Introduction
Hindustani Classical Music

Section 4

In addition to the twelve notes, Hindustani classical music is famous for using microtones to great effect. Microtones play a very important role in raga music and give it its trademark complexity. A subtle change in the microtone used, and the mood changes dramatically from, say playful to somber. The g~ and d~ in Raag Darbari-Kanada, for instance, indicate extra-flat versions of the notes g and d and make this raga more serious and heavy than its counterpart Jaunpuri (in the case of Miya-ki-Malhar, a slightly sharpened version of g is used). There are other reasons why Darbari-Kanada and Miya-ki-Malhar are more serious than their counterparts Jaunpuri and Bahar - the fact that they are sung mostly in the lower registers, the more powerful ornamentations used. The most important difference between the lighter ragas and their serious counterparts, however, is probably in their musical phrasing. Raag Jaunpuri and Bahar use short and crisp musical phrases that are resolved with regularity. Raag Darbari and Miya-ki-Malhar, however, deliberately create tension by using a large number of unresolved or partially-resolved musical phrases.

As in the previous sections, I have provided a small description of each raga including the mood traditionally assigned to it as well as my own understanding and experience of the raga.

Raag Jaunpuri
Raag Jaunpuri is a very pretty, if somewhat plaintive, raga. It portrays deep yearning mixed with a grounding sense of resignation. Compared with its cousin, Raag Darbari, it has a distinctly feminine quality to it. It needs to be treated with a light touch and uses predominantly light ornamentation. This raga is sung in the late morning hours, up to noon or so.

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


Pt. Venkatesh Kumar
Raag Jaunpuri


Ustad Fateh Ali Khan
Raag Jaunpuri


Raag Darbari-Kanada
Raag Darbari-Kanada is one of the most stately ragas in the Hindustani tradition. The first part of its name, Darbari, comes from the word darbar (the king's court), and the second part, Kanada, indicates that it is originally a Carnatic (south Indian) raga. Grave and majestic, this raga is best sung in a heavy bass voice during the late evening hours, and sometimes deep into night. It is characterized by its extensive use of powerful gamak ornamentation.

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


Ustad Fateh Ali Khan
Raag Darbari-Kanada


Ustad Munir Khan
Raag Darbari-Kanada


Raag Bahar
Bahar means spring, and Raag Bahar is filled with the lightness and joyous celebration of springtime. It is sung through out the spring season during the early afternoon hours and lends itself best to a lively tempo.

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


Pundit Bhimsen Joshi
Raag Bahar


Raag Miya-Ki-Malhar
The world-famous Raag Miya-Ki-Malhar is one of the most ravishing ragas in the Hindustani tradition. Malhar means "giver of rain" and all ragas that contain the word Malhar in their names are rain ragas. But not just any rain; it has to be the onset of the Indian monsoon. If you haven't endured four months of relentlessly rising mercury, searing heat, dry dust storms during the day and suffocating airless nights, you don't know what it feels like when suddenly one day, black clouds gather in the horizon, the thunder rumbles and temperatures drop like lead as a cool wind swirls in dried leaves and twigs ahead of the first monsoon storm. The fragrance that rises as the first raindrops touch the scorched earth is indescribable, peacocks start to dance. And that is when the Malhar ragas are sung. Miyan-Ki-Malhar can depict the joy and relief of the first rains, but on a dramatically contrasting note, it can also depict restless longing in separation and unnamed fears. Ornamentations are used to great effect in this raga to suggest the wind blowing, the thunder rumbling and lightning cracking.

Scale: Miya-Ki-Malhar
Click to hear: Definition of Raag Miya-Ki-Malhar
(Ascent: S m R P, m P n D N S' /Descent: S' D n P, m P, g+ m R S)


Pundit Shiv Kumar Sharma on the Santoor
Raag Miya-Ki-Malhar (cropped)


Pundit Bhimsen Joshi
Raag Miya-Ki-Malhar