Know Your Raga - Your complete guide to Indian Classical Music
Know Your Raga - Your complete guide to Indian Classical Music

What is a Raga?

In the broad sense a rãga is a set of rules or constraints that binds the performance of a singer or a musician in such a way that it induces a certain emotion or mood in the minds of the listeners. Although the raga is governed by certain rules, not every set of notes that follows those rules becomes a rãga. This is because the rãga has to ‘induce an emotion’ and that is what makes this concept abstract and intriguing.

The raga is not a scale or a tune or a mode. It is more like a framework that binds all these things together.

Each rãga has a name and generally an associated time of day when it is best performed, depending on the mood it projects.

The following are some of the characteristics associated with a rãga:-

  • rãga consists of a defined set of notes which could vary in number depending on the individual rãga.
  • Each rãga is associated with an ascending and descending pattern that defines the order of notes known as the ãroha and the avroha.
  • These notes are classified in a heirarchy based on their importance and the two most important notes lie in two different tetra-chords(half-octaves). The most important note is called the vãdi and the second most important note is called the samvãdi.
  • The raga generally has a characteristic phrase known as the pakad which helps in identifying that raga.

For a raga there exist several compositions or songs which obey the rules of the raga. The words generally relate to the mood being conveyed by that raga. A singer or musician sings or plays the notes in various combinations playing the static compositions and embelishing them and adding improvised parts in between. A typical performance could go on for an hour or even two. The success of the performance depends on how effectively the musician builds up the desired mood.

Posted by Manu Mahajan. Last updated on 27th June 06.

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