What is a raga in Indian classical music?
A Raga (also spelt Raag) in Indian classical music refers to particular melodic modes where the musical notes are rendered in predetermined patterns. Different ragas use different combinations of notes, thereby creating a variety in scales, harmony, moods, and of course, the effects on the listeners. Literally, this Sanskrit word means color or hue, and is figuratively applied to indicate different shades of harmony or tonal moods. Yet, they are not all about notations; the rendering style and moods may make subtle differences even if the notations are identical for two ragas.
If you are not familiar with Indian classical music, it may sound a little confusing. Here is a very blunt example, just to give you a rough idea. Suppose, you are going to compose songs on roses, or rain, or sea waves, and you have definite notation patterns for each subject. You are free to improvise as long as you maintain the basic structure. Ragas in Indian classical music provide that basic structure to you. Now, let us get back to our main topic: the timings of Indian classical ragas as well as the different seasons associated to them.
Do you know that ragas are often personified?
Yes, ragas in Indian classical music are often personified, and sometimes they have their female pairs (Raginis) as well. Here is a medieval Indian Ragamala painting depicting Ragini Todi, wife of Raga Malkauns.
Uniqueness of Indian Classical Music: Ragas have specific timings
The timings of ragas in Indian classical music is a very unique and distinguishing characteristics of both Hindustani (North Indian) and Carnatic (South Indian) schools of music. There are certain seasons and times of the day and night associated to each raga, and it is believed that the ragas are at the zenith of their harmony and splendor at those times. For example, Raga Bhairav should ideally be performed at early morning, Bhimpalashi should be sung during late afternoons, and Darbari Kanada after midnight. If Darbari Kanada is rendered at forenoon, it is not going cast its engulfing magical charm as much as it would do after midnight. Let us see why, according to the Indian musical scriptures.
Bodily elements (humours) and ragas in Indian classical music
The traditional Indian medical science, or Ayurveda, believes that our body has three doshas or evil elements – vayu (wind), pitta (bile) and kof (phlegm). These are quite similar to the four humours of Hippocratic theories of ancient Greece. According to Ayurveda, these elements work in a cyclic fashion through day and night in our body, each getting an upper hand at some point of time. Again, their effects vary from season to season; one happens to be more phlegmatic during the winter. Now, in Indian classical music, ragas have definite tones, which can in turn stimulate definite moods and sentiments. Thus, each raga arouses a certain kind of sentiment, working in connection with different humors or elements. We know music has the power to cure your depressions or insomnia; their connection with the bodily fluids or humours explain why. If you are melancholic, listening to a certain raga can make you feel sanguine by stimulating the concerned elements. And if listen to it in the prescribed time when the concerned humour is at its height (and the power of the raga is at its height too), the effect will be maximum.
Play timings of Ragas in Indian classical music
Here I have provided a detailed hour by hour timings of musical ragas. The Thaats of respective ragas are mentioned inside the bracket. Nevertheless, many experts may slightly differ on their views of the timings of ragas in Indian classical music. Thus, some may say that a certain raga should be instead at night instead of late evening, and so on.
- After midnight (12 midnight - 2 pm): Adana and Darbari Kanada (Asavari), Malkauns (Bhairavi), Shahana (Kafi).
- Late night to dawn (2 - 4 am): Paraj (Poorvi), Sohini (Marwa)
- Dawn to early morning (4 - 6 am): Lalit (Marwa), Bhairav (Bhairav)
- Early morning (6 - 8 am): Bhairav, Ramkali, Jogi (All three belonging to Thaat Bhairav)
- Morning (8 - 10 am): Ahir Bhairav (Bhairav), Bilaskhani Todi and Komal Rishabh Asavari (Bhairavi), Todi (Todi)
- Forenoon (10 am - 12 noon): Alahiya Bilawal (Bilawal), Bhairavi (Bhairavi), Deshkar (Bilawal), Jaunpuri (Asavari)
- Afternoon (12 noon - 2 pm): Brindavani Sarang (Kafi), Gaudiya Sarang (Kalyan), Shuddha Sarang (Kafi)
- Late afternoon (2 - 4 pm): Bhimpalasi (Kafi), Multani (Todi)
- Dusk (4 - 6 pm): Patdeep (Kafi), Purvi (also spelt Poorvi, Thaat Purvi), Puriya Dhaneshree (Purvi)
- Evening (6 - 8 pm): Hamreer, Shuddha Kalyan, Eman / Yaman / Kalyani (all belonging to Thaat Kalyan), Puriya (Marwa)
- Late evening (8 - 10 pm): Desh (Khamaj), Durga (Bilawal), Kedar (Kalyan), Jaijaiwanti (Khamaj), Pahadi (Bilawal), Shankara (Bilawal)
- Night (10 pm to 12 midnight): Bihag (Bilawal), Bageshri (Kafi), Chandrakauns (Kafi), Malhar (Kafi).
Some ragas like Piloo, Dhani and Kafi can be performed any time throughout the day. And as I have already written, different ragas stimulate different emotions. I am planning a hub on Indian Classical Music Ragas and Human Emotions. How will that be?
Relation of seasons with ragas in Hindustani classical music
Ragas in Hindustani classical music relate to different seasons as well. Seasonal ragas can be performed any time (day or night) during that season. Summer in India is not as pleasant as in Romantic English Literature; its scorching heat is reflected through the Raga Deepak. Megh and Miyan ki Malhar are for the rainy season; legends say that it would rain whenever Akbar's court poet, Tansen, used to perform Miyan ki Malhar (sounding similar to the Orpheus legend?). Malkauns and Puriya Dhaneshree are the ragas for autumn and fall. The roughness of winter is conveyed best through Bhairav, another name for Siva, the god of destruction. And spring, we all know, is the season of vitality and romance. Raga Hindola offers the right melody to express that.
Significance of raga timings (video commentary in Hindi)
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A final word
These days, rules are much relaxed and most singers do not observe the strict timings of ragas. In Indian classical music programmes, you will see the artists performing almost everything. While that can have a commercial explanation, it is always better to perform the right raga in the right season to admire its beauty in its height, and make it aesthetically more pleasing.
May I have your opinions about the time theory of Indian classical music?
Anthony Coldman on February 27, 2019:
Most enlightening ! I like to meditate to Indian classical music so this guide is most helpful. A friend of mine believes that listening to a raga at the wrong time of day has a negative effect, I think its more that the right time enhances the experience, as you imply. But maybe the effects have more of an effect the deeper you are in meditation?
Friend on June 26, 2018:
Thank you Sir for this good piece of information. Particularly helpful is the listing of the Thaats of respective ragas. So one can easily find and listen to them.
subhash chander on May 27, 2018:
Thanks sir for providing such a valuable information about raags as I m totally ignorant about them but curious to know more.
MOHAN MURDESHWAR on August 03, 2017:
I was eager to know the name of different ragas and especially the timing of their performance and I am so glad that your website provided this much needed information. Thanks very much
Dhrubo from Bangladesh on June 25, 2017:
Rajan Singh on November 21, 2016:
Thanks a lot to upload this information. It helped me a lot in my personal Project.
Madhav on October 18, 2016:
Came across your page when researching Ragamala painting. Thanks for a precise description in clear cut language. I look forward to see more details about raag and the nuances. Thanks again.
Soumit Sarkar on June 28, 2016:
Apnar ae article pore shotti khub bhalo laglo ...ae thotto bisesh khub e upkario ...Tobe prottek raag er bisesh bisesh mood guli r amader moner bhaber er jhog er bishoy guli add korle aro bhalo hoto...jamon kon raag amader mon e ki probhab fhele ettadi ...
asa kori aroo bhalo bhalo posts pabo..
Kamalesh on May 04, 2016:
There are some people who are deeply known regarding these topics usually do not want to share their knowledge. I don't know why but reality is that. I just telling this to make you understand what a valuable post for me. I like it and expecting more posts in future. Thanks Mr. Kumaraditya.
shivannagk @ gmail.com on September 14, 2015:
Kumaraditya Sarkar, sir
i like your artical, not only timing you added helth issues also, i am workng on t ragamala new series paintins. indian culture is bigg ocean. good luck, keep posting
Sudeshna sengupta on July 30, 2015:
Your precise n too the point description of ragas is really praseworthy. If you please enlighten me by sharing the rules of specific tala that accompanying the specific raga.
Kumaraditya Sarkar (author) from Kolkata, West Bengal, India on April 22, 2015:
Nidhi ji, sahi socha aapne. Raagon ko samay par hi gaya bajaya jana chahiye; nahi toh uska bhav ka sahi vikaash nahi hota. Par samay nahi hai toh kya kare! Maaniye har raag ek phool jaisa hai, usko paani dhoop sab kuchh thikthak milega toh hi woh phool thik se khilega. Doosra kuch karne se uska jo bahar hai roop hai woh thik se nahi aa payega.
(Sorry for my awful Hindi, I am not a native speaker :) )
Kumaraditya Sarkar (author) from Kolkata, West Bengal, India on August 25, 2014:
Sorry for the awfully late reply. You may play Shahana in marriages. I don't know about any particular one for thread ceremonies.
Sujit Bagchi on April 21, 2014:
I am interested to know about the timings of Ragas in special occassions,like marriage, thread ceremony etc. and what are the Ragas which can be played irrespective of timings in ceremonies.
Kumaraditya Sarkar (author) from Kolkata, West Bengal, India on September 24, 2012:
Avorodisa, listening to a raga at a wrong time is not recommended, though it is not particularly "harmful". Actually, it puts you in a wrong mood at a wrong time. Nobody wants to feel erotic or cheerful before going to sleep, but looks for mental tranquillity. The same happens when you listen to a wrong raga at a wrong time.
Anna Sidorova from Russia on September 24, 2012:
I like the idea that ragas must correspond to a certain period, that is season and time of the day. I also remember reading that listening to a wrong raga during a certain daytime can be harmful. It is really good to know these subtle things. Thank you for this informative hub.