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India Heritage:Performing Arts:Music:Classical:Hindustani Music

The term Raga refers to both the musical melody and the abstract personification of the spirit of a raga. The two must and do merge so as to allow the individual characteristics of a raga to emerge through the notes.

Certain technicalities impart to the raga form its complex harmony. Four kinds of melodic movements (varna) are recognized: Sthayi (stable): the continuous holding of one note; Aroha: ascending notes, from Sa to Ni; Avaroha: descending notes, from Ni to Sa; Sanchari: the meandering of the notes.

Pandit Bhatkhande ruled certain qualifying features for a raga: For one, a raga needs to be composed of at least five notes, one of which needs necessarily be Shadja (Sa. Either pancham or madhyam must also be present. Further, the ascending scale (aroha) or the descending scale (avaroha) cannot carry both the sharp/pure and altered forms of the same note; however, different forms of a note can be present on different scales within a raga.

Ranade reiterated this by insisting that Sa be the tonic (or sonant) for all ragas and the latter must use the full range of an octave and be aesthetically pleasing. Also, that madhyam or pancham be one of the other notes.

In practical terms however, the dominant note or sonant (vadi) can vary and the consonant (samavadi) is always the fifth note from the vadi. The consonant works to complement the vadi. Other notes, insignificant, are known as anuvadi, and those that do not belong to the raga or have been positioned in violation of rules, maybe for purposes of contrast, are known as vivadi. The process of shifting the sonant and therefore the consonant to create new melodies is known as murchhana. The key lies in maintaining the sonant - consonant ratio.

The names of ragas are determined by a host of factors. Many are named after the deities associated with their origin, for instance Kedar, Shankara, Bhairav, Duraga, and Saraswati. Tribal names abound because their melodies have provided the basis for ragas like Asavari, Ahiri, and Gurjari. Ragas like the Malwa, Jaunpuri, Pahari are so named because of the association with the melodies of those places. Composers often lend their names to ragas such as Miyan-ki-Malhar (named after Tansen, the great musician of the Mughal emperor Akbar's court), and Miyan-ki-Todi (named after Vilaskhani Todi). Some raga names reflect their mixed origins - Bhupali-Todi, Ahir-Bhairav.

Whatever the reasons for their nomenclature, a famous and intrinsic part of ragas is the mood they seek to express and evoke. The skills and dedication required may lead to an unusual experience as well, as in the case of raga Dipak. This raga is believed capable of lighting up lamps and of setting the singer aflame! Legend has it that Gopala Naik, a renowned musician, immersed himself in water before commencing on the raga, but nonetheless could not save himself from being consumed by fire. Tansen was more fortunate during his rendition of the raga because his wife began singing raga Malhar (to bring down the rains).

Ragas in Practice
The ragas have their seasons and times of day as well. Summer is regarded as the corresponding season for raga Dipak, Monsoon for raga Megh, Autumn for raga Bhairav, Winter for raga Malkauns, and the Spring for raga Hindol. In Carnatic music, however, there is no such connection of season or time, although some ragas are considered appropriate to certain hours.

The correct time of day and night for a few ragas:

6-9 a.m.

Ragas of Bilawal thăt, such as Alahya Bilawal, Shuddh Bilawal, Devgiri Bilawal, Shukla Bilawal, Kukubh Bilawal; Gunakali and Sarpada;

Ragas of Bhairav thăt, such as Ahir-Bhairav; Ramkali, Jogiya Bhairav-Bahar;

Ragas of Bhairavi thăt, such as Bhairavi, Bhupali-Todi, Bilaskhani Todi;

Ragas of Kalyan thăt, such as Hindol;


9 a.m. - 12 noon.

Ragas of Todi thăt, such as Gurjari Todi, Miyan-ki-Todi; Asavari thăt: ragas such as Asavari, Komal Re Asavari, Sindh Bhairavi;

Ragas of Kafi thăt, such as Sugharai, Sur Malhar;

Ragas of Bilawal thăt, such as Deshkar.


Noon - 3 p.m.


Ragas of Kafi thăt, such as Bridabani Sarang, Shuddh Sarang, Bhimpalasi, Pilu;

Ragas of Kalyan thăt, such as Gaud-Sarang.


3 - 6 p.m.


Ragas of Purvi thăt, such as Purvi, Purya-Dhanashri, Shri, Triveni;

Ragas of Marwa thăt, such as Marwa, Purya;

Ragas of Todi thăt, such as Multani; of Kafi thăt, such as Pat-Manjari.


6-9 p.m.


Ragas of Kalyan thăt, such as Yaman, Bhupali, Hamir, Shuddh Kalyan, Chhay-Nata;

Ragas of Bilawal thăt, such as Hansadhwani.


9 p.m. - midnight.


Ragas of Bilawal thăt, such as Shankara, Durga, Nand, Maluha Kedar, Bihag and its forms;

Ragas of Khamaj thăt, such as Khamaj, Jaijaiwanti, Regeshwari, Bhainna Shadja, Gara;

Ragas of Kafi thăt, such as Kafi, Malhar and its forms, Bageshwari.


Midnight - a.m.


Ragas of Kafi thăt, such as Bahar, Nayaki Kanada;

Ragas of Asavari thăt, such as Darbari Kanada, Shahana Kanada;

Ragas of Bhairavi thăt, such as Malkauns.


3-6 a.m.


Ragas of Purvi thăt, such as Basant, Paraj;

Ragas of Marwa thăt, such as Sohoni, Lalit;

Ragas of Bhairav thăt, such as Kalingda.


Those ragas that are meant to be played at sunset or sunrise are called Sandhiprakash. There are others that can be played at any and all times, for instance ragas Mand (regarded also as an evening raga), Sindhura, and Dhani.

These stipulations of time are governed by the notes and their pitch. Pandit Bhatkhande held that ragas performed at night or at sunset should contain the tivra madhyam (Mâ), whereas daytime ragas must not contain the tivra madhyam. Ragas which emphasize the lower pitch are to be performed during the evening or early night; ragas emphasizing the higher pitch are appropriate for late night and early morning. Undoubtedly, there are exceptions to these stringent guidelines.

See also: Thăt & Swara

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