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Not to be confused with Ragga.
This article is about melodic modes used in Indian music. For other uses, see Raga (disambiguation).
"Ragini" redirects here. For the Indian actress, see Ragini (actress).
"Ragam" redirects here. For other uses, see Ragam (disambiguation).

A raga (literally "colour, hue" but also "beauty, melody"; also spelled raag, raaga, ragam; pronounced rāga, rāg or rāgam)[1] is one of the melodic modes used in Indian classical music.

A raga uses a series of four or more musical notes upon which a melody is constructed. However, the way the notes are approached and rendered in musical phrases and the mood they convey are more important in defining a raga than the notes themselves. In the Indian musical tradition, rāgas are associated with different times of the day, or with seasons. Indian classical music is always set in a rāga. Non-classical music such as popular Indian film songs and ghazals sometimes use rāgas in their compositions.

Joep Bor of the Rotterdam Conservatory of Music defined Raga as "tonal framework for composition and improvisation."[2] Nazir Jairazbhoy, chairman of UCLA's department of ethnomusicology, characterized ragas as separated by scale, line of ascent and descent, transilience, emphasized notes and register, and intonation and ornaments.[3]


The Sanskrit word rāga is defined as 'the act of colouring or dyeing' (the mind and mood/emotions in this context) and therefore metaphorically means 'any feeling or passion especially love, affection, sympathy, desire, interest, motivation, joy, or delight.' Therefore, the word is used in the literal sense of 'the act of dyeing,' and also 'color, hue, tint,' especially the color red in the Sanskrit epics, and in the figurative sense of 'something that colors one's emotions.' A figurative sense of the word as 'passion, love, desire, delight' is also found in the Mahabharata. The specialized sense of 'loveliness, beauty,' especially of voice or song, emerges in Classical Sanskrit, used by Kalidasa and in the Panchatantra.[4]

The term first occurs in a technical context in the Brihaddeshi (dated ca. 5th to 8th century),[5] where it is described as "a combination of tones which, with beautiful illuminating graces, pleases the people in general".

Rāginī (Devanagari: रागिनी) is a term for the "feminine" counterpart or "wife" to a rāga. The rāga-rāgini scheme from about the 14th century aligned 6 "male" rāgas with 6 "wives."

Rāgas and their seasons

File:Vasant Ragini, Ragamala, Rajput, 1770.jpg
Vasant Ragini, Ragamala, Rajput, Kota, Rajasthan. 1770. Vasant is the raga of spring. The painting depicts Hindu god Krishna dancing with maidens.

Many Hindustani (North Indian) rāgas are prescribed for the particular time of a day or a season. When performed at the suggested time, the rāga has its maximum effect. For example, many of the Malhar group of rāgas, which are ascribed the magical power to bring rain, are performed during the monsoon. However, these prescriptions are not strictly followed, especially since modern concerts are generally held in the evening. There has also been a growing tendency over the last century for North Indian musicians to adopt South Indian rāgas, which do not come with any particular time associated with them. The result of these various influences is that there is increasing flexibility as to when rāgas may be performed.


Although notes are an important part of rāga practice, they alone do not make the rāga. A rāga is more than a scale, and many rāgas share the same scale. The underlying scale may have four, five, six or seven tones, called swaras. Rāgas that have four swaras are called surtara (सुरतर) rāgas; those with five swaras are called audava (औडव) rāgas; those with six, shaadava (षाडव); and with seven, sampurna (संपूर्ण, Sanskrit for 'complete'). Those rāgas that do not follow the strict ascending or descending order of swaras are called vakra (वक्र) ('crooked') rāgas.

The mood of the rāga and the way the notes are approached and used are more important than the notes it uses. For example, Darbari Kanada and Jaunpuri share the same notes but are entirely different in their renderings.

Northern and southern differences

The two streams of Indian classical music, Carnatic music and Hindustani music, have independent sets of rāgas. There is some overlap, but more "false friendship" (where rāga names overlap, but rāga form does not). In north India, the rāgas have been primarily categorised into ten thaats or parent scales (by Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, 1860–1936); South India uses an older and even more systematic classification scheme called the melakarta classification, with 72 parent (melakarta) rāgas. Overall there is a greater identification of rāga with scale in the south than in the north, where such an identification is impossible. Rāgas in north Indian music system follow the 'law of consonances' established by Bharata in his Natyashastra, which does not tolerate deviation even at the shruti level.

As rāgas were transmitted orally from teacher to student, some rāgas can vary greatly across regions, traditions and styles. Many ragas have also been evolving over the centuries. There have been efforts to codify and standardise rāga performance in theory from their first mention in Matanga's Brihaddeshi (c. tenth century).

Carnatic rāga

Main article: Carnatic rāga

In Carnatic music, rāgas are classified as Janaka rāgas and Janya rāgas. Janaka rāgas are the rāgas from which the Janya rāgas are created. Janaka rāgas are grouped together using a scheme called Katapayadi sutra and are organised as Melakarta rāgas. A Melakarta rāga is one which has all seven notes in both the ārōhanam (ascending scale) and avarōhanam (descending scale). Some Melakarta rāgas are Harikambhoji, Kalyani, Kharaharapriya, Mayamalavagowla, Sankarabharanam and Todi.

Janya rāgas are derived from the Janaka rāgas using a combination of the swarams (usually a subset of swarams) from the parent rāga. Some janya rāgas are Abheri, Abhogi, Bhairavi, Hindolam, Mohanam and Kambhoji. See the full List of Janya Ragas for more.

Each rāga has a definite collection and orders of swaras (the basic notes). In Carnatic music, there are 7 basic notes of which there are a total of 16 varieties. The seven basic swarams of Carnatic music are: Sa, Ri, Ga, Ma, Pa, Da, Ni.

Related rāgas

Even though Janya rāgas are subsets of Janaka rāgas in notation and representation, the differences between the child ragas are clear due to the differences like:

  • some notes that figure more in a particular rāga compared to another, while other notes used sparingly
  • some notes may be sung with gamaka, stress, elongation, etc., in one rāga compared to other
  • specific phrases used and other phrases to be avoided in a rāga (so as to avoid deviation into another rāga's domain)
  • the scales of some ragas may contain at least one swara that does not figure in their janaka ragas. Such ragas are termed as bhashanga ragas. Ragas such as Bhairavi, Kambhoji, Bilahari, Devagandhari, and Neelambari fall under this category.

The effect of the rāgas are different from each other, even if they notationally use same swarams (or subset of swarams between each other) due to above subjective differences related to bhava and rasa (mood caused in the listener). The artists have to ensure the same when elaborating on a rāga, as has been followed and expected on each rāga, without digressing into the phrases of another related rāga.


For illustrations of ragas and raginis, see Ragamala paintings.
File:Ragaputra Velavala of Bhairava.jpg
Basohli painting of Ragaputra Velavala, son of the raga Bhairava.

The rāga-rāgini scheme is a classification scheme used from the 14th century to the 19th century. It usually consists of 6 'male' rāgas each with 6 'wives' (rāginis) and a number of sons (putras) and even 'daughters-in-law'. As it did not agree with various other schemes, and the 'related' rāgas had very little or no similarity, the rāga-rāgini scheme is no longer very popular.[6]

Rāgas and rāginis were often pictured as Hindu gods, Rajput princes and aristocratic women in an eternal cycle of love, longing and fulfilment.[6]

See also

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  1. ^ "Raag" is the modern Hindi pronunciation used by Hindustani musicians; "ragam" is the pronunciation in Tamil.
  2. ^ Bor, Joep; Rao, Suvarnalata; Van der Meer, Wim; Harvey, Jane (1999). The Raga Guide. Nimbus Records. p. 181. ISBN 0-9543976-0-6. 
  3. ^ Jairazbhoy, Nazir Ali (1995). The Rāgs of North Indian music. Popular Prakashan. p. 45. ISBN 81-7154-395-2. 
  4. ^ Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1899)
  5. ^ Kaufmann(1968) p. 41
  6. ^ a b Bor 1999


  • Bhatkhande, Vishnu Narayan (1968–73), Kramika Pustaka Malika, Hathras: Sangeet Karyalaya .
  • Bor, Joep (1999), The Rāga Guide, Charlottesville,Virginia: Nimbus Records 
  • Daniélou, Alain (1949), Northern Indian Music, Calcutta: Visva Bharati 
  • Jairazbhoy, N.A. (1995), The Rags of North Indian Music: Their Structure & Evolution, Bombay: Popular Prakashan 
  • Kaufmann, Walter (1968), The Ragas of North India, Calcutta: Oxford & IBH Publishing Company 

Some Ragamala paintings can be found in:

  • Bautze, J (1987), Indian Miniature Paintings c:1590 to c. 1850, Amsterdam: Galerie Saundarya Lahari, ISBN 90-72085-01-9 
  • Gangoly, O.C. (1934), Rāgas and Rāginis, Calcutta 

External links


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