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       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). The present system of Indian music is based upon two important pillars: rag and taal. Raag is the melodic form while taal is the rhythmic form. Raga or raag may be roughly equated with the Western term mode or scale. 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 are afterthoughts.


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 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.


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 Sitar.


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 popular Ghazal singers like Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali, Jagjeet and many others emerged with a new style. Bhajans and Qawali also retain their popularity.




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 include next saptak Sa and then total notes becomes 13. 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 18 19 20 21 22

The first and fifth notes (Sa and Pa) do not alter their positions on this interval.  The other 5 notes can change their positions in the interval, leading to different raga. Detailed lessons about saptak and notes are provided in harmonium lessons.




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.

  1. Thaat  or sequence of notes,

  2. Jaatis or classification

  3. King and Queen relation of the notes, i.e. Vadi and Samvadi
  4. The Ascent and Descent of the raga, i.e. Arohi and Amrohi
  5. Important cluster of notes
  6. Pitch
  7. Speed.

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 embarking on a heavy-duty vocal piece. Is there a piece that moves you ? Puts you in a sublime mood ? Helps you drive your car ?

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 --

  1. Twilight raga when the notes re and da are used -- such as Raga Marwa, Poorvi.

  2. Midday and Midnight ragas which include the notes ga and ni (komal).

  3. Ragas for the first quarter of the morning and night which include the notes re, ga, da and ni (komal).

  4. 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 help 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 principal:


1. Hindol, 

2. Deepak,

3. Megh, 

4. Shree 

5. Maulkauns


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 contain 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 matter.


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 use raga.


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 ascending order.

2. Thaat  has only one Arohi.

3. Thaat are not be sung only play but the raga produced from Thaat are sung. You can play music of film songs with thaat.

4. Thaat are named after the popular raaga of that Thaat. For example Bheravi is a popular raga and the thaat of the raga Bheravi 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.
  • The 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 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

  • Or Khado is hexatonic, a composition of six 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.

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. 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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