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All these years of loving and appreciating Indian Classical music, I was well convinced that the development of thousands of profound ragas had basis only in deep spiritual and intellectual search of many a great individuals over millennia. But some years ago, when I first came to know that a music system as profound as Indian Classical Raga system actually has its roots very firmly established in the folk music, I was at least a bit surprised. All these powerful ragas, capable of inducing altered states of mind and fabled to be powerful enough to call forth the rains or light up lamps, have originated from common man’s music!

Historically, the system of Indian classical music known as Raga Sangeet can formally be traced back more than two thousand years to its origin in the Vedic hymns of the Hindu temples, the fundamental source of all Indian classical music. Now what is a raga...well, it could be a hard thing to explain. There is an old adage in Sanskrit - "Ranjayati iti Ragah" - literally "that which colours the mind is a raga." For a raga to truly colour the mind of the listener, its effect must be created not only through the notes and the embellishments, but also by the presentation of these notes to carry the soul or mood of each raga.

The performing arts in India - music, dance,drama, and poetry - are based on the concept of Nava Rasa , or the "nine sentiments." Literally, rasa means "juice" or "extract" but here in this context, we take it to mean "emotion" or "sentiment."

The acknowledged order of these sentiments is as follows:
Shringara (romantic/erotic)
Hasya (humorous)
Karuna (pathos)
Raudra (anger)
Veera (heroic)
Bhayanaka (horrific)
Vibhatsa (disgustful)
Adbhuta (amazing)
Shanta (peaceful)

Each raga is principally dominated by one of these nine rasas, although the performer can also bring out other emotions in a less prominent way. The more closely the notes of a raga conform to the expression of one single idea or emotion, the more overwhelming the effect of the raga.

In addition to being associated with a particular mood, each raga is also closely associated with a particular time of day or a season of the year. The day-night cycle is considered divided in 8 equal intervals, called prahars. Each prahar - such as the time before dawn, noon, late afternoon, early evening, late night - is associated with a set of ragas.

Though apparently following fixed modes, ragas should not be mistaken as mere modes or scales. A raga is a precise, subtle and profoundly aesthetic melodic form with its own peculiar ascending and descending movement consisting of either a full seven note octave, or a series of six or five notes (or a combination of any of these) in a rising or falling structure called the Arohana and Avarohana. It is the subtle difference in the order of notes, an omission of a dissonant note, an emphasis on a particular note, the slide from one note to another, and above all the underlying subtle mood or the soul, that distinguish one raga from the other.

There are 22 "shrutis" or microtones which comprise the octave or saptak in Indian system of music (as opposed to the 12 semitones in an octave in Western music). Use of the shruti's is unique to each raga. The application of the shruti's in conjunction with various ornamentation like "gamakas", "andolan" etc. incorporated in to "chalan "- or specific note patterns characteristic of the raga; its principle important note (vadi); the second important note (samavadi) result in to evoking the mood and emotional nuances peculiar to each. be continued

Check out these nice links

Get 50 FREE Indian Classical Music Downloads for your iPodŽ or any MP3 player! Undoubtedly an unmatched collection of Indian classical Bansuri, Sitar, Sarod, Santoor and vocal music performed by great maestros.
Rajan Parrikar's excellent pages explaining nuances of various ragas with great audio archives of around 2000 audio clips : Good variety of information on Indian Classical Music
Patrick Moutal's wonderful audio and video archives of Indian Classical music
ITC Sangeet Research Academy Useful information about Ragas and downloadable clips.

Venkat's Carnatic Music Pages Wealth of information on Carnatic Ragas.
Online Guitar Lessons - Get tips and lessons to learning the guitar with videos and tabs.


Page updated on September 25, 2012


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