Monday, February 4, 2013

All Day and All of the Night: Ragas for all Occasions

The Washerman’s Dog recently received a question about some aspects of the raga as well as a request to share some more of the same.  I was, as always, pleased to get a request, if for no other reason than such things provide evidence that the services of this blog are being accessed by the wide anonymous world ‘out there’.   On this occasion, however, I am a bit daunted, because providing authoritative analysis of a subject as slippery as the raga and the structure of Indian classical music,  can quickly lead to one’s undoing.  And I don’t want to be undone.

Nevertheless, a dog is nothing if not eager to please. So, with a huge opening caveat that the Washerman’s Dog (by definition) is more comfortable roaming widely over a great many ghats, rather than being a watchdog of any one particular set of steps, I will do my best to illuminate.

The Question in question:
I am familiar with morning ragas, afternoon ragas and evening ragas, but nothing for the wee hours of the morning. I also don’t know if these time periods are subdivided. Are morning ragas played at dawn? Are there different ragas for mid or late morning? Afternoon ragas until sunset? Evening ragas from sunset to midnight?  A post that explains all this, with appropriate ragas for a 24 hour cycle would certainly help enlighten us benighted Westerners, or at least this one.  (B.B)

The raga has no exact equivalent in Western music or translation in English. Indian classical music is all about melody (as opposed to harmony) and the raga is the basic melodic framework within which the music is interpreted. The other key pillar is tal the time measure at which the raga is played.  In the same way that a painter selects several colors from his palette to create a painting with a particular feel, the Indian classical musician selects several notes from an octave to create a raga with a specific emotion. The resulting raga is not a ‘standard’ that is played exactly the same each time, but rather a ‘theme’ that is improvised upon by each singer or musician.  In the words of N.A. Jairazbhoy, a prominent authority on Indian classical music, “the concept of raga is  based on the idea that certain characteristic patterns of notes evoke a heightened state of emotion.”

And it is to achieve these heightened states of feeling that each north Indian raga is assigned a particular time of day to be played.  Tradition has it that a particular raga can only truly be enjoyed at a particular time of the day in recognition of the human body and mind’s constantly changing response to external and internal stimuli. The ancient musicologists were particularly interested in the effects of musical notes and how they effected and enhanced human behavior.  Indian tradition states that the three Doshas-- Kaph (water), Pitta (fire) and Vata (air) --dominate the human body. These elements rise and fall during a 24 hour period and change throughout the seasons. Thus listening to a particular raga has the ability to act as a therapeutic device.

The 24 hour day is divided into 8 prahars (beats) each with a corresponding dosha (element).

Some ragas are composed to be played/sung in specific seasons such as Spring or the monsoon.  These seasonal ragas are not constrained by particular playing times and can be enjoyed throughout the day or night.

The question of the correct time of day (prahar) is generally acknowledged to be a bit of a purist’s concern.  While no one doubts the ability of music to affect human emotions the realities of modern music-making which require performances to be held during reasonable hours have loosened the strict correlation of raga and time of day.   At the same time, technology has allowed any raga to be heard at any time of the day.  Finally, many Hindustani ragas have been adopted from the Carnatic (southern Indian) canon which does not apply a time-of-day framework to the music, so slowly the requirement that raga x be performed during x prahar has faded away.

The Washerman’s Dog has put together a selection of ragas that cover the clock, as part of the appreciation of this post.

         Track Listing (Vol. 1)
            01 Bhairavi [Lal Mani Mishra]
02 Gujri Todi [Ustad Muhammad Sharif Poonchwaley]
03 Ahir Lalit_ Alaap [Zia Mohiuddin Dagar]
04 Raga Multani - Vilambit [Ustad Sabri Khan]

Track Listing (Vol. 2)
01 Marwa [Chhote Ghulam Ali Khan]
02 Raga Desh [Ghulam Sadia Khan]
03 Malkauns_ Pira Na Jane Deki [Abdul Karim Khan]
04 Rag Sindhu Bhairavi [Ustad Ali Akbar Khan]


Anonymous said...

Very interesting & useful information, some of which was new to me & some of which was familiar but never explained quite as clearly. Wow, thank you! The one observation I have is that this system works well in the tropics where days are usually about the same length, but it breaks down as one moves closer to the poles. Sunset in Connecticut in late June won't be till almost 10 pm, not 7pm!!


ajnabi said...

Anonymous, alas your are right. I'm not sure of any raga Connecticut! but as I point out, the timing issue is a bit of red herring anyway. thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

No Raga ANTARCTICA either, I don't think. I'm near the US-Mexico border, so raga times don't get tooooo distorted, and I just try to do what I can --- stretch or squeeze the various subdivisions so that things stay roughly in order. Sometimes I've put on Darbari and it just *immediately* says to me "waaay too early for this one!" or some other Raga and the sounds immediately seem "waaaay too late" and out-of-place. This time-of-day thing has been an interest for a long time. You should see my raga shoeboxes now, a few years after this previous pic! you wouldn't believe it....

once again, i should say that you helped me learn a few new tricks, and your post was very fascinating...

Goofy said...

Thanks for truly informative write-up! I didn't know that there are ragas for different times of the day, with benefits to match. However, I would not work here waaay up in the north. Great music, though!

ajnabi said...

Yes, that is a good method of selecting ragas...gut feeling.!

ajnabi said...

Goofy! Thanks for dropping by and for your thoughts! Enjoy! any time!

abeattie23 said...

i keep forgetting to let you know how much i enjoy all the stuff you have made available & it is not always great being an an ajnabi as i have been in that position many times. Keep it flowing. Peace.

ajnabi said...

Abeatitie23 jan. Glad to have your distinguished presence along for the ride. Looks like you've got some far out lists of your own! From one ajnabi to another!

Anonymous said...

Very informative.
Thank you