Raga – North Indian Classical Music

Features of a Raga in Indian Music

by Dr. Mukul Shri Goel

The Raga in Indian classical music is a musical atmosphere – defined by a set of properties – that imparts a distinctive melodious sound to all the diverse compositions that are based on it. The set of properties that characterize a raga include the allowable notes and order of their application (ascend and descend; aroha and avroha), the key groupings of notes (pakad), the most prominent note (vadi), the second most significant note (samvadi), the parent scale (thaat), the time (hours and/or season), and the nature or mood (prakriti).

For the purpose of learning more about these basic characteristics of a raga, let’s take an example of a simple yet celebrated raga – Vrindavani Sarang.

(Key: Musical Notes on the Higher Octave are in Bold, Notes on a Lower Octave are in Italics, Komal (soft) notes are Underlined, Shuddha notes are in regular script, a comma denotes a slight pause at the musician’s discretion.)

The Allowable Notes and their Order

Out of the twelve notes on the keyboard, Raga Vrindavani Sarang uses six notes; namely, Sa, Re, Ma, Pa, Ni, and Ni. However, there exists a condition: shuddha nishad (Ni) is to be used only in the ascend, and komal nishad (Ni) is allowed during the descend only. This condition makes five notes permissible while ascending (from Sa to higher notes) and five notes allowable while descending (from Sa to lower notes), making the raga a member of the audav-audav (five note-five note) family (jaati). Ga, Dha or teevra Ma can never be used.

On satisfying these conditions and arranging the notes in their natural order, the aroha (ascend) for this raga becomes:

Ni  Sa    Re,   Ma   Pa,    Ni   Sa

And the avroha (descend) becomes:

Sa   Ni   Pa,  Ma   Re,   Sa

Prominent Notes and Preferred Progression

You must have noticed the slight pauses after Re and Pa in the above aroha-avroha sequences. The reason for pausing at these notes in a presentation is that these two notes demand special status in Raga Vrindavani sarang – they are to be used prominently for an authentic display of this raga. Because Re is the most important note of the raga (vadi note), the longer one holds this note in a performance, the easier it is form the atmosphere of the raga. Similarly, the second most significant note (samvadi note) is Pa. Such relative importance of notes must be kept in mind during both raga-based composing and improvising (alaap/ taan).

The preferred note progression, pakad, for Raga Vrindavani Sarang is as follows:

Ni  Sa   Re,   Ma   Re,  Pa   Ma   Re,   Sa

Repeated use of these key groupings of notes can highlight the uniqueness of this raga and prevent the performer from entering the domains of closely associated ragas, either from its parent scale (thaat Kafi ) or the sarang-group. In the pakad, you can again note the significance of the note ‘Re’ for this raga.

The Timing and Mood

The time of this raga is ‘afternoon.’ Even though the rule regarding time is not strictly followed by many musicians, it is believed that the vibrations of Vrindavani Sarang would be more effective in creating the desirable effect on its listeners if it is performed in the afternoon. Besides, this raga is more suitable for the monsoon (rainy) season. Because the name of this raga has originated from the town of Vrindavan, where Krishna enacted many divine plays (leelas) during His incarnation, devotional songs are often composed in this raga. The mood of this raga is believed to be devotional. Though lyrics in classical presentations are regularly short so that the mood and intricacies of the raga can be focused upon, lyrics, while composing, must be chosen to match this feel of the raga.

If you are a beginner in Indian Classical Music, some entries on the music section of my blog may be helpful. Please check out my music notes on this site.

Copyright © 2007  Mukul S. Goel

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