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Appendix S1: Understanding Ragas


In studying melody in Indian music, the most important feature is the raga. Indian music can never be understood without mentioning the word raga. Ragas are melodic forms which has an aesthetic value. Thats that we have studied are merely scales with no aesthetic value. They have no flow or any special characteristics. Ragas, on the other hand have special flow, signs, characteristics, mannerisms, and emotions. They even have seasons and times of day through which they are sung. As aesthetic as it sounds, there are some rules fixed in order to be considered a raga.


1) A raga must have a minimum of five notes.

More combinations can be made with at least five notes. Only two notable exceptions have four note ragas.


2) A raga may not have two forms of the consecutive note together.

One may not have the different forms of the same note together. For instance, S r g G g is not allowed as ga has its pure and flat forms being consecutive. They may be sandwiched however: S r g m G r g. Of course, there are noteable exceptions to this rule. Consecutive notes are known as chromatic forms.


3) A raga must have Sa

Every musical scale MUST have a tonic. Sa may be used the least, but it must exist in order for the other notes to function. "Sa" is short for "Sadja" which means "the origin of six." Without the origin, the other six cannot function.


4) A raga must have a Re or Ga, or both.

It would be helpful to think of a raga as a cake. There must be layers in there. Either Re or Ga can exist in either form, but a raga cannot be without either of these notes together.


5) A raga must have a Ma or Pa, or both.

Pa is the perfect fifth. Perfect fifths imply stability. Either pa can exist, ma (pure or augmented) can exist or both can exist.


6) A raga must have a Dha or Ni, or both.

This is the final layer to the cake. One cannot climb from the middle of a mountain to the top without the final steps.


7) It must be able to produce a sound pleasing to the ear.

This is more asthetic than theoretical. This is the rule what differentiates a scale from a raga.


As strict as it may sound, it is amazing to see how many ragas have been formed. Within each raga, there are some properties which are shared.


1) Aroha: The raga in scale form in an upward direction


2) Avaroha: The raga in scale form in a downward direction


3) Svarupa (also known as Pakkad): The general flow and catchphrase of the raga


4) Jati: The caste of the raga. This is determined by the number of notes in the aroha and the avaroha.


Five notes is called audava

Six notes is called sadava

Seven notes is called sampurna


For example, if a raga has five notes in the upward direction and seven notes in the downward direction, it's called an "audava-sampurna"


5) Vadi: The most important note in the raga. This can be considered as the sonant.


6) Samvadi: The second most important note in the raga. This can be considered as the consonant. It is almost always a fourth or fifth note of the vadi.


7) Bhava: Harmony between the vadi and samvadi shown by how they are related. It will not be used too much in the context of the harmonium.


8) Prahar: The time of day the raga is sung at. Prahars are derived from the twenty-four hours in a day equally divided into eight sections with three hours a piece. The first prahar is from 12 AM to 3 AM.


Lets look at a raga and understand its properties.


Raga Bhairava:

Aroha: S G m P m P d N d S

Avaroha: S N S d N d P m P d P G m r S

Svarupa: P G m G r S

Jati: Sadava Sampurna

Vadi: r

Samvadi: d

Prahar: 2nd Prahar (6 AM to 9 AM)

Bhava: S to P


Lets examine this further: This raga follows all of the rules shown above. The first rule was that it must have at least five notes. Both the aroha and avaroha had five notes. They both had Sa and they had at least a Re or Ga, Ma or Pa, and Dha or Ni. It does not have any chromatic forms. Since there are six notes up and seven notes down, it is a sadava-sampurna jati raga. The vadi is r and the samvadi is d. Since d is a perfect fifth from r, the ratio from r to d is that of S to P.


For more information on ragas, as well as a comprehensive database of ragas, please visit the KKSongs Ragamala.


UPDATED: June 18, 2009