List of 10 Thaat and Thaat Families

10 Rivers of Grace
10 Rivers of Grace

As the title communicates well, I think, here, I’m going to elaborate on the List of 10 Thaat that are some basic parent Raag without being as precise as a Raag.

There are 10 Thaat that most contemporary musicians have come to agree on. Back about a hundred and fifty years ago, there were 12 of them. 2 out of 12 were amalgamated with the other 10 Thaat. As far as my research goes, the name of Bhatkhande keeps coming up as the person who compiled every known Raag into these 10 Thaat. Now, I must say the classification system is far from perfect. But this is what we have to work with. So let’s get to it…

What makes up all music (maybe referring to Thaat) are like rivers separated but flowing from the feet of the divine. Sometimes, the rivers remain separated, and sometimes they intermingle and flow within each other. Whatever flows, in its truest form, remains the same.

– Hazrat Ameer Khusrau (para-phrasing)

What the Thaat does is that it provides a bank of Sur that will eventually be lent to a Raag in its Thaat family. There are some contentions by many masters of HCM when it comes to articulating which Raag belongs to which Thaat family. To put it into context, Raag Basant, for example, is said to have come from Thaat Purvi, yet some say it is from Thaat Bhairav, and some claim it is a child of another Thaat.

In my humble opinion, these talks are, for one, NOT important! Second, it diminishes the power of music and makes it more categorical, scientific, algebraic, and pragmatically logical. These things are very important, but music should touch the soul primarily. What good is it to know all the music theory that HCM has to offer and yet not have the music touch one’s heart?

Let’s take a look at the List of 10 Thaat:

Thaat Kalyan
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1) Kalyan: Usually, the 1st Thaat is to be discussed due to its easy-to-remember Sur. Other than Sa and Pa which are known as Atal Sur. All other Sur are Tayvar. So the set of Sur for Thaat Kalyan would be: S R G M P D N S'. Those of you who are familiar with Raag might wonder why there is no Arohi or Amrohi. That’s because going up and down a Saptak in Sargam is the work of a Raag, not Thaat. Thaat simply tells you what Sur are involved in and does not micromanage the Raag within its family any more than that.

Thaat Kalyan primarily creates evening Raag. Kalyan in itself means good fortune in Sanskrit. Maybe a good indication that many of its children Raag create a happy mood. There are vast number of children Raag that are born from Thaat Kalyan.

Many people associate child Raag of Thaat Kalyan to start any music concert. What they may not realize is, that this is due to a particular practice of the Honorable Ameer Khusro. He composed the most famous of all Qawwali, known as Qaalay Nabi later known as simply Qaul. This composition is also referred to as Mankunto Maula, and uses Raag Yaman Kalyan of the Thaat Kalyan. Ameer Khusro went on to starting every Mehfile Sama with this composition. Over time, a lot of these fine historic things are forgotten, and people simply assume that music sages simply start a concert any concert with a Raag based on Thaat Kalyan.

Many very well known Raag come from the family of Thaat Kalyan, including: Raag Aiman, Bhopali, Bihag, Hameer, Hindol, Kamod, Kedar, Yaman Kalyan, and many others. For the full scope, you’ll need to refer to Raag Aiman which represents this Raag like the eldest child of Thaat Kalyan.

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2) Bhairavi: This is usually the 2nd Thaat to be taught to students. It is an exact opposite in Sur to that of Thaat Kalyan. Bhairavi, keeps it’s Atal Sur Sa and Pa like all other Thaat do. However, all other Sur are Komal instead of Tayvar like Thaat Kalyan. So the Sur for Thaat Bhairavi are: S r g m P d n S'.

Can you see how cool it is that even in musical scales, there are Thaat and Raag that are complete opposite to each other, Ying Yang, everything in balance. Sorry, I let my inner music nerd get out for a bit. What is especially cool to know is that Bhairavi means Awe Inspiring. Probably a good indication that when a person is awe struck, he/she is focused…seriously focused. One does NOT giggle, laugh, be playful at that time. Even a joyful mood may take a back seat, if one was to find themselves in their lord’s presence. Don’t you agree? Even though it maybe serious stuff, it may not particularly be sad or dismal. Maybe joy would come as an afterthought. This may explain Thaat Bhairavi and what its offspring may cultivate.

Most of Thaat Bhairavi Raag are set to early morning, probably because it is used so often in Hindu religious ceremonies. It is said that Bhairavi is also a name of Hindu Goddess, the wife of Bhairav. We’ll see what Thaat Bhairav will reveal to us when we read on below.

Many very well known Raag come from the family of Bhairavi, including: Raag Bhairavi, Jogkauns, Malkauns, etc. For the full scope, you’ll need to refer to Raag Bhairavi which represents this Raag like the eldest child.

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3) Bilaval: There is a good reason why this is the 3rd of the 10 Thaat to learn. This Thaat has the same Sur as Thaat Kalyan, except that the Ma or M is Komal in Bilaval, NOT Tayvar. Remember, how Thaat Kalyan only uses the Atal Sur S & P, and rest are all Tayvar. Well, Bilaval uses the same but with Komal ma. This makes all the Sur (other than Atal) for Thaat Bilaval to be Shudh. I’ll repeat…Thaat Bilaval is a Shudh Thaat. So in respect, it leans more towards Thaat Kalyan than towards Thaat Bhairavi. It is very important to be able to compare Thaat based on these characteristics, because it helps us to memorize them faster and easier.

You might even hear people call it Bilabal. But again, that’s a language thing. The thing that makes it easier to remember is that if you place your Sa on the C key, then Bilaval has all white keys as it’s Sur, like this: S R G m P D N S'. However, keep in mind that we are talking about Hindustani Music, and trying to explain to those who may know a little Hindi, but many only know English. So some of my ways I explaining may put some of you off at the start. But bare with me here. Due to all white keys, this is called C Major Scale in English, and maybe referred to Shudh Thaat along with Thaat Bilaval in Hindi. The Komal ma makes all the difference here.

Now, you need to know that Thaat Bilaval for some reason is found in just about every culture’s music. It is very possible that it may not have even originated from India. The name itself is of Persio-Arab origin, and means Victor. Some of it’s children Raag have been vastly adopted by the Guru Granth Sahib of the Sikhs as well as many nationalistic compositions between India and Pakistan. Probably the reason being, that it’s mood is pretty motivational. Something that tells you, “Yes, I’ve Fallen, But I’ll Get Right Back Up.”

The more famous Raag that belong to Bilaval Family are: Raag Bilaval itself, Durga, Hansdhwani, Alhaiya Bilaval, Pahadi, etc.

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4) Khamaj: We’re now taking a very small deviation from Thaat Bilaval and simply change Thaat Bilaval’s Shudh Nikhad to Komal ni. We end up at the doorstep of Thaat Khamaj. Yes, remember when we made a single deviation of Ma from Thaat Kalyan, and got Thaat Bilaval? And now again, from Thaat Bilaval, using Komal ni gives us Thaat Khamaj. Sometimes, those who do not know how to embellish the differences between them, end up playing each of these in a very similar way. But believe me, Komal ni in Thaat Khamaj will show it’s a very different Thaat from Thaat Bilaval. The Sur for Thaat Khamaj therefore are: S R G m P D n S'. Both Ma and Ni are Komal , the rest are Taywar and Atal.

Thaat Khamaj seems to give off a very romantic mood, and so the children of Thaat Khamaj are very often used in Thumri, Tappa, Ghazal, and other light classical genres. Thaat Khamaj family of Raag can create such and an alluring and romantic setting, that some have even labeled the whole group as a set of flirtatious family of Raag. I have yet never come across any Raag from Thaat Khamaj that was NOT set to heighten emotions of love, passion, deep friendship, trust, and affection.

Thaat Khamaj has said to even travel to China, Mongol Regions, even as far as Japan. Some of the more famous Raag that belong to Thaat Khamaj are: Desh, Jaijaiwanti, Kalawati, Tilak Kamod, and of course Raag Khamaj.

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5) Kafi: We’re now again deviating from Thaat Khamaj, just a single Sur and lower the Taywar Ga to Komal ga, and we get Thaat Kafi. Yes, that’s all that is needed folks, it should not be a headline news any longer. The complete set of Sur for Thaat Kafi is: S R g m P D n S'. It is highly advisable to see this visually on a keyboard. The visual receptors in your brain will work their magic when it comes to memorizing these Sur sets. I would even suggest that you click on each clickable image and literally see the big picture. I’m just trying to save you time and effort my friends.

Note: Notice that I’ve stop talking about Atal Sur altogether, because ALL 10 Thaat include both Sa and Pa. So there is no reason to keep on harping on that fact repeatedly. All we are doing is talking about Komal and Taywar Sur differences. I don’t even use the word Shudh too often unless it can clear up a concept. This will also force the you to learn and fully understand the content above before skipping to the later portions of the guide. I really hurts me more than it hurts you to do that.

Let’s continue with Thaat Kafi a bit more, shall we?

What makes Thaat Kafi a little extraordinary is, the fact that it’s flag bearing Raag Kafi being one of the oldest of all Raag in the HCM. It’s been mentioned in the oldest of musical text dating back to 500 B.C. This means, that Raag Kafi “may” very well be one of the few Raag, that even existed back in the days of King David, with his God given miraculous voice. But that’s just conjecture, for now. Another thing is that Thaat Kafi, doesn’t have any one direction of emotion or set Wakth. The children of Thaat Kafi provide a plethora of emotions and Wakht, although many are known to be for spring season.

The multitude of Raag that Thaat Kafi brings into existence are: Raag Kafi, Bageshri, Bahar, Bhimpilasi, Malhaar, Pilu, among many others.

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6) Assavari: I hope you understood Thaat Kafi very well before stepping into the arena of Thaat Assavari. We’re simply going to deviate again a single Sur from Thaat Kafi by lowering Dhaivat from Tayvar to Komal. So the full set of Thaat Assavari Sur is: S R g m P d n S'. Once we get to Thaat Assavari, keep in mind we are using a lot more Komal Sur than before and therefore it’s going to bring about some very seriousness in the mood the children Raag Thaat Assavari. You’ll notice this trend even more pronounced, the further we go down the list.

Note: I’ve tried my best to not just mimic the sequence in which I learned these Thaat, but to make it even easier for you to learn by giving you a more easier and more precise sequence. So keep reading this sequence of Thaat, there is order in this mayhem.

Strange thing is that Thaat Bhairavi, that is made up of all Komal doesn’t have that affect. I mean Raag of Thaat Bhairavi are serious, but you’ll notice that from Thaat Assavari on, things get a bit on the dark side. Thaat Assavari’s favorite child, Raag Assavari itself gives an aura of deep devotion and sacrifice. Thaat Assavari, like its counterpart Thaat Kafi, is also one of the oldest in written history. Thaat Assavari is said to be even older than Thaat Kaafi. The Sur pattern of Thaat Assavari is found in ancient music of the: Byzantine Empire, Roman Empire, Ancient Greece, Ancient Persia, Ancient Egyptian, The Sumerians, and Broader Indus Civilizations. My feeling (although without proof) is that Thaat Assavari is THE OLDEST of the 10 Thaat we have today.

Thaat Assavari has the following Raag in it’s family: Raag Assavari, Adana, Jaunpuri, Darbari, Zeelaf, and few others.

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7) Todi: Now that you’re getting the hang of this, let’s change it up a bit. Let’s look at Thaat Todi; it’s a little bit more than a single Sur away from Thaat Assavari, but not anything you can’t handle. The Sur for Thaat Todi are: S r g M P d N S'. In fact, Sur wise, its closer to Thaat Bhairavi, with just a difference of two Sur; the Ma is Taywar in Todi as well as Ni.

One thing that I really don’t want to skip over, is the fact that it’s the 1st Thaat in this list to have 2 Sur gaps. By that I mean, the big leap you take from g to M, and again from d to N. If you’re a newbie to HCM, you may not have yet realized that this leap creates a very powerful heart wrenching affect if done correctly. None of the previous Thaat have made that 2 Sur leap. The following three Thaat, have this similarity within them. This factor alone is enough to make sure, that it’s NOT a Sur pattern to be used in happy joyful occasions. And if so used in weddings or birthdays and such, handle with care.

The folklores of HCM have named Thaat Todi as the ruler of all 10 Thaat. I don’t really buy into that simply because they each have a very permanent and powerful presence in the music world. No one form of music can rule another. I’m so grateful that music notes are not as competitive and egotistical as people.

Thaat Todi teaches it’s children to very openly sets the mood for love, gentleness, empathy, and longing. All the Raag from this family that I know of are set for Morning, Late Morning, or Noon.

Some of the well known Raag from Thaat Todi family are: Multani, Raag Todi itself, and Gujri Todi along with few others.

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8) Bhairav: As you know from Thaat Assavari’s description, we’re already in the realm of the dark side, serious mood Raag, and the Thaat that created them. Thaat Bhairav is again a double deviation from Thaat Bhairavi, with it’s Gandhar and Nikhad being Tayvar. All else remains same as Thaat Bhairavi. So the Sur for Thaat Bhairav is: S r G m P d N S'. Even without playing any particular Raag of the Thaat Bhairav, just playing the keys alone will give you some somber Arabic sounding music tones.

According to Hindu scriptures, Bhairav is another name for God Shiva. And as Bhairav, he is the husband to Goddess Bhairavi as we mentioned above. Probably due to this, Raag Bhairav is thought of as a male Raag. The progeny of Thaat Bhairav come in multitudes with all kinds of moods, emotions, Wakht, and so on. Goes to show that you cannot limit Thaat Bhairav into a small mold. It’s vast…too vast!

This Thaat actually has a lot of Raag associated to it, like: Raag Bhairav, Ahir Bhairav, Hijaz Bhairav, Jogiya, Kalingda, Nat Bhairav, etc.

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9) Maarva: You maybe wondering whats in store for you when it comes to Thaat Maarva. Well, it’s just like Thaat Kalyan, but with Komal Rikhab or Komal re. That’s it! It’ll make a huge difference in it’s Raag. So the full Sur set for Thaat Maarva is: S r G M P D N S'. See the picture on the right, how the Sur leaps from Komal r to Tayvar G.

To me, it seems that some of the most saddest Raag are born out of Thaat Maarva. Usual composure for Thaat Maarva’s Raag are set to late evening, just at the sunset. Our Muslim friends can call it the time of Magh’rib, and Sanskrit speakers may call it Suryastha. So it’s just after the Sun has set and the darkness is slowly spreading, but before complete darkness. The Raag from this family can create some very eerie environment. Don’t confuse it with horror music, its not! But more in terms of extreme sadness, restlessness, misery, uncertainty and hopelessness.

Now that I’ve said this about Thaat Maarva, I know that I’m going to get some HCM nerds (including my Aunt) refuting this. And I want to ease them with this…”This is music, the same Raag that feels joyful to one person can bring on feelings of sadness and remorse in the heart of another listener.” Don’t forget, we are after all, describing auditory sensations in words. Our words will NEVER do it any justice. Ever!

Some well known Raag in this Thaat are: Sohini, Purya, Raag Maarva, and some more.

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10) Purvi: Hey…you made it to the last Thaat. Good job reading….no, seriously, I worry about you! It’s not normal for a person to spend so much time geeking out over HCM theories. But hey…you’re ALWAYS welcome to read more here. 🙂

So we start our last and final, but certainly not the least important Thaat, Thaat Purvi. In short, it’s just like Thaat Todi, except that Thaat Purvi uses G instead of g. So basically, just a single Sur deviation from Thaat Todi, gives us Thaat Purvi. The full Sur set for Thaat Purvi is: S r G M P d N S'. See, that wasn’t hard at all. Strange enough, Raag Purvi at times almost sounds like Raag Bhairav, mixed with Raag Todi. Anyways, that’s just me.

This Thaat has a funny story for me personally. A tabla artist I met a few times long time ago in the early ’90s, once found out that I was interested in learning HCM. He played the keys of Raag Purvi on another musician’s harmonium and called it Raag Maarva. As a sponge looking to soak up knowledge, I absorbed all that he said. I kept thinking I learned the Sur set of Raag Maarva all the while playing Sur for Raag Purvi.

Anyways, these Thaat should not just be read about, but memorized and soaked into your soul. I’m telling you again, learning the Thaat, at least in the beginning is favorable to even learning more Raag. The Raag associated with Thaat Purvi are: Basant, Lalit, Purya Dhanashri, Raag Purvi, and some more.

General Note: Let’s talk about somethings that very few people will ever tell you. Are you ready? You may want to sit down for this….Learning Thaat matters far more than even Raag! Wow! What the heck did I just tell you? It’s true. Here’s the honest truth…learning Thaat helped me immensely. I would even go as far as saying it was one of the most helpful things I’ve learned within HCM theory.

It helped me get a clearer perspective. I love singing Bhajan and Qawwali. Sometimes, we have to accompany others and have no idea what they will be singing or even if we hear them singing, we are not familiar with that particular Qawwali. How do I play something that I just heard for the first time? What if I don’t even know which Raag the composition is in? What if there are several Raag intermingling within a single Qawwali? Thaat plays a great role in this situation. It gives me just enough info to be able to quickly start accompanying my mates. All I have to know are the 10 Thaat, but know them well. Know them well enough to know what Thaat is being played by ear. I don’t have to memorize few hundred Raag. For practical purposes, Thaat is bare bones, but its enough for you to get by.

What Thaat is useless for is to argue out which Raag belongs to which Thaat. Simply because many Raag are made of single Thaat, but many still are made up for 2 or more Thaat. Who knows which Raag belongs to which parent Thaat? These things don’t matter! Reality is we don’t know fully, because a lot of it comes down to us written by old music sages, lot of it is personal perspective and these personal perspectives are also valid.

Remember that music is to create harmony within and without. Not a competition! There should be no art more nobler, full of humility, and ego free than music.

– Ustad Shafkat Salamat Ali Khan