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Ragas

Rāga (Sanskrit, lit. "colour" or "mood") refers to melodic modes used in Indian classical music. It is a series of five or more musical notes upon which a melody is made. In the Indian musical tradition, rāgas are associated with different times of the day, or with seasons. Indian classical music is always set in a rāga. Non-classical music such as popular Indian film songs or ghazals sometimes use rāgas in their compositions.

The word "raga" first occurs in the Brihaddeshi of Matanga (circa second century AD or 5th to 7th century), where he describes it as "a combination of tones which, with beautiful illuminating graces, pleases the people in general". The term raga was defined by Joep Bor of the Rotterdam Conservatory of Music as "tonal framework for composition and improvisation." Nazir Jairazbhoy, chairman of UCLA's department of ethnomusicology, characterized ragas as separated by scale, line of ascent and descent, transilience, emphasized notes and register, and intonation and ornaments.

Rāgini is an archaic term for the 'feminine' counterpart to a rāga.

Nature of rāga

"That which is a special dhwani (tune), is bedecked with swara (notes) and varna and is colorful or delightful to the minds of the people, is said to be rāga" - Matanga in the Brihaddeshi.
The basic mode of reference in modern Hindustani practice (known commonly as the shuddha - basic - form) is a set which is equivalent to the Western Ionian mode — this is called Bilawal thaat in Hindustani music (the Carnatic analogue would be Sankarabharanam). In both systems, the ground (or tonic), Shadja, Sa, and a pure fifth above, Pancham, Pa, are fixed and essentially sacrosanct tones. In the Hindustani system, in a given seven-tone mode, the second, third, sixth, and seventh notes can be natural (shuddha, lit. 'pure') or flat (komal, 'soft') but never sharp, and the fourth note can be natural or sharp (tivra) but never flat, making up the twelve notes in the Western equal tempered chromatic scale (Western enharmonic pitch equivalences like, for example, A♯ and B♭ do not apply; e.g. Re tivra may, to a Western musician appear enharmonic to Ga shuddha in that system, but in practice is not.) A Western-style C scale could therefore theoretically have the notes C, D♭, D, E♭, E, F, F♯, G, A♭, A, B♭, B.

The Carnatic system has three versions — a lower, medium, and higher form — of all the notes except Sa, Ma and Pa. Ma has two versions (lower and higher), while Sa and Pa are invariant. Rāgas can also specify microtonal changes to this scale: a flatter second, a sharper seventh, and so forth. Tradition has it that the octave consists of (a division into) 22 microtones ("śrutis"). Furthermore, individual performers treat pitches quite differently, and the precise intonation of a given note depends on melodic context. There is no absolute pitch (such as the modern western standard A = 440 Hz); instead, each performance simply picks a ground note, which also serves as the drone, and the other scale degrees follow relative to the ground note. The Carnatic system embarks from a much different shuddha (fundamental) scalar formation, that is, shuddha here is the lowest-pitched swara.

By comparison, using the common tonic "C" for a western musician:

Carnatic
Hindustani Western E.T.
Sa
Sa "C"
Shuddha Ri "Ri 1" Komal Re "D"
Chatusruti Ri "Ri 2" Shuddha Re "D"
Shatsruti Ri "Ri 3" (Komal Ga) "D"
Shuddha Ga "Ga 1" (Shuddha Re) "D"
Sadharana Ga "Ga 2" Komal Ga "E"
Antara Ga "Ga 3" Shuddha Ga "E"
Shuddha Ma "Ma 1" Shuddha Ma "F"
Prati Ma "Ma 2" Teevra Ma "F"
Pa
Pa "G"
Shuddha Dha "Dha 1" Komal Dha "A"
Chatusruti Dha "Dha 2" Shuddha Dha "A"
Shatsruti Dha "Dha 3" (Komal Ni) "A"
Shuddha Ni "Ni 1" (Shuddha Dha) "A"
Kaisika Ni "Ni 2" Komal Ni "B"
Kakali Ni "Ni 3" Shuddha Ni "B"

Rāgas and their seasons

Many Hindustani (North Indian) rāgas are prescribed a time of day or a season. When performed at the suggested time, the rāga has its maximum effect. During the monsoon, for example, many of the Malhar group of rāgas, which are associated with the monsoon and ascribed the magical power to bring rain, are performed. However, these prescriptions are not strictly followed, especially since modern concerts are generally held in the evening. There has also been a growing tendency over the last century for North Indian musicians to adopt South Indian rāgas, which do not come with any particular time associated with them. The result of these various influences is that there is increasing flexibility as to when rāgas may be performed.

Notations

Although notes are an important part of rāga practice, they alone do not make the rāga. A rāga is more than a scale. Many rāgas share the same scale. The underlying scale may have five, six or seven tones made up of swaras. Rāgas that have five swaras are called audava (औडव) rāgas; those with six, shaadava (षाडव); and with seven, sampoorna (संपूर्ण) (Sanskrit for 'complete'). Those rāgas that do not follow the strict ascending or descending order of swaras are called vakra (वक्र) ('crooked') rāgas.
It is the mood of the rāga that is more important than the notes it comprises. For example, Rāga Darbari Kanada and Rāga Jaunpuri share the same notes but are entirely different in their renderings.

Northern and southern differences

The two streams of Indian classical music, Carnatic music and Hindustani music, have independent sets of rāgas. There is some overlap, but more "false friendship" (where rāga names overlap, but rāga form does not). In north India, the rāgas have been categorised into ten thaats or parent scales (by Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, 1860-1936); South India uses an older, more systematic classification scheme called the melakarta classification, with 72 parent (melakarta) rāgas. Overall there is a greater identification of rāga with scale in the south than in the north, where such an identification is impossible. Rāgas in north Indian music system follow the 'law of consonances' established by Bharata in his Natyashastra, which does not tolerate deviation even at the shruti level.

As rāgas were transmitted orally from teacher to student, some rāgas can vary greatly across regions, traditions and styles. There have been efforts to codify and standardise rāga performance in theory from their first mention in Matanga's Brihaddeshi (c. tenth century).

Carnatic rāga

In Carnatic music, rāgas are classified as Janaka rāgas and Janya rāgas. Janaka rāgas are the rāgas from which the Janya rāgas are created. Janaka rāgas are grouped together using a scheme called Katapayadi sutra and are organised as Melakarta rāgas. A Melakarta rāga is one which has all seven notes in both the ārōhanam (ascending scale) and avarōhanam (descending scale). Some Melakarta rāgas are Harikambhoji, Kalyani, Kharaharapriya, Mayamalavagowla, Sankarabharanam and Todi.

Janya rāgas are derived from the Janaka rāgas using a combination of the swarams (usually a subset of swarams) from the parent rāga. Some janya rāgas are Abheri, Abhogi, Bhairavi, Hindolam and Kambhoji. See the full List of Janya Ragas for more.

Each rāga has a definite collection and orders of swaras (the basic notes). In Carnatic music, there are 7 basic notes of which there are 12 varieties. The seven basic swarams of Carnatic music are: Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni.

Related rāgas

Even though Janya rāgas are subsets of Janaka rāgas in notation and representation, the differences between the child ragas are clear due to the differences like

some notes that figure more in a particular rāga compared to another, while other notes used sparingly
some notes may be sung with gamaka, stress, elongation, etc., in one rāga compared to other
specific phrases used and other phrases to be avoided in a rāga (so as to avoid deviation into another rāga's domain)
the scales of some ragas may contain at least one swara that does not figure in their janaka ragas. Such ragas are termed as bhashanga ragas. Ragas such as Bhairavi, Kambodhi, Bilahari, Devagandhari, and Neelambari fall under this category.
The effect of the rāgas are different from each other, even if they notationally use same swarams (or subset of swarams between each other) due to above subjective differences related to bhava and rasa (mood caused in the listener). The artists have to ensure the same when elaborating on a rāga, as has been followed and expected on each rāga, without digressing into the phrases of another related rāga. As we all know, science and notations cannot fully represent emotions and feelings.

Rāga-rāgini

The rāga-rāgini scheme is an old classification scheme used from the 14th century to the 19th century. It usually consists of 6 'male' rāgas each with 6 '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.

Rāgas and rāginis were often pictured as Hindu gods, Rajput princes and aristocratic women in an eternal cycle of love, longing and fulfilment.

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