History of classical music
Of The Sub-continent
Raga And Its Concept:
A music, which follows the characteristics of this tradition, is
called classical - in opposition to Western classical music, where
classical means belonging to a period of time (approximately from
16th to 17th century).
All classical music follows this rule even if
some completely different styles exist side by side. To develop
precisely a raga, the musician needs the presence of a drone,
whatever the music. Singers are always accompanied with the
tanpura or the harmonium, which produce the singer's tonic and
dominant (SA and PA). Classical music is mainly divided into two
branches, North and South.
North Indian Classical music
(some people know as Hindustani) in reference of the Hindi
speaking region going to North-West Frontier and to Poorab,
the East. Many styles and genres have been developed and
encouraged by a family system now called Gharana. These
numerous Gharanas all over North India have developed very
different styles of classical music, genres and instruments.
In the development music, the things went like this (from a
verse): First songs, then notes, then Sharutis and
then the Jaties (ragas). Birds have songs, so do the other
mammals. When we say that the songs must have developed
after humans were civilized, we are forgetting something.
Look around you. There are songs everywhere.
It is certain that as humans got civilized, their songs got
complicated. With the development of language, the songs became more
meaningful. The primal screams evolved into poems of love,
separation, nature, beauty and other things that affected us
emotionally. When something said through conversation does not
capture the essence of our feelings, a song erupts in us. That is a
primal instinct. It is not something that is impossible to do
without the knowledge of Sharuties. A villager in India or a Gypsy
in Europe cannot stop singing just because they do not know the
difference between just intonation and chromatic intonation. These
When the enlightened artists of the ancient world sang the songs,
the beauty of changing pitch compelled them to find more about it.
What is it that changing the pitch up and down in certain ways
sounds musical. The first known theory of music in Indian Vedas
(Samveda) contains four notes. Nowadays notes are always mentioned
in ascending (such as C D E or Sa Re Ga) order.
The combination of several notes woven into a composition in a way,
which is pleasing to the ear, is called a Raga.
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
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.
Raga is the dictator of melody and the "Taal" is the dictator of
Rhythm. In addition, melody is the product of sound and the rhythm
is product of time. Therefore, ‘the music is the art of manipulating
the ’sound’ through ‘time’. The time affects music in two different
ways. First through rhythm is obvious. However, the time is also at
work producing the musical sounds that are useful in melody. The
universe is full of sound, but every sound is not musical.
According to the scriptures, sage Narada practiced great austerities
for several years and was honoured by Lord Shiva who taught him the
great art of music. It is said that from the sleeping position
(Shayanmudra) of his wife, Goddess Parvati, Lord Shiva created the
Rudravina (an instrument with a form similar to the sitar). From his
five mouths, five ragas emerged while a sixth was created by the
goddess Parvati. These ragas were named according to Lord
Shiva's movements to east, west, north, south and towards the sky
and were called Bhairav, Hindol, Megh, Deepak and Shri. Raga
Kaushik was created by the Goddess Parvati herself.
Music flourished in India under Muslim rule and was subject to a
number of new influences, including those of the mystic Sufi sect.
As a consequence new elements, forms and instruments came to be
introduced into Indian Music. Among the vocal forms, were the Qual
which gave rise to the Qawali and the Tanpura, both of which are
heard today. The sitar and the tabla also belong to this
period. The Persian poet Amir Khusrau is believed to have made
a major contribution in the development of the Qawali as well as the
Musical patronage reached its zenith under the Mughal emperors Akbar
(1555-1605), Jahangir (1605-1627) and Shahjahan (1628-1658)
The legendary composer Tansen (1492-1589) is believed to have been a
member of the court of Akbar. His enchanting music is believed
to have had the power to bring rains and light lamps. Music was also
becoming more popular and was no longer the preserve of the upper
classes. Most compositions had initially been in Sanskrit but by the
sixteenth century they were being composed in various dialects of
Hindi - Braj Bhasa and Bhojpuri among them - as well as Persian and
Urdu. It was during this phase that two separate systems emerged as
a result of the Islamic influence on the existing system in Northern
and central India while the south remained free from this
domination. This led to emergence of two forms of Indian
Music. Hindustani (North Indian) and Carnatic (South Indian).
The arrival of British rule saw the violin entering the repertoire
of South Indian music in the mid-eighteenth century. In the time of
Bahadur Shah Zafar the last King of Mughal empire, music development
was limited and poetry developed. A significant development was the
use of music to promote nationalism during the Indian freedom
struggle. The twentieth century also saw the arrival of Indian
cinema, which further popularized music among common man. The post
independence period saw classical Indian music gaining global
recognition. Ravi Shankar, one of the greatest players of the
Sitar, worked with the Beatles while Ali Akbar Khan popularized the
Sarod in the west. The twentieth century also saw collaborations
between Indian and western musicians. such as Ravi Shankar and
Yehudi Menuhin. This merging of two streams of music is often
referred to as fusion Music.
New generation of artists like Bhimsen Joshi, Amjad Ali Khan and
Bismillah Khan brought finest traditions of Indian music. Film music
is however, the most popular music in India and Pakistan today and
popular Indian films are seldom without songs. Urdu Ghazal also got
popularity and populars Ghazal singers like Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam
Ali, Jagjeet and many others emerged with a new style. Bhajans and
Qawali also retain their popularity.
Indian music is traditionally practice-oriented and
until the 20th century did not employ notations as the primary media
of instruction, understanding, or transmission. The rules of Indian
music and compositions themselves are taught from a guru to a
shishya, in person. However, the notation is regarded as a matter of
taste and is not standardized. Thus there is no universal system of
notation for the rest of the world to study Indian music. The
complexity of Indian classical music could not be expressed in
NOTES IN A SAPTAK
The Indian musical scale is said to
have evolved from 3 notes to a scale of 7 primary notes, on the
basis of 22 intervals. A scale is divided into 22 shrutis or
intervals, and these are the basis of the musical notes. The 7 notes
of the scale are known to musicians as Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da and
Ni. The eighth note is a repetition of the first and is therefore an
octave higher. The group of seven notes is called a saptak. In
western music these seven notes are identified as C D E F G A B.
These 7 notes of the scale do not have equal intervals between them.
A Saptak is a group of 7 notes, divided by the shrutis or intervals
-- A raga is based on the principle of a combination of notes
selected out the 22 note intervals of the octave.
Total notes in a single saptak are 12 but when
we practice arohi and amrohi then we also choose next saptak Sa. See below given diagram.
By deleting other notes 12 notes saptak becomes bilawal thaat
Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Da Ni
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 1
8 19 20 21 22
Indian classical music
has 7 basic notes (Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni), with five interspersed
half-notes, resulting in a 12-note scale. Unlike the 12-note scale
in Western music, the base frequency of the scale is not fixed, and
inter-tonal gaps may also vary. The 22 Srutis are the only notes
which can be useful for music in an “octave”.
The first and fifth notes (Sa and Pa) do not alter their positions on
this interval and are fixed. Detailed l
The other 5 notes can
change their positions in the interval due to komal and tiver, leading to different raga.
about saptak and notes are provided in
The raga forms the backbone of Indian music, and the laws laid down
for the ragas have to be carefully observed to preserve and
safeguard their integrity. The following points are required in the
construction of a Raga --
sequence of notes,
King and Queen
relation of the notes, i.e. Vadi and Samvadi
The Ascent and Descent
of the raga, i.e. Arohi and Amrohi
According to Indo Pak ancient theory, the musician's task in
exploring mood is made easier if the performance takes place at the
time and in the atmosphere appropriate to the raga. So if a raga
which embodies the atmosphere of spring is played in spring it will
be more effective than if it were played in winter. The right
atmosphere responds to the raga as it were, just as the sympathetic
strings of a sitar vibrate to enrich the melody being played on the
main strings. This is why particular times and seasons are deemed
suitable for particular ragas.
Play some classical sounding music and try to see if any particular
Raga thrills you. Anything that turns you off completely ? Play
instrumental or light classical music at first before getting on a
heavy-duty vocal piece. Is there a piece that moves you ? Puts you
in a sublime or inspiring mood ?
Another aspect of the raga 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 raga sung a particular time.
Raga are also allotted a particular time space in the cycle of
the day. These are divided into four types --
when the notes re and da are used -- such as Raga
Midnight ragas which include the notes ga and ni
Ragas for the
first quarter of the morning and night which include
the notes re, ga, da and ni (komal).
For the last
quarter of the day and night, the raga include the
notes sa, ma and pa.
All the raga are divided into two groups -- Poorvi Ragas and Uttar
Ragas. The Poorvi Raga are sung between 12 noon and 12 midnight. The
Uttar Raga are sung between 12 midnight and 12 noon. The variations
on the dominant or ``King" note helps a person to find out why
certain raga are being sung at certain times. This raga
classification is about 500 years old.
The beauty of the raga will not be marred by the time of the day it
is sung. It is the psychological association with the time that goes
with the mood of the raga. The object of a raga is to express a
certain emotional mood and sentiment without any reference to time
and season. For a student of classical music, this classification
may give an idea as to how to base his reasons for the traditional
usage of raga.
Another division of ragas is the classification of ragas under five
From these five ragas, other raga are
derived. The first derivatives of the ragas are called raganis, and
each of the five ragas have five raganis under them. There are 25
raganis for the above five ragas. Each raga contains 5 raganis.
Further derivatives from these raga and raginis resulted in
attaching to each principal raga 16 secondary derivatives known as
upa-raga and upa-raganis.
All the ragas are supposed to have been derived from their thaat.
Every raga has a fixed number of komal (soft) or tewar (sharp)
notes, from which the thaat can be recognized. In other words, a
certain arrangement of the 7 notes with the change of shuddh, komal
and tewar is called a thaat. There are several opinions in this
About Thaat or Scales
The set of Seven Notes or Scale which
can produce a Raga is called a Thaat in urdu or Hindi and raga
produces a song. The system of classification for the ragas in
different groups is called a thaat. There are again several
systems of classification of the raga. Presently in Indian or
Pakistani Classical Music the 10 Thaat (Scales) classification
of raga is prevalent. If you want to learn how to play keyboard or
harmonium the practice of thaat is important. If you want to bring
beauty in music then raga practice is important. If you learn one
thaat or scale then you can play many songs in that particular thaat
or scale. Beauty in playing harmonium or keyboard appears when you
There are certain rules for these thaat
1. The set of Seven Notes or Scale which can produce a Raga
is called a Thaat in urdu or Hindi. A Thaat must have seven notes in
2. Thaat has only one Arohi.
3. Thaat are not be sung only play but the
raga produced from Thaat are sung. As a beginner you can play music of film songs
4. Thaat are named after the popular raaga
of that Thaat. For example Bhairavi is a popular raga and the thaat
of the raga Bharavi is named after the raga.
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 and a
Amrohi. The base note Sa cannot be absent from a raga.
notes Ma and Pa cannot be absent from a
raga at the same time.
A raag is also identified by a Vadi ( main note
) and a Samvadi ( second main 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
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
Or Khado is hexatonic, a composition
of six notes
Sampooran is heptatonic, a composition of
In every raga, there is an
important cluster of notes by which the raga is identified.
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.
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.
of classical music and about raga or
raaga based songs. Learn how to play
raaga based film songs. what is raga and
its role in desi music lessons. Learn
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.
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 ‘Thaat’. Every raga has its own
personality. There are many special things about every raga, which
makes it possible to separate one raga from another.
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 affect us in phrases, not scales.
This theory (music in phrases) was the origin of ragas. Ragas start
with thaat 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. 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.
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