Chapter 3 – Introduction to Raag

Raag Todi
Gazelles of the Desert Bow Their Heads, Willing and Ready to be Hunted by You

Beginnings of Raag:

We are picking up our discussion from the previous chapter 2. So if you haven’t read the Chapters 1 and 2, I highly advise you to do so and understand the fundamental concepts that lead us here to Chapter 3 – Introduction to Raag.

Since you now fully understand the concepts of Sur, Sargam, Arohi, Amrohi, Saptak, Atal Sur, Komal Sur, Tayvar Sur and Shudh Sur…we want to bring these concepts into a working project as soon as we go over the last few theoretical stuff. So let’s begin our Introduction to Raag…

Heart of Raag:

You see, all the concepts that I mentioned above will be required to create a melody. Whether its a Song, Jugni, Qawwali, any melodic composition will require a few Sur at least, or even an absence of some Sur while many other Sur are included. It will also require some form of pattern to form limits. Otherwise, our limited human realization of notes will not comprehend what we hear as a melody at all. It will simply be heard as a bunch of sounds.

These rules and limitations, patterns of ascending and descending notes is what we call Raag. That maybe a good reason why we call this chapter the “Introduction to Raag”. As far as I know, from what I’ve read; Raag is derived from Sanskrit, which vaguely represents “Color”.  It can also be translated as “Mood”. Like I keep repeating, these are vocabulary that is based on language. And really doesn’t matter in the end as long as you understand the core concept.

Raag is the fruit of these concepts we talked about. It’s basically a melody (unspecified tune) that creates a certain mood with a set tonic note. Don’t get overwhelmed here, we are after all describing sounds with words. Tonic note here means Sa. So in every Raag, Sa is ever present and remains the basic foundation of each Raag. All other Sur, are noticed as separate individual Sur in their own right because of their distance from Sa. The final fruit, the Raag, when executed properly creates moods that are indescribable. They can bring out emotions you never knew you had…Joy, Laughter, Devotion, Love, Sadness, Despair, etc.

It’s like when someone goes to the gym for the first time and starts doing heavy deadlift. They’ll quickly realize that they have a lot more muscles than what they assumed due to all the pain. Raag is similar in that it will bring out emotions that you never knew existed, but without the muscle pain 🙂

Okay Okay…Take a breather…now keep reading.

Characteristics of Raag:

So each Raag has it’s own set of Sur, Arohi, Amrohi, but also some extra characteristics:

Thaat: A Thaat is like a parent of a Raag. There are 10 Thaat that we consider pertinent today. These Thaat are:

  1. Kalyan
  2. Bhairavi
  3. Bilaval
  4. Khamaj
  5. Kafi
  6. Assavari
  7. Todi
  8. Bhairo
  9. Maarva
  10. Purvi

Thaat are NOT Raag. They simply give the basic Sur that makes up children Raag. So you can consider them as Sur Pattern. They don’t have any other characteristic of a Raag other than Sur that make them up. However, they all have a child Raag that is named after the Thaat, among many other Raag. You can consider same named Raag as the flag bearer of their respective Thaat. To put it simply, think of Thaat as the Mommy or Daddy of a Raag.

Vadi: Vadi is in short the Principal Sur that resonates within the Raag composition the most. You’ll hear this note more often in the Raag.

Sam Vadi: Similar to Vadi, but less so. Sam Vadi is more like a Vice Principal Sur within the Raag composition. It is also used heavily but a bit less so than Vadi.

Wakht: This just means time in Urdu. Some of our Hindi/Sanskrit speaking brethren also call it “Prahar”. Fancy words to limit when the particular Raag should be executed. It can be an early morning Raag, afternoon Raag, or even midnight Raag. Each Raag can have a different Wakht.

Zaat: It’s also called Jati by the more Sanskrit laden speakers. It’s a way to classify Raag based on the number of Sur in Arohi and Amrohi. Something to know about Raag is that a Raag can have 5, 6, or 7 Sur in Arohi or Amrohi. Raag can even have a separate number of Sur in Arohi vs. Amrohi. So the Zaat clarifies that for us. All you have to know is that the word for:

  • 5 Sur = Audav
  • 6 Sur = Shaudav
  • 7 Sur = Sampuran

So for example, Raag Aiman will be classified as Sampuran – Sampuran because it has 7 Sur in Arohi and also 7 Sur in Amrohi. In my honest opinion, Zaat of the Raag is not something that plays an active role in applied HCM. But it’s always good to know.

Pakad: Is a commonly recognized patterns of Sur used to make the Raag more obvious. A way of letting the audience know which Raag is being played, without saying or giving away it’s name. In my view, Pakad is EXTREMELY important for the audience as well as the musician. It should at once create the Raag’s own particular mood in the atmosphere. For example, a very common Pakad for Raag Aiman is: N' R G----R--N' R S.

So you see, with these characteristics, a Raag is separated from just noise to a melodic scale. With these characteristics, it is well established, defined and carries it’s own mood and temperaments that are very unlike any other Raag. It’s not unusual for those that are well versed in Raag, to simply hear a short portion of a song and easily be able to tell what Raag the song is based on.

And do you realize the potential of that? If you know what Raag a Song, Bhajan, or Qawwali is based on, it’s that much easier to be able to play that tune on your harmonium, keyboard, or even sitar or flute if that’s what you’re into. You’ll not only be able to sing that composition with correct note, but with correct tonality as well as expression or mood.

You’re doing great so far. Keep going further….let’s look at Raag Aiman as an example.

Meet Raag Aiman:

In our attempt of Introduction to Raag, I want to first introduce you to Raag Aiman. I was formally introduced to this Raag as my own first Raag that I learned. And this is not by chance. There is a very conscientious reasoning behind teaching this as the first Raag to any beginner. In these HCM Learning Series Guides, I’ll only attempt to provide you with 3 examples of Raag. Reason being, that my goal in this series is not to teach you vast libraries of Indian Music. But to simply bring you up from a complete newbie to someone that can do further research on this website and advance on their own (to a degree).

Note: Once I’m done writing this series of guides, I’ll create many Raag posts that will give a lot more details particular Raag. Here, I may not be able to go into too much depth. By the time you read this, the Raag Posts will be available.

For our own clarity, we will always post the basic stats of the Raag, and discuss it in further detail below. So let’s start with stats for Raag Aiman.

Thaat: Kalyan
Arohi: S R G M P D N S'
Amrohi: S' N D P M G R S
Vadi: G
Sam Vadi: N
Wakht: Night
Pakad: N' R G----R--N' R S
Zaat: Sampuran–Sampuran

Is the stat above making sense yet? Let’s dice it up in little pieces and evaluate.

Thaat: First we find out that Raag Aiman belongs to the family of Thaat Kalyan. This also means that Raag Aiman is the flag bearer for Thaat Kalyan. I really hope you understand the difference.

Arohi: The simple Sur pattern that ascends the Raag. Notice that in case of Raag Aiman, all Sur are in caps. Signifying that all Sur are Tayvar and Atal.

Amrohi: Sur pattern to descend the Raag. In case of Raag Aiman, there are no Komal Sur involvement AT ALL!

Vadi: This should be simple. You already know that Vadi is the most used Sur. And we know that a caps G means that it is a Tayvar Gandhaar.

Sam Vadi: The secondary Sur for this Raag is written as a caps N, symbolizing that it is a Tayvar Nikhaad.

Wakth: The time for this Raag is Night. It’s when this Raag makes the biggest impact on the listener. Pretty straight forward.

Pakad: Remember this is the pattern that augments the Raag. And brings the correct mood into the environment. Again, it’s very important aspect of the Raag in my view.

Zaat: Remember we talked about this above. Raag Aiman is made up of all seven Sur in both Arohi and Amrohi; we’ll characterize Zaat as Sampurna for ascent, and Sampurna for descent.

Let’s Wrap It Up: To sum up this (maybe long winded) chapter…we’ve covered Raag in its totality as a beginner. With what you’ve learned in Chapters 1 and 2, it wouldn’t have made much sense to you to read this Chapter 3. But now that you’ve gone ahead in the right step by step manner, your foundations of understand these concepts will be much stronger.

Don’t forget, there is SO MUCH MORE to a Raag than what we’ve discussed here. But this is just enough for you as a beginner to get some understanding. If you live in US, Canada, Europe, Australia, or even Indian Sub Continent nowadays, it’s hard to come across a good music teacher. I urge you all to earnestly look to get trained, but in the meantime, don’t waste time and learn and research on your own. These guides are exactly for that purpose.

In the next Chapter, we’ll cover Raag Bhairavi and Raag Bilaval. Reason for learning Raag Aiman was so that we can get familiar with Tayvar Sur Raag. Remember, S and P are the only Atal Sur. All others come in a pair of Tayvar and Komal. Reason I want you to get familiar with Raag Bhairavi, is because it’s the opposite Sur combination to Aiman. Bhairavi is also made up of both Atal S and P, but rest of the Sur are all Komal. Think of Bhairavi as the Komal Sur Raag. Bilaval on the other hand is sort of a mixed bag. It too has the two Atal Sur, but rest are both Komal and Tayvar. It is very easy to remember Bilaval, because Bilaval uses only Shudh Sur.

I bet you didn’t know, but these three Raag make up more than half of all the Indian and Pakistani Songs, Bhajan, Ghazal, Jugni, and Qawwali etc. As always…

See you next time, stay sharp.

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