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What is a Raag?

The notion of a Raag is at the foundation of Indian Classical Music. Simply put, a Raag uniquely defines a set of musical notes and their allowed arrangements to form a melody to evoke a certain mood.

In Sanskrit, a Raag means “something that colors your mind.” Within Indian classical musical systems, a Raag has the power to create very specific emotions in one’s mind. A range of emotions such as joy, sadness, happiness, romance, yearning, devotion, and more can be expressed through Raags. Some Raags are seasonal; they enhance the listener's mood through association with a particular season, such as spring or monsoon.

Ancient scriptures define a Raag as a composition of sounds capable of bringing joy to the human heart while attaining beauty through specific movements of notes and phrases.

 What are the ingredients of a Raag?

Every Raag has its own rules and features. Examples of these rules are:

  • Only specific notes are allowed in the raag.

  • The raag defines its most important notes, known as Vadi and Samvadi.

  • It defines the key phrases that should be used often during improvisation.

  • Special treatment must be given to some notes. ex. specific notes that must be sung with a glide(meend), an oscillation of a particular note(aandolan). Watch the Darbari Kanada video for a demonstration of aandolan.

  • The raag also sets its mood and tempo. Watch Bhairav videos for a demonstration of an inherently slow and a peaceful raag vs Deshkar, which has quick-moving notes.

Knowing the rules is necessary for an artist to practice the Raag accurately so that when it’s performed, the focus can be on the aesthetics. Knowing the rules of a raag, although not required by a casual listener, will certainly make their listening experience more enjoyable.

How many Raags are known today?

Indian Classical music is a very ancient art form. It has transformed over centuries due to various influences. And in every generation scholars have made invaluable contributions in analyzing and documenting the system of Raags. India’s classical music system was known to have 4,840 Raags at some point in time. This art form is challenging to describe in a textual format; it is essentially an oral tradition. This music was best passed on down through the generations by Gurus to their disciples. Due to the challenges faced in documenting this system of music, many Raags were lost forever, and only a few hundred remain today.

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