Raga:

pronunciation: RAA-ga. The melodic basis of Indian music. Raga is a complex concept and is described more fully in the body of this article; some characteristic features are listed below. The concept of the Raga has undergone several changes over time, in response to political, sociological, technological, economic and other changes in the course of India's long history. In the pre-Christian era, Raga was used as the melodic basis for all art music, whether or not connected with the classical Sanskrit theatre, as opposed to Jati (pronunciation: JAA-ti), which was the melodic basis of music solely for the theatre. With the decline of Sanskrit theatre (around 4th or 5th century AC), Jati went out of vogue and Raga became the predominant concept underlying Indian melodic development.

A Raga is a melodic concept capable of intense emotional communication and comprising, inter alia:

- a given set of notes, ascending and descending (see here for more discussion on notes in Indian art music)
- characteristic Shruti microtones (see here for more discussion on microtones in Indian art music)
- characteristic phrases
- relative importance of the notes
- characteristic ornaments or lack thereof
- the general speed to be adopted
- the register to be used (low or high pitch)
- an accepted time of performance


Historical note:

The early music of India may be categorised under two heads: religious music and secular music. Religious music, in its turn, may be classified under Vedic music and extra-Vedic music. Vedic music was exclusively religious and outside the scope of this article. Extra-Vedic music, which may also be called Loukika (pronunciation: LOU-ki-kuh)was of two types: Gandharva (pronunciation: Gaan-DHUR-vuh) Loukika and Deshi (pronunciation: DAY-shee) Loukika. The Gandharva Loukika tradition of music was the so-called Marga (pronunciation: MAAR-guh) music and the Deshi Loukika music was the so called Deshi music.
Marga music was practised by the Bhugandharva (pronunciation: BHOO-gun-DHUR-vuh) class of people (a description of them is outside the ambit of this article) in the temples. Deshi music was the non-temple music of ancient times. It differed from Marga music in several ways:-
The Raga of the Marga tradition, practised by the Narada sect of Bhugandharvas, were of different types: Gramaraga (pronunciation: GRAA-muh-raa-guh), Uparaga (pronunciation: UP-uh-raa-guh - 'U' of 'UP' as in 'put' and all other 'u' as in 'but') and Jatiraga.
Thus the Jati and the Raga coexisted since very ancient times. The Jati, being mainly driven by rhythmic considerations, appealed primarily to the intellect. However, the Narada sect looked for greater appeal in music: to them, music had to be lyrical, expressive of emotions and ornamented melodically so as to please the ear and not merely the intellect. Hence sentiment and not rhythm was the important consideration in the music of the Narada school. Their songs were called Gramageeti (pronunciation: GRAA-muh-Gee-ti) and were of of five types:
These Geeti reflected styles of singing. Each variety of Geeti had its own Raga. The Raga used for Shuddha Geeti fell in the category of Shuddha Raga, those used for Bhinna Geeti songs were known as Bhinna Raga, and so on. These Ragas were called Gramaraga.

It is worthy of note that Grama referred to arrangement of Shruti within the heptad. There were three Grama: Shadjagrama, Madhyamagrama and Gandharagrama. However, a discussion of these microtone considerations is beyond the scope of this article.

Today, one of the most fundamental considerations for a Raga is its Geeti or style. This supremely paramount element of the Raga is directly derived from the Geeti of the Gramaraga of the Narada school of Gandharva.

There is another fundamental element present in the manner in which a Raga was presented: it was the way in which improvisation was done in the the course of the Raga presentation or Raga delineation. Because the Raga of the Narada Gandharva was for the theatre, there was little scope for free improvisation. We come across the possibility of such free improvisation for the first time in the writings of the musicologist Shardula (5th century BC), followed by Yashtika (3rd century BC) and others like Kashyap, Anjaneya, Arjuna and the celebrated Matanga (5th century AC). These scholars discussed Raga of the Deshi tradition, and classified Raga as: These Ragas were directly linked to Gramaraga. The lyrics of songs in these Raga were in Devabhasha or the Sanskrit language. They followed the Gandharvic rules relating to Raga. The chief added feature of these Raga was that every composition in these Raga would be preceded by a free, improvised passage called Alapa (pronunciation: aa-LAA-puh).

However, There was another class of Raga where the songs were written in Divyamanushibhasha or regional languages upgraded by Sanskrit grammar, which were not linked to Gramaraga and did not follow the Gandharvic rules of Gramaragas because by this time the Madhyamagrama and gandharagrama had fallen out of vogue and only the Shadjagrama remained. These Raga were of three kinds: In the medieval period Ragas underwent a good deal of evolution on account of social, political and cultural influences. There were two classes of people associated with music, as follows:


Musicians / Musicologists in Medieval India
Gandharva or Acharya Sampradaya

"Acharya" means "teacher"; "Sampradaya" means "school"
(pronunciations: AA-chaar-yuh; SUM-pruh-daa-yuh)
Gayaka, Vadaka, Nartaka Sampradaya

"Gayaka" means "singer", Vadaka means "instrumentalist". Nartaka means "dancer"
(pronunciations: GAA-yuh-kuh; VAA-duh-kuh, NUHR-tuh-kuh)
1. They were musicologists in addition to being practical musicians 1. They were practical musicians only, often unlettered
2. They were "Lakshyanavid", meaning that they knew the Lakshana or theoretical characteristics of the art music system - the foundations of the science, logic, art and philosophy that supported the system 2. They were only "Lakshyavid", meaning that they knew or were concerned with only the end goal of their craft, viz., entertainment of the patron with a view to reward, to the exclusion of the inner scholarly discipline which was the bedrock of the system
3. They were the "Nayaka" - the teachers or the Shikshakara" 3. They were the "Gayaka", "Vadaka" or "Nartaka" - the professional and commercial practitioners of music
4. They handed down their knowledge along their "Shishya Parampara" - their "student lineage". Knowledge flowed from Teachet to Disciple and if the disciple happened to be the teacher's progeny, that was merely a coincidence. 4. They handed down the intricacies of their craft along the lines of their "Putra Parampara" - their "offspring (son) lineage" in a dynastic or "heriditary" manner. The father taught all he knew to his son "Khas-ul-khas Taleem", and to a much lesser degree to a few close and sepcial students "Khas Taleem" and still less to other general students "Aam Taleem". ("Khas" means "special", "Aam" means "general" and "Taleem" means "instruction"
5. As a result, this was the true Sampradaya system in conformity with the highest principles expounded by the musicological Texts. Unfortunately, today it is all but extinct, although several groups and institutions lay claim to a direct linkage to this system.

(Fortunately, their ignorance of Sanskrit, lack of scholarship and inability to explain the great musicological Texts quickly expose them to all who take the precaution of investigating - something the user of their services is strongly recommended to do beforehand!)
5. This method of Putra Parampara became the "Gharana" system of transmitting music down generations in later periods.

(As an intersting aside, a very high-profile and highly funded music institution in Kolkata began by proclaiming that it was furthering the true Gharana system of music but after a lecture (in 1988) by Dr Chintamani Rath that touched upon Sampradaya/Parampara and Gharana, the institution replaced "Gharana" in its proclamation with the expression "Guru-Shishya Parampara". And thus the sad effort to elevate pedigree continues!!)
6. They were not court musicians and did not trade their music for personal material gain, dedicating it for Higher Causes. 6. They were court musicians and all of them picked up their craft without being properly initiated into the background comprehensive discipline followed by the Acharya Sampradaya. Hence they were all "Anukar" or followers. Some performed for the "Rasika" or enlightened patrons and some others performed for the entertainment of the common people - these were the "Ranjaka". Yet some others, called the "Bhavaka" presented emotional songs and later became Gharana or families (in the sense of blood-relation) of Alapa singers/instrumentalists.


The result of this division gave rise to a class of Deshi Raga called "Upanga" (pronunciation: u(as in "put)-PAAN-guh) Raga. These showed tendencies to be variations or derivatives of other Deshi Ragas.

During the medieval period, Raga underwent even greater changes in various attempts to classify them in different ways. There were many fanciful depictions, both conceptual as well as visual (e.g. Many Raga described as having human traits and fanciful moods ascribed to raga depicted in painting). These categories were known as Mata (pronunciation: Muh-tuh). Some raga were referred to as Father Raga, some were their Consorts (called "Ragini"), some were Sons (Putra Raga), some others were Daughters-in-law (Putravadhu) and so on. Some Raga were classed as masculine, some others as feminine.

Another important evolutionery step in the development of Raga to what they are today came about when the old Moorchhana system was discarded, certain microtone considerations were removed and the notes Sa and Pa were made fixed with other notes having Shuddha and Vikrta forms. This too happened in medieval times, particularly on account of the work of Amir Khusrau (13th century AC). Of course, Amir Khusrau also introduced many Persian elements into the music and actually tried hard to wipe out the Hindu foundations of the system. It was only in the 16th century AC that the system was cleansed of Muslim influences and brought back to its Hindu roots, solely on account of the work of the legendary Tansen, the court musician of Akbar the Great.

In the post medieval (modern) age Raga went through further evolutionery and quite complex stages. The reasons were again sociological, political and economic. With changes in the social and political fabric of society, power vested in different genres of people and musicians catered to the pleasure different kinds of masters, at varying levels of cultural enlightenment. It is not surprising that many liberties were taken with Raga. It was only around the turn of the twentieth century that a fresh breed of musicologists attempted once again to reformulate the principles of Ragas. Fortunately, some of them were able to muster powerful support and as a result modern day Raga are, to a fair extent, "back on track", in spite of many bitter differences of opinion as to the essential nature of particular Raga.
The last word on this very challenging topic is yet to be said.