"RANJAYATI ITI RAGAH"; this ancient proverb in Sanskrit means; "that which colors the spirits, is a raga".
Central concept of Indian classical music, rich and complex, the raga is a melodic form,
subtle and very precisely organized. Defined by an ascending and a descending scale, each with 5, 6, or 7 notes,
each raga has its own mood, color and savor.
Originated in the very ancient Vedic chants, sung on 1, 2 or 3 notes, some 3500 years ago,
the Raga system became a huge corpus of musical modes, collected from all over the sub-continent
over the centuries, and sometimes created or redefined by great masters.
This musical system was classified and observed much before the Western classical music got its own foundation.
From ancient times, Western music was also using the melodic approach of the modes, but some 5 centuries ago,
polyphony and harmony appeared opening new roads to musical creation.
In the melodic construction of the Raga, each note has his own power, always related to the tonic
(given by the tanpura, used as a drone), and to the other specific notes of the mode, building original
phrases and compositions, bringing in an emotional coloration, just as might a poem do.
Accustomed to written music, western musicians stress the difference between fixed compositions
and improvisation, which does not make sense to Indian musicians. Despite the very precise features
of each raga, the singer or instrumentalist disposes a great flexibility and freedom to render the
spirit of a raga. Hindustani classical music of our modern times is named "Khyal", from the arabo-persian,
meaning imagination and fantasy. In the Indian tradition, the ragas exist by themselves in the nature,
related to a particular moment of the day, night or a season.
Orange – BHAIRAV: Named after Lord Shiva, Raga Bhairav is considered by some to be the most important
of the hindustani (North Indian) classical tradition. It is an early morning raga, extremely solemn
and devotional, portraying Shiva the terrible, in his powerful form of an ascetic, in a dark cave,
absorbed in the deepest meditation, as the first rays of light reach his perfect peacefulness.
Pink – Bairagi-Bhairav: Also a morning raga, strongly devotional and enchanting. As sun rises,
pink colour invades the sky; Raga Bairagi was introduced in the 40's by Allauddin Khan and
Pandit Ravi Shankar. The 10 beat rhythm cycle,"Jhaptal", reinforces the powerful spiritual mood.
Blue - BASANT MUKHARI: Basant ("spring"), is associated to Lord Krishna, the blue God; fresh, tender,
this morning raga expresses the playful joy of spring, with a shade of melancholy like the longing
of separated lovers. The basic grammar of Basant Mukhari is nearly identical to the major Arab-Iranian mode HEDJAZ.
Gray – KAFI: Typical of the "light classical music", in pieces like the Thumri, its dominant theme is love,
together with the passions aroused. Played any time of day or night, KAFI is a versatile raga, bluesy, romantic.
Most of the melodies used at HOLI festival (festival of the colors in spring), are based on KAFI,
as well as many popular film songs.
Red – DARBARI-KANARA: One of the most stately raga of the Hindustani tradition; DARBAR is the king's court;
this raga was a foremost piece in the repertoire of mughal and deccani court musicians.
With slow and dignified movements, performed on the lower part of the mode, it is a typical late night raga.
Brown – MALKUNS: Malkuns is a regal and solemn raga, also typical of the late night, full of dignity,
heroism, best performed in the lower notes of the scale, at a contemplative and slow pace.
One of the favorite of the Indian audience, Malkuns is maybe one of the perfect form of a
pentatonic (5 notes) raga, and therefore, easy to identify.
Green – MISHRA BHAIRAVI: Traditionally a morning raga, BHAIRAVI is however performed to conclude most
of day or night performances. Perhaps the sweetest and most loved raga in Hindustani music, an all-time
favorite of audiences and artists. BHAIRAVI is the devoted and compassionate consort of BHAIRAV (lord SHIVA),
usually portrayed in a small shrine, worshiping a Shiva lingam, singing songs and accompanying herself with
a pair of cymbals. Any musician knows a great number of compositions in rag BHAIRAVI which, especially
in the "Mishra" form, has a huge potential of treatment.
All notes by: GILLES BOURQUIN