The Importance of Subordinate Ragas in Indian Classical Music and Semi-Classical Music – Avanti Walvekar, Research Scholar

Since before the Vedic  age,  Indian  music was classified  into  two  categories:  Marga and  Desi. While Marga sangeet  was considered  sacred,  that  which  was studied,  Desi  sangeet  was music created by  the  common people, which encouraged  freedom  of  expression, where  the compositions  were  flexible  and meant  to delight  the  hearts  of  the  people. This  kind  of  music differed from  region to  region within the  country, and thus  the  term  Desi.

Indian  Classical  music is learned  as a  discipline,  and  as a science,  wherein  one  masters the Raga (melodic  framework of  musical  notes)  and  the  Taal  (rhythm). It  is  an  orally and  aurally taught tradition  where  the  Guru  (mentor) teaches  the  disciple  various  techniques  of  improvisation within a  set  framework of  notes  sung in different  tempos of  a particular  Taal.

Indian classical  music  finds  its  roots  in Dhrupad,  an ancient  form  of  music. The  text  of  this  form being mainly religious,  the  improvisation of  the  raga  is  limited as  it  mainly focuses  on rhythmic patterns. Khayal  (meaning imagination)  gayaki  is  an offshoot  of  Dhrupad. It  developed as  a  less rigid  form  of  gayaki, using one’s  imagination  and ideas,  focusing on  various  embellishments  of notes  within  the  “avartan”  (cycle) of  a  taal.  

Many ragas  sung in  Khayal  are  those  which have  unlimited  scope  for embellishment,  while  still conforming to  the  rules  and  boundaries  set  by that  particular  raga. Khayal  includes  the presentation  of  a Vilambit  (slow  paced)  Khayal  and  a Drut  (fast-paced)  Khayal. Some  examples are  simple  ragas  (those  containing  only 5  or  6 notes)  are  Bhup, Malkauns, Durga, etcetera. Despite  the  number  of  notes  being less,  there  is  still  a  wide  scope  for  permutations  and combinations. Some  “heavy”  ragas  using all  seven notes  include  Darbari  Kanada, Miya  Ki  Todi, and  Miya Malhar.  Additionally,  there are complex  and  rare ragas,  those which  are created  by conjoining  two  ragas,  also  called  “Jod”  ragas,  like  Nat-Bhairav  and  Kafi-Kanada.  

Unlike ragas like  the ones mentioned  above,  there are other  “subordinate” ragas,  that  is,  those which  have limits on  creative rendition.  The note combinations of  such  ragas are  closely  set together  making it  difficult  to embellish them  for  very long, resulting in a  shorter  lifespan in turn changing the  ‘prakriti’  (nature)  of  the  raga, as  compared  to a  more  relaxed rendition of  a  raga like Yaman.  As a result  of  this,  even  the taals used  are played  in  a  medium  tempo  (Madhya laya) rather  than  in  a very  slow  or  fast  tempo.  Some of  these ragas are Des,  Khamaj,  Kafi,  Pilu, Bhairavi, Pahadi, Maand, and so on.  

In  Semi-Classical  music,  there  is more flexibility  than  in  a Khayal,  as  there is more focus on  the text, and therefore  the  mood of  the  composition  is  usually Shringar  Rasa  (mood  of  love). It describes  the  love  between Radha  and Krishna, or  more  generally speaking, between  two lovers, their  separation or  secret  rendezvous, even inclining towards  devotion.  Some  forms  of  semiclassical  music  include  Tappa, Thumri, Dadra, Kajari, Chaiti, Hori,  Bhajan,  amongst  many others.  These forms use taals like Teentaal  (16  beats), Deepchandi  (14  beats), Dadra  (6 beats), Rupak (7 beats),  and  Keherwa (8  beats).  The  ‘subordinate ragas’  mentioned  above are some examples of  the ragas used  in  these  forms.  Since semi-classical  music forms are generally  not sung for  more  than ten  to fifteen minutes,  the  use of  these ragas is appropriate.  They  help  to enhance  the  composition and bring  out  the  emotive  text  with subtle  bol-alaaps and  little  taans and even divert  into  the  realm  of  neighboring ragas  and come  back to the  original  raga (“Avirbhav-  Tirobhav”).  Most  of  the  text is  in  regional  dialects  of  Hindi,  like  Braj and  Awadhi and  even  Rajasthani.

If  one  had to elaborate  on raga  Khamaj, for  example, there  would be  limited possibilities, but  an expert  would be  able  to  maneuver  them  artistically. The  Vadi  and Samvadi  are  Ga  and Shuddha Ni  respectively, and  most  of  the  alaaps  either  pause  or  end on Ga, Sa  or  Pa. Unlike  a  Khayal, little phrases are sung  without  pausing unnecessarily on various  notes. Some  key  phrases  are, ‘Ga,  Sa Ga Ma Pa Dha Ma Ga;  GaMaPaDhaNi  Dha Pa,  Dha Ma  Ga;  Sa*  NiDhaPaMa Ga, PaMaGaReSaReSa;  GaMaPaDhaNiSa*,  Ni  Dha  Ni  Sa*,  PaNiSa*Re*Ni  Dha Pa,  DhaMa Ga.  As illustrated above,  some  of  the  note  combinations  are  set close  together  since  this  is  the  nature  of the  raga. Pausing on each note  for  too long as  in khayal  gayaki  could lead to diverting into another  raga  like  Des. It  is  based on Thaat  Khamaj, although  the  note  combinations  are  different in the  Aroha:  Sa  Re  Ma  Pa  Ni  Sa*, and the  Avroha:  Sa*  Ni  Dha Pa,  Dha Ma Ga Re,  Ga Ni.  Sa. The Vadi  and  Samvadi  are Re and  Pa  respectively.  If  one pauses  for  too long on Re  in Khamaj, it could confuse, leading  one  to move  on to Ma  using the  common phrase MaRe,  Ma  Ma Pa;  and ending  with  Ma Ga Re Ga Ni.  Sa.

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