‘Ragas’ or Colours of Life

Raga Khamaj, Raga Bihag, Raga Bhupali, Raga Bhairavi, Raga Bhairava, Raga Durga, Raga Malhaar and so on…. These are not just a few names in the world of Classical Music but they constitute the whole and soul of the very vivid, magnificent and unique Indian Classical music which is an amalgamation of various moods and soul.
Indian Classical Music encompasses two distinct but related traditions. The Northern Indian tradition is called the Hindustani tradition. The Southern Indian tradition is called Carnatic. Both the traditions are essentially based on raga (melody) and Taal (rhythmic cycles). These Ragas constitute the main essence of the Indian Classical music. Ragas are not static. Some can be traced back to ancient or medieval times, others originated only a few centuries or even a few decades ago. However, all ragas have undergone transformations over the centuries.
Musical notes of different series in their consecutive order of pitch within an octave form the basis of a raga. The Raga is a framework encompassing a set of rules prescribed for the melody and for the movements up and down the scale. The ten basic musical scales or framework or Thaats also allows for endless variations within the set of notes. Thus, a raga is a particular arrangement of notes and melodic movements.
Generally, these Ragas have five, six or seven swaras. In the Hindustani Classical Music sphere, ragas are many and each has its distinctive qualities. The essential feature of a raga is its power of evoking an emotion that enthralls listeners – that is, a Raga should colour (originally in Sanskrit) or please the minds of the listeners. Each Raga has a character, which can be devotional, erotic, bold and valorous, or tragic.
A raga usually includes a large number of traditional songs, composed by great musicians of the past. Not only this, these ragas also allow today’s musician to compose new songs, and to generate a variety of melodic sequences. Many old Hindi songs are based on ragas. For instance, the song- Albela sajan aayo re from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam is based on Raga Bhairava, Laga chunri mein daag is based on the Raga Bhairavi, Zindagi ke safar mein Guzar jaate hain jo mukam is based on Raga Bihag and so on…. Our National Anthem is also based on the Raga Bilawal.

Further, these Ragas are not sung in isolation but in lieu with the time and season of their singing. For example- Raga Bhairava is a morning Raga. The notes and tones of this Raga sound very peaceful in the morning. The ideal time of singing this Raga is between 6 a.m. – 7 p.m. Similarly, Raga Bhairavi and Maarva are sung at the dawn, Raga Malkons, Durga, Bahar and Khamaj are sung in the night and Raga Malhar is a raga of the rainy season. However the beauty of the raga is not affected by the time of the day it is sung.

Given a Raga, there exist several compositions which obey the rules of that Raga and effectively convey its mood. It is common for the words to assist in conveying the mood. For example, monsoon-related ragas have compositions that describe the clouds, rains, thunder, etc. Tansen, one of the Navratna of the Akbar’s court was one of the finest singers of his time. Once, when he sang the Raga Deepak, his body started burning. This was not because of anything else but because of the powerful swaras of the Deepak Raga which created a fire effect. On the same time, when the shishya of Tansen sang the Raga Megh to stop the heating effect on Tansen’s body, it started raining. Such is the impact on Raga in the Indian Classical music.

There are about 50 common ragas, another 100 that are quite common, and around 200 that are relatively rare. These include mixture ragas, obtained by combining 2 or more pure ragas. At any given instant, a mixture Raga will convey the mood of one of its component Ragas, but it owes smoothly from one component to the other, and creates a beautiful effect.

Therefore, one cannot say that Indian classical music is baseless and these Ragas are useless as each one of them has their own story to tell which is unique and different. These Ragas not only turn the whole atmosphere melodious but also calms down ones soul and bring peace to the mind. These Ragas, are not just a piece of music but they work as a therapy for many diseases. It is for the same reason that music therapy is now used by the doctors also. So without actually knowing the Indian Classical Music, it is very wrong to say that it is becoming obsolete. In fact, these days, inclination towards Indian Classical music is increasing.  For a change, everybody is moving towards the Classical music in search of peace realizing its importance and rich music.

Avani Jain

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