The word raga comes from the root ranj, in Sanskrit, meaning “to dye”, “to color”. So raga means a melody which colors or paints one’s mind. Through its combinations and movements of notes, a raga can evoke specific emotions in the minds of its listeners, through the medium of the artist performing the raga. Different ragas were designed to evoke different emotions. For example, raga Bhairavi evokes feelings of romance, longing and devotion, especifically in the spiritual sense. A good number of Prabhat Samgiita songs are composed in this raga – which is why our study on ragas started with it.
Here is an example of presentation of a piece in raga Bhairavi:
Ragas are based on certain rules for creating music. Some rules are common to Indian classical music in general while others are specific to a particular raga. For example, there is a general rule which says that in the scale of any raga one cannot skip or omit two successive notes. And as an example of rule specific to a raga, take raga Asawari, where in the ascending scale one must skip Ni and go directly from Dha to Sa”. (For reference on the notes, see Musical Notes.)
These rules are not meant to restrain creativity, but to add beauty to it – to make the music be aesthetically pleasing. And this is what happens in reality. One finds incredible liberty inside these rules. Professional musicians can improvise and create beautiful and deep, touching music for hours while staying all the time inside the same raga – flowing inside its patterns; it’s somewhat like dancing for hours in the same dance style while deeply enjoying it. The rules or characteristics of a raga give an identity to the melodic flow, and distinguish one raga from the others. In special, the rules determine which musical notes cannot be used in a raga, which can and how. In raga Bhairavi, for example, all 12 notes of the scale may be used. (See more On Raga Bhairavi.) Please see Raga Descriptions for other examples of rules on the use of notes in a number of ragas.
Because Indian classical music is an art form and has room for interpretation, not all raga characteristics are rigidly fixed; it may be possible to notice differences to other sources, and these differences may have a legitimate reason. If you would like to see a detailed and instructive discussion on this topic, please see Kirit’s article on Variation of forms and traditions in Indian classical music.
STUDY ON NOTES AND RAGA
So what can you do from here?
If you are still not familiar with the Indian musical notes and their notation used in this website, please check out the Musical Notes and Notation page.
On the practical side, to develop familiarity with the melodic aspect of music and progressively approach the study of ragas, we suggest listening to and practicing the so-called “exercises” of ragas. These exercises start with the scale of each raga (in the first line) and include characteristic movements (chalan) and characteristic musical patterns or phrases (pakad) of the raga, forming a musical panorama (swara vistara) of the raga. In other words, they present the identity of the raga in a condensed form. Knowing these exercises by heart will enable one to easily identify any musical piece in the same raga. We are sharing exercises of ragas Bhairavi and Darbari Kanada along with available audios.
Hearing, assimilating and practicing typical compositions in a raga is probably the best way to learn a raga. In the pages below you can hear reference compositions and PS songs composed in ragas Bhairavi and Darbari Kanada:
- reference compositions in raga Bhairavi
- reference compositions in raga Darbari Kanada
- Prabhat Samgiita composed in raga Bhairavi
- Prabhat Samgiita composed in raga Darbari Kanada
Many different ragas are seen in Prabhat Samgiita, but some seem to be more commonly found. See Raga Descriptions for a number of these – all of which are traditional or very traditional ragas. For each one of them, a list of basic characteristics is given.
Almost all the material and information shared in this section of Musical Study is gratefully credited to Kirit Dave, our leading instructor. We apologize for any mistakes that we may have unknowingly introduced. Your corrections and comments are welcome!