Raag Hindustani
© 2011, Sādhana

Ragas Classified by Parent Scale (thaat)

~Important ragas you should know~

We began by exploring a few light ragas on the previous page. Let's move on to some bigger ragas now. This page gives you an introduction to raga parent scales through some of the best-loved ragas in Indian classical music – Yaman, Bhimpalasi, Bageshree, Jhinjhoti, Jaunpuri, Bihag, and Bhupali.

In Hindustani (North Indian) classical music, the most common way to classify a raga is under ten parent scales (called thaat). A thaat is no more than a seven-note scale including one each of the seven notes sa re ga ma pa dha ni (the Indian equivalents of do re mi fa so la ti). Of these, the notes re ga ma dha and ni each have two variants (natural vs. flat, or natural vs. sharp), so there can be 32 different thaats, but 10 occur very commonly in Hindustani music. The video below shows these ten parent scales.

The ten parent scales
(Western scale names are simply to show
which notes are flat/sharp in each scale
while keeping the tonic at C.)

Based on the notes they use, most Hindustani ragas can be classified under one of these ten scales. The parent scale of a raga functions, essentially, as its key signature. For instance, if you know that a raga belongs to the Kalyan scale, then you know that it uses the sharp variant of Ma (♯4). If it belongs to the Kafi scale, then you know that it uses the flat variants of ga and ni (♭3 & ♭7). And so on.

Raag Yaman (Kalyan thaat)

Yaman, also called Kalyan (meaning "blessed" in Sanskrit), belongs to the Kalyan scale because it uses the sharp variant of Ma (♯4). This ancient raga is very important in both Carnatic (South Indian) and Hindustani music. Performed from sunset to late evening, Yaman is full of grace and beauty, evoking a mood 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

Shahid Parvez (sitar)
Raag Yaman

Raag Bhimpalasi (Kafi thaat)

Bhimpalasi is the first big raga that comes to mind when you think of the Kafi scale, which uses the flat variants of ga and ni (♭3 & ♭7). An afternoon raga, sung from late afternoon to sunset, it is poignant and passionate, filled with yearning.

Scale: Bhimpalasi

Debasmita Bhattacharya (sarod)
Raag Bhimpalasi

Raag Bageshree (Kafi thaat)

Another big raga classified under the Kafi scale, Bageshree is so beautiful as to be named after the goddess of music (Bageshree = Saraswati) herself. The raga portrays moods of romance and longing and enjoys enduring popularity in both Carnatic and Hindustani classical music. It is typically performed late at night.

Scale: Bageshree

Rashid Khan (vocal) and Shahid Parvez (sitar)
Raag Bageshree

Raag Jhinjhoti (Khamaj thaat)

Jhinjhoti belongs to the Khamaj scale because it uses the flat variant of ni (♭7). Imbued with the soul of rural India, charming Raag Jhinjhoti lends itself well to medium and fast paces and is typically performed in the late evening.

Scale: Jhinjhoti

Ashwini Bhide Deshpande (vocal)
Raag Jhinjhoti

Raag Jaunpuri (Asavari thaat)

Raag Jaunpuri is classified under the Asavari scale because it uses the flat variants of ga, dha, and ni (♭3, ♭6, ♭7). This raga from the Jaunpur region of Uttar Pradesh has melancholy undertones and a distinctly feminine quality to it, which requires a light touch. It is sung in the late morning hours, up to noon or so.

Scale: Jaunpuri

Venkatesh Kumar (vocal)
Raag Jaunpuri

Inadequacies of the Thaat-Based Classification System

Not all ragas are easy to classify under a parent scale. Raag Bihag, for instance, uses all the natural notes (Bilawal scale), but it additionally includes the sharp Ma (♯4), which belongs to the Kalyan scale. Now what do we do? Well, if you know Raag Bihag, you will know that natural ma (4) is more fundamental to the raga, while sharp Ma (♯4) is used decoratively. So we classify it under the Bilawal scale.

Raag Bihag (Bilawal thaat)

Traditionally performed late at night, Bihag is another big raga, spanning both light and serious genres of classical music, but it does have a light and feminine quality that makes it well suited to more popular genres like ghazals and film music as well.

Scale: Bihag

Nikhil Banerjee (sitar)
Raag Bihag

Ragas that use less than seven notes are also difficult to classify under a thaat. Take Raag Bhupali, for instance. It uses only five notes - Sa Re Ga Pa Dha (1, 2, 3, 5, 6). All five notes are found in three different scales, Bilawal, Kalyan, and Khamaj. So which scale should we classify it under?

In such cases, the raga's melody profile or chalan (video: "what is chalan?") is taken into account. Many ragas are derived from existing ragas or originate in the same geographical region, giving them certain similarities in terms of note patterning, ornamentation and so on. Based on these similarities, ragas can be grouped into families (raagang).

Bhupali's melody profile suggests that it is a raga of the Kalyan family, so we classify it under the Kalyan scale. This is in contrast with Raag Deshkar, which uses the same set of five notes, but is classified under the Bilawal scale because its melody profile is reminiscent of the Bilawal family of ragas.

Raag Bhupali (Kalyan thaat)

The pentatonic scale of Raag Bhupali has great appeal not just in India, but universally. In Hindustani music, Bhupali is counted among the big ragas, being quite vast and suited to various moods and tempos. However, it is at its most beautiful in the lower pitch ranges and at slower tempos. Bhupali is an evening raga, typically performed from around sunset to the early part of the night.

Scale: Bhupali

Kishori Amonkar (vocal)
Raag Bhupali

To listen to Deshkar and ragas in other thaats (Bhairav, Marwa, Todi), go to my page on difficult ragas. To explore some of the other important ragas in Hindustani classical music, check out my pages on raga families (raagang) and ragas classified by structure.