rAga Narayanan

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by Narayanan Raghunathan

The A signifies a length in pronunciation, also written raaga. The same goes for O meaning oo and E meaning ee. This spelling is used in musical sites.


rAg in HindusthAni music
rAga(m) in KarnAtik music

rAgam anAdi rahasyam parabrahma shruti tatvam

[rAga is pre-primordial sacred secret parabrahman’s revelatory essences ]

rAgam nitya shruti mantram Ananda pradAyakam

[ rAga is eternal revelatory mantram that bestows divine delight. ]

rAgam avyayam mowna mantra sAkshAtkAram

[ rAga is undefined silent mantrams fulfilling all]

rAg(a) is a melodious secret soaked in rich sonorous Silences.
rAg(a) is made of the Swaras [ the notes ] of the scale.

The Sapta Swaras[Seven Basic Notes ] are Shadja [Sa] Rishabha[Ri] GandhAra [Ga] Madyama[Ma}, Panchama [Pa] , Dhaivata [ Dha] , NishAda[Ni] .

In this set of notes the notes are ascending in frequency [pitch]. In the difference in pitch between these musical intervals other intermediary notes called vikrita swaras may be defined.

Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni ~ Suddha Swaras
ri ga ma dha ni ~ Vikrita Swaras “ [1]

No Swaras {notes) are discernible easily between Ga and Ma and Ni and Sa*[ the higher Sa* ]

“In Western musical terminology these are the natural[7] notes and variants [5], Writing them in tonic sol-fa notation they can be arranged thus.

doh ray me fal sol la te ~ Natural Scale
d r m f s l t ~ Symbol for Natural Scale
ra ma fa la ta ~ flats and sharp

In the scale of C these will be written as

Db Eb F# Ab Bb “ [2]

[1] and [2] from
Page 6 “An Introduction to Indian Music” by B. Chaitanya Deva ~
(Publications Division ~ Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Government of India.)

rAga has an ascending scale [ Arohana ] and descending scale [avarohana] of swaras.

Thus Rag Bhoopali is Sa Ri Ga Pa Dha

[The western equivalents of these swaras (notes) and the KarnAtik equivalents are dealt with in the swara section elaborately.]

If rAga music is considered to be a language, the swaras are the alphabets.

Generally a rAga uses five, six, or seven swaras in its elaboration. The Arohana and Avarohana technically defines the rAga. and no other swara [note] may be added or omitted
There are also few rAgas that use more than seven notes. These are fewer. Eg. Mishra Piloo
BalamuraliKrishna has also experimented and conjured rAgas with four or even three Swaras (notes), in KarnAtik music. Some pundits of music don’t think these are valid as rAgas Eg Lavangi .

There are also rAgas with a specifically crooked or disorderly asent and descent. of swaras(notes).

A rAg(a) has a specific name.
Kalyani, Vasantha, Todi, ~~~ etc [ KarnAtik ]
Bilaval, Megh, MArwa, PilO ~~~etc { HindusthAni]

Most serious listeners can identify the rAg(a) as they begin to unfold itself. This helps them to appreciate the subtle nuances of the rAg(a). It needs sustained effort by the listener to familiarize oneself with the nuances.

Exact historical Origin of rAg(a) or the word rAg(a) cannot be certainly ascertained.
The Vedic hymns especially the sAma veda chants must have resonated the earliest rAgas in intrinsic revelatory mode.{ There were 1008 ways of Chanting the sAma according to tradition. Most of these are lost in time and only about 10 ways of recitation are still in vogue. ) It is preferable to consider the origin of rAga to be mysterious than a specifc historic product.

The classification of rAga(s) in KarnAtik and HindusthAni are generally different.
Although there are some rAga(s) mutually adapted.

A rAga which uses seven swaras in the arohana and avarohana is called sampOrna
The 72 Melakarta raga(s) of KarnAtik Music are all SampOrna

A rAga which uses six swaras in the Arohana and avarohana is called shadava

A rAga which uses five swaras in the Arohana and avarohana is called audava

A rAga which uses seven swaras in the Arohana and
six swaras in the avarohana is called sampOrna - shadava

A rAga which uses seven swaras in the Arohana and
five swaras in the avarohana is called sampOrna ~ audava

A rAga which uses six swaras in the Arohana and
seven swaras in the avarohana is called shadava – sampOrna

A rAga which uses six swaras in the Arohana and
five swaras in the avarohana is called shadava –audava

A rAga which uses five swaras in the Arohana and
seven swaras in the avarohana is called “audava-sampOrna”

A rAga which uses five swaras in the Arohana and
six swaras in the avarohana is called audava-shadava

rAga and Seasons

In Hindusthani rAga scheme
There are rAgas associated with a specific Ritu [ Season] .
Eg. basant, bahar, megh etc
There are many rAgas that are Sarva Ritu [ All seasonal ]
Bilaval Darbari Kanada


Months rAga

March april Hindol
May –june Deepak
July-August Megh
September–October Bhairav
November –December Shree
January – February Malkauns “ [~1~]

In The KarnAtik rAga scheme
rAgas are not generally classified seasonally.

rAga and Time of day

It is generally believed and there are sufficient aesthetic reasons to believe that some rAga(s) are better sung at some time of the day that their full possibilities manifest only at those times.
“ There is a logical extension to the rAga-season association in Indian music, as it also believes in a rAga–time association. Many performers follow the resulting norm assiduously and many theoreticians have passionately argued about it. In an appealing music-time correspondence the day night cycle is divided into segments and the resultant time cycle has slots allotted to definite rAgas. A raga performed out of the designated time slot is said to loose in efficacy. Significantly all rAgas are not allotted time-slots, but each time slot is given some raga. It must be admitted that the time-rAga relationship, as envisaged in the rules, links music to many non-musical aspects of life around , and in the process enriches both” [ ~2~]

[~1~] and [~2~]
Hindustani Music by Ashok Da.Ranade [Published by National Book Trust India.]

rAga: Some Aestheic and Technical Details

vAdi is the main note of raga which is specially stressed, the primal spokesman, The fourh or fifth note from vAdi is called samavAdi [in equal dialogue] . The remaining notes of the rAga are called anuvAdi [ followers(supporters) of vAdi] and the notes not included in the raga are vivAdi[ controversial, in disagreement] .

gamakAs are the various embellishments[sliding, twitching stressing, lingering ] of specific notes which are an intrinsic part of a rAga. The same note becomes different in different rAgas showing their intrinsic tonal colour by these special GamakAs. The gamakAs are classified and named too. KarnAtik music uses more GamakAs than hindusthAni music. ( Gamakas are also known as Meends in HindusthAni Music. )

A rAga may be rendered in different tempi [ Laya]
Vilambit(Slow) Madhyam(Medium) Dhrut (Fast)

We can have the swaras (notes) in the lower octave { mandra sthAyi } middle octave { madhya sthAyi } upper octave (tara sthAyi} “The SthAyi or Sapthaka (set of seven )
corresponds to register in western music. We can also have further higher octaves such as ati tara sthayi and lower octaves anumandra sthAyi. The Essential idea is a division of a continuum of pitches in set of Sapthakas each extending from one Sa to another (the latter exclusive).”[3 ] [ When the latter is included it become the octave!

[3] From ~ Page 16 “An Introduction to Indian Music” by B. Chaitanya Deva ~
(Publications Division ~ Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Government of India.)

The Nava Rasas { The Nine Emotional Essences}

The Rasa Theory of Natya Shastra by Bharata Muni [~ 2 century BC at least ] is a prevelant notion of appreciation of All Indian art forms. There are Nava Rasas

These are shringAra (love, eros) , hAsya (humour, laughter, delight), karuna (compassion, kindness) roudra (wrath, anger), vEra(bravery, courage), bhayAnaka(fearsome) , bhEbhatsya( grotesque) , adbhutha ( divine wonder ) and shAntha (peace ).
Some rAgas are specially supposed to invoke some rasAs.
This is a vast conjectural field and most rAgas are not classified in this scheme.
The Rasa are more revealed in Indian dance forms directly.

Compositions and styles of rAga rendering .

The most free version of rAg(a) is the Alap(ana) when the artiste freely improvises adhering to the essential Rasa[emotional content] of the rAg(a) without any Thaal(a){rhythm , cyclic-beat). Here the artist just articulates the rAga in arbitrary note sounds without any verbal composition. He uses AA ~ tadri tanaa etc

" examined musically the situation allows a musician unbounded freedom which is almost frightening - mainly because of the immense possibilities” [ ~3 ~]

As we have seen KarnAtik and HindusthAni use different compositions by different composers . The style of rendering is entirely different too.

KarnAtik music has various types of compositions used in concert music.
GEtham, Varnam, Keerthanam, Thillana, Pallavi Bhajan etc.~
Various styles of KarnAtik music has found expression generally referred to as bAni

For example you can say Semmangudi bAni or Madurai Mani Iyer bAni relating it to the founder of the style.

HindusthAni has two major styles of rendering.

1) The Traditional Dhrupad Dhamar v(b)Ani (way of voicing )
2) Modern KhayAl v(b)Ani ( way of voicing )

Each has various sub-styles called GharanAs.( Home Styles)
The Other types of HindusthAni Compositions are
Thumri Ghazal TaPa TarAna QuwAli etc

Musical Theory and rAga Classification ~

KarnAtik [ South Indian music ] there is a very well defined systematic classification of rAga(s) prevalent ever since Venkatamakhi’s Melakarta Scheme which was envisaged in the seventeenth century AD.

HindusthAni music was formally theoretically organized only in the beginning of this century by Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande.But this system is not as inclusive and much less satisfactory than the KarnAtik Melakarta system.

Technically speaking The Melakarta Classification is very organized and logical too. In fact many rare KarnAtik Melakarta rAgas can be rendered into Hindusthani Dhrupad style etc. provided somebody ventures to deeply experiment with the rAga(s).
Now the number of named rAga(s) in KarnAtik paDhati [ Way] is far more than HindusthAni.

Many rAgas were adapted mutually
For Example
tilang, pahAdi, desh, kAfi from Hindusthani to KarnAtik
sAveri, chArukesi, kEravAni from KarnAtik to Hindusthani

Musical Instruments and rAgas

rAgas are played on various musical instruments too

Saraswati Veena, Gottu vAdyam are the traditional stringed instruments of KarnAtik Music ( Western violin has been adapted into KarnAtik music for over 100 years, It is used for solo playing, but it is an intrinsic ingredient of any vocal concert too. Violin is the most accepted accompaniment for vocal music in KarnAtik music. Mandolin Srinivas has adapted the western .mandolin for Playing KarnAtik music. Recently The guitar is also being adapted into the KarnAtik arena.)

PullAmkuzhal(Flute) and NAdaswaram are the traditional wind instruments. of KarnAtik Music ( The legendary AKC Nastarajan played KarnAtik music on the
Clarinet and Kadri Gopalnath has used the saxophone too)

Mridangam, Ghatam, Ganjira, morsing, are the traditional percussion instruments used in KarnAtik music.

Rudra Veena, Been, Sitar, SArangi, Sarod, Surbahar are the traditional stringed instruments of Hindustani Music. Violin has been adapted to HindusthAni music.[N.Rajam]
Guitar is being recently adapted into HidusthAni music.[Brij Bhushan Kabra ].

Bamsuri (flute) and Shehnai are the traditional wind instruments of HimndusthAni Music.

Pakhawaj and Tabla are the two percussion instruments used in HidusthAni music.

In Indian music every (stringed, wind ) instrument irrespective of its structural design aspires to create the same rAga music. There are no separate scores for each instrument.
Every instrument thus reaches or aspires towards its limits of expressibility in each individual rAga.
Similarly, all the Percussion instrumentalists play the same individual tAl(a) from a set of many tAlas on different percussion instruments.

Indian Music and Jazz

Indian music is similar to Jazz: Here too the musician creates the music as he traverses. But it is much more subtle, that each rAga is infinite possibility and tremendously disciplined. rAg(a)’s freedom is like walking dancing on a trapeze string.
Indian rAgas can create Jazz and rock as part of its style since even they have some element of some rAgas in them.

Religious and Ritualistic Element in Indian Music

Indian Music is deep rooted in the religious traditions of the land and the compositions are connected to the Gods of the mythological world.. A Performance is thus a religious ritual.

“ For Indian musicians groomed in tradition rAga is not grammar but a deity. The rAga is to be invoked and not simply presented with skill. The listeners , on the other hand , are expected to not to treat rAga merely as a performance of music.to be applauded at the end..” [~3~]
Hindustani Music by Ashok Da.Ranade [Published by National Book Trust India.]

General Links
For an Easy Introduction to KarnAtik music ~

Carnatic Music traces it's original roots to the chants of the Sama Veda. The Yagnavalkya Samhita (III.4.115) says that he who knows the truth of Vina play, Srutis, Jatis and Talas, treads an easy path to salvation. Carnatic Music, in it's present form rests on the structure set out in the Melakarta Scheme. Formulated first by Venkatamakhi, who is placed in the 17th. Century A.D., the Scheme envisaged some Asampurna ragas, that is, without the full complement of the seven svaras or notes of the octave. It was later modified by Govindacharya to include only ragas with the full complement of seven svaras. (Sampurna). This is what is now followed. It is, of course, to be noted that the octave of seven notes, is basic to vitually all music systems of the world.

This Scheme envisages the Sa and Pa as fixed svaras, with the Ma having two variants and the remaining svaras as having three variants each. This leads to 72 seven-note combinations referred to as the Melakarta Ragas. The omission of one or more notes in the Arohana or Ascending and / or Avarohana or Descending swara sequences from any Melakarta leads to a very large number of Janya Ragas. Janya means born of, or derived from.

Thousands of compositions of different types : the Gita, the Varna, Kirtana, Padam, Pallavi, Tillana etc, have been composed in these Melakarta or Janya Ragas by various famous composers, presenting an enormous range and depth in presenting the melodic possibilities of each. And of course, without the limitations of a composition, the Alapana provides the format where any musician can elaborate any Raga for as long as likes, with improvisation being limited only by his or her imagination.

A great composition in this context is a Ragamalika, embracing all the 72 Melakarta Ragas, by the great composer, Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan (1844-93). A beautiful rendering of this composition by Smt.M.S.Subbulakshmi is available on a Cassette from HMV under then title "Mela Ragamalika Chakra".

All these ragas have also been illustrated by a complete set of 72 Kirtanas by another illustrious composer Kotiswara Aiyar. (1869-1938). Anyone interested in obtaining a compilation of a full set of these Kirtanas, with full notations, along with their vocal rendering on a set of 10 Cassettes, can obtain them from the contributor of this Introduction.

It is intended that this presentation should provide a basic point of entry into the incredibly beautiful world of Carnatic music. Each entry in the table below provides a link to a Veena rendering of the Arohana and Avarohana with a very brief rendering of the Raga outline to illustrate the unique melodic shape that the notes of the Raga takes.

It is expected in due course, to have the links below extended to take the viewer on through onward links to information and music of the great composers and artistes who have contributed to developing and preserving this great Indian musical tradition over the centuries.

The Swara symbols used in the table below and the corresponding Swara names are :

Sa : Shadjamam : this is the base note of the octave, the name Shad-ja itself meaning "giving birth to next 6 notes".
R1 : Suddha Rishabham R2 : Chatusruti Rishabham R3 : Shatsruti Rishabham
G1 : Suddha Gandharam G2 : Sadharana Gandharam G3 : Antara Gandharam
M1: Suddha Madhyamam M2 : Prati Madhyamam
P : Panchamam
D1 : Suddha Daivatam D2 : Chatusruti Daivatam D3 : Shatsruti Daivatam
N1 : Suddha Nishadam N2 : Kaisiki Nishadam N3 : Kakali Nishadam


A Complete list of Melakarta RagAs and various Janya Ragas are sorted here alphabetically.

A Tribute To Tyagaraja
V. N. Muthukumar and M. V. Ramana

Spotlight (Continued)
Reproduced from Sruti 191 (August 2000).
T.R. Balamani: A Fine Teacher

Hindusthani Thata

Articles on Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande

Born on the auspicious Gokulashtami day of 1860, Vishnu Narain Bhatkhande was destined to play a most significant role in the renaissance of Hindustani classical music. In the words of a cultured royal patron of music who was a contemporary and a great admirer of Panditji, "When Bhatkhande resolved to translate his love for Hindustani Music into a continued, unwearied day-to-day programme of service, he had to confront social, intellectual, and finally, professional prejudices. These took shape as positive obstacles, definite active resistance. He had to face all this very early in life, even as a student seeking no more than information and enlightenment, and later on, as a crusader in the cause of classical music".

A lesser man, or a man inspired by a lesser passion for music would have fled from the field defeated and crushed by the endless obstacles in his path. But Bhatkhande's was really a dedicated life, inspired by a single, undivided aim. In the words of the late D.P. Mukerji:- "If the renaissance of classical music in the North is due to one man than to any other, it was due to Bhatkhande."

Study in India at Bhatkhande Music University
Check for Sri Bhatkande’s portrait here
This is a very useful site for lovers of rAga music

Review of CDs in

Glossary of Terms KarnAtik and Hindusthani Music
A Technical Introduction - Raaga Basics
Aarohana and Avarohana
Vaadi, Samvaadi, Vivaadi
Ambit or provenance
Meend or Gamaka
Time of day
KarnAtik Composers
HindusthAni Composers ~

Artists ~

Where To Buy

Music Samples ~


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