Indian Classical Music and Sikh Kirtan


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Chapter 3: Foundations of Melody (Raga)

Foundations of Melody (Raga)

From Nad (sound) arose Shruti (microtone);
From shruti came Svara (note);
From Svara was formed Raga (scale);
From Raga was created Geet (songs);
So the soul of Geet is sound.


Literally, raga means to colour or to please. Basically, raga is a scheme of melody. It has been defined in various ways. Matanga defines it as a 'combination of notes, illustrated by melodic movements (varna), which is capable of producing pleasant sensations.' Another musicologist observes: 'It is a scientific, subtle, precise and aesthetic melodic form with its ascending and descending movement which consists of either a full octave or a series of five, six, or seven notes.' Yet another musician puts it thus: 'It is an arrangement of intervals in a definite order (not necessarily a consecutive order) upon which a melody is founded.' According to an old definition, ' a raga is a particular form of sound which is adorned with notes and melodic phrases and enchants the heart of the listener.' A raga is ' the gamut of several notes woven into a composition which through aural perception softens the heart of the listener.' A raga is really the melody mould, the outline of notes, the basic element of the composition, while the actual composition may differ according to the art of the musician. The raga in its development, layer by layer, with all its improvisations and refinements, reflects the degree of the proficiency of the performer. A raga is self-created out of a set pattern of notes and its delineation depends on the skills of the performer. The latter is also a composer with a freedom and spontaneity of his own. As such the exposition of a raga by one musician is singer. Thus it is capable of great variety, flexibility, and subtlety. Like speech, raga is a channel of communications. Just as speech can be put down in words, so a raga can be represented by notation. A raga notes are interspersed with pauses and
tonal graces. A raga should not be taken as a scale or a mode of melody, though it is related to them. However, every raga belongs to a scale.Two Systems: There are two systems of scales in India. The South Indian or Karnatak music has 72 primary scales called melas, produced by variations of seven fundamental notes (shudh svaras). The Hindustani music prevalent in North India has ten primary scales called thaths. A thath is a group of notes from which raga can be built. Each of the ten thaths has got a raga of the same name. These thaths codified by V.N. Bhatkhande in the beginning of this century are as follows:

Thath Svara

1. Kalyan S R G M P D N
2. Bilawal S R G M P D N
3. Khamaj S R G M P D _N_
4. Bhairav S _R_ G M P _D_ N
5. Purbi S _R_ G M P _D_ N
6. Marwah S _R_ G M P _ D_ N
7. Kafi S R G _M_ P D _N_
8. Asavari S R _G_ M P _D_ _N_
9. Bhairavi S _R_ _G_ M P _D_ _N_
10. Todi S _R_ _G_ M P _D_ _N_

However, there are some ragas which cannot be accommodated in the ten thaths, as for example raga Pardeep and raga Ahir Bhairava.

There is a lot of difference between thath and raga:

a) A thath is based on 12 notes, while a raga can have a maximum of seven notes.


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