Raga Concept

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In the Indian Classical Music, Raga is the basis of melody and Tala is the basis of rhythm. Each melodic structure of Raga has something akin to a distinct personality subject and to a prevailing mood.  Ragas involve several important elements.  The first element is sound — metaphysical and physical, which is referred to as nada. Nada is the manifestation of the first of the five elements of creation–the element of space. There are two types of nada, anahata nada or un-struck sound and ahata nada or struck sound. The next element of raga is pitch, relegated into swara (whole and half tones), and sruti (microtones). Raga also involves the production of emotional effects in the performer and listener, which are known as rasa. The aim of raga is to elicit emotional and psychological responses from the listener. The production of these specific responses can be understood by exploring the concept of rasa. Rasa has been referred to as “aesthetic delight” and is free from the limitations of personal feelings. There are nine rasas: Love (Shringar), Humour (Hasya), Pathos (Karuna), Anger (Rudra), Heroism (Vir), Terror (Bhayanaka), Disgust (Veebhatsa) and Wonder (Abdhuta).

Raga is the basis of classical music. Raga is neither a scale, nor a mode. It is based on the principle of a combination of notes selected out the 22 note intervals of the octave. There are 72 ‘melas’, or parent scales, on which Ragas are based. Raga has its own principal mood such as tranquility, devotion, eroticism, loneliness, pathos and heroism. Each Raga is associated, according to its mood, with a particular time of the day, night or a season. A performer with sufficient training and knowledge alone can create the desired emotions, through the combination of shrutis and notes. Every Raga is derived from some Thaat or Scale.  Improvisation is an essential feature of Indian music, depending upon the imagination and the creativity of an artist. A great artist can communicate and instill in his listener the mood of the Raga.

Ragas are placed in three categories: (a) Odava or pentatonic, a composition of five notes, (b) Shadava or hexatonic, a composition of six notes and (c) Sampoorna or heptatonic, a composition of seven notes.

Every Raga must have at least five notes, starting at Sa, one principal note, a second important note and a few helping notes. 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. The ascent and descent of the notes in every raga is very important. Some ragas in the same scale differ in ascent and descent. The speed of a raga is divided into three parts: Vilambit (slow), Madhya (Medium) and Drut (fast).

Another aspect of the ragas is the appropriate distribution in time during the 24 hours of the day for its performance, i.e. the time of the day denotes the type of the raga to be sung. Based on this, the ragas are divided into four types: Sandi-prakash ragas or twilight ragas, Midday and Midnight ragas, Ragas for the first quarter of the morning and night and Ragas for the last quarter of the day and night. All the ragas are divided into two broad groups — Poor Ragas and Uttar Ragas. The Poor Ragas are sung between 12 noon and 12 midnight. The Uttar Ragas are sung between 12 midnight and 12 Noon. The Santa Makananda mentions “one who sings knowing the proper time remains happy. By singing ragas at the wrong time one ill-treats them. Listening to them, one becomes impoverished and sees the length of one’s life reduced.”

Another division of ragas is the classification of ragas under six principal ragas — Hindol, Deepak, Megh, Shree and Maulkauns. Other ragas are derived from these six ragas. The first derivatives of the ragas are called raginis, and each of the six ragas has five raginis under them. All the ragas are supposed to have been derived from their thaats. Every raga has a fixed number of komal (soft) or teevra (sharp) notes from which the thaat can be recognized.


 Important ragas in the Hindustani Classical Music:


Abhogi; Ahir; Alhaiya; Bageshri; Bairagi; Basant; Bhairav; Bhatiyar; Bilawal; Bhupali; Chandrakauns; Darbari, Darbari Kanada; Deepak; Gujari Todi; Hamir; Hindol, Jaunpuri; Kafi Kanada; Lalit Bhairav; Madhukauns; Madhumalati; Malkauns; Megh Malhar; Miyan ki Malhar; Miya ki Sarang; Nayaki Neelambari; Pahadi Pancham; Poorvi Kalyani; Prabhat Bhairav; Rageshwari; Ramkali; Saraswati Sarparda; Sohani; Tilak Kamod; Yaman and Zilla Kafi.

Ragas of the Carnatic Music:


Ragas in the Carnatic music fall into two categories: the base or ‘melakarta ragas’ and the derived or ‘janya ragas’. The sixteen ‘swaras’ form the basis for the ‘melakarta’ scheme. Melakarta ragas have a formal structure and follow a fairly rigid scheme of scientific organization whereas the janya ragas are rooted in usage and are liable to evolve with the music. In fact many ‘janya’ ragas change their character over time. Janya ragas are derived from the ‘melakarta’ ragas through various means. Contemporary Carnatic music is based on a system of seventy two ‘melakarta’ ragas. These ‘creator’ ragas are also called ‘janaka ragas’ and ‘thai’ (mother) ragas. The current system can be traced to the works of Venkatamakhi (17th century A.D.) who appears to be the first to use the seventy two ‘melakartas’. Earlier works generally contain fewer ‘melakartas’ and most have flaws in their organisation. At that time, many of Venkatamakhi’s ‘melakartas’ were unknown and were not assigned names. Later, all seventy two were given names and this system is sometimes referred to as the ‘Kanakaambari – Phenadhyuthi system’ after the names of the first two ‘melakartas’ in it. Muthuswamy Dikshithar’s compositions are generally based on the raga names and ‘lakshanams’ (definitions) in this system while Thyagaraja used a later scheme devised by Govindacharya in the late 18th century. There is an important feature to the ragas in the Carnatic music, namely the appropriate ‘gamakams’ (microtones) associated with many ragas. Gamakams are of ten types and their mastery is considered a must for effective portrayal of ragas.

Important ragas in the Carnatic music include: Dharmavathi; Dhenuka; Gowrimanohari; Hanumathodi; Hemavathi; Jyothisvarupini; Kanakangi; Karaharapriya; Kosalam; Natakapriya; Ramapriya; Rasikapriya; Rathnangi; Rupavathi; Salagam; Senavathi; Sucharithra; Vanaspathi and Yagapriya.

Equivalent Ragas in Hindustani and Carnatic Music:


Hindustani Ragas Carnatic Ragas
Adbuth KalyanNiroshta
AsavariNata Bhairavi
Bhairavi Hanuman Todi
BhairaviSindhu Bhairavi
Bhoop KalyaniMohana Kalyani
Bilawal Dheera Sankarabharanam
ChayaBegada Sarang
HindolSunada Vinodini
Jayith KalyanMohanam
KalyaniMecha Kalyani
KhamajHari Kambhoj
Rageshwari  NattaiKurinji
Sri KalyaniSaraswati
TodiSubha Pantuvarali
Yaman KalyanYamuna Kalyani


Ragas Created by Different Personalities:


The first North Indian music conference was organised by Sultan Hussain Sarki of Jaunpur, who invited many Dhrupadias, Kawals and musicologists, who certified the ragas made by the Sultan, namely: ‘Jaunpuri todi’ and ‘Hussaini Kanada’ as genuine and authentic. Tansen created many new ragas like ‘Darbari Kanada’, ‘Darbari Todi’, ‘Miya ki Sarang’, ‘Miyan Ki Todi’ and ‘Miya ki Malhar’, which are still considered as one of the foremost ragas of the Hindustani classical music. Some of his descendants also created new ragas that are of permanent value, e.g., ‘Vilaskhani Todi’, ‘Tilak-Kamod’, ‘Puria Kalyan’ and ‘Kausiki Kanada’. Amir Khusro is credited with the creation of new ragas such as ‘Sarfarda’, ‘Zilaph’, ‘Hemant’, ‘Prabhat Kali’ and ‘Hem Behag’ ragas. Kumar Gandharva created a substantial number of new ragas, which include the ‘Sanjari’, ‘Malavati’, ‘Bihad Bhairava’, ‘Saheli Todi’, ‘Sohoni Bhatiyar’ and the ‘Gandhi Raga’. Ustad Ali Akbar Khan is credited with the introduction of five new ragas, ‘Chandranandan’, ‘Gauri-Manjari’, ‘Lajwanti’, ‘Mishra-Shivaranjani’ and ‘Hem-Hindol’. Pandit Ravi Shankar has to his credit several ragas like ‘Nat Bhairav’, ‘Pancham Se Gara’, ‘Kameshwari’, ‘Parameshwari’ and ‘Ganeshwari’. He also composed Raga ‘Mohankauns’ in the honour of Mahatma Gandhi.

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