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Melakarta Ragas

A raga or raag (IAST: r?ga; also raaga or ragam; literally "coloring, tingeing, dyeing"[1][2]) is a melodic framework for improvisation akin to a melodic mode in Indian classical music.[3] The r?ga is a unique and central feature of the classical Indian music tradition, and as a result has no direct translation to concepts in classical European music.[4][5] Each r?ga is an array of melodic structures with musical motifs, considered in the Indian tradition to have the ability to "colour the mind" and affect the emotions of the audience.[1][2][5]

Each r?ga provides the musician with a musical framework within which to improvise.[3][6][7] The specific notes within a r?ga can be reordered and improvised by the musician. R?gas range from small r?gas like Bahar and Shahana that are not much more than songs to big r?gas like Malkauns, Darbari and Yaman, which have great scope for improvisation and for which performances can last over an hour. R?gas may change over time, with an example being Marwa, the primary development of which has gone down to the lower octave compared to the traditionally middle octave.[8] Each r?ga traditionally has an emotional significance and symbolic associations such as with season, time and mood.[3] The r?ga is considered a means in Indian musical tradition to evoke certain feelings in an audience. Hundreds of r?ga are recognized in the classical tradition, of which about 30 are common,[3][7] and each r?ga has its "own unique melodic personality".[9]

There are two main classical music traditions, Hindustani (North Indian) and Carnatic (South Indian), and the concept of r?ga is shared by both.[6] R?ga are also found in Sikh traditions such as in Guru Granth Sahib, the primary scripture of Sikhism.[10] Similarly it is a part of the qawwali tradition found in Sufi Islamic communities of South Asia.[11] Some popular Indian film songs and ghazals use r?gas in their compositions.[12]

Every raga consists of shadja (otherwise named adhara sadja which is arbitrarily chosen by the performer) which is taken as the beginning and end of the octave, and an adhista which is either the swara Ma or the swara Pa. The adhista divides the octave into two parts (anga)- Purvanga and Uttaranga. Every raga has a vadi which is the most prominent swara and a samvadi which is consonant with the vadi (always from a different anga from vadi). Samvadi is the second most prominent swara in the raga.[clarification needed]


The Sanskrit word r?ga (Sanskrit: ) has Indian roots, as *reg- which connotes "to dye". It is found in Greek, Persian, Khwarezmian and other languages, in variants such as "raxt", "rang", "rakt" and others. The words "red" and "rado" are also related.[13] According to Monier Monier-Williams, the term comes from a Sanskrit word for "the act of colouring or dyeing", or simply a "colour, hue, tint, dye".[14] The term also connotes an emotional state referring to a "feeling, affection, desire, interest, joy or delight", particularly related to passion, love, or sympathy for a subject or something.[15] In the context of ancient Indian music, the term refers to a harmonious note, melody, formula, building block of music available to a musician to construct a state of experience in the audience.[14]

The word appears in the ancient Principal Upanishads of Hinduism, as well as the Bhagavad Gita.[16] For example, verse 3.5 of the Maitri Upanishad and verse 2.2.9 of the Mundaka Upanishad contain the word r?ga. The Mundaka Upanishad uses it in its discussion of soul (Atman-Brahman) and matter (Prakriti), with the sense that the soul does not "color, dye, stain, tint" the matter.[17] The Maitri Upanishad uses the term in the sense of "passion, inner quality, psychological state".[16][18] The term r?ga is also found in ancient texts of Buddhism where it connotes "passion, sensuality, lust, desire" for pleasurable experiences as one of three impurities of a character.[19][20] Alternatively, r?ga is used in Buddhist texts in the sense of "color, dye, hue".[19][20][21]

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Raga groups are called Thaat.[22]
Raga groups are called Thaat.[22]

The term r?ga in the modern connotation of a melodic format occurs in the Brihaddeshi by Mata?ga Muni dated ca. 8th century,[23] or possibly 9th century.[24] The Brihaddeshi describes r?ga as "a combination of tones which, with beautiful illuminating graces, pleases the people in general".[25]

According to Emmie te Nijenhuis, a professor in Indian musicology, the Dattilam section of Brihaddeshi has survived into the modern times, but the details of ancient music scholars mentioned in the extant text suggest a more established tradition by the time this text was composed.[23] The same essential idea and prototypical framework is found in ancient Hindu texts, such as the Naradiyasiksa and the classic Sanskrit work Natya Shastra by Bharata Muni, whose chronology has been estimated to sometime between 500 BC and 500 AD,[26] probably between 200 BC and 200 AD.[27]

Bharata describes a series of empirical experiments he did with the Veena, then compared what he heard, noting the relationship of fifth intervals as a function of intentionally induced change to the instrument's tuning. Bharata states that certain combination of notes are pleasant, certain not so. His methods of experimenting with the instrument triggered further work by ancient Indian scholars, leading to the development of successive permutations, as well as theories of musical note inter-relationships, interlocking scales and how this makes the listener feel.[24] Bharata discusses Bhairava, Kaushika, Hindola, Dipaka, SrI-r?ga, and Megha. Bharata states that these have the ability to trigger a certain affection and the ability to "color the emotional state" in the audience.[14][24] His encyclopedic Natya Shastra links his studies on music to the performance arts, and it has been influential in Indian performance arts tradition.[28][29]

The other ancient text, Naradiyasiksa dated to be from the 1st century BC, discusses secular and religious music, compares the respective musical notes.[30] This is earliest known text that reverentially names each musical note to be a deity, describing it in terms of varna (colors) and other motifs such as parts of fingers, an approach that is conceptually similar to the 12th century Guidonian hand in European music.[30] The study that mathematically arranges rhythms and modes (r?ga) has been called prast?ra (matrix).(Khan 1996, p. 89, Quote: "(...) the Sanskrit word prast?ra, ... means mathematical arrangement of rhythms and modes. In the Indian system of music there are about the 500 modes and 300 different rhythms which are used in everyday music. The modes are called Ragas.")[31]

In the ancient texts of Hinduism, the term for the technical mode part of r?ga was Jati. Later, Jati evolved to mean quantitative class of scales, while r?ga evolved to become a more sophisticated concept that included the experience of the audience.[32] A figurative sense of the word as 'passion, love, desire, delight' is also found in the Mahabharata. The specialized sense of 'loveliness, beauty,' especially of voice or song, emerges in classical Sanskrit, used by Kalidasa and in the Panchatantra.[33]

History and significance

Classical music has ancient roots, and it primarily developed due to the reverence for arts, for both spiritual (moksha) and entertainment (kama) purposes in Hinduism. The Buddha discouraged music aimed at entertainment, but encouraged chanting of sacred hymns.[34] The various canonical Tripitaka texts of Buddhism, for example, state Dasha-shila or ten precepts for those following the Buddhist spiritual path. Among these is the precept recommending "abstain from dancing, singing, music and worldly spectacles".[35][36] Buddhism does not forbid music or dance to a Buddhist layperson, but its emphasis has been on chants, not on musical r?ga.[34]

R?ga, along with performance arts such as dance and music, has been historically integral to Hinduism, with some Hindus believing that music is itself a spiritual pursuit and a means to moksha (liberation).[37][38][39] R?gas, in the Hindu tradition, are believed to have a natural existence.[40] Artists don't invent them, they only discover them. Music appeals to human beings, according to Hinduism, because they are hidden harmonies of the ultimate creation.[40] Some of its ancient texts such as the Sama Veda (~1000 BC) are structured entirely to melodic themes,[37][41] it is sections of Rigveda set to music.[42] The r?gas were envisioned by the Hindus as manifestation of the divine, a musical note treated as god or goddess with complex personality.[30] During the Bhakti movement of Hinduism, dated to about the middle of 1st millennium AD, r?ga became an integral part of a musical pursuit of spirituality. Bhajan and Kirtan were composed and performed by the early South India pioneers. A Bhajan has a free form devotional composition based on melodic r?gas.[43][44] A Kirtan is a more structured team performance, typically with a call and response musical structure, similar to an intimate conversation. It includes two or more musical instruments,[45][46] and incorporates various r?gas such as those associated with Hindu gods Shiva (Bhairava) or Krishna (Hindola).[47]

The early 13th century Sanskrit text Sangitaratnakara, by Sarngadeva patronized by King Sighana of the Yadava dynasty in Maharashtra, mentions and discusses 253 r?gas. This is one of the most complete historic treatises on the structure, technique and reasoning behind r?gas that has survived.[48][49][50]

The tradition of incorporating r?ga into spiritual music is also found in Jainism,[51] and in Sikhism, an Indian religion founded by Guru Nanak in the northwest of the Indian subcontinent.[52] In the Sikh scripture, the texts are attached to a r?ga and are sung according to the rules of that r?ga.[53][54] According to Pashaura Singh - a professor of Sikh and Punjabi studies, the r?ga and tala of ancient Indian traditions were carefully selected and integrated by the Sikh Gurus into their hymns. They also picked from the "standard instruments used in Hindu musical traditions" for singing kirtans in Sikhism.[54]

During the Islamic rule period of the Indian subcontinent, particularly in and after the 15th century, the mystical Islamic tradition of Sufism developed devotional songs and music called qawwali. It incorporated elements of r?ga and t?la.[55][56]


A r?ga is sometimes explained as a melodic rule set that a musician works with, but according to Dorottya Fabian and others, this is now generally accepted among music scholars to be an explanation that is too simplistic. According to them, a r?ga of the ancient Indian tradition can be compared to the concept of non-constructible set in language for human communication, in a manner described by Frederik Kortlandt and George van Driem.;[57] audiences familiar with raga recognize and evaluate performances of them intuitively.

Two Indian musicians performing a r?ga duet called Jugalbandi.

The attempt to appreciate, understand and explain r?ga among European scholars started in the early colonial period.[58] In 1784, Jones translated it as "mode" of European music tradition, but Willard corrected him in 1834 with the statement that a r?ga is both mode and tune. In 1933, states José Luiz Martinez - a professor of Music, Stern refined this explanation to "the r?ga is more fixed than mode, less fixed than the melody, beyond the mode and short of melody, and richer both than a given mode or a given melody; it is mode with added multiple specialities".[58]

A r?ga is a central concept of Indian music, predominant in its expression, yet the concept has no direct Western translation. According to Walter Kaufmann, though a remarkable and prominent feature of Indian music, a definition of r?ga cannot be offered in one or two sentences.[4] r?ga is a fusion of technical and ideational ideas found in music, and may be roughly described as a musical entity that includes note intonation, relative duration and order, in a manner similar to how words flexibly form phrases to create an atmosphere of expression.[59] In some cases, certain rules are considered obligatory, in others optional. The r?ga allows flexibility, where the artist may rely on simple expression, or may add ornamentations yet express the same essential message but evoke a different intensity of mood.[59]

A r?ga has a given set of notes, on a scale, ordered in melodies with musical motifs.[7] A musician playing a r?ga, states Bruno Nettl, may traditionally use just these notes, but is free to emphasize or improvise certain degrees of the scale.[7] The Indian tradition suggests a certain sequencing of how the musician moves from note to note for each r?ga, in order for the performance to create a rasa (mood, atmosphere, essence, inner feeling) that is unique to each r?ga. A r?ga can be written on a scale. Theoretically, thousands of r?ga are possible given 5 or more notes, but in practical use, the classical tradition has refined and typically relies on several hundred.[7] For most artists, their basic perfected repertoire has some forty to fifty r?gas.[60] R?ga in Indian classic music is intimately related to tala or guidance about "division of time", with each unit called a matra (beat, and duration between beats).[61]

A r?ga is not a tune, because the same r?ga can yield an infinite number of tunes.[62] A r?ga is not a scale, because many r?gas can be based on the same scale.[62][58] A r?ga, according to Bruno Nettl and other music scholars, is a concept similar to a mode, something between the domains of tune and scale, and it is best conceptualized as a "unique array of melodic features, mapped to and organized for a unique aesthetic sentiment in the listener".[62] The goal of a r?ga and its artist is to create rasa (essence, feeling, atmosphere) with music, as classical Indian dance does with performance arts. In the Indian tradition, classical dances are performed with music set to various r?gas.[63]

Joep Bor of the Rotterdam Conservatory of Music defined r?ga as a "tonal framework for composition and improvisation."[64] Nazir Jairazbhoy, chairman of UCLA's department of ethnomusicology, characterized r?gas as separated by scale, line of ascent and descent, transilience, emphasized notes and register, and intonation and ornaments.[65]

R?ga-R?gini system

Q Vasanta raga-ragini (Krishna).}} R?gin? (Devanagari: ) is a term for the "feminine" counterpart of a "masculine" r?ga.[66] These are envisioned to parallel the god-goddess themes in Hinduism, and described variously by different medieval Indian music scholars. For example, the Sangita-darpana text of 15th-century Damodara Misra proposes six r?gas with thirty ragini, creating a system of thirty six, a system that became popular in Rajasthan.[67] In the north Himalayan regions such as Himachal Pradesh, the music scholars such as 16th century Mesakarna expanded this system to include eight descendants to each r?ga, thereby creating a system of eighty four. After the 16th-century, the system expanded still further.[67]

In Sangita-darpana, the Bhairava r?ga is associated with the following raginis: Bhairavi, Punyaki, Bilawali, Aslekhi, Bangli. In the Meskarna system, the masculine and feminine musical notes are combined to produce putra r?gas called Harakh, Pancham, Disakh, Bangal, Madhu, Madhava, Lalit, Bilawal.[68]

This system is no longer in use today because the 'related' r?gas had very little or no similarity and the r?ga-r?gin? classification did not agree with various other schemes.

R?gas and their symbolism

The North Indian r?ga system is also called Hindustani, while the South Indian system is commonly referred to as Carnatic. The North Indian system suggests a particular time of a day or a season, in the belief that the human state of psyche and mind are affected by the seasons and by daily biological cycles and nature's rhythms. The South Indian system is closer to the text, and places less emphasis on time or season.[69][70]

The symbolic role of classical music through r?ga has been both aesthetic indulgence and the spiritual purifying of one's mind (yoga). The former is encouraged in Kama literature (such as Kamasutra), while the latter appears in Yoga literature with concepts such as "Nada-Brahman" (metaphysical Brahman of sound).[71][72][73] Hindola r?ga, for example, is considered a manifestation of Kama (god of love), typically through Krishna. Hindola is also linked to the festival of dola,[71] which is more commonly known as "spring festival of colors" or Holi. This idea of aesthetic symbolism has also been expressed in Hindu temple reliefs and carvings, as well as painting collections such as the ragamala.[72]

In ancient and medieval Indian literature, the r?ga are described as manifestation and symbolism for gods and goddesses. Music is discussed as equivalent to the ritual yajna sacrifice, with pentatonic and hexatonic notes such as "ni-dha-pa-ma-ga-ri" as Agnistoma, "ri-ni-dha-pa-ma-ga as Asvamedha, and so on.[71]

In the Middle Ages, music scholars of India began associating each r?ga with seasons. The 11th century Nanyadeva, for example, recommends that Hindola r?ga is best in spring, Pancama in summer, Sadjagrama and Takka during the monsoons, Bhinnasadja is best in early winter, and Kaisika in late winter.[74] In the 13th century, Sarngadeva went further and associated r?ga with rhythms of each day and night. He associated pure and simple r?gas to early morning, mixed and more complex r?gas to late morning, skillful r?gas to noon, love-themed and passionate r?gas to evening, and universal r?gas to night.[75]

R?ga and mathematics

According to Cris Forster, mathematical studies on systematizing and analyzing South Indian r?ga began in the 16th century.[76] Computational studies of r?gas is an active area of musicology.[77][78]


Although notes are an important part of r?ga practice, they alone do not make the r?ga. A r?ga is more than a scale, and many r?gas share the same scale. The underlying scale may have four, five, six or seven tones, called swaras (sometimes spelled as svara). The svara concept is found in the ancient Natya Shastra in Chapter 28. It calls the unit of tonal measurement or audible unit as ?ruti,[79] with verse 28.21 introducing the musical scale as follows,[80]

? -
? ?
? ? ?

-- Natya Shastra, 28.21[81][82]

These seven degrees are shared by both major r?ga system, that is the North Indian (Hindustani) and South Indian (Carnatic).[83] The solfege (sargam) is learnt in abbreviated form: sa, ri (Carnatic) or re (Hindustani), ga, ma, pa, dha, ni, sa. Of these, the first that is "sa", and the fifth that is "pa", are considered anchors that are unalterable, while the remaining have flavors that differs between the two major systems.[83]

Svara in North Indian system of R?ga[84][85]
12 Varieties (names) C (sadja) D (komal re),
D (suddha re)
E (komal ga),
E (suddha ga)
F (suddha ma),
F (tivra ma)
G (pancama) A (komal dha),
A (suddha dha)
B (komal ni),
B (suddha ni)
Svara in South Indian system of r?ga[85]
16 Varieties (names) C (sadja) D (suddha ri),
D (satsruti ri),
D (catussruti ri)
E (sadarana ga),
Edouble flat (suddha ga),
E (antara ga)
F (prati ma),
F (suddha ma)
G (pancama) A (suddha dha),
A (satsruti dha),
A (catussruti dha)
B (kaisiki ni),
Bdouble flat (suddha ni),
B (kakali ni)

The music theory in the Natyashastra, states Maurice Winternitz, centers around three themes - sound, rhythm and prosody applied to musical texts.[86] The text asserts that the octave has 22 srutis or microintervals of musical tones or 1200 cents.[79] Ancient Greek system is also very close to it, states Emmie te Nijenhuis, with the difference that each sruti computes to 54.5 cents, while the Greek enharmonic quartertone system computes to 55 cents.[79] The text discusses gramas (scales) and murchanas (modes), mentioning three scales of seven modes (21 total), some Greek modes are also like them .[87] However, the Gandhara-grama is just mentioned in Natyashastra, while its discussion largely focuses on two scales, fourteen modes and eight four tanas (notes).[88][89][90] The text also discusses which scales are best for different forms of performance arts.[87]

These musical elements are organized into scales (mela), and the South Indian system of r?ga works with 72 scales, as first discussed by Caturdandi prakashika.[85] They are divided into two groups, purvanga and uttaranga, depending on the nature of the lower tetrachord. The anga itself has six cycles (cakra), where the purvanga or lower tetrachord is anchored, while there are six permutations of uttaranga suggested to the artist.[85] After this system was developed, the Indian classical music scholars have developed additional r?gas for all the scales. The North Indian style is closer to the Western diatonic modes, and built upon the foundation developed by Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande using ten Thaat: kalyan, bilaval, khamaj, kafi, asavari, bhairavi, bhairav, purvi, marva and todi.[91] Some r?gas are common to both systems and have same names, such as kalyan performed by either is recognizably the same.[92] Some r?gas are common to both systems but have different names, such as malkos of Hindustani system is recognizably the same as hindolam of Carnatic system. However, some r?gas are named the same in the two systems, but they are different, such as todi.[92]

Recently, a 32 thaat system was presented in a book Nai Vaigyanik Paddhati to correct the classification of ragas in North Indian style.

R?gas that have four swaras are called surtara () r?gas; those with five swaras are called audava () r?gas; those with six, shaadava (?); and with seven, sampurna (?, Sanskrit for 'complete'). The number of swaras may differ in the ascending and descending like r?ga Bhimpalasi which has five notes in the ascending and seven notes in descending or Khamaj with six notes in the ascending and seven in the descending. R?gas differ in their ascending or descending movements. Those that do not follow the strict ascending or descending order of swaras are called vakra (?) ('crooked') r?gas.[]

Carnatic r?ga

In Carnatic music, the principal r?gas are called Melakarthas, which literally means "lord of the scale". It is also called Asraya r?ga meaning "shelter giving r?ga", or Janaka r?ga meaning "father r?ga".[93]

A Thaata in the South Indian tradition are groups of derivative r?gas, which are called Janya r?gas meaning "begotten r?gas" or Asrita r?gas meaning "sheltered r?gas".[93] However, these terms are approximate and interim phrases during learning, as the relationships between the two layers are neither fixed nor has unique parent-child relationship.[93]

Janaka r?gas are grouped together using a scheme called Katapayadi sutra and are organised as Melakarta r?gas. A Melakarta r?ga is one which has all seven notes in both the ?r?hanam (ascending scale) and avar?hanam (descending scale). Some Melakarta r?gas are Harikambhoji, Kalyani, Kharaharapriya, Mayamalavagowla, Dheerasankarabharanam and Hanumatodi.[94][95] Janya r?gas are derived from the Janaka r?gas using a combination of the swarams (usually a subset of swarams) from the parent r?ga. Some janya r?gas are Abheri, Abhogi, Bhairavi, Hindolam, Mohanam and Kambhoji.[94][95]

List of Janaka Ragas are Kanakangi, Ratnangi, Ganamurthi, Vanaspathi, Manavathi, Thanarupi, Senavathi, Hanumatodi, Dhenuka, Natakapriya, Kokilapriya, Rupavati, Gayakapriya, Vakulabharanam, Mayamalavagowla, Chakravakam, Suryakantam, Hatakambari, Jhankaradhvani, Natabhairavi, Keeravani, Kharaharapriya, Gourimanohari, Varunapriya, Mararanjani, Charukesi, Sarasangi, Harikambhoji, Dheerashankarabharanam, Naganandini, Yagapriya, Ragavardhini, Gangeyabhushani, Vagadheeswari, Shulini, Chalanata, Salagam, Jalarnavam, Jhalavarali, Navaneetam, Pavani.


Classical music has been transmitted through music schools or through Guru-Shishya parampara (teacher-student tradition) through an oral tradition and practice. Some are known as gharana (houses), and their performances are staged through sabhas (music organizations).[96][97] Each gharana has freely improvised over time, and differences in the rendering of each r?ga is discernible. In the Indian musical schooling tradition, the small group of students lived near or with the teacher, the teacher treated them as family members providing food and boarding, and a student learnt various aspects of music thereby continuing the musical knowledge of his guru.[98] The tradition survives in parts of India, and many musicians can trace their guru lineage.[99]

Persian r?k

The music concept of r?k[clarification needed] in Persian is probably a pronunciation of r?ga. According to Hormoz Farhat, it is unclear how this term came to Persia, it has no meaning in modern Persian language, and the concept of r?ga is unknown in Persia.[100]

See also


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