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Anglicised form of रागः (rāgaḥ) (color, melody) via Hindustani राग / (rāg).



  1. The very detailed melodic mode used in Indian classical music.




  1. basket
  2. ball (for sports)

Extensive Definition

Rāga (Sanskrit, lit. "colour" or "mood"; or rāgam in Carnatic music) refers to melodic modes used in Indian classical music. It is a series of five or more musical notes upon which a melody is founded. In the Indian musical tradition, ragas are held in different times of the day. Indian classical music is always set in raga. Non-classical music such as popular Indian film songs sometimes use ragas in their compositions.
Rāgini is an archaic term for the 'feminine' counterpart to a raga.

Nature of raga

योऽसौ ध्वनिविशेषस्तु स्वरवर्णविभूषितः ।
रञ्जको जनचित्तानां स च राग उदाहृतः ।।
"That which is a special dhvani, is bedecked with swara and varna and is colorful or delightful to the minds of the people, is said to be raga" - Matanga in the Brihaddesi.
Raga describes a generalised form of melodic practice. It also prescribes a set of rules for building the melody. It specifies the rules for movements up (aahroh [आरोह]) and down (aavroh [अवरोह]) the scale, which Swara (notes) should figure more and which notes should be used more sparingly, which notes may be sung with gamaka, phrases to be used, phrases to be avoided, and so on. The result is a framework that can be used to compose or improvise melodies, allowing for endless variation within the set of notes.
The basic mode of reference is that which is equivalent to the Western Ionian mode (this is called Bilawal thaat in Hindustani music and Shankarabharanam in Carnatic music). All relationships between pitches follow from this basic arrangement of intervals. In any given seven-tone mode, the second, third, sixth, and seventh notes can be natural (shuddha, lit. 'pure') or flat (komal, 'soft') but never sharpened, and the fourth note can be natural or sharp (tivra) but never flattened, making up the twelve notes in the Western equal tempered chromatic scale (but without Western pitch equivalences like, for example, A# and Bb). A Western-style C scale could therefore theoretically have the notes C, Db, D, Eb, E, F, F#, G, Ab, A, Bb, B. Ragas can also specify microtonal changes to this scale: a flatter second, a sharper seventh, and so forth. Treatises from the first millennium report that the octave used to be divided theoretically into 22 microtones ("śrutis"), but by the 16th century, this practice seems to have died out. Furthermore, individual performers treat pitches quite differently, and the precise intonation of a given note depends on melodic context. There is no absolute pitch (such as the modern western standard A = 440 Hz); instead, each performance simply picks a ground note, which also serves as the drone, and the other scale degrees follow relative to the ground note.

Ragas and their seasons

Some Hindustani (North Indian) ragas are prescribed a time of day or a season. During the monsoon, for example, many of the Malhar group of ragas, which are associated with the monsoon, are performed. However these prescriptions are not strictly followed. There has also been a growing tendency over the last century for North Indian musicians to adopt South Indian ragas. These do not come with any particular time attached to them. The result of these various influences is that there is increasing flexibility as to when ragas may be performed.


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

Northern and southern differences

The two streams of Indian classical music, Carnatic music and Hindustani music, have independent sets of ragas. There is some overlap, but more "false friendship" (where raga names overlap, but raga form does not). In north India, the ragas have recently been categorised into ten thaats or parent scales (by Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, 1860-1936); South India uses a somewhat older, more systematic classification scheme called the melakarta classification, with 72 parent (melakarta) ragas. Overall there is a greater identification of raga with scale in the south than in the north, where such an identification is impossible.
As ragas were transmitted orally from teacher to student, some ragas can vary greatly across regions, traditions and styles. There have been efforts to codify and standardize raga performance in theory from their first mention in Matanga's Brhaddesi (c. tenth century).

Carnatic raga

In Carnatic music, ragas are classified as Janaka ragas and Janya ragas. Janaka ragas are the ragas from which the Janya ragas are created. Janaka ragas are grouped together using a scheme called Katapayadi sutra and are organised as Melakarta ragas. A Melakarta raga is one which has all seven notes in both the ārōhanam (ascending scale) and avarōhanam (descending scale). Some Melakarta ragas are Sankarabharanam, Maaya Malava Gowla, Kalyani etc. Janya ragas are derived from the Janaka ragas using a combination of the swarams in the parent raga.
Each raga has a definite collection and orders of Swaras (the basic notes). In Carnatic music, there are 7 basic notes of which there are 12 varieties. The seven basic swarams of carnatic music are: Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni.

Aprachalit ragas

Various schools known in the past as Gharanas have exhibited a penchant for some special ragas. They worked on these ragas so that a particular raga attained a height hitherto unachieved. These special ragas would be taught to a capable pupil alone, often the maestro's son or nephew.


Raga-ragini scheme is an old classification scheme used from the 14th century till the 19th century. It usually consists of 6 'male' ragas each with 6 'wifes'(raginis) and a number of sons (putras) and even 'daughters-in-law'. As it did not agree with various other schemes, and the 'related' ragas had very little or no similarity, the raga-ragini scheme is no longer very popular.
Ragas and raginis were often pictured as Hindu gods, Rajput princes and aristocratic women in an eternal cycle of love, longing and fulfillment, (e.g. raga Gujari, raga Basant, raga Shri and an example of this can be seen in a Mughal style album painted c. 1610, which is now in possession of the British Museum, London .



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Published Sanskrit works (listed in The First period: Names mentioned in the Purāṇǎs and in the epics (Mahābhāratǎ and Rāmāyaṇǎ).
  • Māṇḍuki Śhikṣhā (Atharvǎ Vedǎ).Benares Sanskrit Series 1893
  • NāradĪyǎ Śhikṣhā (of Nāradǎ)(Sāmǎ Vedǎ) (with the Śhikṣhā Vivaraṇǎ commentary of Śhrī Bhaṭṭǎ Śhubhākarǎ). Benares Sanskriet Series 1983. Mysore 1946
  • Nāṭyǎ Śhāstrǎ (of Bharatǎ) (chapters 28, 29 and 38 deal with music) Text only: Benares, 1929; with text and commentary of Abhinavǎ Guptǎ: Barode, 1926
The second period: starting somewhere between the 2nd century B.C. and the 4th century A.C.
The third period: starting in the 10th century
The fourth period: starting in the 16th century
Some Ragamala paintings can be found in:
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External links

See also

raga in German: Raga
raga in Spanish: Raga
raga in French: Râga
raga in Hindi: राग
raga in Italian: Raga
raga in Dutch: Raga
raga in Newari: राग
raga in Japanese: ラーガ
raga in Norwegian Nynorsk: Raga
raga in Polish: Raga (muzyka)
raga in Portuguese: Raga
raga in Swedish: Raga
raga in Tamil: இராகம்

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Aeolian mode, Dorian mode, Greek modes, Hindu mode, Indian mode, Locrian mode, Lydian mode, Phrygian mode, authentic mode, hypoaeolian mode, hypodorian mode, hypoionian mode, hypolocrian mode, hypolydian mode, hypomixolydian mode, hypophrygian mode, major mode, minor mode, mixolydian mode, mode, octave species, plagal mode
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