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Classification of Hindustani Ragas

There exists a myriad of ragas in Indian music. Even though ragas have their own distinct character, it is very helpful to understand as well as appreciate similarities and differences between ragas. Classification is generally the best method to identify the aesthetic as well as the technical quality of the raga.

 

CLASSIFICATION BY JANAK RAGAS AND TIME:

The most ancient way of grouping a raga is the raga-ragini system. The raga is the male form while the ragini is the female form. Together, they bond and form children ragas, known as raga-putras. There are thirty-six of them in total. From the raga-ragini system, six fundamental ragas which are based on seasons were used. These six seasonal ragas are known as janak-ragas. The six ragas are Bhairava, Malkauns, Hindol, Sri, Dipak, and Megha. Since classification of these ragas is not really systematic, this system of classification was not used frequently.


Also tied in this system was classifying the ragas by time that they are meant to be rendered at. Within an approximately twenty-four day, it is divided into eight prahars. Many schools will define what prahar starts first, but as a Gaudiya Vaisnava site, KKSongs.org assumes the position that the first prahar begins at
3 AM, since that is closest to Brahma Muhurta, the start of the Vedic day. While prahars cannot be deciphered, it is used to classify ragas, at times.

1st Prahar (3 AM to 6 AM)

2nd Prahar (6 AM to 9 AM)

3rd Prahar (9 AM to 12 PM)

4th Prahar (12 PM to 3 PM)

5th Prahar (3 PM to 6 PM)

6th Prahar (6 PM to 9 PM)

7th Prahar (9 PM to 12 AM)

8th Prahar (12 AM to 3 AM)

 

CLASSIFICATION BY NOTES IN THE SCALES:

The next alternative was to classify ragas by how many notes are used in each direction. This is called the caste of the raga, or the jati. A raga with five notes is called audava, six notes is called a sadava, sand all seven nots is called a sampurna raga. If a raga has five notes in the upward direction and seven notes in the downward, the jati is audava-sampurna. Though this is more systematic than the raga-ragini system, this only describes the fine technical point, but not much of the aesthetic feel. Here is a listing of the ragas sorted by jatis.

Audava Audava

Audava Sadava

Audava Sampurna

 

Sadava Audava

Sadava Sadava

Sadava Sampurna

 

Sampurna Audava

Sampurna Sadava

Sampurna Sampurna

 

CLASSIFICATION BY PARENT SCALES:

The more recent and mostly accepted method is the Bhatkhande That system. Musician Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande recognized ten parent scales, or thāṭs, to represent the fundamental ragas in Indian music. The ten thāṭs are as follows:

THĀ NAME

WESTERN NAME

SCALE

Asavari

Aeolian

S R g m P d n S

Bhairava

None

S r G m P d N S

Bhairavi

Phyrgian

S r g m P d n S

Bilavala

Ionian

S R G m P D N S

Kafi

Dorian

S R g m P D n S

Kalyana

Lydian

S R G M P D N S

Khammaja

Mixolydian

S R G m P D n S

Marwa

None

S r G M P D N S

Purvi

None

S r G M P d N S

Todi

None

S r g M P d N S

 

Note the names in parenthesis are Western equivalents of the thāṭ. The thāṭ is merely a scale. There is no emotions felt by the scale, and scales are never performed. Only ragas are performed. All ragas in Hindustani music are attempted to confine themselves to these ten. Even though this is the most accepted way of classifying ragas, there are some shortcomings.

 

First, just because a thāṭ has a certain name, doesnt mean its representative raga will be the same. For example, Raga Khammaja has an upward and downward flow as such: S R G m P D N S S n D P m G R S. Both nis are used, even though the thāṭ implies that komal ni is used.

 

Secondly, it is a trend to see a raga with deviated notes fit into one of the ten thāṭs. For instance, Raga Ahir Bhairava has a swar set of S r G m P D n S. Because of the overall flow and its striking resemblance to Bhairava, its placed in the Bhairava That.

 

Thirdly, a raga that lacks two notes can become a challenge to classify. For instance, Raga Gunakri has the notes S r m P d and S. From these, the two choices of thāṭs are easily Bhairava and Bhairavi. Because of the overall flow of the raga, its more likely to be of the Bhairava thāṭ than the Bhairavi thāṭ.

 

Lastly, there will be some ragas which will not fit at all like Raga Kirvani and Chandrakauns. They are not placed in any thāṭ, as most of these thāṭ-less ragas are from the South Indian musical system.

 

Today, when ragas are being described, all features of classification take place. The raga-ragini system takes place by telling when to sing it. The beauty of Indian music is that ragas are sung at particular seasons, and times of day. There are eight sets of three hours, known as prahars. Several ragas may fit into a particular prahar, but those ragas have certain times allocated for them. The jati classification takes place through understanding the upward and downward flow of scales. The thāṭ is used to describe the mode and notes used. By using these three methods, understanding ragas can make a little more sense.

 

UPDATED: April 2, 2009

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