“Once upon a time the great anchorite Nārada thought within himself he had mastered the whole art and science of music. To curb his pride the all-knowing Vishnu took him to visit the abode of the gods. They entered a spacious building the inmates of which were numerous men and women who were all weeping over their broken limbs. Vishnu stopped short and inquired of them the reason of their lamentation. They answered that they were the ragas and raginis of music, created by Mahadeva, but as one anchorite of the name of Narada, ignorant of the true knowledge of music and unskillful in performance, had sung them recklessly, their features were distorted and their limbs broke, and that unless Mahadeva or some other discreet and skilful person would sing them properly, there was slender hope of their ever being restored to their former state of body. Nārada ashamed, kneeled down before Vishnu and asked to be forgiven.”

The raga is the genre of performance of Indian Classical Music.
The raga is not a composition but a system of performance. This system cannot be wholly described, but can be understood and learned. What can be described are the certain qualities and traits of the raga. These descriptions might help in understanding the Indian way of musical thinking, which is fundamentally different from the European way of musical thinking.

The description of ragas can be divided into three different parts:

historical overview

The story of the raga that is its birth, development, till the evolution of its present form.

the traits of the raga

ascending and descending scale

One of the most important elements of the raga is the specified scale. This ensures the steadiness of the emotional essence of the raga, with the help of appropriate timing and stressing.

In India, an absolute scale is used for solmization that is the modified notes are named the same way as the natural notes, however, their denotation changes in writing. The most frequently used denotation in print is the following:


When describing a raga, modified notes are often denoted with small and capital letters instead of the traditional way of underscoring (R, G, D, N,) and superscribing () because of the limits of the internet. Thus a chromatic scale will look like this:


The notes of the Indian solmization system are the bilawal that, that is corresponding to the European major scale:

Sa Re Ga ma Pa Dha Ni Ṡa

With simplified denotation:

S R G m P D N S’

The Indian musical system follows the most important instrument, which is the human voice, both in its description as well as in its performance. According to the range of the human voice, we differentiate between three main octaves. This is the range of performance of the raga. For this reason, there is a mark of the octave next to the denotation of the note. For example:

S, lower octave Sa
higher octave Sa


The stressed notes of the scale of the raga, which serve for the expression of the exact emotional traits of the raga.


Indian classical music is not young music, thus there was time for experiencing such nuances like which the most appropriate time is for a certain raga to have the strongest effect on the listener. This resulted in a system, which binds the ragas to a certain time. This can be:

Time of the day – dawn (pl.: Bhairavi), midnight (Darbari Kanada), morning, afternoon, before sunrise season – spring (Basant), monsoon (Miyan ki Malhar), etc.

This binding to time was typical of Carnatic (South Indian) music as well, half a century ago. By today, however, this practice stopped completely, so in our times, this binding to time is only typical of the Hindustani (North Indian) music.


The raga expresses concrete emotions. These emotions (rasa) always manifest themselves in their own typical way (bhava), just like sadness which goes hand in hand with tears. According to the Indian way of thinking, there are nine basic human emotions. This is why the system is named as navarasa (sanskrit), or navras (hindi) – ‘nine feelings’:

shringara – erotic
hasya – comic
karuna – pathetic
rudra – angry
vira – heroic
bhayanaka – ridden by fear
bibhatsa – rancorous
adbhuta – surprised
shanta – peaceful

In the past millennium the bhakti, that is the religious feeling is also considered.

the classification of the raga

Ragas were classified by many people in many ways. These classification systems are not applicable for most ragas (because of their complexity), however, it is somewhat easier to get by in the Indian tonality, and history of music, with the help of these systems. For this reason I present two classification systems in the case of the discussed ragas, which can be starting points in further studies. These are: jati, that is the classification according to the length of the scale, and that, which is the classification under the 10 basic scales.

Based on the above, this table, which can also be found at the description of the ragas, can be understood easier:

ascending scale:
the ascending scale of the raga
Click on this icon to listen to the scales of the raga!
descending scale:
the descending scale of the raga
The ruling note of the raga, the most important and most often heard note during the performance of the raga.
The second most important
note of the raga, the “minister”, which is the most often played
note after the vadi.
The appropriate playing time of the raga.
typical phrase:
The expression of the emotion of the raga is primarily the matter of timing and stressing. Not only the raga can be recognized from the typical phrase, but also its range of emotions can be identified easily.
‘taste’ – the feeling of the raga
system of classification: the classification of the raag according to the length of the ascending and descending scale: sampurna – seven-note scale, shadava – six-note scale, audava – five-note scale. Eg.: sampurna-shadava, the ascending scale is a seven, the descending scale is a six-note scale.
a classification system, the idea of which is the classification of the raga under one of the ten thats, that is one of the ten basic scales. These are: bilaval, khamaj, kafi, bhairav, asavari, bhairavi, kalyan, marwa, purvi, todi (based on the six-volume book of Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande (1860-1936), Hindustani Sangeet Paddhati Kramik Pustak Malika, published in 1939.)
similar raga:
similar raga

This painting is the so called ragamala, which depicts the emotional and other aspects of the raga, which cannot be described in words. The Raga Varali, can be depicted like this: