Hindustani Classical Music

Section 3 - Different Kinds of Ragas

Our previous section illustrated a few simple pentatonic ragas in an effort to show how you could get different melodies from different sets of five notes. In this and the following section, we will see how many other ways there are to group notes to form ragas. Here again, I have provided a small description of each raga mainly based on the mood (rasa / bhaava) traditionally assigned to the raga but also going by my own understanding and experience of it.

Let's begin with examples of six-note, seven-note and eight-note ragas.

Raag Marwa (hexatonic)
Raag Marwa is sung during the late afternoon hours up to sunset. It is one of the major ragas in Hindustani classical music and is sung widely and taken very seriously. One of the interesting things about Raag Marwa is that it de-emphasizes the root note "sa." Probably because of this, it is a somewhat unsettling raga, and mainly evokes dark moods of foreboding and anxiety. It can also portray compassion or resignation in the face of some inner struggle.

Scale: Marwa
Click to hear: Definition of Raag Marwa
(Ascent: S r G M D N S' /Descent: S' N D M G r S)

Pundit Nikhil Banerjee on the sitar
Raag Marwa

Vidhushi Malini Rajurkar
Raag Marwa

Raag Bhairav (heptatonic)
Bhairav is another very important raga in the Hindustani classical tradition. It is a morning raga, and solemn peacefulness is its ideal mood. It is very easy, however, for this scale to deteriorate from majestically peaceful to pathetically melodramatic, and artists must watch out for that. I think it was Pundit Vilayat Khan who once described Raag Bhairav as the music in the mind of Lord Shiva as he meditated in the Himalayas. That made an impression on me. Picture Shiva-the-terrible, absorbed in the deepest meditation in a dark cave in the Himalayas. Everything is still, except for the occasional dripping of a stalagtite. Then dawn breaks and the first rays of sunlight penetrate into the cave. Imagine the music in the mind of this man of terrifying passions at that time in his state of perfect peacefulness. And that, to me, is what Raag Bhairav should be.

Scale: Bhairav
Click to hear: Definition of Raag Bhairav
(Ascent: S r G m P d N S' /Descent: S' N d P m G r S)

Uday Bhawalkar
Dhrupad in Raag Bhairav

Utsav Lal on fluid piano
Raag Bhairav

Raag Gaud-Sarang (oxatonic)
Gaud-Sarang is a sunshiny, lively early-afternoon raga.

Scale: GaudSarang
Click to hear: Definition of Raag Gaud-Sarang
(Ascent: S G R m G P M D P N D S' /Descent: S' D N P D M P G m R P R S)

Vidushi Malini Rajurkar
Raag Gaud-Sarang

And now, a couple of ragas that can get away with using just about any note in the octave but still retain a distinct flavors all their own.

Raag Pahadi
Pahadi is an evening raga that combines both playful and pensive aspects. It is characterized by a very charming, folksy flavor. The notes S R G P D form the backbone of Raag Pahadi, which makes it a very close cousin of the pentatonic raga Bhupali. The other notes of the octave are incorporated into this framework judiciously. Here is a simple sol-fa song to demonstrate a few typical note combinations. In this example I have only combined the nine most prominent notes used. The remaining notes are used only rarely and have to be done with the greatest care and expertise to retain the raga's identity.

Scale: Pahadi
Click to hear: Simple sol-fa song in Raag Pahadi
('P 'G 'P 'D S, R m G R S 'N D, 'n 'D 'P, 'D 'P 'm 'G, 'P 'D S, G g G P G R S, R S 'N 'D 'P 'm 'G, 'G 'P 'D S R g R, G P G R S)

Pundit Shivkumar Sharma on the santoor
Raag Pahadi (cropped)

Ustad Salamat Ali Khan demonstrates
Indo-Pakistani, Afghani and Western variations of Raag Pahadi

Raag Bhairavi
Raag Bhairavi is quite an important raga in the Hindustani classical as well as semi-classical tradition. As in the case of Raag Pahadi, just about any note in the octave can be incorporated into Raag Bhairavi, but its main structure comprises the notes S, r, g, m, P, d, and n -- notice that all the main notes are minor. This gives the raga a very gentle and sweet quality. A small composition in Raag Bhairavi is often sung at the end of a long performance as a way of winding down.

Scale: Bhairavi
Click to hear: Definition of Raag Bhairavi
(Ascent: S r g m P d n S' /Descent: S' n d P m g r S)

Pundit Venkatesh Kumar
Raag Bhairavi

Pundit Bhimsen Joshi
Raag Bhairavi

The vast majority of ragas, however, are not symmetric in ascent and descent. They may use a different set or number of notes on the way up than they do on the way down. But what does this really mean? Well, for instance, if a note is used only in the descent, what this means is that it is always followed by a note lower than itself in the octave. For instance, in Raag Yaman, the note P is used only in the descent. So, it may be immediately followed by M, G, R or S, but not by D, N or S'. You may climb up to P on the way up: 'N R G M P. But if you want to climb further, you would have to climb down at least one step first: 'N R G M P, M D N. Of course, rules exist mainly to be broken, but only by those who have mastered them first. Here are a few examples of asymmetric ragas.

Raag Yaman
Yaman is an evening raga, sung from sunset to late evening. It is full of grace and majesty, and the main mood it creates is one of devotion and dedication. It is a raga that suggests unconditional offering of everything one has at the altar of whatever one's calling may be, asking nothing in return.

Scale: Yaman
Click to hear: Definition of Raag Yaman
(Ascent: 'N R G M D N S' /Descent: S' N D P M G R S)

Pundit Ravi Shankar teaches Anoushka Shankar (sitar)
Raag Yaman

Vidushi Malini Rajurkar
Raag Yaman

Raag Bhimpalasi
An afternoon raga, sung from late afternoon to sunset, Bhimpalasi is poignant and passionate, filled with yearning.

Scale: Bhimpalasi
Click to hear: Definition of Raag Bhimpalasi
(Ascent: 'n S g m P n S' /Descent: S' n D P m g R S)

Ustad Sultan Khan on the sarangi
Raag Bhimpalasi

Dr. Ashwini Deshpande
Raag Bhimpalasi

Raag Kedar
Kedar is one of the most lovely ragas there can be. It is sung from late evening to midnight and is said to create a mood of peacefulness. I find, however, that this raga and its playful note combinations are beautifully suited also for creating moods of joy and elation.

Scale: Kedar
Click to hear: Definition of Raag Kedar
(Ascent: S m G P, M P D N S' /Descent: S' N D P M P D P m R S)

Pundita Malini Rajurkar (cropped),
Raag Kedar

Pundit Buddhadev Das Gupta on the sarod
Raag Kedar

Raag Jog
Raag Jog is sung in small hours of the morning, just after midnight. It has a magical quality that lives up to its name (jog indicates a state of enchantment). It is quite a popular raga too, often adopted to lighter forms of music.

Scale: Jog
Click to hear: Definition of Raag Jog
(Ascent: 'n S G m P n S' /Descent: S' n P m G, m g~ S)

Dr. Ashwini Deshpande
Raag Jog