All these years of loving and appreciating Indian Classical music, I was thoroughly convinced that the development of thousands of profound ragas had basis only in deep spiritual and intellectual search of many a great individuals over countless 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.
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 another.
In addition to being associated with a particular mood, each raga, at least in the North Indian or Hindustani tradition, is also closely associated with a particular time of day or a season of the year. The day/night cycle is divided in eight 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.
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:
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 the 16th century, Pundarika, a South Indian musicologist introduced the southern Mela (or scale types) system of classifying to Hindustani ragas Much later musicologist Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande (1860-1936) adopted this system to create his own system of Raga classification - 'Thaat" based on ten heptatonic scale types.
A Thaat or framework was defined by Bhatkhande as a scale using all seven notes including Sa and Pa, with either the natural or alternate variety of each of the variable notes Re, Ga, Ma, Dha and Ni. In this system all ragas are classified under ten Thaats or scale types, each of which is named after a prominent raga which uses the note varieties in question.The ten Thaats are:
More on this subject soon. So stay tuned!