Indian classical music: Different kinds of ragas

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In the Indian classical musical tradition, ragas are associated with different times of the day, or with seasons. Indian classical music is always set in a raga. The various time zones for ragas are – Morning, Afternoon, Evening, Night and Anytime. When performed at the suggested time, the raga has its maximum effect. There are few ragas which are performed based on the season. e.g. Gaud Malhar and Miyan Malhar rag sung in monsoon.

There are around 83 ragas in Indian classical music. However, Indian classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj lists the six primary ragas as follows:

Raag Bhairav

Bhairav is a morning raga, and solemn peacefulness is its ideal mood. The raag is grave in mood and suggests seriousness, introversion as well as devotional attitude.

Raag Malkauns

Malkauns is sung during small hours of the morning, just after midnight. The effect of the raga is soothing and intoxicating. The raga is believed to have been created by goddess Parvati (the wife of Shiva) to calm Shiva, when the lord Shiva was outraged and was not calming down after Tandav in rage of Sati’s sacrifice.

Raag Deepak

Deepak is an evening raag. It is said that this raga had the power of creating fire. Tansen has performed this successfully by singing Deepak Raga in the court of Emperor Akbar.

Raag Shri

Shri is an evening raga, sung during the sunset. It is full of grace and majesty, and the main mood it creates is one of devotion and dedication.

Raag Megh

Megh Malhar is a seasonal raag and sung as invitation to rains.

Raag Hindol

Hindol is sung during the first part of the day. It is an ancient raga associated with the spring season.

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Indian classical music through the ages

There is no definite answer to when and how music came into existence. The Indian classical music is one of the oldest unbroken musical traditions in the world.

Vedic era

Historians suggest that origin of Indian classical music goes back to the Vedic times i.e. around 2000 B.C. It is said that during those times the sages used to sing and their wives used to play instruments like Veena. Amongst the four Vedic scriptures, ‘Samved’ was primarily music based.

During the age of Ramayana and Mahabharata, the seven swars known as Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni came into being. Even during the Maurya period, music was popular as evident from references in Kautilya’s famous treatise, Arthashastra.

Medieval era

From 7th to the 13th century AD, Indian music played a key role in India and outside. In 7th century AD, Indian music was used to popularize the Hindu philosophy and religious ideas. Many scholarly books on music were written such as Jaidev’s “Gitogobindo” and sarangdev’s “Sangeet Ratnakar”.

From the 11th century onwards when India saw many advances by the Muslims from middle-east, it influenced Indian music greatly. Gradually North Indian Music evolved as a separate stream under their influence.

During Alauddin Khiljee’s time (1296-1316) the famed Amir Khusro reigned supreme as a musical genius. It is said that he was the first to use Tabla and Sitar as percussion instruments and created new Ragas and introduced vocal music like Kawali and Tarana. Raja Man Singh(1486-1518) reigned the kingdom of Gwalior and his patronage gave birth to “Gwalior Gharana” as a distinct style of Indian music. With the help of the then musicologists, he is said to have penned “Mankuthul”. During that era, devotional songs in India music reached its peak with the marvelous songs of Kabir(1405AD), Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu(1486 AD) and Mirabai(1500 AD).

King Akbar(15556-1605AD) was a keen lover of music and patronized maestros like Nayak Bakru, Tansen, Tantarang Gopal etc. in his court.

Modern era

Modern period started from the end of the eighteenth century. This period saw the gradual overthrowing of the Muslim rulers by the British who were indifferent to Indian culture and particularly classical music. This led to the decline of the court sponsored Musicians. Consequently, the musicians kept their knowledge and practice to themselves confining it within their own family members. Music became a vehicle of entertainment and was looked down upon in society. This trend continued till the middle of the 19th century.

The beginning of 20th century saw the revival of Indian classical music. Amongst those who contributed to this revival, the names of Pt. Bishnu Digambar paluskar, Pt. Vishnu Narayan

Bhatkhananda need special mention. The process of notation in music invented by Bhatkhanadaji is now followed by Hindustani classical musicians.

The 20th century witnessed a galaxy of brilliant Indian Classical musicians like Ustad Faiz Khan, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, Ustad Amir Khan, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Pandit Onkarnath Tahkur, Biswadeb Chottopadhyaha, Tarapada Chakravarty, Ustad Alauddin Khan, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, UStad Enayat Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Pandit V.G Jyog etc.

The legacy left behind by these legendary figures is still nourished carefully by many ardent students of music in the country.

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Effect of Indian classical music on human emotions

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The ancient verdict of ragas evoking diverse emotional response has been now scientifically confirmed. Scientists have found that ragas indeed evoke a gamut of responses ranging from ‘happy’ and ‘calm’ to ‘tensed’ and ‘sad’ among listeners.

Raga is meant to inspire pure emotion in the minds of those who listen. The art of music is based on the concept of Nava Rasa, or the Nine Sentiments – Shringara (romantic and erotic): Hasya (humorous): Karuna (pathetic): Raudra (anger): Veera (heroic): Bhayanaka (fearful): Vibhatsa (disgustful): Adbhuta (amazement): Shanta (peaceful). Each raga is principally dominated by one of these nine rasas.

Scientists at the National Brain Research Centre (NBRC), Manesar, Haryana and the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, University of Reading, UK sought to look at this known everyday experience through the eyes of science. They conducted a study to investigate what kind of emotions people experience when listening to North Indian classical ragas.

Playing music pieces composed by Pandit Mukesh Sharma, an eminent sarod player from New Delhi, the scientists got 122 study participants from India to rate their experiences across ‘alaap’ (slow, free flowing introductory part) and ‘gat’ (faster, rhythmic part) of twelve ragas.

The scientists found that emotions changed as the tempo picked up from alaap to gat. For instance, emotional ratings for ragas like Desh and Tilak Kamod shifted from ‘calm/soothing’ in the slower arrhythmic alaap to ‘happy’ in the faster rhythmic gat. Similarly, the emotional responses for Shree and Miyan ki Todi shifted from ‘sad’ to ‘tensed’.

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Indian classical music roots and raga

The roots of Indian classical music can be traced back nearly two thousand years to its origin in the Vedic hymns of the Hindu temples, the fundamental source of all Indian music.

The very heart of Indian music is the raga – which refers to the melody and tala – which refers to the rhythm. In the Indian classical music sphere, ragas are many and each has its distinctive qualities. The seven swars of music – Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni represent different scriptural deities: SA – Agni, RE – Brahma, GA – Saraswati, MA – Shiva, PA – Vishnu, DHA – Ganesha, NI – Surya.

There is a saying in Sanskrit – Ranjayathi iti Ragah – which means, “that which colours the mind is a raga.” Raga is meant to inspire pure emotion in the minds of those who listen. Thus, the art of music is based on the concept of Nava Rasa, or the Nine Sentiments – Shringara (romantic and erotic): Hasya (humorous): Karuna (pathetic): Raudra (anger): Veera (heroic): Bhayanaka (fearful): Vibhatsa (disgustful): Adbhuta (amazement): Shanta (peaceful). Each raga is principally dominated by one of these nine rasas.

In addition to being associated with a particular mood, each raga is also closely connected to a particular time of day or a season of the year. The cycle of day and night, as well as the cycle of the seasons, is analogous to the cycle of life itself. Each part of the day – such as the time before dawn, noon, late afternoon, early evening, late night – is associated with a definite sentiment. The explanation of the time associated with each raga may be found in the nature of the notes that comprise it, or in historical anecdotes concerning the raga.

The tradition of Indian classical music is an oral one. It is taught directly by the guru to the disciple. The relationship between the artist and his guru is the keystone of this ancient tradition. The framework of Indian classical music is established by tradition and inspired by the creative spirits of master musicians. A artist can always explore and improvise because so very much depends on understanding the spirit and nuances of the art.

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