Ragas and its features
Ragam is a huge part of Carnatic music which means a particular combination of notes (or svaras) which are pleasant to listen to. Thus different combinations of svaras make different ragas of which each has a unique identity. One of the aims of learning Carnatic Music is to achieve Raga Gnanam. This is the ability to sing or play many different ragas and to be able to distinguish one raga from another.
Ragas are sometimes defined as melody types. The raga system is a method of organizing tunes based on certain natural principles. Tunes in the same raga use the same (nominal) swaras in various combinations and with practice, the listener can pick up the similarity. Each raga has a swaroopam (a musical form or image) that is defined by the swaras used, the gamakas given to these swaras, the sequence in which the swaras occur etc. This definition is termed as the raga lakshanam. (The magazine Sruthi usually contains a discussion of ragalakshanam of one or two ragas in each issue). Raga lakshanam usually contains the arohanam, avarohanam, details of raga chaya swaras (the swaras which are chiefly responsible for the characteristic melody of the raga), gamakas, characteristic swara phrases and general usage notes. It is intended more for the performer than for the listener. We shall first define arohanam and avarohanam. Arohanam is the sequence of swaras used in a raga in the ascending passages i.e. as the pitch goes up. Avarohanam is the sequence of swaras to be used in descent. The arohanam and avarohanam (or the scale) of a raga provide only a skeletal outline upon which the rest of the raga is formed.
Ragas are not simply abstract collections of swaras that occur together to produce a tune. Each raga has a distinct image or swaroopam and it is this which defines a raga. Arbitrary selection of a set of swaras is unlikely to produce a distinct raga swaroopam and this is the reason for attributing the foundations of the raga system to nature. The ragas that we know of are the products of centuries of experimentation. Each ragam has associated with it a feeling that it induces in the listener and the performer. Hours of dedicated practice with a single raga (Saathakam) results in the realization of the raga swaroopa on the part of the performer and this is often referred to as obtaining a Dharshan of that particular raga. The unfortunate consequence of this is that various performers have slightly different mental concepts of a single raga and this is manifest in their music. But the good part is that it adds a tremendous variety to the music. This is also the reason why Carnatic music (performance) can never really be learnt from a book but needs a Guru who can portray the raga swaroopam in such a manner that the pupil can pick it up. From the viewpoint of the listener, a realization of the raga swaroopam means that some of the qualities of the music can be anticipated and this contributes greatly to listening pleasure.
Ragas fall into two types, the base or melakarta ragas and the derived or janya ragas. Melakarta ragas have a formal structure and follow a fairly rigid scheme of scientific organization whereas the janya ragas are rooted in usage and are liable to evolve with the music. In fact many janya ragas change their character over time. Janya ragas are derived from the melakarta ragas through various means as described subsequently. Melakarta ragas are identified by the fact that they use all seven swaras and the arohanam and avarohanam are always Sa-Ri-Ga-Ma-Pa-Da-Ni-Sa and Sa-Ni-Da-Pa-Ma-Ga-Ri-Sa. This type of arohanam and avarohanam is denoted by the term sampoornam, indicating completeness. The existence of multiple swara sthanas for Ri, Ga, Ma, Da and Ni implies that by collecting combinations of these, we can form a system of melakartas. This concept will be developed in the succeeding section. Any raga that does not belong to the melakarta system is a janya raga. Janya ragas are characterized by missing notes in the arohanam and/or avarohanam (eg. Sa-Ri-Ga-Pa-Da-Sa), the use of twisted progressions (eg. Sa-Ga-Ri-Ma-Pa-Da-Ni-Sa) etc. Janya ragas and their classifications will be described subsequently.
Janaka RagasThere are two main types of raga in Carnatic Music: Janaka ragams and Janya ragams (which can be divided into further categories. Other names for a Janaka ragam are: Melam, Kathargam, Melakartha and Sampoorna ragam. Janaka ragas must fulfil each of the following conditions:
In the Aarohanam and Avarohanam the notes sa, ri, ga, ma pa, da, ni (and s) must all appear in the regualar order. The same type of svaram that appears in the Arohanam must also appear in the Avarohanam Both the Aarohanam and the Avarohanam should have the Tara stayi sa (s) In total there are 72 janaka ragas.
Janya ragas are ragas which are derived from janaka ragas. Each janaka ragam usually has a few janya ragams. The janya raga generally takes the same svaras as those of the janaka raga. Janya ragas can be split into many groups.
Janya Sampoorna ragams
Sometimes, in janya ragams, we find the seven svaras in both the Aarohanam and the Avarohanam, a characteristic of janaka ragas. So why are these ragas still considered being janya? It is because we find one type of a svara in Aarohanam and another type of the same svara in the Aarohanam.
e.g. (the number in the brackets indicates which janaka raga it was derived from)
Bhairavi (20) Aarohanam s r g m p d* n s Avarohanam s n d p m g r s
Bhairavi is considered to be a janya raga because in the Aarohanam it take chatusruthi dhaivatam but in the Avarohanam it takes suddha dhaivatam.
Sahana (28) Aarohanam s r g m p m g m d n s
Avarohanam s n d p m g m r g r s
Sahana is a janya raga because the seven svaras are not in the regular order. This is called Vakram.
In many janya ragams, either in the Aarohanam or in the Avarohanam (or in both) one or two svaras will be omitted from the janaka raga it was derived from. The svaras which are left out are known as varja svaras. Thus janya ragas missing svaras are known as varja ragams.
When one svara is absent from the Aarohanam and Avarohanam the raga (ie 6 svaras) is called Shadavam. When two svaras are absent (ie 5 svaras) the raga is known as Audavam. When rarely three svaras are missing, the raga is called Svarantharam. When no svaras are omitted the raga is known as Sampoorna (see above).
Shadava - Shadavam (6-6)
Sri Ranjini (22) s r g m d n s - s n d m g r s
Audava - Audavam (5-5)
Mohanam (28) s r g p d s - s d p g r s
Auduva - Shadavam (5-6)
Malahari (15) s r m p d s - s d p m g r s
Shadava - Audavam (6-5)
Bahudari (28) s g m p d n s - s n d m g s
Auduva - Sampoornam (5 -7)
Bilahari (29) s r g p d s - s n d p m g r s
Sampoorna - Audavam (7-5)
Saramathi (20) s r g m p d n s - s n d m g s
Shadava - Sampoornam (6-7)
Kambhoji (28) s r g m p d s - s n d p m g r s
Sampoorna Shadavam (7-6)
Neelambari (29) s r g m p d p n s - s n p m g r g s
When either in the Aarohanam or Avarohanam or in both, one or two svaram are found in an irregular order, that ragam is called a Vakra ragam. Vakra ragams are found in three types:
Ragams in which only the Aarohanam is vakram:
e.g. Anandabhairavi (20) s g r g m p d p s - s n d p m g r s
Ragams where only the Avarohanam is vakram:
e.g. Saranga (65) s r g m p d n s - s n d p m r g m* r s
Ragams where both the Aarohanam and the Avarohanam are vakram are called Ubaya Vakra ragams:
e.g. Ritigaulai (22) s g r g m n d m n n s - s n d m g m p m g r s
Vakra ragams can also be varja ragams:
e.g. Atana (29) s r m p n s - s n d p m p g r s
This is an Auduva Vakra Sampoornam Ragam
Upanga and Bhanshanga Ragams
A janya ragam which takes its svaras only from the janaka raga it is derived from is known as an upanga raga:
e.g. Mohanam (28) s r g p d s - s d p g r s
Mohanam takes all of its notes from the Janaka raga it is derived from Harikamboji.
A janya ragam which not only contains notes belonging to it parent raga but also containing one or two foreign svaras is known as a bhashanga raga. A foreign note is indicated by a star (*).
e.g. Kamboji (28) s r g m p d s - s n d p m g r s
In the case of Kamboji, the Anya (foreign) svara only occurs in some sancharams (characteristic phrases of the ragam) and not in the Aarohanam or Avarohanam.
A ragam can be Upangam, Vakram and Varjam at the same time:
e.g. Sriragam (22) s r m p n s - s n p d n p m g r s
A ragam can also be bhansagam, vakram and varjam at the same time:
e.g. Mukhari (22) s r m p n d s - s n d* p m g r s
The 72 melakarthas refer to the 72 janaka ragas and their arrangement.
The earliest form of the scheme of 72 Melakarthas comes from a book called: 'Chaturdandi Prasikal' which was written in the 17th Century by Venkatamani. The book spoke about the scheme of the ragas but didn't actually give specific names for each of the ragas. The names of the 72 melakarthas actually came from the 18th Century in the book 'Sangraha Chudamani' by Govindachariyar.
Fundamentals of the scheme
These are the 16 svaras used to create the 72 melakarthas in their regular order:
Shadjam (1) Suddha Rishabam (2) Chatusruthi Rishabam (3) * Shatsruthi Rishabam * Suddha Gandharam Sadharana Gandharam (4) Antara Gandharam (5) Suddha Madhyamam (6) Prati Madhyamam (7) Panchamam (8) Suddha Dhaivatam (9) Chatusruthi Dhaivatam (10) * Shatsruthi Dhaivatam * Suddha Nishadam Kaisiki Nishadam (11) Kakali Nishadam (12)In the table the four svaras in italics are called Vivadi svaras. A Vivadi svara is a svara which takes over the place of another svaras at certain time. Thus sometimes, Shatsruthi Rishabam takes over the place of Sadharana Gandharam; Suddha Gandharam takes over the place of Chatusruthi Rishabam; Shatsruthi Dhaivatam takes over the place of Kaisiki Nishadam; Suddha Nishadam takes over the place of chatusruthi dhaivatam.
With only the original twelve svaras only 32 melakarthas can be formed. However with the addition of the four vivadi svaras 40 more melakarthas can be formed. These 40 melakarthas are known as vivadi melakarthas as opposed to the other 32 melakarthas which are known as Vadi melakarthas.
The 72 melakarthas are divided into two equal groups each containing 36 ragas. The ragas in the first group are known as Poorva melakarthas and the next 36 ragas are known as Uttara melakarthas. In the first group of 36 melakarthas suddha madhymam is found and in the second group of melakarthas prati madhymam is found.
The 72 melakarthas can also be split into 12 groups called chakrams. Each chakram contains 6 ragams. Here are the charkams, in order:
Two important points must be remembered in the formulation of this scheme:
Shadjam and Panchamam always remain the same Rishabam, Gandharam, Dhaivatam and Nishadam change
These are the abbreviations of the changing notes, as used in the scheme:
Ra - Suddha Rishabam
Ri - Chatusruthi Rishabam
Ru - Shatsruthi Rishabam
Ga - Suddha Gandharam
Gi - Sadharana Gandharam
Gu - Antara Gandharam
Dha - Suddha Dhaivatam
Dhi - Chatusruthi Dhaivatam
Dhu - Shatsruthi Dhaivatam
Na - Suddha Nishadam
Ni - Kaisiki Nishadam
Nu - Kalkali Nishadam
The Rishaba - Gandhara combinations follow a pattern as illustrated below:
In the 1st and 7th Chakrams : Suddha Rishabam and Suddha Gandharam
In the 2nd and 8th Chakrams : Suddha Rishabam and Sadharana Gandharam
In the 3rd and 9th Chakrams : Suddha Rishabam and Antara Gandharam
In the 4th and 10th Chakrams : Chatusruthi Rishabam and Sadharana Gandharam
In the 5th and 11th Chakrams : Chatusruthi Rishabam and Antara Gandharam
In the 6th and 12th Chakrams : Shatsruthi Rishabam and Antara Gandharam
There are also Dhaivata - Nishada combinations in the scheme:
In every Chakram
In the 1st Melakartha : Suddha Dhaivatam and Suddha Nishadam
In the 2nd Melakartha : Suddha Dhaivatam and Kaisiki Nishadam
In the 3rd Melakartha : Suddha Dhaivatam and Kalkali Nishadam
In the 4th Melakartha : Chatusruthi Dhaivatam and Kaisiki Nishadam
In the 5th Melakartha : Chatusruthi Dhaivatam and Kalkali Nishadam
In the 6th Melakartha : Shatsruthi Dhaivatam and Kalkali Nishadam
For more information on Ragas visit Raaga Corner