Introduction To Indian Classical Music & Ragas That You Should Know

Rich in heritage Indian classical music is one of the oldest forms of music in the world, with its roots in various areas such as ancient Vedic hymns, tribal chants, devotional temples, and folk music. Ancient Indians were deeply impressed by the spiritual power of music, and it is out of this that Indian classical music was born. So, for those who take it seriously, classical music involves single-minded devotion and lifelong commitment. But one thing is for sure no matter what the level of your commitment is learning or even listening to Indian classical music is a rewarding experience. 

Language Of Indian Classical Music

Learning Indian classical music is very much like learning a language. Just like how you learn basic grammar and vocabulary while learning a language and then eventually construct sentences, in Indian classical music once you have learned the basic notes, you are introduced to ragas (which are like musical themes), and then you are encouraged to start improvising and making your melodies. With this knowledge, musicians can improvise melodies in a raga and create spontaneous music which is an inexhaustible source of delight. 

indian classical musicians
Source: cntraveller.in

What Is A Raga? 

To put it across in the easiest way a raga can be thought of as a scale – a musical theme created by choosing a specific set of notes from within an octave. The power of music lies in its capacity to move us and communicate with our deepest emotions through the moods it creates. Different sets of notes evoke different moods and inspire different feelings. All Indian classical music performances are presentations of one raga and artists choose a raga, which is the musical equivalent of a color scheme, and proceed to paint a musical picture based on that raga for the audience. Each rāga is an array of melodic structures with musical motifs, considered in the Indian tradition to have the ability to “color the mind” and affect the emotions of the audience. About five hundred ragas are known or known of (including historical ragas) today. Sometimes ragas die out if people stop performing them, but then new ragas are born all the time hence the number of ragas tends to fluctuate. Traditionally each raga has emotional significance and symbolic associations such as with season and mood. 

indian classical music instruments
Source: classcentral.com

Let’s Take A Look At The Primary Ragas In Indian Classical Music

Raag Bhairav

A sampurna raga, Bhairav has performed traditionally in the morning as well as the beginning pieces in concerts. According to Indian classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj, Bhairav is a “morning raga, and solemn peacefulness is its ideal mood.” It is grave in mood and suggests seriousness, introversion, and devotional attitude. Considered to originated several centuries ago, the origin of this raga is disputed. According to some musicians, Bhairav raga was the first raga that originated from the mouth of Lord Shiva while some musicians argue that Bhairav raga originated from the mouth of Lord Surya. The raga however is extremely vast and allows a huge number of note combinations and a great range of emotional qualities from valour to peace.

Raag Malkauns

Believed to have been created by goddess Parvati to calm Lord Shiva,  when he was outraged and refused to calm down after Tandav in a rage of Sati’s sacrifice, the raga is known to have a soothing and intoxication effect. According to Indian classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj, Malkauns is a raga that is “sung during small hours of the morning, just after midnight.  It is vast and profound, best performed in the lower pitch ranges at an extremely contemplative pace in the small hours of the morning, just after midnight.

Raag Deepak

Believed to be created by Lord Shiva, there is a myth that singing this raga will create fire. The raga was performed by Tansen in the court of emperor Akbar. Legends speak that Tansen lit up lamps by singing the Deepak Raga. This raga is nearly extinct but it does have 5 types and three of the variants exist in  Bilawal, Poorvi, and Khamaj thaats which are parent scales in Indian classical music. 

Raag Megh

Megh is the Sanskrit word for cloud and this raga is known to be played or sung during  Monsoon. Sung as an invitation to rain, it’s one of the oldest raga’s there is. When Govardhan was on Lord’s Krishna’s finger, Lord Shiva generated a Damru sound to protect him and that sound is known to be the Raag Megh. 

Raag Shree

Traditionally been associated with Shiva, the basis of Raag Shri has been steeped in the traditions of mainstream Indian Classical music. Siri Raag is serious and thought-provoking in nature and creates an atmosphere where the listener is led to heed the advice given therein. As a listener, you are made aware of the truth of the message and with this ‘education is given the strength to face the future with both humility and the ‘gained’ knowledge.

Raag Hindol

An ancient raga associated with the season of spring, the Hindol Raag is usually sung during the first half of the day. The singing of this raga is accompanied by an instrument such as a santoor and the raga revolves around the note of Teevra Madhyam. The raga is mainly used while composing pure classical genres of music like Khayals. 

Also, Go Through Our Musical Matrix Stream Where You Find A Variety Of Music From Classical To Bollywood

The List Of Raga’s Is Endless

When it comes to raga’s the list is close to inexhaustible. The older ones are not getting used much and musicians are creating new ones, whose origins are of course related to the older ones. If we would talk about all the raga’s in Indian classical music trust me when I say I won’t have enough space here. So here’s hoping just talking about the most primary ones has awakened a curiosity in you to learn more about them. 


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