Râga: The backbone of Indian Classical Music

Tania Banerjee

We have been discussing the science and art of bhâratiya shâstriya sangîta, that is, Indian classical music, since the previous issue. In this issue, we shall discuss the meaning and significance of the râga, its divisions and classifications, and it’s effects.Carnatic music - Wikipedia

The roots of Indian classical music can be traced back to the Vedas, which are at least ten thousand years old in their present form. It is now scientifically proven that the date of birth of Sri Rama was 7000 years before the common era, and the Vedas, as we know them, are farther to us in time. Of all the Vedas, Sâma Veda is considered to be the source of classical music.[1] And this is the fundamental source of all Indian music.

There is a saying in Sanskrit: ‘ranjayati iti râgah, that which colours the mind is a râga.’  A râga is meant to inspire pure emotions in the minds of those who listen to it. Thus, the art of music is based on the concept of nava-rasa, or the nine sentiments – shringâra (romantic), hâsya (humor), karuna (pathetic), raudra (anger), veera (heroic), bhayânaka (fearful), bibhatsa (terrible), adbhuta (amazement) and shânta (peaceful). each raga is principally dominated by one of these nine rasas.

Different Types of Ragas – WeGotGuru

A râga is neither a scale nor a mode. It is, however, a scientific, precise, subtle, and aesthetic melodic form with its own peculiar ascending and descending movement, which consists of either a full octave, or a series of five or six notes. An omission of a jarring or dissonant note, an emphasis on a particular note, or the transition from one note to another, and also the use of microtones along with other subtleties distinguish one râga from the other.

Each râga has its own principal mood such as tranquillity, devotion, love, loneliness, pathos, heroism, etc. Each râga is associated, according to its mood, with a particular time of the day, night or a season. Improvisation is an essential feature of Indian music, depending upon the imagination and the creativity of an artist; a great artist can communicate and instill in his listener the mood of the râga.

Each melodic structure of râga has something akin to a distinct personality subject to a prevailing mood. Early Indian writers on music carried this idea further and endowed the râgas with the status of minor divinities, with names derived from various sources, often indicating the origin or associations of the individual râgas. In theoretical works on music each râga was described in a short verse like a formula, which enabled the artist to visualize its essential personality during meditation prior to the performance.

There are three formats of a Râga (Râga bheda)

Shuddha Râga : That raga is called shuddha when even if any notes that are not present in it are used, its nature and form does not change.

Châyalag Râga : The râga in which if any notes that are not present in it are used, it’s nature and form changes.

Sankeerna Râga : The râga in which there is a combination of two or more ragas is sankeerna.

There are a few other important aspects of a râga. One of them are the terms describing the properties of a raga. Here are the technical terms used to give us the properties of a raga. These properties are concerning the notes in each raga. As we all know, of the seven notes, sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni [like the Western do re mi fa so la ti do], some ragas have all the notes in their various forms, some have a few in their different forms, and so on. If there are six notes in a raga instead of seven, it is shâdava. Further details are given in the jâti section below. There may be these notes, but one or two become the nerve-centres or vital notes of a raga.

Vâdi : Vâdi is the most prominent note of the raga, which gets emphasized in the râga and is used very often.

Samvâdi : Samvâdi is the second most important note of the râga. It used lesser than the vâdi but more than the other notes of the râga. This is the fourth or fifth note from the vâdi.

Anuvâdi : The “following” or accompanying notes of the râga (other than the vâdi and samvâdi).

Vivâdi : The meaning of vivâdi is “one which produces dissonance”. That is, the vivâdi note is not present in the raga, but still the note is used in a râga by able singers in such a way that it enhances the beauty of the râga. This is done very rarely.

For example ma [tîvra] in Râga Bihag was considered a Vivâdi, but recently it has almost become an important aspect of this melody.

Âroha : Ascent of the notes. Here each note is higher than the preceding note.

Example : Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni

Avaroha : Descent of the notes. Here each note is lower than the preceding note.

Example : Ni, Dha, Pa, Ma, Ga, Re, Sa

Pakad : Pakad is a small group of notes which describe the unique features of the râga.

Jâti : Jâti or group gives the number of notes in the ascension [âroha] as well as the descension [avaroha] of the râga. Audava has five notes. Shâdava has six notes and Sampūrna has seven notes. Thus there are nine jâtis based on five or six or seven notes in the ascent and in descent of a raga.  This means that the discoverers of ragas have placed either Audava [5 notes] or Shâdava [6 notes] or Sampūrna [7 notes] in the âroha and/or  audava or Shâdava or Sampūrna in avaroha.

Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, the originator of the Thaat system

Thât : Thât is the system of classification of the râgs into different groups. This signifies a set of seven notes or scale, which can produce a raga—like a mother. Presently, in Hindustani classical music there are ten thât râgas have been identified (as described in the previous article).

Samaya: Samaya means Time. Each Râga has a specific time at which it an be performed or sung. This is because the specific notes of a raga are supposed to be more effective during that particular period of time.

Rasa: The emotion each râga invokes is rasa. Depending upon the notes used in the râga, it will invoke a rasa. Rasa is a huge science in itself.

Musical terms regarding a presentation of a râga in vocal style

Sthayî: The first part of the composition. This mainly blossoms out from the lower and the middle octave.

Antarâ : The second part of the composition. This part is the development of the melody in the middle or higher note.

Mukhadâ : Mukhadâ is the first line of the composition.

(we shall continue the discussion on classical music. Please stay with us.)


In this Period of Global Pandemic we all need to soothe our souls and below these two beautiful renditions will calm your mind. Hope you like them:

[1] The Vedas have three notes or svaras: udâtta, anudâtta and svarita.  Sâma Veda introduced seven svaras. Though the names were initially different, like prathamâ, dvitiyâ, tritiyâ, etc, they eventually became what we now have—the Do re mi of Indian music. The sâma singing was musical, accompanied with vana-veena, which had three strings earlier and seven later. The singing was completely scientific and systematic. – Ed




Abhishek Chakraborti

is the Contributing Editor of the Music Page

Abhishek lives in Holland and is an excellent musician. He is also devoted to the ideals of Sri Ramakrishna, Mother and Swamiji.


is a musician and a student of the science of music. She has been introducing the inticracies of classical music to Vedanta Vani readers.

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