Peter Row
Raga Music

A concert of Indian classical music centers on the presentation of one or more ragas, musical entities that come alive in performance. From an abstract perspective, a raga can be understood to be not a “piece” of music but rather a richly complex melodic mode, which serves as the musical foundation upon which compositions are based and “improvisations” spontaneously generated. Each raga (of which there are about 350 in the Hindustani repertoire) is comprised of four different, interconnecting, dimensions. The first is its musical make-up: pitch material (scale), melodic themes, repertoire of compositions, conventions of “improvisation,” etc.. The second is the particular sentiment (rasa) that is meant to be conveyed to the listener during a performance. The third is the convention of performance practice that dictates the time and/or season at which a particular raga should be performed, such as at sunset (sandhi prakash ragas) or during the monsoon season (barsa ragas). Lastly, many ragas have an iconographic representation (dhyana rupa) that is meant to engender the same “feeling” that one gets from the intersection of a raga’s musical character, its rasa (sentiment) and ritu (season or time). There is a tradition of ragamala paintings that flourished during the Mughal period in which artists set out to paint scenes depicting “ragas” such that the viewer would have an aesthetic experience parallel to that of hearing the raga performed. Iconographic images of ragas, however, often exist only as mental images that are conveyed through text and may be found appended to raga lakshana, traditional textual descriptions of the characteristics of individual ragas. This manner of preserving the characteristics of ragas in textual format, dates back well over 1,000 years.

Rudra Vina

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