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) traditionally prescribed for the raga but elaborated based on my personal understanding and experience of it.

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

Raag Marwa (hexatonic)
Marwa is sung during the late afternoon hours up to sunset. As a raga, it can evoke emotions ranging from quiet resignation and gentle compassion to foreboding and restlessness. Whatever else it may be, it is not a raga to be treated lightly.

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 Bhimsen Joshi
Raag Marwa

Vidhushi Malini Rajurkar
Raag Marwa

Raag Bhairav (heptatonic)
Bhairav is considered by some to be the most important raga in the Hindustani classical tradition. It is a morning raga, extremely solemn and portraying the peacefulness of a strong mind. 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 is what Raag Bhairav is.

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)

Utsav Lal on fluid piano
Raag Bhairav

Raag Gaud-Sarang (oxatonic)
A very pretty, 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

Raag Pahadi
And now, a raga that can get away with using just about any note in the octave but still retains a distinct flavor all its own. Pahadi is one of those ragas that is hard to define an ascent or descent for, so 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. Pahadi is an extremely charming evening raga that combines both playful and pensive aspects.

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)

Pundit Ajay Chakrabarty demonstrates
How all 12 notes in the octave can be used in Raag Pahadi

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

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 beautiful 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 very well suited 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 'N R S)

Pundit Shivkumar Sharma on the santoor (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)

Vidushi Veena Sahasrabuddhe
Raag Jog

Dr. Ashwini Deshpande
Raag Jog