:: Rich Heritage of Dhrupad Sangeet in Pushtimarg::


    Chapter 1: Fundamentals of Indian Classical Music

      1. Meaning of Sangeet
      2. Naad, Shruti and Swar
      3. Definition of Raga .
      4. Rules for Defining Ragas
      5. The Defining Elements in the Raga
      6. Vadi, Samvadi, Anuvadi, Vivadi [ Sonant, Consonant, Assonant,  Dissonant]
      7. Aroha, avaroha [Ascending, Descending]
      8. Twelve Swaras of the Octave
      9. Thaats
      10. Raga

      Meaning of Sangeet

      According to the Indian Cultural Tradition, there is a unique position for Literature, Music and Art. For this, it is rightly said by Bhartuhariji that “The one who is without Literature, Music and Art is an animal without horns. According to Indian Scriptures, the definition of “Sangeet” i.e. Music is given as “Geetam Vaadhyam Tadha Nrutyam Tray Sangeetam Uccyaate”, meaning, the ideal mix of Geet (song / singing), Vaadhya (instrumental music) and Nrutyam (dance), makes the definition of “Music” complete.

      Naad, Shruti and Swar

      The Origin of Music is “Naad” and origin of naad is “Divine Pranav” i.e. OM.

      Naad is a musical sound. It is a series of regular vibrations in a medium like air (as opposed to irregular vibrations, which would be heard as noise).  The frequency of a vibration decides the pitch of the sound it represents (how high or low the sound feels to the ear).  The frequency is reported in a unit called Hertz (Hz).  The frequency range of a sound the human ear can hear is 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz.
      Now, as an example, take a sound (or tone) having a frequency of 100 Hz.  Another sound, having twice the frequency, that is, 200 Hz, will sound the same.  But it will sound 'higher'.  The frequency ratio 200:100, which is 2:1, represents what is called an octave.

      The number of sounds that the human ear can hear, in an octave, is infinite.  But the number of sounds that it can discern, differentiate, or grasp, is 22. They are called shruti-s (microtones).  Shruti has been variously translated as: microtone, microtonic interval, interval, step etc. It is mainly determined through fine auditory perception.

      So, to continue with our example, there exist 22 shruties, starting with the first shruti on the starting point of 100 Hertz.  Taking the sound represented by 100 Hz as the point of reference, we get 22 ratios.  The 23rd ratio takes us to the sound represented by 200 Hz. These ratios are called intervals.  The intervals are measured in relation to the reference sound (100 Hz in our example). The octave is represented by the ratio 200:100, or the interval 2:1. 

      This sound of reference is called tonic, key, or "Sa", etc.  In Indian musical terminology, it is known as shadja, "Sa" for short.  It is represented by the symbol S.  Out of the 22 shruti-s, 7 are selected to form a musical scale. The tonic is fixed first, followed by 6 more shruti-s to form a 7-ladder scale.  These 7 sounds, or tones, are called swara-s (or notes). The tonic, in our example, would fall on the sound represented by 100 Hz.  This would be our "Sa (S)".  The Sa would be followed by 6 more notes, 7 in all.  The 8th note, the sound represented by 200 Hz, would sound like the tonic, but it would sound "higher".  The 7 notes form the "saptaka" of Indian music; the 8 notes-- the eighth note being the "higher" Sa -- form the "octave" of the Western music. 

      The seven notes are named as follows, the western counterparts are in brackets next to it.

      1) Shadja, "Sa" for short, symbol S; (C)

      2) Rishabha, "Re", R; (D)

      3) Gandhara, "Ga", G; (E)

      4) Madhyama, "Ma", m; (F)

      5) Panchama, "Pa", P; (G)

      6) Dhaivata, "Dha", D; (A)

      7) Nishada, "Ni", N. (B)

      The first and the fifth notes, namely C (Sa) and G (Pa), are regarded immutable  ("achala").  The remaining 5 notes have two states each.  Thus we have 12 notes in an octave.  The 12 notes are designated short names and symbols as under:






      Sa  shuddha (natural)




      Re komala (flat)


      D flat


      Re shuddha (natural)




      Ga komala (flat)


      E flat


      Ga shuddha (natural)




      Ma shuddha (natural)




      Ma teevra (sharp)


      F sharp


      Pa shuddha (natural)




      Dha komala (flat)


      A flat


      Dha shuddha (natural)




      Ni komala (flat)


      B flat


      Ni shuddha (natural)



      The octave can be divided into two equal parts:  the lower tetrachord, consisting of C-D-E-F, and the upper tetrachord, made up of G-A-B-C.  This last-mentioned C has the interval 2:1 with the first C in the lower tetrachord. The lower tetrachord is called "poorvaanga" (poorva + anga), the upper tetrachord, "uttaraanga" (uttara + anga) in Indian musicology.  Further, Full expression of Indian music requires up to 3 octaves.  They are: the "mandra saptaka" (lower octave), the "madhya saptaka" (middle octave), and the "taara saptaka" (higher octave). Note:  The notes in Western music use the tempered scale, while in Indian music the notes use the natural harmonic scale.   

      Definition of Raga

      The combination of several notes woven into a composition in a way, which is pleasing to the ear, is called a Raga. Each raga creates an atmosphere, which is associated with feelings and sentiments. Any stray combination of notes cannot be called a Raga.

      The Raga is the basis of classical music. It is based on the principle of a combination of notes selected out the 22 note intervals of the octave. A performer with sufficient training and knowledge alone can create the desired emotions, through the combination of shrutis and notes.

      There are a limited number of ragas in Hindustani music; as the use of a ``KING" note and a ``QUEEN" note restricts to a great extent, the creation of new ragas. The raga forms the backbone of Indian music, and the laws laid down for the ragas have to be carefully observed to preserve and safeguard their integrity.

      Rules for Defining Ragas

      The Raga is the basis of classical music. It is based on the principle of a combination of notes selected out the 22 note intervals of the octave. A performer with sufficient training and knowledge alone can create the desired emotions, through the combination of shrutis and notes.

      There are a limited number of ragas in Hindustani music; as the use of a ``KING" note and a ``QUEEN" note restricts to a great extent, the creation of new ragas. The raga forms the backbone of Indian music, and the laws laid down for the ragas have to be carefully observed to preserve and safeguard their integrity. The following points are required in the construction of a Raga -

      • Thaatas or sequence of notes,
      • Jaatis or classification
      • ``King" and ``Queen" relation of the notes, i.e. Vadi and Samvadi
      • The Ascent and Descent of the raga, i.e. Aroha and Avaroha
      • Important cluster of notes
      • Pitch
      • Speed.
      • Every Raga is derived from some Thaata or Scale.
      • Ragas are placed in three categories
        • Odava or pentatonic, a composition of five notes,
        • Shadava or hexatonic, a composition of six notes,
        • Sampoorna or heptatonic, a composition of seven notes,
      • Every Raga must have at least five notes, starting at Sa, one principal note, a second important note and a few helping notes.
      • The principal note, ``KING" is the note on which the raga is built. It is emphasised in various ways, such as stopping for some time on the note, or stressing it. The second important note or the ``queen" corresponds to the ``King" as the fourth or fifth note in relation to it.
      • The ascent and descent of the notes in every raga is very important. Some ragas in the same scale differ in ascent and descent.
      • In every raga, there is an important cluster of notes by which the raga is identified.
      • There are certain ragas, which move in a certain pitch and if the pitch is changed, the raga fails to produce the mood and sentiment peculiar to it.
      • The speed is divided into three parts: Vilambit (slow), Madhya (Medium) and Drut (fast).

      Another aspect of the ragas is the appropriate distribution in time during the 24 hours of the day for its performance, i.e. the time of the day denotes the raga sung a particular time. Ragas are also allotted a particular time space in the cycle of the day. These are divided into four types

      • Sandi - Prakash ragas or twilight ragas when the notes Re and Da are used -- such as Raga Marwa, Purvi.
      • Midday and Midnight ragas which include the notes Ga and Ni (komal).
      • Ragas for the first quarter of the morning and night which include the notes Re, Ga, Da and Ni (komal).
      • For the last quarter of the day and night, the ragas include the notes Sa, Ma and Pa.

      All the ragas are divided into two groups -- Poorva Ragas and Uttar Ragas. The Poorva Ragas are sung between 12 noon and 12 midnight. The Uttar Ragas are sung between 12 midnight and 12 noon. The variations on the dominant or ``King" note help a person to find out why certain ragas are being sung at certain times. This raga classification is about 500 years old and has been adopted by Pandit V. N. Bhatkhande in his textbooks on Hindustani music.

      The beauty of the raga will not be marred by the time of the day it is sung. It is the psychological association with the time that goes with the mood of the raga. The object of a raga is to express a certain emotional mood and sentiment without any reference to time and season. For a student of classical music, this classification may give an idea as to how to base his reasons for the traditional usage of ragas.

      Another division of ragas is the classification of ragas under five principal ragas -- Hindol, Deepak, Megh, Shree and Maulkauns. From these five ragas, other ragas are derived. The first derivatives of the ragas are called raginis, and each of the five ragas have five raginis under them. Further derivatives from these ragas and raginis resulted in attaching to each principal raga 16 secondary derivatives known as upa-ragas and upa-raginis.

      The Defining Elements in the Raga

      The following elements define the grammar, syntax and aesthetics of a raga:
      (1)  Graha.  It used to be the starting note of a raga.  It has lost its significance in today's improvised style of singing.
      (2)  Amsha.  It is the most frequently used note in a raga. This term is not in use in today's music.
      (3)  Nyasa.  It is the ending note in the performance of a raga.  Again, this term is not used much these days.
      (4) to (8).  Taara, mandra, apanyasa, sanyasa, vinyasa.  These terms are not in use any more.
      (9)  Alpatva.  It indicates very little use of a note (or notes) in a raga.
      (10)  Bahutva.  It indicates very frequent use of a note (or notes) in a raga.  It is effected by either repeated use of a note, or by emphasing and prolonging a note.
      (11)  Tirobhava.  It means hiding the prominent features of a raga when perfoming it.
      (12)  Avirbhava.  It means highlighting the prominent features of a raga when perfoming it. It is used to indiate showing the prominent features of a raga again, after hiding it (in tirobhava).
      (13) to (16).  Vadi, samvadi, anuvadi, and vivadi.  These are treated separately in 4 below.

      Vadi, Samvadi, Anuvadi, Vivadi [ Sonant, Consonant, Assonant,  Dissonant]

      Vadi .  It has been described as the King of the notes occuring in a raga.  It dominates the development of the raga, it is accentuated, it is emphasised.  The melodic patterns are woven around the vadi.  If it is located in "poorvanga"(the lower tetrachord), the raga is developed with greater emphasis in the lower tetrachord,  Similarly for "uttaranga" (the upper tetrachord).  See 2.4(C).  Also, if the vadi of a raga is located in the "poorvanga', that raga is performed at any time except the morning.  If the vadi of a raga is located in the "uttaranga', that raga is performed in the morning.

      Samvadi .  It has been given importance next only to the King (vadi).  Samvadi also enjoys great importance in the development of a raga.  If the vadi of a raga is located in "poorvanga"(the lower tetrachord), its samvadi will be located in the "uttaranga" (the upper tetrachord).  And vice versa.

      The samvadi is always a fifth or a fourth in relation to the vadi.  The relationship of the fifth is called "shadja-panchama bhava".  The relationship of the fourth is called "shadja-madhyama bhava".  Vadi-samvadi relationships exemplify perfect consonance.

      Anuvadi.  The notes occuring in a raga, apart from the vadi and the samvadi, are called anuvadi notes.  They bring the number of notes in the raga to atleast five.  They help in creating aesthetic tension, to be followed by resolution. (See 2.3, 2).  Sometimes. an anuvadi can have great importance, the same as, or next only to samvadi.  Such an anuvadi can be called "pranuvadi".  Very often, an anuvadi acts as the leading note, creating aesthetic tension, till it leads to "Sa" (especially in higher octave), resolving the tension.

      Vivadi.  They are the notes which do not occur in a raga.  However, quite often, a vivadi is included, in a specific way,  in the develpoment of a raga.  This is because a vivadi can embellish a raga by making it sound exceptionally charming.

      Aroha, avaroha [Ascending, Descending]

      Aroha is the successively ascending notes of a raga, starting on the tonic ("Sa"), and ending in the "Sa" in the higher octave.

      Avaroha is the successively descending notes of a raga, starting on the "Sa" in the higher octave.and ending on the tonic ("Sa"), it is the opposite of aroha. Aroha-avaroha indicate the notes comprising a raga. They are useful in a very general way:  they do not specify characteristics of a raga.  In fact, it is possible for two raga-s to have the same aroha-avaroha, though the ragas may be totally different aesthetically.  

      Twelve Swaras of the Octave

      The octave can only be divided into 22 parts where our ear can distinctly hear the parts separately. Any additional part above 22, gets overlapped and our ear cannot distinguish. These are our 22 shrutis. Swara Sa occupies 4 shrutis, Re occupies 3 shrutis, Ga occupies 2 shrutis, Ma occupies 4 shrutis, Pa occupies 4 shrutis, Dha occupies 3 shrutis and Ni occupies 2 shrutis. Re, Ga, Dha and Ni have space to move backwards and hence can become komal, whereas Ma cannot move backwards but can only move forwards and hence can become teevra. Sa and Pa swaras are fixed at one place and are like Dhruv nakshyatra.


      The 7 swaras in different combinations give 10 thaats (groups)

      Ma! - Tivra Ma


      Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni



      Sa Re Ga Ma! Pa Dha Ni

      Re, Ga, Dha suddha


      Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni



      Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni



      Sa Re Ga Ma! Pa Dha Ni

      Re. Dha komal


      Sa Re Ga Ma! Pa Dha Ni



      Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni



      Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni

      Ga / Ni komal


      Sa Re Ga Ma! Pa Dha Ni



      Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Dha Ni




      Thaats give birth to all the ragas. The combinations of swaras for a raga must be aesthetically appealing. They must be artistically pleasing and entertaining. Aroha & Avaroha are must in a raga. They must have minimum of five swaras. Two variations of same swaras are not allowed consecutively in a raga. The raga will have Vadi (King), Samvadi (Queen /Minister) , Anuvadi ( Praja / subjects) & Vivadi (Enemy) swaras. Some ragas will have Vakra swaras. The raga will have a Pakad, which is the smallest combination of swaras depicting the raga.

      In a raga the aaroha or avaroha taking all seven swaras is known as sampoorna;

      the aaroha or avaroha taking only six swaras is known as shadav;

      the aaroha or avaroha taking only five swaras is known as auduv.

      Thus we have nine combinations of ragas & a total of possible 484 ragas in one thaat ie. a total of 4,840 ragas in ten thaats as given below.

















      Auduv-Auduv .


      Total ragas in one thaat : 484 Hence total ragas possible in ten thaats are 4,840

      However, not all the possible comibnations of ragas are aesthetically appealing. Hence at a given period of time only about 350-400 ragas are in circulation and of these may be only about 100-150 are popular. With time some ragas go to the back-benches and some emerge to the front. You will now appreciate that it is futile to claim that somebody invented a new rags; at the most you may say that somebody re-invented the raga or somebody brought a raga from back-benches to the front row!


      The time-cycles are known as taals. The taal has a tempo, has Matras ( beats, ie. unit used to measure time), has Sam (Most important beat giving the impact), has Khali (which usually shows the mid-way). The taals have their distinct Bols. I will explain these with demonstration. Our music is rich with several taals ranging from cycle of 6 beats to as high as 28 beats.

      There is a perfect balance in the universe. This balance is the essence of Tala and therefore Tala is in classical music is an important factor. The Tala is the theory of time measure. It has the same principle in Hindustani and Carnatic music, though the names and styles differ. The musical time is divided into simple and complicated meters. When accompanying the dance, vocal and instrumental music, the Tala maintains the balance, which is the most essential function of music. Tala is independent of the music it accompanies: it has its own divisions. It moves in bars, and each beat in it is divided into the smallest fraction.

      Rhythm has three aspects: Tala, Laya and Matra. Tala is a complete cycle of Metrical phrase composed of a fixed number of beats. There are over a 100 Talas, but only 30 Talas are known and only about 10-12 are used.

      The Laya is the tempo, which keeps uniformity of time span and it has 3 divisions -- Vilambit, Madhya and Drut.

      The Matra is the smallest unit of the tala.

      Tala is the most important aspect of classical music, and it can be considered to be the very basis or pulse of music. To appreciate the structure of simple and complicated divisions, the improvisations of Tala and its theory, one should listen to an accomplished solo drummer. A classical drum player requires at 8-10 years of methodical training and another 4-5 years of hard practice.