tum na, Taal Kehrva,
  9. Oh dunya ke rakhwale, Taal Kehrva,
  10. Sawan aya tum nehi aie, Taal Kehrva,
  11. Tere pyar ki tamna ghame zindgi ke saye, Taal Kehrava,
  12. Tu jo nehi hai to kuch bhi nehi hai, Taal Kehrva,
  13. Tu pyar ka sagar hai, Taal Kehrva,
  14. Tum zid to ker rehe ho, Taal Dadra,
  15. Tumhara Chahne wala khuda ki dunya mein, Taal Dadra,
  16. We lageeyn di laj rakh ley kadhi bhul na jaween, Taal Kehrva,
  17. Yeh ejaaz hai husan e awargi ka, Taal Dadra,
  18. Yoon kho gayee tere pyar me hum, Taal Kehrva,

5. Bhairavi :

Ascending Notes: S r g m P d n S’
Descending Notes: S’ n d P m g r S

Bhairavi makes use of all the komal swars, Rishabh, Gandhar, Dhaivat, Nishad. When singing compositions in Bhairavi raga, the singers however take liberty to use all the 12 swars. Bhairavi raga is names after the shakti or feminine aspect of the cosmic life force, which is personified as a consort to Lord Shiva. Bhairavi is a powerful raga filled with devotion and compassion. Bhairavi is actually performed early in the morning in a peaceful, serious and occasionally sad mood. Traditionally it is rendered as the last item of a program, for its unique fullness of sentiments as well as its wide scope of the tonal combinations. Pictorially, Bhairavi is represented in female form, as the wife of Bhairav.

Ragas in Bhairavi Thaat : Malkauns, Bilaskhani Todi, Bhupali Todi, Kaunsi Kanada etc.

Songs of Thaat Bhairavi:

  1. Aap ki nazron ne samjha -Taal Muglai, Film: Unpard
  2. Ae mere dil kahin aur chal – Film: Daag (1952)
  3. Apni jaan nazar karon, Qumi Nagma Pakistani
  4. Aya hi mujhe phir yaad woh zaalim – Film Dewar: (1966), Singer: Mukesh
  5. Barasat men, hamse mile tum – Film: Barsaat (old)
  6. Bhari duniya men akhir dil ko – Film: Do Badan
  7. Bhor bhaye panghatpe – Film: Satyam Shivam Sundaram
  8. Bol radha bol sangam hoga ke nahin – Film: Sangam
  9. Chingari koi bhadke – Film: Amar Prem (1971)
  10. Dil ke jhoroke mei tum ko bitha ke
  11. Dil apna aur preet – Film: Dil Apna Aur Preet Paryi (1960)
  12. Dilka khilona haye tut gaya – Film: Goonj Uthi Shahnii
  13. Do hansonka joda bichhad gayo re – Film: Ganga Jamuna
  14. Dost dost na raha – Film: Sangam
  15. Dunya banane wale kya tere man – Film: Dewar, Singer: Mukesh
  16. Ghar aya mera perdesi – Film: Awara (1951)
  17. Haan isi mor pe is jegha beth ker – Film: Doraha, Pakistani
  18. Ham chale is jehan se dil uth gia yehan se – Mehdi Hassan
  19. Insaf ka mandir hai – Film: Amar
  20. Jab dil hi tut gaya – Film: Shahjehan
  21. Jaise radha ne mala japi – Film: Tere Mere Sapne (1971)
  22. Jane behar husn tera bemisaal hai
  23. Jare, jare ud ja re panchhi – Film: Maaya
  24. Jeena yahan marna yahan – Film: Mera Naam Joker
  25. Jis dil me basa tha pyar tera – Film: Saheli, Singer: Mukesh
  26. Jis gali me tera ghar na ho balma -Taal kehrva, Film: Kati Patang
  27. Kaise samjhaun bade nasamajh ho – Film: Sooraj
  28. Kehta hai joker sara zamana – Film: Mera Naam Joker
  29. Kisi ne apna bana ke – Film: Patita (1953)
  30. Mera juta hai japani – Film: Shri 420
  31. Mere dil ke taar baje baar baar – Pakistani Song
  32. Mere man ki ganga aur tere man ki – Film: Sangam
  33. Mere sapno ki rani kab – Taal kehrva, Film: Aradhna
  34. Mrea naam raju gharane ka naam – Film: Jis Desh Me Ganga Behti Hai
  35. Mujh ko is raat ki tanhai me awaz, Taal: Dadra, Film: Dil bhi tera ham bhi tere
  36. Nache man mora magan dhik dha dhigi dhigi – Film: Meri Surat Teri Aankhen
  37. Pyar huwa iqrar huwa – Film: Shree 420
  38. Ramiya vasta vaiya – Film: Shri 420
  39. Sab kuch seekha hum ne – Film: Anari
  40. Jeet hi lenge baazi hum tum – Film: Shola Aur Shabnam (1961)
  41. Suno chhotisi gudiya ki lambi kahani – Film: Seema (1955)
  42. Tera jana – Film: Anadi
  43. Tu ganga ki mauj – Film: Baiju Bawra
  44. Tumhe aur kya dun main dil ke sivay – Film: Ayee Milan Ki Bela
  45. Tu pyar kare ya thukra de – Film: Dekh Kabera Roya
  46. We sab to sonyia hi we man mohnia – Film: Rangeela Pakistani
  47. Yeh dil yeh paagal dil mera (awaargi) – Ghazal Gulam Ali
  48. Yeh zindagi ke mele – Film: Mela (1948)

6. Bhairav :

Ascending Notes: S r G m P d N S’
Descending Notes: S’ N d P m G r S

Bhairav is also called Bhero. Bhairav thaat ragas make use of Komal Rishabh and Komal Dhaivat. Bhairav is one of the names of Lord Shiva especially in his powerful form as a naked ascetic with matted locks and body smeared with ashes. The raga too has some of these masculine and scetic attributes in its form and compositions. The raga itself is extremely vast and allows a huge number of note combinations and a great range of emotional qualities from valor to peace. You can see a lot of variations on raga Bhairav including (but not restricted to) Ahir Bhairav. This raga is usually performed in a devotional mood in the early morning hours. The vibrations of the notes in Bhairav is said to clear one’s whole mind. The pictorial depictions of raga Bhairav in the ancient texts are austere as well as awe-inspiring.

Ragas in Bhairav Thaat : Ramkali, Gunkari, Meghranjani, Jogiya, Bhairav and its variations etc.

Songs of Thaat Bhairav:

  1. Aapne jeevan ki uljhan ko – Film: Uljhan
  2. Albela sajan aayo re, – Film: Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam
  3. Hamen koi gham nahin tha, Gham-e-Ashiqi Se Pahle, Ghazal
  4. Puchho na kaise maine rain bitai, – Film: Meri Surat Teri Aankhen
  5. Ram teri ganga maili ho gayi, – Film: Ram Teri Ganga Maili
  6. Sola baras ki baali umar ko salam, – Film: Ek Duje Ke Liye
  7. Waqt karta jo wafa aap hamare hote, – Film: Dil Ne Pukara
  8. Zindagi ko sanvarana hoga, – Film: Alaap

7. Kalyan :

Ascending Notes: S R G M P D N S’
Descending Notes: S’ N D P M G R S

Kalyan thaat consists of a important group of evening ragas. Characterized by the teevar Madhyam, this thaat literally means good luck. It is considered to be a blessing-seeking and soothing raga. As a result, it is performed in the evening at the beginning of a concert. This raga creates a feeling of the unfolding of an evening. This thaat is huge and consists of many variations on the basic kalyan thaat including ragas (but not restricted to) like Shuddh Kalyan, Shyam Kalyan, Yaman Kalyan, Anandi Kalyan, Khem Kalyan (Haunsdhwani + Yaman), Savani Kalyan etc.

Ragas in Kalyan Thaat : Yaman, Bhupali, Hindol, Kedar, Kamod, etc.

Thaat Kalyan Songs:

  1. Aapke anurodh pe – Film: Anurodh
  2. Aaye ho meri zindagi me – Film: Raja Hindusthaani
  3. Abhi na jao chhodkar – Film: Hum Dono
  4. Ansu bhari hai ye jivanki rahe – Film: Parvarish, Taal: jhap taal
  5. Bhooli huyi yaadon, mujhe itna na sataao – Film: Sanjog, Taal: dadra
  6. Chandansa badan chanchal chitavan – Film: Saraswati Chandra Taal kehrva
  7. Chhupa lo yun dil men pyar mera – Film: Mamta
  8. Dil diya dard liya – Film: Dil Diya Dard Liya
  9. Dil jo na kahe saka – Film: Bhigi Raat
  10. Ehasaan tera hoga mujhapar – Film: Junglee
  11. Ghar se nikalte hi – Film: Papa Kehte Hain
  12. Inhi logone le lina dupatta mera – Film: Pakeezah, Taal: kehrva
  13. Is modse jate hai – Film: Aandhi
  14. Jab dip jale ana – Film: Chit Chor, Taal: teen taal
  15. Main kya janun kya jadu hai
  16. Mausam hai ashikana – Film: Pakeezah, Taal: Kehrva
  17. Ranjish hi sahi, dil hi dukhane ke liye aa, Ghazal: Mehdi Hassan, Taal: dadra
  18. Saranga teri yaadmen – Film: Saaranga
  19. Shola hun bhadakne ki gujarish nahin karta – A Ghazal by Jagjit Singh
  20. Sine men sulagte hain arman – Film: Tarana
  21. Sochenge tumhe pyaar kare ki nahi – Film: Deewana
  22. Tere huns ki kya tarif karun – Film: Leader
  23. Tum bin jivan kaise bita – Film: Anita
  24. Woh jab yaad aye bahut yaad aye – Film: Parasmani
  25. Woh sham kuchh ajib thi – Film: Khamoshi (old) Taal Kehrva
  26. Zindagi-bhar nahin bhulegi – Film: Barsaat Ki Raat (old)

8. Marwa :

Ascending Notes: S r G M P D N S’
Descending Notes: S’ N D P M G r S

Marwa thaat is obtained by adding a komal Rishabh to Kalyan thaat. The mood of the Marwa family ragas is strongly and easily recognizable. The Shadja remains in the form of a shadow till the very end, where it almost comes as a surprise. komal Rishabh and shuddh Dhaivat are very important. The overall mood of this raga is of sunset where the night approaches much faster than in northern latitudes. The onrushing darkness awakens in many observers, a feeling of anxiety and solemn expectation.

Ragas in Marwa Thaat : Marwa, Puriya, Bhatiyaar, Bibhas, Sohoni etc.

Songs of Thaat Marwa:

  1. Payeliya bavari, Film: Saaz aur Aawaz

9. Poorvi :

Ascending Notes: S r G M P d N S’
Descending Notes: S’ N d P M G r S

Poorvi thaat adds a komal Dhaivat to Marwa thaat. These thaat ragas usually feature komal Rishabh, shuddha Gandhar and Shuddha Nishad along with teevar Madhyam, the note which distinguishes evening from the morning ragas (dawn and sunset). The thaat raga Poorvi is deeply serious quite and mysterious in character and is performed at the time of sunset. Pictorial depictions in early texts, often mention the poise, grace and charm of Poorvi.

Ragas in Poorvi Thaat : Puriya Dhanashree, Gauri, Shree, Paraj, Basant etc.

Songs of Thaat Poorvi:

  1. Tori jai jai – Film: Baiju Bawra
  2. Muddat hu’i hai yaar ko

10. Todi :

Ascending Notes: S r g M P d N S’
Descending Notes: S’ N d P M g r S

Todi is the king of all thaats. Todi pictures nearly always show a petite, beautiful woman, holding veena, with a deer around her, standing in a lovely, lush green forest. Todi represents the mood of delighted adoration with a gentle, loving sentiment and its traditionally performed in the late morning.

Ragas in Todi Thaat : Miyan Ki Todi, Gujari Todi, Madhuvanti, Multani etc.

Songs of Thaat Todi:

  1. Main to ik khwab hoon, is khwab se too pyar na kar

What is a Raga?

The combination of several notes woven into a composition in a way, which is pleasing to the ear, is called a Raga or Raag. The raga is an Indian scale which utilizes varying ascending and descending patterns – certain notes on the way up and certain notes on the way down – but always in the set sequence. The raga never has less than five notes – the minimum required for a tune.  Each raga creates an atmosphere, which is associated with feelings and sentiments. Any stray combination of notes cannot be called a Raga. At a more academic level, it is a musical composition that functions within a structure and follows certain rules with relation to the kind of notes used in it.

  • We can ascribe to a raga certain meta-characteristics that define a Raga:
    Every raga is said to be born of a Thaat which is its parent.  Every raga is composed of notes.
  • A simple combination of notes is not a raga unless it sounds good. As mentioned earlier though, it is difficult to accurately define what sounds good. In another article we will attempt to describe what this means in terms of harmonies and melodies.
  • A minimum of five notes are necessary in a Raga. Therefore a Raga can have five, six or seven notes.
  • There cannot be two notes that are adjacent on the octave in the same raga. But this is not strictly true as we shall see in case of certain ragas like Lalit where there are two madhyms together.
  • Every Raga has a Arohi (ascending) and a Amrohi (descending). The base note Sa cannot be absent from a Raga.
  • The notes Ma and Pa cannot be absent from a Raga at the same time.
  • A raga is also identified by a Vadi ( main note ) and a Samvadi ( second note). The Vadi is a note that is stressed the most in the raga. The Samvadi is stressed after that. Two Ragas can have the same set of notes but differing vadis and samvadis which then make them different ragas. For instance both the ragas Bhupali and Deshkar have the same set of notes and the same arohi and amrohi but they have differing pakads and also different vadis and samvadis which make them different ragas. Bhupali has a vadi ga and samvadi da but deshkar has a vadi da and samvadi ga.
  • It has been said earlier that a Raga can have five, six or seven notes in the arohi and the amrohi. Based upon this a raag can be classified in to categories. A Raga sequence ( arohi or amrohi ) with five notes is said to be Odho ( five ). A Raga sequence with six notes is called Shadav or Khado (six) and a raga sequence with seven notes is called Sampoorn since seven notes is the maximum number that the raga sequence can have. Now to another point of confusion. There are twelve notes in the chromatic scale. The seven notes that make up the thaat are picked from these twelve notes.
  • Raga is the basis of classical music. A raga is based on the principle of a combination of notes selected out the 22 note intervals of the octave. A performer with sufficient training and knowledge alone can create the desired emotions, through the combination of  notes.   Every Raga is derived from some Thaat or Scale. Or Raga’ belong to certain classes or categories called thaats. A thaat is defined as that set of seven notes from which a Raga can be made.  

Ragas are placed in three categories:

  • Odho or pentatonic, a composition of five notes
  • Sampooran is heptatonic, a composition of seven notes.
  1. In every raga, there is an important cluster of notes by which the raga is identified.
  2. The ascent and descent of the notes in every raga is very important. Some raga in the same scale differ in ascent and descent. The principal note, “KING” is the note on which the raga is built. It is emphasized in various ways, such as stopping for some time on the note, or stressing it. The second important note or the “queen” corresponds to the “King” as the fourth or fifth note in relation to it.
  3. There are certain ragas which move in a certain pitch and if the pitch is changed, the raga fails to produce the mood and sentiment peculiar to it.

Raga Melody:

Melody is based on our ability to hear and perceive changes in frequencies. Although it is more than just the pitch going up and down, but as the frequency goes higher, the note is sharper. In any octave, the highest note always vibrates at the double rate from the lowest note. So an octave is the interval between one musical note and another with half or double its frequency. After the unison, (two things vibrating at the same rate), the octave is the simplest interval in music. The human ear tends to hear both notes (upper and lower) as being essentially ‘the same’. For this reason, notes an octave apart are given the same name in Indian music. The same is true for Western Music. And just like in western notation system, Northern Indian music recognizes 12 places in one octave as Notes. Most musicians use the same notes as we see them on a guitar’s fret or on a piano. But it hasn’t been always like this. In ancient times, Indian music was based on the ‘Sharuti’ system. The intervals were measured with sharuties.

Melody of Northern Indian Music is based on the ‘Thaat’ (parent Scale) and ‘Raga’ theory. Ragas have their minimum requirements of five notes in an octave. Based on that principle, 484 Ragas can be created mathematically from any given ‘Thaat’. Every Raga has its own personality. There are many special things about every Raga, which make it possible to separate one Raga from another.

(Shruti means the smallest interval of pitch that the human ear can detect and a singer or musical instrument can produce.)

Secret Of Phrasing In Ragas

Even though many popular musician do not study Ragas and most of the popular music is not even in any certain Ragas, there are many ‘phrasing’ secrets hidden in the Ragas, however, ascending and descending do not make music. Whole art of music is hidden in phrasing. You must have listened to hundreds of songs composed in ‘C’ or ‘E’ major. They still sound different from one another. That is because music we hear affects us in phrases, not scales.

This theory (music in phrases) was the origin of Ragas. Ragas start with that in mind and grow from there. To learn a Raga you have to learn its ascending or descending etc., but you also must know its flow and important phrases. There are thousands of available lists of hundreds of ragas everywhere, but they have no practical value as one will never know how to proceed from there. A Raga description without its phrases and flow is useless. Music composer Nisar Bazmi as a  working music composer giving you the only information that is essential to ‘know and play’ Indian music in the real world. You will find yourself improvising in a certain Raga in no time by mixing and shuffling its phrases and flow.

Identify Raga’s Of Songs by hearing raga based Bollywood songs

Functioning of the human mind is an extremely complex and vast field of study. Generations of scientists have researched on the subject and unearthed several concepts and theories. I don’t claim to have even a bit of that vast pool of knowledge. As interesting as the subject is to me, I am a beginner in it. Therefore, the most I can attempt is a common sense and somewhat logical study of this interesting point that has been raised by many. When we hear the tune of a particular movie song, its lyrics come to mind. And when we hear the lyrics of a movie song, its tune comes to mind. Similarly, in Western classical music, our mind associates a certain set of movements with a label or title. So when we hear it, we say – this is Beethoven’s symphony.

Now let’s consider the ragas. We are now faced with an additional factor, a big one. While a movie song is always a fixed and defined melody, a raga is not. So it is not a simple case of the mind associating a label with a tune. There is more happening here. What’s that more ? To understand that, I think it’ll help us to first give some kind of form and definition to the concept of raga. It is a very difficult concept to define. But for the sake of this discussion, let’s say a raga is a melodic framework constituted by a set of rules of movement and emphasis. Within that framework any number of melodic patterns and movements can be constructed.

A simple example of that framework could be as follows:

  1. Available notes are – S, R, G, M, P, D, N.
  2. S-R-G is prohibited. Instead ‘N-R-G is prescribed.
  3. P is not allowed in arohi. It is only amrohi.
  4. Emphasis (stress) must be given on G, P and N.
  5. Ending the movements with D-N-S should be avoided. Instead ‘N-R-S is prescribed. And we give this set of rules, this framework, a name – Yaman. (Most likely that’s not how the ragas got or get created. I am pretty sure that the ragas evolved through a natural creative process, and were formalized into rules later. But that’s a different issue and not relevant to our discussion. What’s relevant here is the fact that there is a framework of these five rules/guidelines, and it is called Yaman).

Now, an artist performing Yaman can weave any number of melodic phrases and movements within this framework. That last part is the key – “within this framework”. Correct rendition of Yaman has to follow these rules. And I think therein lies, at least partially, the answer to our question. When I hear a raga a few times, my mind perceives and registers that framework. Even though the exact tunes I hear in four different Yaman compositions are different, the rules being followed are the same. Those rules may not be stated to the listener, but are implicit in what he is hearing. Probably a listener’s mind perceives the common arrangement and movements of notes in those four compositions, translates them into unstated common rules, and stores them somewhere, with an associated label – Yaman. Of course, the label is secondary here. The main process happening here is relating melodies based on common frameworks, and storing the resultant association. If a label (Yaman) is provided, the mind will store that too along with it.

Before I started reading about and learning classical music, it happened so often that I would find something unmistakably common between two or more movie songs. I would be certain that they are based on the same raga, without knowing the name of that raga. (I am sure I am not the only one who has experienced this).

It seems that the mental process of figuring a raga on hearing it is a little abstract. It is not simple as in case of a song, which is primarily storing a tune in some kind of memory-store, associating a label with it, and retrieving the tune given the label or retrieving the label given the tune. In case of a raga, perhaps the process is that of perceiving common rules/guidelines/patterns among renditions of a raga, conceptualizing the observed rules/patterns into some kind of a loose framework, and storing it. And of course, retrieving it when one hears a melody that is essentially following the same framework. The process of abstraction and association may not be at conscious but subconscious level.

Naturally, this process is slightly more complex than that of identifying a song, and probably requires better ability of perception, abstraction and association. That is probably why one person can figure a raga intuitively on hearing it, and another cannot, even if both possess the same knowledge about it. But I wonder if this can be generalized. I am sure there are people whose association and conceptualization is strong and evident in other fields but not in music. So is our state of evolution of these mental faculties relative to the subject matter ?