hindustani classical music instruments

Beginners are sometimes overwhelmed with the richness of Hindustani (North Indian) classical music as they attempt to understand it better. It uses too many subtle microtones and embellishment patterns which makes it hard to notate. Hindustani classical music is one of the two subgenres of Indian Classical Music. Carnatic (South Indian) music is the other classical subgenre, which is sung in South India.

Understanding the Raga in Hindustani Classical Music

In layman’s terms, a raga is defined as a collection of musical notes that pleases the ear; the notes of which are arranged in a particular order and scale with specific melodic movements. But unlike a tune, a raga is not fixed and is more like a framework and can be improvised by musicians. The tone in a raga have a particular order and hierarchy, a particular manner of intonation, relative strength and duration and specific approach.  No wonder, ragas have stood the test of time and are even popular today as they were, since the time they originated. Bhairav, Shri,  Megh, Hindol, Nat Narayan –the ragas that are said to have originated from each of the five faces of Lord Shiva.

As prescribed in the ancient texts on Hindustani classical music, each raga must consist of at least five notes. The notes should include the tonic (Sa) and at least one out of (Ma) or (Pa). In a broad sense, a raga can be defined by its characteristic ascent and descent (known as Aroha and Avroha respectively).


Ragas that contain all the seven notes (Swara) of the scale in both aroha and avroha are known as Sampurna (complete) ragas. Ragas that have six notes are known as Shadav. Those containing 5 notes are called Audav.

There are many ragas in which the number of notes in aroha and avroha are not identical.  There are also mixed or compound ragas .  Such are known as Mishra ragas. Ragas that do not strictly follow the ascending and descending order of notes are called Vakra (non-linear) ragas.

Ragas can be differentiated from each other by the prominence of certain fixed notes and by the sequence of a particular note or distinctive phrases. All the traditional ragas of Hindustani Classical Music are based on, or a variation of ten basic Thaats (frameworks or musical scales) – Bhairav, Bilawal, Todi, Asavari, Kalyan, Khamaj,  Poorvi, Marwa, Kafi, Bhairavi.

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