Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Identifying Swaras in a Raga-Part 2

I would like to expand further on my previous discussion on identifying the swaras in a song/raga.

We earlier saw how the Melakartha Raga scheme could be used as a starting point for us to get familiarized with the usage of swaras in different Ragas.

Suppose we are listening to a Raga Alapana and our task is to identify the Raga. After identifying the inherent Swaras, the next confusion may arise due to similar scales(either in the ascending or descending order) between two Ragas. For instance, the ascending scale S-R(2)-M(1)-P-D(2)-S is common to both the Ragas Arabhi and Saama. When we listen to only the arohana(ascending scale) being sung, we start wondering if it is Arabhi or Sama. Let's now see how such a conflict can be resolved.

In case of similar scales like in Arabhi or Saama, we have to take a phrase that is common to both ragas and analyze it.Each Raga has its own grammar, a set of do's and don'ts. At this stage we need to look into a few more technical terms and aspects.

There are thirteen characteristics (Trayodasa Lakshanas) of a Raga, mentioned in treatises of Music and these characteristics establish the melodic entity of the Raga. A few among the thirteen, which are applicable in this context are the Graha swara(starting note), Nyasa swara(ending note),Amsa swara(or Jiva swara-the swara which is the actual soul of the raga), Alpatva(the note that should be sparingly used in the raga), Bahutva(the note that can be used frequently in the raga).

So, when we listen to the Alapana phrase that is being sung, with the Graha swara, Nyasa swara etc being correctly rendered, identification of the Raga becomes very easy. Compositions in each Raga fully comply with the grammar of the Raga. Hence listening to more and more compositions in a Raga helps one to get familiar with, and to identify the Raga.

Similar doubts may arise with allied Ragas like Madhyamavathi-Sriragam-Manirang-Pushpalathika, Janaranjani-Purnachandrika, Darbar-Nayaki, Bhairavi-Manji and so on.

As a further step, if we take into account the Gamaka (oscillation) given to a note, a phrase with the same set of swaras is sung differently in two different Ragas, because,even though the note is same,the oscillation given to that note differs from raga to raga. Again here, if the Raga is sung with correct adherence to its grammar, with repeated listening to the method of usage of Gamakas, identification of the raga/song with the help of its swaras becomes easier.


Sathej said...

True, compositions help a lot to get familiarity with Ragams. Shyama Sastri's Amba Kamakshi (Bhairavi) and Brovavamma(Manji) define the respective Ragams so beautifully. And the Gamakams too, yes, facilitate the process a great deal.

Prasanna said...

Thanks a lot for taking the time to post in detail to answer my query.

My challenge has been the transition from a listener to learner.While as a listener I have had no problems in identifying ragas (despite my ignorance of swaras).In fact,that kindled the my interest/confidence to start learning the music to.Now,having become a student,when I try to decipher the swaras that're behind the verses/phrases being sung, I don't seem to meet with much success!

Thanks for your ideas,will follow them and hopefully make some some progress.

Kris said...

Hi Gayathri,

First of all its appreciable that amidst your busy schedules you ve spent some time for blogging such useful stuff. Am one of your fans who love to hear ur concerts. Well this article was so informative such that am very curious to learn more. Would you suggest me any book or website link where in I can learn all the nuances of ragas, swaras, thalas etc. Basically am getting trained in carnatic music from Sri.Karur.D.Krishnamurthy and currently am into keerthanas.

Many Thanks
Krishnan Narayanan

Gayathri Girish said...

Hi Kris,

"South Indian Music"- Volumes 1 to 6, written by Musicologist Prof.P.Sambamurthy would be a good choice for you to learn about the nuaunces of Ragas, Talas and Swaras.


Karthik Raghavan said...

Hi :)

I stumbled across your blog while reading randomly. I'm a music fanatic and from Chennai, but never got round to Carnatic until 6 months back. Fell in love with it, wanted to get "closer" to the music and started learning violin :)

I cannot identify swaras and stuff, but can identify ragas based on the "feel" I get. What do you think about this?? What could be the possible benefits/diisadvantages?

btw, I also am from the same family of institutions :) did BE CSE in Meenakshi Sundararajan Engg College. My principal is Ms. Babai, Ms. Lakshmi's sister :)

Gayathri Girish said...

Hi Karthik,

Welcome to my blog :-)

Happy that you have started learning to play the violin.
The very fact that you can identify ragas by the "feel" shows your passion for music.

But then,since you have started learning about the intricacies through the violin, I think you should start learning the basics of ragas,swaras,talas etc.

And identifying ragas based on the feel of it is a bit abstract. The results may not be accurate always.

Happy learning !
As I have written in my previous post to Kris, Prof.Sambamurthy's books provide a great insight into the basics of the art form for beginners.

You can get in touch with me if you would need any help in this regard.
Good luck to you.

Gayathri Girish

Karthik Raghavan said...


I commented, and forgot the link.. stumbled across your blog again :D I sent you a mail.. Saw it??


Preethyi said...

Hi Gayathri,
Thanks for this wonderful blog, it was very helpful.

I have great interest in Carnatic Music and am learning to play Veena

Can you please let me know in which Book House or online shopping site the book, "South Indian Music"- Volumes 1 to 6, written by Musicologist Prof.P.Sambamurthy be available?

I tried in Flipkart and couldnt find it.