The rainy season is round the corner. Uplift your spirits with Ragas Miya Malhar, Bahar and Basant, which resonate with the mood of this wonderful season. Raga Miya Malhar was composed by Miya Tansen, the chief musician in the court of the famous Mughal emperor, Akbar. This Raga reflects the monsoon mood and has the power to transport you to visuals of ethereal rain pouring over lush green foliage. As you listen to this raga, you can literally savour the fragrance of wet mud as the cool whiff of breeze mesmerises you and transforms your sadness into ecstasy.

In times of crisis such as the ones we are going through now, you can depend on Hindustani classical music to take you to a beautiful new world. Dating back several centuries, it comprises of over three hundred ragas. Ragas are a collection of musical notes used in a particular manner. Keep your musical ear fully open and experience an emotional and spiritual awakening with ragas. Believe me, the notes of a raga can stir your soul and change your mood from melancholy to cheerful.

The ragas’ canvas is so wide that it caters to multiple moods―happy, sad, poetic, spiritual, and romantic, among many others. Let me tell you how this happens with the magic of ragas. But, first, let us get into the basics of music.

There are seven notes in music―Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha and Ni. They are called swaras in Hindi. Importantly, out of these seven notes, only two―Sa and Pa are constant and never change. The remaining five can be half a note below or above the actual swar. Thus, now the total number of swars or notes becomes 12. The combination and presentation of these notes makes each raga different from the other. Some ragas may have only five or six instead of all the seven notes.

Arti Mathur

A raga starts with an aaroh, avroh and pakad. Aaroh is the ascending order of swars―Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha Ni. Avroh is the descending order―Sa, Ni, Dha, Pa, Ma, Ga, Re, Sa. Each raga has a particular set of notes and the manner in which they are sung; this is the pakad.

All ragas are sung in the form of a composition called a khayal, which may be termed as a song in layman’s language. We will get a better insight into what sparks emotional upliftment, once we understand the nuances of these ragas. The main note groups of a raga form its alaaps and taans. The former are sung slowly and the latter, much faster.

For the Hindustani classical singer, the best accompaniment is the tanpura, which plays the two constant swars in the background to assist the singer to hold on to the right notes. Tal or beats are given by a tabla or mridungam player to maintain the singer’s tempo.

Let’s go deeper into the mood of the ragas. Certain ragas like Lalit have notes which lend them a serious and solemn air. The song, Ek shehenshah ne banwa ke hansi Taj Mahal from an old film, Leader, is based on Raga Lalit. It is so beautifully and expertly composed that when you listen to it or sing along with it, you are automatically transported into a grave but romantic mood. Numerous Hindi songs are based on classical ragas and they tug at your heartstrings and stir you from within.

There are ragas that evoke feelings of calm and tranquility. To name a couple―Raga Tilak Kamod and Raga Desh. And how can one forget Raga Bhairvi? You might recall Mile sur mera tumhara to sur bane humara telecast on Doordarshan many years back, starring a host of famous classical music maestros like Pandit Ravi Shankar on sitar, Shiv Prasad Sharma on santoor, and Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Lata Mangeshkar among the vocalists. The main raga for this song was Bhairvi. Think in how many ways did this song uplift us. We experienced feelings of nationalism, visualised scenes of beauty and, above all, the melody left a lasting impression that lingers on even today. Then there is Raga Malkauns that uplifts our spirituality and Raga Kafi that stirs up the colours of holi.

I have learnt music since I was a child. I hope this little treatise on music inspires you to turn to music in times of happiness and even sadness. There is plenty of music around to suit any mood. If you have the talent and some training in music, never give it up and pursue it for the rest of your life. If you are happy to be a listener, spend more time in listening to music.

I would like to end my tribute to music and ragas talking about a devotional song to God in Raga Malkauns―Man tarpat Hari darshan ko aaj―from the classic 1952 film Baiju Bawra. The song and music is exquisite; sublime and soul-stirring…words fail to describe it. 

Arti Mathur is a passionate lover of classical and light music. She learnt music from the age of five and pursued it as a subject till graduation when she passed with distinction in vocal music.