In Hindustani music, there are seven main swaras or notes and they are Shadj (Sa), Rishabh (Re), Gandhar (Ga), Madhyam (Ma), Pancham (Pa), Dhaivat (Dha) and Nishad (Ni). The entire group is known as Saptak (Sapta = Seven).

These seven basic swaras are further divided into twelve notes. The following is a list of the twelve Hindustani swaras with their Carnatic counterparts:

Sl. no. Hindustani swaras Carnatic swaras
1 Shadj - S Shadja - S
2 Komal Rishabh - R 1 Suddha Rishabha - R 1
3 Suddh Rishabh - R 2 Chatusruti Rishabha - R 2
4 Komal Gandhar - G 1 Sadharana Gandhara - G 2
5 Suddh Gandhar - G 2 Antara Gandhara - G 3
6 Suddh Madhyam - M1 Suddha Madhyama - M1
7 Teevra Madhyam - M2 Prati Madhyama - M2
8 Pancham - P Panchama - P
9 Komal Dhaivat - D1 Suddha Dhaivata - D1
10 Suddh Dhaivat - D2 Chatusruti Dhaivata - D2
11 Komal Nishad - N1 Kaisika Nishada - N2
12 Suddh Nishad - N2 Kakali Nishada - N3

The Hindustani Raga


Before going into the melodic structure of the Hindustani raga, it is important to understand the concept of That, which is the parent scale from which the raga is derived. The term That refers to the basic patterns in which the seven notes of the Saptak are arranged. The That can be considered a format for the raga, a classification scheme, that allows one to group several ragas under a That. In every That there is one raga that usually has the name of the That and others, which are derived from that That, by dropping one or more notes from the parent scales. Since the Thats are fixed arrangements of the given seven notes, one can calculate the total number of Thats by arranging the notes in different combinations according to the specified rules. One is that the That must necessarily have seven notes in a sequential order. Besides, a That does not have separate ascending and descending lines like a raga. The prevalent listing of the Thats and the classification of the ragas within them is the contribution of Pandit V N Bhatkhande.

The Ten Thats of Hindustani music

Name of the That Notes present

Carnatic equivalent

Bilawal S R2 G2 M1 P D2 N2 S - S N2 D2 P M1 G2 R2 S Sankarabharanam
Yaman S R2 G2 M2 P D2 N2 S - S N2 D2 P M2 G2 R2 S Kalyani
Khamaj S R2 G2 M1 P D2 N1 S - S N1 D2 P M1 G2 R2 S Harikambhoji
Bhairav S R1 G2 M1 P D1 N2 S - S N2 D1 P M1 G2 R1 S Mayamalavagowla
Purvi S R1 G2 M2 P D1 N2 S - S N2 D1 P M2 G2 R1 S Kamavardhini
Marwa S R1 G2 M2 P D2 N2 S - S N2 D2 P M2 G2 R1 S Poorvikalyani
Bhairavi S R1 G1 M1 P D1 N1 S - S N1 D1 P M1 G1 R1 S Todi
Asavari S R2 G1 M1 P D1 N1 S - S N1 D1 P M1 G1 R2 S Natabhairavi
Kafi S R2 G1 M1 P D2 N1 S - S N1 D2 P M1 G1 R2 S Kharaharapriya
Todi S R1 G1 M2 P D1 N2 S - S N2 D1 P M2 G1 R1 S Subhapantuvarali

The potentiality of a raga in Hindustani music is highlighted by giving prominence to a particular note in preference to others. The note receiving such prominence is called Vadi.

Besides the notes that comprise a raga and their distinctive arrangement in the ascent and descent (Audav, Shadav and Sampoorna), most ragas have a characteristic phrase that occurs frequently. By its very repetitiveness it makes the uniqueness of the raga evident and helps in its recognition. This is referred to as the Pakad or catch phrase and forms the raga’s distinctive main aspect or main form. However, all ragas do not have a catch phrase and even in the case of those that do, it is not present in all the compositions. Some catch phrases do sum up the melodic shape of the raga and sometimes a set of phrases called Chalan, convey the melodic movement of a raga.

There are a number of melodic embellishments and ornamentations that enhance the aesthetic potentialities of the raga. The most important ones are the Kana, Meedh or Meend and Andolan. The most common term for these melodic forms is Alankar or ornament, employed to adorn a raga. These are used during the exposition of the raga and can be used in the form of scale exercises as well.


Melodic Embellishments

Tan (pronounced as Taan): Of all melodic figures, the most significant one is the Tan. A Tan can be termed as a group of notes employed for exposing or expanding the raga. They are usually sung at a faster speed compared to the basic tempo of the piece. The essential feature of the Tan is that the notes must be in rapid succession. The term Tan arises from the root verb, Tanana, meaning, 'to stretch'. Tans are most often used in the Khayal style of singing and this is supposed to have added to its popularly as compared to the Dhrupad style, which does not have the same freedom.

There are various types of Tans depending on the manner in which they are constructed. These can be categorized on the basis of melodic structure, vocal technique, ornamentation used and rhythmic structure. The Tan can have a melodic structure that is straight (Sapat), convoluted (Vakra), patterned (Alankar) or can be a mixture of these.

The Sapat Tan is a straightforward one and has a series of ascending or descending notes without any twists. It must, however, follow the rules of the raga and hence only notes permitted in the aroha (ascent) and avaroha (descent) can be used in it. The Vakra Tan moves upwards and downwards in total contrast to the Sapat Tan. However, this must also adhere to the outline of the raga as given by the aroha and avaroha.

Alankara Tans involve repetition of certain notes through the different octaves. They are thus similar to scale exercises. Of these, Chhut Tan, a Tan that jumps, is used in vocal as well as instrumental music. In this, short straight Tans are separated by gaps. Another mixed type that is encountered is the Phirat Tan, in which improbable combinations are displayed with many alternating ascending and descending sections.

Different vocal techniques give rise to the Akar-tan, Sargam-tan and Bol-tan. Sargam-tans, as the name indicates, are sung to the names of the notes. Akar-tans, on the other hand, do not use the names of the notes, but are sung to the syllable, ‘aa’. Bol-tans are sung to the notes of the text or lyrics. Bol-banth is used for Layakari, wherein the words are broken up with a syllable to a note or almost two, in order to create a rhythmic effect. In Bol-tan, each syllable covers several notes. The gamak (ornamentation) can also be combined with Tan to form what is known as the Gamak-tan. This is based on the principle of repetition of the same note. This involves heavy vocal oscillation with each note starting at an earlier note and coming to the subsequent note through rapid oscillations. Gamak-tan is subtler than the Jabde-ki-tan, which is sung using the movements of the jaw. Lahak-tan involves lesser oscillations of the voice while, Halak-tan is supposed to be produced by varying the sound using vocal chords. Tans can be called duguni, tiguni, and chauguni (two, three and four) depending on the number of notes in one beat. The tempo of the Tan can also be reduced and then increased to create a different effect. This shows that Tans have a rhythmic structure as well.


Gamak or Ornamentation

There are a number of ornamentations that embellish notes and add to the appeal of the raga. The term gamak refers to ornamentation techniques in general. The term also denotes a specific shaking note in which the shake is heavy or fast, or from the same note or different note. This is found in both vocal and instrumental music. The important gamaks in contemporary Hindustani music are:

Meend / Meedh: This is an ornament that is used both in Dhrupad and Khayal singing. The Meend is a slow glide connecting two notes, both of which are equally expressed.

Kana: This term refers to a grace (or shadow) note, having a duration (and also intensity) less than that of the note being ornamental, and can lie above or below the decorated pitch. It is produced by the inflection of voice in vocal music.

Murki: This is a fast ornamentation around the principal note and consists of a number of swaras. It refers to a short, sharp figure of two or three notes so uttered that it occurs within a short span of time, wrapped around the central note. It can be described as quivering notes, including microtones. When a series of Murkis are performed in quick succession, they lead to the Zam-Zama, which is like a spiraling zigzag Tan. This is more characteristic of Sitar.

Khatka: This is similar to both the Murki and the Kana. The Khatka is a faster improvisation of the principal note. The speed of execution gives it a jerky movement.

Kampan: In this, the frequency of oscillation is faster and this results only in a slight alteration of pitch.

Andolan: The frequency of oscillation here is lesser and has a greater amplitude of vibration, thus extending as far as the next note. This can be described as a gentle oscillation between notes.

Related links: Raga System in Carnatic music


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